I got fired for attending a conference that I wasn’t invited to

A reader writes:

I started working at my job eight months ago, not long after I completed college (thanks in part to your write-ups about cover letters, resumes, interview questions and job searching). A few months ago in the elevator, my manager’s manager and someone from upper management in another department were talking about an upcoming conference. The idea of the conference sounded interesting and at our next departmental meeting I asked my manager’s manager about being able to attend the conference. She said the company couldn’t send me to this conference.

I really wanted to go. This was for several reasons: (1) what I heard about the conference in the elevator sounded interesting, (2) I was trying to show initiative, and (3) It would be good for my career to attend something like that. I was bummed out about the company not being able to send me.

But a week later I was asked to assist someone from a different department. He had a broken foot and needed help carrying paperwork and laptops up to one of the meeting rooms on another floor. He told me he was swamped with trying to get everything ready for the meeting on top of signing up people for the conference and making all the arrangements. I offered to do all the conference so he could get the meeting set up.

I signed myself up for the conference along with everyone else. But I only signed up as an attendee from my company. I paid for the conference fee, the airline tickets, and the hotel room out of my own pocket. I didn’t charge anything to the company for myself, even though all of the other attendees had everything paid for using a company credit card. I also booked vacation time so I could go.

I was excited to go to the conference. But when my manager’s manager saw me there the first day, she was upset at seeing me there, even after I explained I had paid the sign-up fee and everything else out of my own pocket and had used my own vacation time. I admit now that I made a mistake because I didn’t know the conference was for directors and executive management in my industry, not for entry-level people with less than a year like me. My manager’s manager had to get special permission from the company to go because she isn’t a director yet but is next in line for a promotion when someone retires. After the conference organizers found out from my company that I am not in upper management, they asked me to leave and said my fee would be refunded.

I already paid for the hotel room and return flight, so I ended up staying there even though I couldn’t go to the conference. My first day back at work was my last one ever because I got fired. My manager’s manager was furious and so were her bosses. I know I messed up, but when I asked about going to the conference she didn’t say I couldn’t go; she only said the company couldn’t send me. I also had no idea it was a conference for upper management only. If I had known, I obviously would not have signed up, but she didn’t tell me and it wasn’t clear at registration.

I know I made a mistake and it was a huge embarrassment for the company when word of what I did got around the conference, but I never had any write-ups or trouble and I was a model employee. I don’t think it was a fireable offense and I was shocked they fired me. Did I mess up that badly or were they wrong? I want to know if there is anything I can do to fix this.

Well, you definitely overstepped. I can understand your logic in thinking that if you paid for yourself and made all your own arrangements, it would be fine for you to attend … but this was a business event that your company only invited select people to. It’s sort of like if your company was sending all the senior directors to Vegas for a retreat, and you booked your way out there and showed up too and figured it was okay because you paid your own expenses.

That said, you’re new to the work world and clearly didn’t understand how this worked, and firing you over it is a pretty extreme reaction.

That makes me wonder if anything else had happened previously to make them worry about your judgment. If this was one in a string of concerns, then their decision would be more understandable. Complicating matters, you wouldn’t necessarily know if that were the case; sometimes managers notice iffy things about someone’s judgment but decide that it doesn’t quite rise to the level of needing to address it, especially if the person is entry-level. So it’s possible that something like that was at play here.

I don’t think there’s anything you can do to fix this situation now, unfortunately. But there might be things you can learn from it. If you had pretty good rapport with your manager, one option would be to reach out to her now and say something like this: “I want to apologize again for my error in judgment in attending the conference without anyone’s okay. I genuinely didn’t understand that it would be a problem, but I do realize now that I erred. The experience has made me wonder if my judgment may have been off in other areas too since this was my first post-college job, and if so, I’d be so grateful for any feedback you can give me. I’m at the start of my career and I want to make sure that I learn from this, so if you noticed any other areas for improvement while I was working for you, I’d love your feedback.” That might not produce anything useful — but it also might, and it’s definitely worth a shot.

{ 1,030 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    Wait, is this an internal company conference or a conference put on by an outside organization?

    1. FDCA In Canada*

      I believe an outside organization–she said “directors and executive management in my industry,” which to me reads like an industry-wide convention.

      1. Mike C.*

        So this is what’s confusing me then – if this is an outside conference (as opposed to an internal company conference or something the company hired for their own use) and the conference let her in, and it wasn’t obvious from all the paperwork that it was for higher management only, isn’t the mistake on the organizers?

        Furthermore, why is the company embarrassed? Why does the company even care what the employee is doing on her own time and own dime? Being told “we can’t send you to this conference” clearly says to me, “we can’t afford the time/money/etc to send you”. It doesn’t imply anything about not being allowed to go – lots of employers would prefer that employees attend such events on their own dime to begin with!

        Maybe the error is signing up as an employee of XYZ and it implying direct sponsorship but tons of conferences ask for that info just to see who’s attending and to test marketing strategies so that seems harmless as well. Maybe I’m missing something key here, but it seems like a tragic lack of communication between the OP and management rather than something the OP should be fired for.

        1. Clever Name*

          The cynical part of me wonders if part of the conference features moustache-twirling top hat- and monocle-wearing captains of industry discussing how to get more out of employees while paying them less and how to conduct stealth layoffs while also retaining the best people while underpaying them. Or something nefarious. ;)

          1. Allison*

            More realistically, maybe it is about management strategies they don’t want employees to really know about. Maybe.

            1. Sunflower*

              Is it strange to have a conference that only pertain to higher up folks? They want to network with other execs. Also a lot of the material probably doesn’t benefit or pertain to entry level people since many aren’t in a position to make big decisions.

              1. INFJ*

                Having such a conference is not strange. Having that requirement, and not making it clear in the registration process (I’m taking OP at word here), or having some sort of vetting process, IS strange.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  Though, it’s also possible that the OP bypassed any vetting process, since she used the company’s procedures to add herself, instead of just trying to do it online from home.

                2. The OG Anonsie*

                  But they had to get special permission for the manager-manager, which indicates there is some additional look from the organizers at attendees a company chooses to send, right?

                3. Sunflower*

                  @ The OG Anonsie Yes but I’m assuming the company did that as a precaution to avoid exactly what happened to OP as opposed to because the organizers said so

                4. The OG Anonsie*

                  Ohhh maybe. I read it as a thing where they had to get some kind of approval from the conference organizers.

            2. Mazzy*

              My industry has conventions where general policy is discussed so most people have 10+ years in (ex if your going to participate in a robust discussion on politics you probably should have followed the news for years and lived through a few campaigns, or else your thoughts are more theory than information) However younger people go, they just don’t officially represent their firms nor do they tend to speak or contribute.

            3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              More actually realistically, it’s probably about strategy, forecasting, mergers and acquisitions, and other sensitive discussions they don’t want some wet-behind-the-ears college kid to be a part of and possibly repeat.

              1. Anna*

                It’s only relevant at the conference level if it’s all internal attendees, but as an industry conference, I doubt the presenters would be talking about it on stage.

                1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  Breakout sessions, chats around the free donuts, in the hotel bar once everybody’s had a few….

              2. SusanIvanova*

                The industry conference I go to has NDAs, plus the company’s reputation towards anyone who ruins the surprise at the keynote. Repeat something you shouldn’t and you’ll never attend it again.

          2. Christine*

            I think the employer added himself to the list of individuals being sent by the company. So it looked like he was being sent by the company; regardless of how it was paid out. The OP should have asked his it okay to the conference if they paid their way. The individuals going to the conference were upper management and would serve as representatives of the company.

            If I was the manager I would have taken the action as being sneaky, and that the OP found a way to work around my denial of conference attendance. Entry level employees are not necessarily given the full details of a reason they are not allowed to do something. Management does not necessarily want explain their reasoning every time to a new employee.

            I think it was sneaky to offer to coordinate conference attendance and sign yourself up on the company’s attendance roster without permission.

            1. Cinnamon Owl*

              I think this is the key piece–employee didn’t go to the website for “Actualizing Teapot Cozies 2017” and sign up independently, but slipped themselves into the group from their company. Probably because there *is no* online signup for just anyone who’d like to go, or the entire subterfuge with the broken foot and such would be unnecessary. And that’s how everyone else knew the conference was for senior execs and not everyone.

              The employee is thinking “If my company won’t send me to ComicCon with the team, I’ll go on my own dime!” when it’s closer to this being a special conference for people high up in the SuperBlob Movie Adaptation, and some random employee who thinks “blobs sound interesting” managed to add themselves to the official roster when no one was looking.

              1. Connie-Lynne*

                Yes, this.

                Also, it does show an error in judgement that the employee was in charge of signups and failed to notice that everyone else going was of a much higher level in the company than them.

                1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  Yeah, almost as if they were so intent on sneaking their way into the conference that they didn’t pay any attention to any signs along the way.

                2. Spacecadet51*

                  In agreement. In offering to assist, it was a way for her to attend when she was told no. There had to be something in the material giving her a clue as to what type of meeting this was.

                3. SarahTheEntwife*

                  In itself, that doesn’t seem like such a red flag to me — maybe the company only pays for higher-level people to attend. But my industry doesn’t really have this sort of invitation-only conference (as far as I know…maybe just nobody I know is important enough to get invited to them!) so this is all a bit alien to me.

              2. The OG Anonsie*

                Yeah that’s definitely the point of demarkation between small mistake and big mistake. If the LW was able to register through the conference on their own and the company got upset, that would be one thing. Offering to take conference organizing off a coworker’s hands and then signing themselves up quietly is another thing.

                That said, LW is also new to the working world and may not have any context to know that signing up for a conference that way is markedly different than registering on your own. That doesn’t answer for the way she got access to the signup, but I can see how her lack of experience with this type of thing made her think this was a little nudge rather than a very bad idea.

                1. Artemesia*

                  I missed this on first read and assumed they just enrolled in the conference. This is in fact sneaky — to add yourself while managing the admin task of signups after you have been told no. I am not surprised she was fired, although one could make the case that was an overreaction. Finding a sneak around when the boss has said ‘no’ is the kind of thing though that is likely to get the most aggressive kind of reaction; a mistake is understandable in a newbie, but insubordination which this looks like to the boss is less forgivable.

                2. The OG Anonsie*

                  Yep. And like I said, I can see how the LW’s unfamiliarity with all this kept her from seeing how big of an issue this was, leading her to think she was probably taking a small risk that would likely have a positive result for her overall. She didn’t have the experience, perhaps, to see how many cascading issues she was stacking up all at once.

                  If I were her manager I’m not sure I would have fired her, it would depend on a lot of other factors. But it would definitely have been on the list of possible outcomes when I sat down to evaluate it.

                3. Cinnamon Owl*

                  She didn’t just find a sneak around that her boss could notice and warn her about in private, but found one that would be revealed to people at very high levels at the same time her boss’s boss found out. And before her boss did.

                  Boss’s Boss’s Boss’s Boss: “Boss’s Boss? Why is your subordinate bouncing toward us? Why is she wearing a company nametag?”
                  Boss’s Boss: “I… don’t…”

                4. Dust Bunny*

                  Sounds like she watches too many movies about young women getting ahead by being obtrusively plucky. What is cute in Hollywood is frequently a bad idea in real life. The rest of us are not Sandra Bullock circa 1996.

                  I’m a bit skeptical that this is actually her first instance of bad judgment, too, since it seems like a leap to go from “really good decisions all the time” to “really super poor decision” all at once, although maybe she just hasn’t had the chance to get into that much trouble until now.

              3. Koko*

                Yes, I agree. It’s not even so much that she signed herself up for the conference that makes me cringe for her, perse. It’s that she was directed to perform a task (register employees for the conference and make arrangements), and she made a judgment call to deviate from the instructions she was given without checking with her manager or with the colleague who handed off the task to her.

                OP, if you are reading the comments, you have my sympathy. I do think firing you sounds like an overreaction and I’m sorry that happened to you. That said, the lesson you should take away from this is that–at least at the entry level–when you’re assigned a work task, you should complete it exactly as you were told to complete it. If you want to do something differently than the instructions you were given, you need to run that by your manager instead of making the decision on your own. I would focus on that lesson, and not the details of the conference itself.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  You can’t use your position/access levels to benefit yourself. A good rule of thumb is you do not put your name on any list under your supervision nor do you take anything under your watch for use in your own work, unless you ask.

                  Going backward, one more step, you don’t take on work unless it is assigned to you. Volunteering to help that guy, should have involved looping in your boss.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  She wasn’t even directed to do the task! She “offered” to take it off a coworker’s hands and then added herself, which makes it look super sneaky/conniving (even if her original offer was pure). I don’t know if I would have fired her, but this is a level of insubordination that would significantly undermine my trust in her and in her judgment. Firing would absolutely have been on the table.

                3. NoNoNoNoNo*

                  “…movies about young women getting ahead by being obtrusively plucky…”

                  Young *people* really. This is so not limited by gender.

            2. Mena*

              Christine is right – there was no attempt to independently sign up for the conference – the registration was as an employee of X-company. Very likely, the conference was not publicly available and even worse, it could have had specifically named invitations. “Over-step” is too delicate of a word here.

            3. mcr-red*

              Yeah its the sneaky bit that is a huge red flag. Being told no and then just adding yourself to the list…that’s when you know you’re doing something wrong and trying to justify it by saying, “But I’m paying for it and using my vacation!”

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                There are so many layers of sneakiness that the OP had to do to get to the conference. She didn’t just naively show up at a conference that her boss said ‘no’ to. She didn’t go through the conference website and register independently, and she offered to take the conference registration off the other employee’s hands knowing full well that she had an ulterior motive for doing so. I can understand naively bumbling into a place where she wasn’t invited, but she was sneaky at every step of the way. How is her boss supposed to trust an employee who has shown that she will devise sneaky plots when she doesn’t get her own way?

                1. Teclatrans*

                  But she showed gumption!

                  I imagine someone down-thread will address this aspect, but I wanted to say that this version of “showing initiative” sounds a lot like tracking down a hiring manager’s home number.

              2. (another) b*

                Also, her attending the conference may have taken a spot away from someone else if there was a limit.

        2. Sunflower*

          OP signed up through the company though so it’s likely the conference assumed she was OK since the company ‘said’ she was okay.

          1. Cambridge Comma*

            It sounds like she was helping out by doing the sign-ups and added her name, so appearing to have been sent by the company.

            1. Sunflower*

              Yes exactly. I handle a lot of my org’s sponsorship’s. Some conferences will check out the participants and come back if they have questions and other’s will just pass them along because we sent them. If she had registered using an online system(even if she included the company name), my guess is she would have been vetted.

              1. Mike C.*

                Ok, so here’s the question I have – wouldn’t it have stuck out that one person was paying their own way for fees and hotel rooms? Am I mistaken in thinking that those would usually be handled as a block?

                Maybe it doesn’t matter, it’s just the whole thing seems really wacky to me.

                1. Leatherwings*

                  I can see lots of scenarios in which lists of people in the company block wouldn’t have been compared by anyone to the list of people attending to figure out the discrepancy.

                2. Tuxedo Cat*

                  My research group (and there are definitely meetings to which I am not invited, even if I pay) hasn’t had a corporate card for a year, even though the group is about 5-6 years old. Even with the company card, we can only charge a handful of things.

                3. AnonAnalyst*

                  Meh… I used to manage paid registration for conferences and it was all over the map. Sometimes companies would pay for employees to attend as a block, sometimes individual departments would pay so there would be one credit card for one or two people and a different card for the rest, and sometimes people would register and pay themselves either with a company credit card or a personal card to submit for reimbursement.

                  If this had come through my registration system, the payment method difference wouldn’t have raised any flags, but the OP’s job title might have. However, if the system is closed off so that it’s invitation only, I probably would have assumed that the OP’s company had a good reason for sending her.

                4. Cambridge Comma*

                  It would stand out, but I guess it doesn’t mean that it would stand out to someone who would think to do anything about it.
                  It’s definitely a chain of unfortunate coincidences; it would have been more probable for the OP to get stopped at some point and then she would have not gone and kept her job.
                  The OP might have swapped some details to avoid doxxing herself, too.

                5. Chriama*

                  In this case the other people were using company credit cards, so there was no way for the organizers to note who used what method. OP basically wormed her way in through the cracks.

                6. Sunflower*

                  AnonAnalyst is right. Most people use their own cards(points!) for this stuff and esp if this conference is taking place somewhere like NYC, most of the time people use their preferred hotel rooms over blocked rooms.

                7. AD*

                  It doesn’t seem to help the OP at this point to question the conference policy. It’s going to be an important learning opportunity for her, I would think.

                8. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

                  We all have our own corporate cards, and it is much easier for accounting if we all use our own cards for expenses, so 12 of us going to the same conference paid for by the company would look like 12 individual registrations.

                9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I don’t think it would have stuck out, but also keep in mind that your concern as a conference organizer is that the person pays. Once that happens, I don’t really care how they paid as long as it they pay in US$. I don’t think we can assume or expect the conference people to have caught OP adding herself in—if it’s an industry conference, there may have been thousands of registrants.

                  I’ve run conferences and seen people do things like what OP has done—we rely heavily on the organization sending people to vet and ensure that the people registered under their name are meant to be there. We didn’t have the time or capacity to scrutinize each registration.

                10. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                  Here it would all be on their individual company cards. My last employer, it would have definitely been handled in a block. I do have to wonder if the company did pay for an extra room. Someone could have been handed the list and told to book as many rooms as there were participants.

                  Also, whether stuff like this gets caught depends so heavily on who does the auditing. A one person difference in number of people who attended vs number of charges showing on a statement would drive me crazy. However, lots of people would just be happy to see a lower cost than expected.

            2. MommyMD*

              Yes. Adding her name without permission, after being told she could not attend, was the kiss of death. It speaks to general trustworthiness. We all slip up and I’m sure she won’t go around her bosses again.

        3. Mona Lisa*

          It sounds like from the letter that she added her name to her company’s official list of representatives when she was assisting the injured co-worker. Even with her paying her own way, that seems to cross a boundary line.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Yeah, that’s the part that’s so appalling to me. She did something incredibly dishonest in order to get to the conference.

            1. Owl*

              I agree it was a lapse in judgement, but I think “incredibly dishonest” is pushing it a bit. She says she didn’t realize she was “sneaking in.”

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                If she didn’t realize she was sneaking, why did she ask to take over a job so that she could secretly add her name to the list? At some level, she had to have known that she was sneaking.

                1. MillersSpring*

                  And she didn’t tell her boss from the time she registered until showing up at the conference. Sneaky.

                  And what chutzpah to justify the sneakiness based on wanting to “show initiative” and just REALLY being interested in the conference.

              2. Bagpuss*

                I think for me, the issue would be that if she didn’t think she was doing anything wrong, there would be o reason for her to be so secretive. If she genuinely thought that paying her own way and using vacation time would be acceptable then there’s no reason why she wouldn’t have said to her manager, or to the person she was helping;
                “The conference sounds fascinating and I’d love to go. Would it be OK if I add my name to the list, if I pay my own way and use vacation time so I’m not costing the company anything?”
                The fact that she was so sneaky and didn’t ask anyone about it suggests to me that she did have some idea that it wasn’t OK, even if she didn’t think through quite how out of line she was.

              3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                I’m not seeing where “got access to the list and added her name to it, after being told the company wouldn’t send her” is anything other than incredibly dishonest. That’s not something that you really do innocently.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  All the while, helping some guy by doing work her boss had not assigned to her.
                  I bet she never told the boss she was going to the conference.

              4. CanCan*

                Hard to believe that it didn’t occur to the OP that what she was doing wasn’t 100% ok. No matter how new she is to the workforce, she should have considered that this is something her manager might want to know about, since she’s not registering as a general member of the public, without adding the company name.

                When the idea of doing this occurred to her, she should have told the manager that she realizes the company can’t send her, but because she believes the conference would be so useful for her professional development, she’ll go anyway, on her dime and on her time. “And by the way, I won’t even take up anybody’s admin time, as I’m the one in charge of registrations, so I’ll add myself to the list.”

                My feeling is the OP suspected this may be frowned upon, just didn’t realize how big of a deal it was. In other words, she consciously chose to do something behind the manager’s back, which may or may not be a fireable offence.

                Her manager probably fired her to save face before her own bosses, – who may have been made fun of by other industry execs at the conference, so they would have wanted to later tell them that the rogue employee has been dealt with.

              5. Steve*

                Even if it wasn’t done with sneaky intention, it certainly gives the appearance of sneakiness.

                And OP presumably asked her boss for the time off, while meticulously avoiding mentioninng what she was going to be doing for the week. Normally that would be unusual but perfectly fine, but in combination with the other facts, it definitely adds to the appearance of skeakiness.

          2. Kalamet*

            Yeah, this is the part that stuck out to me. I’m not absolving the managers of poor communication, but this isn’t a situation where OP bought herself a publicly available ticket and the company took it badly. She deliberately got access to the internal conference list (by getting in with the injured coworker) and added herself without telling anyone. This behavior says “I will cheat the system when I don’t get my way” rather than just “I’m clueless about workplace norms”.

            I think Alison’s advice is sound, but I also think OP should prepare to consider this a bridge well-burned.

            1. AMG*

              I think that this is correct, and is also behind why the company was embarrassed by her behavior. It looks like you don’t have the sense to not hire people who are entitled and then you let them run amuck. OP, I say that it looks that way, not that it IS that way. You made a mistake by not paying attention to office politics, and you will do better next time. It’s okay.

              1. Kalamet*

                Personally I think it says less about their hiring practices than their security. As a conference organizer or fellow company attendee I’d probably give side-eye to a place where entry-levels can sneak onto an executive attendance list and no one picks up on it. Seems like something out of a Matt Beaumont book.

                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  Yeah, good lord. I don’t know what industry the OP is in, but in my world, this would be horrifying from an institutional-security perspective.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Very much agreed. There are many industries/conferences at which word of this getting out would be humiliating for the company and would raise significant competency and security concerns.

          3. irritable vowel*

            Right – I can see the company viewing this as insubordination. She was told she could not attend the conference and saw an opportunity to just do it anyways under the guise of helping someone with an injury. (And even if taking a legalistic view of what was said to her – “we cannot send you to this conference,” not “you may not attend” – she’s still going against her manager’s direction by adding her name to the list of the company’s attendees.)

            1. KarenD*

              And she compounded the issue by staying at the conference hotel after she’d been told in no uncertain terms to leave – not just at the request of her bosses but at the request of the conference organizers.

              1. LavaLamp*

                I’m not sure that’s fair exactly. They booted her out of the conference part but I’ve never seen a hotel be so over run by a super secret conference that no other guests were allowed to stay there.

                1. Karen D*

                  LizM explained it much more kindly than I could (below) but the bottom line is the OP was explicitly (as related in the OP) told to leave. Not just avoid conference activities, but leave. And not just by the company reps, but by the conference organizers as well (In OP’s words: “It was a huge embarrassment for the company when word of what I did got around the conference.” )

                  Why would the bosses care that their errant employee already paid for the room and airfare? If I told someone to leave and then kept seeing that person around a hotel where a conference was going on, I’d mark it down as sheer defiance and assume the very worst motives on the OP’s part – in this case, I’d assume that OP was hanging around to schmooze with higher-ups from other companies and in the course of that, damage my company’s reputation even further. You have to keep in mind that this whole chain of events was precipitated by a pretty dramatic violation of trust, even if the OP didn’t see that clearly at the time…. and honestly, still doesn’t see it; at more than one point I see the “but they didn’t say it was only management….” Why should they have to say? They were asked. They said no.

                2. sstabeler*

                  the thing is, it apparently takes special permission to attend if you are not upper management. If that is a conference policy, they probably do take over the hotel completely. Regardless, it made it look like OP was trying to skirt around being thrown out of the conference. I’m guessing that is probably what turned it into a firing offence, actually- It meant that as far as the company knows, if OP doesn’t like a decision, they try to skirt around it- which is NOT something that can be tolerated. Granted that the company should probably have explained better why OP couldn’t go in the first place- “I’m sorry, but X Conference is exclusively for upper management- I actually needed to get special permission to go myself” (she asked Manager’s Manager, who was the one who had been sent despite not yet being in ipper management” but OP’s actions were far worse.

                  In short, It became a firing offense when there was a pattern of behaviour indicating adverse decisions were skirted around- had OP either a) signed up independently of the company or b) left when asked to I would have suggested that disciplinary action short of termination and coaching on professional norms would be a more appropriate punishment. However, attempting to rules-lawyer their way around adverse decisions makes it a termination offense.

                3. Ultra Anon*

                  I think it’s entirely possible that OP had no choice but to stay. An entry level employee might not have the budget to change flights or hotels. If itou can’t leave, you can’t leave.

                  And there is nothing in the OP that indicates they did anything other than sleep at the hotel. People are assuming she hung around and went to the gym and talked with people from the conference. There’s no evidence to suggest she did that. She may have slept there and left the hotel to go sight seeing during the days.

          4. Jadelyn*

            Yes – this is where some of my sympathy dried up tbh. If you heard about the conference from work, and after being told “we can’t send you”, you went home, pulled up the conference website, and registered yourself as an independent attendee, I could see that being a grey area of “you said you couldn’t send me – you didn’t say I couldn’t go, and if I registered on my own time with my own money you can’t actually stop me”.

            But that’s not what happened here. What happened here was more akin to sneaking in an unlocked back door and then being surprised when people are upset because hey, the door was unlocked, right? If they didn’t want me here, they should have locked the door.

            The problem is more the whole “using an injured coworker’s impairment as an “in” to gain access to the system and adding yourself to the company group of attendees”, not just “I went to a conference after being told my company couldn’t send me.” To be honest, this feels like the action of someone who thinks boundaries are for squares, so to speak, and has taken some misguided advice about Gumption(tm) and Spunk(tm) and Being A Go-Getter(c) to heart, which then backfired rather spectacularly.

            I sympathize, but…to be honest, I have to disagree with Alison here. If I were the OP’s manager, I’d have fired them too, although more because of the misuse of access and boundary-crossing than the physical fact of attendance at the conference.

            1. INFJ*

              Yeah. Even though I’m still questioning how a conference can enforce exclusivity without checking up front, I definitely see how OP’s actions can be interpreted as a “sneaking around the boss.”

              1. TootsNYC*

                As to mechanics, they enforce exclusivity by requiring a password, or sending a link to only one person, or something.

                1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

                  This. We go to a client’s only conference put on by one of our software vendors. They send the link to our purchasing rep, who then works with the appropriate senior managers to put together our list of attendees.

              2. Rmric0*

                Because they are relying less on rules and procedure and more on good faith/norms, which is fine normally (as seen by the company giving a heads up about grandboss not quite qualifying, but being groomed for qualification). Individual vetting (esp. if the conference is not public-facing) adds expense/logistics that do not seem necessary for something like that (depending on industry).

            2. Ann O'Nemity*

              Agree with all of this.

              OP’s actions raise all sorts of judgement, boundary, and security concerns for me. And it also concerns me that the OP seems to think that *attending* the conference was the mistake, not the sneaky way they registered.

              1. KarenD*

                It’s a giant ball of nope! Going after OP was told no; sneaking onto the list, embarrassing the company at an industry event; not leaving the hotel after the go-home-now order.

                But you’re right, the sneaking is the element that colors everything much darker (though if OP weren’t doomed before then, the not-leaving would be the cherry on the top of the you’re-fired sundae.)

                I feel a little bit sorry for the wounded manager who unwisely delegated duties that clearly, shouldn’t have been passed on. The sad thing is that discipline for someone at the managerial level is likely to be much harsher than a smackdown of an entry-level employee.

                1. LizM*

                  I’m not sure that I agree this task shouldn’t be delegated. Registering a company’s participants in a conference is an appropriate task to delegate to support staff, and I would never think twice of asking our admin assistant to handle that task.

                  To me, that highlights why what OP did was wrong – this is a pretty basic task that shouldn’t need a lot of management oversight, and the fact that she violated that trust (both in the manager and her coworker, who thought she was being helpful and didn’t realize there may be an ulterior motive) is a pretty big deal.

                2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  Yeah, I feel sorry for the poor person who thought they were being helped when they were actually being used.

                3. Jadelyn*

                  I’m not sure I’m with you on the OP needing to leave the hotel where they paid to stay – they left the conference, but if they’d already paid for rooms, what were they supposed to do, add the cost of an additional hotel stay somewhere else? As long as they were just using the hotel room for the couple of days but not going to conference events, I don’t see the issue there.

                4. LizM*

                  Jadelyn, I guess it depends on how it was perceived.

                  If I was an exec in OP’s organization, and was already furious, seeing them in common areas, in the gym, at the pool, etc., would not help my mood, especially if I thought she was using it as an opportunity to network (it’s not clear at all that that’s what happened, but the perception could easily be there even if it wasn’t the intent).

