a coworker at my new job is someone I slept with four years ago, changing the way we do raises, and more

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

1. A coworker at my new job is someone I slept with four years ago

I’m in my 20s and have just started a three-month internship with a large company. Today was my first day where I met a variety of business leaders, as well as the previous interns and graduates who went through the same program.

There was one graduate who I knew already. I’d met him at schoolies/spring break about four years ago and had sexual relations on two occasions during this time. I was going through a tough time and was simply seeking comfort with no strings attached back then. I have since overcome such challenges, but it was extremely awkward meeting him and shaking hands today to “meet him for the first time.”

I am not sure if he even remembers these events. If he does, I am concerned that people in the office may find out.

How should I go about this problem? We are both in long-term relationships (I checked his Facebook) and I am definitely not interested in him. Despite this, I feel quite awkward and slightly embarassed around him in the office. I’d prefer to avoid him completely as professionally acceptable as possible and not speak to him unless absolutely required. Some background information: we work in separate business divisions – he is in Finance and I am in Technology, so I highly doubt we will work together in the foreseeable future.

You, like millions of other people, slept with someone a couple of times years ago. This is not a scandal or something you need to carry around embarrassment about.

Act as if it doesn’t matter, and you might begin feeling like it doesn’t really matter. And even if that never takes hold for you emotionally, acting like it doesn’t matter is still the best way to deal with him at work if you do run into him again. Hell, pretend it didn’t even happen if it makes you feel more comfortable in your office. If he ever says anything to you about having met before, be polite but keep a professional distance. “Yes, good to see you again” is a perfectly polite response, followed by a work-related topic or a polite exit.

If he’s in a relationship, he probably isn’t looking to stir things back up between the two of you, although if he does, you can just clearly say that you prefer to keep the relationship professional.

2. Percentage increase vs. flat-rate increase for raises

I work in a small county government office in a rural community. Administration has traditionally given an across-the-board percentage increase to employee salaries at the end of each year. The problem with this is that we have no salary caps in place for any position, and employees who have been in place for a long time sometimes make 20-40% more than what their counterparts in the same position make. This discrepancy makes sense if we were talking about a brand new employee vs. a person near retirement, but in one case we have an eight-year teapot maker earning almost half of what a 25-year teapot maker earns while doing the same basic job.

This means that when we award a percentage increase, those already earning the most will get a much larger raise than those earning the least. This gap grows larger each year as the percentages compound.

This year I changed this policy, but no one knows it yet. Instead of a percentage increase, staff are getting a flat hourly rate increase across the board. The cost to our agency is about 4%, but on an individual level, our lowest earners will be seeing as much as an 8% increase, while our top earners will be getting no less than 3%. But really, everyone is getting the exact same dollar amount of salary increase because they all work the same number of hours each year. Most importantly though, it raises the pay of our lowest earners in a disproportionally positive way, bringing them closer to the industry standard. This should help with employee retention, and some of my best employees are new. It also keeps my already highly paid top earners from earning even more (most are above the industry standard for their positions). This also helps in my fringe costs for benefits, taxes, and retirement.

I am not sure what to expect as a reaction to this. People don’t deal well with change here. Should I expect a blow up or a blow over?

I don’t know! It depends on the culture of your organization and the people you have working there. “People don’t deal well with change here” doesn’t make me very hopeful. But if you’re confident that this change is the right one, the best thing you can do is to be very transparent about the reasons for the change and how you arrived at this decision. Also, don’t wait to tell people — tell them ASAP because the longer you wait, the more blindsided they’re going to feel (and people may be budgeting for next year based on incorrect assumptions about the size of the raise they’re going to receive).

For what it’s worth, I’m skeptical that either of these approaches is the right one. Why not look at market rates for the work people are doing and peg their salaries to that, adjusted for performance factors? You could still have a bit extra in there for seniority, but not as much as it sounds like you currently have. You also probably need to have a salary cap for individual jobs, because otherwise you’re going to end up with people who have been there 15 years earning waaaayyyy over market rate for the work they’re doing (which sounds like exactly what has happened).

3. How personal is too personal for the office printer?

I work in a small office at a college with about four other coworkers. We all have our own computer stations, but share one printer. Our office culture is very relaxed and no one seems to monitor printing use. I certainly have printed a personal document or two, but am always quick to grab it out of the printer.

However, one of my coworkers has a lot of extracurricular activities and tends to use the printer for personal use quite a bit and is less quick to grab it from the print tray. I really haven’t had much of an issue with this, but recently I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with some seriously personal things I’ve been accidentally grabbing out of the printer, thinking they are something I printed. I’ve found personal court case information, debt notices, eviction notices, and even bank statements.

As soon as I realize they aren’t what I just printed, I put them back on the printer tray immediately, but I feel like I’ve accidentally invaded her privacy even though these pages were left on the printer — often for hours and hours! And I can’t exactly “un-know” these things — I feel really weird about it. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle this? I’m nervous to bring this up to her directly since she can be a bit of a pistol, but I really don’t think it warrants me going to my manager without saying something to her first. Do you have any recommended scripts? Or is this just something that I should continue to try to repress and ignore?

I’d say just keep on ignoring it. If you were her manager, you’d have standing to say something to her, but as a coworker, there’s not much you can do. At most, you could bring some of the most personal print-outs to her and say something like, “I found these on the printer and figured you didn’t want to leave them there for anyone to see.” (If you say that about a debt notice, it will sound really judgmental, but if you say it about her bank statement, it’ll sound more helpful.)

That said, if it’s actually disrupting your work — like if it’s hard to find your own stuff because the printer tray is crowded with her personal print-outs or if the printer isn’t available when you need it because she’s printing months of bank statements — that’s a reason to mention it to your manager.

In general, I don’t think it’s a big deal for people to use work printers for occasional personal printing, but they should retrieve their stuff quickly — and this coworker sounds like she’s going way overboard on quantity.

4. Vacation pay when you can’t take vacation

My husband is a salary employee and couldn’t take vacation this year. Is his employer obligated to still pay him vacation pay?

It depends on the state he works in. Some states require accrued vacation time to be paid out when someone leaves the organization (but not before that). Other states don’t, and in those states it’s up to the individual employer to decide how to handle it.

That said, if your husband’s vacation time won’t roll over to next year and the reason he didn’t use it this year was truly because his workload didn’t allow it, he has a good case for asking them to make an exception to the roll-over policy this time.

5. Does start date indicate anything about how fast a hiring process will move?

I applied for a job that I am really excited about. The start date is January 9, and they posted a call for applications around the second week of November. A post on your site said that companies’ response times differ dramatically, but I’m wondering whether the start time is any kind of indication of when they’re likely to call back–or if they’ve already decided and I should move on. I know I’ll have to stick it out and wait either way, but I’m just curious.

You can’t really read much into it. It’s really common for companies to post a desired start date and then not even hire anyone until after it’s passed.

As always, the best thing you can do is apply, assume you didn’t get it, put it out out of your mind and move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you.

{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia

    I think OP 1 is worried that the guy will locker room talk or brag or make snide remarks about their past relationship not that he is interested in renewing it. It is a not unrealistic fear in some settings and with some guys and the current political climate isn’t helping. I agree that the winning play here is to be unembarrassed and blase about it if it ever comes up between them — and also if it ends up in the rumor mill. Sort of as in ‘duh I’m 26, of course I have had relationships with guys over the years, duh.’ And repeat that to yourself until the nervousness wears off . You are a grown woman. Of course you have had sex and there is nothing scandalous about that nor anything to be ashamed of. In fact it would be odder if you hadn’t. With any luck this guy will either not remember or will not think of it as anything much and your relaxed blase attitude about it will help him keep it that way. People will take their cue from your embarrassment or lack of it so work on wearing it out a bit (dwell on it and how to deal for a few days) so that you are past being caught off guard or being embarrassed.

    1. Emma

      Of course you have had sex . . . In fact it would be odder if you hadn’t.

      Can we maybe not start shaming people who haven’t had sex? Or trying to insist you must have sex to be normal?

      1. LBK

        Having been a long time commenter here, I’m fairly certain Artemesia did not mean it as a slight to people that haven’t had sex – more that most people probably wouldn’t be particularly surprised to learn that a 26-year-old has had sex, so the OP shouldn’t act like it’s a shameful secret.

        Moreover, the whole letter is kind of about the OP judging and policing her own sexuality, so it seems unavoidable to talk about general cultural expectations about sex, whether they’re right or wrong. In pragmatic terms, it might be reassuring to the OP to realize that most people will probably assume she’s had sex before based on her age, so if it word gets out, the reaction is more likely to be “wow, small world!” and a chuckle, not a major scandal.

        1. Vin Packer

          Yeah, agree. Good to know not to use “odd” in this context going forward, but this comment was full of good stuff for the OP; the fact that most of the replies are about this seems a little nitpicky.

        2. Myrin

          I agree that that was quite surely Artemesia’s intent, and I also feel like it’s important that this be the first comment the OP reads – the whole letter really does seem like she judges herself and frets about something that she might not realise is not unusual at all.

