I’m not allowed to buy my own office chair, did I accept an offer the company meant to withdraw, and more

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

1. I’m not allowed to buy my own office chair

I’ve work for a small nonprofit organization for almost 10 years. Having big issues with my back pain and several scary looking diagnoses, I asked our manager if I can buy an ergonomic chair with high adjustability and pay for it myself. The answer was “no, I am not sure we are insured for this.” What are my rights and options in this regard? I really need a chair better suitable for my medical needs. It is not just a question of preference, it is a necessity. How do I go about this if the manager is just “marking her territory” and abusing her power?

What! Your manager is being ridiculous. Frankly, you could have just gone ahead and done it without checking with her, but now that she’s in the loop and has told you no, your best bet is to bring in a doctor’s note explaining that you have a medical need for a different chair. Doctors’ notes actually aren’t legally binding — companies don’t have to take their recommendations — but a manager who says “I’m not sure we’re insured for you to get a different chair” is a manager who isn’t going to realize that. The note will probably be effective.

If it’s not, then your remaining option would be to figure out if you have a condition that qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you do, they’d be legally obligated to accommodate you, assuming they could do it without undue hardship to them, which would certainly be the case here.

2. Did I accept an offer the company meant to withdraw?

I just learned about this situation today so I am pretty upset. I was planning on leaving my good job at one of the lead firms here to accept an offer with a smaller, boutique company with a salary bump and exposure to a different kind of work. I was planning on giving my notice this week. A coworker who knew of my plans (Alice) called me today with bad news. Alice told me that she had heard from a friend (Jessica), who used to work with the head of Smaller Company, the following:

• I had a deadline to accept Smaller Company’s offer, and because I was unsure, I accepted on the very last day.
• The head of Smaller Company became impatient in the interim, and reached to the recruiter to ask him about what was taking me so long.
• The recruiter then told her stupidly that I was hesitant about leaving my big prestigious firm to a small firm like his.
• I had never made this kind of comment, but it seems the recruiter must have said something to this effect because he bruised the head of Smaller Company’s ego!
• According to Jessica, he was so enraged at this comment that he instructed the recruiter to withdraw my offer!
• But the recruiter failed to do so in time before I accepted it, and I effectively ended up accepting an offer that, according to Jessica, the head of Smaller Company intended to withdraw

This was one month ago. I have received from the head of Smaller Company a small email congratulating me on joining their team and asking for some details on me, but nothing else.

At this juncture, I don’t know what to do. It all seems so far-fetched and based on what Alice and Jessica heard through the grapevine, but it is weird that Jessica, who I have never met, knows pertinent details about what went on during the recruiting period. To top it all, I have to give notice at my job soon if I’m planning to leave. I am now worried about leaving a good job to enter into a new hostile environment. I have a mortgage to pay and a career to build and this seems like all too much. Any advice? Alice thinks I should simply rescind my acceptance and stay at my good job instead of taking this risk.

You absolutely should not rescind your acceptance based on third-hand gossip from someone you don’t even know.

Call the recruiter. Explain what you heard and ask if there’s anything to it. Be careful to stress that you are very excited about the job and looking forward to starting, so that there’s no way the recruiter can misunderstand your intentions. Make it clear you are only seeking information, not action from the recruiter.

3. Handling gifts when I’m close friends with my employees

I have seen all of your responses about whether to give holiday/birthday gifts upwards. I agree wholeheartedly that gifts should flow downward, not upward. I happen to be the boss of a small company (nine employees) and feel very uncomfortable about receiving gifts.

Here is the catch: I am very close friends with several of my employees and friendly outside of work with most of the others. I chose to mix business and pleasure by hiring friends of mine and fostering a friendly atmosphere. We have bi-monthly dinners at my house, we are always invited to the same parties, I regularly go to the spa with one of them and travel on vacations with another. We are so close as friends, that two of my employees families are thoroughly convinced we are in relationships as well.

I always put myself in a position where the gifts flow downward (I treat them when we are out to dinner or drinks, always bring in Starbucks, etc). Despite this, it is quite common for my employees to give me gifts. This is no surprise as we are so closely connected. I don’t really know how to respond. On one hand, as they are friends, it’s perfectly natural for them to buy me gifts from time to time. On the other hand, I am not as close with all of them and I don’t want to create an atmosphere where everyone feels the need to buy me a gift.

Yeah, you’ve removed the normal manager/employee boundaries, so it’s hard to put them back up when it comes to gifts.

It will also generally be hard to put them back up when it comes to performance problems, firing, perception of favoritism from the employees you’ve not close to, and so forth. I know that’s not the point of your question, but I’d be way more concerned about that than the gift situation. If it works for you, then so be it — but I’d ask yourself some rigorous questions around that stuff (and would probably ask them of your employees too, especially the ones who aren’t in the inner circle).

Anyway, back to your question. If you’re going to blur the lines this much, it’s going to be hard to unblur them for one day a year. You could go for a mutual no-gift-giving arrangement, though, and just be transparent that you don’t want anyone to feel obligated to gift up and this is the best way to prevent it.

4. Missing work to participate in a police investigation/trial

I recently (~2 months ago) started a new job, and about a month after I started I ended up becoming involved with a police investigation and criminal case as a victim/witness. As a result, I’ve had to ask for time off work on a few occasions to speak with detectives and attend hearings, and will have to ask for more time 2-3 months from now when the case goes to trial. In addition, I’m participating in a second investigation that could potentially result in two more trials. I feel very guilty for missing so much work so soon after starting, and have been general but up-front with my boss as to what has been going on.

They don’t seem to have an issue with the absences, but seem somewhat concerned by the whole situation and I’ve felt a vague pressure to give more explanation than “I’m a witness in a criminal case,” which I do not want to do (both cases are child sexual assault cases in which I was the victim, and for obvious reasons I don’t want to talk about it with my coworkers).

How can I assuage my coworkers’ concerns about my well being and politely set a boundary about this without making my boss feel like I’m being unreliable or evasive? I hate the concerned looks and questions I’ve been getting, and am worried it will only get worse when I have to be out to testify at trial. I’m also sort of worried that being involved in a criminal case at all might negatively impact my professional reputation, even as a witness. Am I overthinking this?

I’d stick with something vague that politely shuts down further questions, like “It’s been stressful, but I’m fine — please don’t worry.” People likely look concerned because they’re legitimately worried about your well-being, but also because it’s polite to express that concern in this case. By stating firmly that you have it under control, you’ll assuage some of this.

If anyone does press for further details, you can say, “It’s not something I like to talk about” or “It’s difficult to discuss at work.” Anyone who keeps pushing after that is abominably rude, so at that point you’d be justified in a chilly “I’d rather not get into it” and turning away.

If you get the sense your boss is wondering whether all this time off is really needed, you could say, “I really appreciate you giving me this flexibility. I’m trying to get as much advance notice as possible of when I’ll be needed there, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to manage around this.”

And no, please do not worry that this will impact your professional reputation! People end up having to testify in criminal cases all the time, both as victims and as witnesses, and it’s not something that typically impacts their careers.

5. Why am I being asked to participate in a new hire program, when I’m not new?

I’ve been with my current organization for a year and a half. Recently our deputy director held a meeting and noted that the door is open for suggestions to improve staff morale, which is poor. I took her up on the offer and at a one-on-one lunch carefully suggested that the organization may want to consider a mentor program for new employees. We have a number of new hires coming on board, and I would have benefited from more support during my first year as the organization was going through numerous, rapid personnel transitions. A few weeks later, I received a small promotion but was also told I should strongly consider participating in the mentor program with our other new hires.

I’m not too sure how to take this as I’ve been with the organization for a year and a half. I understand the organization’s policies and personalities and have worked to develop a rapport with other employees in a non-formalized capacity. I’m not new and am not too sure what benefit I’ll derive at this stage in the game. Furthermore, I’m reluctant to participate in a program that encourages others in the office to view me once again as a “new employee in need of support,” particularly given that I’ll be moving into a position that should in theory require less oversight. At the same time, I can see the offer to participate in the program as the organization acknowledging that it could have done a better job and is attempting to mitigate its previous missteps.

What’s the subtext here and should I sideline my pride and participate with the new hires? It’s important to note here that I am a career changer and am not new to the working world (i.e. not just out of school).

I don’t know! I suspect it’s exactly what you said above — that they’re attempting to fix missteps that made your first year hard for you. It could be that the deputy director took “I could have benefitted from more support my first year” as meaning that you could still benefit from it now. But it could be that they see ways that you’ve not fully assimilated into the culture that you don’t realize are there.

But because it’s bugging you, the best thing you can do is to just ask. Say this: “Because I’ve been here a year and a half, I wouldn’t normally think to participate in something for new employees, and to be transparent, I’m worried about it encouraging people to see me as new and in need of support, which I think might not be ideal, especially as I take on this promotion. But I realize there might be elements to this that I’m not considering. Can you tell me more about what’s behind your suggestion that I participate with the new hires?”

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. Jeanne

    #3, I don’t understand at all what is happening. A month ago, a full month ago, you accepted a new job. But you haven’t given notice at your old job and you’ve had no substantial communication with the new job. Even without the gossip this is strange behavior. You don’t have a start date or a pre-employment physical or paperwork for your 401K or anything. Either they have no idea how to hire (not good) or you don’t have a job (not good). Wouldn’t the recruiter want to finalize everything and get paid? Do not give notice at your current job until you are sure you have a new job and all your questions are answered.

    1. Cookie

      Not having a start date isn’t great, but I’ve never filled it paperwork before day 1. Never had a pre-employment physical either.

      1. OP#2

        I do have a start date in 2017, as well as a short email from the head of Smaller Company that basically says we look forward to you joining our team on [Date] 2017. If I headed my own business, I would definitely rescind an offer for a job applicant that I no longer wish for … so there is something in this scenario that doesn’t quite add up.

        1. Seuuze

          I would be very leery of listening to this third-hand information about you and the job. I don’t think the gossip you were told passes the “sniff test”. Just my gut reaction. I think Alison’s advice is, as usual, very, very good. Please do update us when you go on to the next stage.

