my boss fired me and won’t let me return to visit friends, skipping my boss’s barbecue, and more

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

1. The boss who fired me doesn’t want me coming back to visit my friends

I have an uncomfortable situation. Long story short, I was fired from my job at Big Corporation about a week ago (I understand their reasoning and disagreed with it but didn’t fight it). During the exit process, I specifically asked the two HR reps if I was banned from the building or if I would be allowed to return occasionally to have lunch with various friends I have in my old department; there are several thousand people who work in our building and there’s a very large cafeteria where we would often eat together as a small group. Both of them insisted I was not banned and that as long as I signed in as a visitor, it would be fine. I am not in any legal trouble with the company, nor have I begun or plan to begin any legal action against them.

The next day I went back to the office to drop off a baby gift for one of my former coworkers since I had been unable to give it to her before I left and would not be there for her baby shower. I decided to only meet her in the lobby, since I didn’t want to make a fuss. As my firing was very sudden and very poorly received by my coworkers, several of them came out to the lobby as well to give me hugs and wish me well. This all took place directly in front of the receptionist and the security desk, but neither seemed to care and I left without any incident.

Fast forward to today and I discover that after I left that afternoon, my ex-boss told all of my coworkers that they are not allowed to meet with me except outside of work. Since the HR reps specifically agreed that I was allowed to come back as a visitor at any time, can my ex-boss really ban my friends from having lunch with me? Is it even worth fighting the point, or should I just accept my fate?

Yes, your boss can do that (assuming she manages the people in question), regardless of what HR said. And either way, you shouldn’t fight it — you’ll look weirdly invested in showing up at a company you no longer work at.

For what it’s worth, most organizations would consider it strange for a just-fired employee to show up to socialize the next day. And if your firing was controversial among your coworkers, it’s understandable that your boss doesn’t want you showing up there, since it’s likely to inflame any drama that already exists.

Just plan to see people who you want to stay in touch with outside of work.

2. Can I ask my manager to stop peeking at my computer screen?

Is it appropriate to ask your manager to stop peeking at your screen? My manager has a habit of looking at my screen when she walks by, or even turning to look at it when she’s sitting down. Then she’ll comment on/ask about what’s on it, whether it’s work-related or not. For example, I had Gmail open on my second monitor, she asked about something in my chat window, and then she commented on how many unread emails I had in my inbox.

To clarify, it’s not against the rules to have personal email or chats open. My manager isn’t pointing out my personal chats to discipline me—she’s just saying “ooh, what’s that?”

I know you can’t expect your computer monitor to be totally private, and I get that it’s easy to glance over and see someone else’s monitor unintentionally. I’m not worried about her seeing me doing something wrong; it just makes me uncomfortable to have someone blatantly read over my shoulder. But she seems to think it’s fair game to just stand behind me and read what’s on my screen.

Am I justified in asking her to stop? How should I approach this?

In the vast majority of manager/employee relationships, you probably can’t — at least not without sounding a little off or like you’re trying to hide something. That’s especially true if she’s just glancing as she walks by. Your work computer just isn’t that private, especially not where your boss is concerned.

However, there are ways that you could address it more indirectly (something I’m not normally a fan of, but is probably your best option here). For example, if she’s standing behind you, blatantly reading, you could minimize the window, turn to her, and say (cheerfully, not resentfully), “What can I do for you?” You could even say, “I’m weird about people reading over my shoulder — but do you need me?”

Of course, if she weren’t your boss, this would be different. It’s easier to ask a peer to stop this. But most versions of a manager/employee relationship don’t allow for a full-on “please don’t keep looking at my screen.”

3. Do I have to go to my boss’s Memorial Day weekend barbecue?

My company traditionally lets everyone leave around midday on the Friday before a long weekend. With the long weekend this coming weekend for Memorial Day, this Friday will be a short day. My boss has scheduled a barbecue at his house for three hours at lunchtime that day — when we’d normally be headed home and off to an early weekend. The email invite says “don’t feel obligated” and that the invite is mainly to get a count of people coming, but I checked the responses and all but one of my team (about a dozen people) plus four additional invitees, including one other manager, have all accepted.

I don’t want to go to this event for several reasons, but I don’t have any real reason I can’t. The invite says no obligation, so it seems fairly safe to say there won’t be any official repercussions. But can I skip without it looking bad for being one of the few team members (or maybe the only one) who doesn’t show up? Is it -actually- bad to miss it for “team bonding” purposes? What would Alison do?

(For what it’s worth, my relationship with my boss is… not great. So it’s not something where I could just ask him this, or trust the answer even if I tried to.)

Alison would send her regrets, mentioning that she already has other plans. Alison would then go home to nap. And so can you!

It’s good to participate in at least some group activities with your team, but a barbecue at your boss’s home when there’s an easy excuse of other plans doesn’t need to be one of those things.

The exception to this is if you have a petty, vindictive boss who will take your absence personally and hold it against you. But most managers would be fine with “thanks so much for the invite — can’t make it this time because of an existing commitment but I hope everyone has a great time.”

4. What should I say about my shady ex-coworker?

I used to work with this person, who we’ll call Sally. Sally and I were in the same department and both left to go into business for ourselves being freelance teapot designers. There are not a lot of people doing teapot design in our city, so we end up competing for business often enough. Personally, I’d like to forget all about Sally and just focus on my own business, but here’s where things get complicated.

Sally was not just a bad employee, she was an unethical one. Probably broke actual laws or at least came close. For years, when prospective clients would contact our department (we would often act as our own sales team), Sally would persuade these companies to work with her directly, outside of the company (this was not allowed by any means). So she’d literally steal business from the company.

To make it worse, after Sally put in her notice to quit, she attempted to bribe other employees to export the entire client list so Sally could try and take the business away.

So now when I’m discussing business with potential clients, I often get asked about Sally. I get asked if I ever worked with her, what I thought of her teapot design abilities, etc. (I know it’s weird to ask about a competitor in this setting, but in my industry it’s kind of common as a way to judge ability/experience levels).

What do I say? For one, if I pretend I don’t know Sally, I’m lying. If I say I know Sally but have no criticism, I may be leading a company to do business with a crook. If I spill the beans, I don’t know if I’d face potential blowback for slander.

At a minimum you could go with something like, “We have very different working styles.” That’s professional and discreet but also signals that you aren’t a huge fan.

But that may be too subtle, so another option would be, “We actually used to work together at Teapots Inc. I feel uneasy getting into the details, but I do know that there were some real concerns about how she operated there. You might check with Teapots Inc. for more insight.”

To be clear, this would be different if she weren’t your competitor. If you were, say, an employee of a company that was considered hiring her, you should be more candid. But in your situation, you don’t want to appear to just be trash-talking a competitor, which is why I’d give them enough to know there are issues to dig into without getting into every detail.

5. My former coworker is leaving — how can I ask if her job will be open?

About a year ago, I finished an internship, and toward the end, a full-time worker left his position. As he left, he encouraged me to apply for his job, but I had already signed on to a year-long contract abroad that was really a once in a lifetime opportunity. Another intern ended up being hired, but she will be starting a doctoral program in another state so she will definitely be leaving in the next couple of months.

Now I’m back in the country and on a job search, and since I really enjoyed working there (and did well enough as an intern that I was encouraged to apply for a more permanent position), I am genuinely interested in the position. How do I ask if and when her position will be filled in a respectful manner that doesn’t seem entitled?

Email the manager for that position and say, “With Jane leaving, I wonder if you’ll be hiring for her position again. If you are, I’d love to throw my hat in the ring, since I’d love to return to LlamaGrams and find the work Jane was doing with llama training really exciting. If you think that role might be open again soon, I’d love to talk with you about it — or could submit a formal application if that’s the right way to go.”

(Don’t say this, though, if Jane’s plans to leave soon aren’t yet known to her manager!)

{ 223 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, would it be super weird to consider getting a privacy screen? I mean, obviously don’t do this if it would make you look dodgy or odd, but it might limit your boss’s ability to read your screen when her eyes are wandering. I’m fairly sympathetic to your boss because I’m also someone whose eye is caught by computer screens when my mind is wandering or when I’m taking a break. I’m pretty good about not asking people what’s on their screen—because it strikes me as somewhat “eavesdroppy.” But I think Alison’s second script could be helpful for interrupting your boss’s wandering, over-the-shoulder-reading eye.

    1. seejay*

      Seconding the privacy screen. And if you can keep a straight face, you can always say that you got it to help eye strain instead of the obvious “to stop you from snooping” when she wonders why you got it.

      1. Bolt*

        I tried that once… they had my entire browsing history scrutinized in front of everyone and removed my additional monitor to a single facing the entire office.

        I even came in with a doctors note citing how it was helpful for me but it made no difference…

        They’ll forever know me as sneaky even though there was nothing against policy found!

        1. Bea W*

          That’s insane. Even if you had been doing something blatantly unacceptable in the office like browsing porn, that’s still a horrible way to handle it.

          1. Bolt*

            My supervisor didn’t like me for some reason and had made an accusation to management that I was spending all day surfing the web instead of working and I was trying to hide my screens from her to avoid getting caught.

            Their solution was to limit me to a single monitor that everyone could see because there were no time stamps/timers on the browsing history so they couldn’t tell how often/long I was on the websites; but they didn’t see any reason for her to lie. She was pushing for my immediate termination and this was their compromise.

            We were allowed to browse on our breaks so of course there had been personal websites. I’ll never forget her pointing out the history showed I was on a ‘Dogs for Sale’ page and shouting “SHE ALREADY HAS A DOG! WHY WOULD SHE BE LOOKING FOR A DOG? SHE’S JUST TRYING TO WASTE TIME!”

            My new employer allowed me to put them on all of my monitors without hesitation when I explained how the lowest brightness can trigger migraines; not once have they questioned my computer usage despite all my screens being out of view.

            1. Duffel of Doom*

              A few years ago I worked retail in the health/beauty section of a natural food store, where (when I was hired) it was encouraged for us to spend our down time on the department’s computer researching products. Apparently this changed somewhere along the way, and at a department meeting the store manager got on our case for spending so much time on the computer for non-work purposes. He actually pulled up a list of sites we’d been on, so we’re all terrified we’re about to get reamed because someone had looked up a restaurant or something dumb, and he instead reads out an article on the common toxins found in nail polish. Which we’d literally looked up because a customer HAD ASKED US TO. It was so ridiculous.