          At the same time, I’m a 25 year old asexual virgin who is pretty unemotional and not very sensitive even when things pertain to me, but that specific wording (the two half-sentences Emma quoted) did surprisingly make me bristle and I appreciate others’ pointing it out. But I’m of the mind to assume no ill intent by regular commenters whose stances I’m somewhat familiar with and that pointing things like this out once is enough.

          1. LBK

            Agreed all around, especially your last sentence. It’s one thing to caution LWs about their word choice especially if it could be framing their perspective or altering their meaning in a way they don’t realize, but these long chains of replies criticizing a commenter’s word choice or +1ing those criticisms really detracts from giving advice to the person who actually asked for it (the LW).

            1. Liz

              I’m concerned that the LW is going to see the pile-on at the very top of the comments and just check out.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        This comment led to a long thread that derailed the comments, which I’ve deleted so that the first thing the OP reads isn’t a long off-topic tangent that violates the rules of the site.

        I want to remind everyone to read the commenting guidelines here, which ask that you not nitpick or over-analyze other commenters’ wording, and which clearly say that if you object to something that’s been said, once it’s been flagged ONCE, you should not pile on.

      3. LBK

        I mean, I think there’s merit in these types of conversations in general. But having them reiterated almost daily here is kind of exhausting – partly because it sets a constantly antagonistic tone for the comments section, but also because it means we’re having the same conversation every day instead of a new conversation about the letters that are posted, which is just repetitive and not as interesting to read or participate in.

        Maybe this is just a factor of having been on the site for a while now, but it feels like we’re reiterating these conversations more frequently than in the past. I’ve appreciated it before and AAM as a whole has absolutely made me more cognizant of what I say, but it’s started to feel tiring. It feels especially unnecessary when it’s directed at commenters who have been here for a long time and surely understand the importance of word choice, such that an errant example of questionable word choice can be forgiven.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’m leaving this one because I could not agree more. Thanks for saying this. I’m going to be more aggressive about removing derailing/off-topic/rule-violating threads for exactly this reason.

        2. Myrin

          What a great comment, LBK! Is it okay to bookmark it so as to pull it out of my imaginary wizard hat should the situation warrant it?

          1. LBK

            Fine by me! As long as we don’t start a cycle of reiterating how much the conversation has been reiterated :)

    2. Czhorat

      Absolutely.

      As an adult, you should expect everyone in the office to act grown-up. This isn’t even something bad, like a significant other who had a really unpleasant breakup. Hopefully it meant the same to the coworker as the OP, and it will fade quietly into the past.

      1. Kms1025

        OP #1 – this is an opportunity for the best use of the old “fake it till you feel it”. Nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, so act that way. If it comes up, try a version of the old “Southern Belle” routine….”Whatever do you mean? College was certainly an awakening for many of us, wasn’t it?” Next topic…nothing to dwell on, nothing to see here. You’ll be fine to just let it go.

    3. Vin Packer

      Oh man. I was thinking how charming #1’s question is, but I hadn’t thought of this angle. If that’s where the anxiety is coming from thats a bummer.

      Nothing whatever to be ashamed of, OP #1.

  2. Less anonymous than before

    #1 – I understand everyone looks at these things differently, but I’m a bit sad for you that you think you need to explain away or be ashamed of having consensual sex as an adult outside the confines of a relationship. I don’t think you need to worry, either. If he remembers you, this isn’t the kind of thing that is going to make it’s way around the office like it’s a huge scandal. If he doesn’t remember you, then you never need to bring it up and if you bump into him you can treat him like any other co-worker. If he ever does suggest that he remembers you, you can be polite without being embarrassed about it. You both are much older — remembering someone doesn’t have to be able having slept together in the past. That portion of it doesn’t have to ever come up again, it’s REALLY not a big deal.

    1. sstabeler

      if anything, if LW #1 brings it up again, the co-worker might be irritated because the sex was supposed to be “no strings attached”- bringing it up again 4 years later isn’t really compatible with that. the whole idea behind “no strings attached” is there will be no consequences- unless, of course, the woman gets pregnant and doesn’t want to get an abortion- and this is really a consequence.

        1. a different Vicki

          Sure, but there are different sizes of consequence. My understanding of no-strings-attached sex is that the consequences are supposed to be about the same as if the two people involved had gone to a movie or a Chinese restaurant together: they both enjoyed themselves, and the few hours they spent together is time neither of them could have been doing something else.

          If you’d offhandedly gone to see a movie with an acquaintance four years ago, and then they started working at your office, they might say “good to see you again,” but it would be weird if they started telling people that you had gone to a movie together, or reminding you that you’d really liked the actor who played the villain.

    2. Sadsack

      Yeah, explaining why she had sex with this guy years ago was really unnecessary. I would not have made any judgments about her if she had just stopped after stating it was someone she slept with a few years ago. Nothing wrong with having sex just for fun.

    3. Jenbug

      Thank you. That letter made me uncomfortable and I couldn’t figure out why, but this is exactly it. The fact that LW felt like she needed to explain her consensual activities and make a point to say she “has overcome such challenges” comes across as rather judgmental to people who indulge in such activities.

      1. Emilia Bedelia

        I think the OP was preemptively defending herself against people who will say things like “Well, you shouldn’t have slept with him if you didn’t want people to find out about it” or extrapolating from this to assume that she’s going to sleep with people in the office.

        The comments already are showing that sex is a really divisive issue that stirs up a lot of personal opinions – it’s really a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of issue and I don’t blame her for wanting to protect herself from those kinds of comments.

        1. Venus Supreme

          Yes, this. And she’s probably also worried that her coworker will stir up this stuff in the workplace. She probably doesn’t know him well enough to know if he’ll locker-room-brag about their time together or respectfully keep it under wraps.

          My advice, OP, is to never bring it up and if he does, shrug it off. If you don’t act like it’s a big deal then others will follow your cue. I have a coworker (whom I work closely with) who once clogged my toilet with their poo year ago way before we knew we’d be working together. It was super embarrassing for both of us, and now we both act like it never happened!

      2. Temperance

        I don’t think she was judging other people for having casual sex, but trying to protect *herself* from people who might judge her for having casual sex.

      3. hi.

        agreed. this bummed me out so much – i feel this way anytime i see a letter where someone has done something so completely normal and yet they are so defensive and apologetic to prevent judgement. like they’re so used to people smacking them down that they have to pre-empt every nasty comment with a huge apology. this happens constantly with posts about sex, clothing, money, etc.

        i remember i was reading a blog post about a woman who was decorating her apartment and she wrote like 3 paragraphs about how she knew she was so fortunate to be able to spend $80 on a piece of storage furniture and she felt like she was bragging and wanted everyone to know she wasn’t boasting about her good fortune. there was so much guilt and so many apologies, like “now i normally would thrift but seeing as how we saved money on X and my husband just got a .50 raise and we’ve been saving for so long, and we couldn’t find what we needed after months of searching, we splurged on the cabinet even though we would never normally pay more than $5…” and it went on and on. i remember reading and thinking, “if i knew this woman in real life i could never tell her i recently paid $1,300 for a single chair, she’d send me straight to hell.” likewise, OP#1, i’ll never tell you how many people i’ve slept with outside of relationships because it’s a hell of a lot more than 1 and YOU DON’T HAVE TO FEEL BAD ABOUT THAT or apologize to a bunch of internet commenters, because I don’t! :)

          1. hi.

            so actually it was on sale so we didn’t spend the full $1300, but it was an axis swivel chair from crate and barrel. literally the most comfortable chair i’ve ever sat in. very wide (not room for 2 side by side, but room for 2 if you’re snugglin’) and super squishy and just perfect for this big empty space in our living room. :)

    4. ToS

      Realistically, he should not bring this up, and neither should you. If there is any recognition, remember it’s done, in the past, and your context is work, so there is no need to bring it up. I get that you are worried that this guy will disappoint you, however, both of you have had 4 years to develop your professional selves, and can both let it go and focus on work. You are being introduced as your professional selves, so this is a new context for both of you. You are both getting to a better place as professionals, and let bygones be bygones. If there are signals that the boundaries are bad, let us know (and this does not include having a quick moment of Oh, crap! and checking FB for support at home, and asking the question here – you are not bringing this To Work, this is self-help).

      Could this reaction be related to a similar bad experience? This does not need to be a self-fulfilling prophesy

    5. Renee

      I had this same thing happen to me. He also worked in a different department and I just acted like I had never met him before, as did he. Only it turned out that he really didn’t remember me. I ran into him when he was out one night with his brother and he introduced us — only his brother, whom we’d hung out with during our brief little thing — DID remember me and his mouth kind of dropped open. I just silently shook my head. He closed his mouth and nodded, and didn’t say a word. I still don’t know if he reminded my coworker about the whole thing or not, but at this point I had worked there for a few years and I didn’t even really think about it anymore or care. It really really wasn’t a big deal, though I remember feeling much as you did at the beginning. Just pretend like you just met him. That’s likely all he’s going to do too, whether he remembers you or not.

  3. Cat steals keyboard

    #3 Is your coworker in debt, in court and receiving eviction notices? If so, her personal use of the printer isn’t the most pressing issue. I know you said she’s a bit of a pistol, but it sounds like she could be going through hell. (This is presuming they’re not evicting someone else.) When you say she has lots of extra curricular activities do you mean she works as a debt collector or landlord on the side? Or is this what’s happening to her?