          Congratulations on the new job and best of luck to you!

        2. M-C

          How soon do you have to give notice at Old Job? I think if I were you I’d take advantage of the upcoming holidays and send a note to HR/future manager/head of company (depending on the size of the company and who you interviewed with/met) and say something like “I just wanted to send all of you my warmest wishes for a great holiday season. I’m uneventfully wrapping things up at Old Job here, and I’m so looking forward to joining you on — — 2017.”. Add a box of chocolates if that’d make it more plausible :-).

          But anyway, I think the holidays and traditional wishes thereof would be a good way to check that there’s still at least formally expressed goodwill on the receiving end before you really commit yourself to leave. And incidentally check that they still intend the same starting date, because their circumstances might have changed a bit after such a long delay. I don’t see anything too odd about not having anything happen between acceptance email and first day either, having working in many small companies, but it never hurts to check.

          I’d totally mention having been spooked by this rumor too, once you’re in place, to someone in charge of hiring. People need to know their recruiters are either screwing up, or giving way too much information out to people who shouldn’t be involved at all.

      2. MashaKasha

        I’ve only had those at a very large OldJob. But (at least here in the US), any job offer I’ve received (including from a startup that had less than 20 employees at the time), was contingent on the results of a drug test and a background search. So, in addition to their short email, Smaller Company would’ve also sent the information on where to go for the drug test, and how to submit an application for a BG search. Why didn’t any of that happen? I have no advice though. I’d be afraid to follow up; at least directly with the owner. Does Smaller Company have an HR rep that OP2 can ask about these things?

        1. IT Kat

          I’ve only ever had one job where I needed to do a pre-employment drug test and background check… and I’ve had quite a few jobs in my career (all in the US). So I think it’s dependent on industry – if I were the OP, I wouldn’t read too much into not getting drug test and/or background search paperwork.

          That said, AAM’s advice is still spot on, to just ask!

          1. Manders

            Yeah, small “boutique” companies are especially unlikely to do these things, unless they’re in a field where drug testing or a background check is necessary for some reason. I’ve never filled out paperwork before my first day at a small company, and the written offer was always an email, not something I had to come in and sign.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq

          It is so bizarre to me that so many places do pre-employment drug testing. I’ve never had a job that required it, and I’ve never encountered a startup that did it, but clearly there are pockets of this country where it is absolutely the norm, and it is so bizarre to me.

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

            I have had places do a simple background check, but I have never had to do a drug screen.

          2. designbot

            I think it’s by industry. In my design jobs I’ve never had one, but the one year I worked in a construction office I had to drug test. Even though I worked in the office not in field, they got a break on their insurance for drug testing all employees.

            1. Anna

              Same here. I worked in manufacturing on the admin side of things. Everyone was screened because the factory hires were screened. Everyone was randomly tested for the same reason.

              I now work for a gov contractor and you have to pass a drug screening and background check. It is very industry dependent.

          3. SueB

            It’s not unusual in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. I just had one last month for my new job, even though I work at a computer all day.

          4. Manders

            My boyfriend was drug tested for a job in tech, but not a teaching job. I’ve never been tested and I’ve worked in medical and legal offices (not as a licensed care provider or as someone who’s supervised by a bar association).

            Outside of industries where drugs could be a genuine safety concern, it seems pretty much random in my area. Smaller companies seem a bit less likely to bother with testing, but I know some of the massive companies in the area don’t test either.

          5. Vicki

            I turned down a possible programming contract because the temp agency required a drug test for all contractors (the companies the contractors works with did not require this).

            I don’t “do” drugs. I also don’t condone pre-employment drug testing.

            1. IT Kat

              Off-topic, but Do you condone post-employment drug testing?

              I realize text doesn’t have tone – I’m actually legitimately curious if it’s one and not the other, or if you don’t condone drug testing at all. :-)

              1. M-C

                In my experience, drug problems are usually very apparent to all the coworkers. Drug tests are just a way for bad managers (ie cowards) to not address the problem head-on. But without needing any proof it should always be possible to have a talk with the offender about declining performance, mood swings etc..

                1. Rater Z

                  I was in the trucking industry for 38 years but never drove. I was always in the office, either as a dispatcher or as a rate and bill clerk (working with freight charges).

                  They explained it in requiring everyone to do a drug test as avoiding discrimination charges by requiring the test of everyone. Also, I understood that many of the larger companies we handled shipments for would require that all companies they dealt with required them to drug test all of their employees.

                  I’ve never touched drugs, nor have I used alcohol or tobacco since 1980 so a drug test doesn’t scare me except the possibility of a “false positive” since many companies say a “positive” result is automatic dismissal with no recourse or re-test.

          6. Jessesgirl72

            My husband has always had to be tested for his tech jobs- the last one, he had only 24 hours to complete it after receiving acknowledgment of his accepted offer- not an easy feat at 2PM on a Friday!

            I have always had to, as well, in manufacturing, but as has already been said, that’s because everyone had to be tested- and it was always amazing to me how many people on the manufacturing floor failed, knowing they were being tested!

        3. AliceBD

          I’ve only had to have a drug test for a company where the majority of workers are in warehouses (using things like forklifts) and manufacturing facilities (using heavy machinery). Even though my position was an office one, they had the testing for all employees. For the companies where everyone sits at a desk there has been no drug testing.

  2. BadPlanning

    On #5, have they expanded the new hire window? At my (large) company, you stay in the new hire group for 5 years. The new hire group does a variety of activities. Obviously some activities are handier for super new hires. I think they recruit “older” new hires to run parts of the group.

    1. Ama

      I work with a volunteer group that recently expanded its orientation program for new volunteers and the first year we ran it we also invited the people who were new the previous year, since their “orientation” had been basically a welcome email and we wanted to offer them the opportunity to have a more guided integration into the group’s activities. I suspect something similar happened with OP #5’s company — especially since it was the OP who suggested the mentorship program in the first place.

    2. Finman

      You also mention that the new program would assign a mentor. You are never too far along in your career to have a mentor. Even CEO’s of Fortune 300 companies have mentors that they utilize.

    3. Kimberlee, Esq

      Yeah, when we instituted a mentorship/buddy system for new employees, we included everyone who had been here less than about 6 months in the first class as well (nobody had been here longer than 2 years at that point). At your company, you may well be new enough still to count as “new.”

    4. DaniCalifornia

      This is exactly how my husband’s company does it. The “older” new hires usually plan the activities and help out with the “younger” new hires. He’s been in the group for exactly 5 years now and actually chairs it. My husband has had a lot of good/networking from joining it first as an actual new hire and then leading it.

    5. designbot

      yeah I was in the same situation and was included with new hires when I’d been there just over a year. The company was just aware that they’d skipped some steps and wanted to default to being more inclusive.

    6. Vicki

      This is a possibility.

      Another possibility is that they want the OP to join the class to provide feedback from the “I wish I’d had this a year and a half ago” viewpoint.

    7. mirinotginger

      I came here to say just this. At my (very large) company, you are ‘new’ for 5 years. There’s a jump start mentoring program you are eligible for, special lunch and learns or executive speaker series talks, tours of the various factories and testing centers, etc. All new to the company employees are encouraged to participate.

  3. Jade

    #5: By ‘participate in the mentor program’, they didn’t mean you becoming a mentor for the new hires did they? How odd!

      1. Loquacious

        I also thought they were inviting #5 to participate as a MENTOR, most likely because LW knows specifically what kind of support should look like and would be a good mentor for a new person having been a new person fairly recently.

        1. Lisa

          Another “ditto” here – since you (#5) brought it up, you’re in the best position to evaluate whether the company is on the right track with what they’ve included in the mentoring program.

    1. MW

      I thought this myself too. In my offices there’s often quite a gap between people who started in the last couple of years and the more experienced people who have been around for a decade+. It’s much easier for the recent starts to remember the immediate problems they faced and relate that experience to the new starts than it is for the old hands. Especially if there are things that the long term staff just take for granted, and struggle to explain when probed.

      “How do I get access to system X?”
      “Uhhh, you know, I have no idea, I’ve had access to that for 8 years so…”

    2. Jersey's Mom

      My first thought was are they asking #5 to participate in order to get their feedback? I’m looking at this as #5 is an employee who is now 1 1/2 years in, suggested the new employee program (so knows what it would have been helpful to know on day 1), and now that the program has been developed, would be an ideal person to attend and make suggestions as to possible changes/enhancements to the program.

      1. Mander

        I would have thought they wanted her to participate because she suggested the programme, too. I once made a suggestion that ended up becoming a training thing at my graduate school and they invited me to come to the session, even though I was beyond that stage by then, for exactly that reason.

      2. LQ

        Yeah this was my first thought too, that they want to you to go through it and see how it works, if it is effective, etc. They took your idea, which is awesome, and so it would make sense that they might want to see if you think it is working well.

  4. Stellaaaaa

    OP4: I’ve been a witness in a federal trial and I was explicitly told that I could not talk about the case while it was ongoing. I don’t know the ins and outs of a case like yours, but it sounds legit enough to say, “I have to keep the details confidential or I risk compromising the case.”

    1. Willis

      Yeah, I was thinking she could claim the need to keep the case confidential as well. Also, I think something along the lines of “Being at work and concentrating on XYZ project really helps me take my mind off the case,” might also signal to coworkers that the best way to help would be to NOT ask for more info.

    2. kimberly

      I was going to offer the same advice. When my sister had to testify about attempted financial fraud and abuse of an incompetent adult that led to a murder, she used “I can’t talk about an ongoing trial” regularly. Her friends responses showed most were actually concerned that sis was safe because the accused murderers were out on bail. (The news reported her name, hopefully the laws where you are don’t allow victims names to be reported.)

    3. Rusty Shackelford

      Except that this might lead to the assumption that you’ll be happy to discuss the details once the case is over.

  5. doreen

    #1, is it possible that the issue is not the chair itself but you buying it ? Because I could absolutely see a company preferring to buy you a chair (either through the ADA process or less formally) rather than being responsible for worker’s comp if you choose and pay for a chair yourself.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Yup. OP’s manager doesn’t seem to have any desire to want to be helpful in this situation.