              1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

                Oh, that story reminds me of the time I was fired from a temp assignment because the person from the company called up my agency and said I had been on the Internet all day and they did not want me to come back. Well yes, I had been on the Internet all day – because I had been assigned to verify a large amount of addresses by looking them up on the Internet!

                1. Janelle*

                  Even though this is old since I just saw this I had to chime in. I was once fired from a temp gig for staring out the window all day. What was I doing? Rebooting their old computer numerous times a day as it constantly crashed. So the screen was blank and apparently I looked out the window one of those times. Guy walks by and sees blank screen and says I’m doing nothing all day. Never mind he was the one who told me I’d have to restart it constantly. He also was mad i wasn’t able to enter and reconcile 5 years worth of books in 6 days. I’m not even kidding. I couldn’t do that in 6 weeks, well maybe, but not with a computer restarting ten times a day. They had boxes of hand written invoices I was to reconcile these books off of. Oh the eye roll. They clearly were just cheap jerks.

                  I explained to the temp agency as I was very upset and had never been fired. They sounded understanding but never returned my call again. What a jerk that guy was. Buy a functioning computer butthead.

        2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          I wonder if it might be better to ask in advance about the screen to head off issues? Although this sounds like an absurd reaction, for sure, I can see why some managers would side-eye the use of a privacy screen.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Agreed—always worth asking ahead of time if the risk is going to be something as insane/ridiculous/horrible as what Bolt experienced!

          2. Bolt*

            Sad thing is was that I did ask my supervisor and she gave me approval to put them on!

            She was so passive aggressive about her problem with them that she let it fester into this huge conspiracy theory about what I was doing. She could’ve easily denied my request and explained she felt I was hiding something but I am 99% sure she approved it hoping I would get caught and fired for whatever I was doing.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Wow, she sounds like a living nightmare. I’m so sorry, Bolt.

        3. seejay*

          Your employer is wack. :( I worked at a bank that actually *did* monitor usage and they weren’t even that bad. We did pull browsing history and activity (I was on the investigation team and did computer forensics so I got to see all the juicy details) but *only* when there was actual just cause for something and it had to be more than a manager with a grudge. :( I’m sorry your supervisor had it out for you.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Just make sure it’s allowed! We don’t have them in my office because they are expensive – so I bought my own. I was made to remove it and now we have a policy against them. I bought it because I often work with confidential document and I sit in a very open area. But we have lots of paranoid managers here (because they are bad at their jobs and know it).

      1. Newby*

        I can see how it might look weird, but they can so easily check your computer usage that it seems over the top to ban them so long as you can actually justify the need for privacy.

        1. Cally*

          Not all workplaces monitor computer usage… so many smaller places are only equipped to pull up the browsing history through the web browser.

          These are so easily manipulated that an employee can get away with murder on the web – plus it doesn’t show what is happening on the actual computer.

    1. finman*

      My biggest concern with saying you already have plans is the indication that you are expecting a half day, when that could change. From the letter, it sounds like this usually happens but isn’t officially part of the holiday schedule.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        I don’t think it’s out of line to have plans that you could change if the expected half day didn’t come through (or that you’d take PTO for) that you’re not going to change for a BBQ.

        1. LBK*

          Also true – although it might be tough to get out of not even stopping by the BBQ first. I suppose it depends how out of the way the boss’s house is from other plausible destinations.

        2. Emi.*

          For social invitations, you don’t need an excuse. You can just say “Shuvon Wakeenova declines with regret your kind invitation…” or “I’m sorry, I can’t make it” or whatever. Do you really need an excuse for work-social events?

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            Even Miss Manners (the real one, not her kids) endorses the “Sorry, I have plans” (even if those plans are to be at home in your PJs) when declining, though. And then nothing else except repeating the “I have plans” if pressed. It may not be strictly necessary, but even she acknowledges that just a No can be awkward and insulting. The consequences for insulting your boss, even if he technically “shouldn’t be” aren’t ones I’d personally want to risk.

          2. LBK*

            I think you do because there’s a power dynamic involved that means work-related events generally carry more obligation than purely social events. You don’t risk promotions and raises by not being seen as a “team player” among your friend group.

        3. I Just Wanna Work and Go Home*

          I don’t attend many office events due to the way the office manager treats me at work, I’m not one of her favorites that snitch on others to her, her and others drinking can be excessive at the parties, I have also gone to events and it really didn’t change the way she treated me at the office unless you are willing to join in the drinking and act like a fool with them so they can talk about you, so, will be using the “Thank you for the invite, however, I have other plans that weekend”…just in case they postpone for weather to the next day.

      2. LBK*

        I think you could say something like “I have a family event that afternoon so I was planning to leave straight from work to get a jump on the holiday traffic.” That’s a reasonable excuse that people will understand while not making it sound like you just assumed you’d have a half day and scheduled concrete plans for that afternoon.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          But that is a lie, and some people are uncomfortable lying. It also opens questions about where you’re going, etc.

          I have plans is not a lie. The OP plans to relax at home.

          1. LBK*

            But conversely, some people also aren’t comfortable being as vague as “I have plans” because they fear follow up questions. And I think most people would still feel a little disingenuous to use that phrase to describe “planning” to relax at home even if it’s technically accurate, so it doesn’t necessarily absolve people of feeling like they’re lying. It’s just an option if “I have plans” doesn’t work for her.

          2. John Jones*

            You’re part of your own family so not a lie. Your family event is Netflix & Chill.

              1. Delightful Daisy*

                I would be uncomfortable giving either of these if I didn’t actually have plans or a family event. I think it’s appropriate to respond with “Thank you for the kind invite but I’m unable to attend”. I dont’ think OP needs to give more details than that if s/he is not comfortable with using “I have plans” if that’s not the case. I’m a boss who has issued these invites in the past and would be fine with the generic “Thanks but can’t make it” type answer. Especially since boss said no obligation.

                1. LBK*

                  I dunno, I think this is splitting hairs/two sides of the same coin. “Unable to attend” isn’t really any less of a white lie than “I have plans” – you are able to attend, you just don’t want to. If your own desire not to be there is the only thing preventing you from going, it’s not really any more honest to say you can’t make (because you don’t want to) than it is to say you have plans (to do anything other than go to the event).

                  Ultimately, the point is that it’s okay to use whatever white lie you’re comfortable with to get out of it, and that might be a different phrase for everyone. There isn’t necessarily a right/best answer other than the one you think you’ll be able to deliver most convincingly.

          3. Piblets*

            What about an amended- “I have plans, and planned to leave straight from work to get a jump on holiday traffic!” Vague enough to allow for eating cereal in your underpants as “plans”, urgency added b/c holiday traffic, tied up in a neat bow without any stray falsehoods to trip you up.

          4. Been There, Done That*

            Relaxing at home is the holiday event the person planned. An “event” doesn’t need to be a big shindig. And if the family member one plans to be with is oneself, that’s still family. This might be hairsplitting, but I don’t think it’s a lie.

      3. LSP*

        That was my thought as well. My office usually closes 2-3 hours early the Friday before a holiday weekend, but I wouldn’t make plans based on that.

        Of course, it also seems clear from the boss’ invite that the office will indeed be closed. I think the OP is clear in saying she has something she needs to take care of that she can’t do over the weekend, and it makes more sense for her to do it Friday if she doesn’t have to work.

      4. Amber T*

        My company is super guilty of this – they never announce early let outs on holiday weekends because it’s “not something they usually do” and “they don’t want us to get used to it.” There has never been a holiday weekend when we haven’t been let out early. Granted, the time changes… sometimes it’s as early as noon and sometimes it’s at 4. It’s usually around 2 or 3. It’s frustrating if you’re hosting, or want to make travel plans. You know you’ll be let out early, but you don’t know when.

          1. JessaB*

            Yep, being so magnanimous giving you time off but not telling you in advance so you can actually make plans. /sarcasm

      5. Sara*

        I don’t think people would follow up on that. ‘Plans’ are so non specific, most people don’t go digging unless they’re looking for trouble.

      6. Fictional Butt*

        Well, the boss also already has plans for that half day, right? I’m assuming he wouldn’t be putting in the work of planning a barbecue if he wasn’t totally sure there’d be a half day that day. (I’m also assuming that the BBQ-planning boss is not the person who has the final say of when the office closes, but maybe I’m wrong.)

    2. Lauren*

      The problem with this answer, is that the boss made it so that its during work hours. Which is great, if you don’t want to spend your non-work hours going to this stuff.

      – Say that you are going away, and that you declining to get a jump on traffic.
      – Say you have a ton of work to catch up on, so that you don’t have to work the weekend.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, this sounds awkward and awful. Is there a reason you can’t meet your coworkers off-site? It just seems like it would avoid a lot of potential drama.

    1. H.C.*

      I guess they may have a short lunch or they work in an office that’s far from any eateries – so they have eat onsite or near the workplace.

      But since LW1’s ex-boss is being so hostile about it, I agree that offsite meetup after hours or on weekends (even if it’s with a smaller group of former work friends) is a better option.

      1. KarenT*

        I don’t think it’s fair to say the ex-boss is being hostile. It’s pretty reasonable to not want fired employees hanging around for any number of reasons.

        1. Forrest*

          Especially the next day. It’s like breaking up with your boyfriend and him calling the next day just to “chat.”

        2. Grecko*

          Yeah. My first thought was that it was a liability issue. You have no idea what state of mind your recently fired employee is in.

    2. DecorativeCacti*

      Someone got fired from my job once and they were dating a current employee. Little awkward when they would carpool and he would be waiting in the parking lot to pick her up. Waaaaaay more awkward when he came as her plus one to the Christmas party a month later.

    3. Artemesia*

      I think coming back to a workplace where you have been fired THE NEXT DAY and socializing and making a big show in the lobby was a fairly hostile act. If you had waited a week or two and then met in the cafeteria for lunch, it might have gone unremarked. Any boss who has just fired someone is going to look askance at someone pulling employees into a noisy lobby break immediately after being asked to leave.