    Because I’m wondering if she’s leaving these things on the printer on purpose in the hope that someone will notice. Maybe she wants to ask for help and doesn’t know how. (This is my own stuff talking. I was homeless in my late teens and used to go to school with a housing leaflet sticking out of my bag in the hope that someone would notice and ask if everything was okay. Nobody did and I didn’t know how to ask for help.)

    Presuming your colleague is the one being evicted and in debt, I think the decent-human-being thing to do is one of the following:

    – Find out if you have an EAP that provides advice and help, and give the details to your colleague. You could see if HR have cards with the details and hand them out to everyone because you ‘got a few spares’.

    – Try to grab a coffee with her and ask if everything is okay.

    – Be more upfront: I’m concerned about some things I’ve seen in the printer. I wondered if you are okay.

    Apologies if I’ve totally misread this situation.

    1. MK

      With all respect to your personal experiences, I think it would be extremely dangerous to meddle in a coworker’s personal affairs just because she leaves stuff I the printer.

      1. LBK

        I wouldn’t even go as far as saying it’s dangerous – it’s just intrusive. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to infer she’s purposely leaving them on the printer hoping someone will say something.

    2. i want a pony

      I think asking if everything is okay over coffee would be a kind thing to do. You can do some quick research on EAP’s beforehand in case the conversation turns that way.

    3. OP3

      OP3 here. I tried not to ramble in my email to AMA so I didn’t get into the weeds on my relationship with this coworker or more into the contents of the print outs. So let the ramblings begin!

      I just started at this job less than a year ago and she’s been established here over 20 years. Professionally, she’s made it very clear that I don’t get to tell her how to do anything since I’m so new. The attitude sometimes carries over when we’re talking about personal stuff – hence my hesitation to bring stuff up with her – I feel like I’ll just get barked at.

      I was most concerned about the cout files actually. She volunteers as a child advocate – that’s where I was concerned about the court cases being left out. These aren’t court cases for her, but rather the people she is advocating for and they’re left in the printer for so long that.. I guess I just worry that it’s breaking some kind of privacy law or something. Sometimes they’re left on the printer for hours, sometimes she forgets she printed them at all and just leaves them there for days until I recycle them (I shred anything that looks personal if I can)

      She has mentioned drama with her landlord in the past and I’ve listened and discussed it (obviously a biased perspective, but her landlord sounds insane). I’ve offered some suggestions, but they are usually waived off – I’m new and much younger than her so I don’t know what I’m talking about. I guess I didn’t realize it had reached the eviction level until I saw the notice on the printer. Then I suddenly felt like I knew too much.

      Disclaimer: I do know that she won’t be homeless. She’s talked about the fact that she has a lot of family and a strong support system in the area – lots of people she can stay with if it reaches that point. Also, it’s illegal in our state to be evicted in winter.

      I guess I wasn’t sure if (or how) to approach her, but I like the suggestion! Maybe socializing over coffee or food is the way to go. Might be easier to talk with her. Sorry if my letter wasn’t clear – I tend to ramble and was wanting to keep everything really concise.

      1. Pudding

        Leaving sensitive documrntsyin the work printer is a far stretch of violating privacy laws when you are a volunteer. This is something you should bring up to her – just mention that you are worried that some people may take the opportunity to read the case documents and she should grab them out straight away.

        As for the really personal notices and statements you need to pretend like you don’t see this stuff. Just look for the document you printed without paying too much attention to the others – or if you KNOW it is hers then drop them at her desk! Having someone bring her personal papers may make her realize that people are seeing her business.

        Just imagine how you’d feel if you forgot you printed a bank statement or coupon and a coworker or even your boss sat you down to talk about the content of your printing!

        Please refrain from going to management unless it gets inappropriate- like porn or offensive material or mass quantity personal printing. Management could easily overreact and ban all personal printing

      2. Scarredkitty

        The court files are absolutely confidential if it involves children. She can get in a lot of trouble for even logging in and viewing them at the office.
        even if nobody picks up the printout needs it she’s already violated the agreement she signed when she volunteered and she’s opening herself up to court sanctions. I think judges order individual volunteers to be more private with their cases and then put them in jail overnight when they violated that order. this is no joke. What she’s doing is seriously wrong. It’s no different than an attorney leaving client files lying around at a coffee shop when they go pee.

        Not cool just because she’s a volunteer and it’s a work environment

        1. lawsuited

          With respect, it is different from an attorney leaving client files lying around at a coffee shop because 1) lawyers have a professional mandate to keep client information confidential and 2) a coffee shop is a public place.

          Whether what OP’s coworker is doing is “seriously wrong” depends on the confidentiality rules for volunteers at the particular organization OP’s co-worker is volunteering for.

      3. paul

        Tell the CASA she’s volunteering for (I’m guessing it’s a CASA or something similar) that she’s leaving that stuff out. That’s a gigantic no-no. If it was her personal stuff that’s her choice, but not if it’s a CASA case.

        Also, in every state I’m aware of in the US, you *can* evict in the winter, but some sheriff’s departments won’t evict if it’s under a set temperature. There may be local ordinances, but at the state level (assuming you’re in the US), winter evictions are legal.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          This! I posted below, but this is a HUGE issue and totally, totally against any CASA/Guardian Ad Litem training and rules!

      4. Lia

        I used to be a child advocate myself (with CASA) and we had incredibly strict guidelines on handling court documents. We printed them out ONLY at the CASA office, never at other sites. She is putting hersle — and the children she is working for — at serious risk here.

      5. Princess Carolyn

        Yep, I suggest bringing the court documents to her with Alison’s “I thought you might want to keep this private” wording, and then ignore the other stuff.

        If you hear her talking about a troubling situation, it would make sense to ask something like “Is everything OK?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” but it doesn’t sound to me like this is the type of cry for help Cat Steals Keyboard is talking about.

        1. Former Retail Manager

          100% agree about the court documents. However, some others have mentioned speaking to the manager, under certain conditions, or speaking to CASA about her printing of the documents. Please DON’T do that. You say that you are younger than her, and it sounds like young in general. I firmly believe this is a mind your business situation. If you’ve pointed out the privacy issue with the court documents and she keeps doing it, with some detrimental consequences down the road, that’s on her. And if she wants the whole office to be able to discover her personal business, then that’s also on her. It’s just not your problem.

          I don’t mean to come across harshly. When I was in my early 20’s, I was similar to you and could have easily written your same letter. Almost 2 additional decades of experience have taught me when to leave things alone. This is your co-workers problem and you should keep yourself out of it.

          1. Jessie

            “mind your business situation.”

            I’d agree with you except that she is violating the privacy of children. Children involved in court proceedings are, as you probably know, there for intensely personal reasons and it just is wrong, wrong, wrong on so many levels to broadcast children’s court issues to the workplace – and that’s what leaving those printouts on the shared printer for hours is. She is doing wrong by those children. She is violating her contract as a volunteer and depending on the information in those printouts she may be violating the law or court rules as well (most states have some strict rules about what information about minors must be confidential).

            OP needs to do more than say some innocuous “thought you might not want people to see this.” The children whose privacy she is violating deserve a bit better than that.

            I’d absolutely say she should do more about that – either directly with the co-worker (“I saw these on the printer. They’ve been there a while and they really seem like papers that are supposed to be confidential”) or call the volunteer organization. If there is ANY chance the coworker would listen and realize her mistake, talk to her first.

            1. anonderella

              seconding Jessie’s comment.
              I do not believe this is a mind your own business situation. There are children’s lives at stake here -their court cases’ privacy is at stake here. The biggest reason their cases are placed with a CASA is because they have the potential to be overrun by the system; this CASA is clearly not functioning or not able to function at the level of taking her role seriously enough if she is behaving this way. Out of line, and pretty disgusting to me (probably sounds harsh to someone who thinks this is a mind your own business situation, but that’s 100% my opinion), and a complete abuse of her role.
              This will be my only comment on this, because this is an emotional one for some people (myself included, obviously.); but I did look into being a CASA after I lost a loved one and our case got completely screwed over by the system (not hating on the ‘system’ – it just didn’t work out for our family this time), and I had to decline after I realized what was involved and that I would not be able to provide that support, and the support my family needed, and work on finishing my BA, and have a job. I pulled out, as much as I wanted to help, because I knew I wouldn’t fully be able to, and I could potentially let someone down – I have zero sympathy for someone who wouldn’t make the same call. I don’t know the magic formula for fixing this person’s behavior, but this should under no circumstances be allowed to continue.
              OP, I would absolutely speak with her about it, to the best of your comfort level, and after that I’d be contacting someone.

              1. anonderella

                I’m also coming from a place of “the children deserve a bit more than that”, more than trying to condemn a coworker, or anyone, in genuine need. But sometimes people make mistakes, and abuse their power and break laws (if that’s indeed what’s happening here), and they get to pay for that. Their financial situations, or anything else, doesn’t always have to mitigate that.

            2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

              I’m with Jessie…for everything else, I would agree, but printing documents for your CASA case is a huge violation and very problematic.