      1. MK

        I don’t know about workers comp, but the manager mentioned insurance coverage. Many insurance contracts have clauses that are both vague and restrictive at the same time; this company’s might state that they are obligated not to allow “bulky” furniture on the premises or to “store” items that isn’t company property or whatever, and the manager is worried that, if something were to happen, the insurnace company will try to deny payment based on this.

        But as others said above, she is being obstructive here; the proper response is “let me check if there are any insurance concerns and how we can deal with them”.

        1. Jessie

          My comment was supposed to be directed at Doreen, who said maybe it was because workers comp. And I can’t see how that applies or is relevant or (or even possible, that a chair would affect an employers liabilities under workers comp sysytems). Unless I’m missing something huge.

          1. Fortitude Jones

            It wouldn’t. I think Doreen might have meant if the chair further aggravated the injury or fell apart, causing new injury, then the employer might be afraid to be held liable and thus owe for workers’ comp, but this is unlikely.

            1. Fortitude Jones

              This was confusing. What I meant was, the insurance company would likely not deny the claim because the employee purchased the chair themselves. If the accident occurred on the premises, the employee in question meets the definition of employee under the policy, and the injury is new or an aggravation of an existing injury (and the latter is murky because sometimes aggravations aren’t covered and litigation has to ensue to get coverage for it), the workers’ comp policy will more than likely pay for this.

      2. Unlurking

        I remember an incident at a previous job where someone was injured and the company’s insurance wouldn’t cover the compensation because we’d run afoul of some rule no one knew about. The worker in question was on company property but fell off a delivery truck helping the driver pull our box off the end of the ramp. The worker was still entitled to comp but the company itself had to pay for it versus their insurance company. It’s one of those things you don’t think about until it happens. I can see where maybe the manager thinks if she lets a random chair in and the employee tries to claim an RSI as a worker’s comp injury, or falls off the chair or something, the company’s insurance would be all “Well, we can’t cover someone using non-company-issue equipment” and the company would have to cover everything out of pocket. And given what I’ve seen of insurance companies, that could totally happen.

        1. Fortitude Jones

          That worker’s injury was probably not covered most likely because he wasn’t considered an employee per the definition in the policy.

            1. Moonsaults

              This is where I’m leaning towards. They are sticklers for that kind of thing. You are insured for X duties, nothing more. I know temps who are working in an office cannot even lift a box of paper because it’s not in their workers comp descriptions.

            2. Fortitude Jones

              Again, that’s murky. I’ve seen workers comp claims paid when an employee was injured doing something that wasn’t typically within the scope of their duties. They’re usually sticklers about job duties when it comes to premium payments – claim payments are a whole other ballgame.

              1. I used to be Murphy

                I’m guessing it depends on jurisdiction and how the insurance works there. I’m not in the US so my basis is off, but I definitely know of people who have been denied workers comp claims because they did something they weren’t covered for. But it may be totally location and context-specific (and perhaps even adjustor-specific).

      3. doreen

        As I understand it , worker’s comp covers injuries that happen at work, regardless of fault (at least in my state). So if the OP’s chair breaks and she gets hurt , worker’s comp is going to cover it whether she bought and paid for it or the company did. And I can see them not wanting to be responsible for something they had no say in choosing.

        1. doreen

          Which is not to say “no, I am not sure we are insured for this.” is the proper response, only that the OP might get a different response if she asked the company to provide the chair.

        2. Moonsaults

          It depends on the carrier. They should cover everything but some places go with private insurance agencies that offer cut-rate garbage. It just means that like any bad insurance policy, the policy holder is left holding the bill. So “we aren’t insured for that” may be true and means the company pays the price if the chair creates a hazard.

      4. LCL

        What I have seen happen in more hands on jobs is someone will bring safety gear from their previous job because they are used to it and it is more comfortable. But the company wants you to wear only the PPE that they select and provide, to make sure it is compliant. In fact I am working through this one now with someone and his favorite hard hat. Maybe manager is from a production environment and doesn’t quite get it?

    1. Tuckerman

      Buying furniture for work is a pain. Because of fire code regulations, you can’t just go to Ikea or target and pick up something awesome.
      But, the company should have a business from which it purchases furniture. And the letter writer’s manager should be able to show her a catalog or website and tell her to pick out something comfortable.

    2. Violet Fox

      Someone at my workplace has back problems and needs a specific sort of chair. They had the person pick out a chair form our vendors and just ordered it for the person. Maybe #1, your work-place would be willing to buy for you a chair that works for you from a vendor they approve of.

    3. Retail HR Guy

      This is what would happen at my work. We wouldn’t let an employee bring in large outside equipment like that (a chair, a desk, etc.) but we are willing to buy special equipment as needed. It’s for a combination of reasons, including safety like mentioned but also no one being confused about what is company property and what isn’t, flexibility in moving things and people around as needed, etc.

    4. M-C

      People are all different, there’s no more reason we should all be using the same chair as we should be wearing the same shoes. An old company of mine got tired of hearing all the bitching, took us to a warehouse, and had us all pick what we wanted. They just reserved the right to pick the color, which was fine with us, we were a whole lot of happy campers (till they folded, but that’s another story).

      And recently elsewhere I was getting miserable with a totally unsuitable chair, asked nicely and brought in my own chair, they were very pleased I saved them money. But it was a Steelcase, obviously suitable office furniture, and an unobtrusive corporate grey. Maybe this manager is leery of an orange Ikea flimsy fragile horror?

      I’d try a pincher effect: doctor’s note combined with offering to pick from their vendor of choice, in their choice of color. If that doesn’t work, start talking ADA to higher-ups (like board members) and see if the tune doesn’t change..

  6. Wasn't on the Inside

    On #3, it would be nice if the OP would hold a professional line in at least one aspect of the work place (gift giving) even if that line has evaporated in every other aspect of the relationship.

    I once worked for a boss who probably felt the way this OP does (nothing unprofessional, just a “friendly” atmosphere), but I was not one of the chosen few insiders who enjoyed a terrific relationship with her. She once told me what a great boss she was because she called and spoke regularly for an hour or two every night with another (favored) employee. She then complained *in the next sentence* about how much she hated to call me once a week for 15-30 minutes to review priorities because she just hated having to talk to me.

    Yeah, that remark was pretty blatant, but it’s not like I didn’t figure this out without her verbalizing it.

    Her friendships with some – but not all – of her staff let her blind herself to the fact that she was a terrible boss. I don’t know how you can convince anyone who reports to a boss who has “besties” on staff that reviews, assignments, or raises are equitable if you don’t happen to be one of the favored few.

    If the OP can maintain any professional boundaries – even if only for gift giving – I’m in favor it. I would go further and ask the OP to seriously consider how this appears to those on your staff who don’t show up at the bi-monthly dinners or accompany you to the spa or on vacation. If you’re not willing to change your social practices – which isn’t what you asked – please consider making a special effort to ensure that professional recognition is fairly distributed and that your employees see you making a conscious effort to handle employment matters fairly.

    Some of this is subtle, and it takes work. When there are awards at a company meeting to Owen Outsider (handled formally and in a business like manner with a handshake) and Ida Insider (who gets an informal greeting and a hug from the CEO, along with a reference to an insider joke only the chosen few understand) the fact that they both got awards doesn’t mean that they are perceived equally. A good relationship with the boss is a form of clout.

    If only the insiders get to give you gifts – which is a pretty serious sign that the normal boss-employee relationship does not apply – the outsiders are not going to feel like a part of this “friendly” atmosphere.

    1. OP#3

      #3 here.

      I actually do make quite an effort to draw clear lines around professional responsibilities. I also bend over backwards to not treat anyone differently depending on social status. On a professional level, I don’t let friendship get in the way of management. All professional recognition is fairly distributed and any bonuses/work related gifts are strictly based on performance. And even for the employees who are outsiders, they seem to enjoy the way the office runs.

      Its not easy for me, but I’ve found that I prefer a friendly and less stressful environment at my company. I pay above the norm where I live and am actually well overstaffed so no one has to work too hard (I’m very fortunate that we are quite profitable and I prefer everyone share in that). There is no pressure for people to partake in social events (other than the normal christmas party and when we have a dinner to welcome a client or something like that). After three years, I have virtually no turnover (one employee left to move overseas) and performance is fantastic.

      Its an unorthodox arrangement, but I feel like its working best. I appreciate the feedback from someone on the other side of the equation. I will probably suggest a no gift giving policy for the holidays (and my birthday) as Allison suggested.

      1. Jennie

        Out of pure curiosity, may I ask if you’ve ever heard negative feedback about this from the outsiders and/or third-hand and how you handled it?

      2. Anon 2

        As someone who has been an outsider in this sort of arrangement, despite your best efforts i suspect that you have staff that perceive they are being treated unfairly even if they aren’t in reality. And, they probably don’t tell you about it. I’ve worked with one boss who was very close friends with several members of her staff, and who believed she treated everyone fairly. And perhaps she did, but I know the rest of us always wondered if the BFFs were doing better at raise time. If they were given more allowances when a professional mistake was made.

        I would at the very least stop the vacations and spa days with the people who report to you. I think that sends a horrendous message. You can have a warm friendly atmosphere without vacationing with your direct reports.

        1. Jesmlet

          Yes, this is inappropriate and even if there’s no favoritism, it does suggest it and I think you’d be surprised if you heard how your other employees really feel. How do you expect them to be honest about how they feel given the way your company is run?

          And am I the only one disturbed by this- “We are so close as friends, that two of my employees families are thoroughly convinced we are in relationships as well.”

          This is not healthy and this is not a positive in any shape or form. It’s hard to walk back from something like this so just maybe take into consideration that not everyone views this closeness as positively or neutrally as you think they do.

          1. BananaPants

            It is disturbing. Why would a manager brag about having blurred personal/professional lines so much?

        2. INFJ

          I tend to agree. I have a hard time reconciling how vacations and spa days with direct reports isn’t a breach of professional boundaries, but gifting upwards is?

