interviewer asked how my family would describe me, employee quit after gossip about her therapy, and more

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

1. My employee quit on the spot after her request for a therapy referral was shared

One of the employees in the division I manage recently quit on the spot without providing notice. She quit because another manager disclosed her request for a referral to a counselor under our employee assistance program. She didn’t have a mental illness, but there were some upsetting things happening in her personal life (the upsetting things part was known by everyone; we just didn’t know all the details or the extent). This manager sent an email to several people across many divisions saying “Jane got an EAP referral to a shrink, I wonder what for since she has no illness?”

As soon as my employee heard about the email, she walked out and never came back. She rebuffed any attempt to talk to her as she walked out or in the weeks afterward, and she changed her phone number and wouldn’t answer the door at home when someone went to check on her. We were upset at what happened and wanted to see if there was anything we could do for her but we stopped attempting contact after being rebuffed. Now we’ve found out in another email from the same manager that she stopped seeing the counselor. Another former employee who had heard about what happened ran into her after she quit, and he said she denied ever seeing a counselor (even though she truly was seeing one).

I’m appalled at this manager’s actions but I haven’t complained because he is the owner’s nephew. The nephew is married to the company HR manager, who is the daughter of the owner’s best friend. She disclosed the EAP request to him. Neither have education beyond high school or previous work experience. They both report directly to the owner. I want to tell to the owner about what happened. The EAP request was supposed to be confidential. I’m hesitant, though, since the owner doesn’t take well to them being criticized, but I can’t stop thinking about how wrong it was. I also want to say something because the owner and some executives are questioning my division’s drop in performance, which happened both because morale is down after what happened and because she was excellent at her job and made everyone else shine. I also don’t want my other employees to think this was okay. What should I do?

Holy crap, what? He sent an email to people across many divisions speculating on your employee’s private request for a therapy referral?  That manager is a jerk and an ass. And he’s also incredibly ignorant, since he apparently thinks therapy is only for “mental illness”? And also apparently thinks that he would know if someone were struggling with mental illness or not? And then somehow this continued being gossiped about to the point that a former employee knew about it? And now people are talking about how she’s stopped seeing a therapist, which is nobody’s F’ing business, least of all her former coworkers’?

Based on your knowledge of the owner, is he likely to understand how outrageous this is? If yes or maybe, then speak up right away. If no … well, I’d think long and hard about the people you’re working with.

2. Interviewer asked how my family would describe me

I was being interviewed for a job, and the interviewer asked me, “What words would your coworkers use to describe you?” I said, “They would say I’m very smart and very reliable.” Then she asked, “What words would your family use to describe you?” I was utterly baffled by this question. I mean, I honestly don’t know the answer. But also, what is the point of this question? What is she trying to find out about me? I have another interview in a few days, and I’m worried I’ll be asked this question again. I really feel like saying, “That’s none of your business.”

It’s just a crappy interview question. You can drive yourself insane by trying to read into bad interview questions; more often than not, they’re just someone trying to be creative or who downloaded some questions off the internet (and who in both cases lacks a fundamental understanding of how to interview effectively).

It’s pretty unlikely you’ll be asked this question again because it’s not normal, but if for some reason you were, I’d go with “My family would probably say much the same as my coworkers; I’m basically the same person with both groups.”

Frankly, I’d like more people to respond to intrusive interview questions with “that’s an odd question — why do you ask?” … but I realize that the power dynamic in interviews makes that sadly unlikely.

3. How can I convince my coworkers that I like being a temp?

I am a long-term temporary employee at a Fortune 500 company that has gone through many changes, including an ongoing series of layoffs and reorgs, since I started working here several years ago. When I was hired, my manager was very clear and direct that this position had been outsourced years before I started. It will never revert back to a permanent position, which was fine with me then and is fine with me now.

I enjoy my job and my coworkers, except for one thing. My coworkers aren’t happy with the situation. They think the company should hire me, that I should have been hired years ago, that I’m too nice about it, and that if I just insisted on it, I would be hired on as a full-time employee. There have even been several mortifying incidents in the past where my coworkers felt that it was appropriate to talk to my manager about it, which I found out about when they told me afterwards. Frankly, it was humiliating, as if I were a stray they were begging to keep. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened recently, but I live in dread.

How I can shut this conversation down permanently? Every time I think I’ve stamped it out, it pops up again. I never start these conversations, it always happens when a coworker asks me out of the blue if they’ve made me an offer yet, or worse, why they haven’t made me an offer yet. I have no expectation of converting to an full-time employee and I’ve always been clear about that to anyone that asks. I feel like I can’t emphasize enough that I am not hinting or whining or complaining about being a temporary employee or how I would like to be made permanent or anything like that.

I like my job. I have all of the tools I need to perform my duties. I am allowed to do my job as I see fit. Anything I need, I can have, within reason. I am well-compensated for my role, I receive annual raises, and my informal performance reviews are excellent. I have a reasonable commute and flexible hours. My manager does everything in her power to make me feel appreciated without violating the rules for a temporary employee. This is not some grave injustice; I am not hard done by. How do I get that across to my stubborn coworkers who persist in acting as if I’m being mistreated somehow?

You say that you’ve been clear to people that you have no expectation of becoming a full-time employee, but that’s not the same thing as saying that you’re happy with the way things are now and that you don’t want to change the situation.

The next time it comes up, be very, very clear about that. Say this: “I’m actually really happy with this arrangement. It works quite well for me, and I’m not interested in changing the situation.”

Read an update to this letter here.

4. My coworker is “borrowing” money from our company

So I am the one who does the cash reports most of the time. My fellow employee told me that he borrowed money from the cash float. So the boss doesn’t find out, he wanted to do the cash report. This way I wouldn’t be the one who lied that the money was missing. He was going to pay it back, and he did. I went along with this but am uncomfortable knowing he is doing this, and I am pretty sure the company would not like this. What do you recommend?

Because you now know that he’s “borrowing” money from your company without permission, which is also known as stealing, you’d be considered complicit if ever gets caught … meaning that you could lose your job over this.

Is he continuing to do it? If so, you need to tell your boss. If you don’t think he’ll do it again … well, you should still consider telling your boss. But at a minimum, you should tell your coworker that you can’t cover for him for this since you could get fired for knowing and not saying anything.

5. I’m being asked to help out at the job I was laid off from

I was a senior manager for a nonprofit agency that is currently in the process of dissolving. I have been formally laid off, but the board of directors continues to ask me to do things to close the agency. These duties were part of the job I was laid off from. Shouldn’t they have to pay me for this? It doesn’t seem right that I’m asked to volunteer my time. Thoughts?

Because it’s a nonprofit, it’s legal for them to use volunteers … but that doesn’t mean that you’re required to volunteer for the work you used to get paid for. It would be entirely reasonable for you to say something like, “I’d be glad to help with this, but my schedule makes it impossible to continue helping without charging for my time. Would an hourly rate of $X work for you?” If you’d rather not help at all, it’s also fine to simply decline; you can soften that message by explaining that you’re now busy with other things.

{ 285 comments… read them below }

  1. Sami*

    OP#1- I am horrified and disgusted by what happened to your employee. I would have done the same thing. There are no (none, zero) excuses for that email.

    1. Geneva*

      Agreed! I’m also very impressed at the employee for not tolerating their behavior at all. She shut it down!

    2. Annonymouse*

      At the very least point out that the nephew and HR shared confidential information about a workers medical request and it cost you:
      An amazing employee
      Trust in your HR department.

      Also is there something possibly illegal/grey area about that?

        1. Candi*

          There are other privacy laws, particularly at the state level. Checking into the relevant ones could be… educational.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        These needs to at least be brought to owner. If he doesn’t like to be a disciplinarian with said employee he at least needs to use these as a teaching moment; someone has got to tell this kid what he did was out of line. Pillow talk should NEVER leave the pillow; and in this case it should have never been brought to the pillow. It’s too confidential, esp. given husband/wife work in same company.

        Not to mention wording just screams immaturity – “shrink” – c’mon!

        1. PollyQ*

          10000000000% in agreement that the behavior was egrigiously awful, but I’m in therapy, and I use the word ‘shrink’ all the time.

      2. MashaKasha*

        I thought about trust too. Good luck getting the employees to provide any information or feedback of a confidential nature… I wouldn’t after this.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      It makes sense to me that the employee left. Not only is this a broad problem it also has several layers. It’s too much to dig out from under it AND process life events at the same time.

      I am thinking of when my father died. If my company did this to me, I would have said “overload! not dealing! bye!” If I had to chose between working at life problems and fixing work problems, I’d have to chose fixing life problems.

      And she was right. The multiple points of contact where she had to change her phone number and avoid answering her own door? Wow. These people are lucky she did not call the police. I can’t imagine what it is like to be her. What a nightmare.

      Not your fault, OP. And you were very wise to write Alison to work this through. You get that there is something really wrong here.

      Your employee felt she could not fix what is wrong here and as you can see, so does Alison.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Especially since mental illness still carries such a stigma (unfairly). (And she may not even have a mental illness! People see therapists for all sorts of reasons!) And to spread that conjecture around is just wrong. It’s one thing to tell your coworkers that you’re experiencing some tough stuff in life; it’s another to have that stuff speculated on by the people responsible for your wages and promotions.

    4. K.*

      I’m in therapy myself and I’d have done exactly what your employee did if I found out my colleagues were gossiping about it like that. Zero discussion, blacklist.

      1. TheOperaGhost*

        I’ve left a retail job where my coworkers and managers were mocking people who go to therapy over the company radios. I was really struggling with my depression at that point in my life and it was not worth the mental anguish to me to make a complaint about it.

      2. Meghan*

        Yeah, same. I don’t have mental illness, I see a therapist for grief counseling (not that it matters – therapy for everyone, literally seeing my therapist in a few hours) and this would make me NOPE the eff outta there immediately. What an incredible invasion of privacy.

    5. Trout 'Waver*

      I am someone who is open about having suffered from and recovered from a mental illness. The hardest part of recovery is the social stigma. What the manager did is so far beyond the pale that I don’t even have words for it. He is a complete asshole. If I was an employee at a company that behaved like that, I would immediately start looking for a new job.

      As a manager, you need to fight against this hard, if for no other reason than to assure the rest of your team that the way your team member who resigned was treated is completely unacceptable.

      1. Lnsbird*

        Your company also needs a new EAP because they absolutely should not have a process that allows anyone at the company to know who is using services.

        1. ZenJen*

          EXACTLY–EAP should be confidential–that’s the whole basis behind it (confidential access to services that can help employees)!!!!