                5. sstabeler*

                  Jadelyn, It’s more that they ALREADY- from the company’s perspective- tried to sneak into the conference. It makes it at least look like OP was trying to rules-lawyer their way past being thrown out. It speaks to the OP’s attitude, and probably upgraded it to a firing offense.

              2. Jadelyn*

                Agree 100% about the way the OP is looking at this. I feel like they haven’t quite understood what their mistake really was here – it wasn’t going to the conference. It was abusing access to confidential business processes to go to the conference. The OP was not “fired for attending a conference”, but it doesn’t seem like that facet of it has really sunk in.

            3. BeautifulVoid*

              My knee jerk reaction to this letter was “Wow, that was an extreme reaction, I can’t believe she got fired!”…but then after thinking it over, this is where I land. It seems to me that a crucial conversation got omitted here. When OP asked if she could go to the conference and the manager’s response was “The company can’t send you”, to me, the next logical step would be to say “Is it okay if I attend if I pay for all the expenses myself?” (And that conversation didn’t have to happen immediately, it could have been at any time between the first one and booking the tickets/airfare.) Then the whole thing would have been nipped in the bud early on. That the OP didn’t ever ask at any point in the process suggests to me that she knew, consciously or subconsciously, she was doing the wrong thing and went ahead with it anyway. That’s questionable enough that I can see how the company might just want to let go someone who’s been working for them for less than a year.

              1. Karou*

                I agree that if OP had asked WHY the company couldn’t send her to the conference (and presumably would have been told that it was execs only) for the situation could have been avoided.

              2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                Yes, that seems like the next logical step in the conversation, and it’s a conversation that I hear all the time from doctoral students and junior faculty to the department head: “Is there funding for me to attend this conference?” If no funding is available, “Do you think this conference would be beneficial for me? I’m considering paying my own way.” And the department head and other faculty advise them of what the conference is like, what they’re likely to get out of it, whether it would be beneficial for them to attend, etc. I realize academia and business are different, but it seems that some similar sort of conversation should have taken place.

              3. Cinnamon Owl*

                It’s worth noting that she didn’t ask her manager, but her manager’s manager. And she didn’t request a one-on-one with either of these people to present her well-researched case, but asked manager-of-manager at the all-hands meeting, where it has to have come across as wildly out of context and random. I can see LW reasoning “I need to bring it up at a natural time when I’ll run into her, and that will be the next all-hands.” While the manager’s manager reasoned “Can you… what?… no, dear, you can’t go. Moving on to February’s projections…”

            4. Connie-Lynne*

              I wouldn’t fire a junior staff member over this, but I would have a Very Serious Talk. Potentially even a documented talk.

              I think Alison’s suggestion is good; being able to reach out in this way and constructively accept feedback (if it’s given) shows a desire for growth.

            5. Cleopatra Jones*

              Also, I knew this was going to go spectacularly bad for the LW when she skipped right over her immediate manager to ask her manager’s manager to attend the conference. To me, that screams ‘I don’t have to play by the rules’.

              1. New Window*

                Or perhaps not so much “I don’t have to play by the rules” as “There were rules here that I didn’t entirely realize were in play.”

                Not to say that the OP therefore shouldn’t expect this kind of fall-out to happen, but I think back to my first few years of full-time post-college employment, and the first few years of my friends’, and we stumbled, tripped, and occasionally fell in situations like this one. Sure, sometimes it was seeing what we could get away with, but other times it was very much a case of simply not knowing all the ways that the working world operated–alas, a class that none of our schools offered.

            6. Mookie*

              The broken foot factor is just… Bad Optics doesn’t begin to cover it. Irrespective of the OP’s intentions, this just reads as blindingly unethical. I can’t imagine retaining a new employee who sustained this species of deception for this length of time. And to remain in the hotel after being booted from the conference seems like another boundary well and truly crossed.

              1. Jadelyn*

                I still disagree about remaining in the hotel – although I get why the optics of that aren’t great, as LizM mentioned, but you’re talking about someone whose travel is already booked and so they’re essentially stranded in this city until their flight home, so I don’t see what the problem is in them staying in the room they’ve got rather than trying to get a refund on that (which might not be possible) and trying to find another hotel elsewhere.

                But yeah, the optics on how the OP got on the list in the first place are unbelievably bad. They took advantage of a colleague’s injury in order to gain access to a process they weren’t supposed to be involved with under the guise of “helping” – it’s that they weren’t just helping an overworked coworker who asked OP for assistance with the conference stuff, OP offered help to someone who was injured, but specifically offered help with the part they wanted to tinker with for their own benefit. Whether it was intended to be or not, it comes off duplicitous and shady as hell.

              2. Been There, Done That*

                I disagree about the hotel. Hotels are places of public accommodation, and OP was a member of the public who paid for a room. Important as upper management is, they can’t dictate who can stay at the same hotel unless they buy out the entire establishment.

            7. Not So NewReader*

              Your last sentence is dead on. The bosses read that as “loose cannon”.

              There has to be an element of trust between a boss and an employee. If the boss says no, the employee is committed to the no. Likewise, if the boss says, “what are you working on today?” A truthful answer is necessary here also.

              The sequence of actions over a period of time is what I find unsettling. It wasn’t just a momentary brain void, it was something that OP worked on for weeks.

              Oh yeah, use of paid time. OP probably was supposed to be working on something else and not the conference. Additionally, because it was on paid vacation time, the company probably felt that was a slap in the face. We should not be working on vacation time. And definitely we should not be working on something we were told not to do. Probably there was a question about OP’s ability to use vacation time properly.

            8. Jojo*

              I’d say it’s more akin to deliberately befriending someone so you can offer to grab something from his car to save him the trip to the car park, in order to get your hands on the house key that’s on the same keychain, and letting yourself into the house with it.

          5. Rmric0*

            I would also imagine that, if you were feeling uncharitable, it would be very easy to interpret OP’s actions as much more calculated and duplicitous than they may have been. And if the grandboss takes that interpretation, firing looks a lot more reasonable than if they viewed it as OP’s gormless misadventures.

        4. BethRA*

          The conference let her in, from what I can tell, because she used the company’s invite to sign up (she took over registering company staff from a colleague)

          1. Mike C.*

            If that’s the case, then it does become more problematic, but I wonder just how closely she was tied to that, given that she had to pay her own fee and hotel room. I’m not sure how you sneak that in with the rest of the registrations. It certainly makes a lot more sense than simply being upset that an employee was trying to better themselves on their own dime and was fired for it.

            1. Mona Lisa*

              I could see that she might have registered each person individually with the company’s credit card and then used her own card on her registration. She might have still been in the company’s conference account but allowed to use a different card number.

            2. Roscoe*

              I mean, I guess I could see it in some ways. Like my company will let me pay for anything I want to get the points, then they will reimburse me. So that could be a thought.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s not that weird. Sometimes people pay for their own stuff because they want to control the arrangements or get their own room or get airline points on a credit card. It would be pretty rare for the person processing the registrations to think anything of that (or even notice it, really, assuming the payments are through an automated system).

              But also, this seems very much like Not the Point.

              1. Ann O'Nemity*

                Totally agree with the credit card travel points! A couple of my employees prefer travel reimbursement for this very reason.

                1. Christine*

                  When people get at the executive & director levels they have company credit cards. Either they or their executive assistants logged on and paid for them. Or they wanted the travel credits.

            4. Mena*

              Not sneaking at all. Not everyone has a company credit card (I avoided one for years to keep the points). How you pay isn’t policed by the conference coordinator. You pay with a card in your name; whether or not you get reimbursed isn’t the concern of the conference coordinator.

            5. Annonymouse*

              I can see it though.
              If OP was supposed to register the people on the list and added them self that’s the sneakiness.

              You can arrange for separate payments for people going to conferences (different cards for each executive, personal cards that get reimbursed, one card for people in department x, another for department y etc) so that wouldn’t raise eyebrows.

              There are several steps OP had to take to cross from naive to insubordination:

              1) Asked to go to conference. Was told no. Instead of asking why or asking if they could go if they paid for themself they came up with “plan b”.

              2) Offered to help an injured coworker with their work on the conference – particularly registering attendees.

              3) Used and abused that coworkers trust by putting themself on the list without checking with anyone at work that it would be ok.

              4) Also by putting themself on the list they skipped any vetting process at their work and the conference. It made it look like the company agreed OP could go and represent them.

              5) Took time off but probably didn’t say where they were going.

              6) Totally surprised own company high level executives at conference – getting boss, coworker and goodness knows how many other people in trouble in the process.

              So it’s more than naivety at play here. OP had many chances to ask if what they were doing was ok and didn’t.

              Their actions caused many people to get in trouble.

              It’s not so much showing up at the conference but HOW they got there that’s the problem.

              1. Been There, Done That*

                It’s not insubordinate to not say where you’re going when you take time off from work. I believe Alison has posted before that when you take time off (such as for interviews), you aren’t obligated to tell you boss what you want the time off for.

                1. Annonymouse*

                  I agree with you that in general what you do on leave is up to you – your bosses only need to know if it is holiday, sick or other.

                  This is different though. OP knew they were going to run into their own company at this conference – possibly the same people that approved their leave.

                  In this circumstance it would have been prudent to mention where they were going as to avoid the fury of the boss’s boss and everyone above.

              2. Cheryl*

                I totally agree with your interpretation and think that firing makes sense in this case. I also question the “not realizing that it was for senior employees,” and I wonder if this OP saw it as an opportunity to network with some high level employees in the industry.

        5. neverjaunty*

          You’re missing something here.

          If the conference actually requires the company to say “these people have X experience” and expects attendees to show that, then the OP must have told them she has that, because she signed herself up for it.

          If the conference just goes by the honor system then it’s not really on them to check.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            Yeah, there’s a missing step somewhere– if the company had to do something to get one of their other attendees in despite not having the exact rank level required, shouldn’t something have to have happened with the LW’s signup to signify she was qualified to be there?

            Maybe it is the honor system and the company approached the organizers about that other person proactively, and otherwise it wouldn’t have been noticed?

            1. Anna*

              Or maybe it just wasn’t a conference for that level, job description, etc. and it never occurred to anyone that someone would assume it was for everyone who thought they’d like to go. I go to a conference almost yearly that could technically be registered for by anyone at my job on their own. However, if one of our instructors showed up at that conference, it would be obvious they didn’t belong, whether or not they had signed up on their own.

              The special permission was from the company for the director, not the conference organizers, and it probably had everything to do with “it’s a conference for executive level, but this director could benefit from going, so we have to get permission to spend the money on the registration, travel, and accommodations for that director.” The organizers, I can guarantee you, don’t care where the companies attending draw the executive line, but the companies have to be able to justify the expenditure.

        6. AnotherAlison*

          I attended an executive-level conference that my company sent me to. I was a senior analyst, but my role was such that it was a fit for me to go. I don’t think it’s on the conference organizers to determine who the companies should send. There is a big difference between entry-level and senior analyst, but again, I don’t think it’s up to the organizers to understand every company’s internal titles and politics.

          I think the OP was out of line here. She clearly misunderstood the objective of the conference, and yet really went out of her way to make arrangements. I feel like she didn’t do adequate research on the conference before making a financial investment (even though it was her own), and that’s part of the judgment error.

          1. Czhorat*

            Yes, your last paragraph sums up my thinking as well. If the OP is going to attend a conference – especially on their own dime – then they should research it a bit first to see if it’s a good fit for their knowledge-level and place in the industry.

            Also, if you’re an entry-level person then a vacation week, plane ticket, and a few nights in a hotel is a fairly major expense. Your doing so without first getting the blessing of your company or even really understanding what you were travelling to is a sign of questionable judgment. I know the OP meant the best, but this can read as a sort of manic desperation more rather than initiative.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Yeah, that’s a good point. There’s a level of “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” determination at work here that’d make me wonder – that IS making me wonder – why the hell she was so damn determined to get herself to that conference.

              1. Red Rose*

                Not knowing exactly what was said to make her so determined to go, I would guess it was something about “a lot of movers and shakers in the industry will be there,” which would make her see this as a great networking opportunity.

            2. irritable vowel*

              Yes – I’m quite sure that this cost the OP close to $1000, if not more, plus what is probably limited vacation time.

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                And if I were her boss, I’d wonder what her motive was, why she was so determined. Industrial espionage is a thing, and in certain industries, someone going to great lengths to insert themselves into conversations above their pay grade is an indicator of an inside security threat.

                1. Anna*

                  I don’t think this is at all what they were thinking. Especially since this was so brazen it reeks of not really Getting It.

            3. JessaB*

              Also if the OP had so little knowledge of what the function was for or about, why did they want to go so badly? I mean if I wanted to go to something I’d at least have a clue why and that might have pointed out the disconnect from what the conference was about and the OP’s level of employment.

              Wouldn’t it be obvious from the programming notes?

          2. legalchef*

            “She clearly misunderstood the objective of the conference”

            This struck me too – she heard about it in the elevator, and then what? Did she not look into it further at all? Presumably, a conference for upper level management would have been described/advertised as such.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              In fairness, that could have been obvious to someone with experience in the industry, but not to a newbie – “Teapot Expo 2017” is a lot different than “The Next 50 Years of Teapots”.

            2. a big fish in a very small pond*

              I totally agree, legalchef, but I’d also point out that given OP’s naivety even if she researched the details of the conference it may not have helped OP determine the appropriateness, since conference vendors almost always include an unreasonably long and broad list of “Who Should Attend?” in the description – though as entry level her position would probably not have been included even on the long, broad list!

            3. Biff*

              On the other hand, I’ve seen conventions dramatically misunderstand their place in the world, or state what they’d like to be, not what they are. (This is sometimes because the convention has migrated away from its roots, but hasn’t really updated the information page or advertising copy, and it’s sometimes because the convention is trying to grow in a specific direction, but is still at a different stage.)

              A couple years ago, I was very intent on attending a convention that said it was for Any and All Teapot Designers, good for those at the bottom and at the top. I talked to a friend who regularly attended and found out it was really shop-talk shmooze fest that was for people attempting to build a large network. Not at all what I was looking for. Had I nto known this and just gone by the website information, I’d have been convinced it was a skill builder type place, not a schmoozey, networker build your career type event.

              1. SusanIvanova*

                Or just bad at presentation. I went to a conference once that sent me promos showing 3-5 sessions on mini teapots – well, it turned out those were the *only* sessions on mini teapots, and the rest of them were on industrial-sized tea dispensers. And at that, the mini teapot focus was on how they related to the big ones, not how they were used for single servings. That was a week of totally wasted time; it wasn’t even useful for networking.

            4. legalchef*

              Hmm. I guess because she was calling this a conference and not a convention, I was picturing this as more of a series of lectures/panels and less a bunch of vendors, but maybe that is industry-specific. I was thinking that it was something with panel titles and descriptions that would clearly indicate that it is for higher level people.

          3. a big fish in a very small pond*

            “She clearly misunderstood the objective of the conference, and yet really went out of her way to make arrangements.”

            YES! I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head with both points!

        7. AnonAnalyst*

          I wonder if the OP’s employer got blow back from the conference organizer for her attendance since she registered as an employee of the organization. If registration is somehow closed off so that only certain people can use the registration system (such as, the employee the OP was helping out), I can see how it might seem like the company officially sanctioned her attendance.

          It seems like an overreaction on behalf of the organization, but if the employer was criticized and embarrassed for what happened, that might explain the magnitude of the response. Especially since it seems like registration is limited, maybe this is an invitation-only type event and the employer was concerned about being able to attend in the future.

          1. Kalamet*

            This is a good point. I also wonder if the company came down so hard on OP because the situation made *them* look bad. I mean, this company handled its registration in such a way that an entry-level employee could sneak into the attendee list without them catching it. That doesn’t reflect well on their internal processes – maybe that was embarrassing?

            1. Bex*

              Depending on the exclusivity of the event, firing the problem employee could also be the company’s way of assuring the organizers that this will not happen again. Especially since the conference organizers asked the OP to leave, so they were clearly unhappy.

          2. Anna*

            Literally the organizers wouldn’t know what level she was at. What? Are they looking at her and thinking “Well clearly she is too young to be an executive! I’m going to yell at them!” No, they are not. They don’t care. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a lot of embarrassment and there was a whole lot of “what the hell are you doing here didn’t we tell you no and if you are here who should I be having a serious conversation with.”

            1. Anna*

              I’ll add that according to the OP, the person who saw her at the conference was the same person who had told her the company couldn’t send her, so presumably the OP’s boss’ boss was pissed because it was pretty obvious the OP had ignored her entirely.

            2. Annonymouse*

              If the organisers hadn’t thought it was a big deal they wouldn’t have refunded the fee and asked them to leave.

              Also OP themself notes that this was a high level conference. And there is a reason for that.

            3. Jojo*

              How do you know they wouldn’t know? Most of the conferences I attend have maybe 30 attendees max, and every single one of us is recognisable due to our success and visibility in the industry. If it was a small and elite conference then they absolutely would have noticed a stranger and asked who she was.

        8. SophieChotek*

          I can see your/possibly OP’s reasoning: Being told “we can’t send you to this conference” clearly says to me, “we can’t afford the time/money/etc to send you”. But then later on it becomes clear from the letter that the real reason apparently was because the conference was for upper management only. But if initially the OP interpreted it as “we can’t afford to send you…” I guess I can see how if the OP wanted to go this badly the OP thought paying their own way was the only way to get there. (Too bad at the moment OP didn’t say, “If it’s a question of funds, I’d be willing to pay my own way and use vacation time” — that might have clarified matters immediately).
          Am unclear if the OP’s boss’s boss that needed permission to go needed permission from the company or the conference organizers…

          1. misplacedmidwesterner*

            Yes this exactly. When she was told “we can’t send you”, she should have come back and said “I’m still interested in attending and paying my own way” and then had that conversation. That happens a decent amount at my work. And sometimes the answer is still no but sometimes it is yes.

            The entire thing where she added her name to the company list is really sneaky and underhanded to me. I understand why she was let go.

            1. Salamander*

              Yeah. There should have been a conversation with her manager about paying her own way. Not having that discussion seems really weird.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                Yup. And I’m also side-eyeing the manager for approving the PTO during the same week as the conference and not questioning that too. Like, you know OP wants to go to this thing, you’re now going to this thing, she takes off the same week as you and the other execs, and you don’t think to even casually inquire as to where she’s going? I don’t know, maybe that would have been an overstep on the part of the manager, and I’m certainly not saying OP is blameless here because she’s not (not asking the manager if she could go if she paid her own way and then not mentioning attending the conference beforehand does give the appearance that OP knew she was doing something she shouldn’t have been doing, even if subconsciously). I just think this whole lack of communication on both sides was problematic.

                1. LKW*

                  I didn’t get a good sense of timing between asking the question and then attending the conference. The manager may have assumed that since people would be out of the office for the conference, the OP would have down time. Or the manager may not have put two and two together.

                2. Seal*

                  I don’t know that I’d go so far as blaming the manager for approving the time off. My guess is that they didn’t necessarily put 2 and 2 together. If I told an employee my institution couldn’t send them to a conference they had no business attending, I’d assume that would be the end of it. For that matter, it looks like the OP didn’t actually loop their manager in on any of this; they repeatedly mention that they talked to their manager’s manager. So it may well have not occurred to the OP’s manager that they wanted time off to attend this conference. It may also have been another reason the OP got fired; as a manager, I’d be furious to find out that an employee did such a blatant end run around me at the company’s expense.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The OP didn’t ask her manager about the conference; she asked the manager’s manager. There was no reason for the manager to connect it. (And even if she’d asked the manager originally … managers have to keep track of so many details, I would definitely not think it’s odd that the manager didn’t ask about this. Good lord. Last thing on my mind — why would it be?)

                4. Blue_eyes*

                  Plus, taking off when lots of managers are at the conference might actually be a good idea. I know in my office things would be very quiet with lots of senior people out, so it would be easy to take time off.

                5. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  Yeah, I would probably just think that the OP was taking off because it’s slow around the office when everyone is away at a conference. It wouldn’t occur to me to think that she had elaborately plotted to sneak into the conference.

            2. Red Reader*


              Beyond that, the fact that the LW jumped through all these hoops and booked time off and then didn’t tell anyone they were going to a work related conference just seems weird, like they knew they would be in trouble for it.

        9. Czhorat*

          Even if nothing else, the boss looks bad because they didn’t know who was coming from their company. If I’m heading to a conference with my team, I shouldn’t be surprised by which of us is there. It makes the company look disorganized and unprofessional.

          1. Cinnamon Owl*

            I agree, LW embarrassed the company. At a minimum that they look disorganized and clueless, at a maximum that they now believe they have an “INDUSTRIAL SPIES APPLY HERE” sticker on their forehead or might be excluded from the conference in the future.

            Add in the sneakiness and ignoring what they were told and abusing a position of trust, and I get the firing.

        10. Lily in NYC*

          I can see how a very hierarchical organization would flip out over this, regardless of whose “fault” it was. My company is like this and would definitely have fired OP – and anyone who works here for more than a couple of weeks realizes very quickly how hierarchical we are; so I can see how it can be viewed as a judgment issue or even insubordination. You just don’t sign yourself up for conferences without permission after you’ve been told no.
          I’m not saying I agree with OP getting fired; I think a reprimand would have sufficed and I have lots of sympathy for her.

        11. zora*

          In most places I’ve worked, going to conferences is a privilege, not automatic. I have definitely been told I could not attend a particular conference even when I offered to pay for it out of my own pocket and take vacation time. Part of it is just what is a priority for me to be spending my time on, and part of it is that other people attending from my organization might have earned the privilege to go to that conference and the career opportunities it affords them, and if I’m new to my job, it is kind of skipping the line.

          I don’t see this as that weird, honestly.

          1. misplacedmidwesterner*

            Exactly this. Going to a conference is an investment in you as an employee and we need to make sure you are worth it. We don’t often send people to out of state conferences in the first year/probationary period for that reason.

            Also everything the LW wrote about the conference: it would be good for my career, etc” was about how the conference would benefit her. At my office, we require employees to write up conference request justifications about how the conference will benefit our organization. (ie I am going to xyz session which will be directly applicable to this part of my job). I’m not seeing any awareness on the LW part that the company needs to benefit from the conference attendance, not just her.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              The reasons would not be something to say to a boss if you expected approval for the expenses.

        12. Noah*

          The company was embarrassed because she registered as an employee of the company, so it looked to other people like the company sent an entry level employee to a director-level conference.

          1. Anna*

            I don’t think that’s what happened. I think what happened is the manager’s manager thought she had been clear when she told the OP the company couldn’t send them, and then saw the OP at the conference. I’d be pretty pissed, too, without giving a thought at all about what everyone must be thinking of me or my company.

            1. Kateedoo*

              Is anyone else getting a sense that this was a very small conference? OP says “when word of what I did got around the conference” it sounds like a smallish gathering. I’ve attended some conferences where they are so big no one (except for people from my own company) would notice if someone was unqualified to be in attendance and the organizers don’t care as long as fees are being paid. It sounds like this was exclusive in title level as well as size. That increases the embarrassment factor for her company and her manager in particular, who must have looked very foolish when she wasn’t aware who was representing her company at an intimate event.

        13. a*

          I’m at a company that likes to have “a presence” at industry conferences. The company likes to send a variety of people so they can get their feet wet with conferences/the industry… but that’s generally *after* a certain period of time has passed so that they can be comfortable the employee will represent the company well. I think if some random employee surprise-showed up on their own time it would be worrisome from the, “now we have to stop and get our heads around how responsible we are for this person, in addition to the other stuff we’re trying to accomplish at this conference” perspective. Plus, if OP is busted as having snuck into the conference, it sort of makes the company look like they don’t have their house in order.

          I don’t think any of this is the end of the world, I actually feel for OP a lot. As “just out of college” workplace mistakes go, this one is ultimately pretty benign. Still, based on my own experience, I can imagine a lot of non-malevolent reasons the company might have been upset by OP’s attendance.

        14. Been There, Done That*

          I agree. There’s a big difference between “We can’t send you” and “You’re not permitted to go because it’s for senior management only.” A lot of young pups are eager to put themselves out there with the movers and shakers to network; maybe it’s not the best judgement, but everybody was just starting out sometime, so even if the employee deserved a reprimand, firing sounds so way over the top. Also, I wonder if there were conference materials that should have spelled out who the conference was open to.

          1. Been There, Done That*

            Sorry, I misread the original post and missed that employee added herself to her company’s list of attendees and didn’t sign up directly w/ organizers as an independent attendee.

        15. Freya UK*

          I read it like you Mike.

          If nothing else, I’m a very straightforward person – I often don’t pick up on hints or things subtly cushioned in social niceties. The LW could just be the same kind of person. It’s definitely caused me some problems in the worplace over the years, but I’m not going to feel bad about being the employee that can handle a direct approach. Meh.

        16. BioBot*

          I think the company is embarrassed because she signed herself up as a representative of the company. Yes, she was there on her own time and own dime, but other attendees wouldn’t know that. They’d see her as “So-and-So, Company-In-Question” and assume her company had sent an entry-level employee to a conference for upper-level employees. Of course they’re embarrassed. Her actions, as well-meant as they were, made her company look like it didn’t understand industry norms and the point of the conference.

        17. Linds*

          I feel like in this case it may depend on how the event is organized/advertised. Even if it isn’t an internal conference, if it was privately circulated, not publicly advertised, invite only etc. then their reaction seems fairly reasonable. Not to mention, I think there was a lack of focus on his sketchy actions in signing up in the first place. He obviously volunteered to help his coworker with the conference portion of his work to be able to sign up. That to me seems like huge breach of privacy, maybe equivalent of using someone’s computer/files etc. without permission, because he was using it in a way that he was not authorized to do.

  2. Leatherwings*

    Aw, OP. I’m sorry this whole thing happened. If this was a one-off bad judgement, I don’t think I would’ve fired you, but it sounds like this might not have been a one-off, or this was an extremely embarrassing thing for the company. Chalk it up to a lesson-learned and know that most of us have made bad judgement calls at some point. You’ll have many other chances.

      1. Leatherwings*

        For the same reasons Alison said – because it’s a fairly extreme reaction it just makes you wonder. Nothing the OP said, to be clear.

        1. Fiennes*

          Even if it wasn’t a one-off, if nothing else LW did rose to the level of being spoken to by a manager, a firing over something this harmless to the normal course of business is extreme. This goes double bc LW did ask about the conference and wasn’t given an answer clear enough to make the boundary clear.

          My first instinct is that this office is highly hierarchical, and the LW’s move was seen as a power play when it wasn’t.

          1. Leatherwings*

            I don’t necessarily agree that this was harmless to the normal course of business. It’s hard to tell from where we’re sitting, but it seems like this was pretty embarrassing for the company and completely out of the norm.

            Like I said, if this was a one-off bad judgement call I don’t think I would’ve made the same decision as the company and would’ve instead had a serious conversation with OP. But I can also see where they’re coming from (particularly since OP signed up in secret while helping out a co-worker, basically taking advantage of the fact that there was no gatekeeper).

            1. MegaMoose, Esq*

              Just because a single action might be harmless, it might still be the cherry on the “bad judgment” Sunday. And even though the OP didn’t see this as insubordination, her manager certainly might have seen it that way. That can be a one-strike offense in many offices.

          2. Cambridge Comma*

            Well, or the company wanted to choose who represented them at this conference and didn’t appreciate suddenly seeing OP there with their name on her badge.

            1. Creag an Tuire*

              I suspect this has a lot to do with it — it’s unclear whether “Senior Management Only” was a hard and fast rule set by the convention, or just a, erm, convention, but either way if I know the convention is full of C-level nabobs in my field, I want only my most trusted and professional peole there, and I’d probably flip out if someone I didn’t vet showed up with my company’s name badge, never mind how they paid for it.

              1. Leatherwings*

                Yep and if they’re not prepped and don’t have talking points in line with the company’s messaging, I’d be worried.

                1. Cinnamon Owl*

                  These are really good points–that even had there been public registration, the company knows everyone there with Actualizing Teapots on their nametag will be seen as formally representing the company, and they don’t want surprises.

              2. BananaPants*

                If I register for a conference on my own time and with my own money, I don’t put my company affiliation on the registration unless I have to – because I’m not there as a representative of my employer, nor am I trying to be.

          3. Fortitude Jones*

            My first instinct is that this office is highly hierarchical, and the LW’s move was seen as a power play when it wasn’t.

            This. I had a manager who hated when we did anything without speaking to her first, even registering for self-study opportunities where no management permission is required or needed. Some people are very territorial, and the OP clearly did not read the room well enough at this place to figure that out.