      3. I'm Not Your Babysitter

        Yeah, I wouldn’t risk telling you how this arrangement was actually affecting me if I worked for you. It’s way too much of a risk when the boss puts so much priority on friendships at work. There’s simply no way you can know if your perceptions of how this is affecting people are accurate or not, and the chances are your biases are having at least some affect (given how biased most people are and how little they are capable of recognising it usually).

        I really hope you are right, but I strongly suspect at least some of your employees are finding this difficult and have no recourse. I’d hate to be in their shoes.

        1. esra

          Yep. I’ve been in a situation where the management had a bit of a clique and did things together outside the office. Which, I guess would’ve been alright if none of us knew about it? But when just four of you are in your ski gear, with your bags, in the office for your ski weekend together… bit hard to hide.

        2. Anon 2

          I would never tell a boss who had this arrangement that it bothered me. I’d be too afraid of the blow-back. Heck, I have a reasonably good boss now that has a pet employee (although no outside work activities that I am aware of) that I don’t ever say anything negative about despite the fact that the pet employee’s performance impacts my work negativity because I’m concerned about the repercussions. And that is a pet employee that my boss over relates to, not someone who is friends with my boss outside of the workplace.

        3. Karen K

          I think we need to take OP#3 at her word that people are very happy working at her company, given the extremely low turnover and high performance, and not assume that the place is full of disgruntled non-BFFs, who for some reason feel stuck in their jobs. She seems very self-aware to me.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I generally agree re: taking letter-writers at their word, but I think this one is complicated by the fact that this is an area where people are notoriously not self-aware and don’t fully appreciate the downsides of this kind of arrangement. Pretty much everyone who’s friends with their employees thinks it will be fine until it’s not, or goes on thinking it’s fine even though it’s not fine for other people working for them.

            1. LBK

              Yeah, I think this is one of those things that’s fine until it’s not fine. If one of her close friends burns out and starts underperforming and she has to fire them, is she really, truly prepared to do that? I notice that her examples of being fair and equitable are all positive things (distributing recognition, giving gifts, etc.) but I’d like to hear more about how the not-so-great stuff that a manager has to deal with is going.

          2. INFJ

            That very well could be the case. However, it’s also very much possible that people are unhappy with this arrangement and not letting on because of how much it could impact their work environment.

            This goes for anybody: People at work can *seem* happy all the time when in fact they are not… that goes along with the territory of staying professional at work.

      4. LQ

        If you are going to go all in on this I don’t understand why you wouldn’t go out of your way to find people you are very friendly with for all the jobs. It’s 9 people right? So why not make sure they are all close friends?

          1. LQ

            Who makes their employees who are beholden to them to literally eat and have shelter their bffs and excludes others? The some are closer than others was the point, though clearly I didn’t say it very well.

      5. edj3

        My predecessor (Eugenia) in my current position did what you’re doing now (difference is that you are the owner and my predecessor wasn’t/isn’t).

        Eugenia would say everything you say here about boundaries and not leaving anyone out and all employees being high performers with no turn over, but that’s not actually what I found when I took the position. The outsiders knew very well that they were not the favored ones, and the disparity in treatment caused a lot of insecurity and self doubt on the part of the outsiders. At least one of the insiders was very uncomfortable with it too, but the power imbalance was such that no one spoke up.

      6. BananaPants

        Employees who aren’t part of your inner circle are never going to come out and tell you that they feel left out. You’re their boss, they’re not going to be honest and risk their jobs at worst or make things awkward at best.

      7. LizB

        The fact that you even have employees who you can identify as “outsiders” seems like a problem to me. I know you’re probably just using the terminology that other commenters have used, and wouldn’t normally describe it in such negative terms, but the fact that as a manager you can immediately bring to mind the employees who could be classified like that is a bad sign. It’s really unlikely those employees are actually as happy as you perceive them to be about the situation, and also unlikely that you’re actually treating them as fairly as you think you are.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          And it doesn’t have to be blatant unfair treatment; it can be stuff like Jane never feeling comfortable telling you about an issue with Bob’s work because she sees that Bob is close to you. Or never feeling comfortable telling you that Bob is sexually harassing her because it’ll be he said/she said and she assumes you’ll have a bias toward him because you’re close. Etc.

      8. NW Mossy

        Alison’s point about “everything’s great until it’s not” is one to heed for anyone managing someone with whom they have an external relationship. Managing employee-friends is easy when the business is profitable and everyone’s performing well because the business and personal relationships are trending together. However, that environment can change quickly, and when the business and the personal start to diverge, that’s when you suddenly have conflicts that you struggle to resolve because the business need pulls one way and the personal another.

        OP, have you considered what would happen if your business started to struggle financially and you had to trim your payroll? How will you decide which friends stay and which friends you let go? What if a previously excellent employee-friend’s performance takes a nosedive due to a personal situation that triggers your empathy as a friend – does the business or the friendship come first?

        I know this seems abstract right now, but these kinds of things can and do happen to lots of small businesses and some never recover from it. There will be times where you have to make a choice between your business and your friendships, and the only way to win that game is to not play.

      9. Moonsaults

        Despite all the push back you are receiving here, I just wanted to voice that as someone who was extremely close to her very first supervisor. I was a friend of her sister, that’s how I got the job, it worked out terrifically and she still had moments where she made me cry because she felt more at ease to cut to the chase of “you really screwed that up…” >_>

        My two bosses are essentially best friends, I’m on the outside now because I’m the “girl” and I’m fine with it because I’m really not concerned, they still treat me nicely even though I’m not invited to Monday Night Football, I’m not fussed.

        1. Nanani

          That’s going to work great for you until someday, it doesn’t.
          Just like every “chill girl” before you.

        2. sylph

          They are your bosses, though. It’s not one boss and one coworker in your case. That makes for a very different dynamic, since they are both senior to you.

    2. Important Moi

      I am not one of my boss’s favorites here at the Teapot Company. I am going to watch how the conversation from the commenters and the OP evolves. The OP’s perspective is interesting. I’ve never considered it from the boss’s perspective.

      Most irritating to me, boss loves to accept gifts from employees who must “love” boss.

  7. Willis

    #3 – I’d definitely go with a “no gifts” policy at work. In general, it takes a lot of stress off of people who may not know what to get, not have the money, not have an interest in exchanging gifts, etc. If there’s going to be a party, company-purchased refreshments and a group card will still allow everyone time to socialize and enjoy one another’s company without introducing any unnecessary awkwardness. Plus, if your employees really are so close with you, they should pretty easily understand and respect your request.

    1. OP#3

      I think I will institute a secret santa on a very limited budget (max 10 bucks) which will make it easier to say “no other gifts.”

      1. Joseph

        Good idea. The only thing I’d recommend is to make sure you’re explicitly clear that the limit is a firm price ceiling. Don’t call it a “recommended limit” or a “suggested price range”. Otherwise, there’s usually That Person who exceeds it, then get ticked when they receive like a coffee mug or something.

        1. TJ

          I was That Person who exceeded the price limit … but I was flying in for the party and my city has a much higher cost of living than where the office is. I wouldn’t have been able to buy anything more interesting than a tissue box for that price. I didn’t tell anyone I went over the limit, though.

          1. Joseph

            Nah, you weren’t That Person, because while you spent over the limit, it sounds like you were reasonable about it. The people who ruin it are the ones who complain about only getting a coffee mug (or equivalent) because of how much they spent.
            “Well, I spent $40 on the gift I gave, but the one I got is only worth $10!” (despite the fact that the limit was $10, so it’s really my fault).

              1. Anna

                Pretty much this. It’s why I always throw my hat in for our Secret Santa even though I also organize it. :)

        2. Important Moi

          Or the person who does not have the money to exceed the limit and can only give a coffee mug and feels very uncomfortable when the the person who receives the coffee mug complains about it.

      2. Puffle

        That’s what my office does, I think it’s a nice way to celebrate the season without singling anyone out or showing favouritism (we don’t know who we’re buying for, we write numbers on the wrapped gifts and each person draws a number card from a hat to decide which present they get)

      3. PK

        My office does a wrapped present/stealing game but anyone can opt out of it. If you want to participate, you bring in a wrapped gift (with a 20 buck limit). I participated my first year and skipped the second (because I forgot honestly) but there was no pressure at all the year I skipped. Just an option.

      4. Sunflower

        I would just say ‘no gifts’. I have a no gifts policy with my close friends- non of which are coworkers- and it doesn’t affect our friendship in anyway.

      5. INFJ

        I think that will work. I think it makes gift-giving more interesting, too. I always enjoyed participating in the yankee swap at my last job.

      6. M-C

        I would second an ‘absolutely no gift’ policy. Upward, I mean. Anything else is too awkward. If you have friends at work, make sure proper friendly gift exchanges are handled totally outside of work, and never mention what they consist of at work or even that they happened at all. Don’t fool yourself that people don’t notice otherwise..

      7. Kira

        OP #3, that sounds nice. I had an office with a white elephant exchange which was lots of fun. The hardest part was getting people to “steal” from each other!

  8. Edith

    #4: I’m actually in a similar situation right now. I’ve been subpoenaed to testify next week against a man I witnessed assaulting a woman, and trust me, nobody at work thinks ill of me for it. In fact, they’ve been quite vocal in their support. They even rejected my time off request, arguing that I shouldn’t lose a vacation day over it. Reasonable people understand that acting as a witness in a police investigation or testifying at trial is 1) not something you have any say over, 2) a civic duty, and 3) an absolutely essential part of the criminal justice system and by extension the welfare of the nation itself. If the people you work with are reasonable they would never hold it against you.

    #5: When my employer got its stuff together and started a formal (and badly needed) new staff orientation program they had everyone who had been there under two years participate. Seems pretty normal to me.

    1. Jwal

      Same with me – I had to be a witness after an assault, which involved taking time of work and going to the other side of the country. Work was very understanding, and I found out that court attendance comes out of a separate ‘pot’ to regular holidays so I didn’t need to use up my days off.

      I think that if you say “I’m not able to talk about it” people will assume that you’ve been told by the police/court/lawyers/whatever that you’re not to talk about it, and they’d probably accept that more than something ‘weaker’. (Of course they should accept it regardless, but some people are persistent *sigh*).