          I wonder whether they might have a case–that gossip made work an awful environment for the employee.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Unfortunately, “going through a rough time in one’s personal life” isn’t a protected class, and if she doesn’t have a mental illness there’s no possibility of an ADA claim either (well, maybe on “perceived to have” grounds? Idk, IANAL.), so unless she’s in CA where bullying is considered an actionable type of harassment and can show that the manager’s actions meet the definition of bullying – which I’m not sure they would, horrible as they were – I doubt she’s got a case on any axis.

            1. Cat steals keyboard*

              In the U.K. being discriminated against because you are perceived as being in a protected class is covered the same as discrimination for actually being in it, but no idea if that applies elsewhere.

              1. Jadelyn*

                In the U.S. that’ll vary wildly by state – mental illness isn’t even a protected class under Title VII much less covered by anything on being perceived to have membership in a class, although like I said, she might have an ADA claim on “perceived to have a disability” grounds, but that’s really a question for an ADA attorney at this point.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              (assuming this is a U.S.-based letter): Agreed that this likely would not fall under the ADA or be otherwise actionable (unless there’s some other state laws re: disclosure). I don’t think perceived disability would apply b/c the email did not suggest she had a disability; instead, it suggested she was not entitled to therapy/EAP because she did not have a mental health diagnosis or disability.

              But on a basic human decency level, the manager who sent that despicable email, as well as his failure of an HR manager girlfriend, should be called out. Being able to practice confidentiality is a central job requirement of working in HR (or frankly, in any management capacity), and the exercise of good judgment and discretion are core competencies for managers. Clearly these two have none of those skills.

              But perhaps the most egregious part of the story is that someone(s) compounded those managers’ egregious behavior by failing to shut down gossip and then spreading the word enough for the impacted employee to hear about it through the grapevine. [Aside: And why is anyone monitoring whether she sees a therapist and whether she wants to disclose that information?? “Inappropriate” doesn’t even begin to describe how wrong this entire chain of events turned out to be].

              If the owner is willing to let this incident slide, then his company is not worth working for. The only right reaction to OP sharing this with him is—at a minimum—reprimanding all involved (although I would argue he should fire both manager and HR manager). Ugh. My heart goes out to the woman involved, and I’m truly sorry that you work with folks who are depraved.

        2. sunny-dee*

          Yeah, that part blew my mind. I checked into my EAP, and it explicitly says that they do not report any identifying information — not age, sex, race, geographical location, or the reason for the contact. All they report is the total number of people who used the service and the number of hours that they used, so the company can assess the use of the benefit.

          It is insane that the EAP company would report who and why someone was using the EAP.

          1. Persephone Mulberry*

            I don’t necessarily think the EAP did. The OP says “another manager disclosed her request for a referral to a counselor under our employee assistance program” – which to me indicates the employee asked the HR manager how to utilize the EAP, making the HR manager the loudmouth, not the EAP.

            1. Elle*

              My question is why she had to get a referral in the first place? As an HR Manager, I’ve had people come to me for the phone number, or to ask how the process works. I have posters up all over the place with the 800 number on it, so they definitely don’t have to go through me at all. My involvement isn’t required for a referral, thank goodness, who am I to say whether or not someone needs an EAP? This situation is just so, so wrong.

              1. Annonymouse*

                Judging by what OP wrote about them (high school only education, no other job experience, daughter of owners best friend)

                I’m guessing HR isn’t the type to have posters up and would probably be nosy enough to ask what type of help/why former employee needed EAP.

            2. Stardust*

              Yes, that’s how I read it too. That the HR wife of nephew breached confidentially to nephew and he emailed the speculations around. Terrible!

        3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          I was wondering about whether or not HR usually had access to that info or enough info that would identify the employee. It’s actually caused me to hesitate to use my company’s EAP, as I wouldn’t want my employer to know.

          I wonder if this was more of a connect the dots thing. Small company, HR gets report that EAP was used, and common-ish knowledge that the employee was going through a rough time?

          1. designbot*

            At many companies employees don’t know how to navigate the EAP–they aren’t given paperwork on it, there’s no web portal, they just know through word of mouth that it’s there. Then if they actually need to use it, they go to HR and ask how that work and are given info on finding a therapist, a lawyer, whatever it is they need from the EAP. That’s how it worked when I had to use it, so of course HR knew it was me, because they actually gave me the number to call to find a therapist personally.

        4. Annonymouse*

          I think Former Employee (FE) went to HR to ask how EAP works.
          (This HR person doesn’t strike me as the kind to have a poster or business card out for EAP contact details)

          So if FE was the only person on the list of who was using EAP then HR could put it together.

          They’re not smart enough to know that’s not something the disclose to anyone or that confidentiality is a huge part of their job though.

    6. Interviewer*

      OP#1 – While it is absolutely none of your business if she’s going to a therapist or not, she’s likely stopped going to THAT therapist. The scorched earth path she left is plenty of proof of her unwillingness to stay connected to your company any longer. Your coworkers made a difficult situation absolutely unlivable for her. Please give the owner a heads up about that.

      1. 2 Cents*

        She may have also been worried that since the therapist was tangentially connected to the company through the EAP or other manager, she was vulnerable to more information being leaked around the company. I can’t blame her for switching. The whole situation is just sickening.

        1. Venus Supreme*

          I’m completely in agreement with you. That would be my exact same thought process- make a complete cut from that place!

    7. GrandBargain*

      Absolutely infuriating. As I read this letter, the OP manages the division and therefore also manages the offender. Fire him on the spot and escort him out.

      1. Annonymouse*

        Not an option.
        As I’m reading it Jerk Nephew is a manager but not under OP – JN reports to owner directly.

        Even if JN did report to OP I’d have a feeling unless you have him on camera stealing money, verbally or physically abusing a coworker or literally having sex with someone on his desk that his job is safe.

        Maybe even with the above he’d still stay hired. Ugh!

    8. 2 Cents*

      I’m sick to my stomach thinking about that employee! How horrific! To have something confidential widely disseminated without knowledge and accompanied by gossip during a time when she’s struggling (with whatever — it’s not up for discussion or conjecture) AND she made the choice to reach out for help — it’s so sickening. The nephew is a complete and utter ass. The “HR” manager is completely at fault as well for disclosing this information at all, but especially to her idiot husband who is infantile and incapable of making good choices, especially at a managerial level.

      Nepotism at its best, folks. Bet this isn’t the first time either of these two has violated someone’s privacy.

      1. Annonymouse*

        Well if you want to look at the (morbid and messed up) bright side you can think this:

        New candidate for worst boss 2016.

        My money is still on Liver Donner Boss for #1, but this guy and Chemo Interrupter Boss really give him a run for his money.

  2. Stellaaaaa*

    OP2: “My mom says I’m the smartest, prettiest lady ever.”

    Are they trying to suss out people with estranged relatives or something?

    1. Cat steals keyboard*

      As a person with estranged family I would be very upset by this question. It constantly grates on me that having a family is treated as normative.

      1. Anniee*

        I got asked exactly this, all in one go, as in “how would your family describe you compared to how your coworkers would” I couldn’t say I actively avoid showing my family a large proportion of my personality and life! It’s the only interview question where I’ve ever just made something up. Doing that really left me shaken for a few days though, there was that irrational fear that they’d pick up on me not having a perfect family and mark that against me. i got the job, but left for a better one fairly quickly.

      2. Punkin*

        +1000 With me, it would be “Which member of my family? My homicidal grandmother that never served a day in jail for killing 2 separate men (on different occasions)? Or the stepfather that molested both of his stepdaughters? Or my suicidal mother who never sought mental health treatment, just relied on her small children to hide razors and regularly beg her to come out from the locked bathroom? ”

        My “family” has nothing to do with me and how I do a job, other than maybe making me determined to be as self-sufficient as possible.

        1. Mookie*

          (I’m so sorry. I wish you all the self-sufficiency in the world to help keep you far away and safe from them.)

        2. Not So NewReader*

          You have absolutely amazing survival skills. I am sorry all this crap happened to you.
          I, also, wish you the absolute best in your endeavors.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I love Alison’s response here, it’s hugely helpful to so many people.
        I am sure many people are reading and rereading the response in effort to craft a similar response that would fit their exact setting.

        Thanks, Alison, for taking tough questions like this and dragging them out into the light of day so people can break it down and actually handle the situation.

      4. Jadelyn*

        Same. “Well, my mother thinks I’m pretty incredible, but my father thinks I’m a failure as a human being because I severed ties with him after one drunken rage too many a few years back.”

        1. Anna*

          Yeah, I’m trying to figure out what my family would say. My dad might say I’m too liberal and out of touch, my brother and my sisters might say I’ve always got their back and I will cut you if you cross them…but none of it would be offensive to me while others might think it was *terrible*. This is a useless question.

        2. Beanie*

          “Well my mom thinks I’m absolutely perfect and can do no wrong, though she would prefer if I wore more mascara and had better posture and called her more often….” (not sure my answer would have been what they were looking for)

      5. Shazbot*

        My parents are not speaking to me at the moment, possibly permanently, so it would grate on me to have to answer that question, too.

        Maybe a good answer would be, “I don’t know; I don’t like to put words in peoples’ mouths.”

      6. Candi*

        Well, do they want to hear about the toxic mother who was repeatedly ticked off I wasn’t a social butterfly, walked out when I was 19 after saying, “I don’t want you, you’re too much like your father,” and accused me of lying and physically attacked me months later when I told her mother that dear mother that she hadn’t been in any contact with me since she walked out? And who since then has rewritten history in her mind to make her both angel and victim.

        Heck, the only reasons I still have contact with her is my sister and my kids.

        But I’m sure an employer wants to hear alllll about it. (/Sarcasm)

    2. INTP*

      I think it’s probably a really terrible way of asking “how would people you are close to outside of a work context describe you?” Probably not malicious, but a really awful phrasing that is bound to throw off candidates without close family or whose family don’t see them clearly.

      1. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

        Yes, this. It’s a bad question, but I think it is principally a misguided way of asking “what are you like outside of work?”

          1. Lemon Zinger*

            Which are also none of their business, but at least it’s an inoffensive question and easy to make something up.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        Yeah, I don’t think “My father’s still disappointed that I never joined the military, and my mother thinks I’m a picky dater” are what an employer is looking for.

        1. Anna*

          This made me laugh. Be careful what you ask in an interview, people. You may get more insight than you wanted.

    3. Temperance*

      Yep. My family is full of really shitty people. The answer to the question would be “they think that I’m a bitch and an elitist because I have an education and know how things work in the world”, and I just don’t think that would fly.

      1. DoDah*

        My family would say ,”She’s an uppity girl who doesn’t know her place and is too smart for her own good.”

        So–yah–I wouldn’t be hired.