          4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            But this was a string of bad judgment all its own, not a single instance of it. From the perspective of management, they asked to go to a conference and was clearly told they couldn’t go, then decided to go without approval (strike 1), went behind the back of an injured coworker to register themselves for the conference anyway (strike 2) and then took vacation time, presumably without telling her manager that she was doing so to attend the conference she’d already been told she couldn’t go to (steeeeeeerike 3).

            And it’s three strikes you’re out in the ooooold baaaaaaalllllll gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame

            I believe that OP is really so naïve as to think that was just showing initiative, but I can’t imagine how that looked like anything but a string of bad judgment and outright disingenuousness to her bosses.

            1. Emi.*

              This is a really good point–even if OP’s judgment was just fine until now, it’s not a one-off.

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                And arguably, she lied by omission when she requested the time off. So there’s that too.

                1. Is it Friday Yet?*

                  It seems weird not to bring that up when requesting the time off or even earlier… Especially if OP knew she would see her co-workers and/or managers at the conference.

              2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                Exactly. A whole string of bad judgement was necessary to pull off this “one-off” thing that the OP did; it was an all-inclusive package of bad judgement.

            2. Scrooge McLawyer*

              I disagree on one of your strikes: I don’t think taking vacation time without telling your boss why you’re taking it is, by itself, a strike. Vacation is vacation.

              I think this was a mistake, maybe a misuse of company trust to sign herself up for the conference using the company invite/system, if that is really how it happened, but I don’t see it as a fireable offense by itself. I think it’s a stretch to read mal-intent into this — The letter makes it sound like she was honestly trying to better herself and further her career. Sure, there’s a lapse in judgment (and perhaps a serious one – or two or three!) but I don’t think it was disingenuous and for that reason I think it’s an opportunity for training rather than a good reason for firing.

              1. Is it Friday Yet?*

                In this instance, it’s odd to me that she didn’t mention it only because she knew she’d be running into people from her company at the conference. In almost any other scenario, I’d agree that you’re not required to tell your boss why you’re taking vacation time.

              2. zora*

                Technically maybe vacation is vacation, but if you show up at a conference with your company’s name on your badge, even if it’s on your vacation time, you are still representing your company. That’s what makes it a strike.

                1. sstabeler*

                  exactly- for that matter, even IF she had registered independently, if she was putting herself forward as a representative of the company w/o permission, that would itself be a Very Serious Conversation and/or firing offense in and of itself.

              3. Observer*

                She was trying to better herself by misusing access to a system that she wasn’t supposed to have access to. So that, to me, is a major issue.

            3. Emmie*

              OP did not get fired for merely attending the conference. She used her access to company financial systems to comingle her personal funds with work systems; to secretly book her attendance; didn’t notice that the conference attendees were at a different level than her (a very minor issue); she impacted the reputation of another employee; and may have created business or tax implications to her employer.

              Her situation is heightened if she’s in a position of special trust (teacher, accounting, finance, payroll, HR, legal, audit, etc…) or in a special industry or situation (like the company is under a SEC investigation, or it provides auditing services, etc..)

              I wonder how OP handled the situation. I am not here to make OP feel more horrible than she already does. There are plenty of factors that go into making these decisions. Use this as a really hard, horrible lesson. And good luck to you.

              1. Natalie*

                Oh, for goodness sake. Paying for a conference slot with her credit card is not “commingling funds with work systems”, nor is it at all likely that there would be any financial or tax consequences. There’s plenty to critique the LW about without resorting to dubious legal fearmongering.

                1. Emmie*

                  It is commingling funds albeit to a much lesser degree than very large scandals. This isn’t “legal fearmongering,” but they are concerns that some organizations would have including my own – a special trust industry.

                2. Natalie*

                  I’m not sure what you’re envisioning she did to pay for it herself, but it seems fairly likely that she entered her own credit card information on the conference website. Her card pays the conference directly. Her company isn’t involved one bit.

                3. Anna*

                  No, Emmie, that’s not at all true or the case here. People pay for their own shit all the time for work and either get prepaid or reimbursed.

                4. Not So NewReader*

                  @Anna, but OP was not planning on asking for reimbursement. I am wondering if there are tax issues there for the company. She paid for her own conference.

                5. Rater Z*

                  One thing we don’t know is whether she is exempt or non-exempt. Entry level employee could go either way. If she is non-exempt and is attending the conference, could it be considered work-related for which she would have to be paid? Just asking.

                  I haven’t been thru all the 800 plus comments so it might be covered somewhere below this spot.

                6. copy run start*

                  It may not have been a legal issue, but management may have feared OP would make a case for getting her costs reimbursed since on paper it appeared she was there representing the company like the rest of the attendees due to her registering through her employer.

                  A similar issue came up with my previous employer, when three different branches treated the same conference three different ways (one as vacation time, one as all work, and one as a mix depending on the event). The branch who told employees to take vacation time created a shitstorm when those folks found out others were being reimbursed expenses and not forced to take vacation. And those who didn’t go because they couldn’t afford to were also pretty angry. I don’t remember the resolution since I wasn’t directly involved, but I do remember many bitter musings in the breakroom.

                7. Natalie*

                  @ NSNR, this is late so probably won’t be read, but hey, it’s my business:

                  Assuming this is the US, there are no tax concerns for the company. Companies are not required to reimburse employee expenses. (Even in California, only expenses incurred as a direct consequence of discharging your duties have to be reimbursed – the situation the OP describes would likely not count.) Payments not made have no effect on taxes.

                  Assuming the individual employee itemizes deductions and has unreimbursed business expenses greater than 2% of their AGI, they could take a deduction. But there’s no issue if they are entitled to it and don’t take it. Simply put, the IRS doesn’t expend a lot of energy trying to determine if you will pay *less* tax.

            4. BioBot*

              Yeah, I think the central issue is that, deep down, OP knew they shouldn’t be doing this. If you are taking all these steps to go to a conference (as a representative of your company!), but somehow never take the step of letting your boss know you’re going, you know you’re doing something kind of shady.

              I can see the logic behind some of the small steps — but you still need to take a step back and look at the logic behind the big picture.

          5. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I don’t think this was harmless. OP never mentioned to anyone that she was taking her vacation time to attend this conference on her own dime. That stuck out to me as kind of odd. Like, okay, yes, they told you that *they* couldn’t send you, but why didn’t you ever mention you were planning to attend?

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              I think it was harmless in her mind. But like you said – how does that not come off as sneaky?

              1. Anon13*

                Agreed. She seems to realize that she’s at least partially at fault here, so I don’t want to be too harsh, but, to me, the fact that she didn’t mention to anyone that she was planning on attending on her own dime makes it look like she was trying to hide something. OP, I know that’s not at all what you intended, but I can see why management would view it that way.

            2. TootsNYC*

              I don’t think people are required to tell their bosses why they want vacation–but it is weird that she didn’t mention she was going to the conference on her own, since the conference was connected to the business and the industry.

              It does make her look sneaky.

              1. HRChick*

                Not only was it connected to the business and the industry, but the OP obviously knew that she was likely to others from her own company there. Seems like she was trying to go the “better to ask forgiveness than permission” route and that doesn’t really work here.

              2. Detective Amy Santiago*

                People definitely aren’t required to tell their bosses why they want vacation under most circumstances. But specifically not mentioning that you’re going to a work related event is a problem. Did OP think that they would be able to avoid anyone from their company?

            3. Cinnamon Owl*

              I think it’s an attempt to apply ‘easier to ask forgiveness than permission.’ With the (clearly misguided) idea that gumption will win out.

          6. a big fish in a very small pond*

            I agree, Fiennes.

            OP’s lack of judgment goes beyond inexperience – there is something very sneaky and insubordinate about OP’s approach to enrolling and making the arrangements. I think it’s clear that OP’s very high level of enthusiasm and naivety made for a hazardous combination in this first career job.

          7. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Honestly, I disagree that this was harmless. The OP used underhanded methods to access something she wasn’t supposed to (!!!), signed herself up for something using that fraudulent access (!!!), and then saw absolutely nothing wrong with what she did. That’s…. not harmless. It’s a pretty severe breach of ethics.

          8. Cochrane*

            Spot on. The “loss of face” is compounding the issue if this is a workplace that is ridgidly hierarchical. From the manager who told OP “no” but showed up anyway to the peers at the conference who will no doubt notice the “kid” in the presence of senior people, it makes people above OP look bad. This is a career fatality in this kind of environment.

            That said, there is a very fine line between initiative and boundary-overstep and that changes from workplace to workplace. Something that would get you a slap on the back and a kind word from the boss for your moxie would get you kicked to the curb in other places. The post-university first job is usually the place where you sort it all out.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Your last paragraph is exactly why I would have hesitated to fire the OP going by only what we know in the post (we’ll presume she’s right when she said she was a stellar employee up to this point). She’s fresh out of college, she’s only been in the job 8 months – did she overstep? Absolutely. Did some of her actions look sneaky and underhanded? Yup. However, the manager could have sat her down and told her all of this and made it clear that, going forward, she is not to do anything conference or education related without management approval first. If she does it again, then termination would be on the table.

              1. HRChick*

                But if the actions appear sneaky and underhanded, it would appear that the OP know that she was not to do anything with the conference and she did it anyways. I would not want someone like that on my team.

              2. Cinnamon Owl*

                Had they signed up for the conference through the general public portal it would be a far milder offense. It’s working around that limitation that really pushes the questionable judgment on multiple fronts. (Including simply that they missed this huge flashing clue that this wasn’t open to everyone, and so “Hi I just wandered in off the street” wasn’t going to fly when they bumped into their boss’s boss’s boss.)

              3. SQL Coder Cat*

                I think it also depends a great deal on what the OP’s industry and role were. As a systems analyst, even when just starting out, I have been granted access to a HUGE amount of confidential data- not just on the company as a whole, but on individuals. Respecting confidentiality and using access appropriately are a crucial part of the job. Taking advantage of your access for /anything/ not related to your job duties would get your fired, because this is such a core part of the job. If she had been able to go to the conference using her own resources, INCLUDING securing registration without using her company’s access, it would probably have been survivable. But in many industries and specializations, misuse of access results in termination, period.

                1. Fortitude Jones*

                  See, I’m in a highly regulated industry as well where access is a HUGE DEAL, and I’m not sure this would have been an immediate dismissal at my company. Using access to steal someone’s PII? Absolutely. Using access to cut yourself checks? No question (and apparently this happened in my last division). But using access to go to a conference where no one got hurt and nothing was stolen? Eh…I can see why people think the firing is justified, but to me, unless there were other more egregious issues, this wouldn’t rise to that level.

            2. Martina Marprelate*

              I really do feel terrible for the LW. This must have been a horribly embarrassing experience.

              I suspect that this entire thing would probably make a whole lot more sense if we had a few identifying details, such as the industry involved. For example, I worked for a pretty high-end finance firm for awhile, and they are extremely hierarchical, formal, and rigid. Also hyper vigilant, not to say paranoid, about information security, media relations, industry reputation, and messaging. It is simply a reality of working in the industry, but I could see a newbie not quite getting that at first.

              I was way too far down the totem pole to get close to anything like this, but I assume that my boss’s, boss’s boss was invited to conferences where a junior worker bee would be NOT invited. If for no other reason than that having a loose cannon around to overhear and possibly blab about confidential conversations between industry execs could have major repercussions in the media, government, and the stock market. And unfortunately, the very fact of her being at the conference would signal that she was unreliable, had poor judgement, and no boundaries. All excellent reasons, in context, for management to lose it and be out for blood. Thinking back to some of my managers, LW would have been lucky it wasn’t real blood. (I jest, but…yeah)

          9. Kateedoo*

            I doubt the manager even remembers OP asking about the conference. She asked at a meeting (!!) and the manger was probably just like, “What? no, we can’t send you. Anyway, back to out quarterly figures here….” My feeling is that a manger would move on mentally after being asked so seeing OP at the conference was quite shocking. It also shows she is bad at communicating. If I was attending the same conference as someone else I would certainly bring it up in conversation. Keeping mum about it is extremely odd.

    1. MissGirl*

      She does sound a bit duplicitous. I wonder if she volunteered to help her coworker for the sole reason of signing herself up for the conference. She went at this with a one-track mind, which can be a pro or a con, depending on the situation. She wouldn’t be the first OP who used “I was trying to show initiative” as an excuse for pushing clear boundaries. I also understand the company’s frustration because she did sign herself up under the company name without their knowledge and caused them embarrassment.

      Of course, this could very well be her first mistake and the company jumped the gun. Either way, it’s a good lesson to us all about asking first when entering gray area. If you want to show initiative but it’s out of bounds of what your role is, ask your supervisor what they think. Don’t make assumptions especially when new and entry level. I can definitely learn from this.

      1. Mike C.*

        So it says that she was asked to help out, so there’s no volunteering here. I read it more as a “I was asked to do this thing, and saw that it had to do with that conference I was interested in so I took the initiative”.

        I could certainly see that she should have asked if she could include herself in the registration or if she should sign up externally instead. But I can’t help but think that someone should have told her what was going on. If it wasn’t clear from all the paperwork, it seems like there was no way to know.

        If it was however, then that would change things significantly.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          But without the benefit of the doubt, that can look a lot like “I’ll take advantage of the access I just got to sign myself up for the conference I was already told I couldn’t go to.”

          Not saying she was disingenuous, but the optics are not in her favor. She looks like she was refusing to take no for an answer.

        2. Dani X*

          She as asked to help a colleague carry itmes to another floor. When he said that he was overwhelmed she volunteered to help and then used the opportunity to sign herself up.

          1. Kateedoo*

            And she’s also low enough on the totem pole that one of her assignments is “help carry stuff” so I’m sure no one even suspected she would try to attend the conference. Those sorts of things don’t even cross upper management’s mind.

        3. LawBee*

          I’m inclined to think that if she weren’t so new to the working world, it would have been more clear. Would I have fired her for this? I don’t know. It really depends on if there were other things going on that OP hasn’t told us (for any number of reasons, most of which don’t involve any kind of nefariousness on anyone’s part), how angry her boss was, etc.

          But honestly, registration paperwork for a conference that is understood within the industry to be executive level only doesn’t have to SAY that it’s executive-level only. It’s understood, in the same way that a more seasoned employee would have gotten that “We can’t send you to this conference” that her grandmanager and upper management was going to means that she can’t go. The OP could have gotten that information in so many ways before spending a significant amount of her own money on this trip. She could have asked her manager why not. She could have noticed that the people going were upper management, and asked about that. She also could have asked around to see if anyone at her level was attending. It just doesn’t sound like she did any kind of basic research on the suitability of the conference for someone at her level – which is understandable for someone eight months out of college.

          I feel for the OP. I was fired from my first job out of college for making a similar error in judgment (I didn’t attend a conference, but I made a decision that wasn’t remotely in my job description or job level to make). It sucks, but it’s not unsurmountable.

          1. Anon13*

            I thought the same thing regarding the other registrants – the OP should have noticed that no one entry level (or even mid-level) was attending when she was completing the registrations. I get that her enthusiasm got the best of her, but I was surprised that didn’t set off a red flag.

            1. Cleopatra Jones*

              the OP should have noticed that no one entry level (or even mid-level) was attending when she was completing the registrations.

              The very cynical part of me thinks that she did notice that only senior management was attending the conference. The part about ‘showing initiative’ coupled with the sneakiness of what she did, feels like she was using attendance at the conference as a way to get in front of upper management? set herself a part from her peers? skip steps on the company ladder? or something. I can’t put my finger but something about this letter feels really disingenuous to me.

              1. Vox de Causa*

                I agree – I think there are a few too many mentions of “boss’s boss” and not enough of “boss.” The way this letter is written sounds as if someone with lots of ambition set their sights higher than was realistic (aiming to immediately rub shoulders with much higher levels too early in her career with this organization). I think Alison is correct in saying this trip may not have been the only cause for her manager’s concern.

                OP, I feel for you since you probably worked really hard to get hired right out of school. Losing your job was probably quite a shock. Be kind to yourself and take heart; this can be overcome.

                I hope you will find another position soon, and that you’ll keep in mind at your next job that it’s never a good idea to skip over your boss, and that sneaking around to get something you were already told “No” about is not generally going to be accepted. I can’t tell from the way you wrote your letter whether you have really internalized these things or not.

                Something that will probably help you a lot is working to understand the specific culture of your next organization. Figuring out the unwritten rules (and every company has them) by observing and asking questions to get clarity will help you avoid missteps like this one.

              2. Anon13*

                There’s a very good chance you’re right and I’m viewing the OP’s intentions too generously/naively. In re-reading the post and reading through some of the response, I agree with you that there’s definitely something off/disingenuous going on.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            She could have noticed that the people going were upper management, and asked about that. She also could have asked around to see if anyone at her level was attending.

            I generally agree with what you’ve said here, but not necessarily this part. Since the LW assumed the reason for not sending her to the conference was financial, she could have easily assumed that since the company could only afford to send a few people, they’d only send senior ones. Honestly, I’ve got a conference like that. My employer is never going to pay for anyone on my level to go. But there would be absolutely no problem if I wanted to pay my own way. (I hate to say it, but it might even be considered initiative.)

        4. INeedANap*

          OP was not asked to help with the conference, she volunteered:

          “He had a broken foot and needed help carrying paperwork and laptops up to one of the meeting rooms on another floor. He told me he was swamped with trying to get everything ready for the meeting on top of signing up people for the conference and making all the arrangements. I offered to do all the conference so he could get the meeting set up.”

          She was only asked to help carry stuff. I think she really overstepped in volunteering to do the conference stuff, because it seems like she did so only so she could sign up secretly.

          1. Nolan*

            It’s also not clear if she had permission from her managers to help with the conference stuff. If only the injured coworker knew what she was doing before the conference, and he thought her managers were aware of it, that’s even worse.

        5. TootsNYC*

          She was asked to help carry things. She then volunteered to take over the setting up of the conference, instead of the setting up of the meeting.

        6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          No, she volunteered specifically to handle the conference arrangements.

          I offered to do all the conference so he could get the meeting set up.

        7. Observer*

          Well, she wasn’t asked to take on the registrations, only the carrying stuff. She volunteered to help with the registrations.

          So, from the point of view of a supervisor who knew hat she’s been told “no” that looks really bad.

        8. AD*

          Mike, the OP was pretty diligent in going about this whole thing pretty surreptitiously. It doesn’t make sense to say “someone should have told her” when she didn’t tell anyone (least of all her manager) of her plans.

        9. Cinnamon Owl*

          Taking the initiative to add yourself to the list of approved persons, without going through any of the actual steps to become an approved person, is several steps past gumption.

          And the entire existence of the subterfuge with the broken foot is a strong clue that there was no external sign-up option. That they didn’t understand what the conference was for via what they could scrap up in a google search doesn’t mean that people invited to the conference didn’t know.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq*

      This was my reaction too. I feel quite fortunate that none of my bad decisions when I was new to the workforce (and not so new!) have bitten me in the butt like this.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Boy, is that true! Greenhorns often make mistakes, and if we didn’t get “tagged” by them like this, we’re just lucky.

  3. Fortitude Jones*

    Ideally, your manager should have told you exactly why they couldn’t send you to the conference, OP – that part is on her. But when you get told “no” by someone higher up than you, especially your own boss, you should usually take her at her word. I do agree with Alison that firing you for this was a very strong reaction though. I would have had a serious sit down discussion with you about boundaries and then told you to never do it again if you were in fact a model employee up until that point. But what’s done is done, and just know for next time – no means no.

    1. A.N.Mous*

      I read it as they didn’t just sign up for the conference, but they did it through a very questionable way as well (intentionally offered to help a colleague to get access to the conference registration process). I don’t think it’s a case of just registering on the conference website but that there was more to the process and that OP intentionally misrepresented themselves.

      1. Sadsack*

        The fact that OP didn’t voluntarily tell her manager that she planned to attend anyway on her own is also odd. She booked vacation time and just didn’t bother to mention that she was going to this terrific work-related event. Maybe OP was not being nefarious on purpose, but this would definitely bother me if I were her manager.

        1. MissGirl*

          Yes, it does seem a bit duplicitous. I found it odd she didn’t mention going to her manager since it would be obvious that she would see coworkers at the conference.

        2. always in email jail*

          Yes, this was really concerning. I would be very, very taken aback to find one of my employees at a conference (presumably with our organization’s name on their name tag) without a heads up. Also, she’s representing the organization in a way that she wasn’t authorized to. That’s a big deal to me.

            1. Czhorat*

              Yes. If absolutely nothing else, OP’s boss looks disconnected for not knowing which members of her team are attending.

              One of the first rules of the working world is to not make your boss look bad.

          1. KHB*

            Yes, this. She jetted off to a conference where she knew her presence would be, if not “unwanted,” then at least “unexpected,” and she didn’t bother to tell anyone else from the organization, when she knew she’d be seeing them at the conference. If she really thought that what she was doing was A-OK, why not loop in the higher-ups? Probably because she knew deep down that, in the higher-ups’ eyes, her plan would not be A-OK, and she’d be told no.

            In my office we have a “no surprises” rule: If something out of the ordinary is going on, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal, you need to let the boss know about it so he’s not surprised by it later. It’s exactly for this kind of reason – what you see as not a big deal, he may see as a big deal.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              And it’s hard to argue that she didn’t know that, because she didn’t say anything like, “I’m taking vacation time to go to the teapot conference!” or “Hey, see you at the teapot conference on Tuesday” or anything. Everyone was surprised when she just showed up.

            2. Jessica*

              It’s taking “Better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission” to its illogical extreme. No, sometimes you really need permission.

              1. Cleopatra Jones*

                IME, ‘Better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission’ only works in the plot of a movie. I’ve never actually seen it work well in real life.

                In the professional world, it comes across as over stepping your role’s boundaries. In personal life, it comes across making a unilateral decision that is sure to anger someone close to you.

                1. Marcela*

                  In my personal life, it was the only tactic I could use to do stuff I wanted, for my mom never let me do anything the rest of my friends did. Now I regret not doing more stuff and then dealing with the consequences, because all her rules destroyed our relationship and I did not have a normal childhood and youth anyway.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              That no surprises rule is a wonderful rule and actually has personal life applications that can be helpful, too.

        3. Newby*

          I also think that the manager may have read her actions as intentionally dishonest. Going out of her way to take on the task of registering people for the conference and then adding her name to the list without asking anyone doesn’t look good. I’m not doubting that the OP was trying to help her coworker and really thought it would be ok, but the optics aren’t good.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Heh, I just said the same thing above without seeing your post. Entirely agreed. It can be read as intentionally dishonest, and I bet that’s why everyone was so pissed off at her.

            1. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys*

              I agree with both of you and guess it is about the optics, regardless of intentions. If I were her manager, I’m not sure I would trust this employee again after doing this. This manager also now has to do damage control on their own reputation with the higher ups. It would have taken a long time to rebuild that trust, if ever. Being fired, while it sucks now, may be a blessing in disguise as she will now be able to learn this lesson while starting fresh in a new role and not having to have the uphill struggle to rebuild her reputation.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I think of the manager tracing the employee’s behavior back from the moment she surprised everyone by showing up at the conference, and it must have seemed like uncovering a veritable trail of sneakiness and deceit: showing up unannounced; refusing to leave the premises when asked to do so; booking vacation without ever mentioning that she shared a common destination with her work’s upper management; sneaking onto the list of approved attendees . . .

        4. Anon13*

          Agreed. OP could have easily avoided this issue by mentioning to her manager that she would like to attend anyway, and was willing to pay her own way. I’m sure she realizes this now, but the way she went about this makes her look sneaky, when I don’t think she was trying to be.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, the dishonesty is probably why they felt the need to fire her. However, since this was her first job out of school, I would have been a bit more lenient here – like Alison said, I can see how if the OP thought money was the only thing standing in her way of going, that if she paid for herself, then that should be fine. Of course, it’s not – her manager had already said no, and she should have let it go at that point. But again, the manager should have told her exactly why it was a no – the conference is only for executives. Then if the OP had gone behind her back and registered anyway, I could see possibly firing her for that.

        1. Newby*

          She didn’t necessarily have to let it go at the first no if she thought that it was just a resources problem, but she should have asked if she could go if she took vacation time and paid her own way.

          1. dappertea*

            +1 She definitely should have mentioned that she was planning to go on her own dime or would have liked to. I’m not sure why she wouldn’t mention it in the PTO request or just in normal small talk around the office if she genuinely didn’t see anything wrong with it and was that excited to go.

          2. AMPG*

            I agree – I would totally offer to pay my own way to a conference that I thought would be valuable professionally, but I would be honest with my employer about it.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          You’re not wrong, but at the same time, even fresh out of college, it’s reasonable to expect that an employee will accept a “No, we can’t send you to that conference” on face value. I don’t agree that the manager was remiss in not laying out exactly why she was saying no.

          1. Kalamet*

            It depends on the avenues of registration available, too. Here are the scenarios for conference attendance as I see them:

            1) Conference tickets are publicly available: Sign up for conference yourself and pay for everything.
            2) Conference tickets are publicly available, but sold out: If your company says no, you don’t go.
            3) Conference tickets aren’t publicly available: If your company says no, you don’t go.

            The fact that OP signed herself up through the company list says to me that tickets weren’t available online. Which means that by signing herself up she deliberately circumvented a process. I’m shortly out of college too, but I didn’t need coaching on not modifying business documents without express permission. I believe OP when she says it was a bad judgment call, but I don’t management is to blame and I don’t think it’s salvageable. File it away as a learning experience.

            1. J-nonymous*

              I think this hits the nail on the head. If OP had registered for a publicly-available conference, paid for it herself and showed up, I’d feel a lot more anger at the company’s reaction to the matter (whether the OP listed her company on her registration or not – because how many online forms ask for company name? Answer: a lot). But everything indicated in the letter points to the appearance of sneakiness (and possibly actual sneakiness) and that would really make me concerned about OP’s judgment (as others, including Alison, have noted).

              Like most others, I think firing was overdoing it.

        3. zora*

          I don’t think the manager needs to tell her *why* it’s a no. That is not how it works.

          A low-level employee should be automatically asking their manager about anything that is outside the boundaries of their regular tasks. She should have come back and asked if she could go if she paid for it herself.

          I feel for the OP, I made similar errors in judgement when I was new to the workforce, but I wouldn’t put this on the manager’s communication. This is an important lesson to learn, that you really need to *ask* until you have been somewhere long enough that you know what is okay.

          1. HumbleOnion*

            I think it’s odd that the manager didn’t explain why the OP couldn’t go. ‘No, it’s a conference aimed at upper management & executives’ is all that needed to be said.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s not that odd. Partly it depends on exactly how the question was asked, but it wouldn’t be that weird for the person just to have said “No, we’re only sending a limited number of people” or something like that. Plus, this was her boss’s boss, so there’s not the same investment in coaching.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                It’s not odd, but it is silly to not just say that when it would take only a minute to do so. “You can’t go because it’s executives only” – boom, done. No coaching required.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Sure. But but I don’t want to encourage the OP to think the manager here erred, because she really didn’t. No one perfectly predicts all the times they could have given slightly fuller information to ward off a problem that they shouldn’t have seen coming.

                2. zora*

                  I don’t see why the manager would assume that they need to explain specifically why an entry-level employee can’t attend a certain conference.

                  A manager would normally just say “no” and assume that if the employee really wants more info about the conference that they would ask more questions… waaayyy before just showing up at the conference themselves.

                3. E*

                  “No” is a complete sentence though. If the employee asked for reasons why, he/she might get an explanation or might not, but regardless of this, without manager consent the employee should not have gone to the conference because of the “no” that was the answer.

                4. Rusty Shackelford*

                  I agree that it’s silly not to say “we can’t send you to this conference because you’re not qualified.” It doesn’t excuse what the LW did, but it would have been SO EASY to say “this is for executives only” instead of simply saying “no.” And I personally think it’s better management. I mean, what’s the rationale for NOT telling her? It takes two seconds. The whole thing kind of reminds me of a soap opera where you get a big ball of drama that would never happen if people actually said two or three necessary words. And again, the LW was out of line, and this does not excuse what she did.

                5. Not So NewReader*

                  @ E, totally agree, no means no and the reason is almost irrelevant. It’s still no.
                  OP could have offered to pay her own way while in conversation with that boss, or she could have asked later if she could pay her own way.
                  The fact that she did not, tells me that on some level she knew she was on thin ice.

                6. Cinnamon Owl*

                  Boss’s boss didn’t turn her down in the context of a one-on-one meeting that LW had requested to discuss only this topic. She turned it down when asked at the all-hands–a crowded meeting not remotely about this topic, where it has to have landed as a weirdly random shot.

