I overheard my interviewers talking about me, coworker badgered me into telling her my salary, and more

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

1. My coworker badgered me into telling her my salary

One of the things I am currently facing two weeks into my new job is the lack of distinction between being friendly and oversharing too much. The team has been working together for a very long time and are candid towards each other. As a newbie, I was of course more shy and slow to open up. One of the worries I have about how I may be seen is that I’m not a team player if I don’t participate in their conversations as eagerly or share details about my personal life.

A colleague badgered me over and over again for my salary, and I just broke down and gave the figure to her because I couldn’t see any way to deflect her questions. Now I’m really regretting the decision (as one is expected to). How would you suggest I can handle such prying questions, including personal matters such as family stuff, in future?

It can be tough to field this stuff when you feel unprepared for the question and put on the spot, which is why a lot of people end up giving in and sharing info that they don’t want to share. But it’s completely reasonable to say no — and truly believing that can make it easier to hold firm in the moment. (So can a healthy dose of annoyance at this kind of pushiness.)

Lines to use in the future:
* “I’m not comfortable sharing that. Thanks for understanding.”
* “Oh, I keep that private.”
* “That’s not something I share.”
* “I’d rather not share that, thanks!” (The “thanks” here makes no sense, but I like it, in part for its incongruity.)
* “That’s awfully personal! I’d rather not talk about that. (Insert immediate subject change here.)”

2. I overheard my interviewers talking and laughing about not wanting to interview me

When I walked in for my job interview today, there was no one in the office, but there was a handwritten sign on a piece of paper at the front desk that said, “Please have a seat and we will be right with you.” I figured this note was left for me (and other candidates) so I sat down in one of the chairs across from the desk.

I could hear multiple voices in a room not too far away talking and laughing. I was not intentionally eavesdropping, but I heard one of them say, “Why can’t we just cancel this interview?” and I’m quite sure expressed that they favored an internal candidate who was in the room with them. I tried to jiggle my keys and move around a little so they would know someone was outside, and shortly after that one of the group came out and looked at me in a startled way. She stepped back into the room and said, “Guys, she’s here,” and the room fell silent. Things felt awkward and although I tried to put on a brave face and do my best, I could tell they weren’t invested in my answers to their questions.

I’m lucky in that I already have a job I love. This was another opportunity in a great field for more money, but I’m actually relieved to stay where I am a while longer. If I had heard that and really had my hopes up, I’d be devastated. There will be a second round of interviews and I doubt I’d get one, but if I get either a call for that or a “thanks anyway” email, should I let them know that I heard this conversation?

No, I don’t think there’s any point to letting them know, and it’s hard to think of a way you could word it that wouldn’t make you look really cranky. (It’s understandable that you’re cranky about it, but it still won’t come across well.)

For what it’s worth, their big error here was in how indiscreet and thoughtless they were, more than in the content of what they were saying. It absolutely stings to hear that kind of thing when you’re a candidate, but the sentiment itself — “we have a great candidate who we want to hire; do we really have to keep interviewing?” — isn’t an uncommon one. They were just jerks in how recklessly open they were about expressing that.

3. Student worker committed time card fraud at past jobs

I work in a lab at a university and we regularly hire student staff to do routine jobs that the career staff don’t have time to run. It’s a win-win, as students get lab experience, great references from us, and pay, while we get vital lab needs covered. We don’t check or ask for references for these positions, as our students generally don’t have much or any work experience.

I recently hired a new student. After his paperwork went through HR, a colleague in our college (not someone I know, but someone my boss knows) reached out to inform me that this student overstated shifts in TWO previous positions. He clocked in for shifts he never showed up to. She reminded me to verify his timecard regularly and that the college cannot guarantee repayment if he does this again.

I’m now in a quandary. My trust with this student has been immediately broken. If I had known this before hiring him, I would not have hired him. (I had several other good candidates.) Having chosen him, though, I feel an ethical need to allow him to continue. He hasn’t had any timecard issues with me, to date.

Should I sit down with the student and have the “this came to my attention” conversation? On the one hand, he should know that I’m aware of the past issues and I’m giving him a second/third chance, but that he better not screw up. On the other hand, giving that he is just starting to work for me, this might doom our ability to work together. In discussing this with my colleagues and boss, we recognized both sides and didn’t come up with a concrete solution. What would you do? Also: For readers who work with students: do you check references?

When I first read this, I was coming down on the side of watching him closely for a while and seeing what happens and dismissing him immediately if you see issues. But really, clocking in for shifts he never showed up to is such a deliberate act of dishonesty that I think you have to talk to him about it, particularly since he was working for your same broader organization when he did it.

When you talk to him, don’t frame it as an accusation (both because that’s not the most effective way to begin the conversation and because it’s possible that your colleague got her facts wrong). Say something like this: “I need to ask you about your previous work for the X and Y departments. In speaking to colleagues there, one mentioned that there were problems with the way you reported your hours, including clocking in for shifts you didn’t work. Can you tell me anything about that?” His response could be a whole range of things — from denying it in an obviously shady-sounding way to, some kind of credible explanation. I don’t know what you’ll hear — but I think you have to have the conversation. From there, you could do anything from a serious warning about what a big deal this is to even deciding to replace him, depending on how the conversation goes.

And re: references — always check them, even for students. Much of the time you won’t get anything useful since they have so little experience, but occasionally it will really pay off (as it would have here).

4. My schedule change means that I’m losing paid holidays

My nonprofit employer asked me to change my part-time hours from Monday-Thursday to Tuesday-Thursday. I agreed, then realized I would lose five paid holidays. The employer said “oh well.” Do I have any recourse?

I am an exempt salaried employee whose pay is calculated by the hour. Last year they cut my hours from 25 to 19 in order to avoid paying the pension that kicked in after a year. Yes, they suck.

Well, it’s possible that you could have negotiated to keep some or all of those paid holidays before agreeing to the new schedule, but unfortunately at this point they’re unlikely to agree to that. It’s pretty common for part-time people to miss out on paid holidays that fall outside their normal work days.

But I’d take a closer look at your exempt status because “an exempt salaried employee whose pay is calculated by the hour” isn’t really a thing. If you’re exempt, your pay can’t be calculated by the hour — or more to the point, it can’t change from week to week if your hours fluctuate. And if you’re exempt, holidays wouldn’t impact your pay either way — you’d still be getting the same salary every week that you work, regardless of holidays.

But if you’re being paid hourly, then you’re non-exempt. And if you’re non-exempt, they only have to pay you for actual time worked.

5. My whole organization is quitting

I work at a very small nonprofit with only four people. I took the job knowing I would probably stay for about two years; there’s not a lot of room for growth and I don’t want to live in my current city for much longer. I planned on job hunting in October and hope to leave early next year.

The problem is now both of my other colleagues are leaving too. One gave notice last month and plans on leaving in December. The other is tired of dealing with our executive director; the two of them have had issues for years. They are now saying they also wants to put in their notice, even though they also don’t plan on leaving for another few months. I’ve told them I think this is generally a bad idea, but I also am worried that if they do, the ED will then ask me if I plan on leaving too. The answer is yes, but I’m afraid if I say so that the workplace will become miserable. But I know lying and then leaving will also be terrible. The ED also keeps talking about changing my role for next year. I don’t feel guilty about leaving but wonder if they will take it personally if I say nothing and then do. The ED can be very passive aggressive and generally makes work more personal than it is.

If your ED wants to lock you into staying for a particular time period, she can either (a) sign a contract in which she also commits to keeping you for that time period (which she almost certainly won’t do, because most U.S. employers don’t), or (b) create a healthy work environment where people can have honest conversations about their future plans without fearing negative repercussions.

She clearly hasn’t done that, so you really don’t need to have guilt about this. People leave jobs without more than a few weeks notice to their employers all the time; it’s a normal part of doing business. Managers who ask people if they’re planning on leaving forfeit their right to an honest answer if they haven’t done (b) above. And frankly, with the situation you describe, if she’s not doing some serious introspection about the culture there, she’s being awfully negligent.

When it’s time for you to resign, you can say that the opportunity fell in your lap and was too good to pass up, or even just that your circumstances changed. Either one of those is a reasonable answer. She may still take it personally, but that’s about her, not about anything you will have done.

{ 387 comments… read them below }

  1. Mes*

    There’s no downside to sharing your salary with your coworkers. How else will you all know if you’re being paid fairly? Salary secrecy only benefits employers.

    1. HMM*

      I am personally of this mindset, but people can want to keep that to themselves for a whole host of reasons. If a colleague is badgering a new coworker for their salary, then I’d say the OP’s inclination to keep things private will probably work out best for them in the long run.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      There are a lot of valid reasons why a person would not want to disclose their salary. Based on what OP has described, this doesn’t sound like there’s was mutual salary transparency—it sounds like prying and taking advantage of the new kid.

      I strongly believe in salary transparency as a tool for advancing pay equity. Nonetheless, if you’d asked me my salary even 4 years ago, I wouldn’t have disclosed it because I was raised with a strong cultural norm that discussing money or salary was vulgar. I’m not saying my attitude was right, but when combined with personal privacy concerns re: finances, I think it’s relatively common for people to feel uncomfortable about one-sided salary disclosures.

      1. Jesca*

        Yeeaaahhh, and if you have a drama llama on your team who isn’t getting as high of raises or advancement opportunities because of their behavior, they can (in my experience) try to use to create even more conflict all while dragging you into it. Being new, you don’t know who are like this and who are legitimately asking to find out. It can be tricky water depending on the personality.

      2. Specialk9*

        I believe in salary transparency, but not for kicks, and not for someone in a completely different role. Telling the admin I make 6 figures is just asking for passive aggressive nonsense, and doesn’t help them negotiate – that figure simply isn’t relevant to them. But if I’m talking with a peer, especially one who is job searching, I’ll absolutely share my salary, bonuses, and benefits. Nobody did that for me as a puppy, and I missed out on lots of money earlier in my career.

        1. OP1*

          Yep, in such cases, and where I’m comfortable enough with the colleague, I’d share details regarding my salary/benefits. Most of my friends sounded me out when they were job-hunting after getting out of university, because they wanted a benchmark of things like vacation days.

          1. Green Goose*

            I worked at a preschool years ago and my coworker cornered me one day and asked my salary. It was so caught off guard that I just told her. She then said she was going to use that information when asking for a raise, and I was also immediately regretful.
            Then the next one-on-one meeting with the owner, the owner made weird references to “awful” past employees who were let go for various reasons, one of which being “discussing her salary”.
            I didn’t know the laws at the time, but she implied it was in our contract to not discuss salary.

        2. SarahKay*

          Seconded. I had a colleague very kindly share her salary when I was moving into this role, and it made a huge difference to negotiating my salary since without that information I wouldn’t have realised just how poor the offer being made was.
          But that’s definitely not the same as starting a new job and being pestered to tell how much I’m on, which would make me very uncomfortable. Even more so if the information was only one-way.

    3. Myrin*

      I agree with this sentiment – so I really don’t think “[n]ow I’m really regretting the decision (as one is expected to)” is as expected or obvious as OP seems to believe – but it sounds like this was just the one point that made the OP “break down” as she says and divulge information that she’d rather keep to herself. There seems to be a wider problem of people prying for private information in this office, independent of that one specific salary question.

      OP, you say that you’re worried that you may be seen as “not a team player if [you] don’t participate in their conversations as eagerly or share details about [your] personal life”. That is a valid concern and I’ve seen people act coldly towards others because they wouldn’t give in to their prying (which is ridiculous, especially for adults, but it does happen). Alison’s scripts are great and if paired with a friendly and open tone shouldn’t come across badly at all, although there’s obviously no guarantee for that – there are always people who are going to react unreasonably to the most reasonable request, so I’d first say that there is no magical automatic solution for this problem.

      But secondly, if it’s at all possible and you feel comfortable with it, you may try the following: Think of two or three relatively harmless things about yourself that you have no problem sharing – that might be something like you have two adorable rabbits, you like working in your garden, you have a sibling you’re close to, you spend a lot of time at the gym; you get the drift. You can then talk about these things, maybe even bring them up proactively so that you don’t get into a situation where there’s already a set topic of conversation and you can see from a mile away that next they’ll be asking you about your abusive estranged mother or something. I’ve had great success with that strategy (although it’s not really a strategy for me but rather just the way I am) – I don’t even necessarily talk that much but because I’m cheerful and get into details on the weirdest topics, people think that I’m super open and that they know a lot about me although it doesn’t really actually tell them a lot about me if they know that my sister likes to use whichever cat available as a hot water bottle.

      You might not feel suited for that approach or feel uncomfortable but if not, definitely give it a try!

      1. Koko*

        This is my approach, too. Bury them in so many inane details they don’t notice there is no substance. At one former workplace, in my first week I was put on the spot to share something about myself with the group and every single thing that sprang to mind was problematic to bring into a workplace (my polyamorous relationship, my radical political beliefs, and my relationship with marijuana topping the list), so I looked down, saw my scarf, and said, “I love scarves!”

        I was the girl who Really, Really Liked Scarves for the next two years. I wore one almost every day back then so it was a great benign topic to use for office chit-chat, although in reality I had about as much interest in discussing my scarves as I did in discussing my plain white ankle socks.

        I often describe my boundaries for workplaces as, “I don’t want anyone at work to know me well enough to be able to buy me a thoughtful gift.” I got a few scarves gifted to me at that place. People felt like they knew something unique about me, even though it was really just a trivial aspect of my publicly-visible fashion tastes.

        1. AJ*

          “I don’t want anyone at work to know me well enough to be able to buy me a thoughtful gift.”

          I love that!

    4. Oilpress*

      Your statement presumes that everyone agrees on how much each person is worth. If I receive $10k more per year than my coworker because my boss thinks I am worth it, but my coworker thinks we are of equal worth, then my coworker is going to have some serious resentment and probably treat me worse than if they didn’t know my salary.

        1. Susan K*

          I have seen this in action — it came out that one guy in the department was making significantly more than everyone else with the same title — and the boss may have had reasons, but everyone else disagreed with the reasons and were extremely resentful of the guy who was making more. Is that fair? Of course not. What did they expect the guy to do, ask for a pay cut so he would make the same as everyone else? But that kind of logic didn’t stop people from resenting him anyway. People were also more critical of him, and any time he made a mistake or did something they didn’t like, they were quick to bring up the fact that he was making more money than they were. So, if I had reason to believe I was making more money than other people in the department, I would be inclined to want to keep that information to myself.

          1. Myrin*

            There is so much wrong with that situation as a whole, though.

            Like, I can even understand the resentment (especially if you hear a reason for someone else’s pay that you vehemently disagree with) because humans are jealous arseholes but really, were these literal toddlers instead of reasonable adults who, even when faced with jealousy, can conduct themselves in an at least superficially professional manner?
            Did none of them think to advocate for a raise?
            Did none of them go away thinking that they might be working for someone who has weird standards for salary decisions and decide that this might not be the job for them?
            Did none of them realise that this was, like you say, really not something the coworker could be doing anything about and that should, if at all, be taken up with the boss?

            1. Bigglesworth*

              I have the same question. For example, in my last job I knew what everyone else made. Out of all of the admins, I was the least paid even though I had been there the longest. Did I resent my coworkers? Absolutely not! Had I advocated for raises before and after they were hired? Yes. I was told that it was the HR department that set the salaries for every job and my bosses had no say. The best that I got was a title change (along with everyone else at my level so it didn’t seem like they were playing favorites). I know for a fact that no one was successful in negotiating a higher starting salary and that the base salaries were based on the productivity of our predecessors from 5-10 years ago and not based on current people in the jobs.

              It was an awful place to work.

              1. Snark*

                “I was told that it was the HR department that set the salaries for every job and my bosses had no say”

                It’s outrageous, in the literal sense of making me outraged, how many companies defer decisions like this to HR. THIS IS NOT WHAT HR IS FOR, IDIOTS. That’s now how any of this works.

                1. Just Jess*

                  Well, it is kind of how HR works. If you are at an org. that has an HR team of at least five people then it’s likely that there’s a bit of job classification going on. HR should always collaborate with managers and bigger HR departments are going to take more ownership of the job classification process.

                  Consider HR’s role in standardizing and publishing job descriptions and making sure that discrimination isn’t happening in hiring, promotions, titles, and pay. But a line about managers not having any say in salary ranges does make me wonder if that HR team had their act together.

                2. Snark*

                  “HR should always collaborate with managers and bigger HR departments are going to take more ownership of the job classification process.”

