my boss goes through my things, how far back to list your experience, and more

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

1. My boss sits at my desk and goes through my things

I just started a new receptionist job with a very small company. This is my first time in any kind of front-desk role. When I’m at lunch, my boss sits at my desk to answer calls and greet visitors (both of which are extremely rare). I think it’s odd, since there’s a doorbell that guests can use that rings to her desk and the phones forward to her if I don’t answer them, but because I’ve never been in this type of position before, I have no idea if this is normal or not. I decided not to ask her about it in case it would make me look naive.

The really uncomfortable part is that when she’s up at my desk, she has a habit of looking through my stuff. I took notes on some of her procedures on a legal pad during training, and yesterday she went through the notes while she was covering the desk. She annotated them for me (mostly useless things like underlining things for emphasis, but in one case she misread my handwriting and thought she was correcting a typo). This made me feel very uncomfortable, like I don’t have any privacy if she’s going to be going through all my things. She never told me she would do this or asked my permission – in fact, she made a point of saying that this is my desk and I can do whatever I want there!

The most cringeworthy thing so far was when I left to use the bathroom today. I don’t have to tell her when I’m going to the bathroom, but when I came back, she was up at the front desk and waiting for me. She whispered to me, “I left some goodies in your purse,” and sure enough, there were some company-branded client gifts in there (think phone charger, USB). I was shocked that she had gone through my purse, even to do something nice. I would much rather her hand them to me or use a drawer than open my bag, which was zipped and under my desk, to put something in there. Am I overreacting or is this truly inappropriate? If the latter, how can I get this to stop?

No, it’s weird and boundary-violating. It’s not outrageous-level violating, but it’s definitely off.

I’d wait to see if it happens again before saying anything. If it does, the purse thing is the easiest one to address. You could say, “I appreciate you giving me this stuff, but I have a thing about people going in my purse — will you leave them on the desk instead? Thanks!” (Also, if you have a drawer that locks, start keeping your purse in there.)

The notes are harder since technically it’s her prerogative to look at your notes if she wants to. Because of that, your better bet may be to just switch things up logistically to make it harder for her to do it — try putting them in a drawer or under other papers. But if it keeps happening, you could say, “I don’t write those notes thinking anyone else will see them, so I feel a little self-conscious when you annotate them! I definitely want your feedback, of course, but I’d much rather get it face to face if there’s something you want me doing differently.”

The bigger issue is whether these are signs that she’s going to be boundary-violating in other ways, so keep your eyes open for that.

2. How far back should I go when listing my experience?

I am interested in applying a job online. On the employment history, it’s asking to list my experience, though it didn’t specify how many or how far back I should go. In cases like these, how far back I should go (assuming most of the jobs are relevant to the position)?

Also, the online form is asking for a specific start/end date. Is it okay to ballpark that date if you can’t remember the exact start/end date from 10 years ago? I cannot call the company since they are no longer in business.

In general, you want to go about 10-15 years back, but you should modify that according to what strengthens your candidacy the most. That means, for example, that if you had eight jobs during that time, maybe just go five jobs back. Or if your most relevant jobs were all in the last eight years, it might make sense to stop there. Or if you just had one job that entire time, add in the previous one too so more of your work history is on there. So 10-15 years is just a really rough guideline. (And age matters too. Generally you’re only listing things that are post-high-school, so if you’re young, that might mean you’re only going back a couple of years.)

For start/end dates, it’s really normal not to remember exact dates from 10 years ago. It’s fine to ballpark it. If you remember the month, it’s common to just list the start date as the first or 15th of that month.

3. Holding a Christmas Eve lunch

I work for a very small professional firm (think fewer than 20 employees). Every year our employers give us the afternoon of Christmas Eve off, as well as the entirety of Christmas Day. My question concerns our tradition of the office gathering for a lunch on Christmas Eve before we depart. Attendance at the luncheon is by no means mandatory, although most employees choose to attend. My concern is that this year our office hired someone whose religion doesn’t celebrate Christmas. We don’t want to be offensive, nor do we wish to create any sort of discomfort for our new employee. Are we okay continuing with this tradition, or is there some tweaking we should do to make it more inclusive?

Well … the existing tradition pretty clearly centered around Christmas, so I don’t think there are any tweaks that will change that in a meaningful way. If you start calling it a “holiday” lunch, it’s still going to be pretty clearly for Christmas. I suppose you could call it a “winter break” lunch, but all of these labels tend to be pretty transparent.

You could do it earlier in December so it’s not quite as obviously tied to Christmas. Using early/mid-December timing and not making it explicitly for Christmas is how a lot of offices end up handling it. It’s still pretty obviously for Christmas (especially since Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday, which a lot of non-Jews don’t realize), but that seems to be where a lot of offices have landed.

But also, if you change it right when a non-Christmas-celebrating employee arrives, you’re going to burden that person with being the person whose arrival caused the change in tradition. That might be fine with them, or they might really wish you hadn’t. And more broadly, they might be totally fine with the existing lunch tradition or might feel like an outsider; that varies considerably from person to person. So I don’t have a good answer to this one, unfortunately. (And I apologize for that because you definitely sound like you’re trying to do the right thing here.)

Read an update to this letter here.

4. Should I explain that I backed out of a job offer because of another manager?

I recently backed out of a job offer that I had already accepted and was excited to start. I know it’s frowned upon and I never thought I would do such a thing. The reason was that I decided to stop in to meet the only other manager at my site, who I would be working very closely with, and she was a total nightmare. I realized right away that I sort of knew her, as our industry is pretty small and she had been previously fired from a company that my company had worked very closely with. She was fired for talking badly about the company to others in the industry. So, I introduced myself to her again and she immediately began talking about how close friends she was with the recruiter, which rubbed me the wrong way. She then introduced me to her service dog, who was very poorly trained and would not leave me alone the whole rest of our meeting. She started telling me all the things she had planned for my department (which is not her job), complained about the owners of the company, complained about her schedule and insisted I would have to trade with her (I was very careful to negotiate my schedule before accepting an offer), asked me invasive questions about whether or not my current company had hired a former employee of the new company and when I told her I didn’t know she started speaking really negatively about that employee … those are just a few examples of our short meeting, and I was honestly incredibly turned off from working there with her, knowing that very often it would just be the two of us.

I’ve worked in places where I wasn’t a good cultural fit before and I was miserable for years until I found a new job. I thought long and hard about it, and ended up telling the hiring manager that I was incredibly sorry, but circumstances had changed and I wouldn’t be able to work for them after all, and thanked him for all the time and effort they had put into hiring me. He was professional in his response, but I feel very badly. My question is this: Should I let them know about my encounter with this manager and let them know that’s why I changed my mind? I feel like they may want to be aware of how she represents them, considering the fact that her job deals with the public and community a lot. Or should I just leave it alone?

At this point, I wouldn’t. I do think that when you told the hiring manager you were backing out of the job, you could have said something like, “I had the chance to talk a bit with Jane, and that raised a lot of concerns for me about how well we’d work together” (which then opens the door for him to ask you questions if you wanted to). But going back and saying it now feels different — at this point, I think the moment for that has passed, and the best thing you can do is to move on. But certainly if they ever ask you about what happened, it’s fair game to explain.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Forced to take PTO when you don’t want it

My husband works in retail. They are making him take PTO time he was saving for vacation to balance the store’s hours. He does not want or need the time off but they are forcing him to take off and use his PTO. Is this legal?

Yes, it’s legal. It’s really crappy to do, but it’s legal.

He could try pointing out that he’s been saving that time for a vacation and ask if there’s anything they can do to help him make it work, but most areas of retail aren’t known for awesome labor practices.

{ 518 comments… read them below }

  1. Mes*

    #3 would make me so uncomfortable. Do your religious stuff at home! It doesn’t belong in the workplace.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, but since OP’s company has a history of doing it, there’s a different meaning for veteran employees than for a new employee.

      OP#3, it probably would have been better to have never had a Christmas Eve luncheon (I assume you’re a non-religious employer). But since you’ve been having it, the first best option is to move it to a day other than Christmas Eve and call it a pre-holiday gathering or the like. Everyone will know where it came from, but the date-change won’t “deprive” returning employees of the luncheon experience.

      I think the second-best option is to give your new hire a head’s up, emphasize that it’s non-mandatory, make clear to current employees that no one is to comment on new employee’s attendance (or lack thereof) or pressure the new employee in any way. I’m not fond of option #2, just because a new employee is of course going to feel like they have to come, even if they’re told it’s voluntary.

      The third option is to discontinue lunch and give people Christmas and Christmas Eve off. Speaking just for myself, I’d rather have both days off—even though I am not Christian and don’t really celebrate or care about Christmas—than attend a voluntary luncheon for an obviously religious* celebration.

      [*Commentariat: Can we please not devolve into an argument whether Christmas is “religious” or secular?]

      1. KarenT*

        My only issue with number two is that the employer would be discussing the new employee’s religion with current employees, which feels a bit icky. I’m not Christian and I don’t care who knows it, but I would find it a bit off for my new employer to have told everyone that before I start. It’s also drawing unnecessary attention to an issue where there may be none. The new employee may be perfectly fine with a Christmas party or content to skip it but prefer to handle it themselves.

        I think this is a tricky question, because no one answer will satisfy everyone.

        1. OP Number 3*

          The office is already aware of the employee’s religion; it’s one of the major ones, and there are dietary considerations that have been pertinent at times.

          1. Fine Dining Porkchops*

            Just thinking out loud here, OP#3. Would it be feasible to talk to the employee themselves to see what they’d be most comfortable with?

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              This really seems like the right move, if feasible.

              Unless the lunch involves prayer or carol singing, I don’t see much problem with the timing? It seems in conjunction with celebrating having 1.5 days off work.

              1. Specialk9*

                I’m Jewish. And it really does bug me. It maybe wouldn’t bug me so much if we actually had separation of church and state, but it feels like Christians control everything (and frankly I’m scared of them these days, like really scared). So yeah, having Christmas up in my face makes me cranky.

                1. Meh*

                  Well, I’m Jewish and that kind of thing doesn’t bother me at all (and I grew up with Christmas in my face as well). So it really depends on the individual. So I second asking the employee what they’re comfortable with, but even if they’re not into the lunch stuff, I’d hesitate to cancel it since that has the potential to cause a fair amount of bad blood just after this person got hired.

                2. MoreNowAgain*

                  Would you feel the same way if it was at the same time but called something else? I only ask because my current employer has a ‘Holiday Party’ before we break for the holidays (we get a good amount of time off leading up to NYE), and because of where the holidays fall it is usually closest to Christmas. Its never been intended to celebrate anything other than ‘holidays’ and even better – time off! I hope we haven’t inadvertently offended anyone :(

                3. Ego Chamber*

                  “It maybe wouldn’t bug me so much if we actually had separation of church and state, but it feels like Christians control everything”

                  I wanted to post to say I get you. I’m an atheist with Buddhist leanings, raised agnostic, and celebrating Xian holidays was common during my 90’s public school education, until a family threatened to sue the school because they were (ironically) part of a Xian denomination that didn’t believe in celebrating holidays (because that takes the focus off Jesus or whatever). They also tried to make other kids stop bringing in cupcakes on their own birthdays, but that one didn’t work out for some reason.

