we weren’t told our active shooter drill was just a drill, coworker uses our guest office as her personal phone booth, and more

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

1. We weren’t told our active shooter drill was just a drill

I need an opinion on if I’m overreacting, as some have suggested I am. Our HR director had an active shooter drill today, without telling us it was a drill. We have never had a drill before and were not told one was imminent. There was an intercom announcement with someone yelling our workplace violence code and no other information. I immediately closed my office door and picked up my phone. I thought it was real. That’s when the maintenance tech opened my door and said it was a drill. Afterward, another coworker came into my office and noticed I was upset, near tears. She went and told the HR director, who told me she was sorry but she wanted to it be a surprise.

I’ve read a few items online from law enforcement about training drills and they all say to inform employees that there will be a drill before it happens. Do you think I’m overreacting about this?

What?! No, not at all. That’s horrible, and incredibly negligent of your company. At a minimum, they caused people an enormous amount of stress and fear unnecessarily, and at worst they could have caused a much worse reaction (anything from a PTSD response, to actions intended to help that injured someone else, to calls to 911, to a frickin’ heart attack). You should insist that they agree never to handle drills that way again.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Coworker is using our guest office as her personal phone booth

I work in an office with a cubicle set-up for most employees (including me.) We also have two conference rooms and a “guest” office. The guest office is used for visiting directors and execs, and it is generally understood that if no one is visiting, employees can use it for client calls or webinars or things like that. I’m the only employee of my level/job-title in our office; my position has me working on some things that are confidential like salary negotiations, hiring for confidential positions, layoffs, and performance evals. In general, my cubicle is fine as I don’t need to actually discuss these things out loud, but in some cases I use the guest office for privacy when having to have calls about any of the confidential matters. The local managing director and my boss (who works remotely) are both aware of my need for privacy in some instances and are aware and encourage me to use the office if needed. I prefer the office to the conference room, because the office actually has a phone, whereas the conference room has only a speaker phone, which isn’t as private. If I know that I will be spending the majority of the day working on confidential matters or an exec is visiting and I know I’ll need an hour or two of privacy, I usually can schedule it so that I work from home. However, it’s not always predictable.

The issue is that a new hire has taken to using the guest office as her own personal phone booth — for non-confidential client calls, or personal calls, or just to get out of her cube and not even use the phone. In the three weeks since she’s started, I’ve had room conflicts with her over seven times. That is six times more than the next closest employee! I’ve brought it up to her and she says she understands, but then a few days later I’ll need to use the room and she’ll be in there talking on her cell phone. She’s very lovely but I just don’t know how to handle this issue.

Be more direct: “Hey Jane, sorry I wasn’t clear before. I’m finding it hard to get the guest office when I need it for things that I need private space for. Can I ask you to only use it when you have a work call that requires privacy?”

If it continues after that, get even more direct: “We’re running into a conflict where I’m not able to use the guest office when I need it for private work because you’re using it for personal calls and other more optional stuff. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times but it’s continuing to happen. How can we resolve this?”

And then if it continues after that, you ask her boss to intervene and tell her to cut it out. At that point, it would be reasonable to request that since she’s interfering with what you need to do your job.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Asking why a job is open again so soon

Last March, I applied for a position to be that executive assistant to the CEO and COO of a large nonprofit. I sent my resume/cover letter in through the proper channels and a friend, who knows the CEO, wrote an email on my behalf. Several months later, I received a form email saying “thank you but you’re not suitable, blah blah.” Two weeks ago, I saw the exact same job posted again. I applied again (my friend did not resubmit a recommendation). Yesterday I received a call from the CEO asking me to come in for an interview, which of course I am going to do.

Can I ask what happened to the person who was hired back when the job first posted? I’m curious to know if it was a personality conflict or the person got a new job or was just unsuitable.

You can ask why the job is open again, but I’d keep your wording focused on the job, not the person who filled it, so that it’s clear you’re seeking information to help you better understand the history and context of the role. I’d say it this way: “I know you were hiring for this position last spring as well. Can I ask why it’s open again so soon?”

You may not get the full story (for example, if the person was fired, they might not choose to share that with outsiders out of respect for her privacy), but it’s a reasonable question to ask.

4. My coworker doesn’t have to use PTO when he takes time off

My coworker has recently taken a number of days off to visit his family in Denver and Chicago. He mentioned to me how our manager never makes him take PTO; he simply asks for the time he needs off and she tells him he can take it.

I was recently home sick for two days. My manager emailed HR (and copied me) asking to decrease my PTO balance for the time I had spent out of the office. Do you think it is fair that I should have to take PTO while my coworker doesn’t?

On the face of it, no. But it’s possible that there’s an explanation that would make sense — for instance, that your coworker regularly works long hours on evenings and weekends and your manager rewards him for that by informally letting him take the time later without charging it to PTO. Or it could be that he’s an excellent employee and she uses this as a way to help retain him if she doesn’t have a lot of flexibility with salary.

Or it’s possible that it’s simple unfairness.

You could follow up with your coworker about what he told you and ask if there’s more context to it: “Hey, I was thinking about how you mentioned you don’t have to use PTO when you take time off. Do you know how that came about? Is it a sort of comp time to make up for extra hours you work or…?”

5. Asking vendors to donate to a party

Should I ask my vendors to donate to a retirement party at a restaurant for my boss?

Noooo. Some of them will feel pressured to donate because your company is their client, and that’s icky. Your company should pay the costs of the retirement party it wants to have; that’s not something you should seek donations from outsiders for.

{ 467 comments… read them below }

  1. Turanga Leela*

    OP #1, you’re not overreacting. That was wildly irresponsible of your company. I keep picturing an office full of terrified people calling or texting their loved ones… for what turned out to be no reason. Sheesh.

    1. Artemesia*

      People have strokes or heart attacks under stress; this is a high stress event. What are these people thinking?

      1. Raine*

        People also panic and do things that can be tragic (shooting a family member they think is an intruder…)

        1. Kora*

          Or jumping out of windows to their deaths while trying to get away; I can think of at least one case where that happened.

        2. Whats In A Name*

          I actually know someone who *almost* did this. She woke up when she heard someone come in and waited at the top of the steps in the dark with a shotgun. When she heard their food hit the first step she lifted the gun to fire.

          Luckily her husband recognized the sound of the gun cocking and he stepped back off the steps and ducked right before she fired and blew a hole in the stairway wall.

          Her husband was a traveling salesman who did not have a cell phone at the time, this was in the mid-90s when there were not as common.

          1. RD*

            I nearly clobbered my husband with an ugly ceramic dog once when he was working nights and came home early. I heard the door open and someone obviously creeping towards the bedroom. I hid behind the bedroom door.

            We scared the crap out of each other.

          2. Michele*

            Slightly off topic, but it was amusing. We had something similar happen at our house. My husband was taking a night class, and after a certain time, the dog decided that he wasn’t coming home. So he walked in the back door at the end of a dark hallway, and our 80 lb dog launched herself at him. My husband said that her teeth were inches from his face before she recognized him. The poor dog was so embarrassed that she ran to the other side of the house and hid in a corner. I had to console her and tell her that she would never get in trouble for defending me.

            1. Anion*

              I have a story like that! Our dog–a collie-shepherd mix–had gone to bed with us as usual (in his own bed on the floor next to ours). At some point in the night my husband decided he couldn’t sleep, so he got up and went into the spare room across the hall to dink around online. After an hour or two, he got up, turned off the light, and fumbled for the doorknob, which he found and opened.

              Only to be greeted by our dog–who was afraid of CATS!–leaping from his bed with the most unholy snarl I’ve ever heard in my life. It woke me up; I looked over and saw our sweet gentle boy with his teeth bared and every hair on his body standing up, his head low, ready to attack. I honestly thought he was slavering with rage. I tried to tell the dog it was okay; he ignored me. My husband tried to talk to him; he ignored him.

              Finally my husband managed to edge over and turn on the bathroom light so the dog could see who he was–at which point, of course, the dog instantly backed down and seemed, just like your dog, really embarrassed. He followed Hubs around for like three days with his head down and this tragic “I’m so sorry” expression on his face, despite the praise and treats we heaped on him for being such a good watchdog. He didn’t really accept that everything was okay until Hubs bought a jar of peanuts for them to share. :-)

          3. Bookworm*

            There was a case near my second cousins where a man shot his teenage-daughter’s boyfriend, thinking he was an intruder. Just heartbreaking to think about.

            1. Amy*

              Sometimes, I do wonder what the point of these intensive drills are. I was in a house fire as a teenager. My father punched his bare fist through a glass window to get my sister out. I ran 1 mile in bare feet in the snow to the neighbor’s to call 911. Our houseguest was hanging out the 3d story window close to jumping until the fireman came with the ladder (within 4 minutes of the 911 call – it was really impressive). I don’t want to and wouldn’t to do any of those things again unless my life depended on it.

            2. KP84*

              I believe there was a newscaster or TV host in Australia who killed his teenage daughter who was coming home late from a date. He thought she was already home and fired when a strange car pulled into his driveway late at night.

              1. Rebooting*

                I’m dubious about that; it would have to have been over twenty years ago, unless he had the gun illegally, and I’m not finding anything on Google.

    2. Uyulala*

      Even if they wanted it to be a surprise, they could have announced it was a drill in the announcement with the code. “This is a drill. Alert code. This is only a drill.”

      1. shep*

        This. Our office has fire drills that are supposed to be a surprise (although management knows when they’re scheduled and every once in a while they give us the heads up), but there’s always some accompanying PA announcement that it’s just a drill.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          New Exjob would send out emails. Like “There will be a fire drill on January 4. Please make sure you are responsible for visitors, etc.” We had a tornado drill the second week I was there, when my boss was visiting to train me.

      2. EddieSherbert*


        This is how it should logically be done!! I’m sure the local 911 team was not happy that day.

      3. Emelle*

        Or just say, “we are having a drill on this day/week. The time will not be announced.” We do this for fire drills at school because otherwise we stop what we are doing to prepare for the drill and that doesn’t help anything.

    3. Troutwaxer*

      So the unannounced drill takes place. Then the local armed security guard or armored car driver walks into the office. He has his back turned to an ex-football player, who tackles the guard, grabs him by the hair, and slams the guard’s head against the ground a couple times… Hijinks ensue, but they involve dead people, pissed off relatives, cops, and lawyers.

      Long story short, the H.R. director is a moron.

      1. Zip Silver*

        Not even tackled, what if there were an employee concealed carrying?

        That whole thing could have ended very poorly.

        1. Wrench Turner*

          This could be a quite possible unintended consequence. If there is a ‘lockdown’ announcement but no ‘all clear’ announcement, the next person who just comes in the door of someone’s office who carries is at great risk.

        2. RVA Cat*

          I was coming to say this, what if employees are armed – worse case, more than one and they get into a shootout thinking the other is the attacker?!

        3. Collarbone High*

          Right? We had a letter last year from someone who was concealed carrying at work for this exact reason. So one employee pulls out a gun; another employee calls 911 and tells them there’s an active shooter; police arrive and see the employee with the gun … tragedy ensues.

          My jaw is on the floor at the number of terrible outcomes that could easily have happened. How could anyone think this was a good idea?

          1. Elizabeth West*

            This is EXACTLY why you should keep your damn gun in your damn wherever and not try to engage a shooter. Because when the cops come in, they won’t know that you’re not the shooter. They’re trained to neutralize potential threats and sort it out later.

            Carrying is not some magical protection and civilians who carry don’t have police training (sorry, but you f*cking don’t) and ARRGGHHHHHHHHHH I CAN’T EVEN. This makes me so mad!

            Okay, rant over.

              1. Wrench Turner*

                Most civilians may not be among the 1 million or so that have police training, but there are well over 21 million military veterans that have all had firearms and combat training at some point. It may have been years ago, but it’s better than nothing, and I’ll take what I can get in that worst of situations.

            1. Lissa*

              Pretty much every time I’ve ever heard about somebody stopping a shooter with their concealed weapon, they’ve been an off-duty police officer or -ex-military, not a random citizen with no training. So yeah, I agree with you!

    4. GrandBargain*

      Surely, your local police department has people responsible for coordinating these types of activities in companies and in communities. It’s perhaps worth a call to the police department to report this event and the HR director.

      1. pugsnbourbon*

        Our facility (large public attraction) does an annual active-shooter drill in conjunction with local police. They get some training, we get another chance to practice evacuation. There’s likely a community liaison officer who could be useful here.

      2. Anon for this*


        The drill that I participated in was organized and offered in the first place by the police department, where they wanted to be sure we could handle a drill safely. I’m sure they would want to know about something like this.

        How does someone who works in HR think that falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater is a good idea?

    5. VioletEMT*

      EMT here. Am also on the 911 response team for my day job (desk job).

      Have been involved in several active shooter drills. You ALWAYS tell people it’s a drill even if it’s just a simple lockdown drill. Your HR is lucky no one panicked and called or texted a loved one who called 911 and/or a news crew. Or that nobody tweeted about it and caused a mass online freak-out. Or that some hero didn’t tackle or shoot an unsuspecting delivery person. Plus now employees will stop taking real alarms seriously.

      You ALWAYS tell people when there are drills so they don’t panic and so they know to believe the alarm when it goes off unannounced. If the issue is that staff aren’t taking drills seriously, there are other ways to deal with that!

      1. Lanon*

        Not to mention such a high stress event can kill someone, or give them PTSD. In addition to being utterly useless for its intended purpose, this “drill” also endangered the employees for no reason.

        1. A Plain-Dealing Villain*

          This is such an “extraordinary and unusual” situation that any resulting mental health issue would likely be covered by workers’ compensation in most states. This HR person is bad at risk assessment.

      2. always in email jail*

        Emergency Management Professional here- YES YES YES times a thousand. VERY inappropriate to not inform people that this is a drill. You can conduct what is called a no-notice drill but are still required to inform them it’s a drill when it starts! Not to mention the potential to overwhelm local response agencies for a false alarm.
        The HR person definitely should have reached out to local emergency management or law enforcement to discuss, even if they weren’t available to assist in conducting the drill they could have provided guidelines. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, I can’t imagine how stressful that was! I also can’t imagine that the rest of the day was very productive for everyone after a scare like that…

      3. Michele*

        That was my first thought. How many calls were made to 911? It seems like local law enforcement would have a problem with the company doing that.
        I hadn’t considered that people might start tweeting it or contacting the local news, but it would serve the company right to be publicly embarrassed.

        1. em2mb*

          Your local news here. I can tell you I’d be *very* interested to hear from someone whose office popped a “surprise” active shooter drill on them. I’ve gone through several trainings now, at my office, at other offices, with local law enforcement. It’s against every best practice to handle it that way!

          1. Lance*

            Oh, I’d love to see something like that in the news. To LW, absolutely, strongly insist to your HR that this never happen again; that you’re always told that it’s a drill, whether before or during the fact.

      4. Mike C.*

        Seriously, my company deals with large scale earthquake drills and plane crash drills and you always tell people in advance lest they see the props and think something actually happened. God, the absolute stupidity of this HR person.

              1. A.C. Stefano*

                My girl scout troop once helped with one of these! It was a “car accident” and they got to deal with “dead people” and someone “lost an eye” so we got to bug them about that, and it was a good drill.

                Fun times.

      5. Collarbone High*

        That’s a good point about people not taking real alarms seriously. I used to work in a 17-story building where the fire alarms went off constantly — sometimes multiple times per day. It was always a false alarm or malfunction, and we ignored them.

        The day the building actually caught fire, security had to go suite to suite telling people to evacuate.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Remind your HR director of the little boy who cried wolf. Heaven forbid, but what if they announced the emergency code and everyone thought it was another surprise drill and did nothing. But, surprise, this time it’s not a drill.

      I know people who have to do these drills and the drills alone are exhausting and scary. While the people know they are participating in a drill, they still end up crying, etc.

      I will keep my thoughts to myself about what I think of your HR director. FWIW, I don’t think you’re off base at all here.

      1. Bookworm*

        Yes. That can be a serious issue. My Dad actually had some former co-workers die due to smoke inhalation because the building they worked at had so many false alarms that they ignored the real one.

    7. ThatGirl*

      This happened recently in a high rise in Chicago, people were getting terrified calls from loved ones for sure, the timing makes me wonder if the OP worked there. Or if there are multiple moron bosses/companies that think a “surprise” drill is a good idea.

    8. ThatGirl*

      This happened recently in a high rise in Chicago, people were getting terrified calls from loved ones for sure, the timing makes me wonder if the OP worked there. Or if there are multiple moron bosses/companies that think a “surprise” drill is a good idea.

      (I was trying to fix a typo and got a message this had already posted, but I don’t see it, so I’m trying again. Please forgive me if this duplicates and feel free to delete one.)

    9. Mike C.*

      This HR person needs to be fired, full stop. As in walked out of their building today, fired for cause.

      There are best practices it was their responsibility to know about, they could have caused direct harm to their employees and risked misusing emergency response resources. I wouldn’t be surprised if that last bit has the added risk of legal consequences as well. If this gets out, they also directly make the company look absolutely terrible.

      This person needs to be canned before they cause any more harm.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        I agree – and I rarely think “one mistake” is enough to get fired… but HR is supposed to be extra sensitive to anything that could reflect badly on the company. And this could have gone SO BADLY.