                  But total ownership is not appropriate nor desirable, and managers still need to have authority – and, I’d argue, veto power – over HR.

                3. Just Jess*

                  @Snark – I totally agree. If managers are vetoing HR to cause disparate impact then ideally the competent head of HR can make a solid case based on data, bring it to the C-Suite, and ultimately get things set right.

                  No one knows the job and the incumbent better than the supervisor and the incumbent. No one knows best personnel practices, employment laws and pitfalls better than a good HR professional. So it’s a dance.

                4. NotAnotherManager!*

                  I think that it should be a collaborative effort. HR is watching for pay trends across the organization and is on discrimination watch. They are much better at reading salary surveys than most managers I know (job titles aren’t standard across my industry, so you have to read pretty closely to match them). They aren’t on the ground with the employees, though, and I find I’m the best judge of who the strongest performers are.

                  My former head of HR regarded himself as “everyone’s boss”, even people on the same org chart level because he was head of HR, and he did set salaries and overrule managers on the regular. It was maddening because some positions were impossible to hire/retain because he didn’t know how to properly market-compare them and others were overpaid and couldn’t hit their recover numbers. I do NOT miss that guy.

                  Now, I get a pool that is budgeted by Accounting, salary survey information from HR, and first dibs on salary increase proposals. They ARE vetted by HR, who does a discrimination check and validates market ranges again, and then vetted again by an executive above me. We usually make some changes, but not a ton, and I do have to justify anyone that is an outlier to the norm (above or below).

          2. Specialk9*

            Yeah, I knew a woman who was managing a new guy who made more money than she — though she had years more experience, had a better degree, had a lean six sigma blackbelt, and had saved the company something like $6 million in a year. She objected to her manager, who promised to make things right but it was never quite the right time, and gosh, busy, hard… So she left and got a huge raise.

            But she was really pissed at the golden spoon boy, even though she knew it wasn’t his fault, and he wasn’t a bad guy, just awfully green. It’s unfortunate when managers don’t manage, because then one resents the manager and the unfairly well paid one.

          3. NotAnotherManager!*

            +1 to Susan K. I HATE salary discussions, not because I don’t put a lot of time and effort into ensuring salaries are fair and above market average for my area, but because, inevitably, it’s the most mediocre people who truly believe that they are being wronged in the salary department. And it sucks down so, so much time to have to deal with the whining, the carrying of resentment, and, at worst, intervening when they take their frustrations out on a coworker. One of my people went to HR after not getting the answer they wanted from me, and HR (who knows what everyone is making, is intimately familiar with market, and had to vet my decisions on several different dimensions before they were finalized) was not amused.

            I have ZERO issue with salary transparency. I know my employees talk about their pay, and I have a parade of conversations with them post-review about the factors that merit higher pay (e.g., specialized degrees, experience in the field or a closely-related one, hazard pay for working long hours/with more-challenging-than-average groups, taking on training/mentoring responsibilities or making above average contributions to a non-client-related project). This does not keep people from feeling like they should be paid significantly more than others, even in the face of a clear rubric and verifiable market data. (And none of these people, FYI, ever come with a counter-offer or any sort of data on why they should be higher than they are.)

        2. nofelix*

          Exactly. Next salary conversation / annual review:

          CoWorker: “I think I should be earning $10k more.”
          Boss: “To earn $10k more you’d need to have more skills, experience or qualifications. Colleagues at that level of pay typically have a masters or have completed a major project.”
          CoWorker: “Ah okay”

          The ability for both sides to approach the conversation openly is important though.

        3. OP1*

          Sometimes, concrete reasons have pretty unfortunate back stories.

          I had a colleague K, who was always giving attitude to the boss, refused tasks she was assigned to just because she didn’t like them, and was perpetually late all the time. She wrangled her way to getting a fellow colleague’s work, because S was hired to set up a programme which they hadn’t gotten funding for. And S got relegated to lower-skilled work.

          Come promotion time, boss recommends S for one. Surprise surprise, HR looks over S and decides to promote K because she was doing higher-skilled work. Everyone in our department was kind of rankled by this, because of K’s poor work attitude and discipline, but since the boss never flagged out K’s miscomings to HR, K was considered a great worker because she could do work that was fomerly done by someone of a more senior role.

            1. HR Bee*

              Also seems to me that the HR person in this story should have questioned why S was recommended and K was not. And then LISTENED to the manager, who is, you know, the one actually interacting with these people every day.

              1. OP1*

                That organisation was a little weird but the reason put forth for S being promoted was her time with the company. Quite a few companies where I come from practise service promotion, that is, being promoted for being in the company after X number of years and your work performance being satisfactory. That year, there weren’t really any other outstanding candidates to promote in the department so S got her turn.

                HR went ahead to promote K because of her job duties listed in her annual appraisal. I suppose the organisation’s HR was to Ensure that everyone got their ‘deserved’ promotion, based on the work they did. Most bosses I have met don’t really pay much attention to poor attitude or behaviour, as long as no one else is making a ruckus about it.

          1. Recruit-o-rama*

            Why would HR have the power to decide who to promote over the manager? In my HR capacity, I advise based on a combination on things (with a lot of weight behind the managers experiences with all candidates) and then operations decides who to hire or promote. As long as it’s legal, HR is there to ADVISE, not dictate.

      1. Mike C.*

        No, the coworker is going to be mad at the person making the salary decisions, not the person receiving them. I don’t know why people say otherwise but it doesn’t make any sense.

        1. Observer*

          That’s not necessarily true. Look at the responses on this thread. Look at some of the questions posted – plenty of people resent others who make more money. The fact that it’s not reasonable doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. And, the kind of person that would badger someone into sharing the information is not likely to be the most reasonable person in the place.

          1. Mike C.*

            Well given the choice between exposing systemic pay gaps for women and people of color or the possibility of some coworker being a weirdo I’ll have to side with the former.

            1. BenAdminGeek*

              Well yes, given two straw men, I can pick between them as well. But in the OP’s case, it doesn’t sound like this was helping expose systemic pay gaps, but more something for a coworker to add to the grudge list.

              I’m all for sharing salary, and wish more companies would be transparent. But the key is to effect change when sharing, not just get badgered into it by a new coworker.

              1. Mike C.*

                You need to share first before you can act and I have a serious issue with your characterization of my comment as little more than strawmen.

                1. BenAdminGeek*

                  Well, again, yes. You have to share first before you can act. But that doesn’t seem applicable in the OP’s scenario.

                  I don’t want to devolve into comment arguments on this as I usually agree with your approach to employee/employer issues and appreciate your advocacy on this site for employee rights, but I do feel you set up a bit of a straw man here- you framed it as a binary choice between exposing pay gaps for historically disenfranchised people and “some coworker being a weirdo.” There’s a lot more gray in why people don’t want to share salary, and others have stressed their take here as well.

            2. Observer*

              In addition to what BenAdminGeek said, this doesn’t address the reality that some people simply don’t respond well to this kind of information. Saying that they DO, or that they SHOULD doesn’t change that reality.

              If you are ready and able to put up with that, more power to you. Pay transparency can be a very useful tool. But you don’t get to put that burden on others. AND there are situations where it really doesn’t make much of a difference. From what the OP says, her situation sounds like that.

        2. Specialk9*

          Actually, the co-worker is likely to be mad at both the manager and the co-worker. Several of us gave examples of how we’ve seen that in real life. Maybe you think people are rational, but that’s the most irrational belief one could have.

          1. Just Jess*

            “Maybe you think people are rational, but that’s the most irrational belief one could have.”

            If I ever get another tattoo…

        3. the gold digger*

          Nope. It’s like being mad at the Other Woman when she is not the one who broke the wedding vows your husband made. (Not speaking from experience.)(Although I would rather Primo have an affair than run for office again.)

      2. Steve*

        I’ve been in this situation and it sucked. I agreed with another new employee that “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” and when his was $20k less than mine, I double checked that he really wanted to know. He was so mad about it he spent the next month bristling at every instruction (he perceived me as being less instructed), then he went into the president’s office and insisted they fire his boss (who had been with the company 8 years) or he was quitting on the spot.

        So, it really does depend on who you are telling the info to. There are benefits collectively to sharing info, but you’re also free to use your judgement about whether it will really help you or the listener.

        1. Infinity Anon*

          I think it is entirely reasonable to want to wait to share salary information until you know if your coworkers are generally reasonable people for exactly that reason. Even if they are generally reasonable the conversation can go poorly (unless you know you are likely making less than them). It is a risk and therefore unfair to pressure people about.

      3. Artemesia*

        Or more likely — by not knowing that the junior men with less experience than you are coming in with higher salaries, you won’t be resentful but you won’t get appropriately paid either.

      1. MK*

        That’s simply not true. How compensation is scaled in a company and whether it is fairly distributed IS very much the business of its employees. And if a company has unequal salary practices, then they should have to deal with resentment.

        The problem is when people direct the resentment not to the company but to their coworker, for reasons that I have never been able to comprehend. But the “it’s no one’s business how much I make” mindset is a symptom of that too; seeing your coworker as the adversary.

        Look, no one has to divulge how much they make and no one should push others to do so. But bowing to the culture that makes salary to be this hugely private thing that people shouldn’t discuss is actively harmful.

        1. Myrin*

          I think that your last paragraph is somewhat of a key in this discussion.

          What I mean is that so often many people seem to view this situation as some weird sort of binary – like it can only either be 1. salary is not a taboo topic, both at the workplace and in general society, which means that one should immediately tell everyone and their mother their salary and has free rein to ask anyone about theirs without any prompting at all, or 2. salary is a taboo topic which means that no one can ever talk about it ever and that everyone who even hints towards their own or others’ salary is performing a serious breach of etiquette and norm.

          And the thing is, neither of these is true and people aren’t usually advocating for one or the other. But often when someone says “salary should be transparent”, people who grew up with a different mindset or are more privat in general hear something akin to 1.

          And the thing is – you don’t have to share something you don’t want to share. Context matters. I’m not particularly secretive around the fact that my favourite colour is green but if a coworker came up to me unprompted and asked me out of the blue what my favourite colour is, I’d be confused and weirdly reluctant to tell them about my affinity for green and first and foremost ask “Huh? Why?” because the situation would be so strange. Same thing with salary – the OP’s coworker sounds way out of line in her badgering. But there might be a situation where there’s a general conversation about salary, coworkers encouraging each other to share and compare, a company publishing a guideline for salaries of certain positions, etc. in which talking about the topic is entirely appropriate.

          That being said and as I commented above, the salary thing seems like a bit of a red herring in this particular letter anyway since it was only used as one example for what the OP finds to be general nosiness amongst her coworkers.

          1. Mike C.*

            I think you can say, “Salary isn’t a taboo topic but socially we’re in a transitional period where folks are still getting used to that idea and may not want to discuss it further right now”.

        2. Specialk9*

          The thing is, I’m not sharing my salary with someone I know makes a lot less than I. I don’t owe anyone that information, I don’t want to make lesser paid people feel bad, and I don’t want to deal with petty resentment.

          I will share it with people who it would benefit, like newbies in the field – I started at this, made these salaries at these ages, now make this. That’s mentoring.

        3. Infinity Anon*

          If they are being “badgered” for the information, the coworker is the one making the relationship adversarial.

      2. Brandy*

        I agree. If she didn’t want to share her salary, then its not the badgering co-workers business. Transparency is one thing, badgering me is another. Leave me alone and mind your own.

        1. Nervous Accountant*

          Serious question–how do you know if you’re being paid less is bc of a protected class?

          Like, lets say my boss could make some vague reason up, “NA I don’t want to pay you more bc 1 client left a bad review for you” but in reality she’s like…oh idk, “she could get pregnant and leave soon.” How would I ever be able to prove

          What if everyone who’s making more than you is part of some sort of protected class? We’re a diverse office, I’m Muslim, many of my coworkers are Hispanic/Latino, Jewish, gay/bi, Asian, European, black, white, etc. Some of my coworkers have Masters, some are still working towards a bachelors, some like myself don’t even have an Accounting Degree. Some have a CPA and some do not. For some this is their first accounting job and some come from a self employed/Big 4 background.

          1. Clairels*

            In this example, no, you really wouldn’t be able to tell based on only one person’s experience. However, if you find out that EVERY woman is making less than EVERY man doing equal work, that indicates discrimination. That’s why being able to discuss salary is so important. (By the way, it doesn’t matter what other protected classes employees may or not be in. Everyone is a member of a protected class in some way.)

          2. Mike C.*

            Trend analysis usually. When it’s being done blatantly, it’s easy to spot. When it’s a more systemic issue it can be more tricky.

            Either way, you’re never going to find out if you never know what others are making.

            1. Nervous Accountant*

              “BTW, everyone *is* part of a protected class–there’s no “what if.””

              I did not know that.

              1. fposte*

                Yup! That’s why people who sneer about “protected classes” are unknowingly sneering at themselves. Everybody has a race and, legally, a gender, and therefore is protected from discrimination based on those.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes — protected classes are categories: race, sex, religion, national origin, etc. So it’s not “Asian people” or “women” but “race,” “sex,” etc. You can’t discriminate based on someone being a man anymore than you can discriminate against them for being a woman.

          3. Observer*

            Sometimes you really cannot tell. But very often the patterns are telling. If there are 5 people with Masters and between 6-8 years of experience, and the one woman in the group is making 10-15K less than the men, that’s pretty glaring, as an example. If she’s the one with the most relevant experience but she’s getting paid the least in the group? Not a slam dunk, but very, very likely.

            On top of that, you look at other aspects of the company. The place in today’s other letter (boys day out while being paid) is FAR more likely to lose an unequal pay law suit than a place the doesn’t do that, because this is an indicator that they treat women significantly differently than men. That’s extreme, but it’s a nice example.

        2. Brandy*

          Nope it’s not. You have no “right ” to know my salary. If I tell you that’s one thing but no “right “. That’s the badgering. If you feel you are not being paid enough, I understand but my business is not your right.

          1. Mike C.*

            Why is keeping a number secret more important than my or anyone else’s right to be paid a fair and equal wage without discrimination based of a protected class?

            I’m not trying to be a jerk here, I’m just trying to understand why this number is so secret and so private and akin to seeing someone in their underwear when it leads to massive pay disparities across protected classes.

            1. fposte*

              Because nobody owes it to you to share their salary personally with you one on one. That’s not a redress of a systemic problem, that’s personal nosiness. I’m in a system where salaries are openly published and I’m fine with that, but personal browbeating is *still* unacceptable in it because personal browbeating is unacceptable. Speaking as a woman, I feel more disadvantaged by being personally badgered than I do by not sharing my salary with a nosy co-worker.

              1. Infinity Anon*

                That is a good way of putting it. No one is owed the information and everyone has the right to determine who they are comfortable sharing their salary information with, no matter what benefit the person asking might gain from having the information.

                1. Decima Dewey*

                  You can find out my position’s salary range by looking at the City of Philadelphia’s HR site. That doesn’t tell you what step I started at, or about my longevity pay. You’d have to ask me about that. And I don’t have to tell you.

            2. Rat in the Sugar*

              I think there’s still this old idea floating around that your salary reflects your worth–I mean, it is literally what someone is willing to pay for your abilities and skills. Logically, that’s only determined by the market value of your skills, not you as a person, but people’s feelings don’t always follow logic and it can make people squirmy.

              Also, I personally feel a little weird working in Accounting and knowing that some of my coworkers know my pay rate, especially when I’m talking about things like vacation plans and whether I can afford something. I know that they aren’t paying attention and don’t care, but if I can’t afford to spend money on something I still have that niggling in the back of my head that they’ll be looking at me and wondering what the hell I spent my salary on.

              So, I think it’s more about how people feel than about any kind of logic.

              1. Koko*

                Yep, I’d say this is the main reason that I hesitate to share my salary (though I have been up front when I thought it could be helpful to someone, such a job-hunting friend looking for a frame of reference for what salary they should be able to command).

                I have a tightly-managed budget with every penny accounted for. If I needed to, there’s a lot of belt-tightening I could do if I needed to, but because my budget doesn’t have a lot of “unrestricted funding” and will often say that I “can’t afford” to do XYZ. I worry that if people had hard numbers on how much I earn and how I allocate it, they would judge my allocations. “Koko said she can’t afford to do happy hour with the team, but I know she makes twice as much as I do and saves 15% of her pay, and she could easily come up $30 for a couple of drinks if we were important enough to her.”