        1. Camellia*

          OMG this. I learned at a very young age that, when people would ask, “Where did you get THAT idea?, I had better say, “I read it somewhere,” instead of the truth that I thought of it myself. Which of course lead to the follow up comment of, “You sure do read a lot.” Which I did, actually. Then I had to learn to mentally edit my speech to words of three syllables or less or suffer retribution for, you know, being too smart/uppity.

          1. DoDah*

            I’ve had to learn to associate any idea I’ve had to a man. Then it was/is OK.

            P.S. Still having to do this at a 500 employee 20-year-old tech company with no woman or POC in management.

        2. Golden Lioness*

          High five! My mother’s response to finding out I was going to college was “are you a lesbian?”

          That was after years of family telling me not to do so well in school because no man was even going to marry me!

          1. SimontheGreyWarden*

            It’s funny because my husband actually loves to brag to people that I’m smarter than him. I’m not, but I am more capable of sitting still and excelling in the skills that formal education prizes, and I am good at making connections between disparate threads. However, my husband grew up with a mother who had her doctorate and his dad left formal education after HS, so he was already an anomaly. I think plenty of people of either gender want a partner they can have conversation with, not just arm candy.

            1. Golden Lioness*

              Exactly! Only insecure people (not just men) would be turned off by a smart woman. Considering how visual men are, even the most shallow of men could not deal with a woman with the intelligence of an amoeba for long, not matter how attractive she may be.

              1. many bells down*

                My husband tells me that his father always told him to marry a woman smarter than he is. I’m not sure he’s managed it, but it’s nice to hear he thinks he has.

          2. DragoCucina*

            +1 Golden Lioness, only I joined the Army and didn’t have children before I was 25. After I was married. Okay, I never played with dolls, except for paper dolls because I could create a huge wardrobe for them.

            After 30 years of marriage my mother was still telling other family that I was in the closet. Sorry, definitely heterosexual. She did also tell me that I was conceited because I refused to be pulled into arguments, where the winner was the one who yelled the loudest.

    4. Girasol*

      This! Make a joke of it unrelated to any real family situation. Not, I suppose, that I could be that glib on such an awkward question when answering it from an interview chair instead of the living room sofa.

  3. eplawyer*

    #1 — this company is far too intermarried to be effective. You have conflicts of interest all over the place. Start your job search now, rather than later, if possible.

    #4 This is why someone else does the cash report, so things like this get noticed. As Alison said by helping him cover it, you are complicit. If I were the manager, I would fire you both. You need to think if this guy is worth your job – and your ability to get another one. Because if you are fired for covering up a theft, it is going to be very hard to find another job.

    1. plip*

      “#1 — this company is far too intermarried to be effective. You have conflicts of interest all over the place. Start your job search now, rather than later, if possible.”

      This. 1000 percent.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yes, this company does not reach outside it’s own circle. They self-validate and ignore what is actually going on in the world. It may take years but the company is set to collapse on itself.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        Agreed 100%….sadly these types of occurrences seem to be prevalent in nepotistic companies.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      Agreed so much with both points. OP #1 needs to start job searching, like, yesterday and OP #4 needs to tell the manager about the theft. All truths come to light eventually, and the consequences are going to be much worse later than if you just fess up now.

      1. Lance*

        Oh yes. Come clear about it now, because if you don’t, it can (and very likely will) come back to bite you when your knowledge about it becomes known.

    3. Rebecca*

      I was really astonished when I took the time to read the connections again.

      Bucket Mouth Manager is the owner’s nephew.
      Manager is married to the company’s Bucket Mouth HR manager.
      Bucket Mouth Company HR manager is the daughter of the owner’s best friend.

      Wow. I mean, who can the OP go to for a resolution to this problem? IMO, both of these people should lose their jobs.

      1. Lance*

        No kidding. Sounds like a horribly dysfunctional setting where the higher-ups will have each others’ backs for positive or negative.

      2. Thornus*

        I work for a small business where both owners have an adopted son together, but the male owner is about 30 years the female owner’s senior and they were never in a relationship together. The female owner’s mom works as a support staff and has had that role since the 80s when the male owner was the sole owner (female owner got her start in the company by working in the summers as a receptionist for below minimum wage). Now, the adopted son also works part time Tuesdays and Thursdays as support staff, and his wife has come on as a part-time receptionist (I don’t even know which days it’s so sporadic) too. It is quite clear that the son is being groomed to take over the business despite still being in college and not yet even enrolling in the state-required post-undergrad multi-year professional licensing program.

        Why yes, I am searching for another job. Why do you ask?

        1. DoDah*

          I’m having flashbacks about my last job.

          If you were family you were automatically a VP. This is a tech company that provides software to tens of thousands units of local government, BTW….

    4. Sunflower*

      Beyond that WTF with the coworker who ran into her and asked her if she was still seeing the therapist???? Not okay, not normal, not anything.

      The problems in this company run beyond the interrelated drama obviously.

      If I was that employee, I’d do the same thing and try to black out that working at that company was ever a part of my life that existed.

  4. EB*

    That family question is a good (terrible) way to suss out LGBT+ people. I know I’d hesitate and pause before answering that, because of the difficulty coming out caused over a period of years. (Not that this is the only reason people have strained relationships with family, but it’s common, and can’t you just see someone using it to discriminate?)

    1. Mookie*

      I’ve a distant relative who lives and works in a US state populated and associated with a specific strain of a specific religion, and they get variants on this question in interviews, as well; they have reason to suspect it’s a combination of gender identity / orientation / alignment with religious affiliation. They also want to know whether candidates’s families reside in the state and, if so, for how long and how many generations.

    2. Daisy*

      I can’t really see how, unless your answer to the question is ‘gay’. I think it’s just a softball opener- not useful, sure, but I can’t quite see it as the nefarious tactic everyone else is. Just say ‘kind’ or ‘funny’ or something, it’s not difficult.

      1. Blossom*

        Agreed. Yeah, it’s a silly question, but the intent behind it is almost certainly “getting to know the real you”, maybe trying to relax a candidate who was coming across a little stiff (relative to the company’s culture).

      2. Jen RO*

        Yeah, I don’t think it’s meant to do anything like that. It’s probably a misguided way of assessing fit – like, are you a serious person or do you enjoy joking around? do you like cats or dogs? etc.

      3. Nashira*

        I have a limited relationship with my parents because I’m queer and my mom threatened to disown me. This isn’t uncommon for queer folks
        That’s why we worry it’s about trying to suss out our orientation.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          But there are SO many other reasons to have a limited relationship with one’s parents. I can’t see any reason why an interviewer would jump to that conclusion.

          1. Mike C.*

            When there are so many employers who believe such information is their business, I don’t think it’s useful to deny that it’s a clear issue.

            It’s called “getting married on Sunday and fired on Monday”.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I know it is an issue. I just have a hard time believer employers would handle it in this particular manner. I don’t understand why anyone would jump to the conclusion that if you have a bad relationship with your parents, it must be because you’re gay. Or why anyone would assume someone else is jumping to that conclusion. If an interviewer were really trying to pry that information out of you, aren’t there better ways to do it? If an interviewer were really determined not to hire anyone who is LGBT, wouldn’t this particular tactic bring the risk of a “false negative” result from someone whose family didn’t have a problem with it? (Oh the horror!)

              1. Emilia Bedelia*

                I agree. I think the amount of reading between the lines that one has to do to suss out orientation in an answer to that question makes it unlikely that it’s being used as a screening tactic. If the employer is really that concerned about screening for LGBT employees, there are far better ways to figure that out (“are you a member of any community groups?””have you ever had a disagreement with a coworker for personal reasons?”). I think this question is just the result of a clueless employer who put no thought into the fact that families aren’t a given for everyone.

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  And so we are to presume that interviewers who ask “what would you family say about you?” are usually hoping you will slip up and say “my wife” if you’re a female? That’s really, really stretching it. And also a bit paranoid.

                  (To be clear, I don’t think it’s paranoid to believe that some interviewers will try to figure out how discriminate against you without making it obvious. I just don’t think this question is an example of that.)

                2. Candi*

                  I can see someone trying to use it to fish for None of Your Business info -but it would be a really clumsy method. As well as clueless on multiple levels.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        I think it’s pretty normal to see the question as an attack type question. I had a strained relationship with my family. It stemmed from when I said I thought my mother needed a check up because something was wrong. My family decided I was mentally ill. Then when they found out I was right, they randomly decided that it was up to me to care for her 24/7. Her needs were such that she would have to have a crew of people taking care of her, for me to do it alone was not possible.
        I had quite a pressure cooker going on at that time and a question like this would have thrown me for a loop.
        We have a section of our society that sincerely believes if you do not get along with family for whatever reason then YOU must be flawed somehow. Fortunately, the number of people who believe this is dwindling. I’d encourage anyone reading here to help pass the message along: “Relationships with family has no bearing on a person’s professional abilities.”

    1. Punkin*

      Exactly. This made me hurt so badly for the person who quit. I would not want to work for such a place. And I would tell them why I left as soon as I got another job.

        1. Sami*

          This situation also has some parallels to the young woman who quit after not being allowed to go to her college graduation.

    2. Purple Jello*

      And the HR person or whoever told the manager. I thought that only non-identifying info was reported to the company, like how many people used the EAP option, not actual names.

      1. Brownie Queen*

        That is a good point. I too question as to how they found out she was the one using a supposedly anonymous service. I truly feel for those who suffer due to fear of using EAP and having the exact thing happen to them as the person in letter #1.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Around here there are quite a few people who do not trust EAP. Looks like they could be correct.

          1. Lemon Zinger*

            I certainly worry about the EAP at my workplace. It made me stop going to therapy after only two sessions. Also because my boss was prying about why I was unavailable for one hour each week.

        2. Lance*

          I assume it was leaked, as it were, through the related HR Manager (which would, of course, place a good bit of fault on them as well).

        3. LizM*

          She may have had to ask for the information on how to use the services. I had to go to HR to find out the number to call to get EAP services. Fortunately our HR is competent and didn’t ask me what I needed it for, so for all they knew I was just doing some estate planning.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Same here–I asked my old manager about ours fairly early in my employment and she told me where to access it. Then she dropped it and never brought it up again. The way it should be.

  5. Anon Accountant*

    #4 I think you have to tell your boss immediately. When this is caught and your boss discovers you knew about it you will be out of a job or at least will have broken his trust. Explaining a termination due to fraud complicity is going to stack odds against you in a job search.

    1. Melody Pond*

      Seconded on #4. What’s being described is straight-up fraud and theft. I took a forensic accounting class earlier this year, and the whole, “I’m just borrowing money, I’m totally going to pay it back” is how a good chunk of fraud originates.

