5 more updates from letter-writers

Here are five more updates from people who had their letters answered here this year. (I’ll be printing updates daily or close-to-daily through the end of the month. We’ve got a lot this year!)

1. Advising a great applicant to run far, far away from my troubled workplace (#2 at the link)

I really appreciated your feedback and also found the comments very helpful. I felt, truly, for the commenters who chastised me for sitting on the sidelines, because I was chastising myself for that, too.

What happened: We offered the candidate the job, and I also took your advice to reach out to them and offer to answer questions, etc at the same time. (It wouldn’t have been weird to my employer to do so, and it was a great suggestion.) But the applicant-turned-new hire did not take me up on that offer. They took the job.

Within a couple of weeks, the new hire began to express some very polite and professional frustration with the parts of the new job and organization that I think were misrepresented to them. I gave the new hire tips for dealing with their frustrations and how to navigate our organization without going absolutely bonkers. I hope it helps — I think managing expectations and doing a lot of self-care is a huge part of being able to get by in this particular job, because the org’s problems are fundamentally, in hindsight, about a personality issue from the top.

I’ve since left the organization, and I’ve been much more direct in my exit interview and memo. I don’t have any expectation that what I had to say will be well received, but I’ve done what I can. I also now know that the feedback I gave our organization has been a repeat of what others (we’re pretty high-turnover) have provided, to no avail. (“Stop being so critical, you don’t understand” is the general response received.) For now, I’m banking on our director seeing what a great talent and asset our new hire is, and maybe upon reflection she’ll see that making some intentional changes will help to retain staff.

2. How can I ask my manager and coworkers to stop talking about politics at work?

I was pretty prepared to use your suggested responses if the conversations dragged on in meetings, but luckily that didn’t end up happening again. There were shorter discussions about political candidates in meetings towards the beginnings and ends, but in those cases I was able to duck out or tune out until the topic changed. So, I would actually say I ended up taking the advice of the commenters who told me that asking to keep discussions about political candidates out of meetings would be seen as adversarial and wouldn’t be taken well.

3. I was offered a new position but they won’t tell me what the pay is (#2 at the link)

Thanks for answering my question. I was over-thinking and management was checking to see if I was interested. I did let them know I was not interested. The main reason is that I’ve been training our new hires temporarily since early April. My manager quit at end of April and I continued training new employees under my new manager. I was never paid for April training! I did receive my regular pay, but we are paid extra for the role of a trainer even if it’s temporary role. On top of that, the amount of paperwork I had to complete to show “proof” that training took place rivaled the novel War and Peace. My new manager had to research why I was never paid, complete mounds of paperwork, and have various persons from upper management sign off. Even after that, no pay. We were told my paperwork was sitting on some executive’s desk waiting to be processed.

By early September, I advised my manager that I would be calling HR to complain which I did. I was guaranteed the missing pay would be in this Friday’s paycheck. Only a few more days and I’ll know. By the way, my company is large, international company. SMH…. thank you for your great advice.

4. How do you get experience if all the jobs require you to already have experience?

I did end up getting an offer for a technical writing position, which is very exciting for me! Thank you again for your help, and thanks to the commenters for their insights. I think reading your book and your archives helped me a lot as well.

5. My injury is preventing me from going on a company cruise — and my company wants me to pay them back for my ticket

Thank you so much for your time and for all the advise that everyone had suggested. I ended up having a meeting with both HR and for some reason my supervisor. I was willing to work with them if we could come up with some sort of an agreeable figure and/or payments. Well, needless to say, I felt like they ganged up on me, to the point where my own supervisor was defending the actions of the company and actually was shaming me for not going. The decision to make me pay stood. With that being said, I asked for an invoice in our last meeting months ago; I have yet to receive it, so I have yet to pay it.

{ 62 comments… read them below }

  1. Sami*

    OP#5: Just… wow. As Alison would say, “Your company sucks.”

    Since they haven’t bothered to send you the invoice, perhaps you shouldn’t be bothered to look at it (if it ever shows up). Good luck!