                If there’s a compelling reason I will bite the bullet but it’s a lot harder for people to judge how you spend your money if they’re not clear on the exact numbers.

                1. DDJ*

                  This is a really good point. As a fellow budgeter, I also worry about people finding out “Oh, well if you’re saving 15% of your salary, then you should be able to splurge on things.” No, see, because that 15% isn’t a variable item, that’s the budget line. “Pay yourself first,” as the saying goes.

            3. NaoNao*

              I generally agree with your comments, but if you’re asking why, take a spin through some of the previous comments/open forums and you’ll see a couple cases where people have been picked on for how the spend their money, and you’ll see that as soon as you tell people how much money you make, they make judgements.

              Let’s say you tell Nosy Colleague you make 60k. The next week you mention that you and your spouse are trying for a baby. She wrinkles her nose. “On *your* take home?”

              Or reverse: You tell NC that you make 120k. The next week you’re hit with a 6K bill for your exploding sewer pipe. When she asks you about your weekend, you sigh heavily and complain. She gives you the hairy eyeball. “Gee, I wish I had 6K laying around. If I made what you did, I wouldn’t care about anything less than 10k.”

              …or whatever.

              When nosy people push for information, it’s usually to have leverage to make judgements and put you down.

              Personally, I haven’t experienced this, but it’s *all over* the comment boards, the open forums, and the questions.

              Transparency is important. But one must weigh it with the possibility of never-ending stream of comments about your choices.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                When nosy people push for information, it’s usually to have leverage to make judgements and put you down.

                YES YES THIS THIS
                I have never met anyone who is nosy who doesn’t then make comments about the information they got from me. So now they don’t get it.

                If I want to overshare, that’s my choice, LOL.

            4. Nicom*

              A quorum of amicable colleagues get together to share salaries for mutual benefit? good

              Office busybody badgers you into telling them your salary? Bad

            5. Brandy*

              Because im from the group of people that don’t believe in sharing that info and I should have the right to feel that. I would shut the badgering person down. But my business is that, MY business. You wanna make sure youre paid fair, take it up with HR who could tell you person A makes this Person B this, and why. Not Brandy makes $55,000 and Cori $60,000 now lets discuss why.

    5. David St. Hubbins*

      The only downside is that some companies have a policy that says “No discussing salaries.” Don’t know why.

        1. Czhorat*

          Yes, for the reasons stated. A rule against sharing salary information is a way to hide illegal salary discrimination based on gender.

          I’m with the folk who don’t want it secret for that very reason.

          1. Liane*

            Or race, disability, and any other protected category. It can probably also cover up other problems, such as not paying overtime or misclassifying people as contractors.

            For non-Americans, the law isn’t just about salary; it is part of a much broader law that employers may not ban or interfere with employees discussing job conditions.

            1. Piglet*

              I have worked in countries where the law requires a public salary range for a potion plus stated objective criteria to be hired for the poisition. If you had the bare minimum, you were paid at the low end of the range. For each additional factor (e.g. Education, training, foreign language skill), you moved up.

              No one unqualified was hired. People w the same skill set were paid the same. No the same role was paid more 10 percent more for the same work.

              Yes, there was still rampant sexism. It just didn’t result in lower take home pay.

              1. the gold digger*

                People w the same skill set were paid the same.

                I guess that’s a good place to start, but skills don’t necessarily equal productivity or value to the organization. It should be OK to pay a superstar more than an average performer, even if they have identical degrees, training, and language skills.

                1. Nico m*


                  Promote the superstar. Or have a fair and transparent bonus system.

                  Just pay them more for apparently the same job?
                  Stupid management

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          Agree- anytime an employer is explicitly saying you can’t discuss salary, they are either
          1) ignorant of a law they should know all about
          2) shady about salary and probably discriminatory
          3) all of the above, and probably vindictive as well

          1. Decima Dewey*

            Back when Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Richard Sherwood worked for the same magazine (before The New Yorker was founded), they were forbidden to discuss salaries. One day they came in with their salaries on placards hung around their necks.

    6. SchoolStarts!*

      What is being paid “fairly?” I fully thought I was being fairly paid and was very happy until I saw my coworker’s salary and then I was really disappointed and upset. We were close in age and had similar experience. Since she only had high school and I had a degree, she might have had more years of work experience but not enough to warrant such a huge discrepancy between our salaries, considering how many mistakes she made, which I caught and fixed for her.

      I asked my director about it: his response was, what do you want me to do about it? He didn’t care. I quietly chased the issue during the several re-orgs (this company loved its re-orgs) and finally got a compensatory raise…which was still not equal to her starting salary. Something in her profile indicated to someone we were both being “fairly” paid and I had I pushed to know what, I do believe that would have come off as poor form.

      If you follow up on a “unfair” pay difference, you might not get the reaction or answers you like.

      The other issue with knowing salary is this: Oh, you earn X, you should be able to afford Y; or you only earn X, how the hell can you afford Y? Which is no one’s business. Now in a union shop, I know the salary of everyone. My coworker earns the same as me and she’s living cheque to cheque…and at our (stupidly elevated) salary, I wonder why, but I don’t ask because it’s none of my business (but I don’t wonder too much as she overshares and I learn it all eventually). Nosey coworkers might push the issue.

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        “If you follow up on a “unfair” pay difference, you might not get the reaction or answers you like.”

        This is exactly how I feel. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t known these things so I could still be in my happy little bubble. Honestly, I try to be objective as possible about it–the creepy coworker who is hated by everyone is getting $75k but he’s a CPA with 25+ years experience. The team leader who doesn’t know wha t a certain form is so I have to do it is getting $80k but he has 15 years experience of owning his own company; my coworker who’s only getting 50k despite being super talented and deserves way more. Aside from creepy coworker (CC), I have no ill feeling or resentment against any of them and I know where exactly to channel my resentment.

        As far as “you should be able to afford this”–THIS I find in poor taste, full stop. No one has the right to count MY $$ that I’m working my butt off to earn.

    7. Runner*

      There can definitely be downsides. A person with only 3 years under his belt came on board in a senior position a few years ago while having only the base level required education and literally zero experience in the actual field. Three years in the related field is also the base to be hired — for what is basically the starting level, not senior. This happened because the hiring manager was new, and the person was excellent at negotiating (a great skill that cannot be held against him) — and the only way the hiring manager saw to meet the salary was to give this person a senior title. I cannot overstate the upheaval this caused among people who really do have senior credentials. Sure, it wasn’t his fault. The morale never recovered. What had been a great unit quickly unraveled with no small amount of bitterness and departures. It may be just one example, but even minor salary differences can lead to all sorts of downsides.

      1. Mike C.*

        That sounds like a management issue – keeping salaries quit would not solve the underlying issues.

    8. Nervous Accountant*

      I see it both ways. Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss. My manager told me that they’re trying to regulate the pay across the board for my position, so Senior Tax Accts get $55k. Then I found out that brand new people who are NOT STA are getting $55 as well. In my case, ignorance was bliss I guess? Bc once I find this out, there’s nothing I can do to change it except GTFO and not look back.

      1. Purplesaurus*

        Ugh, yeah. On one hand, knowing their salary means you can make an informed decision. On the other hand, holy hell bells that sucks.

        1. Nervous Accountant*

          Yep. It sucks royally. This is a major part of my decision making, as much as I love the stability, mst of my coworkers and the work I do, I just can’t decide to stay knowing what I already know. And FWIW, I don’t have any resentment against my coworkers, most of the ppl here work hard and deserve what they’re paid. %-age wise, my increase was pretty huge but that’s bc I was already paid super low to begin with. I mostly resent mostly myself and a little bit my boss for this discrepancy.

    9. chocolate lover*

      I think any time you interact with other humans, there is a potential for downside, as other people in this thread have already shared.

      I agree there’s many benefits to transparency in the name of fairness, but as someone who grew up in a family that had very limited resources, and what little money there was, was used to manipulate and control everyone else, I am extremely private about my financial information. I’m fully aware that that has nothing to do with any individual coworker, but for me, it’s an ingrained self-defense mechanism to keep all information about and access to my money, to myself. If a coworker that I hardly knew (since OP says they’re new) repeatedly prodded me for financial information, I’d resent them. Majorly.

    10. OP1*

      I think one thing I want such colleagues (and there are many people I have met who want to know everything and anything about you!) to know is, “you can ask, but accept that I won’t answer.”

      And to the folks who are okay to share every detail about themselves, please know that I’m not obliged to share personal details just because you shared your life story with me.

      Again, it’s a difference in culture thing, one colleague of mine got grilled by the filing clerk on her second day on how many kids she has, what her husband did for a living, her previous job, how attractive was this current job to her in terms of renumeration etc. Said colleague couldn’t get out of the filing room fast enough. And taught me that people who show a marked interest in you early on may not always be as friendly as they want to appear.

      1. TootsNYC*

        yeah, that sort of early grilling is a clear indicator that the person doesn’t have normal boundaries.

        and you know what they say: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

        1. fposte*

          Though, of course, that’s ironic, because the person saying that in the poem is saying the opposite of the poem’s message.

    11. TootsNYC*

      people can be really judgmental and covetous. And someone who -badgers- you for your salary info is already acting in a covetous manner (“your information should be my information”; “I should get to control you and your stuff/info”–that’s what “coveting” is).

      So now are they going to be commenting and pressuring you about how you spend money, etc.?

  2. Alice*

    OP1 — I’m not sure what you meant when you said “I’m really regretting the decision (as one is expected to).” If you meant that people are expected to stay mum about salary and to regret if they spill the beans — well, I would disagree. If you want to keep your salary private, that’s fine with me (and it should have been fine with your co-worker too), but I don’t think it’s a general expectation that people should never tell anyone their salary. Sharing that info is allowed!
    Or maybe what you meant was along the lines of regretting the decision, as you expected that you would. In that case, ignore this!

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        That’s how I read it too. I have no qualms about sharing things but if I’m pressured or badgered in to it, that’s regrettable and the person shouldn’t have been pressuring OP to share if they didn’t want to.

        1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

          This. I’m a firm believer in being open about salary and feel like transparency across an organization is important.

          But badgering someone into disclosing is just plain wrong.

          1. Nervous Accountant*

            Yeah, I feel like the bigger issue in #1 post is the badgering rather than the salary (though it’s a very good issue to discuss). I like to share but if the new girl is pressuring me with questions about why I don’t have kids, I’m going to be super damn annoyed.

        1. OP1*

          Not exactly badgering but an ex-colleague once I asked me where I buy my clothes (cos we are plus-sized women) and upon hearing that I get my workwear from a store that averages $70-80 a dress, her entire attitude towards me changed. I get that not everyone has the same spending habits towards each area of their lives (eg. Entertainment, food, makeup etc), but ex-colleague was highlighting every chance she got about how I “splash out” on clothes on our entry-level salary.

          Thank goodness she left within a month. I hate to know how she would react if she learnt that I lived in a nice flat.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#5: I had a really similar experience when I was planning to leave my Toxic Job. I knew about 6 weeks in advance that I planned to leave, but I didn’t share that info with others. Between deciding to quit and giving notice, most of my department (3 of 5 staff, including me) decided to quit at the same time—I.e., at the end of the calendar year. Our bosses suspected we’d “colluded” on when we were leaving (we all cited similar systemic problems in the organization related to its culture of toxicity), but we hadn’t. Do they believe us? No. Did it impact our careers negatively? Not one bit.

    The situation sucks but is on your ED and Board. Try not to worry/stress too much. And if your ED asks if you plan to leave, you can either say yes or say “not at this moment,” which isn’t a lie, per se (although it’s somewhat misleading).

    1. Turanga Leela*

      I was in a similar situation too (see below), and if your ED asks you directly, I strongly encourage you to lie. Until you have an offer and a start date, just say you’re not planning to leave. By asking that kind of question, your ED puts you in an impossible situation, and she’s not entitled to a straight answer.

      There’s some degree of dishonesty required when you’re leaving a toxic place. Related: don’t feel pressure to be honest in your exit interview if you think the organization would hold it against you. In a four-person organization, even if someone other than the ED does the interview, your ED will know what you said.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I agree. Im not usually big on situational ethics, but I’m ok with outright lying or intense evasion about whether you plan to leave and your exit interview when you’re working in a Toxic Job or with toxic bosses/people.

      2. Liane*

        Look at it this way: from a certain point of view, you didn’t fully decide to leave until you told them precisely 2 weeks ahead of your last day.

      3. Naruto*

        I agree; I would say, “No, I’m not planning to leave.” I wouldn’t even say “No, not at this moment,” because if they’re listening, they will realize that may mean that you are planning to leave, just not quite yet.

        Besides, you’re not planning to leave until you find a new job. And who knows how long that will take. So, no, technically, you’re not planning to leave and that is a factually accurate statement.

    2. Nervous Accountant*

      Companies (for the most part) feel no guilt when they fire you w/o notice or severance, so why should anyone feel any guilt when giving notice?

      1. Artemesia*

        Bingo. ‘I am not planning to leave anytime soon’ can be defined as ‘not this week.’ No transparency is required for this type question.

  4. Engineer Girl*

    #5 – if she wants you to stay she can pay a nice retention bonus. Otherwise, it’s business and you are a free agent.

  5. Noel*

    OP#2, you should say something. If we accept rudeness as normal, it’ll never change. I’m a little surprised Alison thinks of it as an okay thing for interviewers to say and that the only problem was when they said it.

    1. BuildMeUp*

      What was wrong with what they said, other than that the OP overheard them, though? If they were sitting there trash talking her or something, that would be really bad. But it sounds like all they said was that they wished they could hire their internal candidate (their top choice) without wasting everyone’s time with more interviews. I guess I don’t see how what they said is rude.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, that was the point I was trying to make in my response — that the rude part is their thoughtlessness and lack of discretion. The content of what they said isn’t inherently rude.

          1. Aphrodite*

            Alas, this is very common at the two colleges in my area (one of which is my employer). They go through the whole recruitment process when they know who they are going to hire in about 80 percent of the jobs.

            If you want in, it’s best to either come in as a temp where possible and/or just keep trying, knowing most of it will be a waste of time and effort.

        1. MK*

          Not rude, no, but if you are being forced to go through a certain hiring process, there is a reason for that, usually because the company actually wants you to consider people, other than your buddy the internal candidate, in good faith. If you are going through the process with a “uh, what a waste of time”, you are not doing your job, and you, not the company, is wasting people’s time.

          1. chocolate lover*

            Most of the time when I’ve been an interviewer on a committee and we were forced to go through a certain hiring process (thankfully it didn’t happen too often), it wasn’t about genuinely considering other people at all. It was because they were someone’s friend, someone owed a favor, etc. And they were candidates that we wouldn’t have seriously considered in any scenario, because they didn’t have competitive qualifications. Sometimes I tried to argue that it wasn’t fair to the candidate and we were wasting their time, but ultimately I didn’t get to make that decision.

          2. Observer*

            That may be true. But you don’t know that in any given situation, that the people who’ve made up their mind are wrong. Even when the policies are in place for a reason, there are often good reasons to make an exception. So, you don’t really know whether this situation was one where the staff were being slack or on target.

        2. Stop That Goat*

          She could be better than their candidate but they are already going into the interview with a biased mindset. It may not be exactly rude but I don’t think it’s a particularly good thing either.

      2. Lily*

        Are you even sure that they didn’t want to interview her as a person? From the description I was thinking more of a “Alan has brought really good home made cake and the coffee is ready – damn, it’s already ten?” general complaining about interviewing per se.

        1. Myrin*

          I think the part that made the meaning clear to the OP was the fact they they “expressed that they favored an internal candidate who was in the room with them”. Although she does preface it “I’m quite sure” so maybe there is indeed room for a misunderstanding? (I mean, I doubt it since the OP was there and probably got an overall good feel for the situation but who knows.)

      3. Murphy*

        It’s rude and thoughtless to do it within earshot of the front desk at the time the candidate is about to arrive.

        1. BuildMeUp*

          That’s what I said, though – the only rude part is that they weren’t careful not to be overhead, not the content of the conversation itself.

    2. Narrator for bad mimes*

      It was unfortunate that she overheard the conversation and I know how devastating that can be.
      I got the same feeling when my agent called me the night before my first ever interview straight out of uni saying they had already interviewed someone they really liked and I would have to really impress them at the interview.
      When I got there only one of the two interviewers that were scheduled to meet with me had bothered showing up.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I think Alison’s distinction was right: crankiness can be justified, but it is never flattering.