      1. Myrin*

        I feel like that’s on overly harsh reading of OP’s situation. She didn’t show up at the place to harm anyone, make them uncomfortable, or similar, she had no ill intent whatsoever, so I don’t think the “hostile” description is warranted. Furthermore, she didn’t make “a big show in the lobby”, she simply showed up (and specifically in the lobby, might I add, exactly because she “didn’t want to make a fuss”) to drop off a gift; neither did she “pull[ ] employees into a noisy lobby break”, her former coworkers (who I assume heard about the coworker with the baby being called down) actively came to her to speak with her.

        I would agree with the general consensus here if OP came in specifically to hang around and socialise, but she was there for a very concrete reason (dropping off an already-bought gift for a coworker whose shower she now wouldn’t be able to attend anymore) and I can understand wanting to do that when your leaving is still fresh on your mind so that you won’t have to return much later on. I also read it as a brief interaction – OP mentions her coworkers hugged her and wished her well, not that they stayed away from their workstations for an hour to chat with her – so I don’t really get any “inappropriate” vibes from this at all.

        1. Artemesia*

          Of course we always have to infer and I may be wrong here, but she felt compelled to ASK if she could return to have lunch. This suggests that she already suspected she might be banned for some reason. The very next day she returns. She may not have had the intent to create a fuss, but the visit did so. The fact that so many people felt they should rush to the lobby from doing their work to chat with her suggests also that there is a lot more drama here that was predictable in the firing. She may not have had the intent to create the fuss but it was pretty predictable since she had also indicated that there was controversy in the firing. Any boss would see this as stirring the pot.

        2. hbc*

          I think there was no ill intention at all. I also think it’s pretty naive (sorry, OP) to not realize that it’s very unusual and could cause people discomfort. Very few good stories start with a fired employee showing up unannounced the next day. Even ignoring the workplace violence associations, OP’s former manager is trying to get everyone to move on, so this just wasn’t going to go over well.

          1. Patrick*

            I think this puts it well – based on the letter, I don’t think either side is being particularly hostile but (to use a hotly debated term) the OP doesn’t seem to have the best understanding of the optics here.

            My company has a beautiful cafeteria that’s open to the public but I would be concerned if a fired employee returned to our campus the next day to socialize. Honestly, not trying to come down on the OP here but if I had an employee who was being terminated ask if it was still cool to hang out on campus I would be concerned that they’re going to have issues letting go. It’s likely HR was trying to make the process amicable instead of telling you “we’d rather you didn’t.”

            1. Just Another Techie*

              Yeah. My partner was fired unexpectedly from a job last year. We typically had all packages shipped to his work, since his work’s mailroom was always on top of things, and there was no risk of items being stolen (a huge problem in our neighborhood), etc. Anyway, there was a shipment of medications for me that had to be kept refrigerated due to arrive at his office the day after his firing. It was a very big deal to negotiate with HR and security how he was to pick up my medicine. He ended up having to call the security desk from a location a block away, and a security officer walked the package over to him. And he wasn’t even fired for any kind of personal misconduct issue or anything (he vocally criticized a high-level director’s business ethics in a way that was incredibly impolitic but not dangerous or criminal or undermining of the business).

          2. Myrin*

            Oh, I completely agree with everything you say! I was just reacting to calling her behaviour “a fairly hostile act”, which I don’t think is a fair descriptor of the situation and one the OP might be taken aback with if she reads the comment.

            (I also think there are two issues at play here and some people react to one and some to the other: One is the situation as it was – showing up after a firing to hand over a gift – and the second one is the plan for future actions – regularly (?) coming to the office cafeteria to have lunch with old coworkers. I personally think that the former is, like you say, naïve, but generally comes from an understandable thought process, whereas the latter is just unusual and a bit strange.)

            1. Jessesgirl72*

              But I think it’s fair to point out to the OP that people other than her ex boss might have viewed it as a hostile act, so yeah, it wasn’t a good idea- and that weird decision rightfully at least partially led to her ban now. It’s not only that the boss is totally unreasonable- he is maybe a little- but she played a part in it too.

            2. always in email jail*

              I agree that visiting to drop off a gift and visiting for regular lunches are two different things. While I agree the optics of showing up the next day-and having coworkers hugging and exclaiming over you- aren’t great, it’s easy to justify the visit as a one-off since OP was dropping off a gift. However, returning regularly for lunches is outside of professional norms and not something I’d permit in my office if possible.

            3. Phoebe*

              I also wonder if maybe OP was actually trying to keep it low key by not going beyond the lobby and it never occurred to them that they might draw a crowd. I can easily see this sort of thing happening in my office. I work for a non-profit and we are all fairly close so past employees often come to visit. But even here, management might react this way if this were to happen the very next day after a controversial firing. They wouldn’t object to visiting the next in theory, but if it disrupted the office as much as OP’s visit seems to have done, I can see management reacting this way. If I were OP I would just limit confine my socializing with those friends to outside the office.

              1. always in email jail*

                I agree, following guidelines here to take the OPs story at face value, I absolutely see how one could intend to not make a scene and then suddenly find themselves in a lobby full of coworkers. I also see how, as a manager, I would be uncomfortable with that and may not view the incident through that lens, given that the person was fired less than 24 hours before

                1. LBK*

                  And given that the OP pretty clearly doesn’t agree with the firing, I don’t think the boss is going to be rushing to give her the benefit of the doubt that she didn’t intentionally cause a stir.

                2. EvilQueenRegina*

                  If the manager didn’t actually see what happened it’s also possible that he thought it was a bigger scene than it was?

          3. Parenthetically*

            This is my read as well. Like, you just got *fired.* Maybe hold off on coming back within 24 hours to socialize and get sympathetic gestures from your former coworkers? I don’t think it’s malicious, but I can certainly see ex-boss wanting to nip that particular brand of solidarity in the bud.

            1. LBK*

              Agreed. Plus, it’s weird in general for non-employees of a company to casually stop by for social visits. I know it feels like you still have some connection there since you just got fired, but how often do other former employees swing by the office? How often do you stop by your other previous jobs?

              This just isn’t a normal thing to do. If you want to see your former coworkers, you need to do it elsewhere on their own time. I think if I were in your situation, I’d ask the person I was giving the gift to to meet me somewhere else – frankly, I personally wouldn’t want to return to an office where I’d just been fired. It would be embarrassing and I’d probably still be a little angry, although it sounds like the OP is straight up bitter about it, which I think is influencing the urge to be defiant and fight this “ruling”.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Entirely this. It’s normal for folks who leave on good terms to come back from time to time. But the day after you’re fired? I don’t think OP’s intention was hostile (although I also read a little anger into the letter, which may or may not be accurate), but if I were a manager who knew their termination was unpopular and they showed up the next day, I would be frustrated at best. This is not a fight worth fighting.

              2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

                Yes, this. Heck, even when I was let go in a mass layoff, I didn’t want to go anywhere near that office for a while – it would just be too uncomfortable.

                1. SG*

                  Agreed. I have friends I want to keep from a job I’m SO thrilled to be out of – and our plans are meet for happy hour! Maybe grab a coffee! But heck no am I setting foot in that office again.

              3. Stranger than fiction*

                Yeah, to answer your questions, the only time/place I’ve seen this done is in the restaurant industry. Never at an office.

                1. LBK*

                  Yeah, I only did it in retail, so my “former workplace” was a public store that wasn’t a weird place for a non-employee to be.

            2. Evan Þ*

              But then, when was the ex-coworker’s shower? If it was coming up, I can see why OP didn’t want to wait and have the gift be late.

              From my perspective, I can see how it would’ve been better to catch her somewhere outside work… but yeah, I can see why OP did what she did.

              1. Parenthetically*

                Eh, I just don’t see why you wouldn’t call a coworker and say, “Hey, given the circumstances, can I get Barb’s gift to you for the shower sometime before Thursday? Happy to meet you someplace.”

                I mean, I get why she did it, but I still maintain it was pretty naive and thoughtless.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I mean, you could also ask a coworker (not the one having the shower) to meet you off-site to pick up the gift. There are lots of easier/ less confrontational ways to handle this.

              3. SignalLost*

                Heck, give it to the receptionist to pass on! This all happened in front of her desk as it was.

        3. Just Another Techie*

          Intent != impact

          The OP had the best intentions, but the impact was that it was very disruptive to her former boss. And her boss is in the right not to want further disruptions.

          1. tigerStripes*

            That makes sense. It didn’t sound like a hostile act to me, but I can understand how the ex-boss might have thought of it that way.

      2. Grecko*

        I don’t think OP is being hostile, but only because we have the benefit of a letter where she’s presumably being honest. I don’t think it was unreasonable for the management to be concerned because it’s absolutely a fair perception.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        But she was operating under the assumption this was perfectly fine since that’s what they had told her. And I assume the baby shower was coming up soon.

        1. Anna*

          Yes, but I’m willing to bet that not even HR imagined she meant the very next day. She could have made other arrangements for the gift, honestly. She didn’t actually have to meet in the building lobby to complete that errand.

    4. LBK*

      I don’t know that it’s really that awkward or awful, to be honest. If you were a manager, would you want employees you just fired coming back to the office? That seems like a very logical and straightforward expectation to me (especially because fired employees coming back tends to incite drama by resurrecting the situation – the boss asserting a very normal boundary is not the one causing the drama here).

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh no, I think it’s awkward and awful to have come back and had this play out. I don’t mean that the manager’s reaction was inappropriate—I think it was totally reasonable in light of the other context we’ve been given. I just think it’s a terrible idea to come back the day after you’re fired, and it’s inherently going to be awful/awkward for everyone involved when you do. At best, it reads like a sibling waving their hand in your face saying, “I’m not touching you!”

    5. Malibu Stacey*

      I used to be like you that I didn’t get why someone would want to show up where they got fired – but I think it might have to do with the lack of control in the decision results in wanting to be able to hold on to *something*? Like, “Ok, I am not working here anymore, but at least I can eat lunch in the cafeteria with these people I like.”

    6. Annie*

      I read Letter #1 and feel like they are trying to stir up trouble. Since the OP was fired under bad circumstances, it seems like a passive aggressive act to keep coming back to the old workplace to have lunches together, drop off presents, etc… If the OP misses the old coworkers and they are friends, they can socialize on weekends or after work. Having been fired myself previously a few years ago, I avoid that building unless I have to go there for reasons that are 100% related to my new job.