    10. JB (not in Houston)*

      A workplace in California is involved in a court case brought by an employee after they did a fake robbery and didn’t tell her it was fake and she understandably shaken by it (I won’t link but google Lee v. West Kern Water District). It’s just such a bad idea on every level.

    11. chumpwithadegree*

      The Appeals Court of California agrees with you–from http://www.workcompwriter.com/the-top-10-bizarre-workers-comp-cases-for-2016/
      “CASE #6: Employee Gets $360,000 Verdict for Employer’s “Fake Robbery” (Cal.)

      A California trial court erred when it ordered a new trial following a jury verdict awarding plaintiff $360,000 in damages where the plaintiff alleged that her employer planned and carried out a mock robbery during which she was approached by a man wearing a ski mask and sunglasses, who slammed a paper bag down on the counter and gave her a handwritten note saying “I have a gun. Put your money in the bag.” Plaintiff reached for a silent alarm, but the plaintiff alleged the man pounded on the counter and pointed to the message on the bag. She gave the man money, but when he left, she began shaking and crying hysterically. The “robber” was actually the employer’s district quality control manager, and the incident was staged by the employer as a security exercise. The California appellate court held there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding regarding the plaintiff’s allegations that she had been assaulted and sustained emotional distress as a result of the incident.”

      See Lee v. West Kern Water District, 5 Cal. App. 5th 606, 81 Cal. Comp. Cases 966 (Oct. 24, 2016).

    12. Tammi Gummer*

      There have been cases of people dying as a result of surprise drills. It is wildly unprofessional to inflict this kind of trauma on your staff.

  2. BadPlanning*

    OP #1, I would be upset as well. And it’s a terrible idea to not announce a drill. What if a bunch of people had called the the police or sent messages to family members? Let alone the potential for boy-who-cried-wolf effect.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh boy, so then it goes out on social media and emergency personnel come flying in to rescue. Then real people start getting actually hurt… for a DRILL. It boggles my brain.
      The HR director is a very irresponsible person.

    2. Emi.*

      I would have called 911 in no time. And at my workplace, they would have been there in three minutes, and they probably would’ve been pretty mad when they found out it was a drill.

      1. Nolan*

        HR is lucky no one did call 911, you can be fined for making inappropriate or false 911 calls, and in a case like this I’m guessing that fine would go to the company for causing it. And it definitely would make the news at that point too!

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Right? I’m wondering if some people DID call and OP hasn’t heard about it (yet)? I think my immediate reaction would be to call 911 first (even if it’s not the correct course of action – I think you’re supposed to run or hide first)…

  3. fposte*

    #1 was also damn stupid because it makes employees more likely to believe such an alert is a drill in future, even if it isn’t.

    1. Mookie*

      Yes. I’m positive I’ve read that certain emergency simulations lose efficacy over time when not prefaced with warnings and followed up with roundtables / critiques. I’ll search for the paper I’m thinking of.

      1. A Plain-Dealing Villain*

        Yes. This is why so many people lost their lives in Joplin, Mo to the tornado in 2011. The alarms went off so often, people didn’t realize their was an imminent threat. National Weather Service updated their warning system based on lessons learned from Joplin.

        1. Natalie*

          My high school had a similar problem with fire drills – the campus had gotten more seriously locked down, so students who wanted to sneak out started pulling fire alarms. We had 4 during the same class period once. The year after I graduated they started having the students shelter in place until some school authority investigated the possible fire. That’s a terrible idea for any number of reasons, but mainly because a few students then actually started trash can fires before pulling the alarms.

        2. cercis*

          At the OK State campus the tornado siren was tested monthly on the first Tuesday at 1:00 (or something like that – I don’t actually remember what day and time, but once a month). One of my professors commented “well, I guess if another tornado hits Stillwater and campus, we’d better hope it’s not during the test.” (and yes, that’s ANOTHER, there’d been one hit campus just a few years before, but it didn’t cause much damage.) But I will say that the weather was always clear when it was tested, so I’d hope they didn’t actually test when there was a good chance there was a tornado (and if you live in OK, you recognize “tornado weather” from a very early age, so you’re able to say “oh yeah, siren test” without even really thinking about it).

    2. MK*

      Exactly. I mean, I do understand what they were thinking: how you act during a drill is not necessarily how you would behave if there was real danger, so it might be useful to assess how people will react if they believe it’s real. But that’s a pretty negligible advantage to get, when weighed against all the dangers that people have mentioned.

      I work in a courthouse and it’s not unheard of to get calls about bombs being planted in the building. These are mostly pranks, or people trying to postpone their trials, but it has happened once or twice that an actual explosion happened (not where I work though). It’s pretty easy to hear the drill and think “Another prank? I am not leaving my nice warm office to go stand outside while the police search the building again!”, but it’s very dangerous to fall into the habit of not taking alarms seriously.

      1. Ze Writer*

        Exactly! And if they wanted to test response time in a real(-ish) emergency situation, they could do what they do when they test plane layouts: get a bunch of volunteers to sit in the seats, and pay people to get out of the plane (or building, in this case) fast. It doesn’t take much money to make people compete to win, when they know that they’re doing real-world testing with potentially lifesaving results.

        And then you’d be able to see the bottlenecks and train your stewards to stand in certain places and slow people down to funnel them through pinch-points safely.

        I’m pretty sure these HR people don’t even know what they were testing – except, ‘oh, drills, we need to tick those off the to-do list’ – because if you’d done any research or planning you’d know better.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yes, a proper drill would require the coordination of several groups of people. This is a good point. And the groups should do an autopsy when the drill is over, to see what went right or wrong.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes! So in addition to the crying wolf problem, there’s no post mortem to evaluate to see what went right/wrong (although here it’s pretty clear there is one big wrong, and that’s not telling people it was a g.d. drill; this letter literally made me gasp out loud in horror).

      2. Anon13*

        Yep. My freshman year of college, people accidentally set off the smoke alarms all of the time – someone burnt a pizza in the oven in one of the dorm’s kitchens, and everyone had to evacuate the dorm. For the most part it wasn’t people doing it purposely and the alarms really were going off, they weren’t drills, so there wasn’t much anyone could do about it, but I know there were people who stopped leaving the dorms when the 5th fire alarm in a week went off in the middle of the night. No one was hurt, but looking back, it could have resulted in some scary situations.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This used to happen a lot in a residential hotel I lived in. Someone on my floor would smoke under the alarm and it went off ALL THE TIME. I would just go feel the door and if it was cool, I’d go back to whatever I was doing.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          In my dorm it was always either people burning the popcorn or people microwaving cup noodle but forgetting to put the water in. Usually at 4am, when you are indeed tired enough to forget to put the water in.

          After the first time I had to stand outside in the snow for 40 minutes waiting for the fire department to show up and give the all-clear I took the time to grab my coat and boots.

      3. TootsNYC*

        The point of a drill is not to see what you do in real, unannounced danger, but to calmly walk you through the steps you’d take. It’s TEACHING.

        So that when real, unannounced danger shows up, there are neural “grooves” in your brain to rely on, and knowledge as well.

        1. Chinook*

          “So that when real, unannounced danger shows up, there are neural “grooves” in your brain to rely on, and knowledge as well”

          This is so true. I saw how well those neural grooves work in an emergency. As students were always taught to leave everything behind at your desk when there is a fire drill. This was so ingrained that, during our fire, teachers and TAs did things like a)pick up a laptop to grab the attendance list and then place the laptop back on their desk and b) grabbed their classroom key from their purse/bag and leave their bag behind (happened to half the teachers). We were kicking ourselves all year for doing something so foolish but ingrained.

      4. Chinook*

        “Exactly. I mean, I do understand what they were thinking: how you act during a drill is not necessarily how you would behave if there was real danger, so it might be useful to assess how people will react if they believe it’s real. ”

        I have been through a school fire (during school hours and I can tell you that how people react during a real disaster is very different then when it is a drill. Our students, who normally goofed off during drills were the best behave group of 500 K-12 students I had ever seen. Drilling should be used to clarify where to go and what to do as well as work out logistics (like where do you go once everyone has evacuated and there is no school to go back in to?), but it will never be a good predictor of reaction to a real life scenario.

        And now that I have lived through the real thing, I truly appreciate knowing when it is “just a drill” because it is much less panic inducing without losing out on instilling the practicalities of what to do.

    3. Another Emily*

      This. I lived in a crappy dorm during university where the fire alarm was always going off due to moisture on the sensor or something and not smoke or fire. The fire department didn’t even bother responding to the alarms.
      I always evacuate if I think it’s legit (and not just unknown alarms from the warehouse adjacent to my office).
      I’m quite desensitized to alarms

      1. Clewgarnet*

        Agreed! The fire alarms in my block of flats were dodgy for a few months, and we got a lot of false evacuations. One time, the alarms went off at 2am, and I thought, “Sod it, I’m staying in bed,” and pulled the covers over my head to muffle the noise.

        Thankfully, I had my window open, so I could hear passers-by yelling from the street that the building was actually on fire, and had enough time to battle my cat into her harness and get outside. (Nothing that serious – the actual fire only affected one flat, but there was smoke/water damage in a few more.)

        1. NoMoreLurking2017*

          Yikes! Glad you and kitty got out!

          One of the dorms at my uni had the alarms regularly go off at 2am, and it was a 15 storey building – I’m sure most of the students on the upper floors stayed in bed. If there ever were a real fire, they probably would be challenged to get out in time!

          1. Emi.*

            When I was in college, the fire department would come for drills (and 3am popcorn incidents, grrr) and you would get in big trouble if they found you staying in the building. At least, the rector told us you would. I don’t know of anyone who tried to test it.

            1. TL -*

              We just had the university police come and knock on our doors to make sure every room was empty (sometimes people were in the shower and didn’t here, so they caught those people too.) You didn’t get in trouble but you did have to leave.

              1. OhNo*

                They did the same thing at my college – only they never checked inside the rooms, aside from knocking. There were a couple of popcorn incidents (that I knew for a fact were not actual emergencies) where I just didn’t answer the door and stayed in my room until the all-clear was given. I was lucky enough to be right by the exit door, though, so I could’ve been outside in less than a second if the need arose.

                1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                  Not trying to pick on you, OhNo, but please, to everyone in general who thinks they don’t need to abide by safety rules because they [insert reason here]: your life is not worth it. As a former EMT who has had to clean up the scene when someone thought they would be OK if they just took that small risk one more time, because it worked out for them once or one thousand times before, or it would only take a second, please don’t. It’s not even that we have to treat you or worse, transport you to the morgue. We’re used to that, even though it’s still incredibly sad. But we move on to help other people, it’s the people you would leave behind who I’m really worried about.

                  For example, did you know that “smoke inhalation” is sometimes the cause of death because people pass out due to colorless, odorless carbon monoxide first, and then can’t escape?

                  Sorry to be so dire, but I’ve seen people rationalize not wearing seat belts or not responding to fire alarms just because we had had a drill in recent memory and “this is probably just another drill”, and all it takes is one mistake for those to be incredibly tragic choices.

            2. Sarianna*

              Oh gosh, in college I slept through an alarm once. Gotten home from exercising, showered, put my noiseblocking headphones on, and crawled into bed. Was completely out cold, didn’t even hear the alarm.

              Turned out it was the carbon monoxide alarm because some moron had been storing lightbulbs in the boiler tray and her roommate turned the oven on. IDEK how that worked but that’s what I heard.

              When I woke up several hours later, got dressed, and went outside, the fire department was Not Pleased to see me. We were all kicked out of the dorm overnight (good luck, hope you have friends!). I got a warning from the student behavior court for ‘not evacuating’…and so did the girl sleeping in the same room two floors up. I think it may have been an alarm/layout issue in addition to my own exhaustion.

            3. Natalie*

              This happened to me once – apparently the horn nearest my dorm room door wasn’t working so it didn’t wake me or my roommate up. The only consequence was dealing with somewhat rude firefighters. But I suppose that may have been since the horn was obviously broken.

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yeah, in some states it’s a misdemeanor (i.e., you receive a citation with a substantial fine—at least substantial for college students) not to vacate a building during a fire drill or actual fire.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          I don’t want to derail but I have to quickly say I’m impressed you were able to train your cat to use a harness. Mine would only ever fall over and refuse to get up.

          1. calonkat*

            From experience, it’s not always a matter of “walking” the cat. But having them in a harness is a way of controlling the cat without a carrier (or as a backup to the carrier).

            We’ve never had cats that “walked” (and how a harness can remove all strength from their limbs is a mystery to me), but we used to hook the (long) leash onto a clothes line and the cats would eventually rediscover the ability to walk :)

            1. Simonthegreywarden*

              I did this for my Houdini. He learned to walk to the farthest point the line reached, would flop down away from it to make it taut, and then would basically roll-kick himself out of ANY harness. You couldn’t keep one on him. That’s why he had the nickname Houdini, obviously.

              1. Cath in Canada*

                I also have a cat nicknamed Houdini! She has never once worn a collar for more than about an hour – I’ve tried multiple types, and followed all the fitting instructions, but she has a way of finding a way out. For years we didn’t know where all the collars went, until we had to move the washing machine for a repair and found a stash of them hidden away behind it! It’s the single smartest thing she’s ever done. She has an ear tattoo so hopefully if she ever gets lost, that’ll do the trick.

          2. dawbs*

            FWIW, I once evacuated with a cat in a pillowcase.
            She was very VERY unhappy (<understatement of the year) but she was contained and safe and couldn't chew my face off (which she would have done, were she not contained. loud beeping and all that.).
            (and, luckily for her, I evacuated her to a car that was out of the way, so she didn't have to hang out in a pillowcase very long. She instead got to swear at the world from a car.)

            Not necessarily the best choice but, eh, works as an emergency plan B.

            1. Chinook*

              “FWIW, I once evacuated with a cat in a pillowcase.”

              Best investment I ever made was a cat carrier backpack for the same reasons you used a pillowcase. Being able to evacuate with my hands free (especially in winter) is a great thing.

          3. MWKate*

            When my cat was a kitten he had an umbilical hernia – and we wrapped his stomach up to give him a little protection (basically I cut off the bottom of a sock and stuffed him into it). It got him used to having something on his really young, so when I tried putting a harness on him – he’s totally fine with it. I can take him outside on walks.

            The real problem is that he doesn’t care where I want him to go. He wants to scratch trees and chatter and birds and play with the kids outside.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        When I was in high school we were always having bomb scares or fire drills. The signal would go out to evacuate the building and we never knew until we got outside if it was a drill or a bomb scare.
        Authorities never watched what they were doing and the bell to return to the building was the same bell they used for change of class. One time the bell went off and all 2000 of us piled back into the building. I went back in.
        And that was when I got to watch the bomb squad disarm a bomb, I was about 10-15 feet away from them.

        I was afraid for quite a while. I no longer believed authorities would protect us. Eventually I got on an even keel again. But it was a while.

        1. Maxwell Edison*

          This reminds me of grade school, when we had both fire and earthquake (I was in California) drills. There were different sets of bells for each drill, but no one, not even the teachers, could remember which was which. So at drill time, half the school would be outside on the playground, and half would be hiding under their desks.

          Back at CorporateJob, we had “Great California Shake-Out” drills that were pretty much useless. The bell rang, you hid under your desk. Having lived through many earthquakes, I thought a more realistic one would be: the bell rings, you look up from your work quizzically, and say, “Am I the only one feeling that? Bob, do you feel that? Well, it’s over. Back to work.”

          1. blackcat*

            At my high school, they solved this problem by having the earthquake “alarm” being the receptionist coming on the PA system and saying “THE GROUND IS SHAKING! THE GROUND IS SHAKING A LOT!”

            The point was that in an actual earthquake that necessitated evacuation (greater than 4.0, I think–there were definitely some more minor ones where people shrugged and kept on doing what we were doing), we would almost certainly feel it. That’s different than a fire alarm, where you might have no idea another part of the building or a nearby building was on fire.

            Having lived through exactly one “Oh shit the building might fall down” earthquake, you know when it’s time to do what you’re trained to do. It is worth doing drills so that people know what to do in case of a big one. For example, in my high school science classrooms, whoever was closest to the gas emergency shut off lever was supposed to pull it. Each classroom had one that was big, obvious, and easy to reach in addition to the main shut off outside of the science building. Without specific instructions, we would not think to do that. But that training also made me cranky when I was a science teacher years later–my only gas shut off was outside, around back of the building. I didn’t live in earthquake country anymore, but we did have a tornado, and I would have liked to turn off the gas in that situation.

            1. dawbs*

              As someone who used to have the job of making sure all those gas valves were pulled in college labs…who the hell approved that?
              That’s appalling!
              (Every drill, I’d make sure the gas handles were pulled and afterwards, explain the importance to the instructor in the room if they weren’t–we had one handle in each room. And then I’d have to go and make sure the ‘no cowering near the chemical storage explosives’ was being enforced)

              Having an outside company come in and evaluate Lab Safety was an awesome thing–and it makes sure that these things got addressed–because ME saying it’s a problem carried no weight, the Lab Safety Institute saying it’s a problem got the dean’s attention.