    2. Trout 'Waver

      In regards to #4, I’ve been the manager whose team member had to take a half day to do a deposition in regards to a crime investigation. No issue with it what-so-ever.

    3. Lemon Zinger

      My employer has allowance for us to attend court, whether as a participant or on a jury. It’s a “jury duty” allowance, but it’s the same pay we’d get if we were at work. In the spring, my colleague was on a jury for a murder trial, and she missed most work days for almost four weeks!

      1. Edith

        Jury duty is a whole other can of worms with a lot of laws dictating how employers have to handle it and with no question that your participation casts no negative light on you, which was OP’s worry.

      2. esra

        Yep, I got called to jury duty for a murder trial that ended up taking quite a while. They didn’t pick me though (I was #15 on the list, but the prosecutor laughingly challenged me. Like, he was actually laughing). I would have had to take an exemption if my employer hadn’t been the kind to pay you fully while on jury duty. Jury duty pay is extremely bad, which I find interesting (and depressing) in that you’re limiting your potential jury pool to people who can afford to be on a jury, limiting different perspectives.

  9. Cambridge Comma

    OP#2, might Alice or Jessica be interested in this job or benefit in other ways from your rescinding your acceptance?

    1. OP#2

      No, both Jessica and Alice would be significantly over qualified for this job. What bothers me is that Jessica found out about this issue even though she no longer works at Smaller Company, which probably means that it was a big deal to cause such gossip. Alice has asked me not to reach out to the recruiter or the head of smaller company because this would jeopardize her personal relationship with Jessica, so I don’t know what to do at this point.

      1. misspiggy

        At this point you have to do what is best for your career. You can refuse to tell the recruiter how you got this information, but you urgently need to know whether or not you have a new job. You could even leave the gossip out of it, just stating the concerns that Jeanne raises above.

      2. Carpe Librarium

        You could reach out to the recruiter to follow up on first day housekeeping while at the same time restating your excitement to get to work.
        Something like “I really appreciated the time to review the offer in detail and I am thrilled to get started with Chocolate BouTEAquepots. Are you able to confirm if I need to fill out [paperwork x] on my first day, or if it will be sent to me to have ready when I arrive (or whatever info you need), or should I contact [new boss] directly?

        1. The Strand

          That sound you hear is applause for naming it “Chocolate BouTEAquepots”. Somewhere, someone is writing a business plan…

      3. Cambridge Comma

        It would still be normal for you to reach out to both people about starting your new job though, to confirm the timescale for that going ahead, so you could do that without directly addressing the issue while expressing your enthusiasm in a way that might counter their concerns.
        You wrote that you were unsure — what were you unsure about?

      4. Fortitude Jones

        Contact the recruiter for clarification as to what’s going on with this job. Alice’s comfort level is irrelevant when we’re talking about your career and livelihood.

      5. Jessie

        Talk to someone. I’m not sure why you’ve been passive to this point, but it’s been a month and you don’t say you’ve spoken to New Company at all about start date and process. Do you have a start date?

        It’s unreasonable of a gossiper to pass on gossip that is so clearly central to your life and then demand that you don’t say anything. (She crossed a boundary if she told you things she wasn’t supposed to- it’s not your responsibility to save her from her choice.) You don’t need to follow unreasonable demands.

        Talk to the recruiter or new boss, tell her you’re excited, ask for next steps. Don’t make massive career decisions based on gossip. Get information and be active in your own career.

        1. OP#2

          I do have a start date. As for the paperwork, it’s very minimal- trust me, nothing which would need to be prepared 2 months in advance.

          I am unsure about contacting the recruiter because (i) he already showed a serious lapse in judgment by giving false information that put me in a bad light (ii) I don’t trust his opinion as he clearly has an interest in my taking the job as he will earn money on it.

          The market where I work is very small and word of mouth gets around quickly, so I am worried about repercussions on my reputation if I back out of the offer letter.

          1. Lady Blerd

            The thing that you don’t know if anything of what you heard really did happen, including the recruiter misrepresenting you. Assuming they’re not meangirls messing with you, it is possible they got the info from the recruiter but from someone else at the other company and not the recruiter. In any case, talk to the recruiter and maybe shoot a line to the HR at your new job to confirm your employment détails to get a feel of what’s going on.

          2. Newby

            If word gets around quickly, you can probably ask about this without it reflecting on the people you talked to. How would anyone know for sure how you heard?

          3. Observer

            But, you really do NOT know that the recruiter passed on incorrect information. Remember, if the boss said to rescind the offer then the recruiter would have to do so – not telling you that the boss rescinded the offer would not help him as the boss would never pay the fee.

            I also think you need to think about the real possibility that either Alice or Jessica stand to benefit from your backing out, or even that they are trying to sabotage you for some reason. I know it sounds paranoid, but the situation really is somewhat bizarre.

          4. NP

            Can you reply to the email from the owner expressing your excitement over taking this job at Small Firm and the opportunities it will give you that you would not get at Large Firm?

            1. OP#2

              I was considering that option. They recently won an award so I was thinking about drafting an email to congratulate them and express my excitement at joining the company.

      6. Liane

        This is a Not In Middle School Anymore situation. In other words, you are way too busy playing social/gossip games when you need to be focused on getting the facts from the recruiter, hiring manager or HR.

        Also, you mentioned elsewhere in the comments that you’re in a small industry and word gets around. If this is really the case, you better worry that your current job will find out you’ve been job hunting before you give notice—some jobs/bosses will fire or otherwise punish you for this “disloyalty” or “insult.”

        1. OP#2

          I literally found out about this situation on saturday night, was so upset that I emailed Alison. I don’t think I am playing social/gossip games, I am just trying to weed out the good information from the bad one before I take any steps that may defuse or aggravate a really weird situation that is not of my own making.

          1. JMegan

            As for separating good information from bad, let’s think about this logically for a minute. Never mind Alice and Jessica and the recruiter – if the boss had wanted to rescind your offer, he would have done so.

            Even if he had told the recruiter to rescind it, and your acceptance came through before you heard from the recruiter, he would still have pulled the offer. This isn’t some ridiculous sitcom where the boss feels obliged to accept a candidate he would otherwise have rejected, just because the acceptance letter came through first. If that actually had happened, he would have said something like “Oh, I’m so sorry, but there has been a terrible mistake, and we can’t offer you the job after all.” Or he would have had the recruiter say it. Either way, *somebody* would have said something – they wouldn’t just let you accept the job if they didn’t want you there.

          2. Jesmlet

            Maybe just send an email back to the head of the small company addressing all the concerns that he might have without making him feel like you’ve heard something. Thank him for the opportunity and say that you’re looking forward to working for a smaller company with all the opportunities for growth, etc.

            I’m curious why you did wait so long to make the decision – if it’s something he wouldn’t be upset by maybe throw in a ‘thank you for allowing me the time to formally accept, I just wanted to clear up such and such on my end….’

            1. OP#2

              I was instructed to answer within a two weeks deadline in the email with the offer letter, which was what I did. My current employer is a the big name in the market but it is a pretty toxic environment, and I was considering whether it was a good step for me to quit or stay and benefit from the exposure.

        2. Rocky

          I don’t think anyone has come out and said it yet, but Alice… umm, Alice is being a crappy colleague. Maybe she’s lovely on some respects and OP feels some loyalty to her for some reason. But the minute someone told me that I should put their relationship with someone I don’t even know (Jessica) ahead of my own livelihood, that’s when my loyalty would end. OP, the way to “get the facts” is by going directly to the people who have the facts.

      7. BethRA

        Not to let Jessica off the hook, but her hearing about this doesn’t mean it was really a “big deal” – it means she’s still friends with someone close enough to the CEO to get a whiff of what happened, and gossipy enough to spread (possibly embelished) stories.

      8. Menacia

        If you have been offered and accepted the job, wouldn’t the recruiter be out of the picture at this point, and I don’t see what Jessica has to do with it either. The only person you need to be confirming with would be the person who hired you or your manager. Have you received a formal offer letter from the company with all the pertinent details of the position (start date, salary, etc.)?

      9. JMegan

        My guess is that Alice asked you not to say anything because she doesn’t want to get in trouble for gossiping, and she’s concerned about her own reputation. Which, she probably should be, if she’s passing around confidential information like that.

        If everything you have been told is true, there have been *so many* breaches of confidentiality here. The head of Smaller Company shouldn’t have said anything to his ex-employee Jessica; Jessica shouldn’t have said anything to your colleague Alice; and Alice shouldn’t have said anything to you. So there are two things going on here. One, the “don’t tell X I told you this, but…” is part of the script that Alice received from Jessica, and she’s now passing it on to you. And two, no wonder everybody wants to keep it secret – this is a huge amount of unprofessional behaviour going on here! This is assuming it’s all true, of course, which I doubt.

        Honestly, I would skip the recruiter and go back to the head of the new company. Tell him what you heard, and that you don’t want to play broken telephone over something as important as your job, and ask if he has any concerns about your candidacy. Cut through all the people in the middle, and get your information directly from the source.

        And frankly, don’t worry about getting Jessica or Alice in trouble – they both behaved badly, and even if there are no specific consequences for them, you don’t need to participate in the drama by covering it up. If they get in trouble, it’s because of their own actions, not because of anything you said.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl

          Agree. I wouldn’t mention names, either. Just say you heard something third-hand and you are “certain it is a misunderstanding,” but given how word seems to travel in your small field, you wanted to clear the air and set the record straight on this so that you are starting off your position on the right foot.

      10. Kyrielle

        Or does one of them (more likely Jessica) know someone else who wants the job whom they’re hoping will get it if you withdraw from it? (If that person is presently unemployed, they may be thinking, “Well, OP#2 will be fine anyway….”)

        1. Rocky

          It doesn’t even have to be that nefarious. It could be something as simple as the boss told the recruiter to bring in other candidates because he thought OP might decline, and boss’s assistant gossiped to Jessica, who gossiped to Alice, who put the final drama icing on the cake when she told OP. I’ve seen worse.