              Not to make too far of a leap, but she is violating on of the most basic CASA rules, what else is she letting slip? Her volunteer supervisor can step in and help, even if it’s just to make sure there is no gap in advocacy.

            3. Former Retail Manager

              I agree that it’s unfortunate that she’s violating the children’s privacy and doesn’t seem to take it more seriously and I’m all in favor of a more strongly worded statement to the co-worker, but if you’re considering speaking to her volunteer coordinator or escalating the issue in any other way, I do believe that she deserves fair warning. As in, “I’ve noticed these documents being left on the printer for extended periods several times now. I know that the privacy of these children is a pretty serious issue and I wouldn’t want to be complicit in violating that privacy in any way. I know that you also care about the children and their privacy so if you could please begin picking these up expeditiously or not printing them at all, I think that would resolve the issue.” If you see them languishing again, I might drop them off a bit more tersely and privately tell her that you discussed the issue with her previously, are not in agreement with her actions, and tell her if it happens again, you will advise the CASA volunteer supervisor of her actions.

              And to be honest, while that’s a legitimate course of action, if you do take it, I wouldn’t expect it to be without fallout. She is a 20 year employee who is presumably “safe” in her position and you are a newbie. Should she decide that you are a thorn in her side, I would not be surprised if she turned on you or became vindictive.

              And while I know that many will disagree with me, yes you’ve seen documents that are supposed to be confidential. And? Unless any of the children under her supervision are children of someone in the office or a friend/relative, you have basically seen info about a bunch of kids and their family situations that you don’t know and will never meet. I believe the potential for misuse or abuse of the information you’ve seen is slim to none. She should still be safeguarding that information 100%, but the consequences of her failure to do so are limited.

              To address what anonderella has said, I don’t believe that printing documents and leaving them on a printer is placing a child’s “life at stake.” If the offending co-worker fails to take actions timely with regard to whatever she’s supposed to be doing, then yes, absolutely, but the mere act of printing paperwork and forgetting it is not alone going to place anyone’s life at stake. I think the bottom line for the co-worker is that she is overwhelmed in her personal life and probably shouldn’t be a case advocate at all, but that once again isn’t something a co-worker should meddle in. If you’re comfortable, maybe raise that issue and she may admit that she is stretched thin, but I don’t see that happening based on how she has been portrayed by OP.

      6. Hear to Learn

        Many MFPs today can be set up to allow several options to keep documents secured. You can set a print to folder option that will keep the document in a folder on the printer until you physically stand at the machine and request the print using a passcode. There are other security options available also, depending on the machine’s configuration. It may be a discussion to have with all the folks in your workgroup if any of you work with sensitive documents for your job – to setup security codes for printing. That way, it is a general discussion and you may be able to address the issue without a negative confrontation.

      7. Artemesia

        I would not touch this with a stick, since she has made it clear that she doesn’t want advise from you. With the court stuff I’d probably put it on her desk and say ‘I know you wouldn’t want other people reading this highly sensitive material about these kids.’ But I would be doing that not to ‘help her’ but to chastise her for abusing the confidence of these kids in the court system; someone careless with their information shouldn’t be doing this. But her own personal problems? She has already ragged on the OP for so much as making a work suggestion; this is not someone to be reaching out to about their personal problems.

      8. Master Bean Counter

        Just take any documents you find a place them on her desk. You could add in a, “Hey you left these on the printer.” But really you don’t have to say anything and you’ve done what’s in your power to keep them confidential.

        Just be happy that you aren’t seeing a picture of the new boobs your boss bought his wife, printed out on a printer right behind your desk.

          1. Master Bean Counter

            Some things are too weird to be made up, and that wasn’t the first time I’d seen them.

      9. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

        Leaving the files or any information that pertains to cases where she is a child advocate is A HUGE VIOLATION!

        I’m a Guardian Ad Litem and just about every piece of training material we have and document reminds us that no one (beyond those legally involved in the case) should know anything about the child!

        Heck, in day two of our training we even discussed how to handle your case binder and other materials when you share a home! Leaving these files on the printer is very, very wrong.

        1. Evan Þ

          Tangent, but I’m curious – what’d they say about handling your materials when you share a home?

      10. Crazy Canuck

        From the letter, I was with Alison about this not really being an issue. The fact that these are confidential court documents dealing with children changes my opinion 180 degrees. I would notify the judge myself that this volunteer is violating the privacy of the children she is advocating for without hesitation. Yes she might get in trouble, but I’m reserving my compassion for the children whose privacy she is shitting all over.

        OP #3, please call someone regarding this. This is not a “live and let live” type situation.

      11. Is it Friday Yet?

        The next time that you find court documents on the printer for the people she is advocating for, I would go to your manager with your concerns. It sounds like you’re not 100% sure if what she’s doing is wrong, and hopefully your manager will be able to tell you for certain. So I would let him or her make that call. If she’s been there for 20 years, it’s likely that she has been doing this for some time. If your manager works in the same office, I would be surprised if he/she is not aware of the situation.

    4. INTP

      At the same time, she could be printing this stuff at work only because she has no other options and can’t afford public printers right now, and would feel humiliated if someone knew. I think it’s important to wait for some signal from her that she wants to talk before asking, because even asking “is everything okay?” is an indication that you know something.

      1. Lily Rowan

        If she would feel humiliated, she should really get up from her desk as soon as she hits print, though! It’s not actually that hard to avoid leaving your stuff on the printer. (I know this is unprofessional, but I have printed out a resume at work in the past — I did it on the manual feed setting, so I knew it wouldn’t come out of the printer until I got there to insert the paper….)

    5. paul

      That’d kind of be a huge overstep to me. Like, I printed some medical stuff off last week. If my boss or a coworker had seen it (no chance, the shared printer is in my office) and pulled me aside to see if I was OK physically or yadda yadda yadda it’d be awkward as hell.

    6. Temperance

      I really disagree with this advice. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t think to intervene in such a way with a coworker, especially one who is known for being rude and nasty.

      I’m sorry that younger you went through that, but even as a person who regularly works with lower-income and disadvantaged people, I’ve never heard of that as a strategy and it wouldn’t flag me to intervene.

      1. Lissa

        I agree with you, Temperance. I think this can really easily go the other way, especially with coworkers, where you end up with a situation where somebody wants to be helpful because they interpret something you do a certain way but it just is horribly embarrassing. For instance my female friends who do martial arts having more than one person ask them if they’re being abused. *Especially at work* I think it is best to stay out of it unless you are already friends and have a bit more background on the situation. With someone you barely know, you not only don’t have the full story, you probably have like 0.5% of it.

  4. Bee Eye LL

    #3 – Many printers log the last 100 or so print jobs and you can look at the file names, and sometimes even images, of what was printed. I work in IT and this sometimes comes up when managers question the amount of toner and other costs associated with printers, especially color ones. We’ve caught people printing off hundreds of church newsletters, various flyers and ads for side business, and so on. It can get out of hand really quick and even if it’s only a couple cents per page, it is still technically stealing from the office. You may want to drop a hint about the print job logs and maybe it’ll scare them into stopping.

    1. Cat steals keyboard

      Further to my last comment, I think the printer debate is generally one worth having – but if OP’s colleague is facing homelessness at Christmas then I think their use of the printer is the wrong thing for them to focus on.

      I’m reminded of the letter-writer who was living on cupcakes other people left in the office.

      I’m aware I may have misread the situation and the colleague may be issuing these notices to other people. But if not, I get that OP feels uncomfortable but I feel like seeing this information (which you didn’t choose to see, and it’s not your fault you did) and responding in the way AAM describes would be kind of heartless. Yeah, it’s work. But, to repeat: they may be facing homelessness at Christmas.

      1. Cat steals keyboard

        AAM if you’re reading the comments: did I misread this?

        I think sometimes (like with the suicide post) the LW is in a position where they have an opportunity to help (though they didn’t choose to be in this position) and staying out of it is their choice but maybe not the right choice.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        I don’t think it’s heartless to let the coworker know that her stuff is more viewable by others than she may have realized.

        If the OP wants to take it further and offer help, that would certainly be a kind thing to do.

        1. Bee Eye LL

          Unless somebody took the time to read all those documents, they may be jumping to conclusions as to what’s actually going on. I’m just looking at it from a privacy perspective – this person may not want it known that they are dealing with all that, especially at work, and really anything you do on a work computer can be tracked quite easily.

          1. Temperance

            In that case, though, it’s on the adult with a job to manage her print jobs better. She’s not someone young and new to the workforce.

      3. Scarredkitty

        If it weren’t for the court files, I’d agree with that. But what she’s facing is more than harmlessness if her judge finds out she’s been so careless with the files.

        Child abuse and foster care cases with children are absolutely confidential in every state. This is a serious breach

      4. Temperance

        I disagree that it’s heartless. I further disagree that, even if coworker is only doing this to somehow trick LW into helping her, it’s on LW to solve this woman’s problems. LW isn’t a social worker or trained counselor.

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          Is this related to the person above who said this may be a way of asking for help? If so, that’s not trying to “trick” someone into helping them. Some people really don’t know how to ask for help if they’ve never had to before. I’m not saying I agree that that the OP should take it upon herself to try and help her. I’m just disagreeing with a comment you may or may not be making about whether this woman is trying to trick people.