                  Had LW asked “Should I bring in pie next week?” and been told “No” it wouldn’t be on the boss’s boss to divert the all-hands third quarter strategy meeting into a thorough explanation of the baked goods policy.

            2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              It’s unfortunate for OP that the manager didn’t do that, but it’s certainly not “odd” and there’s no real call for a manager to have to justify beyond “No, we can’t send you to that.”

            3. Erin*

              This stood out to me too. I can see the OP’s thought process to some degree if her manager really didn’t give a reason. I could see how the OP could think “It must be a budgetary thing.”

              But OP, even if that was the case, and even if you were transparent and went back to your manager and told her you were paying for yourself, that puts your manager in a really awkward position. Then she would have to feel bad that she couldn’t afford to send you and you, a young person, were paying an outrageous amount out of pocket.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Transparency is a big problem through out this whole story. Big boss, Broken Foot Guy and Immediate Boss have not been told the full story by OP. There is actually a bunch of other people who probably should have been looped in and were not.

                Work is like a glass house, OP. We actually want people to see what we are doing and we want people to know that we are playing a square game. If you have to do things in secrecy then maybe those things should not be done.

          2. Pescadero*

            I don’t think the manager needs to tell why it’s a no.

            …but saying “we can’t send you” isn’t saying no.

      3. Antilles*

        That was my take too. Look at this from the opposite perspective:
        1.) OP was told that she could not attend the conference.
        2.) OP offered to help someone else register as a favor to another employee.
        3.) OP used that help to sign herself up.
        4.) OP doesn’t mention anywhere that she told her manager that she was planning on going.
        From a manager’s perspective, it seems like straight-up insubordination – trying to find a way to sneak around that initial no (and it certainly would have crossed my mind that you might expect reimbursement on your costs).

        1. a big fish in a very small pond*

          YES! agree, Antilles

          Also, if OP is entry level that probably means non-exempt and despite OP having gone so far out of their way to arrange and attend this conference, it does create a potentially sticky situation for a he said-she said between OP and employer for an industry event. Employers are generally assumed guilty and have to prove innocence and due diligence (if a court determined that the employer “should have known” – which is a very low benchmark), so even if nothing came of that legally (wage, expenses, travelling on business liability, etc), it does introduce a messy scenario that the employer wouldn’t want any part of.

        2. TootsNYC*

          “it seems like straight-up insubordination – trying to find a way to sneak around that initial no”

          Especially because she signed herself up as being an attendee from her company.

          She didn’t sign herself up as being an independent attendee. And I’m guessing her greenhorn status is part of why she doesn’t/didn’t understand that the company has every right to control who steps out in public as their representative, with the company’s name on the name tag.

          Sometimes it’s your own info, as on your resumé, in which case it’s not really a “company sign-up” or “company name on the nametag” situation.

          But sometimes it’s the company’s issue to control. I’ve been in my field a long time, so I might sign up to be a speaker somewhere, etc., using my current credentials (and my past as well), but I would also mention it to my boss. I’d attend a networking thing w/ my company and title on the nametag without mention, but not a conference.

          And in the early days, I didn’t do anything like that without an approval (even if only informal) from my boss.

          It can be a little tricky to parse when I need to get official approval and when I don’t. But I’ve erred on the side of informing long enough to have built up a sense of it.

          1. Kalamet*

            Yeah, this is important. I’ve attended conferences on my own dime and my company’s dime, and it’s really two different experiences. When you have your company name on your badge you have to treat the event as work. My team sent some of us to a conference last year, but they had limited tickets and not everyone got to go – it was a week long and we needed coverage.

          2. Tex*

            Yup, the attendee as company representative was the problem.

            Also I think the OP might have been confused about the difference between a tradeshow and a conference.

            1. msmorlowe*

              Also, I know when I was at university, there were plenty of posters around for conferences and seminars open to all: if that were my only context for ‘conference’, I can maybe see OP’s confusion.

    2. Cambridge Comma*

      I also wondered if this was the reason they fired her — that from their point of view it seemed disobedient, because she was told she couldn’t go, and because she got information about the conference by eavesdropping and by helping a colleague out. It’s a strong reaction to fire her and I feel bad for her, but I can also understand why the company might think that the bridge has been burned.

      1. SeptemberGrrl*

        Can you even imagine? An employee asks you “Can I go to this conference?”, you tell them “no”…cut to weeks later and you’re at the conference AND YOU SEE THE EMPLOYEE! “What even is happening here?”

        I would love to hear about this from the manager’s manager perspective, she must have been gobsmacked. :)

        1. Cinnamon Owl*

          “How did you get here?!!!”
          “Remember when I helped Bob carry his stuff because of his broken foot? Well I also helped him by taking over typing in the stuff for the conference, and so I added my name right under yours! :)”

    3. Jessesgirl72*

      At minimum, the OP should have asked if she could pay for the trip herself, if the company couldn’t send her. Then the Manager would have had reason to explain further. Instead, she did something pretty sneaky by “helping” the person assigned to booking the event, and on top of that publicly embarrassed her company.

      To me, the sticking point would be the sneakiness of it. That, to me, falls a little beyond “lapse in judgement”

      1. Anon13*

        Agreed. The fact that she never mentioned to her boss that she was planning on going on her own dime makes it look like she was trying to hide something, even if that wasn’t her intention.

        Add in the fact that it wasn’t OP’s job to sign people up, but she volunteered to do so, and it really makes OP look sneaky and dishonest. (Again, not saying she is sneaky and dishonest, but looking at it from the manager’s viewpoint.)

      2. SLR*

        That and the fact that throughout the process LW never realized it was for execs? I mean, I don’t go to conferences myself, but I do book my guys for them, and in most promo material it clearly states WHO the intended audience is. So did LW see “executive leaders in teapots conference” and just ignore that?

        I also took the approach to the injured colleague as manipulative. Had that person not been injured & LW didn’t have the easy opening to fix the situation to her liking, what else would she have done to go?

    4. Parenthetically*

      Absolutely agreed. One of my pet peeves is telling a student, “No, you may not do this,” and finding out the next day that they took that as, “Figure out a different way to do this.”

      1. Salamander*

        Yes. In the industries I’ve worked in, “no” is “no” unless the boss explicitly changes her mind and tells you that it’s been changed to a “yes.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is a huge deal. “No” does not mean “figure out a different route”.
        OP your actions created the appearance that you are not trustworthy.

    5. ZTwo*

      Well, what strikes me is there’s no indication you ever directly asked her manager about the conference. She mentions bringing it up in a department-wide meeting to the manager’s manager, so it makes sense in that context that they didn’t really go into specifics. It also makes sense why her manager didn’t follow up later, since usually a firm public no from a grandboss isn’t something you try to get around (at least not without talking to people). In retrospect the manager dropped the ball there, but I can see why it didn’t necessarily ping.

      I think the biggest mistake the LW made is not mentioning this to her manager and giving her manager a chance to coach her. It would have been better to broach the idea of attending the conference in a 1:1 with her manager and it would have been best to follow up with the manager about the grandboss no before going full steam ahead.

      So in terms of actionable advice for the LW, I would recommend leaning on and using your manager more at your next job. A really good way to take and show initiative isn’t stuff like this, it’s proactively using your manager as a resource for clarification and proactively asking for feedback.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        A really good way to take and show initiative isn’t stuff like this, it’s proactively using your manager as a resource for clarification and proactively asking for feedback.

        OP, I really hope you see this and take it to heart. Use your manager – that’s what she’s there for. Ask questions if you need clarification of something. Don’t just do things all willy nilly thinking it’s showing gumption because it’s usually not.

  4. Hope*

    This reminds me a little of the recent Captain Awkward letter where a coworker invited herself on another coworker’s international vacation and made her own arrangements to go, despite being told she was not invited and would not be welcome.

    This is nowhere near as egregious as *that*, but it does sound like OP made a terrible judgement call. It would be one thing if they just signed up on their own, but it sounds like, from this part, that they took advantage of another coworker being swamped to sneak onto the list of attendees: “He told me he was swamped with trying to get everything ready for the meeting on top of signing up people for the conference and making all the arrangements. I offered to do all the conference so he could get the meeting set up.
    I signed myself up for the conference along with everyone else.”

    That’s really where it became a fire-able offense.

    1. Imaginary Number*

      Exactly. And even if it was just OP taking the opportunity “Oh, hey! Now that I’m helping with the details I just realized I can sign myself up.” it really makes it look like OP volunteered to help just to sneak into the conference.

      1. AVP*

        That was my thought…is it possible that registration isn’t open and has to be submitted by the company? If so that would explain why the Executive Levelness of it wasn’t clear on their site.

          1. Mike C.*

            But even then, I wonder how that’s possible given that the OP paid their own way for conference fees and hotels and so on. I would guess that if registration was all together so would payments and hotels. I could be wrong here.

              1. Mike C.*

                Gotcha. I’ll just count myself lucky that there’s someone who takes care of these messy details. :)

                1. Natalie*

                  It’s not uncommon is someone has a good rewards credit card and wants their miles/points/cash back, or if they want to order coughEmbarrassingThingscough on the hotel TV or what have you.

                2. zora*

                  What Natalie said. Or, that each person uses their own company card, so it didn’t seem odd to see a different CC number for each person.

                3. TootsNYC*

                  Also, maybe different budget lines need to cover different attendees, so the one person from Marketing uses a difference card so that the expense reports are easier to deal with. 4

            1. AVP*

              I’m not sure either. Everything in my industry basically has the organizers begging anyone off the street to come in and buy a ticket.

            2. Undine*

              A lot of times, even for block bookings, people pay individually and get reimbursed. That ensures that the correct department gets billed for it.

              1. Lily in NYC*

                Yup, that’s how we do it. And it’s not likely there’s someone on the other end going over this stuff with a fine-tooth comb looking for discrepancies.

            3. Jessica*

              In terms of actual functionality, it could look like this:

              1. Broken Foot Admin gets an email from conference with a secured link to register attendees (which would not be indexed by Google and therefore not searchable)
              2. Broken Foot Admin already has a list of attendees and payment information to pay for their registration
              3. OP gets the link, list of attendees, and payment information and is instructed to register everyone
              4. OP clicks the link, which brings you to a form with fields like, “Name of attendee”, “company”, “position”, “contact info” and then you go to a billing page where you fill out the credit card info for registration. Pretty much like any standard “shopping cart” functionality where you’re paying for something.

              Rinse and repeat for all attendees, then OP, who would use her own payment information.

        1. Imaginary Number*

          It sounds to me that this conference was probably limited to specific companies and their execs rather than being an open technology expo or something.

        2. zora*

          Yes, there are definitely “Invitation Only” conferences where the companies send in their registration lists, where not just anyone can sign up through a website.

        3. Martina Marprelate*

          This is my guess, otherwise I think LW would have just signed up online without the elaborate scheme to “help” a co-worker. In that situation I can see why it would never cross the manager’s mind that LW could ever even get signed up.

          It is even possible that “No, we can’t send you” might feel like a kinder phrasing than “Who do you think you are? This is for the important people like me”.

      2. Midge*

        Yeah, I’m going to guess that the person who was supposed to be signing people up for the conference was not actually attending himself. He was probably just arranging accommodations for the more senior people. OP, it would have been a good idea to ask him if it was OK to sign yourself up since he was probably familiar with how the conference worked. In general, it can be really helpful to find more experienced peers and get their read on situations. They probably have more insight and experience than you do on what is and isn’t expected or appropriate in a given situation.

    2. JMegan*

      Yes, that’s the part that stood out to me as well. If OP had gone to her manager and said “I’m really interested in this conference, is there any way I could go if I paid for it myself?” I think the whole thing would have had a different outcome. But doing it this way has a real feel of going behind people’s backs and sneaking in to something you know you’re not supposed to be doing.

      I could go either way on the firing, but I can see why they would have been angry enough to consider it. Honestly, I wouldn’t ask your manager for feedback, because I think you’ll get most of what you need from this thread. But if you want to write a sincere apology to your manager’s manager, I think that would likely be appreciated. Good luck.

      1. Emi.*

        I wouldn’t ask your manager for feedback, because I think you’ll get most of what you need from this thread.

        I disagree on this. The comments here will flesh out what was so wrong about going to the conference (and I agree that signing up this way seemed underhanded), but if OP made other mistakes in judgement, we won’t be able to guess what they were. And it would be helpful to know.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          This could also be a reference-saving measure, just by the tone and framing if a potential employer calls to talk to OP’s boss. There’s a big difference between “OP’s judgment is pretty questionable. She made a huge mistake that horribly embarrassed the company.” and “OP make a pretty big mistake that, unfortunately, we had no choice to fire her for. It was an exercise in poor judgment, but I think she’s learned her lesson and could succeed elsewhere.”

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Yes, really good point – I would be prepared, if I were the OP, to see that this a bridge burned, but it is worth a try in case a reference can be salvaged. If her former boss is receptive to OP’s apology and can see that OP acknowledges her mistake and has learned from it, boss might (*might*) be willing to still be a reference.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          What Alison said about managers noticing a lot of little questionable things about judgement is so spot on. I spent all of today kicking myself because I didn’t think an employee’s little judgement errors rose to the level of Having a Talk, but she did something so egregious today I may have to fire her (and you know how hard that is!). There have been lots of red flags so I was vigilant, but now I’m wondering at what point we should have had a serious talk about her judgement. So it’s going to look to her like I’m strongly reacting about one thing, when in fact there’ve been a TON of little things.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s exactly what I suspect happened here.

            It’s really common, particularly with more junior employees. You don’t want to feel like you’re constantly coming down on them for little things, but you also know that someone really good wouldn’t be doing Weird Thing X or Weird Thing Y, so it sets your spidey senses tingling. And then something big happens and you’re kicking yourself because you know you should have seen it coming — and DID see it coming, in fact, but didn’t address it because things felt too small.

            I think ultimately you do have to address the small things for this reason. But you can frame it as “I know this seems like a small thing. In my experience, it can indicative of (specific broader pattern) so I wanted to name it and talk about it.”

            1. Anon16*

              As someone relatively new to the working world, what are these little things? How can we make sure we’re avoiding them?

              1. Katie the Fed*

                So here’s what’s been going on in my situation:

                -Late for meetings
                – Generally seeming to not pay attention
                – Asking me about things I’d already explained
                – A small security issue, and when I spoke to her about it, didn’t seem to understand why it was a big deal
                – Forgetting about meetings

                All of those were small, and any of them would be not a big deal for a new person on their own, but the pattern isn’t good.

                1. 2 Cents*

                  I’d like to ad:
                  –Not following directions. If my directions weren’t clear or you have questions, I’d rather you ask for clarification than assuming what I want.
                  –Not telling me when you’re having a problem with something / someone. Like a work-related problem, as in “I know you’d like me to do this project, but Word isn’t installed on my computer.”
                  –Trying to create a faster / better / streamlined way of doing something before you understand what & why you’re doing it. I’m all for new ideas, but I’d like you to first understand what the assignment is before writing that fancy Excel formula.

                2. Czhorat*

                  Other little things I’ve seen:

                  Being late/not where you’re expected is a big one, and SO simple.

                  So is taking shortcuts, ignoring procedure.

                  Having to be reminded for usual administrative tasks like filling out timecards.

                3. Anon16*

                  Great, this is helpful! So it sounds like if you’re being conscientious, a lot of these would be avoided. Thanks for the insight!

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’d also add:
                  – disregarding office norms/hierarchy (for example, interjecting way too much at a meeting where you’re just there to listen/learn or monopolizing the CEO’s time)
                  – not seeming to recognize the expertise of people much more experienced than you
                  – being overly casual with clients/office visitors
                  – sloppiness of materials/presentation

                5. Big10Professor*

                  I think another one is conforming with rules as written, instead of actual office norms, e.g. clothing that *technically* meets the dress code requirements, but is noticeably different from what the rest of the office wears.

                6. Cinnamon Owl*

                  College students get a lot of work advice like “It’s important to network. But exclusively in ways that are not annoying to people higher up who will then want to not work with you” and then are expected to just KNOW what those are. People give advice while looking back (“these helped me…”) and how to apply it looking forward is a lot more mysterious. Add “show the higher-ups you have gumption and are a self-starter” to the things you should absolutely do, but only in ways that are not annoying.

              2. krysb*

                Not staying in your lane. Showing initiative and motivation are great, always do that. Always try to make your boss’s job easier. But stay in your lane – especially until you have a very in-depth understanding of professional norms and your workplace’s culture. This OP didn’t stay in her lane. She decided to take something unto herself that was deemed inappropriate – she went around her superiors because she wanted to do something, and that, at best, is inappropriate.

                1. Annonymouse*

                  The way to show them is:
                  1) Get good at your job. Not competent but aim for Rockstar good.
                  2) Understand the processes of how and why you do things the way you do
                  3) And if you have time ask coworkers / boss what else you can do to help out – don’t just decide by yourself to jump into or learn task x.

                  This is more for new people – people in the workplace for awhile should be able to see where they can help appropriately.

                2. EM*

                  Also, requiring explanation on all decisions without awareness for context. It sounds to me like that might have been the case here. As a manager sometimes my newer employees really want to prove themselves, but they invest so much in proving that by challenging decisions it can feel like you’re always arguing with them. I’ve has graduates tell our managing director how they think the company should be restructured, and then be quite offended when this isn’t taken up. In this case “no” can just be an answer, and the boss’s boss doesn’t have time/isn’t invested enough in explaining why. When they were given feedback they argued and felt “silenced”. Could be that the LW has actually received some feedback in the past but hasn’t taken it on in the same way they didn’t take “no” on either?

            2. Katie the Fed*

              BTW Alison – this part is really good advice:

              I know this seems like a small thing. In my experience, it can indicative of (specific broader pattern) so I wanted to name it and talk about it.”

              I need to keep that in mind for the future. I screwed this one up.

              1. Bonky*

                I’ve messed this one up too, and it ended with someone being surprised at being let go when it was achingly obvious to everybody around them that ongoing behaviours meant it was likely to happen. I hate that: made me feel like a terrible manager, and a thoughtless person. I try my best to bring the little things up now.

            3. a big fish in a very small pond*

              OMG, YES! Katie the Fed & Alison – I am so guilty of this as a manager for this exact reason! Employees say that they want to know “as soon as something happens” even very small concerns, but if you even just address the fairly notable topics they complain of being “hauled in the office”.

            4. Kateedoo*

              OP says she is a “model employee” because she has never been written up, not because she has received positive feedback. That is what makes me wonder what other little things she was out of tune with and this was the (admittedly, huge) straw that broke the camel’s back.
              I do hope the broken foot guy didn’t get in too much trouble for handing off his tasks to OP. I can imagine there was a bit of blow back after this snafu.

          2. TootsNYC*

            “So it’s going to look to her like I’m strongly reacting about one thing, when in fact there’ve been a TON of little things.”

            I would mention the whole string of little things; this is a coaching opportunity that I hope you take, if only as a service to the rest of the world, but also as a last thing to help her.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Yeah, I’m going to. It’s going to be a first and final warning (because it was THAT egregious) but I’ll lay out all the issues.

            2. The OG Anonsie*

              I feel for a junior employee in this situation even if they are making pretty serious mistakes, because when this happens their thought is going to be why didn’t anyone tell me sooner? Even when it’s understandable that those small things didn’t seem to warrant a conversation earlier, this is a good reason why some more in-depth ongoing feedback is important for employees that are new to white collar / the industry / maybe even your specific company or area culture if you get the sense that there is a gap in their understanding of some situations.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                I’ve talked about them as they’ve come up, like “make sure you’re on time to meetings.” But I hadn’t addressed the bigger picture of “all of this is a pattern and it’s deeply concerning.”

                1. The OG Anonsie*

                  Oof. That’s rough.

                  I’m super curious now, are the details vague enough for this week’s open thread? >_>

                2. krysb*

                  That’s obnoxious of your employee. I wish people would understand that when we managers suggest something, it isn’t so much a suggestion as us phrasing it in a nice way.

                3. Katie the Fed*

                  Ahhh I don’t know! I’ll just say it’s a security issue that’s pretty serious. I’m going to have a big talk tomorrow and how she responds will tell me what I need to know before taking next steps.

      2. AnotherHRPro*

        This was the point I was going to make. While attending a conference was a poor choice, the big issue was that she was told no and then signed herself up when she was signing up others from the company without getting approval. Not only is this bad judgement, she circumvented her management and misrepresented herself at the conference. While it may be harsh, I can understand why the OP was terminated as they probably see this as more than poor judgement; it reads like an integrity issue to me. I’m not saying that the OP was intentionally being dishonest (I would guess she was justifying it in her head) but I would not want someone on my team that acted like that.

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          And if the OP wasn’t trying to be dishonest, she would have openly told their manager that they were planning to attend at their own expense.

          1. E*

            This is the part I don’t understand. If the manager already said no, but the employee planned to attend at their own expense, why not tell the manager you are going? Unless you expect to be told no again.

            1. Green Tea Pot*


              The whole thing sounds sneaky and underhanded.

              Most, if not all, conference materials specifically state ” who should attend.”

              No excuse for this.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I used a pot of coffee to put out a small fire one time. I figured no one would yell at me for wasting coffee as the fire had a priority over almost anything else.
                I planned on begging forgiveness if the wasted coffee was that big a problem. Sometimes we can make these quick guesses and land okay.

                A good rule of thumb is the more steps that are involved, the more people you have to by-pass in the process then the less and less apt this is to land okay.

        2. always in email jail*

          Also, assuming there were breakout sessions etc. at this conference, OP would be representing her organization WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. She could have potentially been participating in high-level discussions and had her opinions/statements taken as representative of her organization. That’s not OK

          1. Czhorat*

            Yes, that’s a very good point.

            Even if you don’t make promises, an entry-level person at an executive level event won’t be presenting the company very well because they lack the background expected of someone at that level. If I were the boss, I’d also be furious.

            Whether this is firing or a stern warning is another question, but I understand that it’s bad on multiple levels with, as several have said, the optics being perhaps worse than the intent.

          2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Awesome point. And, in those discussions, there could be discussions of high-level strategy, forecasting, mergers and acquisitions, and so on, none of which would be appropriate for an uncleared entry-level person.

        3. Cinnamon Owl*

          I think LW might have envisioned adding her name as being like signing up on a bulletin board to play on the kickball team at the company picnic, rather than adding her name to the list of people who had security clearance to enter Lab 31 because, while she hadn’t gotten that clearance, she thought the project they were working on looked cool and she was in charge of typing in the list.

    3. OhNo*

      That’s what I was thinking, too. It’s not so much that he just went on his own – that would be embarrassing for the company, sure, but not the worst thing that has ever happened.

      But sneaking his way in by taking advantage of a coworker’s need for assistance? That’s a problem. It means they wouldn’t be able to trust you any more with even simple tasks, because you’ve shown that you might take advantage. It might have been a teachable moment, if the company had chosen to go that route, but I can see why they made it a fireable offense.

      1. Imaginary Number*

        I’m not sure OP necessarily “took advantage” of coworker’s need for assistance. It sounded like they offered to help and suddenly found themselves in a position where they had the information needed to sign themselves up for the conference.

        1. Julie B.*

          I see what you are saying. Most conferences are easily found via Google. But some conferences are invite only, and while you can find the conference information on the web, you can’t get access to the sign-in.

          So, if LW hadn’t volunteered to help, then maybe they wouldn’t have access to the registration forms on the website?

        2. OhNo*

          Whether or not it was deliberate on the OP’s end (they only offered to deal with the conference stuff so they could sign up), it would certainly look that way to everyone else. No offense to the OP, but, “I took over this task and, oh! What a surprise! Suddenly I have the ability to do the thing I want to do that other people told me I couldn’t!” generally isn’t very convincing. I can see why their boss would assume that it was deliberate.

          I’m sure it wasn’t actually a grand scheme, of course. But without knowledge of OP’s intent, it would probably be one too many coincidences to take a chance on.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          And this is the problem with lack of transparency. We can’t tell the intent of her offer to help the guy with the broken foot.

          OP, when we do things on the shady side, people will question our intentions about every action we make. Some people will tend to hold things in a negative light and tend to say you used the guy for your own gain. After a bit it no longer matters if it’s true or not, because people convince themselves that it is true. This is one of the many side effects of not keeping actions transparent.

    4. EddieSherbert*

      That section stood out to me too. OP, in my your manager’s mind, she told you “no” and then you went behind her (and everyone’s backs) to sneak yourself onto this list anyways.

      If you were truly doing this as a solo-thing, you’d have contacted the conference and tried signing up through the organization running it (rather than secretly adding yourself to your company’s list).

      I’m sorry you had to learn this lesson like this though – it really sucks.

      (PS that Cap’n letter was mind-blowingly strange! If you don’t read the Cap I still highly recommend it.)

    5. Mike C.*

      Look, am I just in a weird situation at work? My employer (a very well known one) wouldn’t care if I attended work-related outside conferences on my own volition to better myself. Sure, I need to be on my best behavior while there, but other than that they wouldn’t care.

      Isn’t this the norm or is my situation weird?

        1. Seal*

          Agreed. I’m an librarian and department head and attend a fair number of conferences annually. Some of them are considered professional development and open to everyone, while others are specific to my niche in the profession where it would be considered odd to see “outsiders”. There are also meetings and conferences that specify our institution can only send a certain number of people or people in very specific roles; even if I thought they sounded interesting and offered to pay my own way, I couldn’t go.

          1. BronzeFire*

            I agree, library conferences are pretty flexible like that. Unless there was a cap on my library’s invites, paying your own way was an acceptable option when we were short on funds. But even at higher level events, I’ve never seen any lower level library staff, that weren’t quite the right audience, asked to leave because they lacked an MLS or something. This event must have been exclusive, indeed! It seems like OP didn’t even Google this event before signing herself up.

            1. Cinnamon Owl*

              I suspect googling might have turned up something like “Teapots! Actualizing Across Platforms!” as the public description of the event, and the internal stuff–provided to people invited to attend–was far more detailed.

          2. Drago cucina*

            This was my thought. There are some leadership specific conferences where attendees with specific skills and experience have been chosen by the libraries.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        No, that is normal. The weird bit here is that the OP secretly signed herself up through her company (by adding her name to the list without getting her manager’s approval).

        It sounds like this might have been a “closed” conference, not open to the public (i.e. only certain companies were invited, and only people the companies said they were sending could go).

        1. k*

          That’s what I thought, since OP signed up via her company, not via a public format, and because they asked her to leave when they found she wasn’t higher level.

      2. Cassandra*

        Context-dependent. In academia (where I am) this would almost always be seen as an unequivocal plus. (The exception where I am, and it’s a mild one, is “please go to X conference because the department needs a strategic presence there.” I have on occasion said no to such requests, and it hasn’t been a problem.)

      3. Willow*

        That’s normal, but it’s not what’s going on with the OP. She didn’t try to sign up as an individual, she secretly put herself on the list of attendees the company was submitting to the conference, making it seem like she had the company’s stamp of approval, after being explicitly told the company wasn’t sending her. If she’d just signed up individually it would be a different story.

      4. Grits McGee*

        The fact that the conference went to the trouble of dis-inviting OP when it was discovered she wasn’t an executive would suggest that this was an out-of-the-ordinary conference.

      5. Breda*

        I work in an industry that has lots of conferences, and if my boss told me she couldn’t pay to send me to one, she wouldn’t find it weird if I went anyway.

        But! If I signed myself up secretly while registering her, didn’t mention it to her, and then showed up, she would find that course of action very weird indeed. Even if I were welcome – which the OP clearly wasn’t. And while maybe they couldn’t have known that in advance, the fact that they were kicked out of the conference is VERY embarrassing for the company and could have been avoided if they had, you know, ever mentioned to anyone that they were planning to go on their own dime.

        1. Breda*

          As a side point to this, the fact that the OP asked to go, was turned down, and then signed up without telling anyone makes it look like they knew they weren’t welcome but wanted to sneak in anyway. The secrecy is probably worse than the actions.

      6. animaniactoo*

        My company would not care if they did not have an “official” delegation and I signed myself up on my own personal signup, and noted where I worked as part of the requested info.

        They would absolutely care if I did it through an official-to-my-company-specifically signup without clearing it with them.

        They would also absolutely care if I asked about going, was turned down for “being sent”, and then didn’t ask “Is it an issue if I go on my own?” if I wanted to attend on my own.

        1. Bwmn*

          I agree that the delegation aspect is very key – especially depending on the type of conference. I’ve been to conferences where there is some pretty involved “company delegation prep” – and someone else just showing up would be perceived as a “big deal”.

      7. AnotherAlison*

        I think it’s weird. At my company, when you go to a conference, you’re representing the company. THEY decide who represents the company.