                  Also, the only people I’ve seen throw actual tantrums about “Happy Holidays” vs “Merry Xmas” (aka: “The War On Xmas”) are Xians. Storytime: I was working retail at a bookstore and wished the woman I was checking out “Happy Holidays.” A woman in line at the next register got upset, cut into my line, and leaned over the counter to get in my face asking why I didn’t say “Merry Xmas because it is Xmas season!” I responded that the woman I’d been speaking to was wearing a Star of David and I hadn’t wanted to offend her. The angry woman sneered, replied “Well now you’ve gone and offended me. Good job.” and dropped her books on my counter to ring up. I do not miss retail. :(

                4. yup*

                  100% with you on this.

                  And for those asking, I wouldn’t mind if it was a “Holiday party” or somesuch, even knowing it was originally designed as a Christmas party.

              2. Cercis*

                Do they also have an employee meal prior to other holidays? Is it the extra half day off that makes this worthy of celebrating? And why is this holiday getting an extra half day and not 4th of July?

                It IS about the timing and it’s disingenuous to say it’s not.

            2. CarolynM*

              This! Talk to the employee and see if its even an issue.

              I say this as an atheist who cooks an elaborate Christmas Eve meal each year for my Catholic family and invites good friends who are a different religion that does not celebrate Christmas. ;)

              1. Janice*

                “Unless the lunch involves prayer or carol singing, I don’t see much problem with the timing? It seems in conjunction with celebrating having 1.5 days off work.”

                That is exactly how it struck me as well.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Many non-Christians don’t feel great about having Christmas treated as a universal thing, regardless of what specific Christmas trappings are involved. Many don’t care! But enough do that we shouldn’t dismiss those concerns.

                2. Alli525*

                  As a practicing Christian, I would be uncomfortable with my workplace labeling anything as an event specifically tied to religion. Sure, I have the privilege of having my holidays be the default holidays, but I recognize that my religion is not the religion of everyone in my workplace, so I much prefer “holiday lunch” to “Christmas lunch.”

            3. Turquoisecow*

              Yeah, that was going to be my advice.

              Some people in minority religions (non-Christian, for purposes of this discussion, not getting into numbers) are used to being a minority and don’t have a problem participating in “holiday” parties that are clearly just Christmas. Some people get quite offended by the existence of such events in non-religious locations like work or school.

              It may be that your new employee will be fine attending a “holiday” lunch, or he may be really offended at the suggestion that he attend.

              My two cents are that if he’s open to working on Christmas – and this is feasible, given that everyone else is off – give him another free day off that he can use on his own holiday as necessary. (I’m assuming you don’t make employees use PTO for Christmas – since that is of no benefit to this employee, give him something that is.)

            4. Koko*

              Yes, and I’d frame it as, “We have this tradition around Christmas, and now that you’re on board we’re eager to celebrate your traditions as well. We were thinking about moving the date, or maybe adding something to the lunch from your religious tradition–what would you suggest?” rather than, “We don’t want to offend you with our Christmas tradition, so what should we do?”

              It’s hard being the only one of something and it can be easy to feel like, as Alison said, you’re bearing this burden of forcing everyone to change something for you, and it would be tempting to downplay to not be seen as a troublemaker, “Oh, no, I’m fine, thanks!” But if it’s framed as a positive/inclusive thing that the company *wants* to do, as opposed to a concern about offense that the company is trying to *avoid*, it comes across more like a sincere request and not just a CYA.

              1. Wordy Nerd*

                I really like this framing! So often when people ask about changing things it puts the burden on the new person, but the way you’ve framed this is great

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                So I may be a curmudgeon, but I would so hate to be told the company “wanted to celebrate my traditions.” Ooooh, I am cringing just thinking about it. I don’t want my (very minimal) religious-cultural traditions at work. I just don’t want to have the dominant ones treated as if they’re universal.

                I think inclusivity doesn’t mean “we celebrate everyone’s holidays,” but rather “we try not to assume the dominant culture is everyone’s culture and we don’t treat holidays rooted in religion as universal things that everyone will appreciate.”

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I’m totally with you, and I don’t think you’re being curmudgeonly at all. There are also a lot of religious traditions where it’s inappropriate/ offensive for non-adherents to “celebrate.”

                2. Halster*

                  It’s also worth noting that depending on religious rules, there may be rough bans around celebrating anything that comes from any other religion, so inclusivity can’t really include “let’s celebrate everyone”! There’s a whole Islamic debate on it, but I feel very iffy at any “Christmas” party – not to mention that Islam currently doesn’t *have* any holidays falling in the winter time, so, depending on this person’s faith, there might not be anything you can do.

                3. MoreNowAgain*

                  I had the same reaction – I would feel extremely uncomfortable and targeted (even if well intended).

                4. ThursdaysGeek*

                  How about this instead: Now that you’re here, we realize how non-embracing this can look to those who don’t celebrate Christmas. Can you help us brainstorm for ways to make this less about Christmas and more about all of us at this workplace? We want to be more inclusive, not just to you, but to future employees as well, and now is the time to start that.

                5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  No, it’s not this employee’s job to take on inclusivity at her (not very inclusive) workplace, just because she’s the first (known) non-Christian.

                6. PB*

                  I totally agree. I’m not very religious, but I don’t want to mix religion and work at all. I don’t want my office to participate in my traditions. It wouldn’t make me feel more included. If anything, I’d feel more singled out.

                7. The OG Anonsie*

                  Agreed, but I do like the base of Koko’s script here for exactly the reasons she’s citing– if you don’t seem sincere or sound like you don’t really get why it would be an issue, this employee is probably not going to be comfortable being the odd one out who’s also changing something for everyone else.

                8. SunshineOH*

                  It also still puts the new employee in an awkward position. Is he REALLY going to feel like it’s okay to say “I’d rather not celebrate”? And if he does, will the rest of the team REALLY be okay with it and not make it hard for him?

                  I just don’t know what the right answer is here, but this is why it’s a bad idea to bring religious holidays into the workplace even if everyone celebrates the same ones.

                9. Ego Chamber*

                  I’m with you, for different reasoning: I hate forced inclusivity because of the people I’ve interacted with who are adamantly opposed to any inclusivity (and also because of the people who treat inclusivity as FUN, which just strikes me as so condescending).

                  I don’t want to be included. I don’t want my hypothetical coworkers to change a long tradition they have in the interest of not offending me—then I’m obligated to go to the “not mandatory” lunch and be the reason for any changes, and I can’t complain if there are real issues with what they’re doing, because this is all for me and I’m ungrateful if I don’t appreciate it or don’t even want to show up—and if anyone else complains about the changes, whelp, that was all “my fault” and everybody knows it.

                  Tl;dr: I understand the good intentions, but this sounds like a disaster.

                10. Brisvegan*

                  Yes! Don’t forget there are a whole spectrum of belief practices, including non-religious people for whom “let’s celebrate everyone’s religion” ends badly.

                  Also, in the wrong hands, “lets celebrate everyone” could end with Hannukah Balls.

                11. MJ*

                  I agree. It’s not quite the same thing as it’s not religious but my old work insisted on birthday celebrations when it’s just not something I celebrate. It annoyed me.

              3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

                This is perfect. I am Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, but I am happy to attend many “Christmas” events at work that are secular. As long as there is no obligatory component involved, such as prayers or carol singing, it’s simply a fun work lunch. Many of the Jews with whom I work agree. OP3, don’t be surprised if it turns out you are far more worried about this than your employee.

            5. Lady Blerd*

              This is the better solution. I’m an atheist who has no problem taking part in religious celebrations but I know that it it not a universal sentiment. And if it’s no more then a luncheon, than I would not be surprised if said employee will gladly join in if his dietary restriction is accomodated.

            6. Q without U*

              As a non-Christian, I would feel absolutely compelled to say it’s fine, even if I was uncomfortable with the event. A new employee should not have to be put on the spot this way, and given the power dynamics (one new person vs. a long-standing and widely enjoyed tradition), the new person is almost never going to speak out against the majority.

              1. Maya*

                Me too. People often underestimate the pressure that gets put on people who aren’t the dominant religion in situations like this.

              2. Specialk9*

                Oh see that’s a good point too.

                People at work always wish me a merry Christmas. I know it’s churlish and passive aggressive to wish them happy Hanukkah, and they intend something friendly, so I end up wishing them happy Hanukkah back.

                One solution has been to bring in treats for Jewish holidays. (Cheesecake for Shavuot, hamantaschen cookies for Purim, etc). Somehow that equalizes for me a bit.

                1. Samata*

                  I don’t think it’s passive aggressive at all. I do the same in reply to a Merry Christmas.

                  My personal beliefs are that whatever you celebrate is appropriate to wish to someone else as long as you accept the same in return. And if I don’t celebrate the holiday at all (Hope you have a Happy Easter!) I just say “Thank you”.

                2. officenerd*

                  Oh, this is nice to think about. I work outside of the city that I live in, and the office definitely has, um, a lot of Christian homogeneity and not a lot of awareness about Judaism. My new coworker keeps kosher (pretty strictly, not like my friends in high school who were like “well, I can’t eat this dairy and meat in the same meal! If I sort of get up from the table and then come back, it’s like a different meal”) and I want to be more inclusive to her. Maybe I’ll bring in some kosher treats around holidays without making a giant deal about it.

                3. Anion*

                  I’m not Christian or Jewish, but I am always delighted to be wished a Happy Hanukkah (or Merry Christmas, actually). To me it’s just good wishes for a happy day, and it makes me feel “included” in that person’s holiday and/or tradition–like I’m welcome, if that makes sense. And if I wish someone a Merry Christmas and they respond with Happy Hannukah, I don’t see it as passive-aggressive at all, assuming it’s not said with a pointed sort of “How dare you,” tone (which has never happened).

                4. Annie Moose*

                  I feel the same as Anion. I don’t find it passive-aggressive, I just see it as somebody celebrating their own holiday. I celebrate and am happy about Christmas, you celebrate and are happy about Hanukkah.

                5. mrs__peel*

                  “I know it’s churlish and passive aggressive”

                  Nah. Go for it!

                  I wish people would *think* a little more sometimes, and not make assumptions that people must fall into their default category for [x]. (e.g., somebody wished me a “Happy Mother’s Day” this May, not knowing that I don’t have any kids and have struggled with infertility. That rather stung).