      11. Observer

        At this point, you really don’t have a choice. Alice is suggesting that you take a very major step based on her say so, which is based on hearsay. I don’t know why they said anything to you, but you can’t “unhear” it.

        Don’t talk about “bruised egos”, or anything that sounds derogatory. But, DO find out what’s going on.

      12. That Would Be a Good Band Name

        Alice not wanting you to reach out to even the recruiter sets off all kinds of warning bells to me. If you called the recruiter for information that they already have, how would that get back to anyone? I think the whole story is BS. If they wanted to pull the offer, they would have pulled the offer. Regardless of when you accepted.

      13. One Handed Typist

        If the company botched the offer, you would have heard about it. The recruiter would have contacted you, the new boss would have said something. It would have been a more obvious deal. There’s at least 4 degrees of separation here: you heard from Alice, who heard from Jessica, who heard from someone at Smaller Company, who heard from the New Boss.

        You can’t make a decision based on hearsay. If you are valuing Alice and Jessica’s information, you should give the recruiter the opportunity to provide info as well. I think it sounds like Jessica has someone she would like to see in that job and is hoping to torpedo your acceptance or damage your connection with the company.

  10. Mike

    #5: It could also be that the OP is there to serve as a litmus test. A year and a half is still new enough to remember the pain points. It kinda does make sense to have a newish person help calibrate the first offering.

  11. Fiona the Lurker

    OP#3, would it be possible to redirect everyone’s gift-giving efforts to some charitable cause instead? Make it known that – although you’re grateful – you feel you have everything you need, and you would like people to donate to XXX cause (whatever is dear to your heart) rather than spending their money on you. This way they’ve given you a mark of their esteem but you don’t benefit from it directly, and your chosen charity gets the cash!

    1. Honeybee

      I don’t think that solves the problem…it simply transfers the pressure of getting OP a gift to giving money to OP’s favorite charity (or is easily perceived that way). I think it’s probably better to establish a no-gift-giving atmosphere.

        1. Fortitude Jones

          If most of OP’s direct reports are besties not just with her, but with each other, the donations would not stay anonymous. Then they’d want to know whether the notChosen Ones also donated too. I can see this being very uncomfortable for the outsiders.

      1. Liane

        There are other problems with this. This has come up on AAM before, so just one example: What if there are people in the office who don’t support Boss’s Fave Charity for whatever reason? Even if the cause is deemed worthy by “everyone,” it is quite possible some may not care for the particular organization selected.
        Example: I no longer support a Big Charity that holds a Very Famous Annual Event for a cause I believe in because the leadership came off to me as both incompetent and deeply divided when some grants decisions made national news a few years ago.
        Or, maybe they just prefer to be private about their charitable giving?

    2. OP#3

      That won’t work. I think I will institute a secret santa with a strict limit (10 bucks) and say no other gifts. Charitable donations aren’t a thing here (I live in another country right now), and the employees that are close friends know of things I want/need (not money-wise, but one of them is the most thoughtful gift giver I’ve ever met).

      1. Lady Blerd

        OP3, I have to wonder why you are so hard set into having a gift exchange or any gifts at all. At this point why even ask for advice if you will go through with it anyway?

        1. Kira

          I think having an organized gift exchange is a good idea. It makes it clear that this is the Thing We Are Doing, so there isn’t vague confusion about getting a gift for boss.

      2. Purest Green

        A secret Santa only diverts how your employees spend their money. Reasonably priced or not, you’re still asking them to use their own money to buy something for work that they might not want to. If you’re set on doing something gift-related, why not give them all holiday cards, buy packs of ornaments and do a swap with those, or something similar that does not involve their own funds?

        1. fposte

          In my experience, that doesn’t stop the determined givers and the feeling of obligation among others. You can make a gift exchange opt-in; then you add the really low ceiling and encourage homemade/crafty stuff, and it’s the best way I know to manage gift creep. I don’t think you can ever squelch gift impulses; you can just redirect them as harmlessly as possible.

      3. eplawyer

        Why not simply have your friends give you the gifts outside of work. Then the non-friends won’t feel pressure to give gifts to you. You then give gifts to everyone AT work so they see there is no favoritism. It re-inforces that gifts flow downard. It takes the pressure off the workers.

        Secret Santas are as bad as mandatory “team building” activities that are all physical activity. Not everyone wants to do it. Someone always cheaps out. Someone is always disappointed. Why create that problem when there is a simpler solution?

          1. Lily Rowan

            I actually know the answer to this one! At an old job, our secret santa limit was actually $15, but it still holds: Nearly everyone gave a small thoughtful gift, but one of my team members got a gag gift (literally a single lightbulb or something that was supposed to be some joke) — from the head of HR! She was PISSED. I’ still somewhat cranky on her behalf.

              1. Kira

                Sounds reasonable, I keep confusing the secret santa we’re discussing with my white elephant experience.

        1. Graciosa

          This makes the line between the friends and non-friends very, very clear if only the friends are allowed to break the normal professional rules of behavior by giving the boss a gift. This is really damaging in the work place, and fosters the belief that the rules apply to non-friends only.

          I honestly don’t understand why the OP is so focused on enabling holiday gift giving at work. What great calamity would befall the world if holiday gifts stayed out of the office, and only came from family and friends who did *not* work for the OP?

          If the boss wants to encourage a jolly time at work during the holidays, the answer is a proper holiday party – during work hours – paid for entirely by the boss with no financial contributions from the employees of any kind.

      4. BananaPants

        How about just “no gifts”? Why do you feel a need to have office gift giving?

        If some of your employees are really your BFFs outside of work, surely you see them in social settings during the holiday season, at which time I’d assume you’d exchange gifts anyways. I would take gifting out of the office entirely.

        1. Emma

          Why do you feel a need to have office gift giving?

          That’s what I’m wondering. OP seems quite determined to keep shoving her friendships in the faces of the outsiders at work, and OP seems equally determined to keep getting gifts from her employees somehow.

      5. Stellaaaaa

        Dude, stop it with the Christmastime gift giving. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and no one wants a gift from someone they might not like…if you don’t think there’s a line in the sand between your favorites and the outsiders, it’s time to wise up.

    1. Onymouse

      This. I think one of the criteria for evaluating promotions in my career track is actually mentoring new staff. It can be a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership!

  12. NYC Weez

    OP #3: Our manager is someone who highly values friendship among her team. Like you, she’s close friends with many team members beyond work, although to Alison’s point, she makes sure to regularly spend time with everyone so that she doesn’t appear to have favorites.

    For holidays, she announced that the team is “too large” to buy everyone gifts. We do an opt-in yankee swap, and an opt-in department potluck. She also stresses the idea of the team looking for opportunities to be charitable externally rather than giving to each other. The result is that a couple people still hand out cards with $1-2 trinkets or lottery tickets, but most people happily go along with the events that are planned and don’t buy anything beyond it.

    1. Cambridge Comma

      We do a thing called ‘one person’s trash is another’s treasure’ on an opt-in basis. You are not allowed to buy anything new, you have to regift an unwanted item.

        1. General Ginger

          We do that at my office, also. In fact, there is a perennial home decor item that keeps turning up year after year kind of as a mascot of the whole thing. It’s usually accompanied by a few scratch tickets or a small value gift card or something else like that — small, but of comparable value to the other re-gifts — so the recipient of this exceptionally ugly and completely worthless thing doesn’t feel left out!

  13. Mirax

    “We are so close as friends, that two of my employees families are thoroughly convinced we are in relationships as well.”

    OP#3, this is a huge red flag about your boundaries, and the fact that you mention it so casually makes me a little concerned. Honestly, I think that the first time someone brought that up to you was when you should have started pulling back on all personal fronts.

    You’ve made it harder by deliberately hiring your friends, but I really do think it’s the best course of action to start building more appropriate boundaries back up with your subordinates. You need to draw some lines between Work Interactions and Personal Interactions.

    1. Fluke Skywalker

      Yeah, that line struck me as an odd thing to mention. Like… If anything, that really emphasizes that this situation isn’t working.

    2. Anon in NOVA

      This stuck out as odd and very concerning to me as well. What a bizarre thing to casually mention/borderline brag about.

      1. Gaara

        Yeah. It’s the casual mention that bugs me the most. OP, you’re so close to/emotionally invested in this situation that you have no way of being objective. If people hate this situation at work, you have no way of knowing it because they will never tell you (assuming you would even listen).

        Instituting one boundary at work regarding gift-giving will do nothing. But if you want to, I suggest a “no gifts at work” policy. Those who your friends outside work can give you gifts outside work. Separate those roles.

        It’s your business, so if you’re making money and you’re happy I guess that’s fine. But really, I think you should step back and evaluate how you’re running your business. Just because this hasn’t caused problems yet doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.

    1. Mreasy

      Sometimes I bring my own pens. What if I accidentally stabbed myself with one? Gotta get pen coverage.

  14. Don't mind me

    #1 seems like a bit of a leap to “territory marking” and abuse of power. To me it sounds like confusion. I would suggest a note from the doctor and letting the manager know you’re going to check in with HR on the policy/process.

  15. Christine

    1. I’m not allowed to buy my own office chair
    I have back issues and asked for a new chair. We had funds that we had to spend or lose at the end of the Fiscal Year. My boss refused to do so, etc. I had to get a form for Medical Accommodation via the ADA. Considering your manager’s response I would go that route. Get the form from HR and take it to your physician. Please let us know how that goes?

    4. Missing work to participate in a police investigation/trial
    I was a victim of a physical assault and was stupid enough to share it with my boss & co-worker along with taking the subpoena to HR, I had to go out on interment FMLA due to the injury. Do not volunteer that you were a victim. Tell them you are a witness, you can take the subpoena to either HR or your boss if details have been left out. I suspect all it is, is ordering you to appear in court. Mine was so many years ago, I do not recall. I do recall that because I was assaulted by my boyfriend that they blamed me for the absence. I overshared, and I learned my lesson. I should have just taken the subpoena to HR, and left it at that and told my boss I was a witness to a crime, not that I was the recipient of it.