        I think I could ask, and if they said it wasn’t in the budget for me to go, but it was training or networking opportunities that I really wanted, I could ASK if I could pay my own way. The difference is if they said no, I would accept that and look for other opportunities. The other difference is that I have enough industry experience to know if the conference or event is really appropriate for someone at my level.

        1. always in email jail*

          I agree with you, Another Alison. Even if the company didn’t pay for OP to go, I wouldn’t trust that they wouldn’t tell eveyrone who they worked for and end up representing the organization without the organization’s permission. In sidebar conversations/breakout sessions, they may not accurately represent the organization’s practices or positions on certain issues.

        2. Taylor Swift*

          I think you make a really good point here about why it’s potentially embarrassing for the employer and why they were so angry about it. If it’s a conference for senior executives and entry-level OP shows up with company name on her name tag, it’s not going to reflect well on on the employer. Particularly if she’s struggling with some professional norms.

        3. BenAdminGeek*

          Agree- my company works in healthcare and has a very specific attitude on exchanges, especially related to employer-based exchanges. I wouldn’t expect a lower-level person to know the specifics of employer vs public, and fully-insured vs self-insured exchanges and the implications there, but if they went and were asked their opinion (and gave it), that could reflect poorly on my company’s mission.

      8. Bwmn*

        I think in many ways the fact that so many people from the company were going as paid representatives from the company, made the situation probably more awkward.

        There’s a conference that my organization has made a decision to attend despite knowing that we’re a bit on the bubble in terms of being super appropriate as participants and may be perceived slightly as interlopers. Given how it’s normally attended, if we show up with a group of 20 – that is seen as “wow, there are so many of you here, why are you here, isn’t it weird that your here, etc.” And the networking reasons that we choose to attend can easily get overshadowed and as a group and organization we could easily look “inappropriate”. There are other conferences where 200 interns from the organization could show up and provided professional behavior, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

        Given the networking dynamics, I think the optics of these conferences can really vary. And while what the OP did, may not be a “big” deal – it may have really rubbed people the wrong way if the attendance list was carefully selected based on a business decision.

      9. Tuxedo Cat*

        It depends on what’s being done at the conference for my field. I too am in academia and for the most part, my boss doesn’t care what I attend and especially wouldn’t care if I paid for myself. However, there are a handful of invite-only meetings where it would be inappropriate for me to go.

      10. Just Another Techie*

        At my work, at the very minimum my manager would want to know what conferences I’m going to so he can brief me on what I am and am not allowed to talk about, and on “such and such company is suing our company so don’t get too buddy buddy with their employees because the optics of it look bad.”

      11. Detective Amy Santiago*

        It’s probably industry and conference dependent.

        Wouldn’t you mention it to your coworkers/boss though? Like “oh, hey, I’m going to the National Teapot Association conference so I can further my skills so I need off on Thursday and Friday.”

      12. ceiswyn*

        They might mind if you signed yourself up as officially representing your company at the conference, which is what the OP did.

      13. TeacherNerd*

        Depends on the field, I suppose. I work in education and no one’s paying for me to attend conferences, even ones at which I present. (I’m primarily at the secondary level but some part-time higher ed work. If one teaches full-time within higher ed. there’s a better chance of receiving funding.) My administrators are very supportive of my attending conferences – looks good to have a high school teacher presenting at conferences where of the thousands of attendees, fewer than 5 are from my level – but there’s simply not the funding (although I will say that the school will pay for my subs – yes, high school teachers often have to pay for our own subs when we’re out sick). Then again, I can’t imagine an educational conference that’s only for administrators, or at least they wouldn’t be publicized in the same way.

        1. Bartlet for President*

          This is OT, but my mind was just blown by this:

          “yes, high school teachers often have to pay for our own subs when we’re out sick”

          Seriously? That’s some serious insanity right there.

          1. Lynne*

            Yeah, that’s…that would make me ask the “is this legal?!” question, but I suppose if it’s common practice, it must be legal where you live. Wow. :(

      14. Sami*

        It really depends on the field. I’m a teacher and wouldn’t go to a conference for superintendents or school board members. Principals maybe as I aspire to that, but only at the express invitation of my current principal and the backing of my district.

      15. Manders*

        I think the issue here is that this wasn’t just a work-related conference, but an event for upper level managers who are also going to be representing their organization and networking.

        My work sends me to digital marketing conferences that are useful for all industries. There are some small meet-and-greet type events there, but they’re not about getting new clients or building business relationships. Only my managers go to the Teapot Industry specific conferences, and while they’re there, they spend a lot of time networking with other managers in the industry because those business relationships can pay off down the line. I wouldn’t have much to contribute to that kind of event and it might be distracting to have me tagging along.

      16. Creag an Tuire*

        They don’t care if you present yourself as “Hi, I’m Mike from Wakeen’s Teapots, and I’m just here to learn about the new spout techniques I’ve been hearing about.” They would probably care if you presented as “Mike, Wakeen’s Teapots. Anything I say can be presumed to come straight from Wakeen’s mouth.”

        Unfortunately, OP invited him/herself to an event where s/he was assumed to be the latter, even if she didn’t realize that’s what s/he was doing.

      17. Kalamet*

        Mike, your situation is not weird – my company is the same way! I’m actually attending a conference this year on my own dime, and I don’t have to charge it to PTO. However, as I stated above, there’s a big difference between that and OP’s situation.

        The fact that she had to go through an internal list and was actually kicked out of the conference makes it seem like tickets weren’t available to the public. She signed up for that using access she gained through someone else’s job and without asking approval. That looks really, really bad, for her and for the company.

        It would be totally different if anyone can buy tickets online and she did that. I’d eye-roll a company that got upset over that. But circumventing internal processes and adding yourself to lists without approval? It’s really not good.

      18. J-nonymous*

        It probably makes a difference as well as to how attendees are invited. Is this a publicly available registration? If so, I’d view the company’s reaction as significantly overreacting. But it sounds like, according to the details in the letter, that the *company* was invited to attend and to nominate/register key attendees. That’s a completely different matter and the OP would be seriously breaching the trust of the employer/employee relationship to snag such a spot – even if she did pay her own way.

      19. Whats In A Name*

        The company I work with now have employees who attend conferences on their own dime and they don’t particularly care one way or another. Usually these are one-off conferences that other employees in their department aren’t already attending.

        BUT and this is a big BUT. …. there is generally a conversation around it that doesn’t include employee hiding their plans. And, regardless, in this situation the employer DOES care.

        And my guess is they care more about the hiding it than the fact that OP is attending a conference on his own dime.

      20. Martina Marprelate*

        Based on the fact that the LW was actually asked to leave by the conference organizers I suspect this was not an ordinary conference and her industry deals in very sensitive issues, banking for example.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        YESSSS it’s so awkward, I’m savoring it like a fine wine

        1. Hrovitnir*

          How do people like you exist? I guess maybe I’m secretly like that because I do like to read the extreme ones – the cringe is so uncomfortable though. *shudder*

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              What advice would you have given that LW if they wrote to you, Alison?

              1. Creag an Tuire*

                “Make sure Buttinski hears about the great deal you got switching to [insert worst-reviewed hotel in all Japan], which will free up enough money for you and your friend to go upside-down bungee jumping over Ryujin Gorge. Actually stick to your original long-held travel plans in secret. Laugh.”

                I am a terrible person.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Tell her directly and firmly that she is not welcome on your trip, that you are weirded out that she has invited herself, and that you are changing hotels to avoid any further weirdness. I liked the Captain’s advice a lot too.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            That’s….why I love it. I’m a masochist for cringes.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            Hrovitnir – I’m with you. Like, I can hardly watch Curb Your Enthusiasm because I feel so much physical discomfort.

            This letter though might be one of my favorites ever.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          It may very well be. I’m desperate for an update.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I hope that LW gets help. She sheds him, probably her anxiety will dial back.

                1. Parenthetically*

                  If you look through the comments, she absolutely dumped him and was absolutely better for it.

            1. Parenthetically*

              I linked in another comment, but in case it gets lost in Mod Purgatory, you can search for Captain Awkward broken glass boyfriend and it should be the first result.

        2. Betty Darling*

          I still think that “honor” is held by the woman whose boyfriend held the bathroom hostage and wouldn’t let her pee. But this might be second.

      2. Parenthetically*

        It’s TERRIFYING. I mean, I really feel for the LW, but I read the title and was like *pops all the popcorn* “THIS IS GONNA BE GOOD”

      3. Bonky*

        I saw it yesterday, and found myself thinking: “Murder. It’s the only solution.” I do hope an update gets posted.

  5. Mustache Cat*

    Oh boy :( That really sucks, I’m so sorry. I can understand firing if it’s a company/industry where it’s a very strict culture and reputation is everything, but it still seems like a strong response.

  6. La Revancha del Tango*

    OP – You were not invited and when your managers told you no, you went anyway on your own dime? That is completely overstepping. May or may not be a fire-able offense but shows serious lack of judgement. Please take this as a learning opportunity.

    1. Mike C.*

      But there are tons of work related conferences out there that don’t require your employer to invite you to go. How was the OP to know that this was the case?

      1. Katie*

        Five minutes of research?

        Not to be too glib. We’ve all made mistakes when we started out.

        1. Margaret*


          I understand that the general concept of industry conferences is something that’s open to the general public. But if you’re thinking of going to one – especially spending your own money! – you should be looking at the conference website, etc. to confirm what it’s about and the value it would provide to you/your company. Either the OP did some cursory research and didn’t notice it was intended for executives, or noticed and didn’t think that was a problem, or didn’t do any research but did this based on overhearing a conversation in an elevator. None of those scenarios shows good judgment.

      2. Sadsack*

        It is real curious that OP didn’t just ask her manager what she thought about OP paying her own way to attend. The details of the select invitees would have come up at that point and this would not have happened. OP didn’t bother to mention that she intended to go at all when this is supposed to be such a valuable thing for her work. It comes off as very strange and sneaky, whether it was really that way or not.

        1. Mike C.*

          To be honest, this whole thing sounds like a bad sitcom where everyone is going off in all sorts of crazy directions but refuse to talk to each other to work it their issues and confusion.

          1. Natalie*

            I’m not sure that’s fair the LW’s boss – she probably never expected an entry-level employee to surreptitiously register and pay her own way for a conference. They’re not cheap, after all. So of course she didn’t speak to her about it further, she had to reason to assume it was still an open issue.

          2. AD*

            Agreed with Natalie, it’s unfair to blame the company for this. The OP (whatever her intent) overstepped, and whether that is from inexperience or lack of judgement, it’s kind of on her only.

            1. Mike C.*

              The boss’s role is only in not making it clear that she couldn’t go and for not explaining why.

              1. AD*

                The boss didn’t know about it. Her grandboss said “No” and the OP didn’t take that in.

              2. Natalie*

                Eh, that just doesn’t seem like a huge breach to me, especially since the LW was not talking to her direct supervisor but rather her boss’s boss. It certainly would have been wise for the manager to explain why, however briefly, but I don’t think they abdicated their responsibility as manager by not doing so.

              3. Mookie*

                ‘No’ is a complete sentence, especially for upper management with respect to entry-level employees, and it’s up to the person deciding to circumvent that ‘no’ (using plausible deniability and technicalities) to ask for further information. That the OP didn’t do so indicates deliberate deception because that ‘no’ (a) didn’t please her and (b) contained enough information that eliciting more information wouldn’t have gotten her the answer she wanted.

          3. Parenthetically*

            My dirty lenses: I’m a reasonable person, and I recognize that my way is not always the best way, but I have well-thought-out reasons for asking my students to do things in a particular way most of the time. I’m open to hearing alternative suggestions for procedures, and willing to change things around, IF a student approaches me in a timely way and proposes a different method or process for an assignment. I hate arbitrary rules as much as they do. But what incurs all my teacherly wrath is for a person to take my, “You need to follow procedure X, avoid Y, and always be prepared to do Z” and turn it into, “I’m going to figure out how to do this assignment without doing X, while doing Y but forgetting to do Z,” and then act surprised when I tell them to just do as they’re told.

            The conversation that goes: “Ooh, can I go to this conference?” “No, you cannot.” “SURPRISE HERE I AM!” with no intermediate, “This sounds like it would really benefit me professionally; I know you’ve said I can’t go, but if that’s a budgetary concern, if I paid my own way, is there any reason I wouldn’t be allowed to register and attend?” legitimately shows a lack of judgment.

          4. Oryx*

            Agree with others on not blaming the company. Ultimately, I think it’s important to note that the manager and the OP had different conclusions to the answer “The company can’t send you to this conference.”

            Manager: “The company can’t send you to this conference …. because it’s for manager’s only.”
            OP: “The company can’t send me to this conference … because they can’t afford it.”

            From the manager’s perspective, she said “No” and for her that was the end of it. But because the OP had a different understanding, she went ahead and registered and went. Whether or not she intended to come across as insubordinate, the optics matter in this instance. If nothing else, going forward, the OP will hopefully learn to either take their manager at their word or ask questions: “If it’s a financial concern, would it be okay for me to attend the conference on my own time and dime?”

            1. TootsNYC*

              Other advice / takeaway for the OP:

              Here’s the powerful way to show initiative. Ask your manager, “What’s behind the thinking of the Manager’s Manager on this matter? What factors are at play?” And listen.

              The initiative is in learning, asking, about how it all works together. There’s a lot of be learned when you probe the reasons why, the thinking behind, the factors at play.

              So ask about them.

        2. amysee*

          Yup. It comes across as a problematic understanding of the concept of “taking initiative.” A great way of showing initiative here would have been for the OP to ask her own manager what she would have to do as an employee to eventually qualify to attend the conference, and then work on that plan.

          1. Cinnamon Owl*

            Excellent suggestion.

            The manager probably didn’t expressly say “and no, you may not don a ninja costume and crawl through the air vents to attend this conference” either.

      3. Czhorat*

        They could have researched the conference. If it’s an “executive level” conference, then that is pretty clear. If there’s language about time in the industry, experience, etc, that would be clear.

        1. LizS*

          In my industry, which has conferences similar to what is described, this would 100% be a fireable offense. Going behind the company’s back to use their registration system is just strike 1. She also used PTO and presumably said she was going on “vacation” which was a lie – which although we don’t know if she said she was going it is very likely someone taking a few days PTO would at least get asked in a friendly manner where they were going – strike 2. Then after all that couldn’t even manage to notice on the conference website that is was for executives and presumably invite only – strike 3.

          This would be seen as so horribly out of my touch in my industry to show up at an event as a presumably 22 year old representing your company where your boss’ boss’ barely got the invite.

          Frankly, I am surprised so many are surprised by this firing. This is different than an educational conference where anyone can sign up from the sound of it. Also – are people saying even if they decided to pay their own way to a conference they wouldn’t at least mention to their bosses, coworkers, etc. “oh hey, I’m going to be there too!”. To me this reads as egregious conduct and OP clearly at a minimum, has a serious lack of judgement.

          1. Mike C.*

            She also used PTO and presumably said she was going on “vacation” which was a lie

            Vacation can be used for anything an employee wants and an employee owes nothing to the employer to describe how that time will be used. And calling that a vacation is not a lie at all.

            Strike rescinded.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              But I can see how, in the context of a bunch of other disingenuous actions, one might assume that she was also being disingenuous by not even mentioning to anybody that she’d see them there, or that she was excited to go, or any of the other normal things one might say to coworkers before attending a conference.

              1. LizS*

                Yes, 100% disingenuous by hiding it and I feel that way from reading the OP’s side. We’re not even hearing the boss’ side too because I feel like there a lot more details that we don’t know.

                I’m not saying the OP necessarily had bad intentions or even thought she was “lying” when not disclosing going to the conference. But, I would certainly see it as bad judgement, lying by omission, and a whole lot of other things that would make it not worth it to keep an entry level employee who had been there 8 months. So, OP, take this as a lesson learned and hopefully you can see from the feedback here how to show initiative in more appropriate ways moving forward.

              2. Cinnamon Owl*

                It reads as betting “When Great Great Grandboss sees me there he’ll be impressed by my gumption, which will overrule any lower level unjointed noses.” And losing that bet.

                1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  Professional Development Rule #1: if your grandpa would say it showed gumption and/or moxie, ask your boss BEFORE you do it.

            2. KHB*

              That’s only true if what you’re doing on vacation has nothing to do with the employer. Many employers have policies that you can’t do anything that presents a conflict of interest for the organization, even on your own time or during a leave of absence, without at least getting it cleared with someone. Usually I think they mean things like taking a second job with a competitor. But I can see how attending an outside event as a representative of the organization could also qualify.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              Companies have rules about using vacation time to do work.

              The fact that she did not mention it to her boss is odd and perhaps telling.

          2. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

            In my industry, only managers in leadership positions are allowed to go to the two annual conventions we have annually. Even on my own dime, if I showed up out of the blue I’m pretty sure I’d get fired too. There are a lot of high-level, exclusive meetings and conversations where the line between what information can or cannot be shared is paper thin, and requires a lot of experience to navigate successfully. If it were perceived by customers and competitors that my company sent someone in my position there, it would make them look very out of touch with industry norms.

      4. zora*

        You *really* need to ask, or at least mention to your boss if they have already said no to something. No matter the reason.

        OP, in the future, if your boss says “no” to something, even if it sounds like a really soft no, you need to *ask* if you have another idea of how to do that thing. You really shouldn’t have added yourself to the list without telling anyone. It would have been perfectly okay to go back to your boss and say “This conference sounds really interesting, and I would be happy to pay to attend out of my own pocket, is that okay?”

        And remember for the future, with any other things like this. It’s really important to ask about things if you aren’t positive, especially when you are working for a new person/office, until you get a sense of what the norms are.

      5. Gaia*

        I mean, she had to sign herself up through access she got by helping a coworker. If she really thought it was okay, why not contact the organizers of the conference and sign up directly?

      6. Annonymouse*

        It sounds like the conference was not something that attendance could be bought on the Internet. It sounds invite only.

        If OP was interested in the conference they should have done more research than just overhearing two higher managers conversation and deciding to go. The should have at least looked at it online to ascertain if it was suitable for someone of their level – newbie.
        Or asked their own manager about it and get more details / see if they could attend.

        They went straight for “sounds good, let’s go!” Without any true understanding of what it would entail (I doubt the managers talked about the itinerary in the elevator).

    2. Admin Assistant*

      Yeah, I think from what the LW said of what she knew of the conference and her decision-making process it demonstrates a concerning lack of judgment. One wonders how you could spend 4 figures on air travel, hotel flights, conference fees, AND a few of your personal vacation days without realizing that it was an event for people way above your professional level – surely some cursory research into the nature of the conference would’ve indicated that it wasn’t for people on her level. I mean, if I’m going to spend a few thou of my own money on a trip, I want to be 100% prepared and informed before I go.

      All in all, I hope OP learns from this experience, but I don’t necessarily think firing was an overreaction.

      1. hbc*

        Honestly, even a look at the people being signed up would do it. Usually you put titles into these registrations, and if it’s all VP this, CEx that, and you’re Junior Admin I, that’s a hint that something is amiss.

        1. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys*

          That’s exactly what I was thinking. If she is the only entry level employee signed up and there is only one other non-Director level on the list, shouldn’t that have given her a clue who the conference was for?

        2. oranges & lemons*

          Although she might have just assumed that the company prioritized the execs in thier budgeting for the event.

    3. Karo*

      I think that’s a bit extreme. The manager didn’t say “No, the conference is only for executives” or “No, that’s not a good idea,” she said the company wouldn’t pay for it. There are tons of conferences I could go to that would seriously further myself that my company wouldn’t pay for but I certainly wouldn’t be penalized for booking my own time off to attend them.

      1. Willow*

        Even if you snuck your name onto the list of approved attendees your company submitted to the conference?

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        No, the manager said:

        “The idea of the conference sounded interesting and at our next departmental meeting I asked my manager’s manager about being able to attend the conference. She said the company couldn’t send me to this conference.”

        The manager didn’t need to justify herself, for God’s sake.

        1. Czhorat*

          As I said upstream, it’s also a big expense for an entry-level person to buy a plane ticket, use up what’s probably half their annual alottment of PTO, and get a hotel room. That they’d do all that seems more like manic desperation than initiative. It’s like the person who offers to relocate midway across the country after a first date; there’s a line between “shows initiative” and “a bit crazy”.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Yeah, I saw that, and agree. It’s indicative of an ignorance of boundaries and propriety that goes beyond entry-level professional cluelessness.

        2. Mike C.*

          And as a whole bunch of us have mentioned already, “the company can’t send you” means “the company can’t pay your way”. Obviously it meant more for this OP but the other interpretation isn’t an unreasonable one.

            1. Hrovitnir*

              Eh, I don’t think that interpretation is unreasonable – but the leap to inviting yourself (!), taking vacation and paying your way there without once asking if it was OK is unreasonable.

              I can sort of understand how someone could convince themselves it was a good move, but it really really wasn’t. Be wary of buzzwords like “initiative”, OP – be sure what you’re reading into it is what is meant and what the people you actually work with want.

            2. The OG Anonsie*

              I would agree that the chain of actions taken in response to it was unreasonable, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to take it the way Mike C means at first. Just that the normal way to proceed with that information would be to ask your manager if you could attend if you made arrangements yourself, not to just do it. And definitely not to just do it in secret after getting the registration assignments from someone else under false pretenses.

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                That’s what I mean: it’s not reasonable in context. And nothing is really ever out of context.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            I agree that it is not unreasonable to interpret “we can’t send you” as meaning “we can’t afford to send you.” But I think that’s mostly irrelevant, because although the interpretation itself was not unreasonable, acting on the interpretation without confirming with OP’s manager was. I think it is almost always unreasonable to act as if you know the whole reasoning behind a “no.”

        3. Cinnamon Owl*

          “No, you may not attend the conference. And when I say that, I mean ‘No, you may not incapacitate the person doing the registration, volunteer to take over his duties, and add yourself to the list. Nor may you take advantage of the situation in that manner if he is incapacitated by someone other than yourself. Nor may you do anything that involves crawling through air vents while dressed as a cat…'”

          Your manager shouldn’t need to spell this out.

        4. Annonymouse*

          And it was “couldn’t send”
          Not couldn’t afford
          Not wouldn’t be doing that at this point.

          Could not as in “there is a good reason I’m not going to get into in front of everyone at this meeting.”

          I also find it a bit presumptuous of OP to use meeting time to openly address an issue to their grand boss in hopes of getting a yes with peer pressure.

          It’s not the right way to do that.

      3. Admin Assistant*

        But surely when one looks into the purpose or description of the conference/sees that the group from their company is all high-level execs/uses a bit of common sense, one would see that it’s for a professional level way above yours?

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        The manager didn’t say “No, the conference is only for executives” or “No, that’s not a good idea,” she said the company wouldn’t pay for it.

        But that’s not what happened. The manager said we can’t send you to this conference. The LW inferred it was financial, but it sounds like the LW simply wasn’t qualified to attend.

      5. Anon for this*

        Actually, according to the letter, the manager said that “the company couldn’t send (OP) to this conference.” The OP assumed in was a financial issue, when actually it was that the company couldn’t send the OP because it would be highly inappropriate for them to be there.

      6. Kateedoo*

        They didn’t say they wouldn’t pay, they said they wouldn’t send her. Totally different – it means they aren’t paying AND they don’t want her there as a representative of their company.

  7. g*

    In the future, I would suggest doing some more research on what you would like to do, and making a case for it with your boss. There are context clues in the situation that could have tipped you off to its appropriateness for you, but being so new, they slipped by you. You overheard very senior people talking about it, not your peers, and someone else was doing the registration for them, etc. I think the deal breaker may have been when you signed yourself up when you were helping someone else. While I believe this was done in innocence with no disrespect meant, it could also be seen as going around your managers. That is a much bigger deal for me! I hope everything works out for you, and don’t beat yourself up too much. Most people have real doozies at the beginning of their careers, which is better than mid-way!

    1. HumbleOnion*

      Agreed – what stands out to me is that the OP based her interest in this conference on a conversation she overheard in the elevator. Did she research it at all? Look at the conference website? Did she pay attention to the rank of the people the company was sending? To me it suggests the OP doesn’t have a good sense of self-awareness.

      1. TCO*

        But that lack of self-awareness can be pretty common in one’s early career–understanding hierarchies, etc. doesn’t come naturally to everyone. OP could have easily interpreted it as, “The company can only afford to send higher-level people,” not, “Only executives are allowed at this conference.”

        And again, without that professional frame of reference, it can be tricky to assess a conference from its website. Even if the OP looked at the program and saw that all of the session were about management, for instance, she could have thought that they were appropriate to lower-level folks interested in learning management skills for the future. Understanding how one word in the session description signals the meaning/level of the session content is a skill we gain with time, sometimes by going to conferences and ending up in the wrong sessions.

        I’m not saying OP acted properly, because she didn’t. But I do think that OP deserves some grace for not understanding the level of this conference.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          But that’s not all she did wrong. She then took advantage of an injured coworker to stick her name on the list anyway, and lied by omission when she took vacation time to go.

          1. TCO*

            Yes, if that part is really what happened (I’m not convinced that the letter makes it crystal clear that she intentionally deceived to this level) that aspect is not defensible.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              I don’t necessarily think she did, but that’s how it looked.

            2. zora*

              I don’t think she was intentionally deceiving anyone, but those are all steps at which she really should have asked her boss or at least someone, if she could go on her own dime. It’s just usually not okay to add yourself to things without asking if you are a junior employee.

    2. A Plain-Dealing Villain*

      As someone who does attend a few professional conferences from different industries on my vacation time (for fun!) I think the real key is whether you can just go on the conference website and sign yourself up as a member of the general public or not.

  8. DCompliance*

    I wondering if the issue was that you signed yourself up for the conference along with everyone else from your company. It may have implied the company is sending you. They could have seen this as a big misrepresentation.

    1. Roscoe*

      That is my thought. I mean, I can’t see being THAT mad that she took vacation and went herself. But by signing up with everyone else, it gave the impression that she was going “with” the company, which would be more of an issue

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Yes, this is what stood out to me. I once had an intern who signed herself up for a conference that, unbeknownst to her, I was planning. The conference was very specifically geared towards established professionals in the field. When I saw my intern’s name on the registration list, she had registered herself under our company’s name, giving the impression that she was an established professional from our company, with some level of expertise in that particular field. We asked her not to attend the conference and had a conversation with her about why her attendance would be inappropriate, but I would have never considered terminating her internship over it.

      1. Morning Glory*

        Do you think your reaction have been different if your intern had already asked to attend the conference, and you had said no?

        1. Not a Real Giraffe*

          I’m not sure, only because this particular intern was troublesome in the same “gumption-y” way, and we had already had several conversations with her about what is and is not appropriate for an intern to take on. We already knew we were going to let her ride out her internship, so we sort of just chalked it up to “oh there she goes again!”

          1. Annonymouse*

            But the internship has a definite end date. You know this problem person is going to leave you and not have to worry about how it impacts your reputation- they’re just an intern.

            Having an employee do it calls the whole company into question.

          2. Jojo*

            Yeah, but she registered herself through public channels. She didn’t manipulate a colleague in order to gain access to their security clearance to sneakily add her own name to the guest list.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        I was a little put out when a team member signed herself up for a totally appropriate conference without mentioning it to me! Because she did tend to be a little overly gumption-y in general, and this just felt like one more thing. Again, it was totally fine for her to go, great that she paid for her own registration (nonprofit world, local conference over a weekend), but I would have liked to have had a conversation with her up front.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I’m confused. It was on her own time and on her own dime, so why did you feel she should have gone to you first?

    3. Judy*

      For every conference I’ve attended, I’ve had to check off my role during registration. Individual Contributor/Team Lead/Manager/Director/Vice President along with industry. I also was required to put my job title when registering. I’m surprised that the OP was even able to register themselves, if the conference was only open to directors and above.

      It does also seem that the OP didn’t research the conference very well. I generally review the conference materials before even asking to attend a conference, and certainly before arriving the first day. You have to decide which sessions you will be attending.

      1. jamlady*

        I have this annoyingly common issue in my industry with entry level people calling themselves a “Teapot Professional” on their resumes and LinkedIn. They seem to think it means they work in that industry, but that’s actually a title that takes 15+ years to earn and comes with a license. I could see there being a similar option in a conference title list that an entry level person would check, thinking it’s just a broad term for anyone within the industry.

    4. amysee*

      I feel like “misrepresentation” is the key word here, at least from the company’s perspective. I could see a company being concerned (rightly or not– I don’t think OP was actually trying to do anything wrong, exactly) that she would go on to misrepresent herself on behalf of the company in other scenarios. That could pose a huge risk to the company.

  9. The Cosmic Avenger*

    But…but…they showed gumption!