      They suspect she overheard them. The professional correction for their side really is “We should learn not to leave Don’t yell for us, we’ll come back soon signs on the front desk and then have conversations we don’t want overheard.”

      1. Jenny P*

        I’m the asker on Question #2. My main thinking was that if I do get called in for the second interview (I am definitely a qualified candidate despite not really being considered) do I let them know why I’m not interested in coming for the full tour, meeting all the staff, etc. This is a non-profit and I suspect they are required by their bylaws to advertise all positions and go through the full process.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          I say don’t bother. It sounds like they know (or can be pretty sure) you overheard them, so if you just decline the interview, they can draw their own conclusions. Maybe their next opening won’t have a strong internal candidate!

        2. ErinW*

          I would probably be honest without being cranky, especially since you don’t need the job. “I got the feeling that you’ve already filled the job in your minds, so let’s not all waste an afternoon. Best of luck.”

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          If you don’t want to work there–which would be reasonable!–then I think sticking with something like a very calm, polite, “thank you but I’m withdrawing” is the way to go. As I said downthread (apologies if you already got there) it’s nigh impossible to compose a pointed email that would reliably make them feel worse than the uncertainty is, rather than providing some tiny fig leaf on which they could hang the emotional reaction “well we were right, we knew she wouldn’t fit, just look at this comma placement.”

          It’s also possible that the persons receiving your email and the ones making the comments are separate, so preserving the possibility of a lingering positive impression with someone you might in future encounter is zero cost to you.

          If you think you would consider working there, then if offered a second interview I’d mentally insert a conversation you didn’t overhear in which someone who didn’t speak up in the first one dragged everyone over the rails for being close-minded, and they were humbled and are giving a couple of outside candidates a fair shake at the second round, having realized the foolishness of clinging to “I’ve already got an answer, why would I risk encountering more information that might undermine it?”

        4. the gold digger*

          At OldCompany, we were positive – POSITIVE – we wanted to hire Janet. We had worked with her for a few years – she was an admin for a broker – and we all liked her. But we still interviewed other candidates.

          And Cheryl blew us away. Even though we went into the interview with her thinking it was just a formality that we had to do, we liked her so much better than Janet. And we loved Janet.

          We offered the job to Cheryl. It can happen. Don’t withdraw. If nothing else, you will get good practice interviewing.

          1. Anna Held*

            I don’t know though. It’s just so unprofessional (and stupid). I’d be tempted to write a polite but curt letter stating why you’re withdrawing, and cc everyone. They have this process for a reason, and they’re NOT going to get an outside star candidate if they’re 1) not really looking and 2) treating the candidates badly so they don’t get a fair shot. If I were the boss, I’d want to know that my employees are screwing up my process and wasting everyone’s time, and therefore perhaps not making the best hiring decisions.

            This assumes that the OP doesn’t mind burning that bridge, which it sounds like she doesn’t. But if she had been desperate for the job….what would you say to a candidate who took off a day of work to go to this interview? Or bought a new suit because this might be the big chance? This reflects so badly on the non-profit, I’m not sure why everyone’s tiptoeing around them. Especially since non-profits generally have to more concerned for their reputation, not less.

            1. serenity*

              Ok, this is a bit hyperbolic. As Alison and others stated above, it’s unfortunate that OP overheard this but it wasn’t inherently rude and, in fact, this kind of discussion happens frequently around hiring and interviewing decisions.

              This organization isn’t treating candidates “badly” and encouraging people to write angry letters withdrawing their candidacy due to relatively harmless overheard remarks is not great advice.

    4. Taylor Swift*

      Do you really think that OP saying something is going to change their behavior, though? I understand the outcome you want, I just don’t think it’s going to happen here. OP is just going to sound defensive and her complaints will probably go in one ear and out the other.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I agree. Anyway, judging by their reaction when they came out and saw her, they KNOW she overheard them. It’s not necessary to call them out on it. This is one instance where the high road is probably the way to go. If OP decided she didn’t want to continue in the interview process, she could gracefully withdraw with something like “I’m not sure this position is a good fit for me; I would like to respectfully withdraw my candidacy. Thank you for considering my qualifications. Best of luck in your search.”

  6. BuildMeUp*

    OP2, I’m sorry that happened, and I’m glad that you already have a job you like. It sounds from your description like the people you interviewed with are probably already aware that you overheard them. Hopefully they will be more careful in the future!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      It would be really hard to compose an email that would be more cringe-inducing (in the sense OP would want) than is the uncertainty of wondering just how much she overheard and trying to remember what precisely they said and when, and being pretty sure the answer suggests they were doofuses. On an emotional level, they would probably welcome an email that could be spun as “See! We were right, she is (crankier/moodier/pettier/a poorer font chooser) than internal candidate. Whew! Bullet dodged!” and OP should not supply it.

      1. ro*

        That is a really great point!

        Since there’s nothing positive to be gained for the OP in letting them know they behaved poorly, just let it drop and hope they are sufficiently embarrassed and will learn from this incident.

        1. Nico m*

          What you shouldn’t do is go to the 2nd interview and have a loud public conversation on your mobile while waiting .” Yeah I’m at that rude place. Don’t want the job but I need the interview practice”
          That would be wrong.

  7. Turanga Leela*

    OP #5, I was in your situation a couple of years ago: tiny nonprofit, lots of simultaneous turnover, and ED who personalizes things. For the love of puppies, don’t let your ED know you might be leaving! One thing to bear in mind is that you don’t necessarily know when you’re leaving at all. It took me about 1.5 years from when I first started looking to when I finally left. My boss definitely would have restricted my professional development and/or forced me out early if he had known I was planning to leave.

    My former boss was furious when I left, but I realized later that he would have been mad no matter what. I can’t know what your ED is like, but with mine, there was literally nothing I could have done to keep him happy—he was going to take my resignation as a betrayal. All I could do was minimize the amount of time in which he knew I was leaving and be appropriate, pleasant, and professional during the whole transition. My boss may wind up badmouthing me to people, but all he can say is something like, “Leela didn’t tell me she was looking for a job and then only gave two weeks’ notice!” and normal employers should realize that that says more about him than about me.

    1. Thornus67*

      #5 reminds me of my old job. Attorney position with a really small firm. A few years ago, on Easter, the bosses called us all in out of the blue (including demanding that another associate return hours early from his trip out of town) to let us know that Senior Associate was leaving. Older Boss was rather mad about it all, furious that he was given “only” four weeks notice (there were no outstanding cases to litigate or anything). He stated that in our line of work, he really needed six months notice, which is laughable. He then stated that if ever asked for a reference for the guy he would say that Senior Associate was a good worker and great attorney but that he was really dissatisfied with the amount of notice given. He then asked us all if any of us were looking to leave (which I was at the time but never ended up getting a job to leave for). Why he expected an honest answer there, I don’t know.

      When I finally quit, without a job lined up, I gave the bosses two weeks notice. I actually had known when I was going to quit for about three months already, but I knew that the moment I gave notice, they would sweep me out the door. So I maximized my pay from them. I was grilled over the next two weeks about how long I had known that I was going to quit, but I stuck to my guns that it was a family decision made over a long weekend.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Exactly. After I resigned, the only explanation I gave of my timeline was, “This all happened very quickly. I got the offer last week, I just accepted, and they need me to start in two weeks.” My boss was clearly suspicious that I’d been planning to leave for a long time (and also said he had wanted 4-5 months notice! which was impossible, because I was taking a government job that needed someone to start quickly). He never asked for any more details about the timeline in which I’d been interviewing, and if he had asked, I would have said I wasn’t comfortable responding.

        1. PollyQ*

          he had wanted 4-5 months notice

          Yeah, and I want a solid gold rocket pony, but life’s tough sometimes.

      2. neverjaunty*

        And you just know how your old bosses would have reacted if they had hired a replacement for Senior Associate and been told “Actually, I won’t be starting for another six months because I need to give my bosses that much notice”.

        1. Thornus67*

          Heh. They never actually hired a replacement. About two years later, Junior Associate left (after actually giving them like four months notice). Then eight months after JA left, I quit. That left them with only one remaining associate. They ended up hiring a fresh out of law school, just passed the bar associate four or five months after I quit.

          The perils of being a small law firm which got in trouble with the IRS for misclassifying all of its workers (associate attorneys down to paralegals down to all but one receptionist) as independent contractors. All this while offering starting salaries less than the local ADA office.

        2. Eve*

          I had a temp agency call me for a job in their office. She was upset the office manager “only gave a 4 week notice” but also mad I wanted to give my current job non-temp job 2 weeks. She asked if I could just do a week. I didn’t get the job and I consider it a bullet dodged.

      3. JanetInSC*

        The senior attorney qualifies for the “Worst Boss of the Year” Award. Please write this up as a separate letter to Allison, with even more detail. Glad you got out of there!

        1. Anononon*

          Unfortunately, this behavior is very common in tiny law firms. At my medium sized firm now, most of us associates have our own horror stories from prior jobs.

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Yikes, OP#3. Alison is spot on. Have the conversation, but honestly, I would fire this student before they start with you. I’m having a very hard time thinking of any circumstance in which timecard fraud is ok, and I can’t think of one. If someone has done this twice at your institution, I don’t have much faith that they’ve learned from their prior thievery and won’t do it again when so little time has passed.

    At the risk of beating a dead horse, reference checks are really important and worth doing. I have only had one non-academic job where someone falsified their credentials during hiring. Conversely, all of the 6 academic (in the research/RA sense) jobs I’ve had included coworkers who had committed pretty intense misrepresentation, fraud, or outright lied during hiring or after they began work. How did they slip past hiring? No one did a reference check until (1) things were already going suspiciously bad, or (2) a prior academic boss called to warn our PI about that person’s prior theft/fraud/deception.

    I doggedly reference check, and it’s saved me (in my new-ish academic job) from poor hiring decisions involving student workers at least 3x in the past year. I haven’t taken a hit in my hiring pool despite being more thorough/strict than my colleagues—my RAs and students workers are (so far) freaking amazing.

    1. neverjaunty*

      All of this. OP, you should certainly have that conversation with the student in the open-ended way Alison suggests, if only for your peace of mind.

      It’s true that sometimes you’ll have students without much in the way of work history – but that doesn’t mean you should skip asking, or that you should skip checking out the ones who do have references. You just got an object lesson in why.

      1. OP #3*

        I will have the conversation with him.

        I definitely have some things to learn when it comes to interviewing. In hindsight, I totally neglected to ask about why he was looking for a new job; I cared more about what he learned from his past jobs and whether he would be comfortable working in our lab environment. When I spoke to my colleagues, they don’t reference check either, so this is something all of the career staff need to change.

        1. fposte*

          I will expand this to say it’s not just checking provided references; it’s assessing them against the resume provided. Unless he was really dumb or really nervy, he wasn’t going to include the supervisors of those jobs as references anyway–he was going to include his freshman advisor and the parents he babysits for and the head of his bike club, or whoever, who would say reasonably decent things. It would be up to you to note the mismatch between the resume and at the references and either say to him, “Why don’t you have references from the relevant jobs we talked about?” or call the supervisors in those positions, or both.

    2. Snowglobe*

      It’s possible that after being fired twice he has learned a lesson – that time card fraud can be discovered and can lead to termination – so he may not try that particular thing again. But someone willing to commit fraud is someone who lacks integrity, and that can come out in any number of ways. I would have a hard time trusting this employee with anything, which is why I’d likely fire him (after having the conversation that Alison suggested, just in case there is more to the story than has already been told.)

    3. (Different) Rebecca*

      Now. This is a completely different situation. But, there is a way where extending/shorting/not working the exact shifts you’re down for is very okay, and I’ve done it before.

      When I worked for the school newspaper, we were allotted 10 paid hours per week, with no more than five hours per day. But it was a newspaper, and we were reporters, and some of us were never in the office–we were out hunting stories or writing. Yet the school still needed a time sheet. Those time sheets were *never* accurate. It wasn’t theft, it wasn’t falsifying records, it was working within the system that was set up and ensuring that we got paid.

      That the person in OP3’s letter is working in a lab is a very important distinction, and I think they should be watched and/or fired, I’m merely pushing back against the absolutism in your comment.

      1. Observer*

        Why would your time sheet be inaccurate just because you were out of the office? If someone told me that story, without a LOT more explanation, I’d conclude that they had just learned to be a bit smarter about their cheating, but not smart enough.

        1. (Different) Rebecca*

          Sorry, there is a missing part that I forgot, as it’s been a while since I worked there: in order to log hours ‘accurately,’ you had to be logged into the computer system. That wasn’t possible (this was before smartphones were the norm) while interviewing or attending events on which one would report. We would tally up our times before the end of the pay-period, then log on for that amount of hours and log out when they were up.

          1. Observer*

            Yeah, that’s a REALLY big piece of the story. Why couldn’t your supervisor log your time for you? Your bosses were being REALLY stupid.

            1. (Different) Rebecca*

              The actual employees of the university (not student/work-study) couldn’t log-in for student accounts (because FERPA), nor could the managers of the newspaper, who were students themselves. And there was no mechanism for submitting hourly timesheets after the time on them had passed. The system was, to put it delicately, inelegant.

      2. Snark*

        “I’m merely pushing back against the absolutism in your comment.”

        …why? This has nothing to do with your situation. You can’t do lab work outside the lab. Whatever gray area exists here, “clocked in for shifts never worked” is way into the black, and we can be absolute here. What the student did was absolutely wrong.

        And I personally think they need to be fired immediately. Other good candidates were interviewed, and what better time than college to learn how consequences work?

        1. (Different) Rebecca*

          The absolutism I’m pushing back against is the idea that “I’m having a very hard time thinking of any circumstance in which timecard fraud is ok, and I can’t think of one.” I disagree, and that’s what I responded to. Alternative reporting of hours worked does not *necessarily* imply cheating, fraud, or gaming the system. It does in the OP’s situation, but not in mine, and if someone looked at mine it might *look* like the OP’s while being totally acceptable.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But “timecard fraud” by definition is fraud. It’s right there in the words. It’s not “alternate reporting of hours”; it’s explicitly referring to fraud.

            1. Artemesia*

              We nearly had a very good AA fired when there was a crack down on time card fraud and she had assisted employees with hour shifting i.e. the system didn’t easily accommodate comp time and alternative hours, so she had them report hours they didn’t work although they worked those same hours at a different time. Only the Department head using lots of chips saved her job and she was on probation. So yeah there can be technical ‘fraud’ that doesn’t actually defraud.

          2. Snark*

            “Alternative reporting of hours worked” …..is not time card fraud. If you are reporting hours as directed by your manager, and you worked roughly number of hours in reality, you are not committing time card fraud.

            There is no circumstance in which reporting that you worked eight hours when you worked no hours, and your boss thinks you worked eight hours and paid you for eight hours, is anything but time card fraud.

            1. Artemesia*

              We don’t know the details in this case though. And hour shifting is defined as fraud if the time card is not accurate even if all the hours are worked.

              1. Snark*

                We’re getting far into nitpicky territory and that’s not cool. OP needs to be taken at their word, and we need to assume that if OP says they were told that the student claimed shifts they never worked on at least two separate occasions at two on-campus jobs, to the point that the university has made it known that labs won’t be reimbursed for subsequent infractions, that’s exactly what they were told and a fair representation of reality as we know it. Please.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                OP actually provided more information which verifies that this was in fact fraud.

    4. Government Worker*

      In my student job, we were paid the max student rate allowed by the university (which was something like $8/hour 15 years ago), for work that was skilled and would have been very expensive to hire out to regular employees (I was a theater tech). After particularly grueling projects, when we went to leave our supervisors would sometimes tell us, “Oh, it’s X o’clock” when it wasn’t X yet, meaning that we could put down that time on our timesheets even though we hadn’t worked that many hours. It was their way of giving us a small bonus and making up for the crappy pay. But in the eyes of the university it would probably have been time card fraud.

      Now, this was pretty small scale – an hour or two here and there – and if OP’s student had problems with submitting for entire shifts he didn’t show up for at two different jobs it’s very unlikely there’s a good explanation. But there are reasons to ask before taking a hard line, especially with students.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        But you received express permission to pad your time. That’s not the situation OP’s colleague described at all.

        Of course OP should ask the hire about this, but I’m troubled by the idea that because people have one-off experiences where their supervisors permitted them to deviate from timekeeping rules (which is problematic for other reasons) is somehow equivalent to someone submitting unapproved, falsified timecards.