      1. The Strand*

        But we’re also asked to assume good intent on the part of letter writers, and to avoid characterizing or criticizing them in a way that would scare them and other future OPs from sharing their problems, dilemmas, etc.

        When people’s major social outlet is through their job, then they might be more likely to want to connect on the job – where they met their friends. Even if the optics, as stated earlier, really look bad, they may not be thinking on those terms. I think the OP was halfway there – that’s why she asked for permission.

        1. Annie*

          I’m not trying to be harsh. Hopefully the OP doesn’t take it that way. It just can put the current coworkers in an uncomfortable position with their bosses. Best to avoid it by meeting the coworkers after hours and off the worksite.

          1. tigerStripes*

            Saying that you feel like LW1 is trying to stir up trouble sounds harsh to me. I can understand that the former boss might think that, but we are supposed to take the LWs at their word.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, this is tough because you also don’t want to allege anything you can’t concretely prove. I can’t think of better scripts than what Alison has provided. I would absolutely chalk it up to different styles/approaches/schools of thought, and if pressed, redirect people to Teapots, Inc. Unless you’re in the kind of industry where it’s ok to totally trash your competitor, but those seem fairly rare…

    1. OP #4*

      Agree. I’ve gone with the “different working styles” remark before and end up making it almost a joke (“I don’t like anyone doing things different from my way, hahaha”) because it feels uncomfortable to say and just a way to win business from a competitor.

      Directing people to Teapots, Inc. seems like the way to go… implies something serious happened and should keep me out of it.

      1. AMPG*

        I also think it’s acceptable to say something like, “my experience working with her wasn’t the best, but that’s just my personal opinion. I think you should feel free to ask around at Teapots, Inc. for a fuller picture.” That’s not lying but still makes it clear that you’re not trying to have the last word on her professionalism.

    2. Karen D*

      It really does depend on the circumstances.

      I had a co-worker once who was absolutely not qualified to do the job she was occupying, and unethical to boot. For some reason she listed me as a reference.

      To people I didn’t know, I went the “damning with faint praise” route: “Certainly, Betsy had very strong convictions” and “When she decided to take something on, there was no doubt she would follow through.” But with people I did know, I had to be more straightforward, so I just said “Based on our time working together, and given that it was a very tough time for both of us, I can’t really recommend Betsy. If you have any more questions let me know, but that’s the bottom line.” In both cases, the person contacted me was kind and didn’t ask anything else, and Betsy didn’t get either job.

      The only other time I was really negative was when a manager at my former employer applied to my current employer for a role that would be mission-critical. At that point, I felt I had a duty to my current employer to be very straightforward that, while Dale was himself a very talented teapot designer, he was at best mediocre in his ability to manage a design team and at times disastrously bad. But that’s not OP’s situation.

      1. OP #4*

        Thanks Karen, definitely helpful. Totally unrelated, but I have someone similar to your co-worker also trying to use me as a reference… so this helps from that standpoint as well. :-)

        1. Karen D*

          Good, thanks! It is a little disconcerting having someone listing you as a reference when you have to wonder why they heck they did it.

          I realized after I hit post that I wasn’t quite clear: The two people I had previous friendships with, weren’t contacting me as a listed reference but as a friend they knew had worked with Betsy (by that time, I think she’d realized I was not giving her a good reference. Betsy never, EVER asked if I would be willing to be a reference for her.)

          The first time, I actually gave the person contacting me the faint PraiseNotPraise, then after I thought about for a few minutes (this was all through Facebook messenger) I said “You know, Yvette, I gotta be honest with you here.” Yvette was actually something of a mentor, and definitely a professional hero, to me — I just couldn’t risk that she would end up saddled with Betsy. The second time that happened, the person was a former college classmate and I just basically copied what I said to Yvette.

  4. H.C.*

    LW 2: You can always invest in a monitor privacy screen, which prevents people from viewing your monitor unless they’re staring at it head on. Since most of these screens are also anti-glare, you can cite monitor glare hurting your eyes, giving you headaches, etc. as a reason for the screen, if your manager or co-workers ask about it.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      It sounds like the LW has two monitors and may not be sitting at quite the right angle to use one of these?

      I’ve been thinking about this as I hate feeling like people are looking at my screen when I’m typing, but there are times when I really need people to be able to see what’s on it – so I started pretending to myself that I had a privacy screen and nobody could see. It’s actually helped me feel less self-conscious.

      Do try to remember that ‘not against the rules’ and ‘okay with my manager’ are not the same thing. I’d do an experiment: stop using the personal stuff for a few days and see if your manager still looks and comments on your screen. That will give you some useful information.

      1. Czhorat*

        Your last suggestion is a great one.

        It’s also possible that the LW is, in the eyes of their manager, overdoing it on the personal stuff. The constant shoulder-surfacing might be a subtle way to direct them towards more business use and less personal.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I’m not sure I’d call it subtle – hovering over someone’s shoulder is rarely a subtle action. If the manager has actual concerns, they should mention it directly, even if they do so in a mild fashion, just “By the way, I’ve noticed you’re spending a fair bit of time browsing non-work sites. I don’t have anything against that in general, but please make sure you’re saving the personal stuff for when you’re on your breaks.”

          1. Pebbles*

            +1 Yes, please make that comment sooner rather than later if you are a manager and believe there might be a problem! I had a manager that apparently had seen me on social media or browsing websites I don’t know when and I don’t know how many times (my cube is orientated so my back is to the opening), and it was such an issue for him! The problem was that he never once told me about it during our weekly 1-on-1s. I found out about it when it was written on my annual review! So I was never given a chance to fix the perceived issue. And the kicker was when I questioned him about it he admitted that he had gone around asking my coworkers if they had seen me online often and if it was affecting my performance. He told me NOT ONE PERSON that he asked said that there were issues with my performance! But he still wasn’t willing to remove it from my review. *internal scream*

      2. LBK*

        I might go so far as to explicitly ask for clarity: “I know the official policy allows occasional personal internet/email use as long as it’s not disruptive to our work, but I’ve noticed you tend to comment on it when you walk by my desk and I’m on Gmail/Gchat – are you cool with me using that during work?”

        If she’s a weak manager, she might not be comfortable just outright saying “I know the policy allows it but I don’t want my employees doing i,” and making these comments is her way of trying to passive aggressively get the OP to stop.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I think this is a great idea. Get it out in the open and have the conversation she seems to be itching to have.

      3. tigerStripes*

        “stop using the personal stuff for a few days and see if your manager still looks and comments on your screen.” This!

    2. Purple Dragon*

      Something else that may or may not be relevant but it’s on my mind as it came up today for me (I’m in IT).
      I was asked by HR for details of what an employee had been doing – so just a reminder that nothing you do on a company computer is private.

      I refrained from saying “gentle reminder” ;)

      1. should probably be anonymous for this*

        I mention this below, but that’s not necessarily relevant. For instance, I would have no problem with an employer accessing my work e-mail to check I wasn’t breaking the rules (just make sure that if you read any unread mail, you mark it as unread again afterwards so I don’t miss it) but I would have a problem with my boss going through my email in front of me. Similar situation- the issue is being obvious about checking up on the employee.

      2. rubyrose*

        I’ve been in IT and I’ve been the manager of someone who was totally abusing company policy on use of company equipment for personal use. And other employees who who could not control themselves; their “I’m only doing personal stuff on break” turned into hours, or they would keep their personal email up and monitor/respond to it before their business account. Getting the proof of this, without IT help and without peering at employees screens, is difficult.

        Based on all of that, I never use my company computer for personal use, unless I’m on the road for the company. Even then, personal use is off hours. I understand companies have policies that allow personal use. I would suggest you open your personal sites during your break, do what you need to do, and close those sites down at the end of your break.

        I know this sounds harsh. But what is an objective way for a manager to monitor personal use without staring at screens (which I agree is creepy)?

  5. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 It sounds like they weren’t expecting you to show up right away, but to wait until after the dust had settled.

    I know they said you could go back in and have lunch with your colleagues, but that’s not exactly normal for a fired employee to do anyway. And while you’re super friendly with this colleagues, going back for lunch at a job where you’ve been fired might not be good for you, either – how are you going to feel if you meet your replacement, for example?

    1. Doug Judy*

      I left a job on excellent terms after 8 years and I still wouldn’t go eat with my friends from there onsite. I do meet some of them occasionally but off work premises. If I was fired OldJob would be the last place I would want to step foot it.

      OP, I know you have friends there, but you don’t work there anymore. Treat them as any other friends and get together some other time. I know it hurts that you won’t be involved in the daily lunches but you really need to focus on what your next steps are career wise. Hanging around your old job isn’t going to help anything. Make a clean break and move forward.

      1. Antilles*

        OP, I know you have friends there, but you don’t work there anymore. Treat them as any other friends and get together some other time.
        As a related offshoot of this, OP shouldn’t be surprised to find many (though not all) of these work friendships with old co-workers die out pretty quickly. It’s extremely common to find that you suddenly have much less in common without that shared connection. It’s also much harder to plan and coordinate meeting up when you’re employed elsewhere since you have to consider travel time, location, schedules, etc rather than a quick “lunch in cafeteria today?” message.
        The TV finale style “…and now X years later we’re all still close friends even though we’re in different jobs” is made for TV because the vast majority of work friendships don’t stick together like that.

      2. The Strand*

        This is great advice, and I say that having left on good terms three years ago from my last job. You find out who your real friends are this way. If you have already successfully spent time together outside of work, and the friendship is not based on proximity but interests, the friendship can last. A small group of us get together at least once a month, and I also kept several friends who I see on weekends and evenings.

    2. kavm*

      how are you going to feel if you meet your replacement, for example?
      or if you run into the boss that fired you – awkward!

  6. Panda Bandit*

    #3 – Alison’s advice is perfect. Lounging on your couch and watching tv in your pajamas also counts as having plans.

    1. Artemesia*

      And it is to be expected that someone would have memorial day plans so saying ‘oh that sounds fun but I already made weekend plans and won’t be able to be there.’ is going to see perfectly normal. And if pressed ‘oh it is a thing with friends I don’t see often’ or ‘it is a family weekend’. So your cat is your family? Works for me.