              1. blackcat*

                Whomever built my wing of that science building approved it! It drove me bonkers. I also got weird looks from my boss when one of the first questions I asked when I showed up in the summer to get settled was “Where is the gas shut off?” He had no idea and couldn’t understand why I was asking. A facilities employee showed me, and I went “What the hell?!” Apparently, having the shut off visible and accessible was somehow not required by building code, and so they didn’t do it. No one there seemed to care. At. All. And they wouldn’t listen to me, the 22 year old new hire, when I said that that mattered. So I gave up on that fight. I did humbly suggest hiring a firm to come in and evaluate the safety of the science buildings, but all that got me was the fire marshal who would come in for free. He was helpful for a few things (forcing the school to instal GFI outlets throughout the science wing), but the gas shut off wasn’t one of them (he said it would be a good idea, but couldn’t require it).

                I also found, among other dangerous things, a large container of mercury sitting under the sink. It was about 300mL, so nearly 10lbs. My department chair did make sure that that was disposed of, and the discovery prompted a department-wide unused chemical purge.

                Everyone else in the department had been teaching high school for 15 or more years. In general, that was a big asset. But I was the only one with experience working in an actual science research lab (and therefore had recent lab safety training). It boggles my mind that schools (at least private ones) are allowed to have all sorts of chemicals/gas throughout buildings and yet don’t require lab safety training of science teachers.

          2. Mel*

            The realistic action is too funny, and right on the mark. I’ve only been through one earthquake, and that was when I was a kid in Seattle. My father grew up in San Francisco, so he paused during dinner and asked if my sister and I felt something. I didn’t, but I looked up and saw that the light over the table was swinging. We then went back to eating.

            1. Maxwell Edison*

              Tiny quakes are often hard to even notice. Half the time I would just assume someone was walking enthusiastically only to hear later on the news that there’d been a 1.2 quake out in East Bumblefudge.

              1. HRish Dude*

                The only seismic event I’ve ever experienced just felt like someone tapped the brakes in the chair I was sitting in.

                1. Drew*

                  I’ve only been in one earthquake and it was early in the morning, so I thought I’d just half-woken up, shivered, and gone back to sleep. In the morning, I saw that several things had tipped over. One of my roommates looked at me like I was crazy when I walked out and asked if there had been an earthquake or something — he was in the shower when it happened.

                  Not from earthquake country, what can I say.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Not So New and Maxwell’s comments totally made me chuckle because this is literally the conversation that happens whenever there’s a small earthquake (did you feel that? did you? did a large truck drive by, or do you think it was a mini-quake?). I’ve felt small, mid-size earthquakes (in the 4.0 to 5.0 range), but the only time the sensation was remarkable was when I was near the epicenter or was in my car on the freeway.

              The only time I thought I felt a “real” earthquake as a child, it turned out that someone had drunkenly driven their car into the side of the garage (i.e., they hit the outside support column).

              1. So Very Anonymous*

                I was in a minor earthquake in Virginia (maybe two hours from DC) not too long after 9/11 (I just looked it up — it was on September 22). I was in a university library, there was a huge jolt, and everyone got REALLY REALLY QUIET. Because we all thought a bomb had gone off.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I probably should have clarified that location makes a difference—this is the convo I always end up having b/c I’m in California :)

                  Small earthquakes are much scarier when you live in a place where they’re infrequent and/or your buildings and infrastructure aren’t built to withstand them. If you put me in Florida during a hurricane warning, I would be extraordinarily freaked out.

      3. LBK*

        Oh, I just lived in a dorm with a bunch of idiots who thought it was fun to pull the fire alarm when they were drunk. It reached the point that I could sleep through them. Thank god there was never a real fire because I might not have even woken up, never mind bothering to evacuate.

      4. ThatGirl*

        My college dorms had plenty of false alarms due to smoking toasters, an overheated vacuum, someone who put metal in a microwave, that sort of thing.

        But my junior year the adjacent dorm actually DID have a fire… half of the 3rd & 4th floors were destroyed, thank god nobody was hurt… everyone took alarms more seriously after that.

      5. BritCred*

        I live in a block of flats/apartments and got a lot of flak for calling the fire service every time the alarm goes off. And a lot of people didn’t bother evacuating as it’s “just another false alarm”.

        Until last month. Where it was a real fire and smoke filled a corridor and who knows what would have happened had I not called them.

        A few people didn’t even poke their heads out to check their area based on the alarm until it had been going a while and had to evacuate through the heavyish smoke. Luckily it was only a toaster fire (and was controlled) and no one was hurt but if it had been more then it would have been too late.

        But yeah, someone does a drill like OPs without warning words are going to be had!

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Wait, the alarm doesn’t dial the fire department directly?? (or are these apartment-level alarms, not building/floor-wide alarms?)

    4. Alton*

      I used to work in retail, and remember a few times when the fire alarm went off. No one ever reacted. Not even customers. People would just assume it was an error and keep going about their business. I wouldn’t expect anyone to evacuate or panic unless there was an announcement over the loudspeaker, but it was weird to see people not even look around or change their demeanor or anything.

      1. SarahBeth*

        There’s a mall near my old house that the fire alarm goes off all the time and it’s terrifying to see no one even react. It’s been going off pretty constantly since the mall was built 10+ years ago and its never really been fixed. But to have drilled into your head from the time you were a child that if the fire alarm goes off you LEAVE THE BUILDING, doesn’t matter what time it is or how many times its gone off – and then see everyone go about their business and not even be phased is kinda scary.

        I hate to see what happens if there’s a real emergency and no one leaves (I assume an announcement or something will be made but still).

      2. Amadeo*

        I think some folks could see flames and still not react. I had to usher shoppers out of the department store I worked in a few years ago with the tornado sirens wailing and the power out. They were shopping by emergency light. And the weather had been really rough all day.

        I guess we are just that desensitized to sirens and alarms that we don’t even react when it’s probable that there’s a real emergency.

        1. fposte*

          They’re probably safer in a department store than in many places, though. (When you say “usher shoppers out” you mean to some mall shelter area, right, and not just out of the store?)

      3. Orca*

        When I worked retail my managers would always announce the fire alarm tests, sometimes multiple announcements before they actually started, and EVERY TIME people would still freak out…I guess now it’s better than the alternative!

      4. Drew*

        I’ve been in a couple of AIRPORTS where the fire alarm goes off. Usually, they come on the PA immediately to say “This is a drill/false alarm,” but at least once they didn’t do it and I was asking the gate agents where the evacuation area was. “Oh, that alarm goes off all the time,” they told me.

        I was not reassured, friends. (It did turn out to be a false alarm. So the did four or five more over the next half hour.)

        1. Electron Wisperer*

          Leaving the building when you are airside by crashing a fire door because the fire alarm has gone off also gets you **really dirty** looks from the airport security types when you all walk back in, seems having a tour group that have not been thru the gate area out on the apron is more of an an issue for them then the putative fire, doubly so when you left all your ID documents in a bag on the trollys.
          Frankly, tough, if you didn’t want that to happen someone should have designed the airport differently.

          Been there, done that.

          I used to be a bugger for drills, they were announced a few seconds in advance “Drill, Drill Drill, there is a fire in the air handling room, this is a drill” followed by the alarms going off. I was absolutely not above having a friend in a wheelchair come in and be on an upper floor, or another friend be the ‘messy drunk in the toilets’, good lessons were learned from both, especially the wheelchair one as I also had a smoke machine in the stairwell by the evac lift…. I also used to ask the chief officer at the local fire department if he wanted to come out and play, often they would.
          It was a large public venue, and I always had nightmares with the stewards not following the evac plan.

          I would question the point of drilling for “Active Shooter” even if done right, it has to be such a low probability event, better to spend the energy on running a few realistic drills on higher probability things, Fire/Flooding/Gas Leak/Medical emergency (This actually is the common one, does the first aider actually remember where the AED is stored?)/Chemical spill, whatever works for your situation.

      5. mccoma*

        And that’s exactly why folks aren’t giving an indication that “active shooter” drills are drills. Office workers ignore drills, so the security folks need to know if their plans will work thus no warning. If folks actually participated in the other types of drills it wouldn’t have come to this.

        1. Electron Wisperer*

          Very poor risk analysis by the security team if so, especially for a very low probability event like this.

          Drills have risks of their own, especially when completely unannounced, trips and falls are after all the most common workplace accidents, and any evacuation will risk at least a few, any evacuation that people think is real will cause people to take chances that increase that risk (Perfectly rational if you think the situation is bad enough).
          Much better to get participation by offering some sort of tangible reward (The first group to complete evacuation gets the rest of the day off, or something like it should work well I would have thought, but you might want to do the hot wash first).

          For these things to have value there should also be some significant analysis done after the fact, knowing that someone in the basement plant room cannot hear the alarm is valuable, as is knowing that that all the upper floors tend to evacuate down the one stairwell by the lift (Where they came in) rather then using all available exits (this is actually observed behavior).

    5. Michele*

      Yes. I used to work in a building with faulty alarms that would go off a few times a week. I just started completely ignoring them. Then one day there was a real fire on the same floor where I worked and someone had to endanger themselves to find me and tell me to evacuate.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      Good point. Not only that, but drills are a chance to PRACTICE what you’re supposed to do in the event of an emergency. And that means you have to consciously think about what you’re doing. Thinking it’s real will only cause you to panic, and without the practice knowledge you’ve consciously assimilated, you’re more apt to do something that will endanger you.

      It’s kind of like learning to ride a bike. You have to think about it first before it becomes a thing you automatically do when you get on the bike.

      1. Teclatrans*

        Yes, this. I suspect the HR manager has a misunderstanding about the value of drills. Getting to do something over and over without panic and adrenaline gives you a chance to work out any kinks, think things through, and build a bit of a habit to lean on so that in a real emergency there is something other than panic to rely on. SMDH.

  4. Mags*

    #4 – it could also be that your coworker asked for time off in advance, whereas sick days are sprung last minute.

    1. MK*

      My thought was that maybe the coworker is wrong about his PTO not decreasing. Maybe in cases of planned vacation, when the worker asks for PTO and the manager approves it, the manager doesn’t think it’s necessary to cc’ him when she tells HR to decrease his balance, as she did when the OP was out sick and hadn’t asked for the PTO in advance. In which case, the coworker might be in for a nasty surprise.

      1. Alter_ego*

        Yeah, this surprised me. I ask my boss for time off, and he approves it. My pto balance is never mentioned, but they’re definitely still deducting from it.

      2. Kate*

        This was my thought too. At my old job, I had to request approval from my manager for time off, but it was still my responsibility to fill out a leave form so my PTO would be adjusted accordingly. I thought maybe the manager in this case emailed the OP’s HR about sick leave because sick leave comes up unexpectedly, but that the manager is assuming employees are taking whatever measures they are supposed to for vacation PTO.

      3. Broke Law Student*

        Or he could have maxed out. I have friends at Big Company who work so much that they always have the max amount of PTO, and they generally don’t deduct from it if it’s just a few days. Managers don’t care because even if they did use up a couple days, they’d just earn it back and be at the max again pretty quickly. Long vacations are a different story, of course, but if that’s how the company works it’s not crazy.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      My thought is that the coworker could be lying and hoping to stir up trouble. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen this one. The coworker spreads a story making herself look like she is oh-so-special and none of it is true. OP, my top priority here would be to keep my emotions in check just in case, so that the coworker does not get the upset response from me she wants/craves.

      I remember asking the boss how I could get a deal like Coworker has. Coworker had X and I would like that same opportunity myself. At which point, the boss either says that Coworker does not have X or the boss makes arrangements for me to have something similar.

    3. Jen*

      #4- do you typically use most of your PTO? Does your coworker? I am your coworker in this scenario. I never bother to enter PTO because (a) I am salaried (b) I get 4-5 weeks a year and never come close to taking it all (c) it doesn’t get paid out so I’m not shorting the company (d) I work a bajillion night and weekend hours anyway and (e) my manager knows all of the above AND hates approving time cards, so we just skip it. I know she has one of my peers do time cards because they are out a LOT.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        This is the same situation I’m in. My boss doesn’t always require us to enter our time off because we are salaried and work nights regularly. If we ever go hourly, I’ll gladly enter my time (and be fairly compensated for overtime!) but as it stands now, I like our system.

  5. Decimus*

    #1 – Did your workplace notify the police they were doing this drill? Because they could have run into some really serious issue if employees started dialing 911.

    1. Hospital Worker*

      We have fire and evacuation and medical emergency drills frequently. There is never advance warning because the purpose of them is to train staff to respond to these occurences. In the case of fire drills the fire station and police are informed.

      1. Edith*

        There is a fundamental difference between evacuation/medical emergency drills and active shooter drills that makes not being told the active shooter drill is just a drill far more egregious than the other two. If I don’t know the fire alarm is just a drill I think I need to swiftly head to the nearest exit. This’ll take about 30 seconds, and unless the fire is directly outside my office I know I’m going to be fine. If I don’t know the medical alert is just a drill I think somebody needs help. If I don’t know the active shooter alert is just a drill I think it’s possible someone is going from office to office killing people.

        Maybe the rule of thumb should be if your employees might feel compelled to call their families to tell them they love them, that’s a drill that shouldn’t be unannounced.

        I would also add that the fact you have these unannounced drills frequently is in itself a sort of advanced warning.

        1. always in email jail*

          Yes. well stated. There is a difference between a drill meant to enhance the performance of your job duties (which in a hospital include evacuating everyone safely, providing emergency medical care, etc.) and a drill where your only goal is to not become a victim.

        2. RVA Cat*

          Also, if someone doesn’t know it’s a fire drill, they might grab an extinguisher. If they don’t know it’s a shooter drill and they concealed carry…

          1. Observer*

            It’s not just a matter of concealed carry, though. The examples upthread don’t involve concealed carry, and are still pretty serious.

            1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

              Very true. There are three general fear reactions: Fight, Flight, and Freeze.

              If I freeze during a fire drill, ok, the firefighters escort me out of the building. If I grab an extinguisher, or go for the showers instead of the exit, the firefighters are still going to escort me out.

              If two people go into Fight mode during a dangerous persons drill, you may very well not be having a drill anymore when EMS arrives.

      2. TL -*

        We have unannounced drills but we know they’re drills. (Emergency tone: this a drill. X floor/whatever, please follow Y procedure and evacuate. This is a drill. Emergency tone.)

      3. Natalie*

        But do you know that they’re drills when they start? Unannounced is one thing, not revealing it’s a drill at any point is another.

      4. MarCom Professional*

        This. I work in a sensitive building. The only drill we’re informed of is the earthquake drill and that’s just because it’s a gimmick. The rest: fire, active shooter, we never know until they follow up with an email the day after if there was a real situation (think, yeah there was a disgruntled employee on the loose, but they caught him). Yes, they inform emergency personnel, but since they’re on-scene at every drill, we seriously have no way of knowing.

      1. Kate*

        and one designed to test the responses of only the female staff? I mean the whole thing is bad, but with a dash of misogyny on it just for fun apparently… *headdesk*

        1. RVA Cat*

          I know, right?! The sexism makes the cluelessness look malicious, honestly. Sounds like some creep’s idea of a “prank”. I mean what’s next for these bozos, “rape drills”?

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Unfortunately, all I can say is welcome to Kern County. Even though this was a water district, it’s a pretty benign level of sexism compared to some of the things I’ve seen employers do, there.

  6. sam*

    All I can think of with #1 is that clearly no one had watched the episode of The Office when Dwight decided to start a fire as part of a “drill” and Stanley ended up having a heart attack.

    1. No, please*

      That’s what I keep picturing. I’m 99% positive I would have a very serious anxiety attack,

      1. Jenbug*

        I would have been completely useless for the rest of the day due to suffering a serious panic attack.

        1. OhNo*

          Same here.

          I’m amazed that the HR person didn’t even think that people might have adverse reactions, which might affect their work for the rest of the day (or week or, you know, forever). If they must – absolutely must – have these drills unannounced, the least they could do is offer time off afterward for people who were upset by it. I know I’d be going straight home after a scare like that.

          1. Jenbug*

            Not only would I need to go home, but I doubt I’d be comfortable being alone after that level of panic, which means I’d end up going to stay with my parents. And while they love me and don’t mind supporting me when my anxiety is out of control, I think they’d be pretty pissed if it was triggered for a drill.

      2. KellyK*

        Yep, same here. I’ve had minor anxiety symptoms during *classroom* active shooter training. Spring a drill on me without telling me it’s a drill and I will probably be crying and hyperventilating at the least. And also seriously PO’d afterwards.

  7. Maxwell Edison*

    #1 – that clang everyone just heard was my jaw hitting my desk. HR director responsible should be disciplined if not outright fired, IMHO.

    1. Lanon*

      No disciplining can save this HR director.

      That was an utterly callous, insane thing to do and could have very possibly killed one or more people, and caused countless stress and grief in the others.

      Also, if anyone had called an Ambulance or the police, the company would probably be liable to pay up for wasting their time.

  8. Stellaaaaa*

    OP4: Is your coworker being paid for the time he takes off for these family trips? You might be able to negotiate for more time off as long as it’s unpaid.

    1. Drew*

      That was my thought. Perhaps your coworker is banking PTO against a longer vacation and is willing to take some unpaid days off in the meantime.

    2. Rey*

      This is how most of my hourly jobs have worked (admittedly, all in retail). I could take plenty of time off as long as there was coverage, but all of it was unpaid.

      1. Kbrew*

        When I worked hourly, I could do the same, whether it was in retail or in a white collar setting. I think LW is trying to make something that is not her business her business.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          Fair benefits are her business. Focusing on the coworker rather than biased management would be the mistake here, and we don’t know that this has happened yet either. It’s not wrong to ask.