    2. Fiona the Lurker

      OTOH in a previous job I formally asked and was given permission to use a work printer for private purposes, promised to pay for materials and agreed a price, and then got into a mess because there simply wasn’t a mechanism available for receiving the money. I ended up having to pay it into the department’s tea fund (in the UK) because that was the only way they could accept it.

      1. Ninja

        Paying into a tea fund for your personal printing is just about the most British office-related process I can think of. Wonderful.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger

        Wow. As consultants, we are lucky enough to have a job code system where we can bill our printing to whichever client is appropriate, and with that kind of a system in place, we’re luckier that our employer not only gives us a code for overhead (for timesheets or other internal paperwork), but also a personal job code so we can pay for our printing via payroll deduction, probably cheaper and certainly more convenient than running out to Kinko’s. I don’t hesitate to use it, even for color printing ($0.25 a page), because it feels scummy to charge a client or my employer for something that has nothing to do with them.

        We also have a system where we can send the print job to a queue, and then go to the printer to log in and release it, which is great for confidential documents. (It also cuts down on waste, as if someone forgets to pick up their print job, we’ve just saved some paper and toner!)

    3. hbc

      The person who previously had my position was printing job ads on the work printer, and sloppy about picking them up. When he resigned, he claimed with a straight face that he hadn’t been looking to leave and that a friend just had an amazing opportunity.

    4. Elizabeth

      I had a coworker who printed like ten copies of the full OCEAN’S 11 script once and just left them in the copy room. It was very weird.

  5. caledonia

    1 – I actually find Alison’s answer a bit unnecessary. If he is in a long term relationship and it was a few years ago “a couple of times” why would he think about starting anything up again?

      1. caledonia

        But just the fact that it’s mentioned brings up negative connotations. Let’s not assume the guy to potentially be a douche when there is no information to support that.

        Anyway, it’s early here maybe I took it slightly wrong.

        1. fposte

          It wouldn’t make him a douche to want to reconnect with somebody he liked, though. He’s just a douche if he sneaks around behind his partner’s back or presses it when the OP doesn’t want.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Who knows. It’s not exactly unheard of for that to happen, and I imagine it could be something that’s on the OP’s mind so I want her to know that it doesn’t have to be a source of stress.

    2. Princess Carolyn

      Because some people are icky. (Or, because some people are in above-board polyamorous relationships, but I would guess it’s poor form to solicit someone if you don’t know their relationship is also polyamorous. Idk for sure.)

      I’m willing to give a stranger the benefit of the doubt here, but it’s not like nobody in a long-term relationship has ever tried to start things up with an old fling.

      1. Lissa

        Yeah, and it’s not like long-term relationships don’t break up! If three months from now he’s single and asks out the OP, he doesn’t have to be a creep at all.

    3. animaniactoo

      Shall I tell you about my high school roommate’s bf? The one who I barely talked to then, hadn’t heard from in 20 years, friended me on FB (we have a mutual friend, he saw my comments on their post), and then proceeded to get increasingly more personal in the very first chat “catchup” convo we had, making it clear that he’d be interested if I was? Including telling me straight up that he’d wanted to sleep with me back then? While asking me to help him find my old roommate who I wasn’t in touch with anymore either? And despite having been told that I was married, and him being in a longterm relationship with a child?

      Stunned I tell you. I was STUNNED. But it happened. We’ve since had a conversation (that I need to get back to) about how he was measuring on the creepy meter.

    4. MoinMoin

      I actually liked that she addressed different aspects of it. Lately there have been some answers that I thought were too short- OP asks about X, AAM addresses X, but doesn’t really go into the Y and Z possibilities that seem natural potential consequences of X- I get that going into these might muddy the question, assume too much, cause comment tangents, or just be boring to answer yet again, but this felt like a good, complete question that will give the OP a lot of confidence to face the issue however it may go.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I definitely hear that. It’s a balance with these short answer posts; if I write too much, suddenly they’re not short answers! But I’m sure sometimes I get the balance wrong.

        1. MoinMoin

          Which is why I appreciate your participation in the threads (and your wonderful horde of commenters)- you can keep it short and those tangential possibilities may still come to light if someone asks, each answer turning into an overwhelming essay.

  6. OrganizedChaos

    #5 – My company began in mid November hiring for a batch of 15 inside sales agents that will begin training on Jan 23rd, so it really depends on the company and the job position. Sometimes companies are slow in the hiring process, sometimes they need more than one person and so they start early so that they can fill that number. Good luck!

  7. voyager1

    1- You are making an assumption that he wasn’t embarrassed too. There is a good chance he doesn’t want “the past” to come up either.

    1. Lily in NYC

      And I think avoiding speaking with him unless she has to (which she mentioned) is not a great idea – there’s nothing to be embarrassed about and not speaking to the guy kind of makes it into a “thing” instead of just something that happened that no one needs to know about (nor would they care, honestly).

  8. DEJ

    Speaking of personal items on the printer, I just saw this tweet earlier today:

    Someone at my work (no way to know who) printed out a 300-page Law&Order: SVU fanfic on the office printer.

        1. Oryx

          A good litmus test is to remember the Fifty Shades of Grey started as Twilight fan-fic.

          Of course, it also turned EL James into a bazillionaire so she might be okay with people thinking her writing is bad.

          1. Gaia

            Right! EL James probably couldn’t care a whit about whether people think her writing is bad. She is living every fanfic writer’s dream.

      1. DEJ

        No idea if it was erotic, but the replies to the tweet indicate that it does seem to be a popular story of the genre.

    1. Not Karen

      I’d be tempted to “accidentally” take it and read it before discretely putting it back on the printer…

    2. Heyo

      The tweet about this showed up in a meme group on Facebook that I’m in. I was like — “Wait a second…”

    3. JAM

      The weirdest thing from my office printer: a copy of one of Chuck Tingle’s finest. (If you don’t know his works, just peruse Amazon’s titles for the author. This was a dinosaur themed one of all things)

      1. a different Vicki

        Is that the one that was nominated for a Hugo Award for best short story? To keep this G-rated, I’ll just note that the first two words of the title are “Space Raptor.” An explanation, or even a summary, of what went on with those awards would not fit in this comment.

  9. Some Sort of Management Consultant

    OP1: You don’t need to explain or give excuses to why you slept with someone years ago. If both people are willing and enthusiastic, that is a good thing. I’m sorry you’re feeling like you need to apologize for it. You have done absolutely nothing wrong.

  10. Lexicat

    OP 5: I wasn’t called in to interview for my current job until 2 weeks after the start date in the job ad. And then it was another few weeks after that before I started.

    There’s no way to tell from the outside if the start date is a hard deadline or a wish, and trying to read anything into it will just drive you crazy.

  11. Hal

    #2

    “This year I changed this policy, but no one knows it yet.” “Should I expect a blow up or a blow over?”

    Who knows what what to expect, but a mutiny from at least some people wouldn’t be entirely out of line: you changed a major policy that determines how everyone will be compensated without notifying anyone, much less without discussing the possibility first. You’re right that some people will win and some will lose in the short term, but even granting that, some of those short-term winners may have wanted the raise structure that works to the benefit of the long-term employees if they’re expecting to stay long term.

    That’s not to say that compensation structure shouldn’t even change, and if one setup is untenable, it’s untenable, but unannounced fiat isn’t the way to handle this if you want people to be anything but shocked.

    1. not really a lurker anymore

      Yes. I’m a long time local gov’t employee. Here, our pay has a band, when you hit the top, unless there’s an across the board increase to everyone, you don ‘t get a raise. You need to be promoted to a job in a higher band.

      And making changes to the band requires board approval and possibly changes to the charter. Do you have the authority to make and enforce such a huge change?

    2. paul

      Yep. If my employer just announced in March “Oh BTW, we’re redoing the whole raise structure, here’s what’s happening” I’d be a little miffed. Not saying I’d leave over it, but it’d be nice to know that more than a day or two before WPR’s and the like

    3. Artemesia

      It doesn’t seem like a bad idea to both institute caps and to at least temporarily change how raises work but it certainly needs to be announced by now and not just let people be surprised when they get their January paycheck. And it would be far better to do some one time adjustments to those near the bottom with tiny raises for the top or even no raises near the top than to try to undo such a policy fail with this method proposed. Better than nothing though.

    4. Kelly

      I work in the public sector and the Powers that Be have a proposal for a 2% raise for all employees in our division. It’s a nice idea but one that would maybe increase my income after taxes maybe $300 per year. That will cover the likely increase in my rent for next year and the increase in monthly health insurance contributions. I’d be more enthused if it were tiered based on current annual salary with people at the lower end and recent hires (within the last 5 years) getting more, like 10% to 2% for the highest earners.

      1. nonymous

        I would describe this as a cost of living adjustment instead of a true raise. In the gov structure, “raises” are when someone jumps up a band or gets a time-in-grade step increase.

    5. Honeybee

      Yes. I’m a junior employee who works somewhere that does percentage increases, and although I realize the people at the top who have been here longer get bigger increases proportionately, I think that’s the reward of longevity!