  9. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 In a world* where every previous employer can be called for a reference, how can someone who screwed up and made a mistake ever escape that mistake? It will follow them around forever. A campus job seems to me to be one of the few opportunities to change and do better without being fired over and over.

    It is possible this student has learned from his mistakes. Whatever you do, don’t weight information about his past ahead of information about the present. You haven’t had problems yet.

    I would ask him about it neutrally and really listen to his reaction and what he says. And then I wouldn’t go down the line of: we are onto you and you are one screw-up away from being fired. I would tell him he was a real chance to do well and get a good reference and you hope he’ll rise to the occasion. Set high expectations, not low ones.

    Students can do some incredibly dumb and thoughtless things. Some also do some very desperate things due to financial hardship or stress. There are no excuses but there may be reasons. And if university isn’t a place to learn and reinvent yourself and leave mistakes behind, then what is?

    Just don’t teach him that he can’t do better than this because nobody will let him or believe it of him.

    (*I don’t live in that world, people only contact references I specifically list, but AAM has taught me it’s different over there.)

    1. Artemesia*

      Signing in for shifts you don’t work is not a mistake. Accidentally shredding the wrong document is a mistake. Mistyping or misfiling is a mistake. Forgetting to drop off the mail is a mistake. Screwing up the format of the press release is a mistake. Signing in for a shift and then not working it is fraud; it is intentional theft; it is a sign of seriously untrustworthy behavior. The only excuse would be if he had been advised (perhaps by a peer) that it was okay to time shift i.e. sign in for X but then actually work Y for some sort of hours per week issue. There are time sheet frauds that while inappropriate are not intentional fraud; they represent false recording but not cheating on time worked. Only in such a case should this person be retained.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          At a different employer, I would say.

          He’s applying for jobs at the same university where he was caught falsifying time cards for not one, but two different positions. That should make him ineligible for rehire at that university, for at least the duration of his degree (and probably permanently). It also indicates that this is a pattern of behaviour, not a one off mistake where he didn’t understand how things work.

          And this is a very a good time for him to learn the lesson. He can leave student positions off his resume completely without causing undue suspicion, and a post-university employer would generally not have contacts in common with his previous supervisors.

        2. Observer*

          Well, he DID get a second chance. Third chances are a lot harder to come by and are going to need more work to get and retain.

          At minimum, he’s going to need to work with a lot less autonomy for a good while, where someone can be looking over his shoulder.

          1. Infinity Anon*

            The fact that he did it TWICE really stood out to me. He is unlikely to change if he did it at two separate jobs.

        3. Artemesia*

          Not at the business where he committed fraud. He needs to go get a job somewhere else and build his record from scratch. It is early in his career, he can do that.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Just to be clear: I didn’t use the word mistake to mean something you did by accident or without realising it was wrong.

        People can change, if they have opportunities to do better. Maybe they do maybe they don’t. But if they don’t get any chance to change, what then?

        Sometimes people do really stupid things.

        Hardly anyone is just a Bad Person. It is almost never that simple.

        1. Student*

          You also don’t change away from doing stupid things like time card fraud that unless it causes you some significant discomfort.

          Asking about it is pretty fair game.

          Getting passed up for a job where there are many other candidates who haven’t committed time card fraud is also fair game.

          Consider the other candidate’s perspective, when you consider fairness – is it fair to be an equally good candidate who got passed up in favor of a guy who’s known to try to defraud his employer?

          He shouldn’t be unemployable for the rest of time. He should suffer some penalty for it. He should learn that a professional reputation is worth something. If he wants to rebuild, then he can get a job where there’s less well-qualified competition and start working on his rep there.

          1. TootsNYC*

            and Ramona Flowers’ point is that THIS could be the opportunity for him to be called to account, and to learn.

            And that framing it as a call to the positive (“this is a danger to you–here’s why. And this is your chance to prove your trustworthiness”) instead of a warning about the negative (“we’re on to you; we’ll be watching you like a hawk”) might have more effect.

            And of course, you fire him is you catch him doing it.

            1. Artemesia*

              Good point. Hiring him again at the same place he has twice committed fraud will teach him to commit fraud as no one cares and it is sometimes convenient to do so.

        2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          He had an opportunity to change with the 2nd position and committed timecard fraud again. If it was once, I would agree with you, but doing the same thing 2x and getting fired 2x for it? The learning moment has passed.

          1. Liane*

            This. We have had questions from OPs who realized, usually by a serious consequence, that they were very wrong. The employee who lied about the eclipse trip last week, for example.
            But, it was *the first time they did it*, not a series of similar actions. I think the student has had their chances at this school.

            1. Mike C.*

              Even then, people were more than happy to sermonize over how the employee deserved to be fired and how they learned a “very important lesson”.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Well, and he did — which he himself said. Now he’s not going to keep doing that, and he’s going to be better off professionally as a result of not continuing to do that. You can call that “sermonizing” or you can call that “it’s really helpful to figure out the consequences of certain actions while you’re still early enough in your career that it won’t have long-lasting results.”

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          I would be more inclined to the second chance over the third; having reread I’m not sure where I fall.

          I had initially read this letter as “faked two time cards at his last position, and was then caught,” where it might be that someone could learn from a real bone-headed mistake they made at 18 and not repeat it at 19. I am a huge advocate of “18 is a legal adult; act like it” but I do expect more stumbles than with someone with more experience to rest on.

          If they got a second chance, even if an unwitting one on the employer’s part, and screwed up in the same way, I’d be a lot less likely to give a third. But worth talking to them, probably, to be sure you had all the facts. (In the job I held for sophomore through senior year, it was budgeted as 10 hours/week and so long as I completed my work each week, my boss was happy to have me write 10 hours on my time card and leave early if I was done.)

          1. SpaceySteph*

            Yeah when I was an RA we were required to fill out our timecards for 10 hours a week. But we rotated nightly duty assignments and scheduled our own events, so some weeks we didn’t work a full 10 hours and some weeks we worked more than 10 hours. Also we were only allowed to clock 4 hours on any particular day, so even if I was on duty from 4pm to midnight, I couldn’t clock it as such. After getting my timecard returned to me for accurately recording my hours, I just started putting 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, regardless of what I actually worked.
            If the student had a job like that in the past it might explain why he thought timecards were a little more fluid. It is still a good teaching opportunity to explain that most jobs are *not* like that, so I would still say talk to him.

      2. John Zoidberg*

        A mistake is “an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong”. It was almost certainly not an accident, but it was definitely a mistake. It’s also fraud, and likely intentional. But also a mistake.

        Depending on how he answers the question about his time card fraud, I might give him another chance and watch him like a hawk. Or let him know his answer is not good enough, that it seems like he didn’t learn his lesson, and therefore I can’t trust him so he’d have to find another job.

        1. Artemesia*

          ‘I made a terrible mistake and robbed the bank.’ ‘I mistakenly shot the sheriff.’ Not working for me.

      3. Trout 'Waver*

        I have seen professors encourage time card fraud as a reward for favored student employees. It’s rare, obviously. But it does happen.

        Professors in the sciences are given no leadership training and are rarely given even rudimentary book-keeping skills. Yet they’re asked to manage large, complex teams with multi-million dollar budgets. I’ve seen some astoundingly unprofessional and bad behavior from professors at very prestigious universities.

    2. neverjaunty*

      And if university isn’t a place to learn and reinvent yourself and leave mistakes behind, then what is?

      Now that *is* an excuse.

      There’s nothing special about the act of being enrolled in college that should make one’s mistakes more understandable or worthy of a do-over. (It’s always amazing to me how ‘junior in college did dumb thing X’ is so much more likely to get cut slack for doing X than ‘nineteen-year-old fast food employee did dumb thing X’.)

      And a really good way to learn not to do stupid, dishonest stuff ever again is to learn that there are actual consequences for stupid and dishonest behavior.

      OP should absolutely have the conversation AAM suggests, because the response will tell her everything she needs to know about whether he had a stupid but temporary lapse in integrity, or whether he’s going to deny, excuse, and try to BS his way out of it. What she *shouldn’t* do is indulgently let it go with a finger-wag because he’s a student.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        But after the consequences, what then? The person never ever gets another job? Okay, great, everything is right in the world again then?

        1. PatPat*

          It’s not the employer’s problem to worry about whether this student is employable elsewhere. The employer’s goal is to hire someone who can do the job and not steal from them, not to worry about whether this thieving student is employable. The student needs to look out for his own career trajectory and learning that stealing has consequences is a lesson he needs to learn.

        2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          He got another job after getting fired once and then did the exact same thing at the 2nd job and got fired again. How many learning moments does one need to learn not to commit fraud?

            1. serenity*

              That’s a question with nothing but rhetorical answers built-in to possible responses, and I think you know that.

              It’s entirely dependent on factors unique to the individual, the situation(s), and possibly other areas. How could any one *rule* or answer fit each case like this?

              And I think others *did* cover the most relevant part of this case, which is to point out that the student did this more than once and face consequences for it more than once, which washes away claims that this was an *innocent* mistake committed by an uncomprehending student.

            2. Observer*

              After he gets a job in another place with less responsibility and autonomy where he starts to rebuild his credibility.

              1. Snark*

                A campus research tech job is an amazing opportunity. You get to essentially make your own hours, you’ve got a lot of autonomy, you might get your name at the end of an author list on a paper, you learn practical skills, you get mentors and good recommendations. If you screw up and steal time, those are benefits you lose. You go flip some burgers and you hopefully resolve that you will never, ever do that again, and since you’re 20, you get to learn that lesson pretty gently.

            3. New Bee*

              He can get a job off-campus. If OP fires him, he can leave this one off his resume and he’ll still have 2 jobs where he got fired, so he’s no worse off.

              Campus jobs are often at a premium because of the convenience factor, and labs frequently let students set their own schedules and work when others aren’t around. There’d have to be a really good reason to let this student do that, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t work somewhere where the clock-ins are more closely monitored, like fast food.

              1. OP #3*

                This isn’t that type of job. I work in a “shared-use” facility. Basically, we’re like a library, except full of lab equipment. Professors pay to use the facility and I’m part of the staff that maintains the equipment. We need students to run some of the more mundane (but vital!) jobs. There are definitely shifts. The number one thing we tell students when we hire them is that we’re flexible, but we expect you to update your supervisor if you need to reschedule. We expect them to be in the lab when they say they’re going to be there.

                1. New Bee*

                  Thanks OP! Will someone who knows about the situation always be there when he’s there? Given your last sentence, it seems to me that would need to be true for you to monitor him, and it’d be fair if you decided you didn’t want to take that on. I hope you send in an update.

                2. fposte*

                  @NewBee–it’s the monitoring that’s my concern. I need my student staff to be able to work unmonitored, so this would be a big problem for me.

                1. New Bee*

                  I ran out of nesting above but we’re in agreement about the monitoring. Not only would I not want to expend the energy, but also generally when I know I’m doing the mental countdown of, “How soon until you screw up?” it’s best to pass on the person.

            4. Artemesia*

              It ends when the little thief has to go get a job at McDonalds instead of the University. The University doesn’t hire him again. He doesn’t have to list his University job; he can start his resume with McDonalds and go from there.

        3. Naruto*

          Look for a job with a different employer. Don’t list your jobs where you committed time-card fraud on your resume.

          They’re like 19 years old. They can get a job somewhere in customer service without this on their resume. And if they perform better, they can get a good reference out of that one, or at least something they can list on their resume.

          1. FemaleProgrammer*

            This! There are plenty of students who work hard and don’t falsify their time sheets or cheat on their tests – maybe those students should get the better jobs?

            Someone who got caught twice falsifying time sheets should probably leave that job off of the list and resolve to be honest from this point forward.

        4. Snark*

          “What then?” Beats me. Why should I particularly care? They go get a job that’s not the cream of college employment, they learn a lesson, they live their lives.

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        I’m going to stop reading this thread as I’m getting really worked up. But I will say this: college students have crap loads of debt, that’s why I mentioned it.

          1. neverjaunty*

            We don’t know a damn thing about this person’s finances, either. Some college students have massive debt. Others are getting a free ride from the Bank of Mom and Dad.

            And if the the OP was hiring on the private sector for a fast-food restaurant, I highly doubt anyone would suggest cutting so much slack for a “mistake”.

          2. Risha*

            No, but I had at least one friend in college who ended up with $5 to eat with (no meal plan, no job, no car and a severe hand injury and tiny college town 35 minutes drive to the next nearest town of any size where he could maybe find a job) for three weeks. Desperate people do desperate things.

            1. Observer*

              Twice?! At least several months apart?!

              One time, I could see. But the second time? Unless you are in the Serengeti, when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.

          3. Tuxedo Cat*

            Exactly. My friends and I in college had plenty of financial obligations including sending money home for the family, paying for college, and so on. Some of us had to do that on top of keeping a good GPA to keep scholarships that were the only means for us to go to college. As far as I know, none of us committed fraud.

        1. Colette*

          Going into debt for college is a choice – she could have decided college wasn’t worth it, chosen a cheaper program, worked more to pay for the program, etc.

          Why should that entitle her to a third chance at a good job over a student who has just as much debt but doesn’t commit fraud?

        2. Mookie*

          I appreciate reading your perspective on this, Ramona Flowers, and I think I understand where you’re coming from. You always strike me as a compassionate and clear-eyed commenter, so thanks, sincerely, for providing a dissenting voice here.

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            Thanks Mookie. I just think sometimes we really want bad people to be put away in the Bad People box, never to be seen or heard from again. But I’d prefer to live in a more nuanced world. And I have seen for myself that the expectations you set can make a big difference.

            1. Annonymouse*

              I can see your perspective however I think you are being too generous to the student in question.

              They can have another chance to prove they can be a good worker. But just not at the university at this time. They’ve poisoned that well and thrown away 2 previous chances.

              It is too recent and too big a transgression to overlook.

              This doesn’t stop them from getting a job off campus or on campus a year or two down the road.

              This is a natural and understandable consequence of their recent actions. In failing to keep this job it teaches them that your past actions impact your current reputation and your reputation is damn important. But they’re still young enough to start their reputation over. Just not at the university at this time.

              Will this follow them around forever? No.
              But it is unfair to the other equally qualified and more trustworthy students to not even get a first chance because someone else needs a third one.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I strongly disagree. Timecard fraud is effectively theft, which makes it a massive integrity issue. From what I understand, even small children understand that stealing is wrong.

      If this were cheating, my experience has been that the first time you fail the assignment (and possibly the class), and the second time you may be placed on academic probation or expelled. This student has committed fraud at least twice—that’s a significant problem that merits blackballing. When does he get another shot? With essentially any off-campus employer, because he’s still going to be seen as an entry-level worker outside of the academic research world.

      This isn’t Jean Valjean stealing bread for a starving family. As a student who had to work 60+ hours per week and is still paying off insane amounts of debt, I am wholly unsympathetic to the argument that students might not know not to steal wages because they take on a daunting amount of debt. There are any number of students in financially precarious positions who do not resort to stealing, and it’s a disservice to them to imply that the student’s behavior could be excused by his (presumed) financial distress, poverty, or naïveté. Even if the student had a sympathetic explanation, it would have to be pretty extreme for me to give him another chance, and even then, I don’t think it would excuse theft.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I should clarify, though, that I do think OP should ask the student and do so with an open mind. There’s always the possibility that the student did not commit fraud and that the colleague is being vindictive for non-professional reasons. But I think it’s important to ask and to evaluate the reaction.

        1. Julianne*

          I guess it’s even possible that the student worker could compellingly explain that he has indeed learned his lesson in a way that would lead the letter writer to decide to keep him on (probably still with appropriate scrutiny). I can’t imagine what that would sound like, but I think it’s within the range of possibilities. I absolutely agree that the letter writer should ask about it, and be prepared to really listen to what the student has to say.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I think time card falsifying could cover a huge range. From “wrote down the hours someone senior told me I should” to some head-rubbing behavior a la the third admin who tried to slip out on Friday when the other two were gone, assuming no one senior would notice that there was no one working all day.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It sounds like he submitted timecards for time he did not spend in the lab, and it also sounds like that practice was not approved by his PI (based on the colleague’s report). Of course, OP should dive deeper into this, because there’s a small chance that this is a huge misunderstanding or that the student was not being dishonest, but rather, misunderstood or misapplied internal timekeeping practices in the lab that deviate from University regulations. I’m pretty skeptical about the latter, but it’s worth sussing out before penalizing someone.