    Seriously though, while on its own this doesn’t seem to warrant firing the OP, I would not want to allow them unsupervised around any clients or customers after hearing of this startling lack of judgment. Just because something isn’t specifically prohibited doesn’t mean it’s allowed, and just because something is allowed doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The OP should have asked her manager or her manager’s manager about paying her own way, and they would have told her that it wasn’t appropriate or it would be a waste of money for her, or whatever. They not only have more experience and knowledge, they also get to decide what’s in the best interest of the company, which is why usually even good out-of-the-box ideas should be run past a supervisor first. Even if they like it, they might be able to offer advice and/or adjustments based on their knowledge and experience.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, work conferences aren’t like public conventions. When you go to these conferences, you are representing your company. And if this was for upper management, there may have been high level discussions that were not appropriate for front-line staff (cut backs, bonuses for management…).
      On it’s own, it may not seem like a fireable offence, but if you break down the pieces, it sounds really off the mark. I can’t imagine the expense of the conference + hotel + flight, spending that on their own is fairly odd. Being told the company won’t send them, then wiggling in anyway is also odd. Not telling anyone is really a lack of judgement. All together, I can understand why the OP was fired. There could have been other disciplinary options, but I understand the decision.

  10. PB*

    I’m somewhat confused by paragraph 3. To be clear: you were assisting someone from another department, and that person was supposed to do the registrations for your company. You offered to do that for him, and while you were assisting him with that task, you added yourself to the registrations from your company, along with the people who had been approved by the company?

    If that’s the case, yes, I can see why you’d get reprimanded. Even paying for yourself, that seems like pretty clear overstepping. Termination does seem like a strong reaction, though. I am sorry that happened to you.

    1. RL*

      While I do feel for the OP, I think that the termination is not an over-reaction.

      Think about this from the manager’s perspective. You have an employee who hears about a conference (that she is not qualified to attend) and wants to go. You tell her she can’t go (although I would argue that the boss should have been more clear about the fact that the employee was unqualified to attend, instead of just saying “we can’t send you” which sounds like it was interpreted by the OP as “we can’t afford it”). She then goes behind your back and volunteers to do the registrations for the company, and she uses that opportunity to add herself to the registration – making it look like she is an official representative of your company. She then takes vacation time and books all her travel, without saying a word to you or anyone else about her plans to show up at the conference.

      While her intentions may have been pure, to her boss it probably seems like she went behind her back and tried to circumvent the rules. And she didn’t tell anybody, she just showed up at the conference hoping that it would be too late for anyone to stop her. To her boss, it would look like this employee showed no consideration for the public reputation of the company. A move like this could easily get somebody labeled as “loose cannon” at best and a “manipulator” at worst.

      1. Annonymouse*

        And it’s not her boss. It’s her bosses boss.
        Having someone much higher in the food chain tell you no should be the end of it.

        Also think how it looks to Grand Boss:
        OP asks you publicly at a meeting “Can I go to Super Fancy conference?”
        You say no – you can’t go.
        You do not hear anything else about it and assume that OP has dropped it.
        You go to the conference and see OP there. You are super mad because:
        1) how did they get here? It’s invite only and they aren’t invited

        2) it’s directors and executives only and you had to get special permission to even attend

        3) OP clearly has shown they don’t respect you (their grand boss) by not taking your answer. They could have sought out clarification but instead just showed up.

        4) it makes your company look so bad and of course you by association.

        5) when you find out how they got in (abusing the trust of another employee) you’d have very serious questions about their integrity and trustworthiness not just their judgment.

  11. Imaginary Number*

    I do feel for the OP and I could possibly see myself making this sort of mistake straight out of college. At the same time, it’s a pretty glaring mistake and I don’t think it was completely outrageous for the company to fire them. From their perspective, they saw someone who deliberately went behind their manager’s back to get involved in conference planning in order to sign up for the conference. That doesn’t look like poor judgement: that looks like a lack of integrity. From OP’s letter it doesn’t sound like that was the intent at all, but unfortunately that’s how it would look to someone on the outside.

  12. Janet Langston*

    One aspect of this advice that jumped out at me is the use of the word “love” when asking for feedback. I see this informal and inappropriate language choice all too often in cover letters and emails. Maybe “would appreciate” or “would benefit from” would be better in this case.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I don’t see anything wrong with using informal language, and I don’t find it particularly inappropriate. If you’re referring to a person as someone you “love” then maybe. But I think that new grads often suffer from being overly formal in their communication, and this doesn’t particularly bother me.

      1. OhNo*

        I think at this point, the OP would want to avoid anything that seems informal when dealing with this company. If they’re still upset about what happened, it might further tarnish their view of the OP. I think this is a case of “better safe than sorry”.

      1. DaniTLR*

        I almost lost an internship for using “love” in my cover letter (as in I would love the opportunity this internship offers to learn x, y, z). When I followed up with the manager on whether decisions had been made, he decided to give me an interview (and an internship) anyway, but made it clear that’s why I didn’t get a first round seat. I know that’s just one experience and one data point, but I avoid it now because I actually saw his point when I considered the feedback. There are more impactful/ less eye-rolly ways to convey a message of how much something means to you in a work context, and I do think it’s a varies by industry kind of thing. While I enjoy accounting, it’s an industry in which facts > feels.

        The thought of industry in that light also makes me wonder if the OP’s poor judgment was deemed too high of an integrity risk to keep the OP on.

  13. DeskBird*

    I feel like your biggest error here was not to clear this with anyone at your company. You offered to help with the conference to sneak your name on the list so you wouldn’t have to get permission. OP – I feel like you knew if you told someone your plan ahead of time that it would get shut down – which means you knew somewhere inside of you that this was all a bad idea.

      1. Czhorat*

        I can see this as a beg forgiveness/ask permission kind of thing. The OP probably suspected that they’d be discouraged from going, but didn’t foresee that it would be all that damaging. So, the easy thing to do is present the company with a fait accompli by simply showing up, and perhaps dealing with an awkward conversation later. The error in judgement was not realizing how innappopriate this was.

        We live and we (hopefully) learn.

    1. DCompliance*

      This. Also, there is an indication it was never mentioned to OP’s boss that she was going to the conference on her own dollar.

    2. dawbs*

      I think this might be the litmus test take home message–“Did you have to do something sneaky? If yes, think hard and reconsider”

      When I was the manager for college kids (so just entering the work force, often first jobs–we got to cover office norms in a way most places don’t–that was my job. My boss sometimes referred to “Ms. Dawbs’s finishing school for assertive young professionals” :) one of my important rules was “Bosses hate surprises”
      Some of that was “tell me before I learn elsewhere –you can put your spin on it”, some of it was “I can sometimes get in front of a problem if you tell me” and a healthy dose of “hey guys, ASK me stuff first”.

  14. Jesmlet*

    From everything we know here, it seems like firing was a bit of an overreaction, but definitely take Alison’s advice on sending that email to your manager if you had a decent relationship. The earlier you get actionable feedback, the better it is for your career. In the future, if you come up with a workaround to something where you’ve already gotten a ‘no’ from higher up, check before proceeding on your own because unfortunately management usually doesn’t provide all relevant details when they tell you no, they just expect you to hear it and move on.

    1. Seal*

      More importantly, management necessarily doesn’t have to tell you all the relevant details, particularly if you are a lower-level employee. And doing an end run around your manager because you refused to take no for an answer is more likely to be viewed as insubordination rather than gumption.

  15. Julie B.*

    I look at this as an um, yeah, you really did screw up kind of thing. I’m in a technical industry with tons and tons of conferences and seminars. Of course our company does not have the cash to send us to all of the ones we want to go to. And yes, there have been times we have picked up the tab ourselves as employees if there is one we really, really want to go to and the company can’t or won’t pay for it (these are usually the littly, tiny, highly esoteric seminars that are specific to the work of a single employee, as for the big kick-ass conferences, the company usually ponies up), but in no circumstances ever do we book ourselves to a conference with out letting the higher-ups know we intend to do so. It’s simply professional respect. Even if you do end up using your own money and your vacation time to attend, it is a courtesy to your bosses and to your co-workers and teammates to let them know what you are intending and why.

    1. CodeWench*

      Interesting…I’m a software developer and I attend events all the time that my employer knows nothing about. In fact, I’ll be attending one this Saturday. Unless it occurs during normal work hours and I need permission to not be at work, I see no reason why I’d need to let them know that I plan to attend.

      1. BioBot*

        Do you also tout yourself as a representative of your company when they don’t know you’re attending, or attend as a private citizen?

    2. Cinnamon Owl*

      It also touches on Allison’s repeated warning that you can be fired for things you do when not at work. Unless you attend in disguise, you’re probably “Cersei, from Wakeen’s Teapots” to everyone at the conference, and you can be fired for behavior the company finds damaging to their reputation.

  16. Jan Levinson*

    I’m sorry this happened to you, OP.

    I graduated college just over two years ago, and definitely had to work out some kinks as to what was professional, and what wasn’t. At a minimum, I think it would have made sense for you to tell them beforehand that you were planning on attending on your own dime during your vacation time. That way, they could have told you ahead of time that it was not for entry-level employees, rather than being caught off-guard by your presence at the conference. I think as a manager, just seeing you there unexpectedly would have been off-putting.

    As others have mentioned, the firing does seem like an overreaction, but at this point, chalking it up as a lesson learned is the best you can do.

  17. Roscoe*

    I think the big issue is using company resources to sign up for something they told you no to. Like, I feel like if you just went home, went online, did everything yourself, and said you were going as an independent person, the reaction may be different. But even if your bill wasn’t on the invoice, you still appeared to be representing the company.

    1. Morning Glory*

      My read of it was the OP may not have had access to register herself if she hadn’t offered to help the person handling company registration – I’ve seen registration sites where you need a special key or code to access.

      1. Bananistan*

        I think that’s part of Roscoe’s point. The fact that she COULDN’T sign up on her own should have been a clear sign that she SHOULDN’T. If she’d been able to, it might not have been as big of a deal.

  18. ComeNow!*

    This is why developed countries have (or ought to have!) comprehensive and advanced labour laws.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        I live in a country with those kind of labour laws, but I think OP could be fired here, too (for representing the company at the conference without the authorization to do so).

    1. LawBee*

      To what end, in this situation? The OP, however unintentionally, did something she was told not to do, and was at a place she wasn’t supposed to be at, representing her company without authorization. Firing her may be harsh (or it may not be, we don’t know) but it’s not something that you’re going to legislate about.

  19. an anon is an anon*

    I have to disagree that firing was a pretty extreme reaction. I think it’s pretty justified, actually. What OP did was a HUGE overstep and disrespectful of her company and her boss. She was told no and went behind her manager’s back to figure out how to attend the conference. Even if it was paid out of her own pocket, it’s pretty audacious and rude. I think what makes this a fireable offense is that after being told no, she used another coworker to figure out a way to attend the conference. To some managers this will look like you’re trying to undermine them or that you’re not trustworthy. I know this is probably not what you meant, OP, but looking at it from a managerial side, I’d be really concerned about your judgement for doing something like this.

    If I had an employee who did this, I’d be worried that they’d continue to overstep bounds if I kept them. I’d worry that if I said they couldn’t work on project X, they’d find a way to work on it anyway regardless of what I said.

    1. regina phalange*

      Yes, I agree with this. I don’t think it was an extreme reaction. Because that will lead to continuous overstepping in the future. However, OP – one thing you said is that you wanted to show initiative. In the future, you could ask your Manager for things to work on that would help you get invited to other conferences.

    2. Sadsack*

      Yes, and there may have been other things that OP has done that show lack of judgement, but that she doesn’t realize. I think asking for feedback is a good idea and OP should be prepared to really consider any feedback she gets that she may not be expecting.

    3. Cambridge Comma*

      I think it’s only extreme in the context of being someone new to the workforce. Many people would address it with a conversation to see if OP understood what she had done wrong and why it was a problem, and would have given her time to see what happened (assuming this wasn’t her only lapse in judgement).

      1. an anon is an anon*

        I don’t know. I’d have the same issue with someone who’d been in the workplace for 10 or 20 years doing this. It’s pretty egregious regardless.

    4. Supa Secret Sista*

      I know at my company, a startup with a very prestigious lineup of staff (yet still a bootstrapped startup), if I had done that and caused embarrassment to the company’s name, I’d be out on my behind or at the very least punitively disciplined (demotion). I am mid-level management. We have an employee who is our most junior (I manage her) and she had some gaffes when she started. Those, paired with the embarrassment on the company, would have sent her packing, full stop.

      I was with OP and tracking on their side until they said, “But when my manager saw me there…” #Facepalm. Always loop someone in. But you know what? They will never, ever do that again. It’s a hard, but very solid way to learn.

    5. MuseumChick*

      The (perceived) sneakiness with how she went about going to the conference would have me very worried about that else she was/would be sneaky about. Especially, as I said in another post, because I’ve worked with someone who would constantly do things like this. When you ignore the spirit of a rule, boundary, etc it can make you look really bad, as it did here.

    6. Lana Kane*

      I agree. I think this went through several misguided steps – enough that I would view the OP as a liability, if I were the manager. Either the OP is trying to undermine management, which is bad, or they don’t have enough good judgment, which is also bad.

      I think it’s a valuable lesson learned for the OP on professional norms.

  20. Melissa*

    I think firing you over this was a bit much, yes, but I’m a bit perplexed how you could have signed up for a conference for director level folks without seeing that somewhere fairly obvious on the conference website? Generally I don’t even sign up for things my employer is paying for without knowing exactly what the conference or workshop is for or about, let alone spending so much of my own money and taking vacation time. I think that may be where some of the judgment/impetuous issues come into play.

    1. madge*

      This is where I’m at. She did the registration for other attendees and never once realized that none of her peers (or her peers’ bosses) were attending? That’s where the lapse in judgment really shows.

      1. Saic*

        I’m curious to why OP thought they wanted to attend in the first place. It seems like because they heard the executives in the elevator, and the point was to get facetime. They also mentioned that wanted to show injustice. OP if you are these type of things as a way to get ahead know that it actually often has the opposite effect, and you can really move up best by being a resource and doing good work.

    2. madge*

      Hit Submit by accident. Also, if your company’s culture is one where it’s natural to mention (even vaguely) your vacation plans when booking it, it looks sneaky that you wouldn’t have mentioned the conference when getting those days approved.

    3. Cambridge Comma*

      Sometimes the language for this kind of thing is quite coded; OP may have missed the signals for the kind of attendees they expected.

    4. Malibu Stacey*

      Upon re-reading the letter, she states that she didn’t know it was only for directors and above until she got to the conference, but didn’t she notice that the only people from her work besides her were at that level if she was signing them up?

  21. Aunt Vixen*

    Aw, I’m sorry that happened, OP. In addition to Alison’s good advice, I imagine you’ll take from this learning experience a tendency to one more step’s worth of caution in future – that is, if you ask “Can I go?” and the answer is “We can’t send you,” one more round of asking is okay to parse whether they mean “*We* can’t send you” or “We can’t send *you*” (“Is it okay if I go and pay my own way?”). But after that, you do need to take no for an answer.

  22. Malibu Stacey*

    “sometimes managers notice iffy things about someone’s judgment but decide that it doesn’t quite rise to the level of needing to address it, especially if the person is entry-level.”

    I think this is probably the biggest lesson I had to learn about the professional working world.

    In school and in the retail jobs I had before I started working in offices there were no unwritten rules – if I didn’t meet the dress code, someone told me. If my boyfriend dropped by my cashiering job too much, someone told me. I had no idea there were other inadvertent missteps I was making that people were judging me for.

  23. Denise*

    I feel bad for the op. I think that it was slightly less than innocent, though. The fact that she managed to get control of the conference sign up process and sign herself up on behalf of the company is where she made her real mistake. It seems like the only reason she was able to register at all is because she was doing so from a company account. Given that it was an event for upper level management, the registration may not have been made publicly available or easily accessible to those who wouldn’t already be in the know. She was told that the company could not send her, but she used the company’s access to get in (even if she paid for it herself)–which is not what she was supposed to be doing when helping that co-worker–which may be what ultimately got her fired.

    It also stood out to me that she was insistent that she really should go to this conference, but didn’t really have a clear understanding of who or what the conference was for. While conferences can be professionally beneficial (which is why they have them), they provide learning and networking opportunities, but not often an immediate career benefit, particularly for an entry-level employee. So I think that in addition to sort of misusing her access to the company’s registration process, she also showed that she couldn’t listen and appropriately defer to those who do know more about the industry and the appropriate types of professional development she should be seeking.

    Not ragging on the op. It was a mistake. But while I don’t know that I would fire an employee for this (I guess it would depend on other factors), I’m not sure she sees exactly what went wrong here. It’s not just that she was wrong about the nature of the conference, it’s that she didn’t listen to and defer to her superiors, and she somewhat surreptitiously granted herself access to something she was told was not for her.

    1. CoffeeLover*

      Ya, this is what stood out to me the most. Her reasons for attending:

      (1) what I heard about the conference in the elevator sounded interesting, (2) I was trying to show initiative, and (3) It would be good for my career to attend something like that.

      These are such weak reasons for spending (what I can only assume) was a lot of money. It’s a huge expense to take on for something that was a complete waste of time. Even if it wasn’t specifically catered to executives/directors, I doubt it would have been THAT useful. You show initiative and develop your career by doing good work and getting good experience. Not by schmoozing with people at a conference. At least in my field, I can’t think of any conferences I would be willing to pay for out of my own pocket. I can’t for the life of me imagine what kind of conference this was that would not only make the OP drop a small fortune (by entry-level employee standards), but also go out of her way to deceptively get an invite.

      OP you say you didn’t know the Company would be upset by you going, but if that were the case, why was your manager’s manager surprised to see you there? If this was above board, you would have told them you were planning to attend. You were being sneaky because you knew it was something you shouldn’t be doing. You were trying to do first and ask for forgiveness later. Unfortunately, forgiveness was not forthcoming. But don’t pretend like you had no idea that what you were doing was going directly against your manager’s wishes. The firing may or may not be a harsh reaction depending on previous behavior, but you remind me of a recent letter-writer who was dealing with a good employee who always walked the line of insubordination. Sneaking behind your manager’s back is NEVER a good idea. This may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    2. DataQueen*

      I’m in the camp of having a Very Serious Talk with the OP if this had been the first serious lapse of judgement, but I am also thoroughly confused by why he wanted to spend his hard earned, presumably limited (because he is entry-level) money, again presumably limited vacation time to attend a conference… to help advance? I don’t even want to go to conferences!! But even if it was an open conference, there’s a reason only directors might attend.

      Here’s the thing about conferences, in my industry at least: The sessions are mostly fluff – the same stuff you hear year after year. Maybe you learn a new tip or trick that you can take home with you, but it’s usually pretty generic stuff. For someone entering the field, maybe that is appealing, because it’s your first time hearing it, but that’s not worth the $1000 to attend. I attend conferences because the real value comes between sessions and in the evenings – when I skip a session to meet with a vendor, when I have a cocktail with a competitor, and when I buddy up to lucky duck who doesn’t even know I’m going to swoop in and hire him in 6 months.

      Now all of those things – in my opinion – are something I wouldn’t trust an entry level employee to do. Whether or not the conference is FOR directors, I want to be representing my own interests at that conference, or have someone there who knows the business and knows our interests enough to do so. An entry level employee is not going to have the industry knowledge to know who the key players are. They won’t know that Fergus McKeen used to be at Teapots United but was ousted in a massive coup last year and just founded Teapots Unlimited. They won’t know that Grand Boss has always had a passion to acquire a decorative napkin business to go along with our Teapot and Cup/Saucer division, so when Jane Doilyson gets drunk at happy hour and cries that the family business is going under and they will take any offer, my entry level employee won’t know to jump at it….

      Okay, that last one was silly. But you get the point. Other industries are totally different, i know. I WISH there was more substantive content at my conferences – i would love to actually LEARN something. But mine are about schmoozing, and I need someone to go who I can trust to schmooze.

  24. Fiennes*

    Lots of people are reacting to this as a much bigger boundary reach than it seems to me. I suspect this is bc different industries have different standards/etiquette/etc about conferences; the ones I’ve worked in frequently had people sign up for conferences on their own, & it was neither surprising nor discouraged, It might be worth going over which industries are more & less strict with this.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I think the strong reaction is because she didn’t sign up for it on her own – she secretly added herself to the company’s list of attendees.

    2. Sunflower*

      I don’t think the problem here is that OP signed up for the conference- it’s that she kind of ‘snuck’ her way in by adding herself to her company’s registration list. I mention this upthread, but if she had applied through a normal registration system, she probably would have been vetted and denied. Since she signed up with her company, it appeared that the company had OK’d sending her aka making it look like the company was ok with sending someone who shouldn’t have been there.

      1. Fiennes*

        See, it didn’t ping that way to me – but it wouldn’t, bc in my background conference attendance isn’t as policed, and so nobody would be “sneaking” in the first place. I would’ve just read that as the person IDing where they work, the end. Obviously this person’s field has different norms, and the OP has learned that the hard way — but I don’t think this move was necessarily as disingenuous/deceptive as some have made it out to be.

        1. Ceiswyn*

          Offering to do someone else’s task for them and secretly screwing it up to further your own ends isn’t disingenuous or deceptive?

    3. MegaMoose, Esq*

      In my field there are conferences open to the public and invite-only conferences. This sounds like the latter. That’s the overreach. I’m not sure that there’s really that much industry variation when we’re talking an invite-only event.

    4. OhNo*

      I work in an industry like that, too, and I still see this as a pretty big problem because of how she signed up. If she had just signed up on her own, without identifying a company, no problem. If she had signed up independently and happened to put her company on her registration (if they had an optional title/company field), I would find it less problematic.

    5. CM*

      I think the facts that it was embarrassing for the company that she attended, AND that the conference organizers refunded her money and ask her to leave, provide some context here. This clearly was not the kind of conference where anybody can decide to attend on their own. And as a lawyer, I think it’s big problem that she showed up as a representative of her company, not on her own. It’s a major risk for the company when people represent themselves as having authority that they don’t have.

      Here’s an example that may clarify things: I was recently invited to a conference for in-house legal counsel where strategy for upcoming litigation would be discussed. If some random person from the company showed up, it would not only be embarrassing for the company because they wouldn’t know what they were talking about, it could also be damaging if this person started making comments (or worse, commitments) that were not in the interest of the company and not aligned with the company’s goals.

      I’m not trying to vilify the OP here. I think it was an error of judgment due to her being new to the professional world, and I hope that she’ll figure out from the answers to her question what to do differently in the future. But from my perspective, it was absolutely a fireable offense.

  25. Grits McGee*

    Oooh, this is rough OP. As an entry-level employee fresh out of school though, “initiative” would be more along the lines of offering to pay your own way to your boss rather than booking it on your own and surprising everyone on site. The fact that you booked through your company, as other commenters have mentioned, sounds like the major strike against you in making the decision to fire you.

    I’m very sorry this happened though. Hopefully if you use Alison’s script you can get some decent feedback on whether you need to readjust your personal judgement or if this was a one-off unfortunate decision that had unanticipatedly severe negative consequences.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      That’s an excellent point. There was an appropriate level of initiative to show–asking if you could go, good! Offering to pay would also be okay. In signing up in this way, though, you blew past those levels at 60 mph.

  26. Cathy*

    The firing is a harsh response, but if the boss said no, it means no. Going anyway told the boss that the OP was not a team player and likely to go behind the boss’s back on other matters. Trust was violated. Inability or unwillingness to follow orders was demonstrated. There’s initiative and then there’s blatant disrespect. The latter was shown even if unintended. Chalk it up to a life lesson.

  27. Dee-Nice*

    I am in no way saying that the letter writer had anything but the best of intentions, but I can see how, in the wrong circumstances, a manager might see their actions as a bit sneaky. The letter writer was told no. Instead of going back and directly asking if they could attend on their own dime, the letter writer offered to assist the person in charge of the conference and “took advantage” of being in that helper role to sign themselves up. The managers might not have seen this as a simple matter of not understanding tacit rules around conference attendance, but as the actions of someone who doesn’t have a problem bending rules, or who is a bit opportunistic. In some office cultures, this might have been something they just were not willing to tolerate or work with in a person. Again– it doesn’t sound at all as if this was the LW’s intent. But as someone who has been in the workforce substantially longer than the LW and who is more familiar with certain expectations, I would’ve felt icky if I had used my access to the conference planning materials in a similar fashion.

    1. KR*

      This sums it up nicely why I was thinking the manager took the steps they did. There may have been other things going on outside of the letter and OP may still be in a trial period at work. I think OP made a mistake but not one that will haunt her for the rest of her life. In the future, take your supervisors at their word and ask before you do something as big as this. You’ll find another job and it will be okay.

  28. Important Moi*

    Removed because off-topic. Please read/follow the commenting rules (that includes responders too!)

  29. Tammy*

    The part of OP’s letter that stood out for me was actually this part:

    But I only signed up as an attendee from my company. I paid for the conference fee, the airline tickets, and the hotel room out of my own pocket.

    I could see why the company would be upset by the OP implying that her company had authorized her to attend the conference, when they in fact had not done so. And, too, once she’d done that, she was in essence acting as an (unauthorized) representative of the company at the conference; her managers could reasonably have been concerned about the impression of the company that she might create in that way. I’m a mid-career manager, and even with that standing I am super conscious about situations where people might see me as a representative of my company. It could be that this is part of what OP’s managers were responding to. The other part, of course, is that your boss said no and you found a way to make an end run around her no and do it anyway. Some managers, rightly or wrongly, would consider that pretty insubordinate.

    I agree with the consensus – standing on its own, I wouldn’t probably have fired an employee for this, but we’d have definitely had an uncomfortable conversation.

    OP, I understand that you’re early in your career, so here’s a piece of advice borne of a few cringeworthy mistakes in my own life: Often, business decisions may have multiple justifications, and your boss might not share all of them with you. In other words, she might be thinking “I don’t have budget to send OP to a conference, and also this conference isn’t really for people at her level, and we want to be selective about who represents our company there, and [other reasons].” But she might not tell you all those reasons, and might trust that “no, we don’t have budget” would be enough of a response to settle the issue.

    Once you’ve asked your boss to do something and she’s said no, making an end run around the no without checking with her is highly likely to blow up in your face. If you wanted to attend the conference after that no, a query to your boss along the lines of “I was thinking about the conference, and I’d really like to go – how would you feel about my attending if I paid for the registration and travel expenses myself?” Then she’d have an opportunity to raise some of those other reasons, and wouldn’t feel like you were sneaking around behind her back.

    And, I’m sorry for what happened – getting fired for making an error in judgment never feels good. :-(

    1. Denise*

      “…the OP implying that her company had authorized her to attend the conference, when they in fact had not done so.”

      I really think this is mostly it. I doubt this harmed the company in any real way, but by signing herself up on behalf of the company, she was representing the company without authorization.

    2. Academia Escapee*

      This is what I was thinking. Once you’re at the conference, you’re a representative of the company whether you paid your own way or not. The company has a right to choose who they want as representatives. I have a boss who was gifted tickets to a concert he had no interest in, and was in a quandary about who to offer them to because there are a lot of people who would not represent the company well. Not saying that this is OP’s case, but the company does have a right to say who should be representing them, and they weren’t given that choice in this instance.

    3. BenAdminGeek*

      Agree- I have my feelings about issues related to my industry, but when people ask me, I have to be careful how I frame it. If my random complaints sound like “CurrentJob believes X about the future of Y” to people in my industry, that’s not a snafu I want to create.

  30. Application Development Manager*

    It seems to me the firing was more due to sneaky way the OP signed herself up and showed up at the conference without anyone’s knowledge.

    Its one thing if she signed herself up and paid for it and then mentioned it to her manager or manager’s manager. However she did not. She sneakily signed, paid for the expenses, kept the news form everyone at work and then just showed up at the conference assuming all would be good.

    Also, no one knows how badly the company’s reputation was damaged in front of other companies from the industry attending the conference. Not to mention the embarrassment faced by the company executives in dealing with the conference organizers. There is a thing called goodwill and reputation in the industry.

    1. Roscoe*

      Well, the first part… I don’t think it matters. I mean, if it is a public conference and I pay my own way and I’m doing it on my time, I don’t think that should be any of managements concern. However, to me, if she is presenting herself as a company rep, that is problematic. But if she is just going as a private citizen, then she doesn’t need to talk to her manager about it.

      1. Application Development Manager*

        Of course not. But in this case he/she clearly knew that the signup is THROUGH THE COMPANY. That is, you cannot just click on a link and sign yourself up, you MUST go through company signup. So it IS a management concern because by signing up you are now a “representative” of the company.

        His/her actions were sneaky, despite knowing fully well its not a public conference.