                6. Chinook*

                  Since I just ate a moon cake thanks to a colleague celebrating a Chinese festival, I have to agree that being open to others bringing in food for their special holidays/festivals helps to make it feel more equal. And, if the Christmas lunch is sponsored by the company, maybe it is time to ask the office if there is a different time of year they would like to do something like that to help it feel more inclusive. If a December lunch tastes good, I am thinking one in the doldrums of February may taste even better.

              3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Me three. I think folks really underestimate how coercive it can be to be faced with an office of folks who celebrate Christmas and who say you can opt out, but who don’t actually want you to do so (or to say you’re opting out, even if you are).

              4. Statler von Waldor*

                Oh yes, so much this. I said no to the x-mas party once long-ago when I was in my angry atheist stage, and I was called “the Grinch” for five years afterwards.

                Luckily for me, I have no shame about that sort of thing. So next year I went, and when they did the caroling thing, I went and did a fairly good performance of “You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch,” for which I was punished by having to perform it again every year I worked there.

          2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            In addition to asking the employee, you may also consider not calling it a “holiday” lunch or a Christmas lunch. As Alison pointed out the “holiday” referred to here is really transparent, even when meant to be more inclusive. One slightly better suggestion is just to make it an “end of year” celebration, and hold it 10-15 days before the end of the year, as many people take PTO at that time. I’m an atheist who celebrates a non-religious version of Christmas, but I would vastly prefer it if workplace celebrations have zero reference to religion.

            1. Kelsi*

              End of year sounds like a good compromise. It’s actually relevant to work–yay us, look at all the good work we accomplished this year!–and is much easier to present in a way that doesn’t have accidental religion-specific overtones (like, most “holiday” parties I’ve been to have a red-and-green theme, include decorations like pine trees or candy canes etc. that are pretty intrinsically tied up with Christmas imagery, have “holiday music” aka Christmas Classics TM playing, etc). Everyone still gets to enjoy a celebratory luncheon around the same time as before, nobody feels awkward, well-meaning Christmas celebrators don’t accidentally make it All About Their Holiday.

            2. Jewish anon*

              Eh, IDK. I’m about as “war on Christmas” as it gets (I mean, celebrate it all you like, but I’d really rather be left alone when it comes to Christmas stuff) and I’d still be fine with a “holiday” lunch.

      2. Grace*

        It’s a free lunch with colleagues. No one is expected to bow to Baby Jesus, I hope. Why change the tradition just because a new person joined the team?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          They don’t have to change the tradition, but it seems pretty obviously religiously oriented. But I think it’s hard to change what they’re doing without it looking like it’s the new person’s fault, which is an awful burden to put on someone before they’ve even started or had a chance to form workplace relationships.

          Can we not argue about whether the lunch is “religious” in nature and just take OP’s word that the lunch is easily perceived as celebrating Christmas / Christmas Eve, and thus, may not feel inclusive to non-Christian employees?

        2. Koko*

          Because being inclusive is kind, and the luncheon is presumably meant to be a reward, so it should be rewarding for everyone on the team. Being inclusive of everyone, including the new person, is more important than continuing a tradition simply because it’s what has always been done.

        3. Specialk9*

          Because whenever people assume I must be Christian because that’s normal, it makes me feel othered.

          And when you’re Jewish, you know that being othered leads to pogroms, oppression, ghettos, and genocide.

        4. Mike C.*

          Because it’s creepy how an otherwise secular business has to push a specific interpretation of a specific religion on it’s employees.

      3. Kathleen Adams*

        It’s easy to say “You should never have started this,” but come on, it was absolutely, totally, completely standard practice at nearly every business in the U.S. until about 20 years ago, and it’s still completely standard practice in many places now.

        That doesn’t mean that traditions shouldn’t change as the workforce changes because of course they should. But let’s not make this company out to be evil or clueless just because they have a Christmas lunch for their employees.

        1. Specialk9*

          We don’t think they’re evil, but yeah clueless is a good word for it. Somehow we all stopped doing the stuff we did in the 50s, and 80s.

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            You did not, but others have pretty much implied that, at least IMO. I am sorry if I came across more militantly than I intended!

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Thank you for clarifying! Sometimes when comments pile up it can be hard to figure out which ones respond to which subset. :)

      4. schnauzerfan*

        How about making it an early New Years Lunch? Get rid of some of the Christmas trappings, swap in confetti…

          1. schnauzerfan*

            Now that’s just silly. How could 4715 have anything to do with Christianity. Happy year of the Rooster.

          2. Elizabeth H.*

            But regardless of which year-counting system you use and how associated you feel the year-counting system used in the world is with Christianity (the one where it’s now 2017), the fact that it’s a new year between Dec 31 and Jan 1 (the calendar months/calendar system) is not Christianity based, no?

        1. MoreNowAgain*

          This! One of my friends works for an employer that has ‘Goodbye [insert year here]!’ parties at the end of December. Seems to work well!

        2. January Christmas*

          New Year is based on the (catholic, protestant) Christian calendar year. Other religions and languages and cultural groups have their own calendars (e.g. Chinese New Year; Eastern Orthodox; Judaism, obviously – etc etc etc) so while New Year is less overtly religious, it’s still going to run into the same including/excluding problems as Christmas.

          Honestly, just give people bonus money in a thank you card and an extra day off – you really can’t go wrong.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            Yeah but the financial and secular calendar that nearly everyone in the western world works off has the year’s end in December. It’s far more inclusive than Christmas.

            1. MoreNowAgain*

              I agree completely with your sentiment, although every industry I’ve worked in has had fiscal year end closer to end of summer. Either way, far more inclusive!

        3. DMR*

          This is what I think should be done. My old office would occasionally have a New Year’s celebration in January because deadlines and family obligations make December a tough time to plan something and get everyone together. It’s easy to push the lunch back a week and explain it with businesses reasons.

      5. Peter the Bubblehead*

        Here’s an idea. If the employee in question is offended by the idea of Christmas, or holidays, or whatever, they can choose to not attend the lunch, work the full 8 hours on Dec 24, and work the full 8 hours on Dec 25.
        You honestly believe anyone could be offended by your employer giving you paid time off AND paying for lunch??? If my employer invited me to take half a day off with pay and give me lunch, I couldn’t care less if they called it Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, the Klingon Holiday of Day of Honor, or International Talk Like a Pirate Day!
        People are going out of their way to find offense in everything, and I personally am finding it tiring and irritating. There was a time when people could wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays, or anything else that personally applied to themselves and the person receiving the greeting simply returned it in kind without complaint or offense.
        Don’t want to celebrate the holiday – whether it falls under your religion or not – then fine. Just work. I don’t care!

        1. Statler von Waldor*

          So in short, you are perfectly OK with illegal religious discrimination. Well, this is one way to prove the point that people who are tired of people getting offended tend to be offensive people themselves.

          1. Specialk9*


            Look guys, I’m in the majority, and refuse to listen to people in the minority whine, get over yourselves, everything is fine – No I don’t want to listen to your reasons why it’s not fine, everybody in the majority said it’s fine, hush.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Aaand “Peter”s comment is exactly why I don’t want my employer going out of their way to include me if that’s not something they were doing before. Every office has a “Peter,” someone who takes a lot of offense to other people being offended, and is compelled to use exclamation marks to prove how much they “don’t care.”

              “Peter” also seems to have not read the letter, since the OP was writing in because they’re a kind person who wants to be kind to their new coworker, not, as “Peter” seems to have interpreted it, a new coworker who’s offended at their new office’s traditions. Coolsies.

        2. mrs__peel*

          “I couldn’t care less if they called it Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, the Klingon Holiday of Day of Honor, or International Talk Like a Pirate Day!”

          You might care a lot more if you actually grew up as a religious minority. And not unreasonably so.

          There was never a magic time when Jews, Muslims, et al., were all 100% fine with being wished a Merry Christmas and so on. Lots of us just kept our mouths shut because pushing back at all invited discrimination and possibly violence. (And still does, in some places).

        3. Jessie the First (or second)*

          “If the employee in question is offended by the idea of Christmas, or holidays, or whatever,”
          That’s what you claim to get from the post and comments – that people are offended by the very notion that Christmas exists? There is nothing that indicates that is an issue with anyone at all, and I don’t actually believe you think it is true. But it makes a good opening for a “how dare you make me cancel Christmas” strawman.

          Many of the posters have noted that they are not *offended* by workplace Christmas celebrations, but feel simply *alienated* by them. It is just completely unreasonable to feign surprise that people would feel alienated at the seemingly near-universal practice (in the US/Canada) of celebrating one specific religious holiday over all others.

          “There was a time when people could wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays, or anything else ”
          I don’t know about you, but a lot of the complaining in the world at large that I hear about “happy holidays” comes from aggrieved Christians bemoaning a war on Christmas they think is happening.

    2. TL -*

      I don’t think it’s meant as a religious celebration. There are plenty of people who celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday; I’m one of them.
      The exclusion does come from that fact that it is rooted/also celebrated as a religious traditional, which means it’s a hard-to-transfer cultural celebration (unlike 4th of July or Thanksgiving, which are very easy to transfer) which can very easily make it exclusionary to people who are American but not culturally Christian. But there are also people who don’t care, or who are fine with it being called winter holidays even if their cultural/religious background is different – which is why there’s no easy answer.

      Now, it is different if they were saying prayers or telling the story of the birth of Christ or something during this dinner, but my guess is it’s just a way to kick off the holidays and say thank you for working Christmas Eve.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        “but my guess is it’s just a way to kick off the holidays and say thank you for working Christmas Eve.”

        Could that be a solution? It’s a thank you lunch?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m going to ask that we not debate whether Christmas is religious or secular; it’s been debated here many, many times (every time office Christmas celebrations come up, I think). Ultimately it doesn’t matter that some people celebrate Christmas in what they think of as a secular way because large numbers of non-Christians feel erased by treating symbols of Christmas as universal or secular things. For anyone who desperately wants to engage on this, please visit one of the many past posts about this and do it there! (Here’s one from last year.) Thank you.

        1. TL -*

          Sorry! I was not hoping to start a debate, just pointing out that this is a different issue than proselytising or having a religious ceremony at work, which is what I would think about when someone says don’t bring your religious stuff into work.
          I was definitely not trying to argue that Christmas, secular or religious, wasn’t exclusionary.

        2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          Alison, you are raising a great point. The issue is simply this: do these celebrations impose a religion on a non-adherent? For me (I am Jewish), I don’t want to be coerced to pray or sing carols. Swap gifts or eat a turkey dinner or receive Christmas cookies on the company dime?

          The other advantage of being Jewish at Christmastime: no fruitcake. We get potato pancakes for Hanukkah. You can always serve them at your lunch.

          1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            *Swap gifts or eat a turkey dinner or receive Christmas cookies on the company dime? All good for me!