      OP #4, I’d urge you to go straight to your manager with this.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Yes almost each time I’ve seen fraud (and I’ve seen a lot of it in 10 years unfortunately) it’s began with “was going to pay it back” and they did. But then it spiraled out of control. Financial issues took their toll? “Borrow” more from the company until the point where they stopped repaying it. Pressure, opportunity and rationalization form the fraud triangle. In my experience it only takes 2 and is usually pressure and opportunity.

        OP4 run, don’t walk to your manager today.

    2. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*


      Everyone who steals from their employer claims they were “just borrowing the money”, and often they may even believe that themselves. But a loan is a consensual, open transaction. If a friend picked your pocket, then claimed when caught that they were totally going to repay you, would you say, “Oh, that’s totally cool then. When you’re ready”? I doubt it. The company didn’t agree to loan your co-worker money (at 0% interest no less), and they will rightfully consider it theft compounded by fraud, which you are now complicit in. Tell your manager, today.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Agreed. Never mess with the money.

      I will not cover for people. Period. I know I am the one who will get bit in the end and I was just trying to help. Well, there are lots of ways to help that ARE legal.

      Often what happens is that people don’t want to have the difficult conversation so they just go along with something like this.

      So start the conversation by saying, “I am not willing to go to jail for you. So I will not be able to do this. However, on a personal level I am concerned for you and I would be able to help you to find proper resources to deal with this situation.”

      Yes, OP, talk to the boss.

      1. krysb*

        I think, at best, depending on local laws, this may be deemed harassment, though. It’s hard to tell with the little information provided. (There are also other factors to, such as having a sympathetic judge.) I highly doubt it would be criminal, but it may meet the standards for litigation in some civil jurisdictions.

        Also, it probably does not meet the definition of hostile workplace, since it doesn’t appear to actually violate EEOC rules.

        (Note: I am not an attorney. I’m just a nerd with a bit of legal experience.)

        1. Sarahnova*

          That doesn’t help the LW, though, since the employee who left would be the only one who could file charges, and she seems inclined simply to move on.

          1. Office Plant*

            Couldn’t someone else report it, though? There must be local organizations that would be interested.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              From what we’ve been told, it doesn’t look like there’s a legal hook, and unless it’s a state with really specialized laws, it’s certainly not criminal. So who would receive the report, and what would they do with it?

              krysb, this doesn’t sound like it would fall into the hostile work environment category. The closest legal umbrella would likely be the ADA.

      2. Anon for this one*

        Question… if Company X does self-insure, but contracts with an outside agency to do so, do HIPAA regulations apply to the Company X’s employees anyway?

        1. Jessie*

          It can still apply to Company X, but depends on the nature of the services contracted out, and if the contract provides for the possibility that some protected health information could be transmitted to/from the company. Usually, self-insured plans that contract out still have some HIPAA obligations. But it is complicated.

          That said, if an employee told someone in the company that she needed EAP services, it is most likely not a HIPAA issue regardless. Information that flows from the employee to an employer is generally not protected health information.

      3. Dani X*

        Could a case be made that this effectively prevents employees from using benefits because they are now afraid that usage will be broadcast to the company? I gather from previous comments that preventing employees from using benefits was illegal. Personally if I was the worker I would be talking to a lawyer. Not sure i would go through with a lawsuit, depends on how much chance I have vs how much it would take out of me. But i would want to know my options. Maybe I would also have them send a cease and desist letter so they would stop gossiping about me.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It’s unlikely. The benefit here (EAP) is a “bonus/perk” program provided by employers—it’s not really an employment benefit for the purposes of labor regs (regulated benefits are things like retirement, health care, etc., and anything that may fall under a CBA).

          And a cease and desist would be tough because those letters rely on being able to sue for slander, which doesn’t really fit, here (the “truth” of a statement is a complete defense—if employee sought counseling, then saying she sought counseling is inappropriate but not libelous).

          I hope I’m not being a wet blanket; I just hesitate to send folks in vulnerable positions on legal goose chases because it’s often painful, protracted, and expensive for them, and in the end, there’s nothing for them to “win.”

  6. OP#3*

    A couple of days after I wrote this letter, I discovered that it’s another temporary employee, also on an indefinite assignment, who is keeping people stirred up. She is desperately unhappy with the situation and has taken it extremely personally. For some reason, she is convinced that if they hire me, they will hire her as well, so she has been hounding people about hiring me.

    Unfortunately, her manager is one of the ones who thinks the company is “taking advantage of” me. I believe she has been encouraging co-worker’s antics as well. To make it even more ridiculous, I work on teapot spouts and she works on coffee filters. They have completely separate budgets and headcounts.

    1. MK*

      In that case, I think this manager is the person to tackle. Don’t make a big issue about it, but try to have a conversation with her as be clear that you are happy with your arrangement (even going so far as to say you wouldn’t accept a permanent position, if that’s true), and that you don’t want this fight being taken on in your name.

      Also, I think you should be firmer with the rest of your coworkers too. Continuing to stir this up after you told them you don’t want to would annoy me T the point of being offended.

      1. T3k*

        Nothing to add, I just wanted to say I misread that as “annoy the tea out of me” for a second. I really shouldn’t be reading things this late at night.

      2. Annie Moose*

        Yeah, and if you’re firm with your coworkers, they might end up pushing back for you when this other temp or her manager tries to stir up trouble. (not that they’re obligated to or anything, just that they might end up doing it anyway)

        I know that if a coworker told me they were perfectly happy with their job and wanted people to stop trying to “fix” it, I’d definitely say something the next time someone else came up and tried to talk about how the coworker really wasn’t happy!

    2. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

      I can see her point. Being needed enough that your “temporary” contract is renewed over and over again, yet not making you a fulltime employee with the benefits thereof, is shady at best, IMO. I mean, “long-term temp” is kind of an oxymoron. But if you don’t want to get involved, you don’t, so I think Alison’s advice is the best way of shutting it down. You may need to broken-record it.

      1. miss_chevious*

        Ehh, it depends on the services provided and how the arrangement is structured. I’ve worked with several companies who outsourced certain functionalities to service providers, even though the outsourced employees actually sat in the building. Sometimes it’s shady, and sometimes it’s legit. Either way, in this situation it seems to work for the OP.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, and temps can change assignments too, whereas it’s harder for a permanent employee. So if OP is happy, and the company is not doing anything weird, they need to leave her alone about it.

      2. Whats In A Name*

        Yes, but it’s also the employees call not the call of a manager that is not hers. OP states she is happy.
        I work on annual contract that gets renewed time and time again as do several other people in the company. They have offered us full time positions (that would included benefits and 401K match) but the majority of us turn it down so long as we have the option to continue on contract. There is a flexibility that would go away if I were to switch to FT and right now it doesn’t make sense for me to give it up. And that’s my choice to make.

        1. Golden Lioness*

          Besides the flexibility, when they transfer a contractor to full time employee they pay LESS because of the benefits and PTO.

      3. Cat steals keyboard*

        But OP does not find it shady and wants people to respect that, so let’s respect that.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Nip this one.

      Go to your boss and let her know that you are totally happy with your current arrangement.

      Then go to others and announce that you have told your boss that you are happy with the arrangement and you have no interest in changing anything.

      Shut this one down by telling all concerned parties what you want AND letting each party know you have told others the same thing.

      I hate it when other people speak for me. I can do my own talking, thank you very much. If push comes to shove, you might say something similar that people have taken it upon themselves to speak for you when you do not want such help.

      1. Evergreen*

        Agreed, all the advice here is spot on.

        The only thing I’d add is that it would really help if OP could provide a short synopsis of why she prefers this arrangement – this is the bit I’m struggling to understand (I mean, OPs description in the letter is why she likes this job, not the fact that it’s a temporary version of the job)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, I don’t quite understand why OP wants this but am going with the flow here. It does sound like there are a lot of things right about the job.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      I think that if you can come across as reasonable and gracious on an anonymous internet post (which you do!), then you will most certainly come across as reasonable and gracious in person to your coworkers if you explain it to them like you do here.

    5. Lora*

      I can see why co-workers might feel it is inappropriate – legally, the perma-temp thing has to be very clearly set out in a contract of some sort as “Temp will work on Project X which is expected to last 4 years and will not work on anything a regular employee would ever touch”. Otherwise they can be found in court to owe you back pay and benefits that would have normally been made available to a full time employee, whether you are happy or not, because the award would go to anyone who might be found to be in the class definition in a class action suit. In other words, if someone else brings a class action lawsuit saying that your company has a habit of using temporary works that should be properly classified as full time employees for the purposes of screwing over temp workers in general, you could be included in the class without ever seeing or speaking to a lawyer. It puts them at legal risk from that perspective.

      1. Judy*

        My last F50 employer would only allow perma-temps to be placed at a company for 18 months. They then could not be placed with the company for 6 months before being placed with that same company again. This was supposed to be in response to the rulings about temps being actual employees and being awarded benefits after the fact.

        Once a perma-temp reached 12 months, they started having discussions about hiring or replacing them.

        1. Jessie*

          I think it probably stems from confusion over independent contractor vs temp vs employee. If a company hires someone on its own, not through an agency, but calls them an independent contractor, well, they may not be right about that “independent contractor” being a contract. He/she might be an employee, in which case a court (or a state’s AG) could require the company to repay FICA taxes for the employee and retroactively award benefits.

          Temping is a different animal. If a company gets people through a temp agency, it could be fine (even if they are there long term) or it could be that they are conssidered by the IRS to be common law employees. That does not require that an employer offer you benefits, and it’s not like being at a place for 18 months or being specifically assigned to just one project is some kind of magic line that once you cross, you are a common law employee. That affects the tax-qualified nature of an employer’s benefit plans but doesn’t necessarily have any impact on the temp.

        2. Danae*

          Microsoft lost a very large lawsuit a number of years ago because of its use of permatemps–most of whom worked alongside full-time employees and were treated exactly the same as the FTEs except that they were paid less, got no stock options, and most had few to no benefits.

          A fair chunk of the tech industry decided to put at least nominal restrictions on permatemps after that.

          1. Natalie*

            Although it’s worth noting that the MS suit has little relevance for the average private-sector employer. The suit was solely about stock options and hinged on how Microsoft had worded their particular stock option plan.

          1. Natalie*

            That page is referring to when the Department of Labor hires temps. Those are not rules for employers in general that hire temps.

    6. Katie-Pie*

      It sounds like you and your manager understand each other, but it might be worthwhile to go to your manager and explain the “stir up” that keeps happening and clarify that you are not instigating those conversations, and don’t want him/her to think you might be. You want to make sure your manager doesn’t think you’re saying one thing, but secretly feeling another. Then, once your manager knows you’re not behind it, the next time a coworker comes to him/her on your behalf, your manager can shut it down even faster: “Actually, OP3 and I just recently had a talk about this and she feels harassed by others discussing her employment. Please just focus on your work so she can focus on hers.”