    2. Susie Cruisie*


      People forget about the company’s reputation and i can only imagine getting to a conference, being surprised by a lower level employee, having to explain to the conference organizers what happened, and having to send the lower level employee out. That’s a lot of potential damage to the employer’s image.

    3. AthenaC*

      “Also, no one knows how badly the company’s reputation was damaged in front of other companies from the industry attending the conference. ”

      I’m sure that was part of the company’s thought process, but I’m still side-eyeing their reaction. How difficult is it to say – “Oops! We neglected to anticipate this person’s actions, but we’re addressing it – thanks for your concern.” I have team members “embarrass” our company all the time – that’s how entry-level employees develop their confidence, poise, and professional judgment. By screwing up and then watching me fix it.

      It must be very difficult for them – going through professional life having to react so strongly to every mild embarrassment.

      1. LawBee*

        it really really really depends on the context of the industry. If some random employee showed up at conference I attend every year, without authorization by our bosses, she would 100% be fired, and it would cast a definite shadow on how my firm is perceived in the industry. I’m willing to trust that this was wildly embarrassing for the company, and that they’re able to gauge that better than the OP or we are.

        1. Application Development Manager*


          A conference where C level executives attend, I am bound think its a real high up there kind of conference which is attended by bigwigs.

      2. Cinnamon Owl*

        The context could touch on security. If the company–or one of their competitors–had trouble with confidential stuff being stolen or leaked, this cannot have been the look they were going for.

  31. Jessica*

    1. New employee, on the job for only 8 months.
    2. Heard about a conference. Asked to go. Was told no by manager.
    3. Found a way to add self to list of attendees under the guise of assisting the person actually responsible.
    4. Didn’t look further into the conference to see if it would even be appropriate for him to attend as an individual, which, as it turns out, it wasn’t.

    So, not only did LW attend without permission, he attended after being denied permission, after which he then deceived another employee into obtaining the technical access to register for it–and I’d be willing to bet that the employee got grilled like a T-bone steak about how LW got on the list of attendees in the first place.

    Yeah, I’d have fired him. Not knowing appropriate behavior for your role and seniority + being dishonest at the expense of another employee, all within the first year of employment? Bye. The workplace isn’t a plot of an Ocean’s Eleven movie. You don’t hack your way in to the exclusive conference and pose as a VIP in order to trick people into thinking you’re impressive.

    1. Sadsack*

      I have to say I agree. Something about the way OP explained this makes me think she knew she’d be told she shouldn’t go even if she paid herself, why else didn’t she bother to bring this up to her manager beforehand? If this event is such a great thing for her career, I’d expect her to mention to her manager or someone else at work that she’s going. And being told while at the conference that you don’t belong there had to be a mortifying experience, but OP didn’t seem at all effected. I can’t tell if OP truly understands how all of her actions were wrong.

    2. jamlady*

      Unfortunately I agree. Plus it’s very likely the employer was reprimanded at the conference for allowing something like this to happen – action needed to be taken, and I feel like the OP really doesn’t understand how big and layered this mess really was.

      1. Coalea*

        Yeah, if the conference took the step of asking the employee to leave, I would imagine that this had a big negative impact on the company!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It’s one thing to create embarrassment inside company walls, it’s a whole different thing to create embarrassment in public.

    3. Spiny*

      OP, you had to decide at some point not to mention what you were doing to anyone. Excluding the lapse in judgement of not asking, you had to know your actions were a bit off not to say anything. So you can’t be surprised to be called out, you’re just surprised with how far they took it. It’s not always better to apologize instead of asking for permission.

    4. Cinnamon Owl*

      It’s definitely been the plot of a few Leverage episodes.
      1) Get into the company with base level access.
      2) Figure out who has next level access and get close to them.
      3) Repeat up the levels.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah… I hate to pile on the OP, but the key thing here was the NOT TELLING your manager that you signed up and were willing to pay your own way there. If you had, it would have been explained to you you WHY you couldn’t go, even on your own dime. At some point you decided to just go regardless. I see why they were so mad.

      It is a live and lean. You overstepped.

      We actually had someone try to do something similar recently. In January we had a big retreat/working strategy session for all managers, and most (but not all) sales. We actually had a sales person CALL THE CEO asking why wasn’t he invited and if he could still attend anyway. YIKES! But at least he didn’t just show up.

  32. animaniactoo*

    You said that the complete nature of the conference wasn’t clear at the registration point. I’d like to know what other research you did about this conference to find out more about it before committing yourself to spending time and money on it.

    1. Betty*

      Exactly! Why would you invest so much money on conference registration, hotel, flight & vacation time into something you knew so little about? How does that show “initiative”?

      I would have fired the OP & do think it was the right course of action. Hopefully this was a very good learning experience.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      If it was a high level conference, there probably wasn’t much information available on the website because all the big players already know about it. When I attend our regulatory conferences, the info provided just says ACME Conference 2017, and it may list a guest speaker. Everyone who is a member of the organization knows that the itinerary will be filled with quality meetings and regulatory updates. There isn’t a need to spell it out.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        And if a new, entry-level employee showed up at one, I would probably freak the freak out. The topics covered aren’t controversial, but they are kept closed-door because people outside the industry (healthcare) could interpret the discussions in alarming ways. The attendees need to be able to discuss difficult topics in a safe environment.

        1. Kalamet*

          There is a reason that some conferences are invite-only. If an attending company has employees showing up out of the blue, that reflects badly on them.

      2. animaniactoo*

        Agreed that there might not be much, but I think that a) there would have been more than on the registration page, and b) a wider websearch might have turned up enough info and that’s why I’m curious about how much research was done.

        I attend an industry-only convention every year (NY ToyFair) and if you just looked at the website, you’d know it wasn’t open to the public, but it wouldn’t necessarily be clear what lengths you had to go to attend as an individual in the industry. However, if you do some mildly in-depth Googling (within the first two pages), you can see what the expectation is for being an attendee – who they’re trying to reach, and whether you fit into one of those categories.

        So, I’m just looking for an idea of how much effort the OP might have put in to looking for more info than they had. Because if they just went off what they had, this was a really impulsive and poor form decision all the way around. If they did more looking and didn’t find anything, there’s still some bad decision-making involved, but it’s not as if they didn’t at least try to do some due diligence around it, which I would see very differently.

    3. zora*

      Well, to be fair, a young employee might not think to do research about the conference. Might not realize there are conferences with rules about who can attend.

      But this is a lesson in learning when you might not know what you don’t know, and should ask your boss before moving forward.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        And this is why you ask before you “take initiative,” not just barge ahead.

      2. Kalamet*

        Yeah, I struggled with this myself as a college student / graduate. I don’t think I really got the hang of conferences until my third one, and only recent worked up the courage to research and attend one on my own. I remember being such a mess at my first couple – I didn’t prepare, so I had no idea what I wanted to do / see and ended up wandering from place to place aimlessly. In college you’ll often hear “conferences are great!” without anyone explaining *why* they are great or how you should go about them.

        1. LaurenB*

          I was just thinking of a classmate in a professional master’s program who showed up at a weekend-long academic conference without understanding the difference between the professional development conferences she’d heard it was useful to attend and an academic conference. It wasn’t terribly inappropriate for her to attend, but even afterwards she had no idea why everyone had been so puzzled by her being there and not presenting, or having research interests…

        2. Halpful*

          There are so many different styles of conference, too! :) I remember when two organisations put on a joint conference; half the attendees were expecting several days of talks with a party every night, while the other half was expecting two days of talks, one big party, then lots of BoFs and working and planning. It was… chaotic. :)

  33. Sue Wilson*

    I mean, I do think this is a fireable offense. If OP had just showed up as an attendee, and not as an agent of her company, then I would think this was an overreaction. But to show up, as an agent of the company, without informing anyone relevant at your company that you did so, isn’t a reasonable mistake to make at any age.

    I completely understand hearing “we can’t send you” as “we won’t pay for you” and then for you to pay for yourself as your own representative. But to assert that you are there on behalf of the company, without approval, isn’t just bad judgment. It smacks of fraudulent intentions, a lack of understanding of what conferences are for, and a failure to consider how your role at anything impacts the company’s reputation. I would consider that enough to fire. I think you can coach some of that, but I honestly wouldn’t want to.

  34. Just Another Techie*

    There’s a couple of things that I’m just really confused about.

    He had a broken foot and needed help carrying paperwork and laptops up to one of the meeting rooms on another floor. He told me he was swamped with trying to get everything ready for the meeting on top of signing up people for the conference and making all the arrangements. I offered to do all the conference so he could get the meeting set up.

    Why would you do the computer work and leave your colleague with the broken foot carrying paper and laptops up to another floor?

    I signed myself up for the conference along with everyone else. But I only signed up as an attendee from my company.

    I’m super curious what the sign up process was like. Like did people email you/the colleague with the broken foot asking to be signed up? Or was there a list the broken-foot-guy was given from one of the higher ups with instructions to “sign these people up”?

    1. Imaginary Number*

      It sounds like OP helped carry everything up to the meeting and then maybe took a list of people to sign up from him there.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Yeah, on my first read, I thought she’d offered to go to the conference for him because he didn’t want to go with a broken foot and that he’d agreed, but on a second pass, it sounds like he had the list of attendees, she offered to sign them up for the conference as a favor, and whoops! added herself. I definitely see how that could be problematic.

  35. Here we go again*

    I’m very torn on this one. I can’t tell if the OP *had* to sign up through her company or if signing up on her own was an option. That information would probably help guide my decision.

    I also think that the company made themselves look bad by highlighting that the OP was not a senior level person and didn’t belong there. Otherwise, who would know?

    Overall, I think this is a good intentions gone bad scenario, but I think firing the OP was a little harsh.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I mean, I would think that in a room full of high level industry people who get together once a year, it would be pretty obvious who the fresh-faced grad was.

        1. Jessica*

          As one myself, I submit that experienced employees who get their degrees later in life would know better than to pull something like this.

          1. Tex*

            Nope, i’ve met older folks (read mid to late 30s) who were similarly clueless because they were in their first corporate job.

            1. Jessica*

              Fair enough. I guess I was thinking “people in the industry who just happened to recently earn their degree”, as opposed to people new to an industry.

        2. Beckie*

          But I think once people start talking it would be abundantly clear that OP was out of place. Networking is usually a key component of these conferences, but talking with the OP would not be a good use of anyone’s time at the conference.

      1. Here we go again*

        It is impossible to guess someone’s age and at some conferences people are all wearing suits, which usually makes young people look older. It’s not that black and white.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Not by her looks, though, but because she was recognized by her grandboss, and grandboss clued them in that she wasn’t supposed to be there.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Right. It’s not like she signed in and the person working registration said “Wait. You don’t look old enough to qualify for this conference.”

            2. CanCan*

              Yeah, but the grandboss may not have had a choice. If his counterpart asks who the fresh face is, what’s he going to say: I’m not telling you? More likely, “Whoops, there’s an issue, it’s an employee but she’s not authorized to be here.”

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      Depending on the size and nature of this meeting, a lot of people could figure it out. People want to know about you. Not because they’re vetting you but because they’re friendly; people will also look you up online.

      There are also plenty of opportunities to ask questions and to be in small discussions. This isn’t always true, of course, but it can be easy to identify the person who is more junior just by the nature of the questions or what they input.

      Not to mention the company knew the OP was there. If the meeting is intended for senior level management, they might not want to risk getting caught and they can’t plead ignorance.

    3. WS*

      “I also think that the company made themselves look bad by highlighting that the OP was not a senior level person and didn’t belong there. Otherwise, who would know?”

      OP could have said something that highlighted their inexperience to another attendee, who then spoke to the conference organizers. An attendee from another company could made a comment to someone from OP’s company (“Oh, you’re from Teapots, Inc.? I think I met your coworker, OP, earlier.”) Either situation means doing damage control because there’s no knowing what the OP could have accidentally said to other attendees that would make the company look bad.

      Even if the OP’s company was the first to realize they didn’t belong there, they could have acted preemptively to prevent more embarrassment down the road. It might have been easier to go to the organizers and say, “We’re so sorry, there was some confusion with a junior employee at our company regarding this conference. We are addressing it with them and they obviously won’t be returning for the remainder of the event. We wanted to keep you in the loop in case another attendee brought forward concerns.” rather than saying nothing and hoping no one else had realized what happened yet (and hoping that OP hadn’t said something themselves).

      Depending on a lot of factors (who was there, what was being discussed, how many people outside the OP’s company and the organizers knew the OP was there, what the company’s stakes were in this, etc.) the company might not have had a choice but to address it directly with the organizers. At which point I would understand firing the OP for the mistake.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yes, it sounds like the OP’s company was doing damage control by notifying the conference organizers. Better to be upfront about the breach and correct it before anything more damaging occurred.

  36. Imaginary Number*

    Something I’ve seen with some of the younger professionals in my company is this concept that travel=success for a junior employee and not considering the negative impact of traveling when you’re not needed.

    A straight-from-college employee from another team put herself in a situation like this. Basically, several of the more senior people on her team were traveling to Brazil to meet with a customer. She basically invited herself to the event and the trip was approved by her manager. Because of the way the team was organized, the person she was officially reporting to was not the person who was actually managing her on a day-to-day basis. Her functional manager approved the travel, assuming that it was necessary, while her team lead hadn’t actually asked her to go. The difference in this situation was that she didn’t try to hide that she was inviting herself, she just kind of acted like that was the assumption all along. And, in the end, they decided not to cancel her travel. But she ended up going on a very expensive trip where she wasn’t all that useful and it made her look bad in front of her entire team, her team lead, and her functional manager.

    1. Purest Green*

      Yeah, I think this is part of it. I admit in my early career, I thought someone who traveled for business must be in an important role doing interesting things.

  37. Dee-Nice*

    As a related aside, it seems to be a theme of multiple letters to AAM that people don’t properly understand how to demonstrate “initiative.” Offering to take on some of the work of the guy with the broken foot? Good initiative. Using that to as an in to attend the conference? Obviously didn’t go so well. I’m also thinking of the LW who tried to “borrow” his boss’s assistant as a way to get in with his boss. It seems as if several LWs think along the lines of, “If I am advancing myself, that in turn advances the company,” but particularly for entry-level or administrative support persons, that’s putting the cart before the horse and can come off as self-interested.

    1. AthenaC*

      There’s not a ton of focus on soft skills, like the right way to show initiative (as an example).

      Am thinking that maybe high schoolers or college students could use a “soft skills” seminar or two – talk through various scenarios and how to address them effectively. I certainly would have benefit from something like that back in the day!

      1. Kalamet*

        Good lord I could’ve benefited from this. I’m awesome at the technical side of my job but was constantly putting my foot in my mouth or making myself look silly in my first year out of college. I’m still not great in the soft skills department, but I muddle through. I could really benefit from mentoring in that area.

      2. F Manley*

        The orientation week of grad school actually covered this, for me. Not showing initiative in general, but conferences! There were several minutes spent in a mandatory session all us new students attended on how once you’re at a conference with your university’s name on your badge, you are Representing Your University, and everything that entails. I winced the instant I saw the title for this one, and then harder once I saw the bit about signing up through the internal company list, because while I don’t know what industry this is or what its conferences are like… That’s a declaration of affiliation and authorization and representation, right there. It’s a big thing to do without permission.

        Which makes me all the more glad that my grad school told me about this kind of thing right out.

    2. Newby*

      Overall I think initiative is over-emphasized. I think a good policy is that when in doubt, don’t take the initiative. Volunteering to do something is good, because then someone can say no if that is not appropriate, but just going ahead and doing it can backfire badly.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Or when thinking of taking the initiative, run it by the boss to make sure it’s not spectacularly bad judgment.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Right, initiative means doing the volunteering. Not doing it with no communication about it.

    3. MusicalManager*

      Hah, i came to the comments to say that I’d love to see a topic on good/bad ways to “take initiative” since this seems like an area that causes a lot of confusion for people newer to the workforce.

      1. Dee-Nice*

        Sometimes I think “take initiative” can be as simple as, “Don’t wait for someone else to tell you to do your job,” but it gets blown into this whole other Thing.

    4. Princess Carolyn*

      I notice this theme too. Maybe it’s a broader topic Alison might want to tackle at some point? Every entry level employee gets advice like “Make sure you show initiative!” but it’s often very hard to figure out what actions, specifically, show initiative.

      1. Beckie*

        Oh, this is true. I moved from a casual, matrix-based company to a more formal and hierarchical company, and it took me a while to figure out the new rules of who I could collaborate with and how I could approach them.

      2. Cinnamon Owl*

        This is a great idea. A lot of great advice-offered-in-hindsight is hard to just force into being as a novice trying to go forward. (I see this with networking–it’s critical! But don’t cold-call people. Find someone you know who knows them… which for a new unnetworked person is really hard to apply, even if twenty years from now they will be saying “networking was critical to me getting the job I have now.”)

  38. AnotherAlison*

    As far as being fired, I think the OP is better off. She clearly pissed off her management, and I’d be really embarrassed to show my face after doing something underhanded that pissed off my management. She will be better off to get a fresh start somewhere new where they won’t have branded her as the One Who Did That Thing.

    1. Jan Levinson*

      Completely agree. I would be embarrassed forever after doing such a thing. It’s hard to mend a relationship with management after a doozy like that.

    2. Observer*

      In theory, yes. But being jobless makes it hard to find another job.

      Also, the OP isn’t all that embarrassed and doesn’t see why this is a big deal.

      1. Dee-Nice*

        She’s not embarrassed YET. She probably went into this with best intentions and wasn’t aware of the optics. But she’s going to be once she heads over here. But yeah, I don’t know if I 100% agree that her firing was the best outcome for her. And it will make it more difficult to job search.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Well, fair point. I suppose putting her on probation and her job-hunting and finding something on her own in a couple months would have been better for the OP. My intent was that it was better for her to gtfo of that company rather than try to salvage her career there.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Since I am not seeing OP comment here, I am thinking she might be understanding it better now.

  39. Feathers McGrawal*

    I’m struck by the fact that this letter mentions your manager’s manager, but not your manager. It’s best to discuss things like this with the person you directly report to.

    As others have said, this… is not what initiative is.

  40. Mimmy*

    A part of me wants to give the OP the benefit of the doubt, given that this is her first job out of college. If I hear “no, we can’t send you to the conference”, I would’ve assumed it was because they can’t afford to my way. I think the manager should’ve been clearer about that. Absent that, though, the OP would’ve been wise to ask why.

    Reading everyone’s replies, I can see how this looks sneaky on the OP’s part. Yes, it crossed some boundaries, but I do not think there was any harmful intent. Unless, as Alison points out, there were other problems with performance or judgment, firing was a bit much. A stern discussion would’ve been a better step.

    Let this be a lesson learned.

    1. Mimmy*

      Grrrr, that should read “I would’ve assumed it was because they can’t afford to PAY my way.”

      To add: My other thought would’ve been a personnel issue, e.g. “we need you here (at the office) for coverage”.

    2. designbot*

      If she wasn’t sneaking, she should’ve told the person she was ‘helping’ with the conference stuff that she signed herself up. Not doing that signals that she didn’t want to hear ‘no’ again.

  41. WellRed*

    “showing initiative” does not equal going ahead on your own after being told “no.”

  42. LawCat*

    Rule of thumb: never surprise show up at a work event.

    I don’t think they were wrong to fire OP, but OP has my sympathy. Hard lesson learned.

  43. designbot*

    I think the key to interpreting this is the fact that the boss’s boss had to have rules bent to include her in the first place, and she and her boss were particularly embarassed by it. That signals to me that boss’s boss is in a little bit of a tenuous place in the organization and had to do some convincing to be allowed to go herself, so an underling sneaking in on her watch is viewed as a particular slight against her individually, undermining her credibility as being able to do the job she’s advocating to be promoted to.
    Yes this was a huge blunder, but on top of that it sounds like you just pissed off the wrong person who has her own reasons to be insecure about these things.

  44. Cucumberzucchini*

    I’m just curious why the entry-level employee wanted to go so badly that they jumped through all these hoops to make it happen (I say this as someone who generally hates conferences). I also think it’s strange that it doesn’t appear the letter writer didn’t play out in their mind how weird it would be for the bosses/managers to see them at the conference with no head’s up. So weird.

    1. doubtful*

      Right? I keep thinking, “how did you expect this to play out?” Like, you jump out of the accordion-style conference divider wall and yell “surprise!?”

      1. Imaginary Number*

        I think OP thought they would show up and the higher-ups at the conference would be impressed that they spent their own money/vacation days to better themselves. And possibly some awesome networking going on that would result in manager’s manager remarking at what a go-getter OP is.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Maybe this was part of the firing decision that OP was unable to see that she would be recognized by cohorts and outed. In other words, she ran this massive plan without being able to see that it would fail.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq*

      The OP said that they were trying to show initiative and thought it would be good professional development – those are perfectly reasonable reasons for wanting to go. As for not realizing how strange it would appear, I think that’s just a newbie mistake. When you don’t know any better, sometimes you do things that look totally strange to people who know the ropes.

      1. zora*

        Yeah, and I think if you have just vaguely heard professionals around or on the internet, etc, talk about “going to a work conference” it wouldn’t necessarily occur to you that there are different levels of conferences and that usually your boss is involved in giving permission to attend conferences.

        It’s one of those things where you don’t know what you don’t know.

    3. Natalie*

      I actually totally get that – I think business travel and conferences can have a kind of mystique to an entry level employee, without the downsides being completely clear.

      1. Isben Takes Tea*

        Right, especially because there’s very little accurate representation of what a conference actually looks like in the media (with the added complexity of different industries having different styles of conferences).

        When I first started, I imagined conferences as bustling industry-versions of ComiCon, where anonymity and adventures abound, when in reality they can be more intimate meetings of insiders and higher-ups where optics are closely scrutinized (as the OP discovered here).

        There’s often not very clear guidance on what conferences are available, relevant, and appropriate for various employees to someone newly joining the workforce or industry.

    4. Jan Levinson*

      Yeah, I think she mistakenly thought it look impressive if she attended. I’m not convinced she actually had interest in the conference, although her letter indicates otherwise. I mean, she didn’t even take the time to research the conference enough to know that it was for managers only, so how much could she really have known about the content of the conference?

    5. Feathers McGraw*

      And that’s without even knowing enough about the conference to realise it was high level.

  45. Imaginary Number*

    There’s a lot of harping on the OP. I would like to emphasize that this totally could have been me. And present-day me would totally fire past-me for it.

    1. JMegan*

      Yeah, totally. Tough way to learn a lesson, but I bet this is a mistake she’ll only make once!

    2. Amber Rose*

      I don’t think I would have had the guts to go this far, but I have done things in the name of initiative in the past that are cringe worthy to me now.

      Fortunately, one lost job at the beginning of a career is not the end of the world.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        As a general rule, if you’re under 30 and you’re doing something “to show initiative,” run that one by the boss. Every time.

        1. LawBee*

          or if you’re new to the workforce – you don’t have to be under 30 to be newly working and not sure how things might play out.

    3. dawbs*

      I had at least 1 or 2 MAJOR overstepping fubars in my early career. Not this one, but, ugh.

      And I had to mentally talk myself out of signing up for a conference in my field as a way of networking in my job search this month. Because I totally was considering it.
      (It’s ‘open to the public’ but it would be seriously weird for me to go)

    4. zora*

      I definitely had moments as a young employee of impulsively doing something in the moment because I didn’t know what to do and then being in HUGE trouble. It was a lesson to learn how to slow down and ask questions even when I was sure something wouldn’t be a big deal. Or even when I kind of knew better ,but in the moment I sort of did the easy thing and realized after the fact that that was probably a terrible idea.

      Most of us make mistakes, and it’s okay as long as you learn from it.

      1. zora*

        Oh, or did something because I saw other people doing it, like this where she heard other people talking about this conference. I totally understand the impulse.

    5. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

      Agreed. OP, I think the firing was the right call for your employer, but I hope you take some solace in the fact that nearly all of us can put ourselves in your shoes looking back on our own early-career missteps.

  46. JMegan*

    Also, I think it’s worth pointing out the hierarchy here. It wasn’t OP’s manager who initially said no, it was her manager’s manager. OP, you mentioned that this is your first job out of college, but I’m not sure if it’s your first job ever. But in either case, it’s usually pretty important to follow the established lines of decision-making in your organization. If you wanted to go to the conference, you would normally start by asking your manager, and then your manager would get approval from her manager. Going up two steps on the chain is probably not a big deal on its own, but in this case it’s compounded with the other lapses in judgement that we’ve talked about here.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Going up two steps on the chain is probably not a big deal on its own, but in this case it’s compounded with the other lapses in judgement that we’ve talked about here.

      Another good point.

  47. Chriama*

    For future reference, and with the knowledge that hindsight is 20/20, I think it started to go wrong at the point you signed yourself up for the conference through your employer. To me, that’s similar to getting mail delivered to your office without checking first. I think adding yourself to the attendee list from your employer makes you look like you’re appropriating company resources and misrepresenting yourself as having their approval.

    But if this was just an external website with a sign-up form and you had a list of names to register then I understand why you wouldn’t see it that way. I’m thinking of a form where you sign everyone up one by one and there’s a field saying which employer they’re from as opposed to one where you just have one sign-up for the employer and put down who will be representing the employee. In other words, you figured you were signing up as Jane, who happens to work at Chocolate Teapots vs. This is the list of attendees from Chocolate Teapots: Fergus, Wakeen and Jane.

    If you wanted to register for the conference and you were ok to pay for yourself, you should have gone back to your boss – “Hey, Fergus needs me to help with the registration for that conference we were talking about earlier. Would it be ok for me to sign up to go if I pay for it myself? I’ll take vacation time for it.”

    Either way, I’m sorry this happened to you. It can be really hard to know where the lines are when you’re just starting out (and even when you’ve been in the workforce for a while!). It does sound like this conference (and possibly your workplace?) is very hierarchical and saw this as you not knowing your place. If the entire industry is like that then better you know now.

  48. Lurlene*

    I wonder if this was a conference or an association meeting — there isn’t a lot of structural difference between the two, but an association meeting is often closed-door and requires a membership. There are a lot of internal industry decisions made at these type of meetings that an entry level person might not be qualified to hear about before they are announced, or would not be able to offer a cogent opinion on and therefore drag down the rest of the agenda. For someone new in the field, the difference between a conference and an association meeting might not be clear as well.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      This is what I think happened. The OP thought it was going to be a convention center filled with table vendors/ information booths and break out learning sessions. Instead it was a meeting to discuss industry trends and high level plans. Inviting yourself to an association meeting would be a huge red flag and embarrassment for the organization.

      1. irritable vowel*

        Right – something like “Teapot Trends in FY2017” could sound to an outsider (which the OP is, given that she’s a recent college grad in her first position in the industry) like something of more general interest, but in actual fact would be this kind of high-level industry-insider meeting. Obviously it was the latter, given that her attendance was immediately noticed and revoked.

  49. doubtful*

    I’m a little flummoxed at the timeline of this, as well. Frankly I have doubts towards the LW’s innocence in the whole thing – LW signed up for a conference (in my industry, for something that you travel for, this is done months in advance), got approved vacation days, booked a hotel and airfare … and yet, in the days between those actions and the actual travel day, NONE of this came up in workplace conversation? LW’s Boss didn’t mention the “Executives Only Conference” that s/he was attending next week? No one asked LW where they were going? I have absolutely no evidence for it, but I would guess that LW either lied or massaged the truth about their upcoming attendance at this conference.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Alison is very clear that we should take letter writers at their word, and it’s possible to address the optics of what she did without calling her sketchy….even if the optics are so sketchy that another interpretation requires the benefit of a lot of doubt.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      If OP really thought it was such a good idea to “take initiative,” why didn’t they tell their manager of their plans? With the vacation day request in place, you’d think there’d be ample opportunity to bring it up.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Not even when you’re using your time for professional development? I would want my boss to know that kind of information.

          1. pescadero*

            If they aren’t sending me, or paying me to attend – and I’m using my personal time off… it’s none of their business.

            Doesn’t matter whether I’m taking a class, attending a conference, or going skiing for a week in Aspen.

            1. Annonymouse*

              But it would be weird if you knew your boss (or bosses boss in this case) would be at the same place at the same time and not say anything – even casually.

  50. always in email jail*

    I would have fired you, OP. This may be in part because we’re government, and all employees are on a 12 month probation period during which you can terminate for these things. After that, it becomes very difficult. If I saw such a huge lapse of judgement 8 months in, I would go ahead and start the termination process to save myself the headache later.
    I’ve said this other places in the comments but wanted to stress: You went to something where it was implied you were representing your organization without their permission. If you had had conversations with other professionals from partner organizations, your statements may have been interpreted as representative of the organization’s official stance. That is not OK. That was likely the issue here.