        3. Snark*

          Here’s the thing, though: the university is going to hold OP3’s lab responsible for his stolen wages if he does it again. I understand that it’s most fair to give him his say and a chance, but is OP3 really willing – and should they be expected to – gamble, what, a few hundred bucks maybe, on a repeated time thief? That’s not a chance I’d take with my grant money.

      2. Timeaftertime*

        Fun fact: I was fired from my first post-college job for Time card fraud. I would document 40 hours every week, even if I only worked, let’s say, 37. I thought since it was a full-time job, I was being paid for 40 hours, even if I could finish my work in less. I basically was under the impression that I was making a salary (since in my head, full-time desk job = salaried position), but that they had to pay by the hour for some reason. My excuse is that I was real stupid, thought I knew what I was doing, and didn’t think to ask the question.

        I’ve never done it again. I’m extremely careful with documenting my time now, even when it’s not necessary. So people can change after doing something like this.

        Now this guy who did it twice, at the same employer? I dunno. That’s tough.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This was the way my 10 hour/week work-study job was set up. I worked for the department accountant, who approved everyone’s time cards, and so long as I finished all my work and she knew when I’d be in or out she didn’t care if I actually only worked 9 hours.

        2. Infinity Anon*

          I decided which hours to report on my timesheet for my first lab job because there was a cap on the number of hours we could work in a week and I usually worked more than that. It was a weird situation because I was also doing independent study in the same lab. Probably not a good set up, but it did not teach me how to track my time well for a time sheet. Now that I oversee student workers, I can see how they can easily mess up their time sheets. I am frequently asked whether things like lab meeting or lunch should be clocked out or not. Making a mistake on a time sheet is one thing. Reporting that you were there on a day that you actually weren’t is completely different.

    4. Maya Elena*

      I’m sure someone will hire him for something – maybe something less nice and respectable and well-paid, but it’s not like he’d go on some global employment blacklist, like a Communist or something. Realistically, he’d only need to get hired once or twice before the misconduct is too long ago for anyone to care.

    5. Casper Lives*

      Time card fraud, if it happened, is not a mistake. I made mistakes in my 1st on campus student job, such as emailing notices with wrong info to donors. This is theft.

      Also, this worker is still a student. I think OP would have mentioned if the two (2!) time card theft situations were long ago, so we’re looking at 1-3 years ago. That’s not nearly long enough for theft to be forgotten.

        1. NaoNao*

          Yeah, agreed, I think you mean “mistaken *judgement*” or “mistaken priorities”. Like, the line of thinking that lead to his actions was mistaken. But not that it was an unintentional error.

          In this case, perhaps “lapse in judgement” or “mess-up” might be a closer term. It’s like when you say dating so and so was “a mistake”. It’s not that you inadvertently dated someone for however many years, it’s that looking back now with clear eyes and better judgement, you see your thinking and judgement were “mistaken”.

    6. KHB*

      If the university is such a great environment for learning from your mistakes, why didn’t he learn from his mistake the first time? His previous boss (at the second of the two jobs where he committed fraud) probably thought she was doing the right thing by giving him another chance, only to have him turn around and do exactly the same thing on her.

      If there’s a lesson for him to learn from all this, it’s that he can be as deceitful and unethical as he wants, and there will always be people willing to support him and give him the benefit of the doubt and give him another chance. Which is a dangerous (though sadly not inaccurate) lesson for privileged young men to learn.

      1. Starbuck*

        Yeah, can’t say I agree with the people arguing that this third chance will be where they finally learn a lesson. What lesson?? The lesson that they can get away with fraud with no consequences? Yikes! That would be doing them a huge disservice, not a favor.

    7. Elemeno P.*

      There is a manager at my old workplace who was caught committing timekeeper fraud earlier in his career. He was demoted, and then worked his way back up. They didn’t fire him since this is an industry that hires pretty young and he was otherwise a great worker, and they figured him doing something dumb didn’t mean he was terrible forever. I’m glad they gave him another chance.

      That said, if he did it twice, I’m sure he would be fired, and this kid did it twice in a row. I think LW is good to ask about what happened to see if the kid learned from it. Hopefully he did!

      1. Anna Held*

        What bothers me is that this is all coming through the rumor mill. At least one of the supposed time card frauds was not related to the OP by the worker’s boss. Yes, there should be real consequences, but then there has to be real processes in place to document those. The OP should reach out to the bosses of the worker in his previous position and find out what actually happened and whether she wants to retain this worker based on the new information. But the bigger problem is that the “one employer” is acting like a bunch of employers, because that’s how it is in academia, and the students know that. I wonder whether it’s worth reaching out to the student’s dean to ask about academic fraud, or whether this sort of behavior could be an honor code violation (assuming that the time card problems are clear and documented).

        1. KHB*

          I don’t think anyone’e suggesting that the OP should fire the student without first checking to make sure the rumor is true. As others have pointed out, it’s possible that it might not be, or that the student’s actions, though technically timecard fraud, might have had a legitimate reason.

          But it’s also possible that the rumor IS true, and that it’s just as bad as it appears to be. And the most interesting question (to me, anyway) is what the OP should do if that turns out to be the case.

        2. OP #3*

          My boss knows the person who is making the claim. HR and his past supervisors are working to recoup the fraudulent pay. While I want to hear his side of the story, the claim rises above “rumor mill” to me.

          My unit had a previous problem with a student who committed time card fraud; same thing but we were the “victims”. She stopped showing up for work and yet continued to clock in/out. When confronted, she denied and got defensive. We absolutely marched that up the student ethics chain of command.

          1. Chinook*

            “She stopped showing up for work and yet continued to clock in/out. When confronted, she denied and got defensive. ”

            If two students were able to do this, the time card system needs to be made more secure as well. I know that my electronic time cards have to be verified by my supervisor weekly before I can be paid, so there is not opportunity for me to be paid without someone confirming my hours. Is that not happening there? Or is it being caught almost immediately? And should there be a part of their onboarding to emphasize that this is not acceptable behavior and that they will be caught? This sounds a bit like a pattern in your school and at other schools.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              Changing the whole system because of a few bad actors could be detrimental to morale if it made all the good employees feel like they weren’t trusted or required more oversight.

              I’m not saying don’t do it, but I would proceed with caution if you followed that course of action.

        3. Snark*

          “What bothers me is that this is all coming through the rumor mill. ”

          Two employers at the same institution sharing experience is not “the rumor mill.” Nobody warns a lab manager about a $19k research assistant because they’re drama llamas.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Yes, they absolutely do. It doesn’t appear to be the case in this instance. Academics is a hotbed for malicious gossip.

            1. serenity*

              Academics is a hotbed for malicious gossip

              Ok, nope. Academia is prone to the same amount of workplace, morale, personnel, and other issues just like any other field. Let’s not resort to sweeping (and imprecise) generalizations.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                I’ve worked both. My experience was that many HR and leadership tasks were pushed onto individual professors who had no leadership training what-so-ever. Professors were also chronically overworked with grant applications, publications, and other duties to the point of not managing their labs well.

                You may disagree, but I’ve been there, done that, and I’m not going back.

                1. serenity*

                  I’ve worked both as well and tend to bristle when people make the kinds of generalizations you seemed to be making.

                  I’ve worked in the private sector and experienced/viewed more nepotism, favoritism, sexism, dysfunction, and unfair labor practices than I ever witnessed in academia. This is entirely a “your mileage may vary” kind of experience.

            2. Snark*

              In my experience – as an academic and working in academia in various other roles – malicious gossip is directed at peers and rivals, not interchangeable student lab techs who scurry around in the background. They’re small fry. Nobody cares about them enough to run a smear campaign against them for no reason. Unless, of course, there’s a really good reason to blacklist them.

    8. Purplesaurus*

      how can someone who screwed up and made a mistake ever escape that mistake? It will follow them around forever.

      I agree with you generally (for example, when we get letters about working with people who were childhood bullies*) but… One instance of time card fraud could be a forgivable learning experience, but because he did it twice I think employers at the same institution would be justified in not hiring him.

      * I don’t intend to open a debate about this topic, just using it as an example. Thanks for understanding.

    9. Mike C.*

      Why is no one answering Ramona’s question? At what point does this end? Or do we just carve “TIME THIEF” into the student’s forehead a la Inglorious Basterds?

      No one seems to be willing to answer this question because every answer I do see also applies to every other employer that the student could apply and be hired to, leading to this student never working again.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        People have answered it. For example:

        * AcademiaNut: “He can leave student positions off his resume completely without causing undue suspicion, and a post-university employer would generally not have contacts in common with his previous supervisors.”

        * Student: “He shouldn’t be unemployable for the rest of time. He should suffer some penalty for it. He should learn that a professional reputation is worth something. If he wants to rebuild, then he can get a job where there’s less well-qualified competition and start working on his rep there.”

        I agree with that last part in particular. He’ll need to try for crappier jobs, frankly — ones that are easier to get because the hiring and/or competition is less rigorous — and work to rebuild from there.

        1. Snark*

          Totally agreed. Sometimes, when you steal time and get a bad reputation with the labs and research assistantships that advance your career and are highly competitive, you have to go set up tables for weddings or pull lattes or fix bikes or something. And that’s fine. A job’s a job. But if you screw professors out of their grant money, you don’t get the cherry research job. There’s a dignity in consequences.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          And I noted that his “misery” ends when he gets an off-campus job, Snark noted he may have to “flip burgers,” etc. He is not tagged with a scarlet letter for life—he’s simply at risk of losing the opportunity to engage in fairly prestigious research work in exchange for the less glorious work that thousands of student workers undertake every year.

          Several people have answered Ramona’s question. Mike C. can dislike the responses, but no one is ignoring her original questions.

          1. tigerStripes*

            Also, flipping burgers and/or asking people if they want fries with that isn’t the end of the world. It’s not fun. I did it for a while when I was in college. It’s hard work, it doesn’t pay well, you’re on your feet all day, and some customers treat employees badly. But it’s honest work, and it can help pay the bills.

        3. Mike C.*

          AcademiaNut’s answer doesn’t work because the same reasoning that would cause the OP to be fired right off the bat from the current student job applies to every other job including those that – they fraudulently altered the time card twice at two consecutive jobs. This is going to be an issue with any employer, regardless of industry.

          Student’s answer is a bit lacking in specifics but gets closer to the point.

          And look, I’m not trying to justify or excuse this person, I’m trying to understand how much they need to do/time needs to pass before people can stop saying, “but the person screwed up twice”. If the answer is “until they build up a completely new work history” then so be it but I wasn’t really seeing that in the comments.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think that’s something that gets decided concretely in advance, Mike, any more than it does for all other questionable or problematic behavior. Let’s ask this about something different–if somebody was fired for discrimination or harassment, how much time needs to pass before you stop saying “but he discriminated”? I don’t think there’s a hard and fast answer.

          2. Artemesia*

            Several people have suggested that instead of another campus job for a thief, the thief go get a fast food job or other job in the community and begin a new record. There is no need at 19 or so to list the previous job.

          3. Forrest*

            “I wasn’t really seeing that in the comments.”

            You seem to be splitting hairs here.

            No one is obligated to give a person a job. And there are several candidates for one position – are employers supposed to pick this guy over people with better track records because they feel sorry for him?

            It sucks but he did it twice at two different places. I’d be sympathetic if it was just once (as in one shift.) But he knows it’s wrong and he knows it’s stealing and if he didn’t, he certainly knew the second time he did it.

            1. Decima Dewey*

              Think of it not as ruining the jobs prospects of the student worker for all eternity. Think of it as an opportunity for him/her to learn at a relatively young age, that there are somethings that you cannot do and keep a secure job. Timecard fraud, violating civil service residency requirements are included.

          4. Jenny Jenn*

            The person did not “screw up” twice. He committed fraud twice. At best, the first time could potentially chalked up as a screw up. After that, it is an intentional action. He’s in college to learn and he’s about to learn a very hard lesson about professional reputation.

            Take this example out of university. Fergus works at Location A of National Corporation. Fergus does Stupid Thing and gets caught and fired from Location A. Fergus applies to Location B of National Corporation. Location B hires Fergus (and whether they knew about Stupid Thing is irrelevant). Fergus does the exact same Stupid Thing and gets caught and fired from Location B. Fergus now tries to apply at Location C of National Corporation. Hiring Manager at Location C finds out about the two times Fergus did Stupid Thing. Do you really thing that Location C is obligated to give Fergus yet another opportunity to continuing doing Stupid Thing? Getting fired the first time didn’t stop Fergus. Perhaps consequences at Location C will teach him the lesson. Regardless, it is not National Corporation’s responsibility to teach him that lesson.

            Similarly, it is not university’s job to give a great job opportunity to Fergus who has burned all his chances over someone else who has not done Stupid Thing. Imagine the letter from Honest Suzy, who doesn’t get a job in the lab because they keep hiring Fergus who commits time card fraud. Or the complaint emails from Student because whenever they go to the lab the things they need are not done, because Fergus decided to “take the day off”. Put on your big boy pants Fergus and welcome to the real world. Actions have consequences.

      2. The RO-Cat*

        My guess is no one has an answer. Not a good, compassionate one anyway. I’ve seen this thing lately even here, where (I guess) tiredness of IRL things makes people adopt a sort of black-and-white thinking. “Timecard fraud is theft” might be, at face value, correct. But it’s also sorely incomplete, because context has this ability to turn answers on their head all the time. “Timecard fraud 2x” might mean “this guy’s a cheating slob that, upon being caught, perfected their technique”, but it also might mean “first time it was a huge lapse in judgement due to their lack of life experience, second time it was groupthink (or peer pressure at its worst, or a professor thinking of it as a bonus of sorts but HR thinking of it as a fireable offence”. Reasons and actions, actual actions with context, put the possibilities all over the map. Thing is, we don’t know exactly what happened – and neither does this OP, as far as I can tell.

        We’re quick to judge, slow to assume non-nefarious intentions. It’s human nature, but it *is* getting tiresome. I, personally, would ask the student and listen, intently, carefully and completely. because I’ve worked with an ex-con who did time for theft. Best electrician I’ve met, easy-goingand the time he did made him wiser than his age. That’s one reason I strive to never judge before having as many facts as I can gather realistically (he second one being that we could all use more empathy and compassion in this world).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But my answer and what I’ve seen so far of the comments haven’t recommended firing him on the spot. They’ve said to talk to him and get more information and decide how to respond from there. I and others have acknowledged that their could be an explanation or an answer that doesn’t point to firing him. When you write “I, personally, would ask the student and listen, intently, carefully and completely,” that’s basically what I suggested in the post and what many others have agreed with.

          1. The RO-Cat*

            Yes, that is correct. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough and I apologize: I was referring to those commenters Mike C was challenging, those quick to jump to firing. Maybe that is the right solution, but we have no information as yet for it to qualify as the first thing to do. But this type of knee-jerk reaction, black-and-white, nuance-ignoring thinking *is* present, and it pains me every time I see it because I experienced its downsides many times, being at both its ends repeatedly.

            1. New Bee*

              Isn’t it also black-and-white thinking to assume that losing another campus job means he has no other options, ever? I’m trying to catch up in the thread to figure out how the connection between OP potentially firing him and the student having no other job prospects was made.

              1. The RO-Cat*

                It’s more of a reductio ad absurdum, if you ask me (or so I read Ramona Flowers’ comment line). I don’t want to derail this thread, so I’ll stop here, but maybe we can continue on the Sunday free-for-all. This topic, the expression of compassion while enforcing consequences and so on is fascinating for me and I guess worth a talk.

                1. serenity*

                  Why is it the employer’s job to exhibit compassion to someone who has committed timecard fraud twice? (see OP’s comments above that HR at their institution is currently pursuing action on recovering the funds – this is not “gossip” or hearsay).

                  Is this one of those cases where “academia” is not considered to be legitimate work by some? This is a real job, grant-funded, where misappropriated funds will have real consequences for others. If so, I strongly push back on that.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  How do you suggest doing both? What do “compassionate consequences” look like when you have someone who has expropriated funds without permission and without completing the work they claimed to complete?

                  Because I’m pretty compassionate, and I try to emphasize empathy and compassion when I work with people. But I don’t know how you reconcile “consequences” given that OP has evidence that they’re trying to recover the stolen income from the student (that strikes me as being unauthorized timecard fraud). And I’m really struggling to understand why, for a repeat offender, it’s the University/employer’s responsibility to provide that compassionate lesson.

                3. The RO-Cat*

                  @serenity: “Why is it the employer’s job to exhibit compassion to someone who has committed timecard fraud twice?