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I’m still wondering why this isn’t FMLA retaliation. The only reason the OP has to pay is because of their FMLA injury.
      Please contact the legal department at your company. Your HR a person is wrong.

      1. Cat steals keyboard*

        And the invoice will prove this which is why they probably won’t ever send one.

        Very smart move asking. So sorry you work for such awful people. I hope you are on the mend.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Just make sure that they aren’t deducting the money out of the pay check. Sometime HR will do that and not tell you. The only way you’ll know is to look at the pay stub.

          1. eplawyer*

            After you check your paystub, start updating your resume. Whether they ever actually make you pay or not, you need to work somewhere else. This is not a good company.

          2. Anna*

            Most states have laws about this. They have to inform you at the bare minimum before they start deducting anything

      2. Joseph*

        “Please contact the legal department at your company. ”
        I’d agree, but with a few caveats:
        1.) Wait until they either bring it up again or send an invoice. If it’s been months and they haven’t sent it, I’d leave it be, just in case they’ve either decided to give up (yay!) or completely forgotten about it.
        2.) Be very careful what you say to the legal department. Keep your explanation very brief and factual (I was on approved FMLA leave and missed the cruise, there’s no official company policy, my doctor specifically told me I should not go).
        3.) If the conversation with legal is in person, write down a summary of what was discussed immediately afterwards and date it. Maybe even email it to yourself, so you’ve got a nice date/timestamp. This is for your protection, because the legal department will absolutely do this themselves (but remember, they’re not on your side here).

        1. MK*

          Eh, what protection do you imagine (3) will afford the OP? I mean, she will have a timestamp on her own version of what happened in a meeting, a version that the other party (legal department) has not agreed to in any way; what’s to stop them from claiming that what is written there is outright lies? Or at least that they did not say what the OP wrote, that she misunderstood, etc?

          1. Anononon*

            It’s just more evidence for the OP if this ever did become something big. A common discovery request in lawsuits is for any journals/notes/writings regarding the incident(s), and if she can provide a supporting piece, that’s pretty helpful. And as long as the OP summarizes factually and logically, it would be hard to really poke holes in it.

            This is also to help the OP remember what was actually said, so if the discovery period of a lawsuit was happening in October of 2017 instead of a “well, maybe sometime in December 2016, we talked about the reimbursement of the trip. They said something like how I would have to pay for it no matter what,” the OP could provide a day and specific details.

          2. CoveredInBees*

            It would be good if you are deposed or testify. If your memory is questioned, you explain that you used notes made during/after the conversation to refresh your recollection.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Any lawyer worth their salt will encourage a person in OP #5’s situation to document every conversation or meeting on this issue. It doesn’t really matter if the employer argues it’s lies or if it’s inadmissible during a trial. What mattes is keeping consistent, contemporaneous records for the reasons Anononon and CoveredInBees noted.

        2. CanCan*

          The legal department is the company’s lawyer. In a conflict between the employee and the company, the legal department wouldn’t be able to advise the employee.

          Probably won’t hurt, but I don’t think it would be any use going to the company’s own legal department.

          Signed, in-house lawyer (not in the US, though).

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I rarely encourage folks to sue, but I completely agree with everything Engineer Girl and others have said—it’s worth talking to a lawyer. But even if you don’t do that, monitor your pay stubs, start job searching, and send a “follow up” email to HR/legal saying you’re concerned that their approach seems like they’re penalizing you for taking your FMLA leave.

        You can call it “FMLA retaliation” if you like, because that’s what it sounds like it could be, but they may think that means you’ve already lawyered up (i.e. escalates the issue). If they have any sense, they’ll try to fix it by backing off. If they’re not very sensible, they may be somewhat hostile. My hunch is if it stays at the HR rep/supervisor level, they’ll be insensible, as your supervisor’s ridiculous reaction indicates. But if they run it up the chain, maybe someone higher up will ride herd.

        But most importantly, get out if you can. These are not good people, and this is not a good place to work.