        3. SoCalHR*

          I don’t think there is a need to debate whether its religious or secular/pagan roots etc. And the celebration of the day is more than just a cultural event – its a *national holiday* and therefore can be celebrated as such. There are many other national holidays that may not apply to certain employees or that they would disagree with (i.e. someone on a work visa celebrating 4th of July or columbus day).

          I think its best to allow people to generally opt out of such a celebration if their personal beliefs dictate, but there shouldn’t be a problem with celebrating the holiday because it is a national holiday. Should the government ever decide its no longer a national holiday and companies continue to celebrate it out of their own personal traditions/beliefs then maybe we’d have a different discussion here.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Christmas is religious. There is no debate.

            I’m troubled that you appear to work in HR and believe that religious holidays should be celebrated at work.

            1. SoCalHR*

              The point I brought up for discussion was there was no need to debate -whether not it has Christian roots or pagan roots or if our country was founded on a certain set of beliefs or not, the fact of the matter is that our government has deemed it a national holiday. And since it is a national holiday, there should be no problem with celebrating that holiday (at least in a generic/general way). If I lived in Cambodia – where there are tons of Buddhist influenced national holidays – I would not want to be conscripted to participate in the celebrations but I wouldn’t think that the holidays shouldn’t be celebrated. If we, as a nation, are so offended by Christmas, then perhaps we need to have a vote about whether it should be removed from the national holiday list.

              I would appreciate you considering my point and engaging in productive discussion before questioning my credentials.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                I don’t question your credentials; I do think you’re dangerously and disappointingly wrong about this issue.

                I have considered your point, and I reject it wholeheartedly, for too many reasons to get into in detail. I’ll just stick to this one:

                We don’t actually have “national holidays” in the US. While Congress has designated several federal holidays (days that the federal government itself is closed), individual organizations (and even other government agencies) are not obligated to close for those days. The Congressional designation only affects the federal government itself.

                Many organizations do not follow the federal holiday calendar (mine, for example, doesn’t offer Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day; my husband’s doesn’t offer MLK day).

                But all of that aside: We can’t pretend that this lunch celebration is about acknowledging “national holidays” when it is only done at Christmas. I’m going to continue to look askance at it until they have similar celebratory lunches for Washington’s Birthday and Veterans Day.

                1. Jewish anon*


                  If you have celebrations for *every* federal holiday, then fine, I take no issue with your “but it’s a national thing, not a religious thing.” Otherwise, no, it’s really not.

        1. JamieS*

          True but unless the lunch is so great it’s the highlight of their year I doubt many employees would be upset to have the day off instead. Then again I could be way off base on that.

          1. Colette*

            Yeah, if there’s one day of the year I’d love to have more time off, it’s Christmas Eve. I would imagine that if the OP did an anonymous poll, many of her employees would agree.

            1. MashaKasha*

              That was what jumped out at me too. Religion or not, I’d prefer being able to leave the minute my time off starts, rather than stay another few hours for a work lunch with coworkers on my time off; on what is probably one of the busiest days of the year for most of OP’s employees. I, too, suspect that many of them would be excited about making it a Holiday Lunch on an earlier day instead.

          2. Koko*


            I would be all, “Wow, we should have hired a Hindu employee years ago!” if that person’s hire resulted in an extra 4 hours of PTO for everyone!

          3. Specialk9*

            Did you somehow missed the Great Oppression of the Majority that’s been unfolding the past decades? People lost their freaking minds about Starbucks cup designs. If there’s a way for the people with all the power to complain about being oppressed by the powerless, it is highly likely to happen.

        2. Stellaaaaa*

          I’d give thanks to any new employee who forced a change that allowed me a full day off!

        3. paul*

          If a new person’s arrival gets everyone extra days off they might be the most popular person in the office though.

      1. OP Number 3*

        While I’d love the entirety of Christmas Eve off, this tradition (half day Christmas Eve, all day Christmas with date variations depending on when the 24th and 25th actually fall) goes back more than forty years. I don’t see the partners changing that particular policy.

        1. Antilles*

          To be honest, if the partners are as locked into the 40-year old tradition as you think, you’re pretty much just limited to minor window dressing ‘solutions’ – changing the name to “holiday luncheon”, using generic winter decorations (e.g., snowflakes), and avoiding Christmas-ey foods like candy canes or gingerbread men.

          1. OP Number 3*

            We don’t decorate for Christmas. The burden would fall to me and that sounds too much like work! Better that we spend our holiday decorating energies at home.

        2. BananaPants*

          Then I don’t see it as an issue to rename it to “holiday lunch” and make sure all employees (old and new) know that it’s optional. Make sure it’s held at a restaurant with appropriate food options.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Then it sounds like your only option is to give your employee a head’s up, ask how they might feel about it (knowing that they’ll still feel pressure to attend or say it’s ok), and call it what it is—a Christmas Eve luncheon.

          1. SoCalHR*

            It shouldn’t even need to be addressed specifically with this employee. I’m assuming some sort of invite or email announcement goes out notifying people of the event. There could be a caveat saying something like: we encourage all employees to attend to celebrate the year/bond as an office/etc, but would like to respect individuals’ beliefs and therefore attendance at the luncheon is not mandatory.

        4. The OG Anonsie*

          Just move the luncheon, then. New Year’s Eve, maybe, make it the end of year lunch?

          Or, if most people are out on PTO between Christmas and New Year’s in your office, do it at whatever time point makes sense for you guys to do a little nod to the staff– do you have performance reviews at a certain time at the end of the year? You could do an employee appreciation lunch at the end of review season.

          I worked somewhere the office was a graveyard from mid December to early January, so we had an org-wide “start the new year” employee lunch in mid January. But individual management groups would often have little lunches or afternoon coffee and snacks things right after review season, too.

    3. Don Draper*

      I don’t celebrate Christmas, and my department has a “holiday” lunch every year, and my boss gives gifts such as fancy ornaments that I sell on eBay. It doesn’t really bother me though since they aren’t singing carols or anything like that at lunch. Although certainly not ideal, I don’t see Christmas lunches as a big deal as long as the work environment is otherwise open and supportive of all.

    4. JamieS*

      Maybe this is because I have no religious affiliations so I don’t feel like my religion is ever excluded but I don’t see what the big deal is with these lunches. Sure it’s “to celebrate Christmas” but realistically it’s an excuse to have food catered and drink during the work day (well drink if you’re lucky). I just view it as getting a long lunch with a cornucopia of delicious food paid for by someone else that ends with me going home early.

      1. Georgie's Severed Arm*

        Yeah same. I celebrate Christmas, but I am not religious (So perhaps my following response is blurred by privilege). If this was a luncheon that has religious bible readings, or carol singing, or praying, I definitely would understand the alienation. Since it sounds like it’s just free food and socializing with coworkers you might not otherwise see before getting a day and a half off…I don’t see the big deal. Rebrand it as a “Half Day Luncheon” and stress the fact that it’s not mandatory. I would suggest moving it up a couple weeks if possible (and then just calling it a Winter Lunch), but I don’t think much more is needed than that. Sure, it’s still obviously centered around Christmas…but at least more of the emphasis will be put on the half-day or employee relations and less on the holiday. And of course, make sure you have plenty of food options for employees with any dietary restrictions.

      2. Specialk9*

        So… You’re not religious, but since it doesn’t bug you, it shouldn’t bug people who are religious?

        (Cocks head in puzzlement)

        I am religious, a non Christian religion, and I’m telling you that it does bug me. Now what?

        1. Kix*

          I’m not religious and I’m not Christian, but the way I look at this is, attendance at the luncheon is not mandatory. I likely wouldn’t attend, but I don’t care if the luncheon goes on without me because I’m given the option to not attend, I’m not forced to attend.

          1. Specialk9*

            Hey guys, everyone gets cake, line up here! Oh hey, Jew, you’re nice and all, but out of the line. Only normal people get cake.

            Yeah, nothing wrong with this at all.

            1. TL -*

              …um… the message is “Hey Jews, there’s cake if you want to stand in line for it, but if you don’t want to, you can spend your line-time doing what you want.”
              There’s a whole lot of religious overtones that might make the decision complicated, but nobody is talking about excluding or punishing the non-Christians for opting out – the OP has been clear that other people have opted out before without any social cost.

    5. Story Nurse*

      Agreed. I’m Jewish, and very aware of the discrepancy between how many of my holidays are on the work calendar (zero) vs. how many Christian-influenced holidays are on the work calendar (Easter, Thanksgiving [two days], and Christmas [sometimes two days]). I understand it to an extent—people tend to travel for holidays, and if most people in your office will want that time off anyway, best to make it available to everyone—but definitely draw the line at official celebrations of holidays with religious origins.

      A pretty simple solution would be to make it a New Year’s Eve thing instead. New Year’s is a secular holiday going all the way back to its roots. It happens at the same time of year, people still get the afternoon and next day off, and a celebration serves the same communal purpose. If Christians want to think of it as “the Christmas party moved a week later” they can go ahead and do that.

      I’m also surprised no one’s suggested talking to the employee about it. If my new boss took me aside and said “Hey, we have a tradition of a Christmas Eve lunch here—it’s not at all mandatory and there’s no gift-giving. We’re very willing to [make whatever tweaks you feel good about] if that’s a thing that would make you uncomfortable. What do you think?” I would feel pretty great about having chosen to work at that company. Also, that gives the employee a chance to say “Oh, my name may have confused you but I actually do celebrate Christmas” or “I love Christmassy things, please don’t change it on my account” or “I couldn’t care less” and free you from fretting about it! I understand no one wants to put the new hire on the spot, but an official Christmas celebration will put them on the spot regardless, and a no-pressure private conversation months in advance of the event seems kinder to me.

      1. ReanaZ*

        Yeah, I also thought that was missing from the answer–what does the employee herself think? That’s the important question for the immediate situation. Although I like the idea of making it a new years celebration instead.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I didn’t suggest that because I think that if the employee does feel not-great about it, it’s putting her on the spot to expect her to say that (and risk feeling like she’s messing up her new office’s tradition).

          1. Story Nurse*

            But if no one mentions that the company’s willing to make changes, she’s even less likely to bring it up herself, and is stuck feeling not-great with nothing to do but go on feeling not-great.

            For plausible deniability and additional data-gathering, perhaps an all-hands email could go out: “We’re considering moving our traditional Christmas lunch to New Year’s/February/whenever. We want to make sure our annual celebration of our employees is open to everyone, including those who don’t celebrate Christmas and those who travel for the holidays. (We will continue to have a half-day on December 24th regardless.) Please email HR/the CEO directly with any thoughts on that. We’d really love to hear from all of you.”

              1. Story Nurse*

                Ooh, good idea. Even if it’s kind of pointless at such a small company, it gives the new kid an extra level of security in submitting comments.