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        “I have to hit the road early to avoid traffic.” Who wants to be sitting in traffic when you could be sitting on your couch in your drawers deciding what to watch on Netflix?

        1. Antilles*

          I’d stay away from using ‘traffic’ as an excuse here, because the immediate response to hearing that is a polite question about where you’re traveling to.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            I’m guessing they just meant heading home from work? Being able to get out early and beat the rush can be a nice perk.

          2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Why do you have to be traveling anywhere to want to avoid traffic? Holiday traffic generally sucks even if you are just going home because so many other people are traveling.

      2. eplawyer*

        And what boss who knows people get out early on long weekends schedules a get together that would basically be an extension of the work day? Sure you aren’t working, but it’s still a work gathering instead of doing whatever you wanted to do with the time off.

        1. Daisy*

          Maybe what they want to be doing is having lunch and drinks with their work friends? It’s fine for OP to not want to go, but there’s no need to be snotty about how other people want to spend their time

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think it’s snotty, though — as a manager, you need to consider that people will feel pressured to go when they don’t really want to (as evidenced by this OP).

        2. Risha*

          Eh. I’d totally go to a barbecue at a boss’ house on a day off, just as a party (assuming that I liked them). It may just be that the boss is throwing a normal but huge thing for the holiday and happened to invite everyone from work, too. (Though in this case, it being in the middle of a theoretical work day would cut down on the invite list.) In fact, I’ve been to a few of those over the years.

      3. Marillenbaum*

        Fun story: my old roommate got a cat and named him Boyfriend for precisely this reason. “Sorry, I can’t, Boyfriend and I are staying in to binge Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt“. “Sorry, Boyfriend and I are going to my mom’s this weekend.”
        Of course, then we got him and realized he was not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, and she was concerned this might negatively impact his self-esteem. So we gave him some academic credentials, and he became Professor Boyfriend!

      4. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

        Exactly. Your family is your cat and your family event is feeding time. Perfectly valid. : )

  7. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 Alison’s script is great for two reasons. Firstly, it makes the point in a professional way. Secondly, what you say could get back to her at some point – and whatever the legal situation (IANAL) you probably don’t want to say anything you can’t prove.

    Beyond this, you aren’t leading someone to do business with a crook. They need to do their own due diligence, use their own contracts and safeguard their own information. You can warn them to a point. And you might get that point across more effectively if you stick to AAM’s script because, while the details may be true, some people would hear them as drama and judge you for sharing them. Which is unfair, but worth considering.

  8. KR*

    #1… Yeah I agree that going back the day after you were fired may have not been the best choice. I don’t think you should make a big thing about it. Just go visit your coworkers outside of work.
    #3… Memorial Day is such a popular holiday that I think your boss will understand if you’re unable to make a party. A lot of people have standing plans for those holidays. It’s kind of like having a Halloween party on Halloween – people will be busy and hosts generally expect that handing out candy or going out with the kids may trump attending a party. Memorial Day weekend is so popular your boss is probably expecting some people to not be able to make it.

  9. Misclassified*

    I once had a similar experience to #3, but my boss was vindictive and also an owner.

    She held an annual Halloween party the Saturday before Halloween. Tons of people would go and the alcohol apparently flowed rather freely – so freely that there was an open invitation for people to sleep there that night, including her (misclassified) employees. The first year, she sent out the invitation about three days before the party, but I had already made plans to go out of town that weekend and see a college football game that day with a friend (his team and my team were playing that day in the town he lived in). I apologized but said I had other plans. She did not take that well. Chilly reception the next week and many snide comments about me not going.

    The next year, the party happened to be on my birthday. I was already not liking her for a wide variety of reasons, so I probably wouldn’t have gone. However, my parents and aunt were in town that weekend. I wasn’t going to take them there, so we did our own things. She made rude comments about me not going all of the next week. When she made comments about me not going to the person working in the office next to me, I tried to explain I couldn’t go because people were in town, she cut me off with a quick “I don’t want to hear it.” Snide comments abound.

    The third year, a family emergency came up the day before, requiring me to leave work early and head back to my parents. She didn’t say anything that year, but she was cool to me that week too.

    The fourth year, I was out of town for a wedding. I gave about two months heads up on that too. Didn’t receive an invitation because of that. But again, chilly reception the next week.

    The fifth year, I didn’t receive an invitation at all. In July she learned that I had filed paper work with the IRS to get a determination as to my proper classification as I (correctly) believed that she had misclassified me as an independent contractor. The IRS issued its determination in my favor just a few weeks before the party. So it was a rather mutually strained working relationship at that point. She didn’t come into work that Friday to get all of the party decorations finished, but that didn’t stop her from calling at about 5:30 and basically threatening my job (she refused to give me any work starting back in about August then got mad in October that I hadn’t really done any work despite me asking for some; but I was still being paid). Shame though. I was somewhat tempted to go as an IRS agent.

    My boss was a nutcase. And I had very valid reasons not to go. But I’ve also learned that it’s not bad to make at the very least token appearances in order to smooth things over. It probably wouldn’t hurt to show up for 30 minutes to an hour. They’ll remember you were there but won’t remember for how long. But if you don’t show up, they will definitely remember you weren’t there.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But your boss was a really outlier situation. With most bosses, it’s fine to say you have other plans. You’re right that you should show up to the occasional team event, but it doesn’t have to be this particular one.

      (And I really wish you’d used your idea of going to the party as an IRS agent!)

      1. Misclassified*

        If I remember correctly, I ended up going to a game between the same teams with the same friend from the first year. It was either that or another wedding.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      Re your last paragraph: I’d caution against taking on board work norms from dysfunctional workplaces. I’d say what you actually learned here is that your boss’s reaction to you not showing up is likely to be an accurate reflection of your overall relationship. And that people who misclassify their employees act unprofessionally in other ways.

      1. Misclassified*

        That is true. One of my major lasting impressions from that job is what not to do as a boss (it was a dysfunctional workplace for many, many more reasons). But part of me can’t help but think I would have avoided at least short term headaches had I made even token appearances.

        Still though. Even if it had been a completely fine work environment, the idea of a boss/owner throwing a party with enough alcohol that she actively encouraged her workers to sleep there that night did not appeal to me.

        1. RVA Cat*

          It makes me wonder what kind of shenanigans went out with all the drinking. She sounds like enough of a nutcase she could have been filming people’s drunken hookups/arguments to use against them.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Right and I’m sure you aren’t the only one who didn’t attend.

      2. Alton*

        I agree. I also think there are times when trying to compromise with an unreasonable boss can be counterproductive in the long run. There are times when you can smooth things over, and there are times when smoothing things over would take too much of a sacrifice. If your boss is unreasonably chilly toward you because you miss a party once, there’s no guarantee that participation in future events will make them more understanding or that they won’t continue to expect you to prioritize their engagements over your family and any other plans you might have.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          With a lot of bosses like that, there is no way to ever be deferential enough. You will never get their approval no matter what you do, so don’t bother trying.

      3. pope suburban*

        Agreed, as an employee of a dysfunctional workplace! We do this “employee appreciation BBQ” every year, which is a bit of a joke because it’s very clear that the owner does not respect or value most (if any) of us. Every year, I plan it, because that got delegated to me. Every year, I do a decent job and try to make sure that the entertainment for employees’ kids is going to be good (Picking a bounce house is legit one of the few things that gives me job satisfaction). And for the past two years, I’m not there. People ask, but I default to the classic Miss Manners “I have/had plans.” And that is pretty much that. I don’t feel the least bit bad about it, either, because why would I spend time with rude people like that if I am not getting paid? Thanks no thanks.

  10. Sketchee*

    LW#1, it would be very outside of norms at most cultures for a recently terminated employee to show up so soon.

    The workplace and it’s employees primarily are there to work. It makes sense that the manager is trying to refocus the department toward those in the department who do work there and move forward with whatever plan is set out for the department.

    If you’re looking to establish these friends outside of work context, meeting on your personal time and establishing that level of friend connection makes sense anyway.

    It is a weird transition to go from seeing someone every day to not seeing them much at all. It’s just the nature of most business cultures.

    The social etiquette equivalent might be breaking up with someone, yet still immediately stopping by to visit their friends and family who you’ve become close too. It’s best for all involved to establish new roles and situations.

    This would be a good time to reach out and spend time with non-work related friends as well

    1. Mookie*

      Very much this. LW, there is something slightly territorial and adversarial about returning so quickly, a kind of snubbing-of-one’s-nose. It would make me uneasy as a mere bystander, much less a work-friend or bona fide friend-friend. Your former workplace is not the appropriate venue for maintaining or cultivating personal relationships, is not a pleasure grounds you can return to for regular fun. There are, after all, much funner environments than a workplace cafeteria. “Getting the Gang Back Together” is an enduring literary and cinematic cliché for a reason: you can’t go home again and nothing’s ever as good as it was in the Good Ol’ Days. Create some new memories for yourself, plan new experiences.

      Also, importantly, the notion that you yourself “can fight” against the recommendations of your former boss given to your former colleagues is absurd. Leave that to all of them. Irrespective of what your friends think about your termination, it is not healthy for yourself or helpful to them to encourage them to feel or be audibly unhappy about it. As Alison says, this is a situation that could look, to any objective third party, like a deliberate attempt on your part to retaliate. Injecting that kind of high drama into friendships you want to keep might temporarily feel exciting (might even feel comforting, that these friends are very sorry or aggrieved on your behalf), but it’s unlikely that any long-term good will come of it; lasting relationships are built on sterner stuff than feeling hard-done-by. They’ll stay with this company or they won’t. In either instance, reminding them that where they currently work is Soooo Unfair is not the behavior of a supportive friend. Let this go, and enjoy these friends on new, decidedly rosier terms.

    2. Anonophone*

      I wonder if this is a side effect of the work is home culture cultivated at a lot of the big tech companies? It’s hard to imagine being encouraged to spend breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and nap time at a company one day if it’s frowned upon to come into the lobby to drop off a gift the next day.

      1. robot*

        But OP was *fired*. It’s not like they resigned and came back the next day to drop off a present. I don’t think there’s any work culture where showing up the literal next day isn’t going to be uncomfortable. (I think the OP was thoughtful in trying to just stay in the lobby, but that’s not really sufficient since it was literally the very next day.)