                  It’s not. Compassion is, as of now, a nice-to-have, not a must-have (at least in the parts of the Globe I know more about). But I have a distinct impression that, generaly speaking, “compassion” is conflated with “condoning” or with “no consequences”, which is patently not true. OP certainly can decide, after speaking with the student, to fire them and still make the best call. It’s not a question of “what”, it’s a matter of “how”.

                  Let me tell you a little story: they say that once upon a time there was a lady from the Western part of the world who went to Tibet to learn about “presence in the moment”, “zen” and “compassion”. She found a teacher and started learning. One night, while taking a stroll, she was attacked by a mugger who shouted “I’m hungry!” and tried to snatch her purse. She clung to it, the mugger gave up shortly and fled. The next day she asked her teacher “In the spirit of the presence in the moment and compassion, what should I have done?” And the teacher responded “Being fully present, and with compassion for the poor bastard, you should have smacked him over the head with your umbrella”.

                  Compassion is not condoning. But the attitude behind actions many times makes all the difference in the world.

                4. serenity*

                  @The RO-Cat

                  I admire your wish to be compassionate but I’m sincerely puzzled by what application that has in a situation like this. Being a workplace blog, I think Alison has the right approach that hiring managers need to make decisions that may have long-term effects on team morale, productivity, training time, and the like. With the scant information that hiring mgrs have, it’s imperative to take what we know about a candidate and use that information wisely to make the best choice for your organization.

                  Unless you’re a therapist or a member of the clergy, I don’t think forgiveness, compassion, and reformation is in the purview of the hiring manager and I would argue that that’s entirely the way it should be. Presented with a candidate who is a recidivist or has committed egregious infractions in prior jobs (something good reference checks are designed to hopefully pass along), what responsible or conscientious hiring manager would ignore that with the thought that “Hey, this person did something terrible and I have no guarantee that they won’t do it again. Let me be a compassionate citizen and ignore red flags and screw the consequences”. That just flies in the face of all good management practices, and there’s no way to spin it any other way.

                  Of course, I’m talking about confirmed and legitimate infractions and not idle rumor, gossip, or third-hand speculation. There is a line, and I think a mature and responsible hiring manager would know where that line is.

            2. Forrest*

              “Maybe that is the right solution, but we have no information as yet for it to qualify as the first thing to do.”

              Well, we kind of do since he did it twice at two different places.

          2. Mike C.*

            For the record, I thought your response was a good, even handed way to deal with a rather tricky situation.

        2. Snark*

          I’ve had shady lab techs steal my grant money – to the tune of several thousand dollars out of $50k, which also had to pay for equipment, airfares, my salary, and local transportation – by claiming hours they never worked. Context really didn’t matter to me. They might have lacked life experience, they might have been cheating slobs, they might have bowed to peer pressure, whatever. They lost their excellent, resume-padding campus research job and got to go find the sorts of jobs most twentysomethings worked, and they learned a solid lesson about how to comport themselves professionally. That’s a pretty mild consequence that I’ll wager was more instructive than endless forgiveness and continued employment, and I say that as someone who got fired from a few early jobs for being lazy and unreliable.

          If that’s not compassionate enough for you, I’m okay with that.

          1. Snark*

            And as for having a talk with this guy, I dunno. It’d be the most evenhanded thing to do, but if the university is at a point with this guy that they’re going to hold the lab responsible for his stolen wages if he pulls it again, that’s a liability OP3 might not be willing to take on for the sake of compassion.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Maybe the difference is having worked with people who committed timecard theft in a research context. Because I have, and so have others, and those are the folks who think OP should (1) talk to the student, but (2) be prepared/willing to fire. I don’t think any of us have said “fire without exploring the issue further,” but I understand why misrepresenting those opinions as “black and white” or “nefarious” or “human nature” is a convenient rhetorical device.

      3. KHB*

        “At what point does this end?”

        It looks to me like “this” hasn’t even started yet: Despite his (alleged) history of fraud, the student had no trouble getting a second job and then a third. It’s very premature to worry about him never working again.

        1. KHB*

          …which is to say, it should be possible to talk about the possibility that someone who’s done something wrong should maybe meet with some negative consequences, without being accused of wanting to ruin that person’s life.

          This happens a lot, both here (e.g., in the discussion of the guy who ghosted/abandoned his partner of three years) and in the wider world (e.g., 95% of cases of campus sexual assault or sexual harassment).

            1. fposte*

              Sure. Is that where you’re drawing the line of “enough”, though? Do you think the OP would have been wrong to choose not to hire him had she known this during his candidacy?

            2. Starbuck*

              But apparently they’re not much of a consequence if this person can get hired for a third time at the same place! Yikes.

      4. Specialk9*

        Mike, you’re going so far into hyperbole land.

        This adult has twice committed time fraud, and is still getting jobs from the same employer. He’s not exactly having huge consequences.

        And if they do fire him for this – which seems utterly reasonable to me – why should his employer take on the guilt for the firing instead of the adult who took fraudulent actions, twice? It’s just unreasonable. He can find plenty of jobs, elsewhere. This won’t exactly follow him. But they don’t owe him an employer who is a sucker, just because that would be convenient for him.

        The sort of apparent ‘niceness’ you’re proposing does not do people favors, it enables warped behavior. So yeah, this deeply kind person here is ok with firing him.

        1. serenity*

          The sort of apparent ‘niceness’ you’re proposing does not do people favors, it enables warped behavior

          Bingo, you hit the nail on the head.

        2. Mike C.*

          The hyperbole is only to serve as an illustration that the punishment or consequences has a limit, nothing more.

          But if you believe that the OP should be fired (which I’ll admit is certainly within the Overton window of reasonable reactions), then that sort of reaction is a fair one for any employer, correct? So what I’m trying to understand is that given that it’s a fair reaction, at what point does it not become fair? At what point is the debt paid off, so to speak?

          Yes, maybe relying on employers who don’t do reference checks or hire people with no listed experience is the only thing that can be done. But if that’s the case, how are we to know that the person isn’t doing that right now with this current job?

          1. Observer*

            I think that any employer for whom this would be a problem has a moral right to refuse to hire this guy until he has built up a record of trustworthy behavior. That probably means working in places like food service or retail, with fairly constant oversight for a while and eventually graduating to slightly more autonomous jobs as time goes on.

        3. Colette*

          I think this is one of the times where the people asking for niceness are looking at a small portion of the picture and missing the big picture entirely.

          The student has repeatedly and knowingly (based on it happening twice) committed timecard fraud. If he gets another chance and does the same thing, he is harming his employer (who is paying him for work he isn’t doing). As a result, budgets may need to be moved from other areas to pay for someone else to eventually do his work. He’s taking a job from someone who needs it and who would do it well & honestly.

          And he’s learning that committing fraud is OK. If he were to experience real consequences, he’d have a chance to turn his behaviour around.

          There is no upside to giving him infinite chances.

            1. fposte*

              But you’re doing what the co-worker in #1 is doing–you’re asking us to tell you our limits without your volunteering yours :-).

      5. Elsajeni*

        Maybe when an interviewer, having checked his references or asked “And why did you leave that previous campus job?”, asks him about the timecard situation and he’s able to give an answer that suggests he’s learned better and it won’t happen again? “Yes, you should check references” is not the same as “Yes, you should check references and then ABSOLUTELY NOT hire anyone who you hear anything negative about.”

        I also think it’s relevant that these would be positions with the same employer — there’s a pretty big distinction between “No one should ever hire this guy again” and “This guy should not be eligible for re-hire at the same employer that he previously defrauded.”

        1. Annonymouse*

          The debt gets paid off when the student has built a reputation for being a good worker – somewhere besides the university.

          He can apply for an entry level customer service job off campus.

          At their current age having no previous work history (I would advocate leaving the two jobs they got fired from off their resume if they do reference checks) is not a major drawback. In fact it is standard.

          It is too much to expect the university to overlook very recent, very bad behaviour when they have other well qualified and more trustworthy candidates.

          The student might be able to work at the university again, just not now or in this job.

          That’s a reasonable outcome.

    10. Snark*

      “A campus job seems to me to be one of the few opportunities to change and do better without being fired over and over.”

      But is “I make a practice out of time theft and keep getting hired for good campus jobs anyway” actually going to teach them anything?

    11. OP #3*

      When asked, he knew what I was talking about. He flatly denies not working shifts (I asked directly). He says that what happened is that he was working shifts on the weekend (with a supervisor) who hadn’t properly cleared that time with the overall manager. Either the manager of the supervisor was approving his timecards before he even worked any of his shifts, and then they had a dispute over which account was supposed to pay out for the time worked.
      As for the fact that two students could commit time-card fraud: I’m not at all sure how we could make the system more secure. Timecards are approved every two weeks; the onus is on supervisors to make sure they know if their students were working during those times. (That said, I’m not terribly surprised to hear that some of the folks around here were not being super careful about how they handle time card issues…)

      1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

        Ah. Well, that clears up the student’s end of things. Now we need to look at this lab manager or work supervisor who is approving time cards before the time is even worked. I mean, there’s efficient, and then there’s untruthful.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          This is fairly common in my experience. One of our contracts here their timecards are due for the pay period ending every other Sunday on the Thursday before. They have to guess at their Friday hours (and weekend hours if required to work the weekend) or else do a timecard correction the next week.

          1. Noobtastic*

            Well, whoever set up that system is just asking for trouble. Because unexpected things happen. Illness, accident, weather, people freaking out and causing closures. STUFF HAPPENS!

            Why in the world would anyone actually implement a system where people have to GUESS at their work hours, every single pay period?

            If someone says they’ll work on Friday, but have an accident Thursday night that leaves them in the hospital, but they’ve already put int eh time for Friday, is that considered fraud? Oh, wait, they have the mechanism for timecard corrections the next week.

            If it were me, I’d be so tempted to “guess wrong” every single week, so that they are inundated by corrections, to the point where they decide they’d better fix the ridiculous system.

            For some reason, this ticks me off a lot. I think it’s because I spent the majority of my career trouble-shooting and fixing other people’s mistakes, and having a system in place that causes these problems just means more work for the person who has to fix it. Systems are almost universally implemented as a way to AVOID mistakes. Processes are a way to avoid the most common errors, to catch the mistakes before they become real problems. They actually implemented an unusual system, specifically to avoid avoiding mistakes!

            Not to mention the poor record-keeping. Watch any mystery show, or police procedural, and you’ll see someone saying, “I was at work. You can check my time-sheets,” and have that be an accepted alibi. This just blows that right out of the water.

      2. Annonymouse*

        I can relate to this.

        At a previous workplace I had to fill in a time sheet that ran Thursday to Wednesday and was on a fortnightly (2 weekly) roster.

        In one week I was 35 hours and the other I was 25. But if you lookrd at my roster Monday to Sunday like a normal person it was 30 hours each week.

        My big boss wanted me to change my schedule so Thursday to Wednesday was 30 hours even though that didn’t align at all with what my branch needed. So my immediate boss advised me to stick to the schedule we had worked out but finagle my reporting.

        It’s important to note though that i got paid for 60 hours of work which I did work.

    12. BumbleButtons...*

      I work in a very similar situation at a university where my hands are tied on entering student hours for them because of FERPA.

      I have fired a student worker before they actually started after having multiple students who worked for me at the time tell me that this student harassed them within their position. They had never reported it and he outright denied it happening but in the end I had a great group working for me and I didn’t want a new hire to make at least 3 of my other student workers uncomfortable.

      I try to give my student workers the benefit of the doubt! I want them to be successful in their lives whatever path that may take. But as someone mentioned a lot of times university jobs are people’s first “real world” jobs. When there is a transgression I try to work with the student so they can hopefully see the errors of their ways and that whatever the behavior was unacceptable. I have had to threaten to fire three students and actually fired one.

      If I were in this situation with a student employee I would be hard pressed to trust them and would be only willing to let them continue working with me if they had a plausible explanation and realized I would be watching their timesheets closely and if there were any discrepancies That would be the last time sheet they would fill out for me. I want them to succeed but not at the expensive of my company.

  10. PollyQ*

    #3: I think you absolutely MUST talk to the student, because of the possibility that the source was mistaken, or even lying, about what happened, or maybe just got your student confused with another.

    What you do next, as Alison said, would depend on his response.

    1. Snark*

      But the source probably wasn’t mistaken, almost certainly wasn’t lying, and probably didn’t get the student confused.

      1. PollyQ*

        It does sound like the OP is pretty sure of her source in this case, and I agree that the possibility of the information being incorrect is low, but I still think that because it’s such a serious charge (as folks have noted upthread, it’s actually fraud) that fairness demands that the student at least get to make his case.

  11. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    For #4, I’m guessing that “an exempt salaried employee whose pay is calculated by the hour” means that she gets the same amount every week, but that what that amount is is based on how many hours she is expected to work. Let’s imagine it’s based on valuing her work at $20/hour. So if she was previously scheduled for 25 hours (e.g. her anticipated work schedule was every weekday, 9-2) she earned 25 x $20 = $500/week, even if she worked a little late one week – or if Monday was Labor Day and she only actually worked 20 hours this week. Then the employer changed the schedule to be only 19 hours a week and now she’s making 19 x $20 = $380/week. Presumably she is actually working less too.

    And if her new schedule is Tuesday-Thursday, then this week she will work just as many hours as any regular week even though today is Labor Day. So I can see how that would sting. She used to sometimes have a week where she worked fewer hours than normal but got the same pay. Now she never (or seldom) has a “short week”.

  12. Simone R*

    OP #3, I think it is fair game to ask for references for student workers, but to be less stringent about them. I think of the numerous jobs I had in college it was about 50/50 those that asked for references vs those that didn’t. You can be flexible with the references though to give students who may not have as much opportunity the chance, but it can’t hurt to ask! At the very least, they could list a professor. I’m pretty sure I listed some babysitting references for my first job in college, although I don’t think anyone called them.

  13. MommyMD*

    Tampering with the time card system to be paid for a shift never worked is as deceitful as it gets. If it’s true, I would fire him. And it wouldn’t hurt check a reference or two in the future, esp if they have already worked for the company.

    This is the same as stealing cash money. This is not taking a pad of Post It Notes home.

  14. obruni*

    I just left a non profit where 75% of my department quit within one month – everyone was fed up with the manager. It happens! It’s a penalty for yelling a lot!

  15. Gina*

    LW #1 I’m a total mule, so badgering coworker would only make me dig into my stubborn nature even deeper. A wry smile with an offhand comment like “You know, the more you nag me for personal information, the less likely I am to tell you anything” would be good if you can pull off the right tone.

  16. Hiring Mgr*

    On #3, you say things are going well so far and he hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary. Certainly ask him about it, but firing him immediately seems wrong to me. Agree though that going forward you should check references!

    1. Snark*

      Why is that so unthinkable? Do you expect OP to gamble a few shifts worth of pay on the third time being the charm?

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            Could be, I’ve never ridden a horse, only seen it on TV and movies. Personally, I have screwed up many times over the years and done many stupid things, and people have given me second and yes, sometimes third chances….so I tend to feel sympathetic that way myself….Maybe i get burned once or twice but I’ve also seen the good it can do. Easy for me to say of course when it’s not my gore being oxed.

  17. This is my Spout*

    #1. I had this happen early in my career. I too gave an answer and then regretted it. The next time it happened (over the price of a new house) I told the person “I’m glad I’m old enough to know that I don’t have to answer every question someone asks me”. I said it with a smile and that was the end of the badgering.

    1. Safely Retired*

      Where I live real estate transactions are a matter of public record, and these days all one needs to do is check Zillow.

      Which is NOT to say you aren’t justified in not answering such questions.

  18. Kix*

    #2: I had a similar thing happen to me a few years ago when I was interviewing for a federal job. I went ahead with the interview, and two of the people on the interview panel spent the whole time staring out the window. I think about that situation at times, and I promise myself that, should this happen to me again, I’d excuse myself before even bothering with the interview.

    1. MommyMD*

      Yes. That’s really rude. I think there was definite rudeness going on with OP 2, not just a wish for an internal hire to get the position. “Guys, she’s here”. Speaking about someone as if they are not even in the room. The proper thing would have been to acknowledge OP and greet her professionally.

  19. Dot Warner*

    Re: #2, since the OP already has a good job and the interviewers made it clear they didn’t want to hire her, would it have been wrong for her to say something like, “You know what, I don’t think this is going to work. Best of luck in finding the right candidate!” and then leave?