  7. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. I got to the bit about the family connections and was horrified. I can understand why the employee walked out.

    1. ginger ale for all*

      I’m am hoping for an update in a few months with a mention of Jane getting a lawyer. OP 1, you may want to work on your resume. If a company lets this go down without repercussions, the door is open for more.

  8. Observer*

    #1 – Unless the owner is someone who you can report this to, and who will do something about it, I would really start looking for another job. Don’t quit over this, but it’s time to move on.

  9. Observer*

    #4 – Do not EVER, EVER allow this person to do the report for again, no matter what he says about paying the money back. The company will eventually find out – and if you are LUCKY you’ll just get fired. If you are not so lucky, they will go after you for fraud. And, they will win.

    You had a job, which was to do the cash reports – and one of the purposes of the cash report is to highlight shortfalls. You chose not to do your job. Worse, you knowingly allowed someone else to file a fraudulent report. That makes you an accessory. While you may not have said or written the words “all cash is accounted for” you actively helped him to cover up fraud.

    1. Tex*

      Not to mention, if the co-worker is ethically compromised or desperate enough to do this, there are probably problems with his other work. OP, cash management has been assigned to you as a part of your job duties. This is what the beginning of fraud and embezzlement looks like. Report it and don’t regret it; your fiduciary duty and loyalty belongs to the company. This guy is just going to start pushing boundaries and by “taking over your duties so you’re not in trouble”, he’s not doing you a favor – he’s giving himself license to do what he wants with the money unsupervised.

      1. XXC*

        4. My coworker is “borrowing” money from our company
        You both hit it on the nose. But I have another thought. OP # 4, please report it. All you need is for your co-worker to turn around and say you are the one stealing. You could be the one fired for stealing, etc., and suffer fines and imprisonment. They may just fire you both if they cannot figure out who is stealing? They are not going take your word if they figure it out. Report it while you still have your employers respect.

    2. catsAreCool*

      Sometimes embezzlement starts with “borrowing” a little and then gets bigger and bigger. You don’t want to be part of this.

  10. Cat steals keyboard*

    #1 Props to AAM for pointing out everything that was wrong with this, including the idea that you need to have a diagnosable illness to benefit from therapy or that you can tell who does or doesn’t have such an illness. I would be looking for a new job, stat. How are they going to treat YOU if you ever go through a tough time?

    #2 Wow, what a terrible question. I’m estranged from my family and it frustrates me that people assume everyone has a family when some don’t. Though I realise that’s ‘my stuff’.

    #4 This person is making you complicit in a crime which is an awful position to be in. “This way I wouldn’t be the one who lied that the money was missing”. But if you knowingly let him do the cash report to cover his tracks, it may as well be you who lied. Don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm. If he gets caught he could drop you in it just by revealing he did the report. Of course they wouldn’t like it! I don’t understand why you let him do it. Serious question: did you really not understand how wrong that was at the time?

    1. Cat steals keyboard*

      Also re #4, this is the equivalent of knowingly leaving a bank vault unlocked.

      I think you need to confess or quit, sorry.

  11. Anonicat*

    #2 Yeah, a few years ago I was doing some career development stuff and one of the exercises was to ask your parents what they think your strengths are. I posed this question to my parents and Dad immediately said, “You’re not as determined as you used to be.” Before I could say that that wasn’t the question I was asking, Mum jumped in with, “Actually, I would’ve said less pig-headed.” Thanks…I think?

    I’d be kind of tempted to tell that story if an interviewer ever asked me how my family would describe me.

  12. Em too*

    If some executives are asking about your division’s performance drop, you could answer their question? If you state the facts without comment it’s up to them what they do with the information.

    1. hbc*

      Definitely. I’m thinking it makes sense to first frame it without naming names too. “My best employee quit when she found out that her EAP request was made known to multiple people across the company. We lost a good worker, and morale is pretty low about the way it happened.” If they already know about the email, that should shut them up right quick. If they don’t know, they will (hopefully) express their outrage that such a thing happened, and then OP can at least enjoy watching the execs backpedal when the nephew is named.

  13. Myrin*

    Silly question because I have no idea how this works, especially in the US: What is the difference between a long-term temp position and a full-time position? Doesn’t being a temporary employee by definition mean the working relationship only last for a (however) short time?

    1. doreen*

      I think (and I could be wrong) the reason they are called temporary employees is because the staffing agencies involved historically provided true temps. In practice , it doesn’t seem any different to me than outsourcing cleaning or security or HR to another company – it’s just that outsourcing those functions doesn’t involve a company that will also provide a receptionist while your’s is out for three weeks recovering form surgery.

    2. bassclefchick*

      The main difference is that the company doesn’t handle the temp’s payroll (their agency does) and doesn’t have to provide them benefits (some agencies offer benefits, some don’t. I couldn’t afford the benefits offered when I was a temp.). I’ve had temp positions that lasted years. It’s cheaper for the company to use temps than have a full time employee that would get a full benefit package.

    3. Natalie*

      Temps here are generally employed through a staffing firm, so the employees are paid by Firm A but work at Firm B. Then Firm A bills Firm B for their wages plus burden plus markup. Sometimes people are hired through the staffing firm for a long time and still called a temp.

    4. Xarcady*

      I’m currently temping at a company that has many long-term temps. There’s someone in the Finance department who has been working here 5 years, with one three-month gap, but who is still a temp.

      It works for the company because some of the work is seasonal, and they can just let people go when the work dries up. They can hire more staff when needed, and let them go with no notice.

      Companies pay fees to the temp agencies. I’m assuming it is still less expensive to pay those fees than to provide a permanent employee with health insurance, vacation days, sick days, etc.

      There is also a tax benefit for companies who let temps go. If a company lets a permanent employee go, it may raise the amount of taxes they pay into the unemployment system. If they let a temp go, their tax rate is unchanged. (The temp agency may have to pay if the now-unemployed temp employee goes on unemployment.)

      So I temp on short-term assignments that have definite end dates, as well as long term assignments without definite end dates–but at any time I can get a phone call from the temp agency telling me the assignment is over and don’t show up for work tomorrow, even if the project was due to run another 2 or 3 weeks. It allows the company to budget day by day for certain work.

      I’ve been temping here for 2 years. Totaling the days I haven’t worked here in that time equals about 4.5 months. It’s better than unemployment, but not nearly as good as a permanent job.

      1. Chinook*

        “I’m assuming it is still less expensive to pay those fees than to provide a permanent employee with health insurance, vacation days, sick days, etc.”

        I don’t know if it is cheaper, but the money often comes out of a different pot. Around here, the payroll budget and head count is controlled by our head office but individual departments also have an operating budget that is controlled locally. If they need local help, then the local manager just has to justify the cost within their budget if it is a temp instead of convincing someone higher up the food chain that they need a higher head count. On average, only 10% of the requests for a new position are accepted by head office. The other 90% of the positions are covered by perma-temps.

        There is also the optics to shareholders that comes from claiming they run a lean company with X number of employees when in reality they don’t have to acknowledge that it takes X employees + Y contractors to do the job.

        And temps, at least in my office, are cheaper because our employer (the agency) doesn’t provide us with anything beyond the legally required benefits and isn’t required to employ us if we return from sick leave or maternity leave (heck, if we take too many sick days, we can be replaced). They basically have no vested cost in keeping us working and they pass that savings on the their client.

    5. Garland Not Andrews*

      Think of it this way. The employee works AT Big Teapots, but does not work FOR Big Teapots. Their paycheck come from Totally Great Staffing. Big Teapots had contracted with Totally Great Staffing to fill a position for a spout inspector as $$ price for specific time period which can be renewed.

      1. Tau*

        So I’m actually with Myrin in that I’m a bit confused about what temping entails, and one of the points of confusion is that I work in exactly the arrangement you’ve described and yet it doesn’t really match what I read here about temping…?

        In my case, I’m employed by Totally Great Staffing but work at Big Teapots who are paying Totally Great Staffing large amounts of money for me. (I’m significantly more expensive than a regular employee for Big Teapots.)

        If Big Teapots decides they won’t want me anymore, I will head back to Totally Great Staffing and work there on a day-to-day basis and still get the same salary, vacation time, etc. I have now (minus a slight bonus I get for working off-site). There’s career progression at Totally Great Staffing and I get promotions and raises based on tenure + good feedback on my work by companies like Big Teapots. They also provide fantastic training! There is zero concept of “becoming permanent” at a company like Big Teapots, quite the opposite – I’ve got a non-compete in my contract with Totally Great Staffing which explicitly forbids me to go work for companies where I’ve worked as their employee for X amount of time after I leave.

        (I note at this point that Totally Great Staffing is in fact Totally Great Teapot Specialists and basically only provides various specialist roles in the field of teapot design and construction.)

        I get the impression that this is not the sort of arrangement that is usually meant by “temping”, is that right?

        1. Natalie*

          No, I would call your situation a consulting firm or a professional services firm. “Temping”, in my experience, usually doesn’t involve doing anything at the office of Totally Great Staffing. When your assignment at Big Teapots ends, they either find you another assignment or you don’t work for a while.

        2. Jadelyn*

          No…I’d call that subcontracting or consulting maybe. Temping is usually “if you’re not at a client jobsite, you don’t really have a job” and most (although certainly not all!) people who do it use temping as a way to fill in the gaps while looking for regular positions. Temp agencies don’t usually offer training and there’s definitely no sense of career progression for their “stable” of temps.

  14. what's all this then?*

    #1 This is terrible! I dont’ care if he’s the owner’s nephew. I would cause a huge scene if something like that ever happened, and so should you. You lost an employee because of the manager’s unethical action.

    #2 I don’t understand the point of these “What will {insert random person} say about you” questions. How the hell am I supposed to know what other people think? I got a question like that in an interview once, and I said “I don’t go around asking other people for their opinions about me. I don’t need that validation” or something like that. I don’t understand the point of that question.

    1. Myrin*

      It’s also not like you can’t just make something up when asked what Random Person would say about it. I mean, if you lie about yourself, like, say that you have years of experience in making teapot handles and are now a master at it, the employer will find out soon enough whether that’s actually true or not. But really what’s the chance of your employer ever being able to verify whether Aunt Malicia really thinks you’re honest and hardworking? Even if you turn out not to be honest or hardworking, it’s not like Malicia can’t still have that misguided opinion about you.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        If you only quote dead people, the interviewer cannot call them.

        “My grandmother would say that I am adorable, bright and funny. She died when I was ten.”

        1. Wheezy Weasel*

          “My family believes I have the capability to fix any electronic device over the phone at 3AM on a Sunday, and I try to keep them in the dark that I really just use Google to figure it out”.