              2. Barefoot Librarian*

                Or even an anonymous Google Forms survey. That’s super easy to put together and collect feedback. We did that with our monthly birthday party recently (it’s less a party and more a half an hour gathering with cake and snacks to recognize those that have a birthday that month). As a result of the survey, we cut it back to four times a year, but kept the tradition. Everyone’s happy. Sometimes we do things to appreciate or incentivize our employees that they ultimately find inconvenient. Checking in with them periodically is a good move regardless of the event.

            1. Turquoisecow*

              And some non-Christians are fine with attending work Christmas parties in a secular way, and some are pretty offended and feel left out. You can’t predict how this employee feels until you actually ask.

          2. Bagpuss*

            I think the fact that it is not mandatory and that that is made clear should help with that, as it allows her to chose not to attend without having to give a reason, and also let her know that her new employers are aware that it is a potential issue.

            I think changing or cancelling it this year would tie it to the new employee and might make her life more difficult, but the company could consider changing it in future, and/or thinking about having different event, at a different time of year, which could be explicitly to thank employees for their work .

          3. Mary*

            Plus, if you ask the employee and she says, “Oh no, it’s fine!”, all you’ve done is save the problem up for the next time you hire someone who you think isn’t Christian. A solution that comes from the organisation rather than being built around one specific worker is a much better idea.

          4. Apollo Warbucks*

            Also with one employee it would be easier to make accommodations or changes but this new employee isn’t able to speak for all future non Christian employees so it wouldn’t solve the underlying issues with having religious based celebrations in the office.

          5. Alliant*

            Just because there isn’t an employee present who objects doesn’t make it right.

            We need to work through this even if the offic is homogeneous.

            There are a lot of issues beside this. For example:

            What is the proper separation of work versus personal?
            Does religion ever have a place in the workspace?
            What do we view as default?
            What are we inadvertently normalizing?
            Are there promblematic aspects of hat we are celebrating?

            Just because you have a team of all dude Bros doesn’t mean Friday afternoons spent at a strip club would be ok.

            Optics matter. What we view as our cultural default matters.

            Valuing inclusion isn’t just about not offending people. It’s about trying to realize their at voices and POVs other than our own. Traditions other than our own.

            Yes, the issue is more immediate if you have a non Christian team member. You then have additional worries.

            That doesn’t mean the offense should be the only concern.

            1. Specialk9*

              “What do we view as default?
              What are we inadvertently normalizing?”

              YES. I hate feeling NOT NORMAL in December. ‘You’re not one of us’ is so utterly ubiquitous. It’s hard not to jump to ‘and you’re not welcome’.

          6. Xari Mari B.*

            As someone who doesn’t celebrate any holidays, changing the luncheon to a different day of the month or calling it something different (‘winter luncheon’) won’t change the fact it is in fact, a holiday luncheon. Therefore, I still wouldn’t participate. However, I would be really touched that my manager came to me to ask me my preferences. I would probably ask to be allowed to leave early or order lunch separately if the luncheon was catered. But in my experience, I’m used to be the odd lady out and it’s not offensive for others to celebrate their holiday traditions. Just make sure you tell the organizer not to include me on the secret Santa list and we’ll be fine.

        2. Liz2*

          It also depends on how much this company expects to grow or if it thinks it’ll just chug along in the same petri dish until it peters out. Best to just admit the old way is gone. Either have a lunch in the middle of the month or just let everyone off on the day to do what they want- that’s the new tradition.

        3. MoreNowAgain*

          Personally, I would feel put on the spot and would not be comfortable with a conversation like that so early on in my time at that company (or really, ever). I also think that would miss the opportunity to address this moving forward – if they make adjustments based on this one individual, what will they do in relation to future hirings? Rather than face the possibility of frequent revisions, might as well seize the chance to make it an all inclusive event moving forward. Just my 2 cents!

        1. Story Nurse*

          Quoth Wikipedia, “It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1864, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of ‘Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,’ to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.”

          1. TL -*

            There are schools in Boston that are trending towards giving off the major holidays in any substantial subset of their school population (mostly Jewish and Muslim students). Hopefully that’s indicative of a largish trend.

            Also, I don’t want to start a secular/religious debate over Thanksgiving but I’d love to move that over to the weekend open thread, because I have never met anyone of my (atheist/Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/agnostic/Buddhist) friends who feels that way.

            1. Oryx*

              Thank you. I don’t want to derail this thread with this conversation, but yeah. Thanksgiving not a Christian holiday.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I always thought it was more of a colonial-genocide holiday, personally.

              1. Specialk9*

                I mean, yeah. It squicks me out ideologically because of what came next and the broader destruction of native cultures, but that particular moment of working together across cultures seems like a nice moment. But that nice moment was part of something so awful.

                It’s like Passover. Yes, fleeing slavery is good, but it feels an awful lot like celebrating the death of Egyptian babies, and the devastation of an entire margin with plagues and natural disasters. I get really sad at that part. (Fortunately, you’re pretty much supposed to get sad there, the service often refers to the tragedy.)

        2. Engineer Girl*

          The original proclamation:
          “Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

          Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

          William Bradford
          Ye Governor of Ye Colony

          The first United States proclamation:
          November 1, 1777
          FORASMUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:
          It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.”
          And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.

          1. Fiennes*

            Civic authorities citing God doesn’t make a holiday religious any more than it makes their bill an act of canon law. Religious holidays are established by a religion, not the state. Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a secular holiday for a very long time. While churches sometimes put on a thanksgiving dinner or such, I don’t see them holding special extra masses/services to mark the occasion as they do with actual religious holidays.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              The Pilgrims were a religious colony founded in the “New World”
              for religious freedom. They practiced a form of Christianity.

              Churches did hold services on Thanksgiving. I remember it as a child. Some churches still have services.

              There is some speculation that Thanksgiving was modeled after Sukkot.

              1. Alliant*

                Even if it’s no longer overly religious, it’s from a white Christian cultural POV.

                Also, a quick google search of “Is Thanksgiving a religious or secular holiday?” reveals that a lot of people view it as a religious day.

            2. Tom*

              Apologies if I’m adding fuel to an off-topic fire… but many churches do have additional services to honor Thanksgiving, I’ve been to quite a few of them. Even the churches I’ve been to that don’t have a Thanksgiving service usually consider doing it, in a way that they never would for, say, Memorial Day or Labor Day.

            3. JamieS*

              Thank you. The Declaration of Independence also declares our rights are derived from God but no reasonable person would argue the Declaration should be put in the Bible as a religious text. Government citing God doesn’t make an act of government a Christian holiday, text, and/or tradition.

        3. Alliant*

          It May or may not be a religious holiday, but it is a white Christian holiday steeped in a propagandistic telling of the nations founding mythos. Just because 5 overt religious aspects aren’t there does not mean the cultural POV is absent. Something can have a Christian POV that erases and excludes without being religious.

          The issue we should have with it is not that it’s religious like an Easter mass, but how it whitewashes and erases what our white Christian founders did to the people who were already here.

          After doing a lot of work with tribes and First Nations and hearing their perspectives, I no longer celebrate the holiday.

          It is exclusionist and can be very hurtful to members of bands, tribes, and nations. It’s hurtful to me to watch it being so blindly celebrated knowing ho much pain this causes my tribal friends.

          We are discussing the wrong issue here. That’s our cultural blind spot in the USA.

          If y’all really care, spend some time online reading Native/American Indian/First Nations voices on this issue.

          1. TL -*

            While Thanksgiving can absolutely be culturally insensitive and it was indeed shaped by a white, colonizing culture, that’s an issue outside of secular vs. religious.

            Which is a conversation we should have on the weekend open thread!

            1. Alliant*


              Just tying to point out that even those of us who are well intentioned often fail to see the whole picture because we ar blind to others.

      2. Sandy*

        I really like your script at the end!

        I am Jewish and tend to be pretty hyper-aware to the Christmas stuff.

        That said, my office does something like this every Christmas, and I think they have managed to strike a decent balance. It’s held the last work day before Christmas, and it’s not mandatory. It’s a potluck brunch, everybody brings their families, and there are no Christmas decorations/songs/whatever. It winds up being a bit like a work open house in the end, and once it is done, we are all free to go home.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I could have written this comment. Also Jewish, also hyper-aware of this stuff, also in a workplace that does similar “events”. In our case, our office is closed between Christmas and New Year’s, so it’s more like, “Let’s have lunch before we don’t see each other for 10 days.” Doesn’t bother me at all.

          I never thought I’d say this about anything Christmas-related, but if there are no gifts and no decorations and no one’s making me sing “O Come All Ye Faithful”, then… it’s just lunch. That said, thank you to the OP for being sensitive about this, because a whooooole lot of people would recognize there might be an issue and simply not care.

          1. OP Number 3*

            My college boyfriend was Jewish, and that’s when I really became aware of how Christian the culture tends to be in the US, even if you’re just looking at the secular impact. It can be isolating if you’re not a member of the dominant group. I’m probably a bit hyper-sensitive about it, all things considered.

            1. Alliant*

              Yes, and not even in an overtly religious way.

              There’s a white Christian slant to the 4th as well which people who are raised in the culture do not see. My friends from Thailand see it. My friends who are American Indian live in it to their detriment.

            2. Nadia*

              OP #3, thanks for being sensitive to other religions as a lot of people wont care. I am a Muslim and this would not bother me at all. What does bother me however is when I get a wine from management when everyone and their dog knows I don’t drink for religious reasons.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I honestly appreciate you being sensitive toward this. I’m from a super minority religion. While I’m not offended by Christianity or Christian practice, I often find it frustrating that the dominant group (or people who decide “they’re not offended” even if they’re not in the dominant group) refuse to acknowledge or concede that normalizing and prioritizing the dominant group’s religious practice can be exclusionary or feel alienating to others.

            4. Halster*

              I think it’s good to be sensitive about it! I’m Muslim and it’s definitely a bit aggravating (especially since we don’t currently have any “winter” holiday, so we’re just – out in the metaphorical cold. Especially when everyone is discussing all of their plans and it’s just like, “ah, yes, I am doing nothing, because this means nothing to me. Carry on.”

      3. Triplestep*

        I like the New Years idea, as long as the change could be made without pointing to the new employee as the reason. This would be hard to pull off, but worth it assuming the company is growing and getting more diverse.

        As a Jew who is about to be the new person in a very small department, I really hope I am not asked about Christmas in a few months.

        1. Alliant*

          A lot of people disagree with you. Maybe let’s not be so definitive either way.

          To a large percent of the population, it is religious. Enough that it’s problematic for non Christians.

          I’m an old lady, I’ve lived all over this country. In some areas of the USA, it’s secular. That must be where you live. That’s not universal.

          I can tell you that a lot of my non white, non Christian friends see the holiday as white and Christian and find it alienating at best. Those who are card carrying members of tribes find it traumatic. Yes, traumatic.

          1. TL -*

            Temperance has actually been quite vocal about growing up in an extremely Christian household. I think a lot of the push back here is people who are Christian/culturally Christian are not fond of having their religion defined for them in a way that feels incredibly inaccurate, so I’m guessing a clarifying conversation will end up being a long derail.