          1. kbrew*

            Except they aren’t. She doesn’t know if he receives more, negotiated more, is taking unpaid time off, or what his title and position within the company hierarchy are. She calls him a coworker, that doesn’t mean that they’re equal or work in the same position.

              1. Oryx*

                Nope, still not her business for all of the reasons mentioned above.

                At my job, we are given 3 work from home days a month. Unused days don’t roll over, they are use them or lose them each month. Twice this year, due to two different injuries, I was given permission to work form home for a week each time. All of it was arranged with my manager and HR, it was none of my co-workers’ business, even if they were well aware of the fact that I received this benefit.

              1. Stellaaaaa*

                And it doesn’t even need to be “her business” for her to be curious about it. How people of other races are treated isn’t strictly my business but I still care. Your access to healthcare isn’t my business but I still care. The fact of something not being one’s business isn’t always a reason in and of itself to deem it off limits.

  9. I WAS THERE!!*

    #1 – Okay seriously, I don’t know if you work in a hospital or if you sent this letter right before Christmas, but while my mother was in surgery this happened at the hospital! The announcer didn’t announce properly or something, but he announced a code yellow (or whatever color code, I think it was yellow) “active shooter” and seriously everyone in the surgery waiting was looking big eyed at one another and at the staff unsure of what to do. I was about to make a beeline for a windowless conference room and barricade myself in and take anyone with me who would follow, because we couldn’t make it to exits fast enough given the location. To say it was terrifying is an understatement. Also, the staff weren’t really doing anything. So either they knew it was a drill or they were in disbelief that it was real. The announcer came back on the intercom and repeated the code and then added the word DRILL this time. Everyone relaxed but then there was a lot of muttering about how confusing it was. What was even more jarring was several people didn’t even flinch or move or raise their heads when he announced the first alert code. Then he comes across again to announced that “the code yellow, active shooter is canceled.” and then again a minute later “the code yellow, active shooter.. drill.. is canceled” like what the flying FUCASJHFHJ was this announcer bored and being a douche on purpose???

    Anyway, I said all that to say this, YOU ARE NOT OVER REACTING and this needs to be addressed to whomever is in charge of planning/announcing said drills in your workplace.

    1. Jeanne*

      I hope you made a complaint. You are in a better position than employees to complain. Call Patient Services and escalate if needed. I’ve been in the hospital a lot and the fire drills are always known to staff. They close my door ahead and tell me it’s a drill. I would freak at what you’re describing.

      1. The Bread burglar*

        This. Seriously you should make a complaint. It is true that staff complaints won’t carry as much weight unfortunately. And/or are less likely for fear of retaliation.

        Though I would guess if he cancelled it quickly and kept repeating to add the drill part he may have just been really inexperienced and didnt understand and someone who did was yelling at him. Thats my hope.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          And if the hospital ombudsman or administrator doesn’t seem to take it seriously, call around the local news stations and try to drum up some interest in your story. Sometimes the only way to get people to back down is to publicly shame them. It is usually a last resort, but it is one tool at your disposal.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Wow. I said earlier that something similar (a drill nobody knew was a drill) happened in a high-rise in Chicago not too long ago, it’s scary to think there are so many bad decision makers out there.

    3. Michele*

      Wow. That is especially egregious at a hospital. Most patients can’t just be moved, so a lot of extra procedures have to go into evacuations. My dad was a janitor at a hospital, and for their evacuation drills, employees took turns being patients so the other employees could learn to safely evacuate someone who was immobile or attached to a respirator or whatever. I don’t know how they handled people who were in surgery.

      1. OhNo*

        Seriously, holy crap. I sincerely hope that no doctors or surgeons were startled by the first announcement, because I shudder to think what kind of consequences might occur. I hope whoever made that announcement was severely reprimanded.

    4. Lily*

      That’s a terrible idea because in a shooting situation, people might ignore clean rooms or closed areas, likely resolving in endangering patients in the OP tract and knocking over medical devices.

  10. Chilleh*

    I am so livid on behalf of OP#1. I’m not sure who is telling you that you are overreacting. You are NOT overreacting, and I just hope everyone involved is okay after experiencing the fear you must have all felt.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Telling OP #1 they’re overreacting is some serious gaslighting. If it was the HR Director, I’d wonder if they’re a psychopath.

  11. Username has gone missing*

    #2 Have you explained very clearly what the room is and isn’t for as it sounds like you may need to do that or do it again ?

    I think your best bet is to introduce a booking system for the room with a drop down menu with a set number of reasons for using it.

    1. Personal Phone Booth OP*

      I have tried to be as direct as possible but I think she assumes that if it’s empty she can go ahead and use it ( which is technically the case.) I think the part that rubs me the wrong way with her is that anyone else when I knock on the door understands that what I need to do sometimes takes precedence and will switch to the small conference room for their webinar, or take their cell call outside. She just gives me a blank look and waves me away.

      Alison, I appreciate your advice! I think I need to approach her again when she isn’t there and see if I can appeal to her sense of reason!

      1. Wehaf*

        “She just gives me a blank look and waves me away.” I think you need to address this with her as well, not just her overuse of the room.

        1. Personal Phone Booth OP*

          Any suggestions on wording? I would hate to come across entitled, or as if I’m attacking her. As I mentioned in my letter, she’s really lovely and I dont want her to feel unwelcome within our company.

          1. fposte*

            “Lucinda, it looks like there’s some confusion about the use of the conference room. I’m looking into getting us a schedule to clarify it, but I’m expected to use the room for confidential business communication. It’s no problem for you to use the room for personal calls when it’s not needed for business, but when I do need it for business, it’s expected that personal calls will move elsewhere. I’ll try to give you a five minute heads-up so you can wrap up.”

            It’s easy to soften that with tone and filler, if you like (“This is the kind of thing that isn’t in guidelines but probably should be,” you can say cheerfully). But basically nobody’s told her that your calls have priority, so you’re helpfully telling her.

            1. Personal Phone Booth OP*

              I really like this- thank you! Your wording will be helpful when I try to address (and made me giggle as her name IS Lucille- haha)

        2. Ama*

          Yeah, I think you need to tell her that you have precedence to use that office because of the confidential nature of parts of your job, and you aren’t knocking on the door as a courtesy “hey can I come in?”, you are knocking to tell her she needs to leave so you can do those parts.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I’d just say, “I need the office for work. Is that work? That’s your personal cell phone, right? I’m going to have to bump you out.” And then just stand there waiting for her to get up and walk away w/ her cellphone.

            Don’t give her 5 minutes. She needs to get off the phone and back to her desk now. Because that’s not work.

      2. Brogrammer*

        Your irritation is totally justified if she’s the only one not observing the standard shared-space etiquette. Good luck talking to her when there isn’t an immediate need for her to vacate the room.

      3. Michele*

        It is completely unacceptable for a new employee to be waving away a senior staff member like that for any reason. I think that you are being too patient. I would give her one more firm warning then talk to her supervisor. I don’t think the new employee understands just how bad she looks or that she is violating workplace norms. She is not doing herself any favors in the long run.

      4. TootsNYC*

        OK, this—”blank look and waves me away”—negates what I was going to say.

        I -was- going to say, “She may figure that as long as she gives you the room when you need it, she isn’t doing anything wrong, and that might be true.”

        But, no, it’s not that. (I could see that I’d get annoyed at -ever- having to ask her to vacate the room w/ her private calls, but there would be only a little bit of that annoyance that’s appropriate.)

        One thing I’d thought was, “doesn’t she have work to do?” It’s easy to piddle away the time on a personal phone call if nobody can see you’re doing it.
        That might be one place I’d take this as well: “Is that work? Are you on a personal call again?” Just bring that out–maybe it’ll goose her into being more productive. If I had to bring it up to anyone else, I’d bring up that aspect–that she’s piddling away the time. She’s not even at her desk to be aware of an email, or a file dropped off.

        But on the work thing, one thing I’d also thought was this:
        “Colleague Jane, I worry that you’re going to get a bad reputation as a time waster, since you’re making these personal calls so much. People can see you’re not at your desk, and they know you’re on the phone in here. I’d hate for people to form a bad opinion of you.”

        (I try to keep personal calls really short–we’re in cubes, and it’s hard on people. I won’t make personal calls from an office unless I know I’m going to be on for awhile, so then I have to consciously say, “I’m going to talk to this person for more than 6 sentences.” And of course, I won’t make that decision for a casual, friendly chat–only for something like calling the bank, or the doctor, or some other personal business that’s important enough. (I’ve said, “It’s my lunch, and I’m calling my aunt,” but that was lunch, and a conscious “going off the clock” moment.)

        And I’d also say: when she gives you that blank look, it’s OK to get a little preemptory. Don’t let her do that to you.

        1. Natalie*

          “‘Colleague Jane, I worry that you’re going to get a bad reputation as a time waster…'”

          Nooooo, way too passive aggressive. If OP is her manager, she needs to be communicating concerns more directly. If OP isn’t her manager, Jane’s reputation isn’t any of her damn business.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah, agreed—it’s way too aggressive and sounds like OP is watching Lucinda, which is super creepy. Also, if Lucinda’s supervisor isn’t bothered by her personal calls, it’s not really appropriate to imply there’s a rumor going around that she’s getting a bad reputation for taking personal calls. (Also, while I agree that she should be working, what if those personal calls are related to a loved one’s care, or to an ongoing family emergency?)

            I think fposte’s language is really helpful. I’m kind of amazed that she doesn’t realize that you’re knocking to use the office, not to talk to her (which is what the wave-off suggests).

  12. Neeta*

    #2 I’m wondering: are you being made to wait to use the guest office, because the new hire is talking on the phone? Or is it just that you keep finding her there, when you’re expecting the iffice to be open.

    If it’s the former, I totally get your annoyance. But if it’s the latter, I’d say you’re overreacting. We often have colleagues who take personal calls in meeting rooms, but they’d always leave immediately when someone comes who’s booked the room.

    1. Jeanne*

      I suspect OP is being too nice by allowing new coworker to finish her long personal call. Say “Excuse me. I need the office now. Thank you.” and stand there while she leaves. If new coworker is refusing to leave, then talk to her manager.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        2. I was wondering if this is a habit the new hire has brought with her from a previous job? I work in an office where conference rooms/private offices are limited and often booked back to back, so it is quite common to see somebody hiding in a corner, talking on a mobile phone.

        1. SouthernLadybug*

          Yep. You need it to work, she doesn’t. I accommodate people when we’re all just busy and all are looking for rooms for meetings. But personal stuff…nope. (Or rare instances, like the update on mom who was in surgery or the emergency family call.)

    2. ginger ale for all*

      Are the personal calls ones that also need to be confidential like speaking to her doctor or something similar? If she is having issues in her private life that need privacy, you may want to work out a system. I like the idea of booking the room in advance because if any employees need ten minutes or so for a private phone call, they would be able to do it and if you have an employee who needs long stretches of time there for private calls, then you have a record that their manager can evaluate if they need to. Office work would have priority of course for the room.

      1. LBK*

        Yes, that was one thing that caught my eye: that the OP assumes a personal call can’t also be private. She could be dealing with a family, financial, medical or other private issue that isn’t work-related but that she still doesn’t want other people overhearing.

        Also, as someone who sat next to a coworker for 3 years that made long personal, non-private phone calls from his desk: trust me, it’s much, much more annoying to have them doing it in earshot. Be glad she’s not subjecting you to listening to her life story.

        I think you just need to be a little more assertive about kicking her out of the room. If there’s no official system for booking it off, it’s not like you have a reasonable expectation for it to always be empty whenever you need it, and in my experience most people will hustle right out of the room if they’re on a personal call and you indicate you need the room for something work-related.

        1. Personal Phone Booth OP*

          OP #2 Here- I definitely get that personal calls can need privacy, her desk is in a more public place than most, so I can see her needing to get away (for privacy or to not bother people){. She is right on the edge of a walkway, so she has NO privacy at all at her workspace/ It’s not even really a cube, it just two shortened walls. She just always opts to use this particular office when we do have several other locations in our office that could be used for cell phone calls where privacy is needed.

          You are right, I do need to be more assertive, though. It may be helpful to point out other locations she could potentially take calls if needed. Thank you :)

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            Is it the closest one to her?

            My lead got into the habit of stepping into my office to take personal calls when I was working remotely. There were a couple of funny incidents where she just walked in on the phone and scared the heck out of me. She now pauses at the door to see if I am in my office.

          2. Jessesgirl72*

            Give her better places she could make the calls, and mention that no one uses the small conference room because it’s too small. Explain to her firmly that you’re handling confidential information that can’t be done from your cubicle- or a conference room speakerph0ne!- so that you need her to stop using the guest office as her personal office. It’s not really helping her transition to keep bailing, and what will she do when you do have a visiting director?

            I would hate her not-a-cube to death, but after having conflicts with you needing the room so many times in only 3 weeks, she is clearly not taking the hint that what she’s doing isn’t a working solution. She needs to have the expectations spelled out to her.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        I don’t think the reason for the personal calls matter. The LW is trying to conduct company business using company resources and can’t do so because this person has, 7 times in only 3 weeks of employment!- been using company resources for personal business.

        If it were a sick relative or something, I could be sympathetic, but it doesn’t make the coworker right and she needs to stop. My husband is always making private personal calls from work. He walks to the car or uses a stairwell.

        1. LBK*

          I think expecting people to go to their cars every time is kind of unreasonable especially if you’re in a high rise office building where your car isn’t conveniently accessible (especially if you park in a lot in the city). Stairwell is okay but a lot of them have terrible reception and/or call quality due to the echoing.

          An empty conference room is a perfectly fine place for a personal call in most offices, you just need to be ready to jump out of it at a moment’s notice if someone needs it for work-related purposes, which is the part of the social contract the OP’s coworker is violating at the moment.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Actually, the colleague is using her personal cell phone–she can use an empty conference room. I’d start suggesting it.

      3. Lemon Zinger*

        Regardless, the room needs to be available. I would want to institute a policy of no personal calls in the office, period. If someone needs to make a personal phone call, they should step out of the office.

        1. Natalie*

          Oy. Aside from being impractical in many offices and clearly not in the OP’s purview, this isn’t remotely necessary at this point. Have a simple, *direct* conversation with the person in question before jumping to an office wide rule.

          1. Zombii*

            Thank you. ExJob always preferred to make new policies any time the sane and logical alternative was addressing the issue directly with the people causing the issue, which is my least favorite management strategy.

        2. Arielle*

          That seems like an overreaction. So if I want to make a 5-minute call to my doctor’s office, I should shut down my computer, put on my coat and gloves, take the elevator down 7 floors, swipe out of the office, stand in the freezing cold, rain, wind, and/or snow to make my call, swipe back in, take the elevator back up, take off my outer gear, and boot my computer back up again? That seems less efficient than stepping into the empty conference room that’s literally directly behind me for 5 minutes.

          1. livy*

            Why do you have to power down your computer to take a phone call outside? I think occasional, brief personal calls are fine too, but you can also lock your computer screen…

    3. LS*

      My thoughts exactly. We often use meeting rooms for personal calls or quiet space but if an actual meeting shows up, you know to get out of there.

      1. Brogrammer*

        Yup. If you don’t have an office, where else are you going to take a personal call? The bathroom? In my workplace only C-level execs get offices, the rest of us work in a number of open plan rooms. Often, the conference room is the only room without anyone in it. Everyone in my office has at some point made a “We need the room for a meeting now” gesture to someone on a phone at some point.

    4. The Bread burglar*

      Thats what I was wondering.

      Its possible the new hire sees it hasnt been in use all morning and ducks in to take a quick call and then bam OP2 shows up. Its frustrating but if there isnt anywhere else for her to have privacy thats kind of understandable. Your essentially asking that a room be left unused at all times just in case a single employee needs it. Thats just as frustrating.

      Its also possible she has a disability or family with it that requires some private time. Maybe she has anxiety and needs a few minutes of privacy/ a call to someone supportive. Being allowed use of this space would be a reasonable accomodation….

      I wonder though. Has new hire been using the meeting rooms when empty? Maybe the OP could try getting her to use those first.

      1. Michele*

        If that is the case, the employee needs to let people know. However, it sounds like she is just hanging out in there treating it like her private space, and that is unacceptable. I also think that someone, either LW or the new employee’s boss needs to tell her just how bad it looks for her to spend so much time in there, especially when she is new.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yes, from the phrasing of the letter, it sound like the employee is in there much too often. It doesn’t sound like the employee is just ducking in to take a quick call on occasion. She’s in there sometimes even when she’s not on a call. It sounds like she just doesn’t want to work in a cube. I don’t mean she thinks she’s too good for it–maybe she’s very introverted and needs some alone time to recharge after a round of client calls. But whatever the reason, it sounds like she needs to spend less time in the office or coordinate better with others who use it.

      2. Personal Phone Booth OP*

        Thanks for your thoughts- I do think its possible that I’m so used to it being mostly unused that to have all these conflicts in the past three weeks has been rubbing me the wrong way! It seems like she uses that as her first resort to get away from her desk though. She never opts to use the small conference room, which would be ideal for taking personal cell calls (no one uses it because it is really too small to be a comfortable conference room)

        1. Anna*

          I don’t know. Seven conflicts in three weeks is a lot, whether or not she is having personal calls that need to be private. If that’s the case, she really should find another way to handle her calls because they are still personal are still interfering with your ability to do your job.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I think you should specifically suggest that she use that small conference room, since her cell phone can travel in there.