  12. NW Cat Lady

    #2 – my first year at My Job From Hell, everyone got a 2% raise. We had a general meeting where this was announced, and the President actually had the nerve to say, “I’m also only getting a 2% raise.” And I thought to myself, “I’ll trade you your 2% for mine.” (And that was the last time I got a raise in the 3 1/2 years I worked there.)

    1. Dr. Doll

      At one university I worked at, the Fat Cats made a decision that all the Top Fat Cats would get percentage bonuses one year — and no raises for anyone else because money was tight, right? I came in one day to find our secretary in tears because one particular Fat Cat’s *bonus* was more than her entire annual salary. I was a sad poor grad student so all I could do was get her a Snickers bar and say how sorry I was.

      And then there’s Princeton, the beacon of Doing It Right: During a budget crisis (which looks, um, different at Princeton than other places), everyone OVER a certain salary level — President on down — got no raise while everyone under that level got a raise.

  13. anon attorney

    #2 – changing such a fundamental aspect of the job without consultation is undoubtedly going to lead to unrest and push back, even from people who might otherwise have been in favor. I’d recommend reading up on the management literature on leading change before you go any further. Does the main county government office have an employee relations department? If so, I think you need to consult with them. I can’t comment on whether your policy change is a good one or not but in a sense that doesn’t matter – if you go about this the wrong way in terms of communication and consultation, the merits of the change will get lost in the noise anyway.

    – former ER specialist and union negotiator

    1. Kms1025

      OP #2 – have you considered merit bonuses in conjunction with some way to change the way raises are determined? It’s an effective way to reward top performers and not impact your paid benefits as much. Also allows you a little more room for movement on the wages you want to adjust. And absolutely, caps are in order for specific job titles. Bonuses help in that regard too.

    2. katamia

      Yeah, even if I were one of the newer, lower-paid ones who “benefited” from this change (quotes because I’m not sure I’d even feel like I was benefiting much), I’d feel uncomfortable about how sudden it was, especially since the raise structure seems to be well known and well established and may have even factored into my decision to take the job in the first place (since it would be a small raise to start off and then get much bigger over time if I were planning to stay there for awhile).

      Depending on the culture at OP’s workplace, I also wonder if the people who have been there a long time might (mistakenly, since it doesn’t sound like any of the newer hires have complained) resent the newer hires for getting a higher percentage raise in addition to any resentment they might feel toward OP. Even if nobody complained, they might not believe that nobody complained and just think people weren’t fessing up.

  14. Rebecca

    Re OP#3 – she may have gotten her manager’s approval to print some personal things. Please don’t forget that. Years ago, I was audited by the IRS, and had to make a bunch of copies and print things off to take to the audit. It would have taken hours, and many dimes, to stand at the library and do this. I explained the situation to my manager, and offered to buy a ream of paper for the machine, and he was glad to help me. I used my break and lunch times and didn’t interfere with other print jobs.

    1. Scarredkitty

      Even if that’s true, leaving information on court cases involving children lying around is not legal or ethical and can get the printer in a lot of trouble. Hence, if that’s what they’re saying something about that and asking what OP should do if she happens upon them “inadvertently. “

  15. Czhorat

    Most offices, in my experience, are on with incidental use of printers, PCs, phones, etc. The question as to where it stops being incidental and starts being an issue isn’t really your call to add a peer.

    I agree that I’d bring personal items to the coworker. You don’t even need to say that you don’t think they want them seen; just “I think this is yours”.

    If they have legal issues, the worker night have a legitimate and hard to otherwise fulfill need to print various papers. It’s probably a time to be compassionate.

    1. Scarredkitty

      The person to be compassionate to is the kid whose information is being put out to the world in spite of the fact that the volunteers signed strict confidentiality papers when they were trained and brought on board. This stuff is no joke. There’s no situation you know which what she’s doing is OK. If she has an issue printing her stuff out, she needs to let her supervisor know and have it printEd in a secure location for her.

      she’s free to risk her own confidentiality information at work. She shouldn’t be risking the kids or the potentially abused parent.

      if it weren’t for illegal stuff being included, I’d agree to let it go. I think that makes this different and something needs to be said to her. Even if it’s just putting a? Format of whether or not the printer really knows other people go by and read the stuff even if inadvertently

      1. ToS

        I get this, I really do. However, this could be seen as poking the drama llama, especially if there is no support from HR or elsewhere for the OP. The person printing is a volunteer. This is a known issue and most non-profits and state agencies don’t have computers and printers to issue to their volunteers. The papers are not floating hither and yon. Four people may see them. One is cognizant enough to leave them alone. If the security code for printing one batch is an option, that is terrific. Seriously, though, given her seniority and attitude, I’d let her sink her own ship (or not) and focus on my own work, dropping off the copies for piece of mind.

  16. eplawyer

    #2 – since this is a governmental agency, can you even change how the raises are allocated? Usually those are awarded by some regulation/directive that must be followed. Also, if it is costing more, where is the money coming from? Do you have the authority to re-allocate the funds.

    Besides pushback you need to make sure you can even do what you want to do legally.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale

      Yeah, I was confused by this. I’d be really surprised if a single supervisor or manager was able to unilaterally change the raise policy in a government office.

  17. Lady Julian

    Re #3: It might be worth mentioning something to your colleague, if only so she can protect herself better. I don’t know how big an office we’re talking about, but leaving statements lying about sounds like a recipe for identity theft. This happened to me a few years ago. It screwed up the whole course of my life, and took hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars to dig myself out from under the issue. And mine was a relatively minor case. I generally feel it’s worthwhile to warn someone when they may be compromising their identity. A lot of people don’t think about that.

  18. I Herd the Cats

    #3 — this topic fascinates me. I agree that as long as folks aren’t abusing office supply privileges or leaving confidential HR-type printouts in the tray, it’s really nobody’s business. Having said that, I’m surprised by the personal nature of some of the things I find in our printer tray — or our fax machine. (I know, I know, but we work with agencies and venues that require faxes.) I sit near the fax machine and periodically I check what’s in there as well as the printer tray. I know way more than I should about co-workers’ prescription drugs, medical procedures, investment profiles, mental health, and their children’s behavioral issues and evaluations. No judgement from me, and I don’t gossip about these things; I just realize I’m more of an outlier in terms of my privacy.

    1. Joseph

      Agreed; it’s incredible what people leave in the printer. Personally, if I’m printing off some kind of sensitive personal document, I basically walk right over there the instant I click print and grab it when it’s still warm from the printer. I’ll also intentionally try to print at times when I know people won’t be printing much (e.g., early in the morning, around lunch) so there’s no chance that my medical bill gets stuck somewhere in the middle of a stack of stuff.

      1. I Herd the Cats

        I do this too — print first thing in the morning, or right before leaving, and I stand there too. I also have a quick, cheap print setup at home. Most of my “personal” use at work is the document scanner.

    2. Scarredkitty

      But those court case files are actually more confidential than anything HR could possibly leave laying around. It’s no joke. No Donely couldn’t get the printer in trouble it could screw up the life of those kids of somebody at the office is related to them and uses that information

    3. paul

      Yep. The shared printer’s in my office (had to find a large enough space near an ethernet jack and a power outlet so…).

      Holy crap I’ve seen everything from kid’s parole and probation terms to medical records to mortgage statements to victim impact statements.

      1. I Herd the Cats

        It’s not that I object to those print jobs; I just don’t understand the timing. I’ve printed out the same types of very sensitive info. I’m either standing there to get it, or I do it when nobody’s in the office.

  19. Newish Reader

    #2: It was probably a larger organization than yours, but I once worked in a place that had multiple types of raises each year that were structured to serve different purposes. One component was a general percentage increases that everyone with satisfactory performance received – a type of cost-of-living increase to recognize that it just costs more to live every year. Another component addressed market equity issues to correct deficiencies there. Another component was for merit – to reward higher performing employees for their efforts. Employees might receive one, two, or three components each year.

    A compensation structure should consider what you’re attempting to address or behaviors you want to encourage in employees. Flat-dollar amounts can demotivate higher-paid employees. Merit-based can encourage people to go above and beyond.

    I do agree with the comments above to check with HR (provided you have one) to get their guidance on whether you can even change the raise structure. And then if you can, seek their advice on best practice for changes.

    1. BPT

      I really like this system actually. I think people generally need cost of living increases, but jobs also need to be sensitive to the market and merit. This is how I think it should be done.

    2. nonymous

      I worked in an organization of ~1000 employees that did what you describe. We got X% COLA which were announced company-wide (which is not a raise, it is supposed to mean that my salary can keep me in the same life I have become accustomed to), plus an additional pool of $$ that the supervisors allocated by performance (all the supervisors sat in a room together and advocated for who they thought deserved the most). However the CEO I worked under has now passed away and as I understand it, the organization has moved away from being a community-within-a-community philosophy to director mini-despots.

  20. Gaara

    #2 – tell them now! Today!

    I understand where you’re coming from. If I were more senior I wouldn’t like it because I’d make less money, but I’d also be paid above market so what am I going to do about it? If I were junior I’d like it, at least in the short term, nut maybe not in the long term.