      2. Joseph*

        “But really what’s the chance of your employer ever being able to verify whether Aunt Malicia really thinks you’re honest and hardworking?”
        And frankly, even if they did contact Aunt Malicia and she doesn’t think you’re a great worker, it *still* could be unhelpful. After all, she has zero incentive to tell the truth (no real repercussions) and lots of incentive to say you’re awesome – given that she’ll never talk to Random Interviewer #37 ever again, but has to deal with you several times a year every single year until death.

    2. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

      ” I don’t understand the point of these “What will {insert random person} say about you” questions. How the hell am I supposed to know what other people think?”

      Conversation? Feedback? I could answer this pretty easily. It demonstrates a degree of self-awareness to know how other people might view you. I don’t go around asking people “What do you think of me?” either, but if I don’t have a good idea what my major business stakeholders think of me, I’m not doing my job very well.

      The question the interviewer asked was a bad one, but knowing how others view you is a legitimate and important workplace skill.

      1. what's all this then?*

        I know why they ask that question, but I still hate it. If you want to know something ask me. I don’t appreciate these “trick questions”. Sure I can tell you what you want to hear, like “they would say I’m dependable, etc.” but what does that prove? It doesn’t show that I AM actually dependable or whatever.

        Scripted questions get scripted answers, and are meaningless

        1. Jadelyn*

          “Scripted questions get scripted answers” can we tattoo this on the insides of the eyelids of every single interviewer out there?

      2. Nico m*

        Yeah but dunning kruger

        You know that most flaming arseholes think everyone loves them

        While good people tend towards modesty and a little insecurity

      3. Not So NewReader*

        My family did not believe compliments were necessary. So they would say nothing and that meant I got it right. This has helped me a lot in the workplace because I have met more than one boss who operated in a similar manner.

        1. Lemon Zinger*

          This is EXACTLY how my parents operate. I can’t firmly remember a time when they said “I’m proud of you” or “Great work.”

          It’s been helpful in a way, because I expect zero praise.

      4. Joseph*

        Another situation where it makes sense is where it’s not actually a ‘random’ person, but someone who the interviewer has a legitimate connection with. “Oh, you worked with John? I know him pretty well from the local industry group! What would he say about you and your work?”

        1. Bend & Snap*

          I’ve had this question asked–what would your boss say about you? I thought it was a great question, but I liked my boss.

    3. Anon for this one*

      It is definitely a useless question IMHO, but to be fair, it’s not unusual to know what your family thinks of you.

  15. Quidge*

    #1 This is the only situation I’ve read about on AAM and gone ‘I would quit with nothing lined up.’

    Personally, I couldn’t stay somewhere my employee’s privacy and dignity were violated like this. The level of mental health stigma displayed here is terrifying (I say this as someone out-ish at work about my mental illnesses), and will push out good employees with common, manageable health or personal problems as well as any who value having any privacy at all.

    I’d quit, and cite exactly those reasons. But then this has pushed most of my outrage buttons: I’ve been subjected to mental health stigma, fear of stigma, and a parent who has never considered my medical info confidential.

    1. Purple Dragon*

      This and the graduation one. I would have walked too. I can’t even imagine how that poor person is feeling.

  16. silvertech*

    #1 As someone who needed to go to therapy both to deal with personal problems and mental illnesses, I fully support your coworker’s decision to leave. That’s beyond outrageous, and I bet that ass of a gossiping manager KNEW he would suffer no consequences from it. I don’t think you should speak to the owner, based on what you wrote us. Nepotism is a thing where you work, and you said the owner doesn’t want his protégés to be criticized.

    Your former coworker is probably angry and very stressed out, as well she should be. In my country, such a violation of privacy is illegal, and if it had happened me, I would have sued my former company, I think, even if my mental state would have been compromised by the situation.

    I’d start looking for another job. Your workplace is way too toxic.

  17. Colette*

    #1 You say that another coworker ran into her and she denied seeing a counsellor “even though she truly was seeing one”. You don’t know she was seeing a counsellor, you don’t know the horrible manager was telling the truth, and her medical appointments are not anyone’s business.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If I were that employee, the first thing I would do for damage control is to put it out there that I had quit counseling, even if I had not.

      My boss recommended counseling when my father died. She suggested EAP. Knowing what I knew, I said I would prefer a private counselor. I was surprised by how quickly she agreed that was a better idea. I think she sensed a problem in the making also.

      1. Colette*

        Maybe she quit, maybe she never went (since she presumably is no longer covered by her EAP). But maybe she was never going to go and it’s all a lie, or she asked for information for a dependant.

        I’m actually surprised the company got any sort of information about her use of the EAP – I assume it wasn’t a proper, independently managed plan.

  18. Mookie*

    US DoJ website says this (bolded for emphasis) about EAP:

    EAP counseling, communications, and information and referral services may be in person, by telephone, or fax, but generally may not be by e-mail, internet, or intranet. Exceptions may be made when the employee gives consent to send and receive information to and from the EAP by e-mail, internet or intranet. Consent must be documented and retained in the employee’s EAP file. Before an employee gives consent, he or she must be informed that there is no expectation of privacy regarding such communication or information stored within the Department’s computer system.

    Does that change, Alison, your position on whether or not this intra-company e-mail was in violation of federal guidelines?

    1. Aisling*

      And Alison’s answer didn’t reference federal guidelines or laws at all. It doesn’t need to. This was a terrible invasion of privacy that no company should ever allow.

  19. Mookie*

    Same link also says this about confidentiality (identifying obligations from both EAP counselors and EAP personnel):

    Information concerning a participant’s status with the EAP may not be divulged without the express written consent of the participant or as otherwise permitted by law.

    1. Mookie*

      Also, the question of classifying psychological or mental needs as a disability may come into play because the e-mail specifically speculates about whether the employee appeared “ill” or not to other managers.

      However, elsewhere I’m reading that if an employee shares the EAP request with a manager, that manager is not barred — at least from a federal perspective — from discussing that request with anyone, including co-workers (unless prohibited by the company’s own policies).

  20. Observer*

    Another former employee who had heard about what happened ran into her after she quit, and he said she denied ever seeing a counselor

    I’ve been thinking about this and this line is almost as appalling as the original breach of confidence, and shows that the employee was TOTALLY correct in not only walking out but cutting off all contact. The idea that a former co-worker thought it was appropriate to ask about the counseling is incredibly out of line.

    In the past, Alison has spoken about thinking about what kind of person the job you are in is influencing you to be. I think it’s worth thinking about that in this case.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “In the past, Alison has spoken about thinking about what kind of person the job you are in is influencing you to be. I think it’s worth thinking about that in this case.”

      This is so, so very important.

      We all change in some ways to accommodate our jobs. Typically it is kidhood vs adulthood: “I don’t wanna go to work today, but I will.”

      But when we find parts of ourselves are missing, it is time to move on.

    2. Myrin*

      I 100% get your read on that line but I have to say that I read it very differently. I imagined something like the former employees running into each other and him saying something along the lines of “Man, I heard there were crazy and horrible things happening to you before you left Company, are you all right?” and her answering “Yeah, it was terrible, I don’t even know where that came from in the first place because I haven’t ever even seen a counselor!”. That being said, I can of course totally see ten other possible scenarios and none of them – even the one I thought up here – are very appropriate but I can imagine a conversation like this happening without any maliciousness on the male former coworker’s side.

  21. a different Vicki*

    For #2, maybe something like “they’d add that I make really good chicken soup” or “my mother/grandfather/nephew thinks I’m wonderful, of course.” But that’s easy to come up with here, I have no idea how I would have answered it in the moment, it might be equally likely to be that or something like “my aunt thinks it’s weird they gave my last job to someone without a science degree.”

    1. Emilia Bedelia*

      I think I would absolutely add in something like that, because I have a pathological inability to resist making stupid jokes in that kind of situation.

      “Well, my mom has always believed in me, but I hope you won’t ask her how well I emptied the dishwasher growing up…”

  22. Kriss*

    re: LW1: is it just me or does anyone else smell a lawsuit for that company?

    LW1: you may want to seriously reconsider your place of employment.

  23. ExcitedAndTerrified*

    You let him do WHAT? WHY?

    Look, I get that you thought you were helping out and protecting a friend/coworker, etc, but what actually happened is that you let him entice you into committing not just a fireable offense (by not doing your job and reporting the shortfall, which you had a duty to your employer to do) but you also became an accomplice in an actual felony.

    If I were you, I’d go to your boss, lay out exactly what happened as contritely and apologetically as possible, and offer your resignation on the spot. It might be enough, if you seem to genuinely understand what you did wrong, that your boss will say resigning isn’t necessary, and let you keep your job. But you should genuinely expect to lose your job over this, and your boss would be ENTIRELY justified in firing you for cause, refusing to provide a reference (or providing a bad one), and a whole host of other nasty things (suing you, pressing charges with the local authorities, etc). Your goal is to appear sincerely regretful that you made a boneheaded move, in the hopes that between that and the hassle of the more extreme reactions that exist for your employer, you don’t end up with a permanent black mark on your record that makes finding new jobs difficult.

    If you’re not willing to risk the penalties of admitting what you did wrong… Find a new job and fast, and pray to whatever deities you believe in that this never comes out. It probably will, though, when the new person in your position is told “Oh, OP#4 let me do this when they were here…” Which is why you really ought to just play it straight and tell your boss.

    1. Liane*

      Unfortunately, owning up might be the best thing for you. Maybe, “I was so dumbfounded by the request, that I didn’t think about the implications until afterwards, and now I can see I should have said ‘Not on my watch!’ and come to you right then”?
      I don’t know from your letter if that is (part of) why you went along with this, and I certainly don’t know if saying so will help you. But hopefully someone else can suggest a better approach if you want to take the Come Clean Now! advice.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        “_______ does the cash sometimes so when he offered to do it I said, “sure, go ahead,” but I wasn’t really paying attention, then I thought about the conversation and he said he’d borrowed some money from the float, so I knew I should come to you.”

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Amen. OP#4, your coworker’s conduct is criminal (something I say very rarely). You have to come clean and go to your boss; this kind of money mismanagement and fraud can destroy a company, and your failing to report the theft will look, at best, like covering it up, and at worst like abetting. Fess up, apologize, and accept that it would be entirely appropriate for your boss to fire you over this.

  24. LQ*

    Please let your other staff know that EAP is NOT confidential at your company. They may mistakenly think that this is a confidential resource and reach out to it and you don’t know what additional damage this may do to people. I know it isn’t good to as a manager say not great things about the company, but I feel like as a decent human being you have an obligation to make your at the very least, your team knows that they need to be aware if they use that resource it won’t be kept confidential.