        1. Not Rebee*

          OP should check to make sure that they haven’t signed any documents that won’t permit them to sue. I am sure that lawyering up can’t hurt, even if the matter just goes to arbitration, but these days a lot of employers are making employees sign documents (as a condition of employment) that give up their right to sue.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        This. I don’t think #5 is necessarily looking for a line item invoice from the cruise company, but something detailing what her company is asking her to pay before cutting a check.

  2. Anonz*

    OP#5, I would seek legal counsel honestly, that sounds all kinds of wrong. Sounds like a cost of doing business to me, especially if it’s supposed to be a “gift” and you were on FMLA at the time. What did they expect you to do? Go against doctors advice and put your recovery at risk? Unless you make damn good money or something else about your job makes it irrestible I’d be looking for other jobs too.

    1. Rando*

      Agreed. I would find an employment lawyer with experience in FMLA retaliation and look for other jobs.

      The lawyer can help you know your rights, and negotiate a severance package when the time comes.

  3. Agammamon*

    “Our company does an annual trip as a gift to the employees (free trip)”

    “The decision to make me pay stood.”

    Your employers do not know what ‘gift’ means. I see they don’t seem hurried about bringing it up again but, personally, if they did, I’d flat out tell them to kick rocks – tell them that if they want the money then they can pony up for an arbitrator (or a lawyer) and settle it through an impartial mediator because there’s no way you’re going to pay them back otherwise.

    But good on you for demanding an invoice.

    And tell them next time they can save themselves some trouble and just make out the “gift” to ‘Cash’.

    1. CanCan*

      I wouldn’t have phrased it as “Are they allowed to do that?”, but rather as, “Am I legally obligated to pay?” To that, based on what you’ve written, I believe the answer would be No.

      Seriously, what kind of logic is that? Here’s a free gift, but if you can’t use it, you have to pay for it.

      Even if they had you sign something in advance, where it said in big red letters that if you decide not to go, you’ll have to pay for the trip, – even then, you still wouldn’t have to pay, because this was an unforeseeable event beyond your control.

      I wouldn’t pay.

  4. AdAgencyChick*

    #5, that’s freaking horrible of them.

    #1, I have been there. It stinks, but if he’s as stellar as you say, he will figure out a way to make it work for himself and/or have other options, just as you did.

    I was in a similar situation a few years ago, in which I was interviewing a candidate to work for me, while I myself was interviewing somewhere else. I really, really wanted to tell him the whole truth, but I also knew that if I said, “this place sucks and I’m trying to leave,” there was a very good chance my boss, who had already found out about an interview I’d done a couple of months prior, would find out. I settled for trying to answer the candidate’s questions as honestly as possible without revealing that I wanted out. He accepted the offer, and *I* was made an official offer a day or two later. I felt awful about it, and I ended up calling him the day after I accepted to have an off-the-record conversation so that he wouldn’t be blindsided. (His first day at my old organization was my first day at my new one.)

    He was, as you might imagine, shocked, but very gracious about it. Since our niche of advertising is small and everyone knows everyone else, I ended up interviewing him again a couple of years later for another position. I apologized profusely, and asked him how things had gone in the interim. And it’s basically what I said above — he found ways to succeed at the old place, and when he finally got fed up, he had plenty of agencies beating down his door with opportunities. So he didn’t hate me too much, or at least he’s a good actor!

  5. Former Computer Professional*

    I know everyone is jumping on #5, but I’m still trying to figure out why it’s not an ADA violation.

    They told someone with a disability (whether permanent or temporary), -retroactively-, that they were required to do an activity that included things their doctor told them not to do. Now they’re forcing them to pay for something that they could not physically do?

    I think an employment attorney would have a field day with this.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          A normal pregnancy doesn’t qualify for ADA protection. A broken bone didn’t used to, but since an amendment to the law, that’s gotten murkier.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It can be. Determining whether someone has a disability and whether that disability is temporary for the purposes of ADA is very injury-specific. Although as others noted, it’s also a workers’ compensation and insurance term, and the legal definitions vary slightly depending on the program/statute.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I realized I should clarify: The concept of temporary disability exists in the ADA, as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA).