        3. Salyan*

          Since the small conference room isn’t being well used for its original purpose, could you suggest to management that a non-conference phone be put in? That’d essential double the spaces available for confidential calls.

    5. enough*

      From LW2 – or just to get out of her cube and not even use the phone. So new hire isn’t using the room just for phone calls. Could part of the problem be that they are in a cube farm?
      But I’m with standing in the door way till she leaves.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        When I transitioned from year’s of my own office to sharing space, I could not get **any** work done. It was horrible and taxing, and the only relief I found was in booking the conference room for 2-4 hour chunks to work on “projects.”

        I wonder if the new coworker came from a place with a different set-up and is having issues adjusting?

    6. Bonky*

      We had a really difficult situation in our old building, where we shared a bathroom with a bigger office of lawyers next door: one of their staff seemed to spend most of her day in the ladies’ toilet making personal calls. Our office manager spoke to theirs about how uncomfortable and awkward this made all of us, but nothing happened. I spoke to the woman directly, as did some others: no change. Other than peeing really aggressively loudly and talking loudly to each other when there happened to be more than one of us in there, there wasn’t much else we could do. It was a real relief when we got big enough to move to larger space with our own dedicated toilet – and I’ve never caught anyone on the phone in there.

      1. Nolan*

        I (briefly) had a coworker who was kind of like that. We had an open office with only one conference room that we were all using for new hire training, so when she had to make personal calls during breaks, she’d go into the bathroom. And these were usually calls to her landlord and people like that so it was extra awkward to overhear all that. She didn’t last long at that job, nice girl, but I was thankful for the peace and quiet!

        1. Michele*

          I will flush more than I need to (don’t worry, we have plenty of water in this part of the country). I think that talking on the phone in a bathroom is extremely rude. Can you imagine being on the other end of the call and hearing the noises in the background?

          1. Zombii*

            I think this might be a cultural thing (or maybe I’m just really low class)? I don’t make phone calls in bathrooms—I hate making calls in general—but I constantly hear people on the phone in multi-stall public bathrooms and it just kind of doesn’t bother me.

            (Although there was that one time when I flushed the toilet and the woman in the next stall said “Yeah, some bitch just flushed the toilet in here. RUDE.” and I was like O_o?!)

            1. Julia*

              What did she think the toilets were for? And did she not think you could hear her? Who’s “RUDE” now?

        2. TootsNYC*

          If I’m on the phone in the bathroom, I don’t care whether you flush. (Note that I don’t generally go to the bathroom to make phone calls, but if I did/the times that I have, I don’t care what you’re doing. Either those noises won’t transfer through enough, or I don’t care if they do.)

    7. Personal Phone Booth OP*

      Unfortunately, we don’t have a booking system, so we always kind of just “expect” things to be open.

      My annoyance is that she is in there with her cell phone on personal calls, or just has moved her laptop into there – – not using the phone — because (it seems– this could be a bitch with crackers thing- ) she likes the privacy better than her cube.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I think the fact that she’s moving her laptop in there to work means exactly that–she’d rather work in the privacy of an office than in her cube. Sounds like your workplace could benefit from having some clear guidelines about when the office can be used for things that aren’t either work-related or confidential. That would make you feel more comfortable in telling her to vacate–right now you’re probably uncomfortable because it feels like she’s violating a rule (and she’s certainly violating the norms of your office), but you don’t have anything specific that you can point to in talking with her other than that she needs to leave when you need the room for work related confidential matters.

        1. Personal Phone Booth OP*

          It would definitely be easier if I could point at the handbook and say “LOOK! Here is where it say blah blah blah” as of right now its makes it awkward to make a case for me/my position to get more privacy than her/her position. I can see where on the surface it would seem arbitrary- when it actually is business oriented.

          1. Natalie*

            I really think you’re overthinking this! You have a perfectly valid reason for needing her to clear out – it’s not like you’re grumbling about something just because. Not everyone comes from a high-context culture and is used to looking around for hints to pick up.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I agree—I don’t think you need to point the policy out to her; just explain what it is and note that there are other spaces for her. But the shacking up in the office with her laptop concerns me, because it sounds like she’s not able (or doesn’t want) to work in her cube. That’s not your problem, but it helps explain the frequency of the space conflicts.

          2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            We had to do something similar at my old job. We had very few private spaces and were running into situations where people could not have the conversations they needed because rooms were occupied by people who did not need privacy – it forced the senior management team to develop a policy that included a priority list.

            Ultimately it was helpful in ensuring everyone knew the purpose of the room, and explain why someone who was in the same category title might be allowed more access (we put emphasis on meeting/call function).

            1. Drew*

              We’re running into a similar situation at my office; there is a big central conference room and one smaller one on my side of the building. There was supposed to be a smaller one on the other side as well, but it got turned into an office. Nonetheless, my team has first call on the conference room on our side and we’ve had to chase out some “interlopers” from the other side more than once who were camping in there for a meeting or a Skype call.

              Right now, the plan is to have people put Post-Its on the door when we want to schedule the room. It may have to turn into a shared calendar situation if those don’t work, but that means we’ll have to talk to IT and nobody wants that.

      2. Zombii*

        Is it at all possible that she may have already discussed this situation with her manager and was told she could use one of the empty conference rooms occasionally, since her cube has the least privacy and is right next to a stairwell? At least for the part of it where she’s in there with her laptop?

        That’s the kind of thing I might talk to my manager about if I had a workspace like the one you described and I was having trouble adjusting. Maybe she just needs some clarification to use the small conference room, not the guest office.

  13. jamlady*

    OP1, my sister is an EM for multiple cities in southern California – I showed her your letter and she’s currently trying not to bash her head into a wall over the stupidity of your company. Don’t worry – you most definitely are not overreacting.

  14. kethryvis*

    Re #4: i had a friend who wasn’t docked PTO when he would take time off for trips and whatnot as well. This is because he was pretty much a one-man department and he’d get called upon during vacations to fix stuff, or have to be prepared to leave a vacation early to go back to the office if something broke. His boss didn’t think it was right for him to have to be “on call” during vacations, so they made the arrangement.

    So it really well could be there’s something else going on there.

    1. Julia*

      So how did his PTO ever get smaller? Could he take actual vacations when he needed to, like for funerals, health stuff, Relaxation?

  15. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    I can’t believe how often I’ve heard of stories like #1, always in news articles about how a “drill” traumatized the people involved. And yet new idiots keep thinking this kind of drill is a good idea.

    The most outrageous I found were in schools:

    scaring children: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/11/16/parents-furious-over-school-surprise-lockdown-drill.html

    worst inservice day imaginable:

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      That second one – WTAF? What does it even prove, that the school has no security at all? Wow, that’s really, really crappy, on it’s own, but especially because it taught the teachers nothing except “if anything like this every happens, you’re all going to die” which is NOT what safety drills are about!

      1. Lanon*

        It proves that whoever’s idea this was is obviously better of in a closed institution then supervising anything or anyone.

      2. Joseph*

        Wow, that’s really, really crappy, on it’s own, but especially because it taught the teachers nothing except “if anything like this every happens, you’re all going to die” which is NOT what safety drills are about!
        The other possible lesson here is “I need to start carrying my gun in the classroom at all times and be prepared to shoot every time the door opens”. Which is, um, probably not quite what the school is going for.

      3. Alton*

        Yeah, there’s not really a way to protect yourself against the possibility of someone randomly storming in and shooting you. Even if you have a gun, you likely wouldn’t have a chance to use it. Active shooter defense means having security measures in place to limit the likelihood of a shooter just walking into a school, and knowing how to react if you know there’s a shooter in the building. It sounds like that poor person didn’t even know something was amiss until the “shooter” came in, so what could she have done?

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        My reaction to story #2 was a long string of expletives. And a school board member participated? They deserve to be sued, and they deserve to lose. Their behavior is despicable.

    2. and then there were 6*

      I have a friend who supervises student teachers. At one school where a student teacher was placed, they had one of these “drills.” She was in a kindergarten room and like the teachers, had no idea it was a drill. While huddled in a corner, she watched as a man in the hallway began throwing himself at the locked classroom door, yelling that he was coming in to shoot them. The little kids were screaming and crying. After the intercom announced this had just been a drill, the teachers learned that the man in the hallway had been the principal, who was “just trying to make it seem more real.”

      I can’t even imagine the traumatic nightmares for everyone in that school.

      I thought this was a one-off case; I’m horrified that this seems to be a Thing!

      1. Government Worker*

        Wow, that principal is in the wrong business if that’s how he thinks about preparing kids for scary things. We get notices from my kids’ daycare about fire/evacuation drills and lockdown/active shooter drills, and they are very careful not to scare the kids. They don’t tell them they’re practicing in case there’s a bad guy with a gun, they tell them they’re practicing all walking together to a different room in case it’s not safe to stay in their classroom (they move out of classrooms with big windows into kitchen/bathroom/interior office spaces – I think it counts as a tornado drill, too, and they’d probably use similar procedures to relocate most of the kids if there were a serious medical emergency in the classroom). And the teachers remain neutral and cheerful and the kids just go along with it, because the adults treat it with the same emotional weight as learning to hold hands with a grownup when you cross the street. The kids tell us later about the fire alarm making noise and having to go outside, but they’ve never seemed scared after any of these drills.

        If it’s teenagers then obviously the communication strategy is different, but little kids should never be screaming in fear due to a drill.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I went to an elementary school where there were drive-by shootings and where we frequently practiced active shooter drills (this was pre-Columbine). Even in those conditions, the principal was not running around threatening to shoot/kill us.

      2. Murphy*

        OMG, that is horrible to do to little children! I could see them testing the doors to make sure the teachers locked them, but that is messed up!

        1. Chinook*

          I have had students from war zones who would ask to leave during Remembrance Day presentations by veterans because of the memories they trigger. I can’t imagine the trauma that a principal throwing themselves at the door and threatening to kill them would do.

      3. Stan*

        The link is in moderation, but The Washington Post had an essay by Launa Hall about a similar incident. Having run lockdown/active shooter drills with little people, I cannot imagine the exponential rise in stress for me and the students because of some ill-conceived administrative move.

      4. Artemesia*

        I remember the trauma when I was 5 and we did nuclear war drills with our face in the dirt of the school hallway as we lay on the floor with our hands over our heads; we knew they were drills but the idea of nuclear annihilation was terrifying to little kids. Shooter drills are probably the same today; kids know that little kids have been murdered in schools. A drill will be scary — running this as if it were real is pants wetting terrifying. That principal should be fired. No one with that total lack of empathy should be in charge of small kids.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Ha! In my school, the tornado drills put us in the hallway but for the nukes, we just got under our desks. Like the desk would protect you. :P (The hallway wouldn’t either, tbh.)

        2. Zombii*

          I was a kid in school when Columbine happened and the shooter drills got started. They aren’t like the nuclear war drills my mom talked about, they were more like fire drills—yes, it would be terrifying and some people might get hurt or die but these things don’t happen all the time and the scope is hugely different: one shooter is one shooter in one school, not the whole country going to hell at once. So there’s that at least.

      5. Kyrielle*

        My kids’ school would not do that. (I know; they’ve done drills, and done them well.)

        If they did? I (and half the other parents, at least) would make SUCH a fuss. Seriously, if someone did not get fired (specifically, the principal, in this case), it would NOT be for lack of trying to make it happen on our part.

          1. Kyrielle*

            For me, that would depend on whether there was direct damage to my kid (was it his classroom, and if so, did it traumatize them) and what the school district did (did they get rid of the person(s) who made the decision, and did they agree voluntarily to cover the cost of any needed treatment for the traumatized kids?). If the principal went rogue and the district removed them and did their best to repair the damage, then I would not be inclined to sue nor think it would go anywhere.

            However, if I had medical bills for my child as a result and they weren’t covering them, or if they backed the principal, yeah, I could see going the law suit route if I had to.

    3. Mike C.*

      Uh what!? Simulated execution is a form of internationally recognized torture. I’m not exaggerating when I say this.

      1. LavaLamp*

        What in the hell?

        This reminds me of when I had to explain a high school lock down drill to my Canadian friend who comes from a small village. He was pretty surprised that we were expected to sit in locked classrooms with the fire alarm blaring yet unable to leave and wait for the local swat team to let us out, as our police department coordinated with the school for practice if something awful ever did happen. The joys of having attended high school in Colorado. But for gods sake they didn’t do that to the babies! They had a video about how police might look and other much less harsh means for them.

    4. fposte*

      Wow. “Members of the district’s Safety Committee notified the Baker County Sheriff’s Office and its 911 dispatch center in advance of the drill so that they wouldn’t respond to an emergency at the school in case any of the school staff called.” I guess that’s good information for anybody planning a shooting. (And why the hell would emergency services go along with that, rather than saying “We don’t take ignore orders–if there’s a call, we come out”?)

  16. AW*

    #1, I suspect that some folks are worried that you’ll make a complaint about this and are trying to convince you not to do so. That or they’re the sort of person who thinks no one should get upset at things that don’t bother them personally.

    Being told that you and your co-workers are being shot at is a legit thing to be upset about. On the list of things that should upset you, threat of serious injury or death is right up there at the top. I can’t imagine what the explanation for why this shouldn’t have bothered you sounded like.

  17. Username has gone missing*

    #4 Everyone is assuming he’s telling the truth. Maybe he’s not? I would be careful of this before saying anything to your boss.

    1. Kate, short for Bob*

      That was my thought too – he may be psyching you out for fun or malice, especially if you work on the same things. Tread carefully.

    2. AnitaJ*

      My thoughts were along the same lines. He may not be lying per se, just…exaggerating? “I NEVER need to take PTO!” could translate into “I only had to take 6 instead of 8 hours” or something similar. I know a few people who embellish or change facts to make themselves seem more important or in a more advantageous situation. It’s REALLY irritating, but I think that possibility is worth considering before speaking up.

    3. always in email jail*

      As a supervisor #4 annoys me. If you and your supervisor have a special arrangement (ie you’ve been on call a lot getting called outside of work hours lately, so I let you not take PTO for a day off) don’t go around telling everyone. That’s just stirring the pot and makes me a lot less likely to be flexible in the future.

      I’m sure I’m completely wrong here and shouldn’t make arrangements I’m not willing to justify/explain to everyone, but it’s just a lot easier to not be put in the position of explaining/justifying in the first place!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is why I have felt it’s a good idea not to cut special deals. The rumor mill does not do well with this information and morale tanks. If a person is working long hour either pay them, hire another person, spread out the work or do something along these lines. Special deals only make the recipient happy and sometimes that is even marginal.

        1. Joseph*

          The problem is that additional pay or hiring someone new are direct financial costs to the company. But for salaried employees, a couple extra days of PTO costs the company basically nothing, especially if the office is generally slow (as often happens in December).
          That said, if you’re going to do this, you need to frame it as *extra* days of PTO, not to say “yeah, just don’t use your PTO”. The former comes across as a reward/bonus for hard work; the latter comes across as someone skirting the rules.

          1. always in email jail*

            I wonder if he’s teleworking while gone? I could see arranging something like that if an employee HAD to go visit family, but was also on a deadline and willing to work while they sat in their mom’s house or wherever.

            1. OhNo*

              I was wondering if he’s supposed to be teleworking while he’s gone. I’ve definitely known a couple people who frame “working from home” as “free day off!!” without ever realizing how wrong they are.

              (And that’s why that workplace stopped allowing people to work from home. Surprise!)

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Okay, I agree Joseph these things are real possibilities. The next step is to be transparent. “Bob worked extra hours so he is getting extra time off.” And offer everyone the same opportunity where practical.
            But don’t keep it a secret, hide it in a closet and give it to some people but not other people. I know, “but maybe other people don’t have extra work”, sure that makes sense. So as a courtesy let everyone know that this option is available to them also when opportunity presents.

      2. Stellaaaaa*

        I get this as a reality, but I’m not a fan of making arrangements that people can’t then be honest about. If you know it would upset the other employees, rethink the idea.

        1. AW*

          I was having dinner with friends and this came up. One of them wanted to do half days remotely for a week in order to help take care of a seriously ill relative (they live a few hours away). They said he could but that he had to keep this arrangement a secret.

          So now instead of being able to spend a week helping their relative, he’s only taking two full days of PTO.

          Being asked to keep it secret made it seem like he was asking for something unreasonable and/or they were breaking a rule and he’d get in trouble if it was caught.

      3. TootsNYC*

        Or, *do* go around telling people.

        As a manager, I’ve said, “Jane isn’t in today; she was here really late two nights last week, so she’s got a day off.” It doesn’t hurt me to let my team know that I take care of my people when they go above and beyond.

    4. Happy Cynic*

      Our office has a fairly lax PTO policy, and we’re allowed to “go negative” (esp around the holidays.) One co-worker has gone really into the red, but he telecommutes, comes in extra hours, I understand he has a legitimate health issue, and he’s great at his job – so I don’t worry.

      It’s possible the co-worker here has any kind of alternate arrangement, or might be fudging details for any personal reason. Or he might be outright lying just to get a rise. Ask gently, tread lightly, and don’t assume anything.