    But. If I were senior, and this meant my raise was going to be substantially less than I planned due to an undisclosed change in “policy.” I’d want as much notice as possible, and I’d probably be passed that you didn’t tell me quite a bit earlier.

    1. Leatherwings

      Yes, I feel the same way. In my experience, these are changes that are announced months and months in advance. Assuming these are year-end raises, being told of a change in policy in December would be really frustrating.

  21. Trout 'Waver

    OP #5, It’s not a coincidence that January 9th is the first non-vacation Monday of the new year. Hiring people often is a slow process and the holidays make it even slower. Like Alison posted, I wouldn’t read anything into it and just carry on your job hunt as usual.

  22. Allison

    #3, as much as I agree that stuff shouldn’t be left on the printer for the world to see, I will say that if she’s dealing with an urgent situation she may not feel like she can wait until she gets home to print certain documents. Maybe she’s going somewhere straight from work where she’ll need them. Maybe she needs to make a mid-day phone call and needs them in front of her.

    1. Scarredkitty

      That may be true of all the personal stuff. When you sign up to be a casa or any other form of volunteer you actually are warned about all the strict confidentiality rules. There is absolutely no situation where it would be OK to do this on anything other than a personal, secure printer

      My judge will not even let them printed out if the printer available in the courthouse because people on related to the case might actually see it

    2. Not Karen

      Printing stuff out at work is not the problem here, it’s that she’s leaving the confidential printouts on the printer for hours/days.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        This. She should really go pick this stuff up immediately. I know I pay my student loans when I’m at work, and I practically run to the printer to get the confirmation printouts – I don’t need everyone I work with to know how much debt I’m in.

    3. Jesmlet

      If it was so urgent, you’d think she wouldn’t leave them sitting on the printing tray for hours… she’s just being sloppy and careless. I print personal stuff at work occasionally but I don’t overdo it and once I hit print, I go pick it up.

  23. Jane D'oh!

    One central printer leads to a lot of unfortunate nonsense. Not only do you end up exposed to company info “above your pay grade” but it’s hard to print specialized items. When I need to print a photo or a label, I need to have someone guard the printer by holding the tray open and manually clearing the queue until I can yell to them from across the hall to close it. Then I have to quickly press “print” so nobody else’s work comes out on my specialized paper.

    1. Judy

      Our printers have “secure print” where you send the print job from your computer, setting up a PIN. Then you go to the printer and enter the PIN, and the document will print. In my experience, most of the printers made for large group sharing have this feature. At one former workplace, any color print was automatically secure printed, so if someone never came to pick up the prints, the document would never be printed.

      1. Newish Reader

        We have that “secure print” feature as well where I work and it’s a wonderful thing for a shared printer. Not only for confidentiality, but also for printing onto letterhead, labels, or specialty paper. And, of course, printing a few personal items now and then to ensure no one sees the documents sitting in the printer tray.

      2. Purest Green

        I rarely print things (work or personal) and didn’t know about this feature, but I just tested it – totally works! Thanks for this info!

    2. Amy

      You my be able to go into properties on your print screen and adjust the paper source to manual feed so you don’t have to do that. Your job won’t print until you put the paper in manually.

  24. Allison

    #5, the desired start date is the earliest date someone could star, from a budget perspective. Typically they want someone to start in the role on that day because by the time the role is approved they’re already hurting for someone to come in and do the job, but people often hire after the start date.

  25. JanMA

    #2. My office had a similar situation. Long-term employees had enjoyed 5% yearly raises for years during booming times, bringing their salaries to higher than industry standards. We would have two employees sitting side by side doing identical work with one of them earning up to $30K/year more! The company made a policy change. Everyone continued to get the 3% yearly cost of living increase, but for any employee making over “x” number of dollars, they received the 3% in a lump-sum bonus. That way their salaries didn’t increase and it gave the other employees a chance to catch up. The long-time employees didn’t like it at first, but then came to count on that yearly bonus enough to make it acceptable.

    1. Interviewer

      We’ve done the same for our employees who have reached the top of the market in salaries. It’s very popular. Rather than dividing up a 3% increase over 26 paychecks that year, they get one lump sum payment.

  26. Roscoe

    #2 I’ll be honest, I’d be very upset about this, especially if I was blindsided by it. While your intentions are good, I don’t think just deciding to do this is. If this has been the case for years that EVERYONE got the same percentage raise, then all of a sudden you decided not to, how would you not be mad. Plus giving everyone a same dollar amount raise really just means you are giving senior people a smaller raise in order to prop up the raises for the less senior people. I’d expect a lot of (in my opinion, warrented) pushback here. You shouldn’t punsish the senior people in order to help the others.

    1. LBK

      I’d argue that it’s not necessarily punishing them, just no longer over-rewarding them. People don’t generally think of salary caps as a punishment and this is the same philosophy – ensuring that people aren’t being overcompensated for their role just by nature of having been there for a long time.

      1. Roscoe

        Well, you are taking something away from them, with very little notice. Maybe it’s not “exactly” punishment, but its really close. But I’ll be honest, if I took a job and was told there was no salary cap, then all of a sudden there was. I wouldn’t like that either.

        1. LBK

          Oh, I did mean to comment that I agreed with you that I would give a lot of notice. I think the change itself is perfectly justifiable but it needs to be communicated long beforehand to allow people time to adjust, not as part of the conversation where they find out what their raise is.

          It sounds to me like the people who will be most affected by the salary cap are the people who’ve been there a long time, so this isn’t really a bait and switch. Things change; if you’ve been somewhere for, say, 5 years, I think you have to prepare yourself for compensation to fluctuate as the economy and the company change.

  27. STX

    For the shared printer, on many printers you can set it up so each document prints with a cover page that (a) identifies the owner of the document, and (b) provides a tiny bit of privacy, even if you have to shuffle through the stack to find your documents. It does take a tiny bit more paper per print, but could add up in savings on reprints (if someone leaves a document and then someone else walks away with it). We also had a little wall file by the printer to put other people’s documents if we inadvertently picked them up off the printer.

    1. Temperance

      My office printer has this feature. It’s really nice, since we’re regularly printing confidential stuff.

    2. Scarredkitty

      That will work for all the personal stuff. However, all the stuff on the court cases should not be printed it work under any circumstances

      That’s where I think OP needs to say “I accidentally picked this up. I know the courts treat these matters is highly confidential, so I wanted to make sure you knew it was me who accidentally picked it up. Of course, I would never reveal anything I accidentally saw. “That should drive home the message without putting the printer on too much of a defensive tack

  28. Important Moi

    OP 2- In light of the comments saying you broke rules, could you address if you had the authority to restructure the raises in the manner you did? I’m assuming you did, am I wrong?

    Also, I don’t believe the lower earners will complain about this restructuring. I don’t understand the position that getting more money is bad, as it has been laid out here.

    I think you should be prepared explain to to the higher earners, or everyone, the math you used to get to the raise amounts. Blowback will die down, assuming there is any in the first place.

    1. katamia

      In the short run, the lower earners will be making more money. But it also means that the 8-year employee mentioned in OP’s letter will probably not be able to reach the high income of the 25-year employee. If I’m interested in staying at the same employer for 30 or 40 years (I know a lot of people don’t do that anymore), then OP has just decreased my lifelong income with the flat rate.

      Depending on how much money the lower earners are making now, the increase might not be substantial enough to improve their morale. For example, if the 8-year employee is making $50,000, for example, the 8% increase OP mentions in their preferred, flat-rate plan would mean OP is planning to raise everyone’s salaries by $4,000, resulting in $54,000 for that employee for next year. If they’d normally get a 3% raise, that would mean $1,500 ($51,500 next year) for the newer employee. So under the flat-rate raise system, yes, they’d get $2,500 more next year, but for a lot of people the increase may not make much of a difference.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

      also it may be appropriate time for a review of how the tax structure works in the U.S. — so people aren’t fooled by “oh if I gave you a raise you’d have less money because you’d be in a higher tax bracket”.

      1. Artemesia

        I’ll bet 80% of the US public believes this ridiculousness; I have heard it from high earners who surely ought to know better.

  29. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    #1 – Be careful not to create drama where it doesn’t exist. Best to let it go.

    #2 – Quite often you’ll find that raises tend to be larger = percentage wise, at the lower tiers than the middle or upper ones. That’s typical.

  30. Gaia

    I used to work for a company that did flat value raises. I was a lower earner and I hated it. I was a high performer and what was my incentive to really excel? If I did amazing work, I got the same raise as the person who did average work.

    I think a better solution would be to give merit based raises that need to average out to X% (whatever you are budgeted to increase salaries) and institute salary caps for certain positions. That will still be unpopular but it is necessary, as you can see.

  31. FTHA

    #2 We just went through something similar but they went about it all wrong.

    We just transitioned to a merit based system where high performers get more than low performers. They also mentioned that folks at the bottom of the range will get a larger raise than those near the top of the range. Most employees pictured a step ladder approach within their own salary ranges.

    Turns out they were doing flat raises just like you! Folks are pissed! That’s not how it was described AT.ALL. A $500 raise may be a spectacular raise for an entry level janitor, it’s an insulting raise for a senior level manager who just saved the organization 1/2 a million dollars.