              The Department of Labor has some brief guidance on how workers’ compensation, FMLA, and the ADA interact with respect to temporary disabilities, and that site also cross-references the EEOC’s guidance (I didn’t link to that because the formatting is horrendous): http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/employ.htm

              This is also a moving area of the law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina) addressed whether the ADAAA covers temporary disabilities in 2014, but other federal appeals courts have not yet issued a “precedential” decision adopting the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Sure there is. I have arthritis, but it only impairs my ability to walk about one month out of the year. Last year, when it went on for three months, I got temporary disability placards for parking. They were only good for another four months, which turned out to be exactly as long as it took for me to be able to walk pain-free again.

    1. Artemesia*

      But she did have many weeks to cancel before the trip and should have done so. It still is a crappy thing to do as it is a ‘gift’ after all. Their argument is that if she had canceled when she was injured, they could have saved the cost. Hers is that it didn’t occur to her.

      1. Duncan*

        But, it’s not like they didn’t know she was injured – she was on leave for a period of time due to it. So if her employer were so concerned, perhaps they should have been proactive and asked at the time if her injury would impact the planned trip. I would give OP a pass since, you know, she was dealing with painkillers and an injury – as stated, the trip was likely not forefront in her mind.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          There’s a basic concept that the party has to do what they can to minimize financial impacts. It looks like the company didn’t do this and is expecting the OP to bear the full cost of the unmitigated impacts. I’m not sure that would fly.
          Hence my suggestion to talk to legal and I would also use the term “FMLA retaliation”. The lawyers would immediately pick up on it even their the HR department is clueless.

  6. Gaara*

    #1, good for you. You can at least hold your head high.

    I have no sympathy for the new hire’s frustration, to the extent the new hire is surprised by the dysfunction. You offered to answer any questions outside of the formal interview process, and they decided they didn’t want to do that for whatever reason.

    No one should have to work in a dysfunctional environment, but beyond that, why wouldn’t they take the opportunity to collect more information, even if they didn’t realize you wanted to tell them about problems there? Don’t bury your head in the sand, job applicants!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t know if it’s fair to blame the new hire. If I were new and someone offered to answer any questions, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that that offer was a subtle hint that the organization has “red flag”-level issues. I might eschew asking super direct questions about experience there if I hadn’t picked up on any vibes during the interview, and I might legitimately not know enough at the interview stage to know what to ask. I’m not saying this to say that folks shouldn’t take advantage of the opportunity to talk to someone, but I also don’t think we should shame them if they didn’t.

      But I do think OP #1 did everything s/he could, and it’s unfortunate that the employer will not get their act together.

      1. Layla*

        Yea I would find it a bit weird . And suspect if it was a test or something. Now I know it could be a hint such as this !

    2. Mike C.*

      You hold a new hire in contempt because they didn’t somehow suss out the secret codes being used by the OP? Give me a break. I’m no mind reader and I would have fallen in the same trap. I even commented repeatedly that this was a bad idea and that this is what would happen and I was right.

      1. Zombii*

        Yeah, this. When I was younger and dumber, if someone had offered to answer any questions I might have after offering me a job, I may have naively trusted them enough to ask all the questions that I knew damn well not to ask at the interview.. or I may have been ecstatic to have a job and said no thanks (now I would say no thanks because I’m just plain paranoid).

        There’s not really a good way to warn someone about a bad employment situation because you never know where anyone’s loyalties lie—and there’s no good way to ask for a warning for the exact same reason.

      2. Venus Supreme*


        If it weren’t for the time that the letter was published, I could have sworn I was the new hire and my predecessor was OP. This would have been my first job and I wouldn’t have known any better to ask any further questions to OP since I was so desperate for any kind of work!

    3. INTP*

      It’s hard to ask the right kind of questions to get you these honest answers without sounding antagonistic, and even someone with the social finesse to do that might not realize they could actually get a truthful answer. The OP was willing to answer candidly but many people wouldn’t have, or would have given a vague or sanitized answer requiring the candidate to read between the lines, because they wouldn’t want their words repeated to anyone within the company. I always ask them to describe the company culture and listen for euphemisms like “work hard-play hard” or “passionate,” but I don’t think someone not knowing how to do that means they deserve to be lied to.