            I will definitely remember to post about this in this weekend’s open thread, though!

            1. Mazzy*

              Yes, it’s not a religious holiday. If it was, it would be recognized by The church as such! It’s that simple. It’s also a little odd to tell someone of X religion that Y day is a holiday for their religion, based on anecdotal evidence! It’s somewhat more accepted because Christianity is the mainstream religion here, but if we did that to other religions, there would be hell to pay!

              1. Fuzzyfuzz*

                I agree. It’s also incredibly odd to tell someone that certain other cultural traditions are part of their religion when, for them, it isn’t so.

          2. Chinook*

            “the holiday as white and Christian and find it alienating at best. Those who are card carrying members of tribes find it traumatic. Yes, traumatic.”

            I am not going to disagree that it is a white man’s holiday, especially how it is portrayed in American culture. But it is definitely not a religious one. And, in Canada, I am unsure if First Nations see it with the same anger because here is it is celebrated as a harvest festival.

      4. Artemesia*

        It has never occurred to me that Thanksgiving was a ‘Christian’ holiday. thanking God for good fortune is not limited to Christianity. Just because the early settlers who started the tradition were Christian doesn’t make it a Christian holiday (like Christmas or Easter). After all the Indians who supposedly participated were not Christian. I am a freethinker who does not celebrate Easter (the high holy day in Christianity) but Thanksgiving which we often celebrate with Jewish friends has never been anything but an American (and Canadian) holiday in my circle which includes many Jews, many Christians, many Atheists and the occasional member of other faiths.

      5. Katzen*

        For whatever it’s worth, the last time Orthodox Christmas fell during the work week, I had to go to a hearing. Courts are most definitely NOT closed on that day and neither is my office. We also moved our office on Orthodox Holy Friday which meant much more work when I really didn’t have the time. I should add, of course, that my Jewish employer was horrified when he found out I did this and insisted that it never happen again. Incidentally, we do have an office “Christmas party” every year right around December 24th.

        If there were a longstanding tradition at my office that a holiday/Christmas/winter party occurs on December 24th and it were suddenly changed once someone known to not celebrate the holiday was hired, I would assume it is because of that person. I can’t imagine saying anything about the change to the employee herself, or even to others in the office, but I would definitely notice it and assume it was because of the one person who doesn’t celebrate.

        I don’t know that there’s a way to address it without putting the employee on the spot, and while my default answer would be “find out what the employee thinks,” I imagine most people would not be comfortable saying “please don’t have it on December 24th.” I have a great relationship with my employer and still wasn’t comfortable asking to not move our office on Holy Friday!

        The holiday is far enough out that perhaps it could casually be discussed in front of the employee and try to gauge the reaction that way and make it clear that it’s not mandatory. From the letter, it sounds like the lunch is limited to spending time with colleagues.

      6. Chinook*

        Wait — Thanksgiving is Christian? I always thought it was a secular holiday because there is nothing significant religiously that happens in the Catholic church in October (in Canada and only one day here) and, in November (for Americans) it is a month of remembrance and prayers for the dead, so not very cheery and thankful. And Christmas Day is the only religious one – Boxing Day up here is the traditional day for giving servants the day off/serve them or to go shopping for deals.

        I mean, if you are going to get mad at Christians for having religious holy days as stat. holidays, you have to realize that there are only 2 on the calendar – Christmas and Easter (which may or may not count as it is on a Sunday and Good Friday and Easter Monday are not stats.) Other than that, all other holidays are civic ones.

        1. Specialk9*

          “if you are going to get mad at Christians for having religious holy days as stat. holidays, you have to realize that there are only 2 on the calendar – Christmas and Easter”

          Maybe you’re not intending to build a giant strawman, but this is a really dismissive mischaracterization of what we non-Christians are objecting to. We’re not *mad* at you (are you 2?!), we’re not attacking you or your religion or your right to celebrate with your family. We’re saying that your assumptions that your way of being is ‘normal’ is othering and makes us feel ostracized. We’re saying that blurring work and private lines gets very problematic when your group has the power and ours don’t. We’re saying it FEELS BAD AND EXCLUDES US.

          But yes, we also believe in separation of church and state, because we’re patriots*, and so very calmly we want religious holidays off the national holiday roster. 2 religious holidays is 2 too many.

          Also no more Columbus Day because he was a rapist slaver genocider.

          *speaking here from a US perspective

    6. Oilpress*

      I vote to keep the tradition. Atheists, non-Christians, and Christians can all find different reasons for enjoying this celebration. I can’t imagine anyone complaining about a social lunch before a holiday. Conversely, I can imagine many people complaining about canceling an enjoyable tradition.

      1. Betsy*

        I’m Jewish and it wouldn’t bother me a bit. Free lunch? Hell, I’ll even sing “Oh come all ye faithful”. Jews understand that Christmas is very ingrained in American tradition, and that’s fine. Most if us don’t care, aren’t offended, and would have no desire to ask a company to make something less Christmasy.

        1. Zip Silver*

          Yeah my Jewish colleague is has been on board with our (optional) Christmas party for the past few years. Usually the boss comes up with a fun outing.

        2. Jewish anon*

          “Jews understand that Christmas is very ingrained in American tradition, and that’s fine.”

          I am super not fine with that, actually, and it would absolutely bother me.

      2. Alliant*

        And they can also find reasons not to!

        Would you tell someone Cree to celebrate Thanksgiving? Someone Seminole to celebrate the 4thbecause they can find a reason to enjoy it?
        I find the conversation here entirely tone deaf to this nations treatment of many people who were not Christian and white, but most especially the people who were here before us.

        No one should b forced to find a reason to like a holiday that is not part of their culture, especially if that culture oppressed their people.

          1. Statler von Waldor*

            Not being forced is not the same as optional. Raises and promotions are optional too. And if you “are not a team player,” you’ll be seeing less of those raises and promotions.

        1. Chinook*

          “Would you tell someone Cree to celebrate Thanksgiving? ”

          Actually, my Cree run playschool (thank you Sawridge First Nations) is where I learned how to make a turkey out of my handprint. So, no, I wouldn’t tell them but I would definitely invite them and expect them to show up if they said yes.

    7. CityMouse*

      For what it is worth, as someone who celebrates Christmas, I would rather go home to prep for my own holiday and dinner or spend time with my family than have a lunch at work. Is OP sure people don’t see this as optional-but-not-really? Some employees may be happy they moved it.

      1. OP Number 3*

        It’s truly optional. We’ve had employees in the past opt out of the lunch. Our former office manager would gossip about it (she was a bit of a twit) but she’s the only one who cared. Since she retired over 10 years ago it’s been a complete non-issue. The rest of us are pretty much live and let live.

        1. TL -*

          Oh, if that’s the case, I’d be tempted to just call it a holiday lunch or the annual thank-you lunch or something. If there’s no punishment or social pressure and employees can go home instead of going to the lunch, then they still have a reward (getting off work early) and they can choose what they’re comfortable with.

          1. OP Number 3*

            They can definitely leave when the rest of the office goes to lunch. It ends up being a bit more than a half day off, actually, because we tend to leave the office before noon.
            Now thinking about food has me hungry.

          2. Just Another Techie*

            I like the idea of calling it the annual thank you lunch. Yeah it’ll still be obvious it originated as a Christmas celebration, but if you don’t have Christmas, or even “generic” winter-themed, decorations, and instead have decorations that say “Thank you for a great year” etc that would go a long way towards relieving most people’s discomfort.

          3. Lissa*

            I like the idea of this too, and feel like part of the problem is that if it makes the most sense to have the holiday right before a break, unfortunately that break coincides with a Christian holiday. Not sure how to really solve that issue.

    8. Soon to be former fed*

      My experience is that folks who don’t celebrate Christmas, like Jehovahs Witnesses, are used to the dominant culture doing so. There is a JW who has been in my office for years. She just doesn’t attend any holiday gatherings at all.Sometimes she takes leave, voluntarily.

      So OP 1, just keep on doing what you are doing. You can offer to give the non-celebrant administrative time off, which might be a nice gesture in a small office like yours. But I wouldn’t sweat it too much.

    9. AJ*

      Agree with the posters saying not to make a “celebration of all religions” and “inclusivity”. It’s an office lunch because the office gives staff a half day.

      It could always be changed to a few days earlier for the Winter Solstice. Sure you might offend the 25% (or thereabouts) of Americans who believe the Sun goes around the Earth, but they’re eejits and their opinions can be disregarded.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I’d feel weird about this, too. The annotating could just have been a “micromanagement intrusion of opportunity”—i.e., she only made notes because she saw the pad, was bored while covering your desk (or on the phone), and went over them to kill time. Still a little weird, but not as boundary violating.

    But going through your purse? That’s weird, full stop. I agree with Alison—tackle that, first, because it’s so much more blatantly inappropriate. And I’m sorry your boss is a little strange. :(

    1. MillersSpring*

      Even if the boss didn’t sort through the purse’s contents, she still unzipped it in order to drop in the goodies. Ew. And really giving company-branded stuff seems like a ruse to go through the OP’s purse.

      1. Artemesia*

        Giving business swag was obviously an excuse to open her purse. No one does that. If you wanted to give someone business swag you would put it on their desk or hand it do them or even tuck it in their top drawer. The only likely motive for these ridiculous ‘gifts’ was to have an excuse to prowl in her purse. This is creepy intrusive stuff.

        I’d figure out how to secure anything private; the purse is in a locked drawer, or has a lock on it (like a briefcase) and notes she doesn’t want looked at are filed away so not easily found. And be very mindful about other boundary crossings and ways to gently tend those boundaries. Don’t accept any social invitations.

        1. Koko*

          The thing that’s so weird is Boss didn’t need a ruse. She could have gone through the purse while OP was gone and never said anything to her about it. But instead she left gifts behind that incriminated her, and blatantly fessed up to it.

          So either Boss is completely clueless about boundaries and doesn’t realize what she did was wrong, or this was a very intentionally pointed message to OP that Big Boss is Watching.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think it’s the former. This doesn’t read to me like an attempt to cover up going through her purse; it reads like someone who’s utterly clueless that putting something in the OP’s purse was invasive.

          2. Cercis*

            As a nosy person (TM), I can tell you that your brain comes up with justifications for your nosiness. I almost never give in (now as an adult, I only give in when it’s my kids and even then I first talk to my husband about it to be sure I’m not making excuses), but I can totally “hear” the brain conversation – “hmmm, she left her purse here, I wonder what’s in it?” “I can’t go through her purse” “Oh! But you have this swag, and it’s a good place to leave it, then you’re not going through her purse, you’re giving her a gift.” It’s like the mother who’s “not snooping, but just putting away your clothes for you – it’s a favor!”