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          While they were *being* fired they were already asking about their ability to come back regularly, and then they came back the very next day. It seems like way more focus on coming back, and regularly at that, than the manager was comfortable with.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yeah, I don’t like how they try to have it both ways. While you’re all working together, you’re supposed to bond and socialize together and grow close. But when someone leaves the company for any reason, you’re supposed to act like they never existed.

    3. ThatGirl*

      This is a bit outside the point, but my last workplace takes up most, but not all, of a 5-story office building. When they lay people off, the severance package typically includes services from an outplacement firm. The nearest office of that outplacement firm is … in the same building. So when my department’s jobs were outsourced, everyone who lives nearby had to go back the next week for orientation to this outplacement firm. Awkward.

  11. MommyMD*

    When you’re fired, you’re fired. The company does not want to see you back again. Showing up the next day was a bit off. Socialize outside of work. You do not want to create problems for your coworkers. Good luck in job hunting. I would not even want a fired work friend to show up to meet me at work. Your former mates may feel the same but it’s awkward to tell you.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      That’s a good point – some people may want to continue the friendship yet also feel uncomfortable about you coming to the workplace, but not feel comfortable saying so. Which is one of the scenarios your boss may be trying to avoid.

    2. Kyrielle*

      This. It might have worked more smoothly if you’d delivered the present and disengaged instantly. “It’s good to see you all, but I do need to get going – I just wanted to make sure Jane got this.”

      The staying and chatting with your (slightly-disgruntled-about-your-firing) former coworkers is probably what pushed it over the edge – I think the original reason for going back (to deliver the gift) is one most people would understand and accept, if you just treated it as a quick errand. (Your instinct to meet in the lobby and not go deeper, for example, was right on in this scenario.)

  12. Isben Takes Tea*

    Can I just add that I’m 100% endorsing Ask a Manager Enterprises diversifying into LlamaGrams?

    1. Artemesia*

      I personally found making the transition from rice sculpture executive to directing Llama Grams quite difficult.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      I would like a llama-shaped teapot sculpted from rice, if you’d be so kind.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I have a white camel shaped teapot, but it’s not for sale. Too many people like it when I make “camel-spit tea”. If I had a llama shaped teapot, I’d certainly brew rice tea in it.

    3. Formica Dinette*

      Does LlamaGrams deliver llamas or does it uses llamas for delivery? In either case, I’m with you!

  13. JC Denton*

    #1, stay away from your old office. Right now you’re a “distraction.” If you keep showing up, much to management’s chagrin, you become an “annoyance.” Before you know it, they’re letting reception and security know you’re not welcome in or near the building and that’s just a level of awkwardness you don’t want. Meet your friends after hours or at off-site eateries for lunch. It’s easier on them and you. I’ve known at least two terminated coworkers who liked to come hangout at the office, particularly when they were unemployed. Management eventually had one of them walked out by security in a really awkward scene. It’s just not worth it.

    For #2, there’s a favorite card of mine. Remind them of the “observer effect.” (Mind you, this really only works if you’re a strong performer and you have some seniority.) When I worked in a field that required very rapid computer work with slim margins for error, I’d often get a boss or a boss’s boss that liked to watch. Not to monitor for performance, but as an interest in the work being done. It would bug the heck out of me, because I felt like I was being evaluated and scrutinized, and I’d find myself making more mistakes than normal. So one day I brought up the observer effect and just merely saying it brought upon an epiphany. They never seemed to do it much after that! Now someone junior who *does* have to be watched might get annoyed, but that’s just a part of maturing in the role. Privileges of rank, I suppose.

    1. Lora*

      This. So much this. It drives me completely bananas. Oh god. I can’t even with open offices. I deliberately camp out in hallways and break rooms and odd corners of the lab because of this — I’m NEVER at my desk, to the point that literally half the company notices and remarks on it. They joke that the one particularly small break room which is my favorite because nobody can see anything on anyone’s screen the way the tables are configured is my real office.

      I would rather live out of my backpack and sit on the floor all day than the noise and reading over my shoulder that is the unholy misery of the open office. It is SO BAD. It’s honestly psychological h*ck for me. Even dumb stuff like when a colleague taps me on the shoulder because they noticed I have a YouTube playlist on that includes their favorite song–thanks for breaking my flow, jerk, I WAS in the groove but now it’ll be another 30 minutes of trying to get my train of thought back.

      Please, shoulder-espionage workers of the world: stop. Just stop. Pretend you never saw me rocking out to Britney Spears while I write a tech review and I won’t comment on your horrible lack of presentation skills in front of the grandboss and we will all be much happier.

    2. LBK*

      #2 – So true! I’ve gotten cross-trained on a lot of Excel reports by having someone guide me while I do the work and I swear all of my Excel skills make a mad dash for the exit of my brain as soon as someone’s watching. I always feel I have to make a caveat that I’m not usually so bad at doing simple things like filtering.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          Me too, I swear I can write code with out making loads of silly typos but the second someone is watching I seem to forget how to type.

  14. Name (Required)*

    OP4, I found myself in a similar situation to you a few years ago and went for the subtle approach along the lines above. It turned out to be too subtle and I got some feedback a couple of years later that I’d maybe lost some business as it had been fairly well known in the industry (which I hadn’t realised at the time) that my Sally was a bit dodgy and potential client had expected me to make a stronger judgment call which called my own judgment into question. (And I was expected to exercise judgement as part of the work).

    After discussing it with ex potential client (who I ended up working with on another project and we got on really well), it seemed they would have expected something along the lines of ‘yes, I have worked with Sally. As you would be aware, she is currently a direct competitor of mine. I can only state I would not be comfortable using her as a subcontractor on any work I was undertaking.’ And definitely no further details.

    There is no guarantee Sally is not already badmouthing you all over town – from her previous actions, it’s probably a given. You may be seen as less of an astute business person if you don’t address it. The subtle approach may be appropriate in your circumstances but it didn’t work in my case

    1. Channel Z*

      I like this script above, it makes a stronger statement without trashing. Also mentioning that she is a competitor clarifies the reason why you won’t go into detail. This makes you look like the professional one if you don’t engage in slander.

    2. OP #4*

      Thanks! I really like the line about using Sally as a subcontractor.

      One thing I didn’t add, is I’ve had discussions somewhat similar to yours where potential clients have said their hired Sally, were invoiced by Sally, received no work from Sally. So the problems definitely are not limited to our former employer.

      I really hadn’t considered the possibility that Sally is badmouthing me, but honestly I’m not worried. Sure it could be an issue, but I’d rather let it go. The only things Sally could really say about me would be shallow personal insults (she doesn’t know me outside of work) or made up details about my work history. Any client who entertains that kind of talk is not someone I’d want to work with. Or at least that’s what I’ll tell myself! :-)

      1. Name (Required)*

        Hi OP4, If your clients are already talking about Sally that way, chances are they already see you as a hiring manager who might take on Sally as a subcontractor and that’s why they are checking :) Take it as a compliment and continue to build your business. Unlikely they would be talking her down unless they’d already been burned.

        If you do the generic, wouldn’t take her on as a subcontractor thing and it’s still not good enough for them (which I highly doubt after your clarification) just plead ‘client confidentiality’. As in if I take you on as a client I would expect you would expect the highest levels of client confidentiality so why would I am, of course, unable to breach former client confidentiality :) :)

        Please make sure and do the ‘if I take you on as a client’ rather than ‘if you hire me’ :) (if you can afford to – no judgement :)

        Best of luck

        1. Name (Required)*

          Oops, I am unable to breach client confidentiality. Including yours etc Sorry Was picking up a call from my Mum who is 87 and in a care facility (old folks home / nursing home) while responding

      2. Anna*

        Considering that Sally seems to be hell bent on being shady in her own personal business, and you’re pretty much the only people who do this type of work where you live, Sally badmouthing you will probably resolve itself anyway. No need to be insulted at all. It sounds more like Sally knows you’re a better hire than she is. The script Name (Required) gave is very good, too.

  15. Traffic_Spiral*

    For LW#4, I’d focus strongly on the fact that as a competitor, it’s strange to be asked for an objective opinion of her, but also see if you could offer some alternatives. Something like “I would not recommend a client go to her [maybe you bring up another person that would be better] but I am also her competitor so it’s a bit awkward me to be commenting on her. Have you tried [other person you know could and would give an accurate report of her]?”

  16. Colette*

    #3 – it’s tradition to get off early, but is it policy? Because it will be tricky to claim another commitment if you’re supposed to be at work at that time (even if you think you will be let off early).

    1. Lyssa*

      I was wondering that as well. For everywhere I’ve worked that sent people home early before holidays, it’s been the sort of thing that usually happens, but you’re not supposed to count on it. If that’s the case, I would not claim to have other plans without having formally asked for the afternoon off.

      I get the impression that a lot of people are reading this as a party happening on Memorial Day, not during the work day on the Friday before.

    2. Karo*

      I disagree. If your organization has a long-standing tradition, it’s safe to assume that it’ll continue. Hell, OP could even say “I assumed we’d be getting off early like usual so I made other plans.”

    3. Misquoted*

      My exact thought. It sounds as though the LW’s manager informally lets everyone go home early on those holiday Fridays (at least that’s been my experience in the past), so it’s hard to say you have other commitments. On the other hand, the invitation says “no obligation” and I’d certainly take that at face value. I might say, “Thank you for the BBQ invitation, but I’m going to take the opportunity to get on the road to my sister’s a bit early. Enjoy!” (Or insert whatever vague non-lie works…)

    4. Jessesgirl72*

      It really depends. I asked my husband, after reading this comment, if the “summer hours” at his work have been announced yet (the ones taking effect after Memorial Day… ) and he said no, but it would really take a direct order stating they weren’t allowed at this point, to stop it, and everyone’s plans are already set. After something is such a long standing tradition, it kind of takes on a momentum of its own and it wouldn’t be at all weird for the OP to have already made plans.

  17. Czhorat*

    OP #2 – you’re at work, and your boss has every right to know what you’re doing.

    Most places allow incidental personal use, but it’s possible that he thinks you’re going a bit too far and trying to subtly bring you back. Or that he’s just nosy. In any event, I see this as something you just need to accept.