  18. PX*

    So, genuinely curious regarding OP1’s situation: how else is a company supposed to properly test peoples behaviour and response times to emergency scenarios if they announce beforehand its a drill? If you know its a drill, you respond differently, thus undermining the whole point of testing how people would genuinely respond.

    I dont know if this is a cultural thing (I’m in Europe) but I’ve had multiple occasions of unannounced fire drills in the two offices I’ve worked at (one of which was at a location with a few thousand people and a strong health and safety culture) and it was never a big deal, just a bit of extra (usually cold!) excitement to the day.

    For something like an active shooter scenario, I would say a better option might be announcing that a drill will take place within a given time frame in the future so that people are aware it might happen and not freak out, but I’m a little surprised at the vehemence of responses here.

    1. Undine*

      Are you testing behavior or training behavior? Having a drill announced in advance is like a dry run or a dress rehearsal. For example, a fire drill can be a test of equipment, or to ensure everyone can find the stairwells and knows where to meet. Walking through once without stress or surprise makes it easier to do the right thing if it really happens. It’s a good idea to schedule this so every one gets practice and training without the element of surprise. It’s also true that fire alarms often go off without a fire, and people take them in stride and often don’t even leave the building. An intruder drill is much less common — I’ve never had one. I agree you could say something like, there will be a drill next week, but not to warn people at all only trains them to panic.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This–you need to consciously practice a strategy in order to learn it. Then when you need it, ideally it will kick in. Instructions should be given beforehand, too.

        1. Teclatrans*

          Yes. Now, if the threat level is super-high I can see adding in a drill where you are testing responses, but it seems like that would come after multiple “train responses” drills, plus an understanding)/expectation that there will be mock emergencies, plus lots of support before and after. The only place I see this being applicable is in training first-responders or others who will need highly-trained reflexes (and whose work is likely to keep those reflexes toned).

          I think this was a good question to ask, though, because it highlights an all-too-common misconception about drills for the bulk of us.

          I suppose some people might think the first surprise drill is a good way to demonstrate to everyone that they need to pay attention to training drills in the future (see? you totally would have died!), but I doubt there are many of us who actually think we are prepared for an active shooter situation.

          1. Joseph*

            I doubt there are many of us who actually think we are prepared for an active shooter situation.
            And ironically, someone who actually IS prepared for a real active shooter situation would be the exact kind of person who would need to know it’s a drill. Why? Because proper action in a real active shooter situation can involve a lot of actions you *don’t* want people to actually perform in a drill – calling 9-1-1, escaping by any means possible, shooting first, and so on.

    2. Cupquake*

      I think there is a difference, at least in America, between fire drills and active shooter drills. When I was in high school, for instance, we would have unannounced fire, tornado, and earthquake drills, because it was pretty easy to tell that wasn’t a real situation. Active shooter (I think we called them intruder drills maybe?) were different. There was a code said over the intercom if it was a real even and a different code for a drill, and drills were always announced. This was also because I went to high school when most of the student body had some kind of cell phone, and would text their parents. The threat of an active shooter is a lot scarier than a natural disaster or a fire is, and people react differently to them.

      1. Rob Lowe can't read*

        I work at a public elementary school. Fire drills are always unannounced, but for the first one of the year they let us know what week it’s going to happen. Lockdown drills are announced ahead of time to teachers (i.e. “It’s going to be on Tuesday the eleventeenth at 9:30”) and we’re supposed to discuss it with the kids ahead of time. I believe a note is also sent home before and after, but I’m not certain about that.

    3. AcademiaNut*

      I think the difference is that a fire drill does not involve the possibility of violence. The alarm goes off, you exit the building in an orderly fashion. And, even if there is a fire, in a properly setup building, the odds are very good that everyone will get out safely. Most people I know are startled when the fire alarm goes off, but not panicked, and can react appropriately.

      For something like an active shooter drill, if it *were* a real situation, things like jumping out a second story window, or braining the attacker with a fire extinguisher, (or, for that matter, shooting them before they shoot you) are appropriate responses, but also things that should never, ever be done in a drill situation. Not to mention the much higher chance, in a real situation, of people dying horrible deaths. So it’s much more likely that people will panic and do something dangerous, and people being injured or even killed as a direct result of the drill. Or, on a smaller scale, people phoning 911 and tying up emergency services, or phoning loved ones for a chance to say good-bye.

      The purpose of a drill is not to test how people would react in a real emergency. It’s to train them in the correct procedure when they’re *not* scared and panicking, so that if it actually does happen, they’ll respond automatically and correctly.

      1. Mimmy*

        Thank you for this reply – I had a similar question to PX’s. This makes a lot of sense. At least with a fire or tornado drill, you know almost instantly that it’s not real. With an active shooter / intruder, you DON’T know because even if you don’t hear anything, the person may be slinking around looking for more victims. I’d be scared out of my mind!

    4. Edith*

      The point of a drill isn’t to test people’s reaction. It’s a dress rehearsal to help people translate their training into real-life action. It’s one thing to know you’re supposed to lock this door and turn off these lights and make this phone call, but outcomes are better if the real thing isn’t the first time you’ve gone through the motions.

    5. AnonForThis*

      Never had an active shooter drill but we used to have bomb drills. An actual bomb threat ended up changing evacuation protocols – the drill used to be “ignore your bags and leave” but it became “get all your stuff and leave” after the army had to check 1000+ school bags and gym bags for bombs :-P

      I also went to one of the few UK schools (UK, so that means 11-18 years old) to face an active shooter style threat – from what I remember there were no new drill protocols, but afterwards everyone took the standard, unannounced fire drills much more seriously.

        1. msmorlowe*

          Not 100% on this as I’m from Ireland, but in countries where the police force isn’t routinely armed, it’s common for sections of the army to respond to threats of this kind as our police force isn’t equipped or trained to handle this.

          1. AnonForThis*

            In Northern Ireland the police have carried guns forever, and army bomb squads were always the ones who dealt with it. Police would attend to help with crowd control etc but they aren’t bomb disposal experts

        2. sstabeler*

          I think it’s more that in most countries, bombs are rare enough that EOD is exclusively military. ( for that matter, there are some countries that don’t have EOD at all, and send to other countries for EOD on the rare occasions it comes up.)

          In short, the reason the Army turned up is that it’s the Army who have the bomb squad.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think part of this could also be about the size of the country and whether there’s an active military presence. Outside of bases and the National Guard, we don’t really have an activated domestic army on standby (but, our police forces have become increasingly militarized, so perhaps that’s part of the trade-off).

    6. Ze Writer*

      I made a comment about this in another thread, but basically, because so many peeple get injured in real evacuations, it’s not ethical to create a panic. People have died or been injured, and companies have been sued for badly run drills.

      The ethical way that researchers test under panic conditions is to ask volunteers to come in to a building (or a plane, bus, or train), sit down, and then get out as fast as they can when the ’emergency’ starts – with a small financial reward for the people who get out fastest, to make people compete to win. Then you put in cameras and trackers and look for the pinch points and troublespots where people slow down and bunch up, or get trapped or injured. Then use that to come up with a better evacuation plan, widen some doorways, change signage or routes out or whatever.

      The point of a drill, though, is NOT to panic people. It should be boring! People literally cannot learn when they’re scared – your brain switches off non-essential systems (like learning or remembering new skills) when it’s in emergency fight-flight-freeze mode. Boring is better!

      Drills are more like building muscle memory: repetition, repetition, repetition. Ideally, you should have practiced so often that you can evacuate your building like you’re walking around your own home, without having to stop and think at any point.

        1. Mookie*

          You owe VioletEMT an apology, Ze Writer. Nobody should have to think about Kindergarten Cop ever again.

          1. Kate*

            As a kid, I was OBSESSED with that movie. We rented it so many times from the video store that I wore out the tape on the VHS.

            1. The Strand*

              I used to live not far from the hotel where Arnold and his partner are based.
              People don’t make so many pilgrimages there, like they do for the Goonies house, though.

    7. Elysian*

      I felt the same way. While I agree announcing would have been better, I am surprised by the vehemence of people’s response on this one. Having unannounced fire drills is common-place, I can see someone thinking his is no different. I would call it a mistake, but not the shocking negligence people seem to think.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        As many have noted, a fire drill is world’s away from an active shooter drill. Making people think their lives are legitimately in mortal danger (active shooter = someone coming to kill you all) for the sake of a surprise test is horrible.

        1. AnonForThis*

          Yeah, I think people’s outrage is fully justified though my concern would be a dangerous response from panicked staff, rather than trauma.

          For context I’m northern Irish and genuine bomb scares/shootings were an everyday part of life. We had bomb and gunman drills in my house which we had to use for real. Schools and offices didn’t always evacuate on bomb scares because well they had work to do! Bomb disposal robots were a fairly common sight.

          I don’t imagine many people from here of that age being panicked by an active shooter alarm even though we’ve never had that exact scenario here. I have heard stories though of people from here staying calm and saving lives, even on 911.

          I wonder if there’s something about normalising violence – not approving it but understanding it’s a possibility. Most Americans will never have to deal with an active shooter so the possibility is terrifying, but to us it’s more “here we go again”. Not that that’s better…

          Thinking out loud to myself really!

          1. Gaia*

            I actually disagree with your last statement. While ‘most’ Americans will not have to deal with an active shooter, we are currently the most likely to deal with it and it is a very real possibility given how often it happens. I understand you have a different context being from Northern Ireland but perhaps our cultures just react differently to the violence because of where the violence stems from?

            1. Anna*

              Being in a country most likely to have active shooters is not the same as being likely to experience it. Yes, in the United States we are more likely to see something like that happen, but that’s a different statistical calculation than the likelihood of it happening where we work or go to school.

            2. AnonForThis*

              Literally every single person I know over the age of 30 has either been the victim of a terrorist attack, had a close family member/friend been a victim, carried out terrorist related crimes… Or all of the above

              I’d need to check the maths but I think the Omagh bomb killed a higher percentage of our population than 911 did of America

              That’s not the case with active shooters in the USA (though it might be with gun crime in general? I dunno)

              This isn’t a “our terrorism is worse than yours” competition because the circumstances are different and can’t be compared but if you have actual bombs in your office or school or house, if you grew up needing to get searched to go into a department store, if you find other countries airport security scary because it’s so lax… I think in GENERAL the “threat” of that kind of violence isn’t frightening.

              It’s not GOOD – as well as being “calm under fire” a lot of people here find the normal world difficult. Lots of people went through hell and can’t adapt to not having that stress. Lots of ex police have breakdowns/PTSD…I know one guy who was blown up twice and shot once, 100% fine, but became cripplingly depressed when the violence stopped (slowed) and he retired.

              Sorry for the off topic essay! Just interesting to me how different cultures produce different people

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Thank you for posting about the guy with crippling depression. I have a couple friends that seem to have to be on the front lines. If they are not involved in a something heavy duty then they are thinking about it or going to simulations, etc. I am not sure how to say it– it’s like being on the edge is critical to life. If they cannot be in an edgy situation, then life falls apart for them.

                I did not know that others were seeing similar things. Thanks.

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        The thing is we know there are going to be test fire drills at some point, so it doesn’t create the same sort of panic as an active shooter drill would.

        The very least the company should have done is let people know there would be a drill at some point and provided an action plan.

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I can see how the HR person might have come up with this plan, but their reaction after it upset people is troubling. Rather than “you’re right, that was a mistake and we won’t do that again” the response was sort of a “I’m sorry you felt that way” non-apology, suggesting that either they don’t see the problem with this and might do it again, or do see the problem but are more interested in saving face defensively than in taking care of the employees.

      4. LBK*

        As others have said, I don’t think it’s comparable. For one thing, most people have been doing fire drills since grade school, so you know the “drill” (sorry for the pun). Active shooter drills are a much more tense situation, people aren’t as accustomed to how to handle them (in the letter this was the first one) and there’s more likelihood of things spiraling out of control if people don’t know it’s real in a way that people wouldn’t usually do for a fire (calling the cops, calling loved ones, calling news crews, posting on social media, etc).

        1. Elysian*

          Maybe my idea of the severity is tinted by the fact that I have been doing active shooter drills since probably middle school (which was just after Columbine for me). We didn’t usually call them “active shooter” — we called them “Code Red” or something, and it was the same for bomb scares and other high-alarm responses — but we never had notice and it was always unannounced to us, though I think the teachers knew when it was just a drill and when it happened. As a student I certainly didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. We had one or two real scares when I was in school and the only way we knew they were real and not a drill was they lasted longer. Either way, like I said, I can see this happening and while its a mistake, I don’t think its the “OMG fire that HR person!” level of severity. But perhaps that’s just my sensitivity.

          1. LBK*

            But the teachers surely knew, and you were prepared for what you were supposed to do. Throwing a drill at an entire office with no one knowing *and* with there apparently being no plan for what people are supposed to do is a recipe for chaos.

          2. Teclatrans*

            I think it was irresponsible for the school to not tell you if it was real or not, but I think this may point to the real reason HR Directed, Principals, and others run secret drills: they fear you won’t comply with them unless you think it might be real. (At least, I can see thinking that high school students would just loll around and not practice real and important skills and deciding to trick them instead.) But I have to wonder if that didn’t create a bit of the Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome for kids like you — does that desensitisation mean that you would come alive ans fully participate in a drill, or do you always wonder if it might just be fake, so why go all in?

            (Also, in terms of this discussion, in your first drill were your teachers panicked because they thought it was real? If not, then likely you guys were picking up on clear signals that it was safe, while you learned over and over what to do and where to go, in preparation for the day that all hell broke loose and you got to rely on that ingrained knowledge amidst the general panic.)

          3. One of the Sarahs*

            I don’t understand how you had one code for bomb scares, fires and active shooters though – all of those require different responses. EG bomb scares you get everyone out, and to the same safe place so you can count them and make sure everyone’s there – active shooter you don’t all go the same way, and from what I understand involves barricading?

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Yeah, I’m not understanding this either. For bomb scares and fire drills the assumption was the problem was in the building and would STAY in the building. So we left the building.
              But an active shooter can just keep following the group.

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’ve had active shooter drills since I was a little kid, and what HR did literally made me gasp in horror. I’ve certainly participated in unannounced drills (i.e., we didn’t know when it would happen), but our teachers told us it was a drill. And I’ve been on campus when we had an active shooter threat and a bomb threat, but we knew it was the real deal precisely because no one told us it was a drill.

            There’s also a difference between school-based active shooter drills and workplace active shooter drills, in part because kids aren’t allowed to carry guns at school, but in some states, adults can carry in the work place. The chances of inviting a really bad reaction (e.g., someone gets killed or seriously injured) during a drill also seems to increase in the workplace context.

      5. plain_jane*

        I thought that unannounced fire drills were unannounced to the general population, but the floor fire wardens and other senior people would be told.

        Frex there was one time I had injured my knee and the walk down several flights of stairs was possible but would have been very painful (and potentially would have slowed down my recovery). The receptionist let me know that there was going to be a drill sometime after 1pm that afternoon, so I could take a late lunch and have my laptop with me.

        1. Kate*

          depending on building size that’s true. In a 40+ story office tower I worked in the semi-annual drills were as much about making sure that the people who were incapable of walking down up to 40 flights of stairs were on the “rescue” list and knew where the cargo elevator was. They’d go there and the firefighters would check them off the list as accounted for. The rest of the office had a designated meeting spot about a block away where attendance was also taken (and bosses were expected to know on their team was on vacation). Warning others ahead of time would get you in real trouble mostly because people then took long lunches at a nearby pub and were unaccounted for, throwing off the metrics they used to indicate a successful drill (everyone accounted for).

          1. Elizabeth West*

            One place I worked had buttons in the stairwells you could press for the firefighters to come get you. So if you couldn’t get downstairs for some reason, you’d go to the button and they would know to come find you. We had assigned spots in the parking lot where we were supposed to go afterward. They appointed evac managers from the employees who were supposed to grab a colored flag and an emergency backpack–and they took roll after the drills. I thought it was an excellent plan.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Years ago, before active shooters, we had a sign out sheet. If you failed to sign out and firefighters had to look for you then you might not have a job later on. The company would say, “Don’t make the firefighters look for you.”

      6. EmmaLou*

        I immediately put myself in the OP’s position and teared right up. First thing I’d do is call my husband to tell him he was the best thing that ever happened to me on this earth and I loved him. So many things could have gone wrong with this that wouldn’t with a fire drill. Someone harming someone else thinking they are the shooter. Heart attacks, strokes, panic attacks. What do you do when you think you might be about to die? And why on earth put your employees through that?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Multiply this by several husbands who jump on the highway and drive 110 mph to get their wives, what could possibly go wrong here. sigh.

      7. aebhel*

        Let me put it this way: I work about two blocks away from the site of one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. If my workplace did something this monumentally stupid, every single person in my building would believe that they might be about to die. More than one of us carry concealed weapons. I don’t, but I do work right next to a second-story window, and you bet your ass I would climb out it and risk breaking my ankle (or worse). Something like this has a very real risk of injuring or killing people. If someone runs a drill that is likely to result in injury or emotional trauma, that is absolutely shocking negligence and they should be fired post-haste.

    8. Jwal*

      I agree with the others regarding the fact that the two types of events have different impacts and so should be handled differently. I also think a part of it’s a US/Europe thing.