            Basically, your brain is coming up with plausible deniability. You know it’s wrong to snoop, but you have a compulsion, so your brain comes up with this ruse.

            NOT excusing the boss – just explaining how it happens in my head (and, like I said, I don’t give into the compulsion unless it’s my kids and only after I’ve gotten a second opinion).

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Totally agreed on this. I don’t know anyone who gives away swag by putting it in your purse when you’re away from your desk. The boss is being super prying/nosy, and it’s not ok. But I think the purse is so objectively egregious that it’ll be easier to push back on than the notes.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      I’d agree if the boss had just looked at the notes but she wrote on them. That’s a massive boundary violation to me.

      1. MashaKasha*

        I can’t get over the fact that she corrected what she thought was a grammar error. What is this, third grade? It’s almost as bad as opening OP’s purse.

        1. JanetM*

          I find that I am almost (but not clinically!) compulsive about correcting grammar and punctuation errors. I just finished a six week “Be Well” course at work, and found myself marking up the handouts every week, to the point where my final comment on the post-course survey was, “Overall, this was a good class, but your handouts are riddled with errors and this affects your credibility.”

          In most circumstances, though, unless I’ve been *asked* to proofread / copy-edit, I sit on my hands and grit my teeth and ignore it.

          1. myswtghst*

            I feel you on this so hard. I spent several years at my last job as the primary editor of my team’s documents, and it is so hard for me not to notice errors now. And I have absolutely given the same type of feedback about courses I’ve taken (and emails from management) because it really is distracting.

        2. MoreNowAgain*

          Seriously, especially since they are notes – I use my own made up short hand when I take notes at work, anyone who looks at it without context would seriously question my ability to spell and construct sentences :)

    3. MK*

      The purse thing is very off. When I get my nails done, I put the money/card in an easily accessible pocket, because if I ask the salon personnel to get my wallet from my purse (so as not to damage the manicure), they get visibly uncomfortable, despite the fact that I am right there and specifically asked them to do it. I always felt there was a really strong cultural aversion to messing with a woman’s handbag; even my mother (not particularly discreet when it comes to her daughters) wouldn’t do that to me.

      1. CityMouse*

        I keep medication in my handbag and I can see a boss like OP’s grilling someone on it. No way. It is a bad enough boundary cross that I would keep that resume dusted off.

      2. Justme*

        My mom has asked me to get her wallet or credit card out of her purse. I bring her the entire purse. I’m in my mid 30s and I still don’t want to go through my mom’s stuff. Let alone a relative stranger’s stuff.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          My husband (of 10+ years) does the same thing. He sees going through someone else’s bag as completely off limits.

        2. NLMC*

          That’s how I am with my mom’s purse too. When I first got married my husband would grab stuff out of my purse and it made me feel like of weird. I wasn’t mad and didn’t have anything to hide, but it was just odd to me.
          But he grew up in a house were they could grab things out of their mother’s purse so he probably would think how I grew up was just a weird.
          It doesn’t bother me anymore, plus it lets me be extra lazy if I need something from my purse and he’s already standing.

        3. Starbuck*

          This is so funny to hear, because I grew up with the opposite situation- as kid I got bored easily and wasn’t super into socializing (sitting in restaurants waiting for food, traveling, etc) so I might ask for a pen, crayons, something to read, etc. and my mom would just hand me her giant purse to dig through. You’d also get handed the purse if you asked for scissors, or a cough drop, or a scrap of paper to make a note on, etc. etc. etc. Or we’d be in the drive through and as the passenger it was my job to 1. dig through giant purse to locate wallet and then 2. flip through giant wallet to find correct card.

          That gendered expectation where moms are the managers of all the kid supplies & family travel logistics? Definitely the case in my family.

      3. Ms. Mad Scientist*

        I have to disagree with Alison. Putting something in someone’s purse is a major boundary violation. My husband doesn’t even go in my purse. If my boss did so, I’d be horrified.

        1. Bostonian*

          I agree completely. Even if I tell my SO to get something out of my purse, he will get the whole purse and bring it to me (probably to avoid any “feminine” items).

          In any case, I see going into someone else’s purse without permission as a huge boundary violation.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            My desk drawers are almost deliberately full of tampons. Handy in case anyone else in the office gets caught short, but there’s still enough cultural weirdness around menstruation that it’s also an excellent deterrent to snooping. Still doesn’t stop my boss rearranging my desk whenever he stops by though, only stops him rearranging the drawers.

      4. K.*

        Me too. I once had a manicurist announce “I AM GOING IN YOUR PURSE” after I specifically told her to reach in and grab my wallet (I usually either pay first or take out my money before we get going, but I’d forgotten.) If someone asks me to get something out of their bag, I just bring them the bag. I’d be really creeped out if my boss went through my bag.

      5. Turquoisecow*

        I keep medication in my purse that I take every morning on my way to work. On weekends I am not up that early, and usually take it from bed. Sometimes I forget to bring it upstairs before heading to the bedroom at night, and I’ll ask my husband if he can bring it up as he is still downstairs. He will bring me the whole purse, even though I have nothing to hide from him and explicitly told him it was okay. He says it feels weird and invasive.

        1. JanetM*

          My husband will go into my purse if I ask him to, and I will get cash out of his wallet if he gives me permission (not for the money, but for the going-into-the-wallet). We’re both comfortable with that.

          I can’t imagine ever going into someone *else’s* purse or wallet unless it was a dire emergency *and* I had permission if at all possible.

      6. Jaydee*

        My *husband* gets visibly uncomfortable getting things from my purse. Seriously, dude, there’s nothing in there that’s going to bite you. I gave you permission and told you where to find it. But you just brought me the whole purse anyway.

        1. Jaydee*

          Of course, I agree that one should not go through another person’s purse or bag without explicit permission. But I am comfortable with it if given permission.

        2. Starbuck*

          In my experience, this is also due to embarrassment of possibly coming into contact with a feminine hygiene product. The horror!

      7. Specialk9*

        Stacia Kane writes a gritty urban alt-history detective series (surprisingly enjoyable), and she has a long section on how purses are sacrosanct and inviolate. This thread reminds me of that.

    4. I Herd the Cats*

      Yeah, technically the desk and office stuff belongs to the business, but (speaking as a support person and a purse-carrying person) this boss has some boundary issues. Get a lock for one of your desk drawers (pro tip: if your office has lost all the drawer keys, you can find replacements easily on eBay — there should be a number on the face of the key insert) and put your purse and anything else personal in there, and carry your key with you. This is a good habit to get into anyway — don’t leave your purse out, even in a “secure” office.

      And make sure your phone is locked.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        Seconding the phone comment. Due to a former coworker, my phone lock screen notifications are simply “new email/text/calendar/etc” and do not include any information beyond that.

    5. Soon to be former fed*

      A person’s purse is personal! You do not enter without permission! There is no reason those trinkets could not have been left on the desktop. Next thing, this intrusive boss will be going through the OP’s coat pockets.

      I recommend locking your stuff down. Leave nothing but generic things on your desk when you step away. A pain for sure, but the boss here is behaving inappropriately, including editing your privately taken notes, and there is little chance that you will reform her. When her snooping expeditions are fruitless, she will stop.

      Good luck, this would drive me to distraction.

      1. Chinook*

        I am the receptionist who flipped out and quit on the spot (they negotiated with me to stay and majorly changed computer logins that afternoon) when I had a coworker go through my emails (and then complain about what she saw) when she was covering for lunch, so I understand your pain OP.

        The purse thing definitely crossed a line but I do think it was a case of your boss just putting stuff on top instead of rooting around. Since you are not in a secure location, you need a locking cabinet so no one can get at your purse. It is just basic security.

        The notes thing, though, is something that comes with the job of being a receptionist at a shared desk. Your boss could honestly think that the notepad was the shared communicating device that often exists when you have multiple people covering. I would often have something like that to leave notes for the next person so information was passed on. Underlining it would be a way to show they read it. Or, she may have been reviewing it to see if she explained these tasks clearly enough to you.

        While I understand that it feels intrusive (especially in conjunction with the purse), this is has to be chalked up to being one of the annoying parts of being a receptionist. At least you don’t need to ask to go to the bathroom!

        If you truly want your own notebook for your own notes, I would go with AAM’s suggestion of placing yours somewhere out of the way/upside down so it is obviously not meant for others to use. I would also have a “Communication Log” available so that notes can be left for each other about things like expected deliveries, absences, etc. It also then makes it obvious that one set of notes is for public consumption while the other is for your more personal office use.

    6. Jessab*

      True, but I’m literally diagnosed with OCD and processing disorders, I’d lose my mind and be totally pissed if someone messed with my stuff especially notes, which I would now have to re-write exactly the way they were and take time to do this immediately so I could still use them. I write my notes in a certain way and I have certain redundancies built in to cover my processing issues. Screwing with this would stop all work until I could put it back the way it was, lest I screw something up because my notes were messed with. I would be terrified (anxiety disorder too,) that I would mess up a procedure and get immediately fired (unreasonably but hey anxiety.) This would NOT go over well.

      Going into my purse where I have medications and things that people are not to know about because : privacy, would flip me out just as badly. My purse is specifically arranged for instance to instantly reach my epipen and inhaler in an emergency. You put stuff on top of that you could kill me if I was having trouble breathing and starting to pass out from an allergy and couldn’t get to my meds.

      It’s one thing to edit a company document because you’re the boss and you’re allowed to change what people write. But personal notes? NO. And going into someone’s purse opens you up to problems if gods forbid something goes missing. I do not get what kind of manager thinks it’s okay to touch something not owned by the business.

      If you read my notes and find they’re WRONG tell me. But if you just don’t like them don’t do it. I despise underlining and stuff. I hate it with a passion. I do not do notes that way. My friend does that highlight and underline garbage and when she loans me books they’re SO hard to read it takes me three times as long to NOT pay attention to what she thinks is important so I can get to the parts I want to know.

    1. Mainly Lurking*

      And if you haven’t yet set up a password lock for your phone, do that NOW.

      This woman’s behaviour is so off that I wouldn’t put it past her to scroll through your texts and photos.

      1. jackie*

        This this this! And make sure you aren’t accessing your personal email or other accounts from your work computer, even if this is normal/acceptable in this office. Your boss has no respect for normal boundaries.

        1. Anonymoose*

          Well, hopefully she’s also logging out of windows each time she walks away so boss has to log on as herself.

      2. Anonymoose*


        I personally get wigged out when I accidentally grab the wrong purse/phone – I can’t imagine being so cavalier about it. Like, maybe if I knew the personal really well and it was personal, like putting a noisy cell phone away into someone’s purse or giving someone a tampon (that they asked for!) in it to keep up the image of privacy.

        Speaking of privacy: there is no privacy expectations at work. Period. Lock your stuff up, that’s the only thing you technically own there. Boss shouldn’t have gone through her stuff. She should have left it on the desk and either included a post-it addressing the gift or sent a follow up email about it. Getting the willies just thinking of someone stuffing my purse on their own.