    5. Why am I being asked to participate in a new hire program, when I’m not new?
    They probably want your feedback since you would be a good person to tell them what you feel is needed, what was left out during your training, etc. It could be that you are missing some minor nuisances that should have been touched on when you first started and they failed to do so. A lot of times there are little things that you continue doing that someone told or showed you the wrong way when you first started that you might be unaware of, or some changes they wish to make, but prefer to do a formal training versus one-on-one. Use this opportunity to network, get to know the trainers and let them know you feel wasn’t touched on, or you could have more clarification when you first started. I would make a list of those items, and when they touch on that training or don’t, you can ask them to add it. Do not take this an insult, this could be a great opportunity to make yourself a member of the team, and be noticed in a positive way.

    1. Case of the Mondays

      For number 4, you might want to check your state laws. In my state, there is a crime victim protection act where victims must be given time off to testify. Other witnesses are at the mercy of their employer’s unfortunately. If you have a good employer, they won’t care either way. But if you are worried about job protection, you might want to be able to cite the statute. Your state might provide protection for all subpoenaed witnesses.

      Christine, that’s awful to hear that your employer treated you so poorly. I appreciate your perspective here. I was initially leaning towards advising OP to say she was a victim of a crime, vaguely. Where she was worried about her reputation I wondered if “witness” suggested she was hanging around with criminals. Obviously it is just as likely you would witness a random crime or be a friend of the victim and witness a crime.

      OP – it’s really brave of you to go forward with this. I hope you find peace.

  16. A. Nonymous

    5 – I agree with some comments above. You brought up the training program and I would take it as a way to push your feedback oh that program up to the people above you. More of a “This was Jane’s idea, I think she’s got something in mind, let’s send her thru the first trial of the mentor program and get her feedback on it”.

    You could always say “I would love to participate and give this trial run some feedback. What, in particular, do you want me to look for?” If they were thinking you actually needed the extra help, then maybe you should ask where they feel you need to direct your focus.

    In the end, I think this is a way to ask you for feedback on the program more than it would be a suggestion that you actually need it.

    1. EddieSherbert

      I would still start with Alison’s wording; if they are having her participate because they think she would still benefit from a mentor, acting like you immediately assumed they just want you to critique the program may rub some people the wrong way.

      Not really the same, but I once had a new hire (actually new!) for technical writing, with a tech writer background. Her first assignment was to go through our brand book/ guidelines….. which she did and then emailed a list of suggested revisions. Because she is already a tech writer and knew what she was doing. So she assumed I wanted her feedback on the brand book. Which 110% rubbed me (I hadn’t written the brand book, just happened to be her trainer).

      Again, not the same, but that wording immediately made me think of that situation, and how much better it could have gone if she simply asked me to clarify the assignment…

  17. Allypopx

    Somehow I found myself wistfully researching new office chairs on Amazon…

    #5 Others have already pointed out that they might want you to participate not as a mentee but as a contributor, and I’d really like to emphasize the likelihood of that considering the program was idea! You offered that you could’ve used more support in the beginning which makes you one of the best people to direct what kind of support might be needed. In the event that’s not your role as they’re envisioning it, I’d try to approach it from that perspective anyway. Focus on helping get the program off the ground. If you end up being mentored, use it as an opportunity to see the program from the mentee perspective and proactively offer suggestions on how to shape the process. That should help remind people that you’re seasoned enough to have good insight.

  18. Former Retail Manager

    #4….Alison’s responses are great and while you are not required to disclose any more than you have, I’ll be honest, from a manager standpoint, I would not be thrilled that a new employee, who I assume has little to no vacation time, is continuing to ask for time off and providing vague explanations as to why. Your manager simply doesn’t know you well enough to know if this is an isolated incident or an excuse by an employee to take time off work. I know this sounds harsh, but I feel that’s the reality of it and what you’re doing presently does come off as evasive, albeit with completely good reason. And I’m so sorry for what happened to you.

    Perhaps another option, without disclosing details, but providing enough information for someone to connect the dots would be to say “I am a witness in a criminal trial that I cannot discuss in detail so as not to compromise the case and related ongoing investigations, but I can tell you that this person is a predator that needs to be off the streets and my involvement in the case is integral to that occurring. I really appreciate your understanding and I want to reiterate that I’m fine and I’d prefer to keep this conversation confidential and limit future discussions surrounding the case. Once again, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your (and everyone’s) support and understanding.” I feel like this loops your manager in, allows them to connect the dots without disclosing your specific involvement in the case, and if they thought you were being evasive, realize that you are just doing to the right thing to prevent this person from reoffending. Best of luck!

    1. Clinical Social Worker

      She has already explained that she’s a witness…that’s all her boss needs to know. You’re telling me that as a manager you would badger the person for more details about your employee being witness to a crime?

      1. Dixieland Lawyer

        Agreed!! “I’m a witness in a criminal case” is already more than enough information. If anything, the only supplement I would advise my clients to give would be “I’m cooperating with law enforcement to aid in the prosecution/an ongoing investigation. If you have questions, you can contact X.” There is absolutely no reason to request more detail from your employee about the substance of the case. For the record, the gravity of the crime is irrelevant (“getting a predator off the streets”). All victims/witnesses of ANY crime should be encouraged to come forward with relevant information and, if necessary, participate in a trial / ongoing investigation, free of judgment from anyone else that they are not “enough of a victim/witness” to justify time off from work. If you are skeptical of an employee’s reasons for being absent, you can request more neutral proof of an appearance in court (most people will have an official request notice or subpoena).

        OP #4: In most states, if you’re participating in a trial as a victim or a witness and that causes you to be absent from work (especially for long periods of time or intermittently over a period of time), you should be able to get proof of your presence in court / with law enforcement and Victim-Witness Services can, at your request, contact your employer and explain your need to be present.

        1. Former Retail Manager

          I disagree about the gravity of the case. Are you a witness in a mugging that keeps having to miss work because you show up and a continuance is granted or were you a witness to vandalism or some other less criminal case. Huge difference in mugging and sexual assault. While I agree that you should still be a witness in those situations as well, I don’t believe they’re as serious as to OP’s case. I think the OP senses that their manager may believe they are being a bit evasive and is concerned or they wouldn’t have written in. I was merely suggesting some potential wording to convey the importance of the case to the manager without disclosing more than OP is comfortable with. If the manager understood the gravity of the situation, perhaps they’d stop inquiring. If OP believes that the manager doesn’t believe she’s really participating, then I think an offer of proof of attendance, as you suggested, could quickly address that component.

          Also, I have wondered if the manager could be concerned that the nature of the case in which OP is testifying may eventually bring trouble to the doorstep of the workplace. For example, if I had an employee testifying a domestic violence case in which the defendant were out on bail and could potentially come to OP’s job, I would want to know about it, both for the OP’s safety and that of other employees. Perhaps that is why they keep asking. There could be a whole plethora of cases in which OP could be a witness that could have the potential to bring trouble/violence to the workplace. At 2 months in, I don’t know the employee well enough to trust their judgment on such issues. If this issue could be at play, maybe OP could proactively address it and let the manager know that there is no danger of reprisal to her and there is no need to be concerned about trouble or violence at the workplace.

          1. Natalie

            “I disagree about the gravity of the case. Are you a witness in a mugging that keeps having to miss work because you show up and a continuance is granted or were you a witness to vandalism or some other less criminal case.”

            I don’t think that’s really your call to make. First of all, the court system generally already accounts for this, in that a vandalism hearing is probably going to be a couple of hours, while a sexual assault might be multiple days. But more importantly, once someone is identified as a witness they don’t generally get a choice as to whether or not they keep participating in the case. It would be horribly inappropriate for a boss to make their employee choose between obeying court orders and negative impacts on their job.

            1. Former Retail Manager

              That is where you’re wrong. You completely get to decide if you want to be involved in a case or not. This is oftentimes the reason that high level criminals, or even lower level ones, walk. The people that can testify decide they’d rather continue living or fear reprisal. Witnesses to crimes decide they don’t want to testify every single day. Obviously, the case often continues on, but may be drastically weakened.

              1. Natalie

                100% wrong. Courts absolutely can compel witness testimony except under fairly specific circumstances (self-incrimination, spousal privilege) and they do it all the time. In cases of feared retaliation, the court generally provides other remedies. A witness that had decided they don’t want to testify is generally going to have to lie (possibly under oath) and say they don’t remember, were mistaken, or were previously lying. They don’t get to just ask the court nicely and get excused.

          2. Brogrammer

            Asking for verification that the employee did appear in court is completely different from thinking you’re entitled to the details of the case.

    2. Important Moi

      As a manager I see your point, I think the OP sees your point as well, hence the question.

      I don’t think you’re badgering the witness.

      People jump on me when I say the word “meeting” here, as though only bad things can come of it. But, maybe OP could have a private conversation with boss and tell her as much as she feels comfortable and offer to bring a parking pass or something that shows this person is participating in a criminal investigation.

      1. MapleTheory

        She’s not required to do so and compelling an employee to do so could violate several privacy laws depending on where the employee is located.

        Compelling this information degrades the employment relationship. You’re basically saying, “I don’t trust you to be honest with me.”

        If someone abuses time off to lie about a court case they are apart of there are bigger concerns that need to be addressed.

      2. BananaPants

        This is absurd. OP shouldn’t have to tell her manager any details about the nature of the crime or what she’s testifying about, even privately.

        The state should have a victim advocate or judicial services office that can provide a letter “proving” that she’s testifying in court if necessary.

      3. Important Moi

        I’m not an attorney and I’ve been fortunate not to participate in trial for any reason. In my comments here , I appear to have been taken to task for suggesting that neutral proof or even a conversation should to place. A lack of trust is “wrong” but it happens anyway.

        I’m just going to quote this portion from Dixieland Attorney and leave it here:

        “If you are skeptical of an employee’s reasons for being absent, you can request more neutral proof of an appearance in court (most people will have an official request notice or subpoena).”