    1. Liane*

      After this? When it was disseminated to *multiple departments*? When a person *who’d already left the company* had enough details to think to straight-out ask the wronged former employee about it?

      1. LQ*

        I’m a person who often doesn’t get gossip until the bitter bitter end. People who have left places have known things before me. I am a person who needs EAP. Please tell me so that I don’t use it and get fired, because a place willing to gossip is a place willing to fire.

        You don’t have to say what happened. But just, not confidential. And you can make it clear that that isn’t ok with you (you=op) or you can pretend it is fine and watch good people leave.

        No, you know what. Just let those people leave. They deserve so much better than this place.

  25. Ashley*

    Her attorney probably told her to cut communication while they build a lawsuit. I’m kidding (kind of) It feels like discrimination and a HIPPA violation.

    Who cares who he is related to – how date he?!? She was already going through something and he had the nerve to discuss it with groups of people in WRITING. Please stand up and say something, next time it could be your personal information splashed across everyone’s email.

    I wish people would get over the stigma of therapy. Maybe more people would reach out for help.

    1. Liane*

      Not HIPAA most likely. That would only apply if the company self-insured their health plan/s.
      Discrimination? I have been wondering that myself. Not a lawyer, but from what I understand the USA laws cover discrimination against someone thought/assumed to have some condition. And gossip to the point that a good worker *walks off the job* might qualify in this layperson’s mind.

    2. DG's gal*

      I thought that very thing about an attorney telling her to cut lines of communication. Otherwise, why would she go through all that trouble of changing her number and not answering the door?

        1. SarahKay*

          Absolute fury and a determination that no-one from that company should have any way to reach her ever again?

  26. Joseph*

    #2: Based on the posts from others, it seems like most people are interpreting this as parents/grandparents/siblings, but whenever someone asks about my family, I immediately jump to my spouse and pets (and future kids, should that occur in the future).
    I don’t know if that makes it any better or worse as a question. I mean, if you ask my spouse, she’ll say I’m awesome, but our cats would probably just think I’m a servant who exists solely to fill food and change litter boxes.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      Ha! That would be an awesome response to the question. I’d say something like “Well, the dog likes me, but he wishes I’d carry him around more and give him more treats.”

      1. Golden Lioness*

        I would love to say something like “Oh, I haven spoken to them since I changed my name from “Golden Manson” to Golden Lioness…” hehehe

  27. hbc*

    OP4: If there’s any chance that this can be found out, you have to tell. Dust off your resume, make sure you don’t have any personal information on your work computer, and then express your deep remorse.

    If it’s basically impossible to figure this out (i.e.: the cash float is literally a pile of non-sequential bills sitting in a lock box somewhere that you physically count once a month), then you have to weigh the likelihood that this will come back to haunt you. Will Coworker blackmail you with your previous help to make you do this the next time something comes up? If you refuse to help out again, will Boss believe Coworker if he gets there first and claims you were the one stealing? Are you protected if Coworker tries undercutting you in other ways, like your valuables are never out and your computer never goes unlocked?

    You might be able to keep your head down and it will never come up again, but it’s worth walking through all these scenarios to see if taking your pain early and honorably is better than having this hang over you.

  28. Cleopatra Jones*

    Are we just going to ignore that the company sent current employees to her house? She quit and didn’t return your phone calls, it’s not necessary to ‘send’ people to her house to ensure that she was ‘alright’. Honestly, the former co-worker seems to be the only one at the company who did not egregiously violate a boundary.

    1. Adam V*

      I didn’t read it like anyone was “sent” to her house – I read it like she and her coworkers were all friendly, she suddenly and without warning quit her job, and her friends went by her house (of their own accord) to check on her. At most it might have been a quick conversation at work (“Oh no, Jane quit??” “Yeah, blame Nephew Nathan and Blabbermouth Brianna.” “Oh, I live just around the corner from her, I’ll swing by her house tonight to see if she’s doing okay.”)

  29. Christine*

    1. My employee quit on the spot after her request for a therapy referral was shared

    Like everyone else that responded I find what took place horrible. She probably lost the right to use the EAP counselor once she quit along with her insurance. I wonder if the employee can still get unemployment when quitting without notice, and the reason why. Would the employee have legal recourse?

    Regardless if the employer would listen or not, I would go ahead and say something. You may get angry and upset with the messenger but you need to cover yourself. He needs to know why a well performing employee walked out, and be prepared in case a lawsuit is filed. Not sure it could be. But if you do not inform him of the issue, than it can bite you back if it somehow grows into something larger, etc.

    1. I Like Pie*

      In CA, if you quit/are fired, you can file for unemployment. You’ll be denied initially most of the time and will have to go through an appeals process. If she explains why she walked off, and can show bad judgement at least, she’d win. And if the owner was unaware of the reasons, they’d know as soon as she filed and they got the paper work. A proper owner would be outraged and not deny it at all. But doesn’t sound like this is the place for that.

      (Happened to me – I got fired “for cause” and had to show that their reasons listed on the paperwork – which you get a copy of – were false. We had to go to a courthouse and have a judge guy listen to side and look at paperwork. It was a good day beating them.)

  30. Christine*

    Further comment, why don’t you just forward the e-mail to the owner, stating that the employee quit on the spot over the e-mail, that you are department is suffering in her absence.

      1. Christine*

        I’m leaning towards having some type of documentation needed, versus forwarding the e-mail. Maybe better to forward the e-mail and request a meeting to discuss the fall out. Not those words, but how the individual’s absence had hurt the department’s moral & work performance.

  31. nonprofit manager*

    # 5: My understanding is that employers, even nonprofit organizations, cannot ask you to volunteer for work for which you were formerly paid. We are very careful when we put volunteers on the payroll, as we can never use them as volunteers for the same or similar work. I am in California, however, so it may be a state thing.

  32. NotACharterSchoolEmployee*

    Along the lines of #2, I once had an interview for a charter school where I was asked to name a family member who sometimes is annoyed with me and then list three negative traits they would say I have. It’s very difficult to think of three negative traits that also wouldn’t look unprofessional for a teacher to have. If they want to know my weaknesses in a professional environment that’s one thing, but the question they asked had nothing to do with my professional life. I act very differently in the classroom than I do around my family.

    1. Girasol*

      Aunt Mamie. Objects that I didn’t study nursing like my cousin. Wants to know why I haven’t married a lawyer or a doctor yet. Finds the whole “career” thing inappropriate for a girl like me and thinks I should be a h0usewife. (None of that is true, of course, but why not make up the answer to such an inappropriate question? Surely they don’t really want to know your family’s lifetime drama in deep detail.)

  33. Laurie Reisman*

    Thank you for answering my question about being laid off but still being asked to work by the Board of Directors. I find it hard to say no as I want things done well so the Agency’s reputation is not damaged. I have a tough decision to make now since it’s legal for them to do this. I like your advice though of letting them know my boundaries going forward. That made sense, will help with my guilt and hopefully limit the number of their requests. Thanks So Much!!!!

  34. OP #1*

    I wrote the first letter. Thank you to Alison and everyone else for your thoughtful replies and insight.

    I was appalled at what happened. Myself and no one on my team gossiped about her (I can’t speak for other teams besides my own) and we only tried to get in touch with her because we were worried about her well-being. We stopped when we realized it was unwanted. I have made my feelings clear to my team that this was not acceptable and based on my feelings and the responses here I am going to say something to the owner. I’m also job searching and have promised a positive reference to any team members who look for a new job. I don’t what happened was right at all.

    1. ArtK*

      Sounds like you have a good plan in place. Good for you for letting your own team know what’s up and that you’ll support them in what they choose to do. Also, kudos for trying to reach out; I can’t say that I blame the employee for wanting to have nothing to do with the company, even the nice people.

    2. Observer*

      You sound like a good person trying to do the right thing. However, it also sounds like your job has already affected you more than you realize.

      I understand that you were concerned about her welfare, but sending someone to her house is not normal. Also, it’s unwise, unhelpful and an overstep. In more functional workplaces, suggesting something like that would have people questioning your judgement.

      By the same token, it’s good that you and your staff didn’t gossip. But the gossip must have been flying and you didn’t seem to effectively shut it down, or you wouldn’t have heard about the meeting that another coworker had with her. And your reaction to that meeting is telling. You focus on the fact that she denied seeing a counselor rather than on the fact that a former co-worker, someone who is still employed by your company, is continued the breach of basic privacy by asking about the counseling and then “reporting” back to the office.

      In short, it looks to me that your sense of what is appropriate in a workplace is getting seriously bent out of shape.

      Lots of luck in finding a better place to work. And good for you, that you are encouraging others to do the same!

      1. OP #1*

        In fairness, I have no control or authority over what other staff outside of my team do besides telling them not to repeat gossip in front of me because I don’t want to hear it. I couldn’t shut it down beyond my team (though none of them participated) because they don’t work under me. Had anyone who worked for me participated I would have shut it down.

        I can see what you are saying about someone going to her house and us trying to contact her after she walked out. We only did it because we were concerned about her as a person and not because we wanted to pry or convince her to come back and once we realized she wanted no contact we stopped.

        I heard about her running into her former co-worker at a networking event when the former coworker told me about it. I told him I didn’t want to hear his gossip and he dropped it. I didn’t repeat it to anyone, and like people who work on other teams I have no control over him telling me something, beyond saying I don’t want to hear it.

        I appreciate your reply. I hope I don’t sound too hotheaded or defensive, I’m only trying to explain the situation to give context.

        1. Chriama*

          I think you’re doing everything a reasonable person can and should. The only thing I would recommend (only if you feel like doing more, and this would really be going above and beyond!) is look into the legality of what happened. I saw someone mention that something like this could make other employees hesitate to use the EAP and could be considered interfering with their ability to use their benefits. If you think your manager would respond to legal liability more strongly than he’d respond to your argument otherwise, you could do some research so you sound more convincing.

      2. Chriama*

        You are putting a lot of responsibility on the OP. In some workplaces, sending someone to check is normal. We’ve heard stories of not hearing from an employee only to realize they’d been in an accident or were unconscious or dead. And how exactly is the OP supposed to ‘shut down’ gossip that happens around her? If someone says something you can say “I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to talk about that”, but you can’t unhear what they said. Bottom line is that OP knows it was inappropriate, is planning to go to management to raise her concerns, and is supporting her team members if they choose to leave. She’s done everything that a reasonable person should do, and condemning her is not respectful or helpful.

        1. Observer*

          Sending someone to check on someone who works for you is one thing. Sending someone to check on someone WHO QUIT over egregious crossing of boundaries is another.