      When there was that post the other week about the person being upset that the office didn’t evacuate during a fire alarm that also confused me, because over here standard practice here (UK) is to wait to be told to evacuate. But 9/11 etc would mean that people need to think about things differently. Similarly here, the likelihood of someone actually having a gun is very low, whereas the more recent occurrences of school shootings etc mean that people in the US have a different instinctive reaction.

      (btw this isn’t intended to be saying anything about gun control, just that things are probably different when you have to take that into account!)

      1. TL -*

        Here, the standard to evacuate for the fire alarm has been in place long before 9/11 – if it goes off, you’re supposed to leave the building.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I’ve lived in NYC for a long time, working in office towers.

          We evacuate to the elevator lobby. Where we get a little speech about where to go if it had been a real fire, etc. We don’t evacuate the building.

          If it’s a real fire, we don’t evacuate the building==not in an office tower. You go three or four floors away and wait for instructions. The firefighters don’t need to fight through a stream of tons of people fleeing, esp. because the odds are that the fire is pretty small. NYC office towers are constructed to stop fire between floors; they have sprinkler systems and smoke detectors out the wazoo.

          1. Natalie*

            Yep, whether to evacuate in a fire is more about the size and design of the building than it is about what region you live in. In a typical fire, an office building is quite likely to burn to the ground and it will take a while. The mistake on 9/11 was not recognizing that it was clearly not a typical fire.

      2. Clewgarnet*

        Interesting – I’m also in the UK and standard practice at all businesses I’ve worked at has been to evacuate as soon as the fire alarm goes off, even when we know that it’s going off because of the helium balloons that have been setting it off all morning. That’s all been in buildings of three or few storeys, so I wonder if that makes a difference?

        Incidentally, the one time we didn’t evacuate was at school, when the teacher decided that because he hadn’t been told there was a drill, we’d all stay inside. He hadn’t been told there was a drill because it was a genuine fire.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          Same here I’m in the UK and when the Alarm goes off we don’t wait to be told to get out.

        2. Gerta*

          Grew up in the UK, worked there, never waited for instructions to evacuate in a fire. If the building’s on fire, you leave! That included a building 15 storeys high and I’m pretty sure was the same for our taller neighbours too.
          We did also do a bomb drill in my London workplace on one occassion – that was shelter in place unless you were told to evacuate, because initial assumption was that the bomb would be outside and they didn’t want people rushing out. They prepared in advance by marking the places we were meant to go. In a mostly glass building, that basically meant behind a proper wall so that if a bomb went off outside, you wouldn’t be hurt by flying bits of windows / shrapnel.
          Fortunately I’ve never been anywhere that active shooter drills are necessary….

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Earthquake drills are the same–the risk of being hit by falling debris if you rush outside is very high. You’re supposed to get under a sturdy piece of furniture and wait until the shaking stops.

        3. Jwal*

          Interesting. In school and in uni and all the places I’ve worked it’s basically been to be alert and wait to be told. That said, I’ve worked in places where the alarm changes from “we have been alerted” to “there actually is a fire so leave now”.

          1. Teclatrans*

            This is fascinating. That seems like a lot of faith in the fire being elsewhere, and folks in charge having a good pipeline of information flow.

        4. Observer*

          This is both hysterically funny and utterly horrifying at the same time.

          I hope the teacher got fired!

        5. A Person*

          UK too, I remember being told to not leave anything and get straight out. We had the occasional drills too.

          Unfortunately in High School there was a spate of kids deliberately setting off the alarm. I remember one time particularly clearly, I was crammed in with 25 or so other kids in a tiny classroom and the teacher was going over gradients again and I was finally understanding it then the goddamn fire alarm went off for about the fifth time that month. The teacher’s face was freaking puce. We must have waited about 30 seconds to see if it was going to be shut off before we all trooped outside again.

          We were treated to a very angry assembly a few days later where the very same teacher painstakingly went over all the cumulative time lost with an old fashioned flip chart. The false alarms stopped, but it seemed like everyone in my year would hold off slightly before evacuating due to a non-planned drill from that point on.

          1. sstabeler*

            at my old High school, one jackass set the fire alarm off- on purpose, without there being an actual fire- during a thunderstorm. As I remember it, they were lucky to have been caught by the staff, because the mood of the other students was, um, cross.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This happened so frequently during finals that at both high school and during my frosh year of college people were notified of the criminal penalties (and fines) incurred for pulling a false fire alarm.

        6. Teclatrans*

          O.o Clewgarnet, those are some ace reasoning skills your teacher had. I…he…I mean, he had the information available to him that this *wasn’t* a planned drill. I suspect toxic workplace syndrome.

        7. One of the Sarahs*

          Same here – everywhere I’ve worked is “if it’s not stopped in 10 seconds, it’s not an alarm test, get out” (I’ve worked public and private sector and temped a lot too, in different businesses.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I heard reports that some people were told not to evacuate the WTC. But some of them decided “Screw this, I don’t care if I lose my job,I’m out of here.” I read one story of a person who must have intuitively realized to get out. They ran out and where half way home before others even realized they needed to leave.
        I can’t imagine. I just can’t imagine.

    9. Not So NewReader*

      Your first sentence is the kicker. The point of the drill is not to test people’s behavior. The point of the drill it to practice and train for a dangerous event.

      I don’t think we need any more human behavior tests, people will do people-y things and we pretty much know that. It’s getting people to take the correct steps is what needs to be worked on.

    10. Susan*

      I work at a place that has extensive measures for emergency preparedness, and we have drills not only to teach employees how to respond in emergencies (training drills), but also to test our response to emergencies (graded drills). There is a whole department of people whose jobs are mainly to plan these drills. We also have heavy security, and the security team has its own drills, including drills in which a military team attempts to break in to test our security team’s ability to stop them.

      In every single one of these drills, everyone involved knows that it is a drill. In fact, during drills, we are required to start and end every announcement and phone call by saying, “This is a drill,” to ensure that everyone is aware that it’s a drill so they don’t do something that could compromise our normal operations or endanger someone’s safety. You can’t test how people will respond in an emergency unless and until it actually happens, but there are ways you can test people’s emergency response skills without putting people in danger, and what they did in letter #1 is not it.

    11. Gaia*

      PX, it might be an issue of culture difference. In the US we are much more likely to experience an actual active shooter situation than in Europe. I would be furious if it wasn’t announced as a drill. It is very different than a fire drill (in which case I only need to go outside, I don’t need to worry that the next person I see might have a gun and be bent on killing me).

    12. Observer*

      Two things. One is that unannounced drills are not all the useful in testing behavior. Furthermore, to the extent that you get some real information, it’s not terribly useful information, for a number of reasons. On the other hand, if your aim is to TRAIN people, springing surprises on them is not useful. And, in fact, it can be counterproductive.

      Secondly, there is a huge difference between something like a fire drill and an active shooter drill. Active shooter drills have a far, far higher stress quotient than fire drills. They also have a FAR higher potential cost. Between the possibility of emergency services being called out to the drill (potentially taking them away from genuine emergencies), people trying to defend themselves from innocent people, people making dangerous attempts to escape what they believe is certain death and calls to others who then flock to the site of the (non) emergency, there is a LOT that can really go wrong in a significant way. Not the case with a fire drill.

      1. fposte*

        This is really well said. The point of a drill is to make people safer. This one made them less safe.

    13. Tinker*

      The thing is that really testing how people would genuinely respond could get messy.

      Either your unannounced drill does not contain an actor representing the active shooter, in which case the parts of the response protocol that involve responding to the presence of same are not tested, or it does (possibly accidentally) — in which case the parts of the response protocol that involve smashing them in the head with a fire extinguisher until they stop moving might be.

      That’s a bit more excitement than I care for in my work day, personally.

    14. FD*

      Think about this in another way. Let’s say you’re getting ready to do something stressful–a major competition, a big public speech, etc.

      You start out by practicing it over and over in ‘controlled’ situations, right? The athlete does the same routine over and over in private with a coach. The speaker runs through their speech dozens of times with friends, colleagues, and on their own.

      You do it that way so that when you’re under pressure, what you do is automatic–you know the words to your speech / how to do your routine, and the familiarity gives you a focus that lets you do your best work. You don’t start out under maximum pressure because the stressful situation (doing a public event / being judged) will distract you from learning what you should do, and you’re more likely to make mistakes.

      That’s the point of drills. You are supposed to do them so that if there is an emergency, you don’t have to think about what to do; you already know.

    15. zora*

      Also, in the case of unannounced fire drills, the drill might be unannounced, but in every place I have ever worked, the information about how and where to exit in the case of a fire has ALWAYS been posted and distributed in some way before the fire drill actually occurred. And, in California, same thing about instructions for earthquakes before earthquake drills.

      The actual response for employees would be very different in an active shooter situation, so at the very least, that information has to be explained and distributed to all employees BEFORE the drill, even if the drill itself is unannounced. I still think that’s not really sufficient, and the full procedure of training people for an active shooter incident should be extensive as other commenters have described above, but that is another way the fire drill and the active shooter drill are in reality different, even though they are both called drills.

  19. Rebooting*

    OP1, your workplace is being horrifically out of line. I can’t imagine dealing with that sort of thing.

    Actually, I can. I have generalised anxiety disorder; judging by how I respond to lesser stresses, I’d be useless for the rest of the day, and possibly the next day. Going home would be a very high possibility.

    My best friend? She was in a school shooting. Something like this would put her under for -weeks-. I can’t believe an HR manager thought this was anything remotely like a good idea.

    1. Pearl*

      My best friend also has gun-related trauma. When she was a kid her family suffered a home invasion and she was held at gunpoint. She has anxiety issues in general now, but the threat of an active shooter would definitely knock her out of commission for a while. She might not even be able to return to that workplace, especially if HR’s reaction was “I thought your untrained, surprised reaction of a panic attack would be more useful to reinforce than having a pre-arranged drill with specific guidelines to follow.”

  20. hbc*

    OP5: Please don’t. If some of those vendors worked with your boss, then it’s fine to let them know that s/he’s leaving, but otherwise, it shouldn’t be on their radar.

    I can’t convey how hard we roll our eyes at the customers who ask us for donations or try to get us to attend (and pay exorbitant prices for) their vacation golf boondoggle. You will lose credibility, and that matters when the vendor can choose whether or not to believe that the shipment was damaged before getting to you, or to be nice and round down the number of hours on a project, or to waive the late payment fee.

    1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      Heh. I laughed at the question and did a hard eye roll also. If we ever get backed into having to contribute to something that is so not our responsibility, we *absolutely* take the money back elsewhere, first chance we get, and a little extra for the aggravation fee. Like, we say that with glee, “Here’s the aggravation fee!”

      It’s not tacky to let any vendors (with whom the retiring employee has worked closely) know about the impending retirement. They might want to send a gift or make sure they extend warm wishes. It might be nice to invite close contacts to the retirement party, on the company’s dime.

      We send a lovely retirement gift to the retiree when we know of the event.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      And tons of vendors would see “donation” and read “blackmail to get future contracts”

    3. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I also have never understood “donations” for a private party at a company. It was one thing when our non-profit client asked us for swag for their auction, but I can’t imagine a for-profit client asking us to contribute to a party.

      However a caveat, it’s a bit frustrating when non-profits have asked us for a “donation to XYZ chaity,” when it’s stuff for their staff holiday party or because a staff member had something happen and the non-profit would like free football tickets to give to the staffer. One, those things often take away tax-liability and are not being used for the non-profit.

      1. Sherry*

        Asking for gifts is pretty common in my industry. We ask our vendors, and we have customers who ask us. Staff Christmas parties are the main gifting occasions. We our customers ask us, we run it by accounts receivable to make sure they’re in good standing, and we give a little extra to our best customers.

    4. Brett*

      When I was doing volunteer work for a tech non-profit while working for government, I was amazed how many people said, “Why don’t you ask to sponsor our event”? It seemed far too much like extortion to do that to them.
      Instead, if the vendor was a company who was a good fit for the event, I would find a third party connected to the vendor and the non-profit and let them inquire. (Even this was not really needed, since by getting a large base of volunteers, it was pretty likely we had an employee of the company in our volunteer ranks and they would take the initiative to ask anyway.)

  21. Zip Silver*

    #4) HR noticed that nobody in my department has used PTO is the past 5 years (I’ve only been here a year). Yeah, everybody’s taken vacations, but our EVP kept track of it on a spreadsheet and didn’t care how much time we took, so long as it was covered by another member of the department, and the PTO didn’t roll into the next year. Well, former EVP took a COO position with a competitor, and then the new EVP comes in and discovers that we’ve apparently not been taking vacation, and now they’ve been on top of us for it. Not as great as it used to be, but it was a perk that somebody with my job title in another part of the country didn’t get to have, and HR is all about being fair, I suppose.

    1. The Bread burglar*

      He takes time off to see family? Maybe he has a dying relative or something of that nature that he is getting compassionate time off?

      Without knowing more about the other employees situation its too difficult to say.

  22. memoryisram*

    #2: Does this office have a schedule? If no, it might be a good idea to start. Perhaps you can book times?

    1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      LW said they book the office when they know in advance that they will have a call involving private info, but that things often come up without that much advance warning.

  23. Lanon*

    #1 Is ridiculously irresponsible for a company to do.

    Any amount of horrible things can happen as a result ranging from just severe stress on everyone (productivity for the day/week is gone at least) to giving people PTSD because you didn’t bother announcing your drill.

    WTF is that and what HR person believed that was an appropiate thing to do.

  24. Anon Accountant*

    OP1 Please escalate this as necessary and you absolutely aren’t overreacting. Anyone who tells you are overreacting should be ignored. The potential for injury or severe consequences from this poorly run drill is too great. Along with people may not believe a true emergency to be legit next time and will think “oh another drill”.

  25. Jo*

    I can understand the thinking that they didn’t want people to know it was a drill, but it would have been better to let people know there would be a drill in the next week, or at least make sure everyone is aware that drills may take place without warning.

    It sounds like this was a pretty horrible experience for you, OP, so hope you are ok now.

    1. Mookie*

      Yep. The process towards building and trouble-shooting towards an effective contingency plan requires actors to learn, develop, and practice habits consciously and be prepared to observe the simulation as well as participate in it while taking mental notes in anticipation of debriefing afterwards. Doing this without warning just slows progress down and risks everyone’s well-being because such an emergency can happen at any time and no one should, figuratively, be flubbing their lines or improvising unnecessarily if and when the real thing happens.

    2. always in email jail*

      Even with a “no-notice drill” you tell people AT THE TIME OF THE DRILL that it’s a drill. For example, if you have a company alerting system you would text everyone “EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE there is an active shooter in building A. please take appropriate precautions, including sheltering in place. EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE” or something along those lines. It would come as a surprise and they would still have to act on the spot, but with a clearer head that will allow them to give valuable feedback afterwards that can be used to improve the current plans.

      Also, there’s no point in conducting a drill unless they recently updated their active shooter protocols and educated employees on them. If you haven’t bothered to train staff on a plan, you already know the failure point and a drill is a waste of time. It’s supposed to be to test something specific, ie could everyone hear the intercom announcement in the conference rooms? Did everyone remember what to do? did the employee alert system reach people within an adequate amount of time? Did those out of the office receive notification to not return to the office? etc.

      1. fposte*

        Yes! People aren’t going to learn the protocol in the midst of an adrenaline rush. Why do fields keep trying to reinvent the wheel on these things? That’s how you get square wheels.

    1. Baska*

      I was going to say this as well. I know it’s not technically the OP’s boss, but we’re already into the “most WTF moment” of 2017 and we’re only three days in.

  26. AnonNurse*

    OP #1 – that’s just AWFUL! Not announcing it was a drill is completely wrong. I’m sorry that happened to you. Something like that should never happen again.

    A few weeks ago my employer held a disaster level event drill (done in healthcare) and of course told everyone present that it was a drill. Unfortunately the call that goes out to off duty employees saying “disaster level event has happened, please contact your director right away and prepare to come to employer building ASAP if possible” went out without any “this is a drill” included. I was at about a 9 out of 10 on my stress meter due to studying for final exams and about lost it when I got the message and thought I might really be needed. Within 2 minutes we got a “this was a drill” message and text but that didn’t stop the original mini heart attack. That wasn’t even live and I still was very unhappy about it.

  27. K.*

    I know someone who survived a workplace shooting. Had she been in OP #1’s workplace, she legitimately might have had a heart attack from fear. And I am certain that, once it was revealed that it was a drill, she would quit on the spot – and in my opinion she’d be right to do it.

  28. A Good Jess*

    OP 1 – You are not overreacting, that is terrible. I work in a government facility and they are always VERY clear when it is a drill, though they call it an exercise.

    First, we’ll get some warning of when it will be, even if it’s just “sometime next week” to preserve a bit of surprise. That notification will also discuss what to expect. For example, sometimes a designated person role-plays the shooter, so they will tell us this and note that we will hear recorded sounds of gunfire. If it is a joint exercise with first responders, they will also tell us to expect groups of police in heavy gear.

    The warning will remind us of key points from our training and provide a link to some training resources that describes what we should do in the situation. It will also lay out ground rules for the exercise– sometimes we are allowed to physically attack the role player if needed, either by throwing some items or by tackling him.