    1. RVA Cat*

      How about the OP saying this on the off chance they ask her for a second interview? Maybe not mention the conversation directly, but say “I don’t think it’s a good culture fit”?

    2. FormerOP*

      I’ve always wondered why people don’t just leave interviews that seem weird etc! Depending on OP’s situation, I think it would be fine to say your suggestion and then leave. No reason to spend her time in a situation that left her feeling flustered (which it sounds like that was the case). There are no interview police! Having said that, maybe the practice interviewing would be useful for some folks or maybe it could be useful for networking, learning about a new industry, so there are reasons to stay.

  20. MashaKasha*

    Re: #1, I want to share a different perspective. My first job out of college was not in the US, and in a country where everyone’s salary was common knowledge. You all came into the admin assistant’s office on payday to sign for your pay and receive it in cash, and there was everyone’s salary in black and white on the sheet you had to sign. It was good and bad. On one hand, I agree that some transparency was good. On the other, it did not really do anything to change any of the unfair practices. Like, as a rule, the men on my team were paid significantly more than the women, and there wasn’t much you could do about it. Only difference was that their high pay was there, staring you in your face, when you signed for your lower pay.

    Almost all of the women were paid exactly the same amount. Our boss had a saying he liked that “if I give one of you a 5 (home country’s currency) per month raise, the rest of you hens will peck her to death”. Which of course I found a hugely appalling thing to say. I was straight out of college, no kids, and very capable of getting things done and learning new things. So my third year on the job, he gave me two raises in a row. Guess what. With exception of two people, every woman on my team was super resentful. I’d routinely overhear conversations like “what did she do to deserve it, she’s barely started here a couple years ago.” Two women kept coming to my defense, but the rest just would not stop complaining behind my back, with the information eventually getting back to me. Exactly what the boss had said about the henpecking. (eventually all of us women were laid off or otherwise let go from our jobs on that team, and all went back to being good friends again, heh heh.)

    My point here is, I keep seeing comments on this thread about how salary transparency will benefit all of us and I just don’t know if that’s true. At least from my experience, it is not something straightforward where you flip the switch from “secret” to “transparent” one day and things magically improve the next. I agree that, (even though I personally have it ingrained in me at this point to never disclose my salary and never ask anyone about theirs, unless the person is my romantic partner or immediate family member), keeping everyone’s salaries secret has a slew of downsides. I just don’t know how to go about changing this. While I’ve seen salary transparency in action, I’ve never seen it done right.

    1. MashaKasha*

      This is in response to the multiple comments along the lines of “we need to be salary transparent”, not specifically to OP1. OP1 has my sympathy; I cannot stand pushy people and pushy coworkers especially. Doesn’t even matter what they want to know, if you don’t want to disclose it, you don’t have to. However the badgering coworker has years of practice at badgering people, so no wonder OP1 finally gave in. It takes years of practice to learn to push back against these people as well. I’d start practicing now. “No” is a complete answer. Deflection also works well. Best of luck!

    2. Specialk9*

      That’s… Awful. Please tell me you now work in a country with actual labor rights?! I hope you could make that work.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Aw thank you. Yes, I’ve been in the US for the last 20 years, which is a huge improvement.

        (Not to sidetrack, but I have also posted here in the past about my experience in HomeCountry where my former boss wanted to poach me for his new job, and the CEO of the new place said no the moment he heard my name, because “we don’t hire women for this position, company policy”. So, yes, you do have a point about there being no actual labor rights there.)

  21. OP1*

    Hi everyone, thank you for your comments and insights on my conundrum! I certainly wasn’t expecting so many replies on this so let me provide a little background on the situation.

    Firstly, I am not from the U.S. or the U.K., where I think most readers of AAM are from. That will definitely mean a pretty different work culture from most readers here, but I wanted to know what you guys thought. I would say that most people here, especially in the government sector where I mow work are largely open about their salary range to those that they are close to, e.g. “High 3000s” or “Mid 2000s” or even statements like “I got an increment of X% at this new job”.

    While salary isn’t necessarily a cloak-and-dagger topic for myself and close friends, it really bugs me that my new colleague felt the need to ask me over 3 days and wouldn’t be satisfied with a ballpark figure. Yep, she kept asking and asking.

    I know a couple are puzzled when I said “Now I’m really regretting the decision (as one is expected to)”, especially with the phrase ‘as one is expected to’. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock and Ramona Flowers were right, it was the regret that I had to give up the information because I had no better alternative at that point of time, instead of voluntarily sharing it when the topic came up.

    Salary transparency is not really all that is cracked up to be from what I have seen in previous jobs, a friend got a increment in her salary because her manager liked her cheerful disposition (a good-to-have at that job) but her job performance was really lacking. Would it be fair for someone who is a below-average performer to complain that she wasn’t getting fair wages compared to another colleague who performs well but is occasionally late? This actually happened at another job of mine, where someone went to the union to lodge a complaint that our colleague was undeserving of her pay and high job grade because she was occasionally late and her diploma was irrelevant to our work. Guess the complaining colleague missed out on the 10 years of work experience that the other colleague had.

    My concern is, how can I strike that balance of being friendly yet keeping things that I want to remain private as private? Myrin and Alison gave some great suggestions which I hope I can use in future, but I fear the damage might be done, as I am still slowly warming up to the team while a colleague causes everyone to shriek with laughter from a potentially embarrassing story of their spouse/immediate family member.

    1. KnittyinaBrowncoat*

      I don’t think you need to judge yourself by your coworker. She’s already established herself as pushy and demanding of personal info. You aren’t her. Just share what your comfortable with, talk about your hobbies, favorite TV shows, or podcasts. Talk about a funny story you read or what you’re going to cook for dinner that night. You don’t have to get personal. And practice saying “why do you ask?” Eventually you’ll train people to know what you’ll share and what you won’t. Good luck, pushy people drive me nuts.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I am that coworker who never shares anything personal. (Took me a while to get to that point, but here I am eventually!) What I found is, it does not in any way impact your being seen as a team member. As long as you’re still good for small talk about kids or pets or hobbies, not sharing anything super personal is actually seen as an asset, because people know you’re not going to share anything personal you heard from them, either.

      1. OP1*

        Nope she didn’t. We have the same job titles but she’s on a higher job rank than me as she has a recognised qualification.

        The way I see it, she could want to know how low could my salary be, or be disgruntled that someone of a lower job rank is earning a figure close to hers.


        Administrative assistant of Teapots Inc.

        Job rank 1: $20000-23000
        Job rank 2: $22500-26000
        Job rank 3: $23100-27500

        Coworker could be on the lower end of rank 3’s salary and wanted to suss out where I was on rank 2’s salary spectrum. Our job ranks are not hidden because the entire dept knew that my manager hired me without the requisite qualification.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, you don’t get to ask for personal information that you’re not willing to volunteer. (Volunteering it still doesn’t make the other person obliged to give it, either.)

    3. Myrin*

      I’m so glad you found my suggestions helpful! If you aren’t naturally the way I describe in my comment, it might probably take you a while to get into the habit, but you can do it, I believe in you! (And for what it’s worth, I’m not in or from the US or UK either and I’ve still used my strategy with great success.)

  22. Kyrielle*

    OP#5 – think of it as this. You do not *plan* to leave. You are hoping to leave. But until you have a job offer, you do not have a coherent plan *with a schedule*. Your job search may take longer than you expect. (It may take less time and have you out before the end of the year.)

    You simply don’t know at this point.

    And your ED has no right at all to know that you’re hoping that will change, because the culture your ED has created makes that risky for you.

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    I don’t care about anyone else’s salary nor should they care about mine. I’m happy to tell them or not tell them depending on the particular situation. Salary transparency is great if it’s voluntary. Obviously in the US private sector it’s a relatively new idea that’s still being ironed out… If it was so obviously beneficial we wouldn’t need states like mine (MA) prohibiting employers from asking about prior salary when hiring.

  24. idi01*

    OP 1: Tell the co-worker “HR told me that employees should not be discussing their salaries. Let me talk with HR about this and if they agree I will happily tell you my salary”

    1. bohtie*

      I would suggest *not* doing this, because in many places it is illegal to prevent employees from discussing their salaries should they choose to do so and thus that comment would essentially be, “HR told me to do something illegal.”

      Also, it’s just affirming the idea that establishing boundaries is bad; the grown-up version of “Mom said I can’t go to the party” when in fact you just don’t want to go.

    2. Snark*

      This perpetuates the misconception that employees are barred from talking about salary, so I can’t support this. HR doesn’t get a say and there’s plenty of good reasons to refuse that don’t pass the buck.

    3. Allie Oops*

      This implies that you’re eager to share personal information and are just being held back by red tape (which they can’t actually do by law, anyhow). Why take away your own autonomy?

    4. Jessie the First (or second)*

      In comments, OP made clear she is not from the US, so it would be a different set of laws in play but I have to chime in to emphasize that in the US, prohibiting sharing salaries is explicitly illegal. It’s not okay to lie in a way that actually has the effect of accusing someone of engaging in illegal behavior.

      It’s perfectly civil and polite to simply say “I don’t share that information.” You don’t need to come up with a reason, and you don’t need to defend it, and it’s really, really good to gain the general life skill of being able to say no when it matters to you.

  25. FormerOP*

    OP #4, I was in a similar position (I think). My boss called it “part-full time.” I was in the job for the experience and not too concerned about the salary, but the whole arrangement did end up feeling really sour for me. Looking back, I think that for this type of work, part time work doesn’t really translate to being X% of a full time job. YMMV, but based on my experience, a person can’t do 50% of a full-time job in 20 hours a week. Make sure that expectations for all sides are crystal clear, especially regarding emails or any other messages your org uses internally. If you are expected to respond to those outside of your hours, you should be getting paid for that time.

  26. Steve*

    Does anyone really believe that opportunities “fall onto [your] lap?” Especially when you’ve been taking extra days off for multiple interviews recently? Or, is it just a polite fiction that we all pretend to believe?

    1. NaoNao*

      I think it’s somewhere in the middle. I’ve been casually job searching before and had a company conduct multiple interviews within a week or two and have an offer ready within the month. The pace of the process means it was a bit easier for me to accept.
      My guess is people say this to indicate that it’s not “them” (the current job) it’s “me”, meaning this new job offer is very attractive in some way (pay, commute, duties, etc).
      I imagine at higher levels, or if one networks extensively, it could be like “Hey, I’m finally getting my startup off the ground with 7 million in seed money. Come on board as my COO and I’ll pay you 200K and stock options!” or whatever. So those things really do fall in your lap. Or a family member retires, and you’re tapped as head of whatever. That type of thing.
      But yeah, it’s not like phones are ringing off the hook with cold job offers!

    2. LadyKelvin*

      I’ve seen it happen. Not that people just get offers out of the blue without interviewing, but an opportunity came up that they couldn’t pass up. A friend of mine wasn’t job searching, had no plans on leaving her job, but a former coworker reached out to her and said, Hey I have this opportunity and I think you’d be perfect. Are you interested? So she interviewed and got the job, and it was one she couldn’t pass up. It was definitely something that just “fell into her lap”.

    3. Doreen*

      I think it depends on the industry- my husband is in sales and gets offers out of the blue all the time.

  27. Mconk*

    I had a coworker ask me when I was planning on having babies. In the middle of the office, within earshot off almost half my colleagues. I told her, I don’t want to talk about that.

    She immediately apologized and was obviously uncomfortable. She had no clue it was inappropriate, but now she does.

  28. Going Anon on This One*

    #3, find out more about the time fraud accusation. Talk to the student. Sometimes the fraud stems with a staff or faculty member; you should never take someone’s word over a student’s without at least listening to the student.

    When I was a student, my employers, a small NPR station chartered at a major university, committed timecard fraud. The deal was that my work study funds were supposed to pay for the first $6.00 an hour, and the employer was supposed to pay another $1.50 an hour, so I’d get $7.50 an hour. I would have gotten two checks biweekly.

    But actually, from day one, my supervisor Karen doctored my timecards, calculating more hours worked than I actually put in. If I worked four hours, it went on my time card as 5 hours, and so on.

    I didn’t understand why the numbers didn’t match up to what I had written down, and why I didn’t get a second check. When I questioned Karen she basically told me that everyone had to do this if they wanted to work there, blah blah blah just don’t question what I’m doing, you’re going to get paid. I was really confused, but thought, “Oh well, maybe she just means the check is late.”

    After a few more weeks, and seeing how my timecards continued to be inaccurate, it really dawned on me that they were getting my labor for nothing. They had no intention of paying me the amount they promised, they were just cooking the books to pay me an equal amount, but only from the federal funds. This time I politely asked Karen, how my timecards were being done, and she confirmed that they were actually not paying me anything, but marking my timecards so I would make the money I had been promised.

    But now that I really and truly understood how they were screwing me, I was paralyzed. I realized I couldn’t tell anyone, because I was sure that *I* would get in trouble. Ramona’s kind of proved my point a little.

    The irony is that because they were falsifying my records, I used up more money in my work study funds, meaning I had less available hours I could legally use. Which meant I left them high and dry towards the end of the semester, when I was supposed to help them during a major fundraising drive.

  29. Noobtastic*

    #4 – I had a job like that once, “salaried, but paid by the hour.” I was EXPECTED to work overtime, staying late and coming in on weekends, without extra pay, because I was “salaried.” But, if I came in late or took time off for illness (I got no sick days), I was docked for that time.

    There was one memorable day when I was two hours late getting in due to my car dying on the side of the road. I arrived at 10, instead of 8. I then worked until 8 WITHOUT LUNCH (note – always carry at least one granola bar in your purse. Always!), for a ten hour shift. It would have been twelve hours, had I come in at my regularly scheduled time. My boss merely nodded in acknowledgement of me working late, but told me he had to dock me the pay for the first two hours, so I was only paid for six hours that day. This sort of thing happened more than once. I was never once paid for a weekend work, although I was told in the beginning that I was expected to work a full day on Saturday at least once a month.

    It all felt hinky, but it was early in my career, and I could not explain why it felt that way. It was not until later that I learned the real difference between exempt (salaried) and non-exempt (hourly), and that what my boss was doing was blatantly illegal.

    I don’t know how much help this will be in your situation. Calling them on their illegal payment tricks might cost you the job. That’s up to you, if it’s worth it to you. However, knowing that they are hinky in one respect should at least cause you to look out for other areas where they might be doing things that are not on the up and up. For example, this same office had everyone under surveillance, at the office. Not just security cameras, mind you. We were bugged and recorded (audio). He didn’t even keep that secret. It was another one of those things I found out my first week, during orientation.

    He liked to hire inexperienced people, “so that he could train them the way he wanted,” when his real reason was that experienced people would know that he was doing really weird stuff. Normally, this job would have required a college degree. To give you an idea of the pay scale – over two decades ago, I was paid $250 a week for full-time work. And he had me firmly convinced that was the going rate for this kind of (college degree required) work.

    My orientation was strange, indeed. “Here’s where we keep the gun. Do you know how to shoot a gun? Make sure the safety is off, point and squeeze, don’t jerk. It’s always kept loaded, but here are the bullets, if you should ever need to reload. Here is my porn collection. Oh, and the filing system is a combination between alphanumeric and code.”

    Yes, his porn collection and gun. On the first day. And just to add to the squickiness, he was a middle-aged man in a long-term “marriage” (not a legal marriage, mind you), and I was a very young single woman who had never seen porn before. I made it a point to become friendly with his “wife,” and kids, just to head off any unwanted weirdness from that angle.

    He also assigned me to research certain things, but I was not allowed to do it during work hours, even during a slow time, and despite the fact that the resources to research those things were there in the office, NOT at my home, and our local library kept hours similar to ours, so that wasn’t an option, either.

    Also, we did not have a janitorial staff, so guess who was put in charge of cleaning the bathroom and break room? Mind you, I have no problem with cleaning bathrooms and break rooms. I worked as a maid for a while, cleaning office bathrooms and break rooms, and that was fine, because it WAS my job. But it is rather outside the norm for an office worker (client facing/admin/junior colleague whose work is billable by the quarter hour) to be scrubbing other people’s urine off the floor and unidentified substances off the walls.

    And that’s just the not-normal business stuff. His “normal business stuff,” included a management style of “guess what I’m thinking” and “I changed my mind back to the original thing I asked you for twelve drafts ago.”

    TL;DR: “Salaried and paid by the hour” is not a real thing under US employment laws, and is a red flag. There are probably other issues in the organization.

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