  18. Zip Silver*

    #3 – BBQ at my boss’s place doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time. But, the last time I went to one of them I ended up having some beers with our COO and chatting for a long while. We’re a 10,000+ person company, and it’s definitely paid off for me since.

    1. Czhorat*

      It’s not my idea of fun either, but I think the LW tread the situation well- being one of the few to not attend would differentiate them in a bad way.

      It’s a bit like the office holiday party; sometimes we have to suffer over awkward and unpleasant day for the sake of ones larger professional future.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But this really isn’t like the office holiday. This is a more casual event that it would be fine to skip unless the boss is unusually petty.

    2. shep*

      I had an old boss EXPRESSLY give me the day off so I could attend her family’s barbecue. It was horrible. I was also hourly back then, so I would’ve MUCH rather gone to work and earned some pay for those hours than essentially go to work at her awkward barbecue and get exactly nothing.

    3. AMPG*

      I was thinking something similar – it sounds like it’s fine to skip this, but going, even for a little while, could be a good investment into a better relationship with your boss or other managers. I personally think it’s worth your time.

  19. Jamey*

    I HATE when people read over my shoulder. I had a boyfriend once who wouldn’t stop doing it even after I asked him to stop several times and I literally broke up with him over it, lol.

  20. BananaPants*

    OP1 – In my office there’s a dichotomy on this based on how a former employee left. No one bats an eye at a retiree or person who resigned under good circumstances coming occasionally (once or twice a year, tops) to have lunch with old coworkers. Someone who was laid off would be expected to let some time go by before visiting – at least a couple of months.

    On the other hand, someone who was terminated would NOT be welcome back in the building for a social visit even if their coworkers were shocked by or disagreed with the firing. In some cases, they would indeed be banned from the property by security, but depending on their reaction to the termination they might not be told that at the time of firing. (People are terminated for cause only rarely.)

    Workplace violence concerns aside, it’s just creepy and weird to keep showing up to meet with former coworkers at a place that fired you – especially a day later. It’s time for everyone to move on; you AND former coworkers. If they want to meet up with you outside of work, fine.

    1. Bibliovore*

      OP 1
      Its been said but here is the thing. If you just wanted to drop off a gift, that could have been done by labeling it and and leaving it at reception. Anything else creates drama.
      Fired, even if you disagree with the action, showing up and discussing it with worker friends indicates that you and management are at odds with your perception of your work. It doesn’t matter if your friends agree that this was unfair.
      I did fire person who worked for me. She did return to our place of work. It is public not private place. She did share the “unfairness” of the situation with her work friends. I was not permitted to share with my other reports the reasons behind the firing.
      I did inform HR about the visit and there was a threat assessment due to her aggrieved conversations.
      Let it go. See your friends off site.

  21. Madeleine Matilda*

    #3 I think the hard part of claiming an existing commitment is that the party is during work hours – midday Friday. Even though it is office tradition to let you leave early for long weekends, it could be presumed that you normally would be at work during the midday hours on Friday unless you had scheduled leave. I think in this circumstance I would go for at least part of the party. By the end of the party I’d still be off work earlier than normal. Perhaps this is an opportunity for OP develop a better relationship with OP’s boss in a social setting.

    1. Observer*

      No, because people have always been able to take off early. And the invitation actually confirms that the office is closing early.

      1. Madeleine Matilda*

        OP said that traditionally they are allowed to leave midday, but tradition isn’t the same as a policy saying that the Friday before all three day weekends everyone has a half day off. OP can’t assume that everyone would be given early dismissal midday even if it has been tradition. This time her boss is having a “non-obligatory” party that almost everyone is attending. I agree with Alison that OP doesn’t have to attend but I think it would be politic for OP to attend even if only for part of the party, particularly because she doesn’t have a good relationship with her manager, because most of her team is attending, and she will still be out early that day. She could accept the invitation but also say to her boss that she can only stay for an hour because she other plans, that way she is participating but not obligating herself to the whole party.

        1. Madeleine Matilda*

          #3 – Giving this some additional thought, I actually think the more important part of the OP3’s letter is the parenthetical statement about her not great relationship with her boss. OP doesn’t feel she can she can ask boss about the bbq or trust the boss. Those would be major red flags for me in my working relationship with my boss and I’d be giving much consideration to what I could do to make the relationship better or, if I felt it couldn’t be fixed, to what my next steps might be.

  22. MarshaMarshaMarsha*

    #3, I would look at the boss’ behavior and personality before not going. My boss labels team events and such as “not required, always optional”. But last time we had one, and people didn’t show up, she trash-talked the non-goers in front of everyone. It was negative and very uncomfortable. If they talk bad with you, they’ll do it to you. You could always show up for a few minutes, then leave due to your other plans.

  23. SophieChotek*

    Genuine question.

    Regarding #4, the OP wrote: “I get asked if I ever worked with her, what I thought of her teapot design abilities, etc.” If the person asking OP is truly just asking about Sally’s actual design abilities — does the rest (her shady ethical dealings?) play into this? On the one hand, most people don’t want to work with unethical people who might steal your business. But if Sally is freelance, she probably can’t steal anyone’s business (except OP, I suppose) and maybe she really is an awesome teapot designer?

    Guess I’m just trying to figure out where that line is. I like AAM’s script, and I think if I called to ask OP I’d be happy to know about other stuff, but if all I asked was “is she good at teapot design” might I think odd OP also brought up other stuff?

    (Please note I’m not a fan of people doing unethical things, and based on what I’m reading, I’d prefer OP get the job/work).

    1. Naomi*

      It doesn’t matter that Sally has lost the opportunity to behave unethically in the exact way she did before. Sally has shown a lack of integrity, and that’s something anyone considering working with her should be concerned about.

      OP isn’t restricted to answering the literal wording of the question; asking “is Sally a good teapot designer?” is coming with the subtext of “would I do well to hire Sally?” To use a dating analogy, if a friend asked you “Hey, do you think Fergus is interested in me?” and the answer was “yes” but Fergus cheated on his last three girlfriends, you wouldn’t be odd or out of line to mention that.

    2. OP #4*

      As Naomi said below, it’s not a yes/no question. These companies are basically asking if I’d recommend they work with Sally. A lot of things factor into that answer, including ethics. There’s a lot of details here that come into play, like the fact that some of these clients are other teapot design companies, so Sally could steal business from them. But I think it comes down to the fact that Sally showed very little regard for ethics in her job, so trusting her to behave ethically shortly after that would be difficult. She may not commit the same offense, but when someone lacks ethics or judgement, there’s a lot that can go wrong.

      I left this out of my original question, but mentioned it in another comment here – I’ve heard multiple instances of Sally billing clients and not delivering work (in her life after leaving our employer), so the ethical lapses were not limited to that one instance. I honestly don’t think this impacts what I said in the first paragraph, but it reinforces my point of view.

  24. Some mammal*

    1: ” I decided to only meet her in the lobby, since I didn’t want to make a fuss”
    Maybe you didn’t want to make a fuss, but a fuss was made. So I don’t really blame your ex boss for this. They have the right to ask you to stay away. Just accept it.

  25. Observer*

    #1 I’m not going to repeat what everyone else said, but I very much agree. I would point out that what your ex-boss said clearly points to the disruption factor, rather than his being a control freak out out to “get” you. He didn’t tell people they can’t socialize with you. He just told them they can’t meet with you AT WORK.

    Also, I wonder ow you heard about this new ban so quickly?

  26. Making myself nuts...*

    #3: No, I will not attend. Thank you for inviting me. Full Stop. No need to mention other plans.

    1. Allypopx*

      Depending on the culture that might come off as unnecessarily cold, especially if it’s communicated in writing.

    2. AwkwardKaterpillar*

      I think this could come off a little abrupt, especially if they already have a chilly relationship. Saying, sorry I have plans doesn’t hurt anything.

    3. LBK*

      That might work for purely social invitations, but when there’s a workplace power dynamic involved it’s way too blunt. If your boss invites you to a work event (especially something fairly personal like an event at his house), it’s generally implied that you’ll at least swing by unless you have something else to do.

  27. not so super-visor*

    Confession time: I could totally be the supervisor in LW #2. I have a fairly relaxed policy on web browsing during the non-busy season (winter): as long as there’s not pending work, it’s fine. I find myself constantly having to ask direct reports if their browser windows are work related once spring/summer hits and we’re slammed. During the busy season, there is almost never a time when work is not pending or overdue. A lot of employees seem to have trouble making the adjustment. My “is that work related” comment is usually followed up with “we have x number of reports pending in the Widget Queue, please pull one.”

    1. Allypopx*

      Boy do I understand the struggle of having to drive the change in seasonal workloads home…

      That’s different, though. You’re monitoring a performance issue and making it clear that’s what you’re doing. OP’s boss seems to merely be communicating curiosity. If they are monitoring a performance issue, they haven’t made that clear. As someone above said that can actually be really disruptive to the workflow (observer effect). What you’re doing is active managing, and that’s fine. Necessary, even.

    2. Elizabeth H.*

      That seems a little bit unusual to me. If you are constantly having to ask people to stop screwing around on the internet and do work instead, would it maybe be worth having a big picture serious conversation that despite the relaxed atmosphere during winter, from April on they are expected to prioritize work, meet deadlines, and NOT spend time on personal enterprises during work hours? It seems weird to be in a situation where you are actually needing to monitor adults to do the work they’re being paid for by looking over their shoulders like they are school students.

    3. nonegiven*

      Is there some kind of online training they could do in the winter that would stretch their skills at doing their job better? You could require that they do x amount of training in the winter before personal surfing. I imagine there might be other office type tasks that don’t always get caught up during the busy season, that would keep people from getting used to surfing all day instead of just at defined times.

  28. should probably be anonymous for this*

    with #1, I suspect the boss might have suspected OP was trying to make it seem as if she hadn’t been fired. The firing was contentious, and OP wants to have lunch in a presumably employee-only area? not a good idea.
    For #2, I think the issue is less that the manager looks to see what is on their computer screen, but that they do it so obviously that it seems more like “I don’t trust OP not to break the rules, so I will constantly, obviously, check what they are doing”- it’s not that Boss can’t check up on OP, but please be reasonably discreet about it.