    Alison is very right that both systems suck. The favorite system I had was a combination of merite and inter-role salary progression. If two senior managers earned 5 out of 5, but one had been their 3 years and the ohter 5 years, the one who was there 3 years would have a slightly larger % raise then the one who was there 5 years. Both would get a decent % raise for being high performers, just one would get a slight boost I(think .25%) on top of that. Most folks liked this system.

    1. ciara amberlie

      I get what you’re saying about flat raises not working at all levels (I’m a fan of the three component system that Newish Reader mentioned).

      But (and maybe this is just my anti-capitalist sensibilities showing!) I don’t think a raise which could be said to be spectacular for one employee should ever be considered insulting for another. $500 buys the same amount of food, toys, housing etc. for both.

      Sorry, I realize I may be nitpicking here, and that this is the reality of the world that we live in, but that idea just rubs me the wrong way.

      1. Roscoe

        It is all about perception though. A $500 raise does very little to improve the life of someone making 100k, whereas if you are making minimum wage, its a lot. If it was a bonus, I could see what you are saying. $500 to both people is equal. But if it is truly a raise in yearly income, you have to see hwo that is very different

        1. ciara amberlie

          I do see how it’s different. And I don’t want to derail the discussion, but I do think the description (“spectacular” vs. “insulting”) was unnecessarily patronizing to those at the lower end of the pay scale.

    2. JanMA

      I hated merit-based raises because the only people who benefited were the manager’s favorites. We were told that everyone was being judged on a scale of 1-10. Most people ended up with 3, 4, and 5s – quite insulting!! If you fell between 1-3, you received 1%, between 4-6 you got 2%, over 6 was 3%. So it was just a way to keep from having to give most people the usual 3% raise. But the aftermath was that everyone felt bad about themselves – completely average and not valued.

  32. Sled Dog Mama

    OP#1 If you are feeling nervous and anxious around this guy, try this: Pretend it’s his identical twin brother you slept with, this guy has never met you.

    He should leave it alone that’s part of the “no strings” is that you both agree that you don’t know each other if you meet later in a different context.
    Several years ago I was seeing a councilor to work through some issues, imagine my surprise when I went to a holiday party at a friends house and was introduced to her very good friend-my councilor. At my next appointment my councilor told me the this is the trick she uses if she meets a client in a social situation, it helped her that socially I use a nickname and with her I was using my legal name so friend actually introduced me as nickname.

  33. Important Moi

    I still want OP 2 to come back and comment . So many questions have been posted.

    Alison has posted another question, so this is no longer the top post. I hope the comments about the raises continue. The perspectives are interesting, though I don’t agree with most.

  34. Cranky Pants

    To add to Alison’s response to OP#1, Act as if it doesn’t matter, and you might begin feeling like it doesn’t really matter, because it really doesn’t matter. REALLY!

  35. LadyPhoenix

    #1: what happened was in the past. You can always make a funny story about it should your coworker recall. If this was a “no strings” relationship, then chances are nothing is gonna come from it.

    #3: Let your coworker know about people being able to see her private documents

    #5: I would actually send an email to the hiring manager that you submitted your application to the company. I feel that doing that (just like you email a person post-interview) shows that are actively engaged with the company and make it more likely to hire you. I think it shows a difference between a person just dropping applications at a hundred companies, and a person who is actually i terested in the company.

  36. animaniactoo

    OP#1 – You do not need to explain why you had sex with this guy. Because it is perfectly fine for you to have had sex with him for no better reason than that sex feels good with or without an emotional component and you wanted the pleasure. It’s why the majority of guys have sex, there’s not a single good reason (anymore*) why it shouldn’t be the reason that women have sex too. You don’t have to justify it to anyone but yourself, and you don’t need to treat it as a big deal that this guy is the person you had it with. You just need to expect that you will both now conduct yourselves as professionals.

    It would also be perfectly fine to “Oh, we met in college years ago. How have you been?” and avoid the whole awkward feeling of “being introduced for the “first” time”. Yeah, it’s too late for that now – but I think the way forward is to treat it as if it was a passing thing not worth mentioning at the time if it ever comes up.

    If he brings it up, feel free to simply smile and say “Let’s leave that in the past, how’s life these days” exactly as if you were catching up with anyone else you haven’t seen in awhile but have at least a nodding acquaintance with.

    If anyone else brings it up, feel free to shut them down hard, in whatever way feels most comfortable to you. But the flavor of that shutdown should be “my past, and my personal life, and not up for discussion”.

    You’re fine. I promise. You’re totally fine. You haven’t done anything wrong whatsoever, no matter how awkward it feels right this moment.

    *If you think about it, the primary reason women ever got more pressure than men about not having sex has to do with who got stuck with the baby, and being able to prove fatherhood (both being able to claim the child with surety, and being able to prove parentage in the face of denial). It was more of “horrible potential consequences for you! you should restrain because your *risk* is higher” that spun into shame and moral judgments that are longstanding and there are in general still unequal consequences, but there’s been a lot of progress.

  37. PK

    I think it’s a little sexist to assume that a man is going to ‘locker room brag’ about your experiences together. There’s no indication that he’d do anything of the sort. I’d be surprised if he brought it up at all.

    1. animaniactoo

      Not to assume, but to acknowledge as a real possibility of something that may happen. It would be sticking one’s hand in the sand to be unprepared for the possibility.

    2. Artemesia

      Not even a little odd to assume that is a distinct possibility given the bro culture we see every day and the current political climate where this sort of thing is newly empowered. This guy may be a great guy who would never do that, but it is not unreasonable to fear what might happen. After all she doesn’t really know the guy and has no way of knowing if he is a decent guy.

      1. PK

        As a man, I have never experienced locker room bragging since high school/college and never in a workplace. I think that some people have a skewed perspective of what happens between guys. Is it possible? Sure but not very likely.

        1. animaniactoo

          The fact that you haven’t experienced it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It means that within your general location(s) and the people that you mix with, it is clearly less common. And while it is likely less common in general it still *is* a distinct possibility because it is not so rare that we haven’t heard stories (some of them first and second-hand, not even as remote as 3rd and 4th and general rumor/urban myth) about it happening.

          1. PK

            Sure but as a man, I think I’d be far more likely to actually witness locker room bragging than a woman. Of course you’ve heard stories of jerks but I don’t think it’s any more likely than a woman sharing details with her friends. It just surprises me that people are that quick to assume that it’s likely enough to warrant a plan.

            1. animaniactoo

              Not necessarily. It depends on where you live, the kind of work you do, the overall nature of your company or department. It’s really a false setup to assume that you’d be more likely to hear it unless we live and work in the same place – at which point I’d grant that you’re more likely to hear it.

        2. Jenbug

          There was just a rather public discussion on this very issue where certain prominent figures outright stated this (and worse) does occur in locker rooms.

    3. Moonsaults

      It sounds like to me that someone has had something happen to them to give them that kind of immediate fear. Which isn’t always fair to assume the worst of someone you don’t even know but I can understand on a personal level.

      It wasn’t until I started dating my BF that I realized that I had a very unfair picture of men painted in my head because of that kind of thing.

      Women can be destroyed in the workplace by this kind of situation if he was the kind of guy to be a terrible human, so it could be a knee jerk reaction on her part but the fear that it could have real consequences are going to tumble around in her head at the same time.

  38. One Handed Typist

    #1 – Been there. So uncomfortable. But it’s really best to just pretend you have no clue who he is. If he does end up degrading into locker room talk about you, you can shut it down pretty easily with, “Who? Must not have been memorable enough…” (Kidding! Please don’t do this outside of your own head.) But I *highly* doubt that will happen. He is not going to want to explain to his current partner that he has to work with an ex. It could cause some serious tension. He won’t bring it up at work. If he does, it’s likely to just see if you remember him and figure out if you plan to talk about it.

    #2 – I work for a government agency, though I am in a bargaining unit rather than a typical office. We have a standard 3% raise every year and our supervisors can easily justify a meritorious raise through the annual performance review and budgetary allowances. So those who are just doing their jobs and not stretching too hard still get a cost of living adjustment and a slight raise, but those who are going above and beyond can be rewarded.

  39. A Cita

    Huh. Am I the only one who assumed the LW for #1 was a guy and this was about 2 dudes?

    Sorry, off topic. But it just struck me when I started reading comments strongly defending women’s sexual choices (of which I’m on board, of course).

    1. Jenbug

      I assumed the LW was a female because women are socialized to feel shame over their sexuality and men aren’t, but it does add another layer if the LW is male and they are in a conservative workplace. It doesn’t really change Allison’s advice, but you bring up a good point about gender assumptions.

      1. A Cita

        Interesting, because I didn’t read shame in the letter, just awkward embarrassment, that anyone might feel learning that a new coworker was a previous hook up. The only shame I saw alluded to was in the comments. Interesting.

        Anyway, agree the advice still stands.

  40. Ian Mac Eochagáin

    No. 3: secure print, which doesn’t allow you to print the job until you enter a PIN that you yourself have set, is your colleague’s friend! Saves so much embarrassment.

    1. Sassy Sally

      ^This! No matter what I’m printing, I tend to use this in our office because it’s a nice walk to the printer and I don’t like the possibility of others getting my papers.

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