  7. Duncan*

    #5 – I hope they don’t pursue it further. Personally, I would make them sue me for it. Good luck since there is no agreement that you or any employee would pay for a free trip, particularly one you had no say in booking. What if you had left the company instead? And if they took it out of my paycheck, I’d file a complaint with the DOL and the EEOC and sue them for the money back myself. They clearly don’t care about you as an employee so why not? I hope you are looking for another employer, particularly since your manager has shown to tow the company line no matter how foolish it may be.

    Of course, I’m all full of righteousness on your behalf, but only you know what is best for you, OP. And as I said, I sincerely hope they just let it drop. My only worry is it will come up next year when the trip is scheduled again.

  8. Connie-Lynne*

    Although I understand their frustration, I’m kind of shocked at #3’s use of the abbreviation “SMH” in a professional context. While I wouldn’t balk, in casual professional correspondence (like Slack, or a casual email convo), to use inoffensive abbreviations like “ROFL,” it seems to me that SMH falls more into the GFY or FTW category — something you’d say in a heated discussion with friends and not something you’d say around coworkers.

    I guess it kind of falls right on the line; I might say “I hate that,” but “so much hate” is generally used to imply barely-controlled simmering rage, which isn’t something I’d want associated with me professionally.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Fair enough. I think I think of the letters written as “kind of professional” and the comments section as casual.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Ahhhh, right. I got used to using it in netnews/irc 25 years ago, I forgot that more recently it’s got a less-harsh expansion. “FTW” gets me with that one a lot, too. (Older usage — “F the world;” new usage — “For the Win”).

        I’m also probably being hypersensitive about language right now ’cause I’m trying to work up a bunch of tutorial sessions, and I always have to remember not to cuss!

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I, too, have always thought it was “shaking my head,” or at least that’s how literally all my peers use it ;) I think “facepalm” is what folks use to mean/represent “smack my head,” although I recognize that there’s a difference between holding your face in disbelief/horror and smacking yourself on the head for forgetting something.

  9. INTP*

    #5: What is with these companies penalizing people for missing otherwise free, “team-building” vacations?

    It would be semi-defensible if these were actual work trips where the company lost money from people dropping out, because they had to send someone else instead, or the employee was expected to make sales or perform services that would be billed to a client. I still don’t think it would be right or productive in that case, but the company would at least have an argument for the need to recoup costs. But for the Zika question the other day and OP5 with the cruise, if anything, employees dropping out saves the company money for their food, transportation, etc, even if flights and accommodations aren’t refunded. They’re just charging people to retaliate against them for having unpredictable, reasonable reasons to not go on pointless trips.

  10. Noobtastic*

    #5 – I feel like Inigo Montoya on this “Free gift.” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    Also, second (or whatever number we’re on, now) to alert Legal that there is some FMLA retaliation at play, here. Even if they don’t send an invoice, or are not sneakily taking it from your pay (CHECK YOUR STUBS!!!), they are verbally abusing you about it, and that is a problem.

    Most lawyers will give a free consult, and only charge if they take the case. Time for a free consult.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Oooo, such a great use of the Princess Bride!

      Also agreed that many employment lawyers would do a free consult on the intake side; plaintiff-side folks are often funded through contingency agreements (i.e., they get paid a % from your award/settlement if you win).

  11. OP #4*

    I am the one who wrote in about finding a job if all the entry-level jobs want 2 years of experience. I really do like my new technical writer job and I’m so appreciative of all the advice here! I tell everyone I know about this site. :D

  12. k*

    OP #5 – Wow. This really sucks. If I were you I’d be working on my resume, I could just never trust that employer again. If you haven’t already, I’d look into if there have been other situations when someone could not attend this cruise. I doubt there is any official record that they would give you access to given the situation, but you could casually ask around. Not only might you find cases to back you up (if they weren’t charged in the past), but it helps to when a coworker say “Why do you ask?”, it gives you a chance to spread the word. I’m sure your coworkers would like a heads up that they should be cautious of accepting “gifts” from your employer.

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