  29. Luke*

    On #3: This is a “case by case” situation. There’s a military term which fits here -it’s called ‘voluntold’, which means attendance to an ‘optional’ event isn’t technically required- but failure to attend will count against you when management has a subjective decision with your name on it.

    In properly run organizations attendance to optional off site functions isn’t a career impacting choice,it’s just an option employees can freely participate in or not .
    In dysfunctional environments attendance to these functions is usually socially mandatory. Corporate dysfunction doesn’t grow in a vacuum- it tends to be nurtured by ‘managers’ more concerned with their units and egos then the business or the welfare of their staff. Being invited to The Boss’ BBQ has to be weighed against the overall culture.

    Is The Boss a well adjusted person who understands some people have lives outside of work? Or are they someone who believes King Ramses of the Bible is a management role model and that people who use sick time and don’t go to off site socials are “not committed” to the business?

    If the situation is the latter- as it once was for me and still is for too many employees- suck it up and go.

  30. theletter*

    #3 My mother told me recently that if your plans are to sit on your couch and watch TV, those are valid plans. Almost everyone needs a little time to decompress.

    You should be able to tell your boss that you’re not available for the BBQ, wish them a good time, and leave it at that. If pressed further, just say that after a long, hard stressful winter, you traditionally use Memorial day weekend for private meditation and rejuvenation.

  31. LiveAndLetDie*

    OP1, you returning so close to the date of your termination is strange, and I am not surprised it caught your former boss off guard and in a negative way. Keep up with your old coworkers outside of work hours.

    OP2, it’s possible your manager is a bit of a nosy busybody, but it’s also possible that your manager is concerned that your personal browsing is a higher priority for you than your work. Just because your office has no policy against it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be focusing your attention on your work. My company has no policy against it either, and I allow my employees to manage their time, but if *every single time* I walked past someone’s desk I noticed that they have Facebook up instead of work, I’m going to start remarking on it.

  32. Aphrodite*

    OP #3, I would suggest your consider attending for a couple of hours. The boss is going out of his way to make a barbecue at his home, something that is opening himself up a bit. It’s a nice gesture even if he isn’t a particular favorite of yours. And even if he has ulterior motives. This bit of socializing could possibly have a positive effect going forward but even if it does not your being there–for two hours on what is a normal workday–is a small investment of yourself in the work relationship. After that time, you could graciously thank him for his generosity (for both the barbecue and the time off) and plead an early date.

    1. nonegiven*

      I think 45 minutes is plenty. Show up a little late, put some food on a plate. Thank boss for the BBQ, tell boss and spouse they have a lovely home. Speak to most people for a moment while eating if you can, or just mess up the food on the plate if you can’t. Say your goodbyes as you have several personal errands to attend to.

  33. AnotherHRPro*

    #1: From an HR perspective, yes you would generally allowed to enter the building especially if it is a business that has outside people frequently visit. That should not be interpreted as they want or even think it is OK for you to visit. This is for a number of reasons:
    – It could be awkward for current employees, including your prior manager
    – It could be a distraction from work being done
    – It could cause drama (as in it keeps your ex-coworkers focused on your termination vs. moving forward)
    – It keeps you unhealthily invested in your prior employer (you need to move on)
    – There is always the chance of a terminated employee becoming disgruntled and causing problems (anything from sabotage to theft to violence)

    As others have said, put effort into maintaining relationships with those ex-coworkers that you want to keep as friends. But otherwise, you need to move on. Start figuring out your next steps and creating your future as it does not involve this company. I know it can be hard to move on but you need to. Good luck to you.

  34. The Supreme Troll*

    For OP#1, did you work in an office located in a building with other businesses that has multiple levels and a common area open to the public (such as with restaurants)? Or does the building house only the one business that you used to work at?

    If it is the former, I really don’t see why your former boss would see it as a problem (or his concern) if you met up with your former co-workers for lunch. However, if it is the latter, I agree with Alison. Because this was a termination, it really doesn’t matter how you felt about it or whether you agreed with the decision or not. Your former boss might, understandably, have concerns about a terminated employee showing up to their work area for all of the negative reasons that could possibly happen. (Although I believe you when you say that it wasn’t a tense, hostile firing). But your ex-boss wants to err on the side of caution.

    At the very least, if there is a way to smooth things over with your former boss (especially if this means that he can provide a good reference to potential employers), you want to be sure that you don’t appear tone-deaf.

  35. Malibu Stacey*

    “This all took place directly in front of the receptionist and the security desk, but neither seemed to care and I left without any incident.”

    Just as an fyi, I have been the receptionist in this situation and it’s awkward ah. Telling a recent ex-coworker to leave because it’s weirding you out is above most receptionists’ pay grades, and it’s also an awkward thing to do because of course most people are uncomfortable telling you to GTFO when you seem invested in making an appearance after something crappy just happened to you.

  36. The Supreme Troll*

    For OP#4, I don’t think some “trash-talking” about Sally’s work is necessarily inappropriate. If you are being questioned specifically about your knowledge of her work and your experience working with her, you can explain what you do know of Sally without speculating or over-dramatizing things (I’m not saying you would, but just putting it out there).

    Probably from things such as your body language and how you say things, the prospective clients will be able to tell that you are honest and putting their concerns first, not just trying to bash somebody who is not there in the room with you. And, no, it is not slander or defamatory to speak of these things when specifically asked if you do actually know that they occurred, without adding guesses or speculation to them.

  37. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #1 – yeah, I worked at a place once, where they had a layoff of eight people. One of them was a peer, and a good friend. The other was a boss and also a good friend.

    When the peer was let go – he was angry – brushed by me on the way out of the building. That night he called me on the phone, to my home, to apologize (to which I said “forget it!”) and we had a nice chat. I understood his anger and shock.

    Worse yet, a director asked me if I had any contact with him – yes – and he was NOT released for cause. He said that HR will give him everything he needs for info. I replied that he has been my friend for three years and will remain a friend. Director’s response = yeah but he doesn’t work for us any more.

    My response = Unless you’re running this place like a junior high school fashion club, or a college frat — “we dumped him/her, now who are you going to be friends with?” …. he was and still is a friend and I will treat him as such.

    1. Observer*

      Good for you. But this is a very different scenario. The OP’s ex-boss didn’t tell staff not to see her. He told them not to see her AT WORK. And he did that after she managed to create a bit of an “event” in the front lobby. True, she apparently wasn’t aiming for that, but it’s still something that’s a legitimate problem for ex-boss.

  38. OP #3*

    OP #3 here. Just wanted to provide a little more detail/clarity and an update.

    First off, the clarity:
    * This isn’t a big party my boss is throwing, to which he happened to also invite coworkers – it was presented as “let’s have a team lunch.”
    * It’s not official policy that we’d have the afternoon off, but like someone else mentioned, it’s happened every long-weekend-Friday for years now, meetings get cancelled or moved, etc… so assuming it’s happening and having plans wouldn’t seem too strange here.
    * And my boss is fine about work-life balance, but there are other reasons that he makes the idea of not going uncomfortable. To wit….

    There’s kind of a lot going on regarding why I don’t feel like I can skip it saying “I have plans”, and it’ll be accepted and forgotten. To people’s faces, the managers here seem normal enough, but in reality they are passive aggressive, gossipy, and play very obvious favorites (unsurprisingly I’m not one of them).

    MarshaMarshaMarsha nailed it in her comment when she said: “if they talk bad with you, they’ll do it to you.” Back when my boss was a peer of mine, he was a member of a decent-sized clique which felt very… high school. I went out to lunch with them a lot when I first started, and they’d spend the entire hour doing nothing but trashing other coworkers they didn’t like. Every time. Not just people on other teams, either – their own teammates who weren’t along for lunch were targets, too.

    Needless to say, I have had a hard time trusting him since then. And the other managers here demonstrate the same type of behavior, so he hasn’t changed either – I have had a different manager badmouth her own direct report in conversations with me, and been told by others about my boss making crappy comments about me behind my back. I don’t believe this is a relationship that can be fixed – how could I ever trust this guy not to talk crap about me at any point, when I already know he does it? – so attending to try to mend things feels a bit pointless.

    However. All that being the case, ultimately, I decided that it would be better for my mental health if I at least made an appearance at the barbecue – that way, I would spend less time (ideally no time) imagining my boss and other teammates exchanging snide remarks about me while I’m not there. I’ve gone with an approach that was a combination of what Madeleine Matilda suggested and what others were saying: I told my boss that I was RSVP’ing late because I “had plans and had been trying to work out whether I could make it”, that I wouldn’t be able to stay very long because of said plans and wanting to avoid traffic, but that I could come for a little while.

    I plan to stay long enough to eat a hot dog, chitchat a little, and wish everyone a nice holiday before hitting the road. Hopefully that will be enough that I can put it all out of my mind as soon as his house is out of view.

  39. Op1*

    So, it’s taken me a month to get in the balls to respond, but OP #1 here and I definitely understand why everyone thinks I’m a complete jackass for showing up the next day and in retrospect I wish I hadn’t done it.

    At my former company (which employs thousands of people in the same building) it was very much encouraged to make strong relationships with coworkers and be very family-focused, to the point where it was not usual to find multiple family members working in different parts of the building. Which is another reason why I asked about returning for lunch: my mother and a close family friend also works there and I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t cause trouble by having lunch with them (which I had done both before and while I worked there) or some of my old coworkers once and a while. Having lunch guests was not unusual for anyone, nor was taking fifteen minutes away from your desk to make a phone call or meet someone in the lobby for whatever reason. Again, the company culture was very relaxed, which is why I didn’t think it would matter if I came in person to drop off the gift.

    I’ve never been fired before, but I really resent the implication that I’m deliberately being hostile or trying to cause trouble, or worse. I wasn’t fired for any reason other than I made a significant but accidental mistake in my work and until then I’d been a model employee with glowing reviews and a good relationship with my management. I honestly didn’t think it would be such a big deal for me to come back the next day to drop something off for a coworker. And I really didn’t cause a scene: my former office has a large lobby that is frequently busy and full of people, and we were one of many groups in the lobby at that point in time.

    And to the person who wondered how I heard about it so quickly, one of my friend texted me the news so I’d know we’d need to make outside lunch plans going forward.

    Just wanted to put this here so if someone reads this later they can see my response. I got blindsided by the response here and I shouldn’t have even asked such a stupid question in the first place.

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