          Again, I’m not blaming the OP for the other behavior. And, I understand why they sent someone. But, the workplace is clearly toxic and it seems to be affecting their perception. Sending someone was surely well meant, but poor judgement. Compared to the other stuff it sounds fine, but it really isn’t. Given that the OP is well aware of how bad the original breach was, it stands to reason that she didn’t see this at least in part because of the insane norms of this workplace.

    3. Jellissimo*

      OP#1, it sounds like you have a good plan in place and you should follow through. I would add, however, that you have an ethical obligation to tell senior management about what happened, because the #1 responsibility of HR is to protect the company and your HR did the opposite (as did some of the follow up activity). The phrase “hostile work environment” comes to mind. This former employee clearly has a case (which may not be successful, but would surely get an attorney’s interest) and the company will need to defend against that claim. It’s much easier to prepare the defense when the evidence, information, and involved parties are all still involved with the company. Additionally, HR needs at a minimum to be admonished for the initiation of this debacle.

  35. Office Plant*

    1. I would find a new job ASAP. You don’t want to be associated with people like that any longer than is necessary.

    2. I think it’s hard to say whether this is just a bad question or meant to suss something out without being there or knowing what the person had in mind. If you’re getting a weird vibe, I’d listen to that and consider not going back for another interview. If they scare you during the interview process, you probably don’t want to work there.

  36. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Is the employee in #2 in legal? Lawyers often have to disclose to the state bar whether they are in therapy, and there’a a real culture of hiding and speculation on the type of problems that can make one need it. Depending on if you need a government security clearance, too, the employer can ask for and get affidavits from therapists about your “judgment and reliability.”

    I am a new lawyer, and I:
    1. Never mention anxiety/a bad day at work;
    2. Lie like a rug if anyone asks why I left work early to go to counseling;
    3. Have appointments less often and regularly so it looks less like therapy; and
    4. Told my counselor to only take very sparse notes, and not to put certain things in my file.

    What happened to that employee is my nightmare.

    1. Cat*

      Interesting – I’ve never had that experience in law. Most lawyers I know (in D.C.) are in therapy and are pretty open about it. State bars make a big push to get people treatment too and have, for instance, lawyer’s assistance programs. You do have to disclose it in certain circumstances, but anxiety and depression, for instance, do not get people barred from bar admission generally speaking.

    2. Regular Lurker*

      I do not doubt your story, because there is a mental health stigma across this country. However, I am hopeful that you will find a better work situation in the future that will be more supportive. With that in mind, I will share my story. I am a lawyer in California and was in-house when I decided to seek therapy for stress/anxiety. I used my company’s EAP without incident and my boss was extremely supportive about my appointments. There is also no requirement in California that an attorney notify the Bar regarding therapy. I can’t remember if there was a question on the initial bar application, but I just googled it and it appears that many states do ask at that time. They also ask about DUIs on the application and once you pass the Bar, you don’t have to report on that either (not sure that’s a good thing, but it’s true).

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        I am licensed in the Midwest, in a smaller legal community, and my state’s bar question re: therapy was recently narrowed to ask only if you have sought it in the past 2 years due to a problem that interferes in your work or life. So, I talked to my dean, and was told to answer no, as my grades were OK and I was never addicted to anything.

        1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

          Plus, mentioning it would out me. A big part of my anxiety is/was from LGBT issues and a lack of acceptance.

      2. Anon Lawyer*

        Finding a better work situation would require (1) moving to a different state, (2) taking the bar/getting licensed in said state and (3) resigning bar membership in the original state. That’s not at all realistic, particularly for someone struggling with anxiety, depression or similar issues. The better course is for attorneys to lobby for change in bar admission and reporting requirements.

  37. XXC*

    4. My coworker is “borrowing” money from our company

    Which is more important: Your relationship with your co-worker? or your job? If they are stealing cash, I wonder what else is missing? Usually when an employee steals from the employer it’s more than one or two items, or one or two times. It’s an ongoing cycle. I also wonder who much that individual has stolen that you are not aware of. Borrowing is a term they are using to give justification to dishonest & illegal actions.

    Report it. If they find out you know, they can terminate you with cause and you will not receive unemployment.

  38. Garland Not Andrews*

    Re #1 What kind of EAP has you going through HR to set up anything? In every one I’ve ever had, you get the brochure (print or web) and you go directly to them (The EAP Company) to use their services.
    Of course, I’ve never seen the back end where the bills get paid, so I don’t know if the company is billed by services rendered or just charged a set fee for x number of employees.

    Either way, seriously rethink your employment.

  39. Punkin*

    Thanks for the sweet thoughts. Most of my family is dead now, with the exception of my mother’s half-brother, who escaped to OH to raise his family away from the toxicity. I think my stepfather is still alive, but I have not seen him in about 45 years. My mother never got treatment – wish she would have, as I think her life would have been so much better. My sister and I are both functioning, contributing members of society. Either because of or in spite of our childhoods, we can both fend for ourselves.

    I like kids (husband and I help many with getting started in college & other stuff), but I consciously chose to NOT procreate. There are so many young people needing help that are already here. I’d rather help them (many teachers helped me over the years, bless them all) than create another life that may or may not suffer from my mother’s illness.

    I really appreciate this poster’s question, as I may be looking to change jobs soon. I thought I had heard of every interview question in the book. This one would have really caught me off guard. Now I will have a prepared answer.

    1. Punkin*

      ARGH! This was to be in reply to Golden Lioness, Elizabeth West, Not So NewReader & Mookie (who all replied to my comment on Stellaaaaa & Cat steal keyboard above.

      I love AAM’s community.

  40. HelpdeskManager*

    OP#2 – I had an interview which was a series of questions like this. After about 30 minutes of answering these nonsense questions, I stopped the interviewer and told her I was unhappy with the way the interview was going and said I was withdrawing my candidacy. When she asked why, I said it was because I didn’t feel like she was getting a good idea of who I was and I had no idea of what the corporate culture was like, and I didn’t want to spend any more of either of our time answering canned questions and I didn’t want to work in the type of environment that operates that way. She was “taken aback and offended” that I would dare to reject her job and she had to ask the exact same questions to every candidate “by law”. I calmly stated that I appreciate the minefield that is employment law and respect that that is their process. I then explained that there was nothing to be offended by, but if I could already see it was not a good fit, it was only respectful of our time to cut things short.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      She was “taken aback and offended” that I would dare to reject her job and she had to ask the exact same questions to every candidate “by law”.


      “Why did you leave your job at Chocolate Teapots Inc after only six months?
      “Um… I’ve never worked at Chocolate Teapots Inc.”
      “I know, but I asked the previous candidate that, so by law I have to ask you as well.”

  41. Shazbot*

    “another manager disclosed her request for a referral to a counselor under our employee assistance program.”

    And THIS, THIS RIGHT HERE is why I will never, ever trust EAP programs. It is far, far too easy for someone to do this.

  42. Marisol*

    What wierds me out the most about #1 is actually this part: “Another former employee who had heard about what happened ran into her after she quit, and he said she denied ever seeing a counselor (even though she truly was seeing one).”

    So after the colleague took heroic measures to put distance between her and this awful toxic company, the former coworker still had the gall to invade her privacy like that? For heaven’s sake, I hope people leave this woman alone in the future.

    And what is the OP getting at when she says “even though she truly was seeing one”? Yeah, so she saw a therapist, and then lied about it because it’s no one’s business and she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation. That’s what most reasonable people would do, I think.

    It’s times like these that I’m really glad I live in Los Angeles, where half the populations speaks openly about having a therapist.

    Sorry if I sound judgemental. I’m having a rough day today.

    1. nonegiven*

      I thought EAPs also helped you with legal issues, finding a new apartment, getting an elderly relative placed in a nursing home, all kinds of things.

  43. Marisol*

    #2 – could it possibly be an attempt to gauge the candidate’s self-awareness, or an attempt to ferret out any bizarre psychological tendencies the candidate might have? I’m not close with my family so I wouldn’t like that question, but even if I couldn’t give a warm fuzzy answer, I wouldn’t say, for example, “oh, I hate my family and I wish they were dead. They’d say I was a complete sociopath.” If the interviewer were able to elicit a response that would prevent the company from hiring an unstable person, then maybe the question’s not so bad. Another motivation I could see is trying to see how the candidate fits into a group dynamic.

    Just some ideas off the top of my head–not being an apologist for a lousy question.

    1. Marisol*

      Or how about using Alison’s suggestion, and then following up with, “that’s an interesting question. I’ve never been asked that before. What are you trying to learn in asking it?” (using better phrasing than that) and then you can address the “real” question if there is one.

  44. Hershele Ostropoler*

    My mom thinks I’m handsome. My girlfriend says I’m good at … my girlfriend says I show great enthusiasm.

  45. emma2*

    OP #1: Your company got what they deserved – no company can guarantee keeping employees they disrespect (and to echo everyone else’s sentiments, whattf?!)

  46. Cyberspace Dreamer*

    Not directly related to #1 but in similar bush league fashion, I know of a situation where someone started having mental issues and the PTB’s told this person to go home until they got better. . . . . . after three days this person was fired for “voluntarily quitting”

  47. OP #3*

    So. I overheard a conversation this morning between my manager and her manager where they were talking about how [my minority group] were welfare leeches and a plague on society and should work for a living.

    I guess my co-workers were right all along. That’s quite a kick in the gut, honestly. I feel so stupid.

    I’ll be fixing up my resume, and will take Alison’s advice and actually write a cover letter from now on. I have been getting lots of emails from recruiters over the past couple of days, so maybe another assignment will pan out soon.

    1. Lynne*

      That’s appalling, and must feel so awful coming out of the blue like that. :( I hope you get out of there soon – they don’t deserve you!

      Good luck with the job hunting. My own resume and cover letters are so much better after applying Alison’s advice, and so many people out there are so *bad* at writing this stuff – I am sure yours will stand out in a good way!

  48. CuhPow*

    Wow, OP 1’s manager, HR woman, and colleagues are absolute jerks. Sending an email, awful. Just wow. But a follow up email afterward? Honestly wow. And the collleague approaching her and confronting her (or even mentioning, or alluding to in any way, her therapy, health issues or anything remotely personal) when she clearly took every step to avoid that is just disgusting. Seriously. She quit on the spot so as not to have to front questions concerns or prying. She didn’t speak to anyone about it on the way out. Didn’t return calls or answer her door for anyone, presumably she wanted nothing to do with any of you regardless of whether any of you actually cared (if anyone did. If you didn’t defend her right to privacy I wouldn’t like any of you either). And the first thing people do is continue to speak about it via email and seeing her on the street and bringing up precisely what she wanted to avoid? If I had the audacity to speak to her at all, and I likely wouldn’t knowing she wanted nothing to do with me and if she had she’d approach me, I’d ask a very vague and sincere “how are you doing?”

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