        1. Former Retail Manager

          That was my point. Trust isn’t given, it’s earned. While it would be nice if every brand new employee could be trusted and taken at their word from the get-go, that’s simply not the reality. Heck, look through the archives and comments here for an abundance of ridiculous excuses that people have used to get out of work. To be clear, I have no doubt that isn’t the case here, but it happens and it may have happened to this manager many times in the past leading to their ambivalence/skepticism in the current situation.

    3. MapleTheory

      If she’s a witness in a court case I think that’s a legitimate reason to take several days off if required. And it shouldnt negatively affect a reasonable managers opinion of an employee new or otherwise.

    4. Observer

      Seriously? An employee tells you that she’s a witness in an ongoing investigation and needs to meet with the police, etc. and your first thought is that she’s lying about it, unless she gives you all the gory details? Wow! If you really suspect that it’s a hoax, ask her for a note from the police / DA / relevant agency conducting the investigation or the subpoena if one exists.

      1. Former Retail Manager

        My first thought wouldn’t be that they were lying about it, but there is a big difference in one meeting and multiple meetings and repeated requests for time off from an employee with an unproven track record. Also, people that have never worked with law enforcement or been involved in a trial (the manager in this case) may not realize how many meetings take place both during the investigation and during trial prep. If she suspects they don’t believe her involvement, then I agree, a note, subpoena, etc. would quickly address that issue.

        Also, OP, not sure who you’re meeting with (detectives vs. attorneys) but law enforcement will often lead you to believe that they need to meet with you “right this minute” or “at a certain time.” As you well know, your testimony and statements are important to their case and they will make concessions regarding meeting times. Perhaps a suggestion of meeting early in the morning or in the evening after work could alleviate this entire situation and save your time off. Attorneys will attempt to be a bit more rigid in their meeting times, but stand your ground. It sounds like you are integral to the case and they can and should make concessions for you.

        1. Observer

          If that’s really what it is you don’t any details whatsoever about the case and why the person is involved. All you need is documentation. Which can be asked without beating around the bush, accusations or probing for information.

          All you need to say is “When people need to be out a lot, we need to document the reason(s). Please bring in documentation of your meetings with the police / prosecutor / whatever governmental body.” Simple.

    5. Natalie

      I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that the OP is being vague or evasive: “[I] have been general but up-front with my boss as to what has been going on.”

  19. J

    I’m curious about the advice to #2 to reach out to the recruiter. Ostensibly, the offer has been extended and accepted. Shouldn’t future communication go through the employer? Wouldn’t you call their HR to affirm any outstanding questions?

    1. Bellatrix

      Generally yes, but in this case, it’s not a good first impression on your new employer. Since we’re basically confirming gossip here, not making any material arrangements, it makes sense to go through the recruiter (who is possibly to blame for the misunderstanding).

  20. Dixieland Lawyer

    #5: At my firm, we include ALL associates in the mentoring program, which includes people who have been here anywhere from 1 month to 8 years. I can understand feeling confused and not wanting to be wrongly identified as a newbie, but truly, less than 2 years is still pretty new in many jobs. There is usually a significant benefit in taking part in any mentoring program – you never know what you’ll pick up: new assignments, exposure to new departments, new advocates, etc. Plus, in my experience, mentoring allows for flexibility to adjust based on the relationship – a mentor with a brand new hire will act differently than one with a 1.5 year employee. That said, if this is a training program vs. a mentoring program, I can understand your frustration.

  21. Grey

    …figure out if you have a condition that qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act

    There’s not much to it:

    “An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment”.

    All you really need is that doctor’s note, and you’re good to go.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s not really that simple though! I mean, that is indeed the wording, but plenty of conditions don’t qualify under the ADA. Some people look at that wording and think a broken wrist or the flu would qualify, and of course they don’t.

      1. Fluke Skywalker

        Yeah… as someone who has tried to seek accommodations for something that seemed like a clear-cut case (as in, it’s something mentioned as a specific example of a condition that would fall under ADA), it really, really isn’t that simple.

      2. Grey

        I suppose that’s true. It’s sad though, that many employers will even force you to go the ADA route. Forget the disability and just let them have the chair to keep them happy.

  22. Jules

    #5 I’ve been in an org, when we had the new hire orientation, some who came was with the organization for 8 years!! They were missed earlier and when the L&D department did an audit, they were flagged.

  23. MapleTheory

    Just curious! Are the letter writers nationality confirmed before posted? I ask because the advice for days off to attend court would be different in let’s say Canada where there is a legislated leave that doesn’t cut into a employees vacation etc.. I only ask because it would be helpful sometimes to give a LW advice :)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Nope, because it’s a U.S. blog, I assume they’re in the U.S. unless they state otherwise. (And if they do state otherwise, I generally won’t run the letter if legal questions are central to the answer, since I don’t have any expertise on other countries’ laws.)

        1. Anon for this

          Not a lawyer, but I do know in New York at least, we’re required to offer jury leave BUT we are not required to offer paid jury leave. (We settled on two weeks paid leave and the rest unpaid, which judges will take into account when deciding whether to let people off jury duty).

          Also, if we do offer paid jury leave, we’re allowed to require employees to sign over their ~$40 per diems from the government. (Though why on earth you’d ever want to do that, I don’t know. It seems like a massive headache and a huge morale issue).

        2. LadyKelvin

          Jury duty, yes but I don’t know about being called as a witness/victim. If you are called for jury duty your employers are required to continue to pay you during your leave if you are exempt (but can mandate that you give your jury pay back to the company, $15 a day for the first 3 days and $30 a day afterwards in my case) or you just get jury pay if you are non-exempt and are missing hours of work. Sometimes jury duty being a financial difficulty is a good enough reason to be released for duty, but you still have to show up the first day. Its complicated, but you can’t get fired for being on jury duty.

          1. LadyKelvin

            I should mention, that was for the state of Florida. But I know my friend in DC served on jury duty for 5 weeks and she continued to get paid full salary for all of those 5 weeks.

        3. JAM

          My state definitely does not. I used to work with witnesses and it was often very difficult because many were the victims of property/financial crimes and were out that money and any money for when they attended court. We did have a crime victims compensation fund but that typically covered medical bills for assaults. For jury duty you are protected but as a witness/victim you don’t have those same rights. The nice thing is many employers don’t actually realize that part so many people do end up with time off, they are just using PTO or unpaid days off.

        4. Jennifer Needs a Thneed

          For Americans, almost everything is a state-by-state thing. And for those things where there are federal requirements (eg: minimum wage), individual states can and often do have stricter requirements.

  24. Jen

    Your manager is absolutely mistaken about the chair – the only real issue that I can see is you buying it yourself from an unapproved company.

    I work for a non-profit and wanted to have “guest chairs” in my office so I could have meetings with two other people. I asked if I could go to an Ikea to buy two chairs with my own money. I was told to talk to someone in facilities. She explained that I could not just buy any old chair because the office chairs they order are from the same company and are fire resistant and ergonomically approved. BUT she said we had a storage area and she had extra chairs there so she let me have two of those for my office.

    For an ergonomic desk chair – you should certainly ask HR. However, I have witnessed this in action and they might try to talk you into a less expensive seat cushion or back support before ponying up the cash for a chair. You would likely have to order it from the approved office supply vendor. At every company that I’ve worked at there is an approved vendor (whether it’s Staples or some unknown office supply company) and you can only order from there even if the prices are cheaper elsewhere.

  25. NW Mossy

    OP #2, you seem pretty sure that Jessica and Alice are credible and giving you the straight story, enough so that you’d be willing to act on their information without going to the source. Can I ask what’s prompting you to feel so convinced? You say in your letter that Jessica “knows pertinent details,” but it’s not clear to me whether that’s knowing benign items like the timeline of your interview process or if you have corroborating evidence for the much more serious claims about your prospective new employer’s opinion of you.

    1. OP#2

      I do trust Alice, as I have a very good working relationship with her. I do not know Jessica so I am taking her gossip with a grain of salt.

      1. Meri

        The first thing possibility that came to mind was that everyone has fallen victim to a giant game of Telephone. Smaller Boss is overheard saying something like “It’s so frustrating waiting to see if OP will accept our offer” which becomes Smaller Boss is frustrated with OP, which becomes he is angry, which becomes he was about to rescind the offer by the time the story reaches you.

        If it’s really eating away at you, a friendly “Congrats on your award, can’t wait to come on board” email to Smaller Boss like you mentioned would be the route I’d take.

  26. designbot

    OP#2, when you get into the job, keep an eye out for Jessica. She sounds like a busybody stirring things up for no good reason.

  27. chumpwithadegree

    For OP 1, just go ahead and file the worker’s comp claim already. We buy plenty of chairs and other ergo equipment, even if the injury/condition is not caused by the job. If your injury is aggravated by the job and the refusal to provide you, or let you provide yourself, with an ergonomically appropriate chair, then the claim should be paid. As a bonus, any ergo equipment insurance buys you is yours just as much as a brace or a prescription, so you get to take it with you when you quit.

  28. Anna Marie

    #1 – As Alison has mentioned, get a note from your doctor. Bonus points if you have a specialist. I have several conditions that cause back pain and a note for my pain management specialist always gets me the accommodations I request. Ask your doctor to stress the importance of having good support for your condition to prevent further, long term damage.

    I also recommend looking into a product called BackJoy. It’s not as good as a full on ergonomic chair, but it’s pretty close – I keep one in my car and at my desk for when I go to meetings (the chairs we have in there are terrible!!), it works wonders and it’s like $40.

  29. DNDL

    #3–Absolutely do not do anything based on gossip. A friend of mine applied to a company where her friend works. Her friend swore up and down that the company was going to hire her. Swore that the hiring manager told her so. Swore that the offer was coming any day now. 100% this job was going to my friend.

    My friend didn’t get the job. Her friend at the company was wrong.

    It doesn’t matter how much your friend thinks she does or doesn’t know. It doesn’t matter your friend’s intentions. They have no way of knowing what the hiring manager really thinks. Don’t fall into the same traps as my friend. Don’t let gossip effect your job search.

  30. Gadfly

    If the company claims it is a hardship to pay for an accommodation, doesn’t the ADA require that they give the employee a chance to decide if they are willing to pay for some or all of it?

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