    I’m sorry you had to learn this issue the hard way. In the future, ask your manager before you take such huge initiative.

    1. irritable vowel*

      The possibility of the OP being on a probationary status, where termination is easier and can happen for reasons that it might not afterwards, is a good one to bring up.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Even if you don’t have a formal probationary period it’s easier to fire newer employees. You have a lot less invested in them and it’s often easier to transition back to having that opening on the team.

  51. Amber Rose*

    The important thing to take from this is that when you hear “no” from a manager, it means NO. It doesn’t mean, find a way in on your own through duplicitous means. If you weren’t able to sign up without adding yourself without permission to a company invite, that means you were not invited, and being not invited means you aren’t wanted there. What you did is very similar to sneaking into a wedding by claiming you’re someone’s plus one when nobody asked you to show up. Not cool.

    I’m also concerned that you based all your actions on an overheard conversation and apparently did no independent research on the conference and who and what it was for. There’s initiative, and then there’s blind impulsiveness.

    I can understand why this lapse led to you being fired OP, and whether it’s reasonable or not is subjective. But it’s not the end of the world. You can recover from this. The important thing is to understand why, exactly, what you did was inappropriate and learn from this so you can move forward.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Yes. There is no reasonable way that “no” can be interpreted as a “yes, if.”

      1. Archiving*

        Except there are plenty of times no becomes yes.

        Me: can we get an intern for x and y projects?

        Boss: No. That’s not in the budget.

        Me a few months later: I did some research with deb from student relations. It turns out we have a partnership with university and we might be able to get a free intern. Would you like me to work with deb to see about setting something like this up in our department?

        Boss: Yes! Awesome!

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          As I said: there is no way THAT no can be interpreted as a “yes, if.”

        2. sstabeler*

          two things: 1) that is a situation where a no can become a yes (another way would be asking if the budget could be increased next year to cover hiring an intern)
          2) a closer anology to the situation would be you approaching the university yourself about getting a free intern without asking the boss first- which would be a no-no regardless.

  52. The IT Manager*

    After the conference organizers found out from my company that I am not in upper management, they asked me to leave and said my fee would be refunded.

    I think this is a big clue as to why this blew up. The conference organizers did not want junior people there. Clearly the attendee list was to be vetted by the companies when they signed people up. This was a black mark on the company with the conference that they appeared to allow an unqualified person to attend. The conference organizers went through some small effort to refund the money to kick her out.

    Add to the fact the duplicity of ignoring a “no; we won’t sponsor your attendance” and signing herself up without approval I understand why the LW was fired.

    I do think it was unlucky that it was a senior level only conference – I’m not really familiar with those as I am with all industry conferences – but she should have done more research before even asking her boss to fund her and definitely before signing up herself.

    1. INeedANap*

      This is a great point.

      It wasn’t OP’s managers who wanted her to leave – the actual organizers of the conference itself asked her to leave. That seems like a Big Deal to me. If she was just out of place and awkward, and wouldn’t really get anything from the conference, I can’t imagine the organizers straight up telling her to leave. For that to happen, I have to believe that it was a closed-door conference and that makes me think OP must have misrepresented herself to get in at all.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I hope the fellow with the broken leg didn’t get reprimanded as well. He let his guard down and the OP signed herself up on the list. I’m sure the managers had some tough questions for him.

        1. Soos*

          OP was the one fired but you can bet a lot of others felt some of the heat. I can imagine that as soon as OP was out the door there was probably a few tense phone calls made trying to figure if anyone approved her attendance, who was responsible for doing the registration, how her name got on the list, and if anyone knew how she was using her PTO. With only 8 months on the job too many bridges were burned to even bother trying to make it a teachable moment for the OP.

          1. msmorlowe*

            I think you make a good point here that, while the OP spent the remaining conference time chilling in the hotel on a crappy holiday, there was probably a company storm about this that many others, not at the conference, were dragged into to try and figure out how this happened. The firing might have come as a shock to the OP when they got back to work, but it most likely was the product of lengthy discussions. It’s possible as well that it became an issue that impacted the company’s performance at the conference–whether because they took a hit to their reputation, or simply because they were left slightly off their game from thia incident.

      2. BeautifulVoid*

        Agreed. I’ll give OP the benefit of the doubt and say she most likely couldn’t have known that this action of hers would reflect poorly on the company and turn into A Big Deal, but it did. (And since she didn’t have the experience to know how this could have negative repercussions for her company, this is where we reiterate the lessons about communication, transparency, and taking no for an answer that OP unfortunately had to learn the hard way.) I said upthread that my knee jerk reaction was thinking the company overreacted by firing her, but the more I think it over, I can absolutely see why they made that call, especially since she’d only been there for less than a year.

      3. sstabeler*

        theres’ also the fact that it sounds like OP had to actually be asked to leave- IF I was in the Op’s situation, as soon as I realised the conference was inappropiate for people of my level, I would be finding a way to gracefully leave unobtrusively (and heading back to my room to see if I could rebook my flight home, and how soon I could fly home)- which, I imagine, would look slightly better (in the sense of it being clear you realize you screwed up, so it might be able to be a teaching moment, not a reason for termination.)

  53. LQ*

    It might help make sense of this OP if you stop thinking of this as being fired for attending the conference. You used your administrative (borrowed) capacity to do something you were specifically told not to do.

    You did something using the tools (sign up list) to do something that you were not supposed to. I’m not sure I could trust you to not use other tools (private data) to do something else you were not supposed to do.

    I’m sure you wouldn’t, and that you are shocked that someone would make that leap. But it is really important that you prove you are above reproach in things like having administrative access to things, I don’t know if that was much of your job, but assuming you wanted to be in higher level positions, and that you still do, that becomes very important. Learning discretion and privacy norms and rules will be very important as you advance in your career, or at the start of it. Things like this are a good way to show you have the ability.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Framing it in a similar manner, this is taking something that has not been offered to you. We have to wait until it is offered. Sometimes we can ask permission. The best way to do that is to ask our immediate boss.

  54. hbc*

    OP, you might have had good intentions, but this was pretty much a perfect storm to have you in the worst possible light.

    1) You ignored a “no.” Okay, it was a soft no, but it’s not appropriate to treat a “No, because…” as a “Yes, if….” If someone says they can’t host you because they don’t have a bed, you don’t show up at their house with a sleeping bag. This is really, really important for life in general, not just work. After you get any kind of “no,” you have to get an actual “yes” before proceeding.

    2) The way you got access to the conference list *appears* very sketchy. It’s easy to read intent here even if it truly was coincidence and helpfulness.

    3) You kept it quiet. Maybe you thought you had no reason to talk about it, but it’s easy to assume that if you thought it was totally cool, you would have been talking up your big trip. I mean, not even a “Hey, Broken-Foot, don’t freak if you see my name on the list if you’re double checking, I paid my own way”?

    4) You stumbled into something very visible and embarrassing for the company. All three of the previous possibly could have been turned into a strong warning/reprimand, but emotions would be high around this.

    For what it’s worth, if they didn’t fire you, you’d have a really, really hard road recovering from this. Your career will probably be better in the long run having this as a “mistake I’ve learned from” story in an interview than trying to climb the ladder with that anecdote weighing you down.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      1) You ignored a “no.” Okay, it was a soft no, but it’s not appropriate to treat a “No, because…” as a “Yes, if….” If someone says they can’t host you because they don’t have a bed, you don’t show up at their house with a sleeping bag. This is really, really important for life in general, not just work. After you get any kind of “no,” you have to get an actual “yes” before proceeding.

      This is really, really, really well-stated.

      1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        Reminds me of Dwight showing up at Michael and Jan’s dinner party with wine glasses and a person.

    2. Jessie the First (or second)*

      “it’s not appropriate to treat a “No, because…” as a “Yes, if….””

      Agree +1000 on this. Well-put.

  55. Sarah*

    I am sympathetic because it doesn’t seem like the OP intended anything bad here. But, I can’t understand the problem from the company’s perspective. I think the two key things are:

    1. Whether intended or not, the appearance is that OP took advantage of the coworker’s injury to add themselves to an internal registration. And, they failed to mention to any other coworkers that they’d be traveling to the conference until showing up in person. Normally, if a large group were traveling to a conference, one would mention things like dinner plans, coordinating rides to the airport, etc.–it would not be a big secret. On the whole, it just has the appearance of trying to hide things/get around the normal work process. If the OP had been totally open about it and either asked about being added to the internal list or whether there was a way to sign up independently, they would have gotten all the info and it would not have been an issue.
    2. I think it also reflects poorly on the OP that they didn’t seem to do much, if any, independent research on this event. It seems like after overhearing one conversation, the OP went ahead and got really invested in attending an expensive event and that was that. Obviously I haven’t seen the conference website, but there are so many sources of information out there–you could Google the conference, ask your peers at the company, seek clarification from your manager as to whether it was appropriate, or ask the coworker you were assisting for more details. If anything, this whole scenario shows a lack of initiative to do independent information-gathering. I would worry if the employee would be similarly lax in spending company resources in the future without doing even a minimum level of due diligence.

  56. Brett*

    I can think of one conference like this in my industry, the Teapotmakers Inc Senior Executive Summit.

    Other than the name of the conference, the website does not talk at all about the attendance criteria on their website because the conferences is invite (by company) only. Since every company has an individual account handler who moderates their conference attendance for them, there is no reason to list the upper exec criteria on the website. I also strongly suspect it is not listed because the definition of what the conference organizers consider “senior executive” varies from company to company. I worked for a startup (<20 employees) who was allowed to send anyone they wanted and also worked for a large (5000+ employees) local government who was only allowed to send the chief elected official or COO (not even the CIO or elected council members were eligible to go).

    The important thing is that breaking these rules and sending substitutes would get your organization banned from the conference and cause you to lose registration slots.

    If this is the case for OP's company, firing OP might have been a necessary saving face measure to avoid being banned or restricted from attending.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Oh, that’s an interesting wrinkle–I didn’t even think of the company potentially getting in trouble!

    2. LisaLee*

      Oooh, that’s interesting. I would not be surprised if there were some sort of possibility of penalty for the company here, given how quickly the conference returned the LW’s money.

  57. HR Veep*

    In many organizations (like mine, for instance) WHO goes to what conferences is indeed a bit of an earned perk. Shouldn’t be, but it is. So, in an organization like mine, this would’ve been a huge mis-step. Someone who showed up on their own dime would have probably been fired. Plus, I think what the boss saw instead of initiative is “I told you no and you did it anyway”. I can easily see how a person new to the working world would do this, and I hope it’s a lesson learned.

      1. Michael*

        It probably depends on the field and how conferences are used, but I don’t use them as a perk because I want to send people based purely on how much they/my company will benefit from the experience. I’d much rather reward good employees or exceptional work with praise, raises, promotions, extra vacation time, or a bigger bonus. Using conferences feels like a mistake for the same reason I wouldn’t start rewarding people by giving them more prestigious client accounts (i.e. those accounts should go to the person who will do the best job for that particular client, not whoever happens to be due for a reward).

        1. Annonymouse*

          If you have two workers who want to go and can only afford to send one (financially or man power wise) it would make sense to send the “better” one as you are invested in growing them and having them stay with the company.

          They’ll probably get more out of it than the other person. Of course this assumes both people do similar work.

          If thy do different work it then makes the most sense to send whoever the conference is aimed at.

      2. HR Veep*

        eh, in my organization it sometimes appears to be a tad arbitrary. Sometimes people go to conferences because “they always go”, and not because it’s the best match for them.

  58. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    Here’s a basic point that all entry-level people need and few seem to understand: keep your boss in the loop. On everything. In particular, if you’re doing it to “show initiative” or if you’re making a nontrivial decision, your boss should be aware of it. If you think “Nah, I don’t need to tell Boss about that,” you probably do, and even if you don’t, they won’t mind if you did. Your boss can decide what’s important. That’s their job. You’re new, you probably don’t have a feel for that yet, and you’re not paid to make judgment calls like that.

    One of my wife’s coworkers is 24, new to teaching, and needed some curriculums for special ed language arts classes. She emailed several people, couldn’t get what she needed, didn’t get responses. Decided to adapt another curriculum and carried on. Hey, I’m showing initiative! Except now she’s on a PIP because she was using a curriculum not approved by the district and didn’t tell the principal about it.

    And, just to beat a dead horse, when your manager says no, don’t second-guess them.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Another reason to keep your boss in the loop when showing “initiative.” If you take on a big project on your own, how will you boss know about it if you don’t tell them? If you really want to make an impression, you need to keep people informed of your plans- that’s part of being a team player.

    2. FN2187*

      Your boss can decide what’s important. That’s their job. You’re new, you probably don’t have a feel for that yet, and you’re not paid to make judgment calls like that.

      Oh, this. I’m entry level. I made a judgment call on what I thought was no big deal, so I didn’t loop her in or get her opinion first. My boss disagreed — it was a big deal. It was horribly embarrassing, but trust me, I’ll never do that again.

    3. LuvThePets*

      + 1000
      I have often told my team that I would always do everything in my power to have their back, but “I don’t like surprises.” It’s amazing how a brief email or mentioning something just to keep your supervisor in the know can help in an emergency. I also love a paper trail. CYA!

    4. pescadero*

      “Here’s a basic point that all entry-level people need and few seem to understand: keep your boss in the loop.”

      Eh… I’ve had a few bosses that wanted you to “show initiative” by doing what they wanted without having them in the loop.

      They didn’t want you to loop them in, and they didn’t want you to do something different than they wanted… and they saw no problem with this arrangement.

      1. Rebeck*

        I’ve experienced this, too. And then if you do tell them, you get dinged for not showing initiative.

  59. amapolita*

    “The idea of the conference sounded interesting and at our next departmental meeting I asked my manager’s manager about being able to attend the conference. She said the company couldn’t send me to this conference.”

    I actually think this is where the OP’s errors in judgment started. From the letter, it sounds as if OP bypassed her direct supervisor in making the request, which doesn’t show a great understanding of the hierarchy. If OP made this request in front of others at the meeting, that might have also seemed a little tone-deaf.

    So we have a series of issues that could be construed as errors in judgment:

    – Asking boss’s boss to attend a conference
    – Not having done the research on said conference before making that request
    – Signing him/herself up while helping the coworker
    – Attending after being told the company couldn’t send him/her, presumably (because of the way OP signed up) in such a way as to seem like he/she was an official company attendee

    The trouble is, when you’re an entry-level employee, you often don’t have any skills or knowledge yet that are critical to the company. Your presentation, good judgment, and willingness to learn are what you’ve got to go on, and I can understand why the company might have decided that they didn’t want to keep working with someone who needs help in these areas. Another company might have taken this as a teachable moment for a new grad, but every company is different.

  60. AthenaC*

    To advance the story a bit, how should OP address this situation in her next interview? Should she say, “I made an error in judgment that I have since learned from: here’s what I wanted (i.e. knowledge and professional advancement), here’s what I did, here’s what I learned (i.e. communicate clearly with manager about my overall objective and the best way to go about it).”

    1. LawBee*

      I wouldn’t even go that detailed.
      “We see you were involuntarily terminated from your last position. What happened there?”

      “It was my first job out of college, and I was still learning how the business world worked. Unfortunately, some of the errors I made were more significant than I’d realized, and they had to let me go.” And then go from there. There is zero need to let the interviewer know exactly what she did – and if they ask, she’s perfectly able to say that she can’t talk about the details because it’s specific to that company, but this is what she learned.

      1. Michael*

        Not to be difficult, but if I was interviewing someone and they said:

        “she can’t talk about the details because it’s specific to that company, but this is what she learned”

        I would be polite about it, but I would never, ever hire them. Even if they really *couldn’t* talk about the details, that’s just a huge red flag.

        I’d be much more likely to look favorably on someone who said, basically, “I make X mistake, and here’s how I learned from the experience.”

        1. AndersonDarling*

          Yeah, I think the OP would need to address it in some way. “I produced great work, but I was still new to the corporate world and I made a political mistake that upset my managers. I’m actually very embarrassed by it, and I’ve matured a lot since then. I’ve realized that working is about more than the actual work, it is also how you interact and present yourself on a daily basis. “

        2. designbot*

          yeah, “can’t talk about the details” makes me think of something with an outstanding legal claim, which would scare me off a candidate far more than what actually happened would.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Noooooo. That sounds like she’s trying to hide something.

      3. Jessie the First (or second)*

        I think the OP is far better off giving *more* details here, because phrased well it could: 1) alleviate new company’s concerns about What Horrible Thing Got OP Fired?! 2) allow her to explain what she has learned about professionalism and keeping her managers in the loop, and those are reassuring things for an employer to hear. She can’t express them in a convincing way if she doesn’t say what her offense was.

        Explaining that she registered for a conference without permission, paid her own way but didn’t understand that it was the sort of conference that the company really required permission from it to attend – that won’t raise huge red flags for employers and be chalked up to a learning experience. Some “mysterious, I cannot tell you, I promise it wasn’t awful but no I won’t tell you” will raise lots of red flags.

        1. LawBee*

          that makes sense. I was thinking about the conference itself, and how it was invite-only so probably not something that should be discussed outside of the company, but phrasing it this way would work.

      4. Jessica*

        Well, if it’s in the same industry, then every director-level-and-above is going to recognize OP’s name as The Peon Who Went To The Executive Conference. It’s a small world.

            1. Jessica*

              You’d be surprised. A lot of conferences include lists of attendees and the companies they represent. At the minimum, there’d probably be name tags and OP would certainly have been seen. Combine that with garden-variety gossip like, “I heard Teapots, Inc. had a peon sneak onto their attendee list and show up without permission!” “OMG! Who was it?” “Actually, I think I saw her!”

              Not to mention the employees at Teapots, Inc. who heard of it, or knew OP, and told their own friends and colleagues in the industry. You bet that stuff gets around. Especially popcorn-worthy dirt like this.

              1. notquitebatman*

                Depending on the industry, this will conference legend/gossip for years to come. Being fired saves OP’s reputation in the long run

    2. MuseumChick*

      Maybe something like, “I was straight-out of school and still learning business norms. Basically, when trying to show initiative I majorly over stepped without realizing it. I’ve taken a lot of lessons away from that situation.” Then if they ask for more information she can say, “I heard about a conference that some in the company were attended. I asked if I could as well and told the company couldn’t pay for that. Well, very mistakenly thought it would show how dedicated and sincere I was if I found a way to attend. The co-worker who was in charge of the conference had me help him with some stuff and through that I managed to put my name on the list. Look back I have no idea what I was thinking. I paid for everything myself so I thought it was ok. Lesson learned, also take “no” for what it is and always keep you boss in the loop.”

  61. Rachael*

    OP, I wonder what industry you are in. I know that in the banking world ANYTHING that is done in a sneaky manner is a fireable offense. I think that you might be focusing too much on the fact that you were fired because you attended. However, if I was the company I would be more concerned with the fact that you went behind another department employee’s back and messed with his work. This is sneaky and there is not room for that kind of behavior in a lot of industries that require strict rules on fraudulent activity.

    Yes, you know that you should not have signed yourself up and gone. However, please also focus your hindsight in how the actual action of sitting down at your coworker’s desk and manipulating information to get what you want got you fired. That is what is fireable to me and this information will be useful in future jobs. It wasn’t the act of showing up , it was the sneakiness (which made you untrustworthy).

  62. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    I’m a little surprised that Alison’s response focuses so much on actually going to the conference. From my work experience, it’s the unauthorized access (!!!) to sign herself up that was the OP’s grave sin here. Something like that would be jawdropping levels of unacceptable in any job I’ve had, and would absolutely have seen the OP get the boot — regardless of what she did with the access, the simple fact of getting access to something she wasn’t supposed to have access to, with the intent of making changes to it, would be a fireable offense, the same as if I tried to trick my colleague into leaving his computer unlocked so I could get in and monkey around under his userid.

    Now, granted, I’m in the financial industry — there’s no way that wouldn’t be the kind of thing that would be risking my ability to ever work in a FINRA-overseen role ever again, let alone keep my job with my current employer. It sounds as though the stakes aren’t as high in the OP’s role, but to me, that’s what put this beyond the pale.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I think it’s because the OP is a little vague about how the sign-up actually happened! I totally read it wrong the first time, and I feel like she’s doing a bit of the Professor Slughorn trying to change the unwanted memory thing.

      1. Malibu Stacey*

        I have to admit, as an admin I was confused about that part. This is an admin task (and something I do as part of my job), and being injured would not prevent me from completing it. If I could complete the conference registration, another admin would do it, I would not wait for a volunteer.

  63. jv*

    I think they are lying about the conference itself being restricted only to senior people. It’s most likely an internal policy.

    Honestly, I don’t blame you for signing yourself up and paying to go if you were not given good reason. It’s obviously a good event and you respected what you could learn from it. It also seems that management was not clear with you on who should and should not attend this event. What you should have done is tell your manager your intentions before paying for it and going to to the event. If they had said no… there are other events you could attend on your own dime.

    Be glad you were fired because it seems to me that there was a lot of unnecessary drama around this. They were not direct with you and were not firm when telling you not to go and why. They also publicly humiliated you – how embarrassing for you to deal with that dressing down with the conference organizers knowing about it.

    They obviously have some kind of conference earning system in place with staff and more senior employees get to go once they have earned it. If someone like you shows up they probably felt extremely slighted by it all. I bet upper management had to deal with all kinds of passive aggressive comments.

    Personally I believe there should be a grace period before a company sends you to a conference. You should be there for at least a year and be on the right track professionally with your peers and boss. I do not believe in making people wait years to go to conferences and I myself have paid my way to go to certain events because management were cheap. What’s wrong with growing and learning?

    1. Allypopx*

      “After the conference organizers found out from my company that I am not in upper management, they asked me to leave and said my fee would be refunded.”

      I don’t think they’re lying, and I’m not sure why they’d do that as opposed to just referring to it as an internal policy or a perk the OP had not earned. This seems to be a specific type of conference.

      1. Anon 2*


        And if it was a more general conference, then why did the OP need to add their name to an internal list? Why not just register online with everyone else?

    2. AD*

      Ok, this is just gobbledy-gook and wild speculation. It’s not really helpful to the letter-writer, which is our key goal here at AAM.

    3. SeptemberGrrl*

      There’s no reason to think they are lying about it being listed to senior people. I’ve seen plenty of conferences where it’s explicitly stated that it’s for high-level executives because of the type of content being discussed. As an example, a conference focusing on strategic-level business issues would not be a good fit for an entry-level employee focused on execution.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        And it may not necessarily be for executives. It could be for any decision maker the company would like to send, like a project manager or a quality manager.

    4. So Very Anonymous*

      The conference organizers asked OP to leave and refunded the registration. That’s a big deal and says that the company isn’t lying.

      Some industries do have closed conferences (I’m in a field that has both closed and open conferences).

    5. Jessie the First (or second)*

      jv, it was the conference organizers themselves who told her to leave – not her own company. The conference people.

      Also, in general, assuming that other people are lying to you simply because you do not initially understand something is not, I think, a helpful way to go about life.

      1. Michael*

        To expand: a site called ‘Ask A Manager’ is a strange place to visit if you have a reflexive and arbitrary mistrust of managers.

  64. MuseumChick*

    OP, my comment may get lost in the flood of excellent advice but I wanted to offer a perspective on this. I worked with someone once who would do things like this all.the.time. Basically, if he wasn’t VERY explicitly told no, he would find away around things to get what he wanted. For example, (this was in grad school), the cohort I was in made an agreement that we would not get gifts for any professor unless it was a group gift (there were a variety of reason for this that I won’t bore you with). Well one day we find out that he had given a bottle of wine to a professor, when asked about he said “Well, I didn’t spend any money on it. It was given to me so I gave it to Professor Stark.” He didn’t have any kind a medical issue that would effect him being able to understand social ques. He was just, to be blunt, a jerk who would totally ignore the spirit of any agreement/rule he was given for his own gain.

    Now, I really don’t think that is what you were doing here but that is how it can be perceived. It comes across as sneaky, arrogant, and rude. Especially given that you didn’t tell you boss what you were doing. This is a good (but tough) lesson. I agree with Alison that you should reach out to your previous manager and express regret and a sincere interest in learning what you can do better in the future.

    1. Important Moi*

      How did this affect how you interacted with this guy? I work with someone like that now.

      1. MuseumChick*

        After awhile he became pretty isolated. No one the cohort wanted to work with because of behavior like this. Everyone left school with friends/allies in the field (which is fairly small) except this one person. Integrity/ethics is invaluable in my line of work and you can ruin your reputation pretty fast by not having hard-line ethical standards.

        What was (almost) worse was how he tried to regain friends. He would bring in food (pre-packaged cookies for example) every single time it was expired.

        As for how to deal with people like this? Record keeping. Only communicate in writing and document behavior. They tend to be very charming. Several of our professors loved him, but several also show right through him. So watch your own rep with the higher up so you can go to them when something happens.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have worked with people like this, too. I asked to be put on projects separate from his. I did report safety issues when I saw them. I caught him in lies at my expense so I made sure I set the story straight. After a bit he quit.
      He never got into the swing of the job. Worse, his communication skills were horrible. He would ask “Do you want A or B?” It would take a while, then we would find out that he really wanted to know if we wanted unrelated C or D. I just did things myself without his help.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I used to call the person I worked with “90%” because whenever he told you something he could tell you 90% of the information but leave out the 10% of that always made a massive difference. For example, we disagreed on one point of a project and he said “Well, I talked to Arya and she completely agrees with me.” Arya was know for her high quality work and this particular point of the project was considered something of an expert. So I talked to Arya. She had told him he was very, very, very technically correct but had also said something to the effect of “Really, it’s just a personal style issue and because of factors X, Y, and Z it doesn’t matter that much.”

  65. Greg*

    Reading this, I wondered about the fact that the OP seems not to have communicated her plans to anyone else in the company. I could imagine in that situation going to my boss and saying, “I know you said the company can’t afford to send me, but I’d really like to go, so I’d be willing to pay my own way, take vacation, etc.,” and then getting approval to attend. But I don’t see any evidence that she did that. She just went off, made plans without telling anyone, and then showed up at the conference.

    If I had an employee who did that it would make me seriously question that person’s judgment and communication skills. I’m still not sure that alone would make it a fireable offense — especially for an entry-level person, I’d probably treat it more as a learning experiece — but I would still consider it a major screw-up.

  66. FormerLW*

    I would have fired you immediately, and I’m frankly shocked that you don’t understand how out of line you were. Wow.

    1. Assessable*

      Oh come on! LW admitted to making a mistake and asked how to make this right. LW don’t make the titles Alison does.

  67. SeptemberGrrl*

    I’ve been a manager for many years and if I was your manager, I would have fired you without a second thought. I think the reaction is not extreme at all and your company was absolutely justified in firing you.

    There’s no scenario here under which you are the aggrieved party. And I say that because you will have friends and family who will want to support you and that support may include demonizing your employer. While that will feel good, it won’t ultimately be good for you. Read everything on this thread, take a step back and try and see how this was viewed by your employers and where you violated some very common work etiquette.

    A big question for me is: Why were you asking your manager’s manager about this instead of your manager? That’s where you started going off the rails. If I were your manager, my head would have exploded when I learned about what you had done – which I only would have learned about when I got an irate email or phone call from MY manager. It would reflect horribly on me and I would have been PISSED and embarrassed and I wouldn’t have been able to fire you fast enough.

    You’re young and this incident won’t define you. As long as you can learn from it and take in all the feedback you’re getting here, you’ll move forward better positioned to be successful in your next job.

    1. AD*

      There’s no scenario here under which you are the aggrieved party.

      Agreed. If I were the OP’s manager, I would have let her go as well.

    2. lawyerkate*

      OP, this bears repeating: there is no scenario here under which you are the aggrieved party.

      You have to take personal responsibility for this mistake and resist the urge to blame the company or anyone working there for your termination.

      I urge you to reflect on what happened here, particularly from the perspective of the employer:

      1) You did not ask your direct supervisor about this; you instead skipped up the org chart
      2) You were told you could not be sent to the conference
      3) You offered to help the person who was responsible for registering the company’s attendees
      4) You signed yourself up to go in the course of helping this person, despite being told your attendance was not an option
      5) You did not tell anyone that you planned to attend ahead of time
      6) You booked vacation days for this conference without telling anyone you would be going to this conference

      Even if you had no ill intent here, the optics are *terrible.*

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Unfortunately it comes across as “I am not manageable.” Meaning, “I do not take direction, ask questions, ask permission or check in with others when I encounter a new thing at work.” Since this is a new job, everything is a new thing.

        New hires have to keep themselves corralled to some extent. And the reason for this is actually good because it means you keep your job. Then finally you learn the norms and the ropes then they let you start to do things.