    During the actual drill/exercise, every communication will start with “EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE,” including the various warning systems. Even the role player himself will yell “EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE” before he plays the gunfire recording. The role player is followed around by a monitor wearing a bright safety vest who is also yelling “EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE.” The monitor also carries information cards and hands them out to people who did not respond appropriately, like people just sitting at their desks.

    The upshot is, all of this is planned out well in advance and we all know what’s going on. Whoever ran your drill is a nitwit.

  29. Tendell*

    OP #1–Yikes. I was just reading about a similar situation: Kathy Lee v. the West Kern Water District. Managers in an office decided to test how the female employees (!) would handle a robbery, so they sent the male employees away (!!) on various pretexts and one of them approached the office cashier wearing a mask and bearing a note that claimed he had a gun and wanted money. While this was happening, one of the managers (a woman) stood outside and kept customers from going into the office.

    Apparently the teller handled it well, but unsurprisingly she was terrified and traumatized by the experience, and it only seemed to dawn on the managers that this might have been a bad idea when she failed to perk up and get right back to work. Cue the erasing of the video footage and shredding of the threatening note.

    It does seem as though one of the four managers (male) was under the impression that the employees would be informed beforehand that it was a drill. He took responsibility for the incident and apologized. The other three seemed to be fine with the idea mostly because–well, nobody else was objecting, so it must have been okay.

    The teller sued, and won $360k.

    1. LBK*

      Wait, they specifically only tested the female employees, and just assumed the male employees would know what to do? That makes the whole thing even more screwed up.

      1. Myrin*

        It sure plays with some nasty stereotypes like women being fragile and in need of help at all times, but especially during emergencies where hysterical screaming fits ensue; and men being naturally level-headed protectors even when having a gun waved in their faces.


        (Apart from this being obviously bullshit and explicitly going against at least my personal experience [never with something like a bank robbery, though, thank god!], I’m also firmly convinced that a lot of this “silent, stoic manly man” idea is very much a socialised thing that doesn’t really account for how a man actually feels. A man might feel like screaming his head off during a high-stress emergency situation but doesn’t actually do it because he’s been taught not to and then he might well have a heart attack because he wasn’t any less affected than anyone else, you just didn’t see it from the outside. End of tangent.)

      2. notgiven*

        DH knew a guy working in a bank, 20-25 years ago. He said every guy with a desk had a gun in one of their drawers.

    2. Amazed*

      Double WTF.

      First with the idea of ensuring that the only ones affected would be the females. And with the maintenance man coming in later and saying it was just a drill, I have to wonder if something similar didn’t happen to LW1 here. The maintenance man and at least one other employee knew; did the memo just happen to miss LW1?

      Second with the idea of testing it by, essentially, conducting the robbery itself!

  30. Trout 'Waver*

    OP #4, I’ve done some creative PTO accounting due to glitches in our inflexible PTO IT infrastructure. All aboveboard as advised by HR. It could be something simple like that, too. In addition to all the other reasons people have posted.

  31. Milla*

    I come from an office environment where it’s expected and considered polite to take all phone calls in the private office/ conference rooms. This is because everyone can hear everything if it’s taken at your cubicle desk. It’s possible this new employee is from a similar company and thinks she’s being polite by not subjecting her neighbors to her phone calls. Or she used to have a private office and hates her cube. Or she’s having troubles working because of noise from her neighbors. Or just needs to get up from her desk every once in a while.
    Anyways, it seems like you use the private office a lot and consider it proprietary to you, which it is not and which is not fair to others. Since you do have a number of private calls you need to make on a daily basis, either put the private office on the same booking system as the conference rooms and enforce the scheduling, or have a set time block, say from 10-11:30 or 4-5 everyday, where people expect you to be in the private office and know not to enter.

    1. Personal Phone Booth OP*

      I don’t believe I think of it as proprietary to me- if people are in there when I go to use it, I make other arrangements. Or if I know I need to have privacy for long periods of time I work from home so I am not hogging the office. In general, I think I am pretty mindful of not overusing it. However, if people are using it for reasons such as personal phone calls or just to get away from their cubes for a few minutes the majority of my coworkers will step out and move to a different area. She doesn’t seem to be courteous about it, she just dismisses me. We have several other areas where personal calls could be made away from the cubes. I appreciate your suggestions, though- I wish we did have a scheduler for the room, but we don’t even have one for the conference rooms.

  32. ilikeaskamanager*

    #1 OMG. Somebody needs to get fired over that. Not only was it so so so wrong for all the issues around employees, stress, fear, PTSD, and everything else, it also created an issue for 911 services, tying up the lines and maybe keeping a real emergency need from getting prompt assistance.

    1. Mockingjay*

      False alarms are quite a strain on municipalities’ emergency services – police, fire, and medical.

      At my last job, the Facilities Manager had to wait 2 months to schedule a fire drill after we moved into a new, much larger building. The city has grown rapidly and non-emergency functions such as drills and school visits have to be scheduled carefully to ensure there are no gaps in the city’s coverage.

      In my home town (next to the city), residents are charged $ for false alarms.

  33. Imaginary Number*

    #2: If your coworker is a new hire, it’s very likely that she doesn’t understand the reason you use it so often is because you have to. She probably assumes that it’s just a personal preference, so why shouldn’t she book it when it’s free on the calendar?

  34. M*


    Is there any way to add a non-speaker phone to the conference room? This would allow you more privacy without having the shared space to be needed so much. Having more than one place to make personal or private phone calls is an advantage, and your boss may appreciate your flexibility and problem-solving.

    1. Personal Phone Booth OP*

      This is a GREAT idea. It’s amazing no one in our office has come up with this yet! I will definitely bring this up with my manager.

      Thank you!

      1. Meg Murry*

        Or along the same lines, some type of “phone closets/phone booths” elsewhere? I’ve seen what are effectively glass phone booths (only with a chair or maybe a small table) in open or cubical office plans, so that employees that needed to take an extended call could go there and not interrupt their co-workers in the cube farm while not tying up the conference rooms.

  35. Arielle*

    I just want to say in defense of the employee and her personal phone calls, if she’s new there may be a ton of calls she needs to make regarding setting up insurance, getting prescriptions switched to new pharmacies, calling doctors’ offices, etc. I started my current job about six months ago and as it’s an open-plan office, there is literally nowhere with a door that closes to make a call except conference rooms. I spent a lot of time in the first 3-4 weeks roaming around the floor looking for a place to make medical-related calls, including once in the women’s shower room.

      1. Arielle*

        I accepted my current job sitting in my car – I scheduled the call for 5:15 (I was pretty sure they were calling with an offer) and then just fervently hoped all day that nothing happened to delay me getting out the door at 5. Now I have to park in a garage that’s a 10-15 minute walk across a park and a busy highway from the office, so taking mid-day calls in the car isn’t too feasible.

    1. Michele*

      If the employee is using her cell phone, she could use one of the conference rooms. She could also just ask someone if she can borrow their office to make a private call (I let people use mine as long as they ask). However, staking out the group office is unacceptable, especially for a new employee. It sounds from the letter as if she is hanging out in there.

  36. Is it Friday Yet?*

    OP2, how are you handling it when she is in the office and you need it? Because if you aren’t already, you still should knock, open the door, and ask that she take her call somewhere else.

    1. Personal Phone Booth OP*

      I usually knock and stick my head in and say I have a private XYZ call scheduled will you be long? She just waves her hand at me as to dismiss me. Its frustrating!

      1. fposte*

        Until you can try the whiteboard approach, I would be undismissed. Instead of saying “Will you be long?” say “I’ll be making a work call in here at 9, so you’ve got 5 minutes to wrap up.” Then come back at 9 and don’t leave, waved at or no.

        1. Is it Friday Yet?*

          Yep, and then if it continues, I would go to her supervisor to address it as Allison recommended.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I find the waving you off mind-boggling. I was totally sympathetic to your new employee, but this waving off business sounds like she has a really skewed idea of the purpose of that office and the norms around its use. (but also, who treats people that way, especially when they’re new??)

      2. TootsNYC*

        The waving of the hand is annoying.

        I’m with the folks who say, “stand there and wait.”

        or ask, “Is this work?” (Don’t ask, “will you be long?”) And if it’s not, just stand there and wait for her to leave. She can walk out talking on her cell.

        Also: If you’re scheduling these calls, stick a note on the office door: “Private work call, 3:00. Personal Phone Booth OP”
        Turn the door of the room into a scheduler. (It’ll be more effective anyway.)
        Or ask about creating any other analog scheduler (white board by the door; a paper schedule w/ slots for hours, etc.). Just make sure there’s a line that says: “Work matters take priority”

        Then again, she may just sign up for a bunch of time slots. Though, that would give you and her manager a chance to see how much she’s using the room, and to ask “for what?”

        1. CM*

          I agree. “I need to use this room on a regular basis for confidential matters that require a private office. Please use the small conference room if you need privacy. If there is some work-related reason that you need the office at a certain time, please let me know and we can arrange it.” Done. Then this might be obnoxious, but if she’s in there when you need the room, I would just walk in, put my stuff down, and say to her, “I need the room, could you return to your desk?”

  37. LW #1*

    Thank you for all the supportive comments. It is so good to hear that other people would find this as upsetting as I did and for some professionals to say this was not handled as it should have been.
    Just for some background, we have never had an active shooter drill before. (This HR director has only been here about 6 months.) She had a sergeant from our local sheriff’s office come to speak to us a few months ago about workplace safety and he told her in the meeting that he would be glad to review our safety plan and give advice. I’m not sure why she elected to conduct this drill without his input. After the drill she said she would be speaking with the CEO about involving sheriff’s officials before moving forward with any other drills.
    I’m still baffled that she and the few others involved thought that this was a good idea.

    1. Emi.*

      I’m so sorry. If it happens again, I vote you should contact that sergeant directly with a nice polite request for clarification, explaining what happened and how terrified everyone was, and could he please instruct you how to handle these alerts better? :P

    2. Important Moi*

      You’ve received lots of support here. The HR director appears to be addressing this bad situation going forward by involving sheriff’s officials. In looking at your follow-up comment here, is the issue that this HR director is not being remorseful enough? Would you like some input on getting this person to apologize? What would you like to see going forward?

      1. ZVA*

        The HR director appears to be addressing this bad situation going forward by involving sheriff’s officials. I don’t think this necessarily = addressing the bad situation… I’m not sure the HR director really gets that this was a bad situation! She did apologize, apparently, but how does LW know she won’t spring something like this on the office w/out warning again? It doesn’t sound to me like the HR director understands why this was such a terrible idea, or that she’s promised not to do things this way again—which is what I’d want, were I the LW.

        1. LBK*

          Well, presumably if she’s coordinating with the sheriff’s office, that would include them advising her on how to conduct these drills going forward, and I imagine that would involve telling people ahead of time.

          1. Observer*

            It doesn’t sound like she’s actually coordinating anything at this point. I’d want something MUCH more definite that “I’ll talk to boss about talking to someone who might be able to help us.”

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah, I’m not sure she’s doing what you think she’s doing. First she pulled a drill on people without telling them it was a drill and without training them in what to do if they were in an active shooter scenario. Now she says she’ll coordinate with the sheriff, but it doesn’t sound like that means the sheriff will be advising/designing the training components of the drill. It just sounds like she’ll notify them or let them do the post mortem. Honestly, HR sounds like a terror.

        2. Important Moi*

          Alison addressed this in her response that the OP get agreement for HR director/management never to handle drills that way again.

          It would be good for the OP to provide an update.

  38. MsCHX*

    My first thought on #4 was that perhaps LW is nonexempt and her coworker is exempt. It is becoming quite common to offer “unlimited” PTO to exempt employees; especially when they work lots of hours / are expected to be on-call pretty constantly.

  39. Outraged*

    #1 – That’s horrible. Really, you’re NOT overreacting. Your HR director made a big mistake.

    A somewhat related story: When I was still in school, we had the threat of a gun rampage for one of the schools in our street (there was more than one close by) – but “funnily”, no one told us, the students. We were confused why our teachers were nervous, especially when there was a knock on the door (it was St Nicholas’ Day and older students would walk from room to room and give away candy or apples and nuts. And yes, even with the threat of an active shooter, they didn’t cancel this). We only learned the next day when there were controls at the entrance and we were warned not to go outside in the breaks. Luckily, they announced that they had stopped the shooter before he could do anything, but even all these years later, I’m still angry about how that was handled.

    1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

      Gah. When my brother was in middle school, a kid built several actual bombs and planted them in the school. Fortunately, someone alerted the authorities and the bomb squad disarmed them. But then there were several bomb threats called in, and after the first couple of them turned out to be fake the school stopped doing *anything* in response to bomb threats. They’d just go on as usual. Even though they’d had real bombs.

      (This was pre-Columbine, but still grossly irresponsible if you ask me.)

  40. Temperance*

    LW1: we all had to undergo active shooter training at my office. We watched a video. I would have been incredibly shocked and upset if they just decided to trick us with a drill. I might even consider a new job, to be completely honest with you.

  41. Brett*

    #1 I used to work for an emergency management office for a major county. Active shooter drills (as well as many other types of drills) were our responsibility for many facilities.
    What your company did is outrageous, irresponsible, and if they had been a public agency or conducting the drill with a public agency would be a violation of federal rules that require a designation of “TEST” with every single message relayed (would be at the top and bottom of every single NIMS ICS form used to communicate about the exercise).
    That it was for active shooter, a situation involving violence, is even worse.

    What if someone had called police for an active shooter response? What if someone, expecting an activate shooter, had used defensive violence against someone entering their space? This easily could have resulted in someone being seriously injured or killed, outside of the trauma it definitely created.

    Your HR person needs to contact your local law enforcement agency and emergency management agency and get real help on how to create an emergency response and drill plan. They need to do this now, because they obviously have no idea how to do this and that could result in disaster in a real emergency situation.

  42. Brian_NYC*

    #5 – I agree with AAM. I learned long ago to insist on paying for things, and often the result is that the vendor is grateful not to have been asked for a freebee, and the goodwill you engender will pay off a hundredfold in ongoing good service.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I would imagine that a vendor would be so much more relaxed in a business relationship in which they could trust that they’d won the bid through superior product, service, and price. Instead of worrying that they only got the contract because they bribed people.

    2. margiemag*

      vendors are people too. they should be treated as we would like to be treated and not just used as a blank check.

  43. Grits McGee*

    LW #2- Are these phone calls you can plan in advance? You said there wasn’t a booking system in place, but what about a white board on the door where you can write the times you need? It’ll make it crystal clear that you have priority to use the room if new coworker is hanging out in there with no notice, and if she starts booking huge chunks of time it’ll be clear to your boss that the room is being used in a way it wasn’t intended.

    1. Personal Phone Booth OP*

      For the most part, I try to work it out so I can work from home the days I have prescheduled calls. This would be really helpful for days when something gets scheduled with only a few hours noticed.

      Thank you!

  44. MuseumChick*

    #2, it could be she has a phobia of talking on the phone when other people can hear. I have this and it’s taking a long time to get over it. I know that doesn’t really help with what to do but it could explain the frequent use of a closed off room.

  45. Science Teacher*

    OP #1: You are not overreacting!!! That is horrendous.

    I once worked in a school where they had an unannounced active shooter drill. The school coordinated with the local police department to use this “drill” time to sweep the school/lockers with drug dogs. They didn’t want any teachers to “tip off” students (several teachers were parents of students at the school), so no one was told.

    The drill took over 90 minutes, with zero communication from any administrators the entire time. For an hour and a half, I sat in a dark classroom with 20 16-18 year olds, windows covered, with file cabinets pushed in front of our locked doors, keeping my kids quiet and hidden under the desks. Hearing the sound of the police, then peeking out the window and seeing their squad cars, only made it worse. We discussed escape routes/where to meet up again in whispers just in case someone entered the room.

    This was 3 or 4 years ago. I’m getting anxious now, sitting in my home, just thinking about it.

    So no, not overreacting at all. I’d be beyond angry. I’m fact, I was. And kind of still am.

  46. Elise*

    #1 – Ugh, you are so not overreacting. We had an announced active shooter drill that directly followed a training on how to respond to an active shooter, and we still had people who got carried away and hurt themselves running away from the officer carrying out the drill. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we didn’t know it was a drill. We also had the option to opt out of the drill if we felt we couldn’t handle it.

    Also anyone who has taken one of the classes on how to respond would know it’s a terrible idea to pretend there’s an active shooter when there isn’t. The class we had teaches you to survive at all costs – run, hide, fight – so it is extremely dangerous after that to spring it without warning. I am so sorry you had to go through that. And the comments describing unannounced drills in schools anger me to no end. Can’t imagine my preschooler being subjected to that fear unnecessarily.

  47. Jayne*

    OP #1–You are not overreacting. I work at a place that has had two active shooters, with fatalities. It is not something to use as a test. I checked with the person that was my supervisor at the time of one of our shootings with your situation. Her jaw dropped and she stated that she could not imagine our HR ever suggesting something like that. I also talked with one of our local police officers, who responded to both active shooters. He was controlled but clear that this was not an acceptable training method.

    Once you have been through something like that, it changes you. Reading your story, I flashed back to hiding behind a locked door, hoping that the door was not going to be forced open or the window shatter. I am sorry that your HR inflicted those feelings on you.

  48. Weckar*

    Hm. I don’t know. How is a drill supposed to be appropriate training if you know it is a drill? People will respond differently knowing that the situation is not real, after all.

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