    2. EE*

      I wouldn’t recommend that.

      I have a colleague who keeps remarking “Ah, you’re carrying your handbag around with you again!” Thanks. I am frequently ducking into the shower cubicle to take out or put in my Invisaligners and I don’t feel great knowing this change is noticeable.

      It could be worse I suppose. He could be saying: “This would make sense if you were on your period but it’s been going on for longer than a week!”

      1. Fuzzy pickles*

        Roll with it. I caved to the whole “oh you don’t need to bring your purse” poop and then had my debit card stolen from this “safe” place.

        Do people feel awkward now? Sure, but I’d rather have dealt with the annoyance up front rather then let this play out as it had.

      2. Future Homesteader*

        My first thought was definitely to just tell him “yup, this period is crazy – my flow is so heavy right now!” Obviously not a good solution, definitely a funny one.

        1. Lala*

          Nah, I think it’s a perfect solution. It’s weird to keep noticing–and especially calling out–the fact that someone carries their purse to the restroom. If the dude keeps trying to make it his business, use the awkward to shut him down.

          1. LJL*

            Exactly. I always carry my purse to the bathroom with me…in fact, I seldom ever leave it behind. I’d probably have lost it if I had found someone had gone through my purse, even to put something in. My husband doesn’t even do that…he knows better.

      3. Parenthetically*

        “Ah, you’re carrying your handbag around with you again!”

        *long pause, eye contact*


        He’s being weird. Return the awkwardness to sender.

        1. Barefoot Librarian*

          “He’s being weird. Return the awkwardness to sender.”

          I love this so much. :D

      4. Kelly L.*

        I alwaysalwaysalways take my purse to the bathroom, and have done since I was in junior high, and it’s specifically so that no one notices a change during my period, lol! My mom told me to do that, and it just became an ingrained habit, I guess.

      5. Havarti*

        Anyone pointing out I’m carrying my purse would be inviting themselves to a front row seat of my lecture titled “Society expects women to carry everything including the kitchen sink with them except they don’t allow them pockets and how you are part of the problem so shut it.”

        I’m like the only person who carries her purse in the buffet line during work lunches. Everyone else puts theirs at the table. Do I feel slightly foolish? Yes. Would I feel even more foolish if it got stolen? Hell yes. The purse stays with me.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Thank you!

          I have any number of things in my backpack that I might want with me in the bathroom. Plus the whole “not wanting to have my wallet stolen” thing. Guys carry their wallets all the time, right?

          EE, your colleague is a jackass and your experience is not the norm. If I were in your shoes, I might tell him about the invis-align or I might not. I would certainly signal-boost his awkwardness by answering in the moment. “Yes, I’m taking my purse into the bathroom” with an odd look. That’s all it needs, really.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          Yeah I don’t understand women who don’t take their purses with them sometimes. I always know where mine is and if I have to walk away from it, I have half an eye on it. If I go to someone else’s house or somewhere public for a party, I keep it on me or at least know where it is at all times. This is why I like cross-body purses – it’s on me, I know where it is, it’s impossible for someone to touch it without me knowing it, and I have both hands free.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          You are not the only person who does that. The only time I EVER leave my purse at the table is when I’m sitting with someone I know will watch or hold it, and I know they’re not getting up. Which is almost never.

        4. Ghost Town*

          Totally take my purse through the buffet line with me. Or specifically wait for my husband to go through and come back before going myself. Even at a non-buffet restaurant, if I go to the bathroom or something, I either take my purse or make mention to who ever is there that the purse is staying. Purse does not get left unattended in restaurants!

        5. Starbuck*

          Escaping those gendered expectations is one of the reasons I don’t routinely carry a purse. Mostly though it’s because I’m annoyed by having to keep track of it. Instead I just wear clothes with extra pockets.

      6. Specialk9*

        It’s basic emergency preparedness. Please tell me if you don’t carry your wallet everywhere, you at least have a 20 and bus ticket in your badge?

        I was once in a meeting when an earthquake hit, and we evacuated. I knew lots of people who evacuated for 9/11, and many said the scramble to get home without their purse meant walking miles in heels.

        I carry my purse to every meeting, every time I go to the bathroom, everywhere. My child and I simply could not get home without my purse – my keys, my money. No way I’m risking that.

    3. Mona Lisa*

      I’d also make sure to lock the computer anytime she leaves the desk if OP isn’t already doing that.

  3. Desk Jockey*

    #4 – Personally, I would have followed up to let them know that Jane was a major turn-off and the reason you turned down the offer. Could be they are already having other issues with her, and now the fact that she’s chasing off potentially excellent candidates might be something they want to know. For all you know, she might be THIS CLOSE to being let go, and they might have let her go if it meant they could bring you on board.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      +1. You could acknowledge that it’s a bit after the fact but say that, on reflection, you wanted to let them know.

      1. Artemesia*

        Too late. It makes a person look petty and vindictive to try to ‘get someone in trouble’ weeks after their rejection of a job offer. Saying something at the time would have been appropriate, but to make a special point much later makes the OP look weird.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah, I agree. And I read Desk Jockey’s comment to say the same thing (that OP could have mentioned it during the rejection, but it’s too late, now). Given the amount of time that’s passed, it’s going to come off as vindictive or odd.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think every hiring manager would want to know! But that doesn’t mean it’s in the OP’s best interests to be the one who delivers the message.

            1. Unnamed to protect the guilty*

              I, ah, once backed out of a contract when my direct supervisor X. began dropping hints about prospective extracurricular activities… I knew this guy before, and what to expect… but I was desperate to get a job, unemployment had run out, dead broke… (This was in a non-US country that had little protection against any kind of harassment.)
              Against all common sense, I boarded the train towards catastrophe – and got off a few stations later, went straight to a friend’s house on my last money, cried on her shoulder, and called the employer to cancel effective immediately.
              The employer of course was not happy.
              Six months later I met said employer, who asked “did you back out because of X.?” I was so downtrodden and terrified I denied it.
              Several years later, after X. was gone, I was finally able to confirm yes, it was because of him…

              Don’t be me. Have the guts to say it.

    2. BackedOut*

      Hello, OP here! She was actually new to the position, starting only a few weeks before I was supposed to.

      1. Elder Dog*

        From your description of her behavior, I expect she’ll tell the other manager you stopped by and then demonstrate why you chose to back out as soon as she finds out you aren’t going to be working there after all.

        1. Lora*

          This. Had a colleague who was such a nightmare at his previous position that the department couldn’t get anyone who had ever worked with him to even interview for a position in the department. That was his one and only job in the field, otherwise I would have run away myself – I didn’t know about him or anyone else who knew him.

        2. BackedOut*

          I feel like it may take them a while to catch on to her, if they do at all. The owners and all other management are at another site one state over, so there’s not a ton of oversight at the site I was going to be working at. I took a look at her LinkedIn, and it looks like she has some trouble staying anywhere for more than a year, though.

          1. Barefoot Librarian*

            I think you have to trust your gut instincts on these things. I too took a job with a supervisor that I had misgivings about and regretted it bitterly. She was neurotic and insecure, in this case, and because she was insecure, she micromanaged me to a painful degree, even manufacturing problems were there weren’t any. I started to dread it when she called me into her office because I knew she was going to be weird and aggressive about something that wasn’t a big deal (and usually not even a problem). To make it worse, her boss was just as bad but in other ways. She took delight in making people cry in meetings. Honestly, I think my boss was partly that way because of HER boss. I actually turned down a promotion from within the company that would put me in the office next door to her boss because I knew I’d have to deal with her constantly. Best thing I ever did was leave, but I still have a bit of PSTD from working there.

          2. Lora*

            It might take them a while to cotton on. Then again, every time I’ve run across a downright terrible manager, whom everyone agrees is horrible and the pits and totally incompetent and a bad person who should feel bad about themselves, it always takes forever and a day to fire the manager anyways, and they’ll lose half a dozen good people citing that specific person on their exit interviews too. I don’t think I have ever once as long as I’ve been working (since Bush the Elder’s era, I am old) seen a manager-level person fired in anything like a timely fashion before they created a ton of damage to the point of wrecking the whole department and putting a few arrows in their boss’s career for good measure. More usually I see them shunted off into positions that are technically the same level but with fewer and fewer direct reports and responsibilities.

    3. MK*

      Or, she could be the CEO’s favorite employee and universally admired by her coworkers.

      I see the OP has commented that she is very new, but it’s better to consider the pitfalls of something like that. Especially since the OP’s credit as “candidate who rescinded their acceptance of our offer” is likely not high.

      1. Mazzy*

        But her credit is not high because she didn’t explain her reason. That is my only qualm about candidates that have dropped out of my hiring procesess. I’d like to know what they saw and address it, one candidate shared a potential concern with me, and I saw why he saw it, but it’s not actually true. But he’d only know that if he accepted the offer and worked for us. Sort of a catch 22. He wasn’t willing to take the leap of faith. So I don’t see anything wrong with his declining the offer. But if he had just ghosted me, or not explained, he’d be lower on my list.

        1. SS*

          I think you’re last few sentences play into people being human. The catch 22 in someone’s eyes shouldn’t be that a person having had previously worked for a monster having to take a leap of faith seeing that another manager might be a monster as well. Hiring should find ways to not allow people that are monsters to have more power. Which is unlikely because they are usually also the people that show up and are in the middle of everything.

  4. CC*

    Yeah, it sounds like number 3’s is centered around the holiday and that’s kind of hard to work around. One thing about moving it though, my company is pretty diverse religiously and the owners have their holiday party centered around the new year (usually in first week of January) and that seems to work for it being pretty inclusive – it covers the meet and greet and socializing that people can like and having the owners talk about successes of the past year and goals for the future keeps it professional, joyful, and secular. I don’t know if that’s possible with your specific situation, but for anybody else wondering, I think it works pretty well.

    1. gladfe*

      Yeah, I was wondering if this business has New Year’s Day off too. If so, I’d be inclined to move the lunch to New Year’s Eve and, if asked, say it’s to avoid interfering with people’s Christmas Eve travel plans. I realize that’s still giving a Christmas-centric explanation, but I think it’d be worth it to avoid making it about the new employee.

    2. Katelyn*

      I had a company that did that, and apparently the most convincing “pitch” to the top management for moving it was that after Christmas you can spend the same amount of money and get much more out of it. In this case instead of scrambling in October for any reservation at all in December and being charged a premium by a restaurant, they could go to the most convenient/favorite moderately up scale place at 80% of what they paid for a less than satisfactory meal the year before.

      1. kurson*

        I used to work at a place that did a holiday blow-out party in December and then moved it into January. It was way less fun in January. December was our busy period, so having a few hours to drink and dance and eat was such an amazing way to blow off steam. By the time we got to January, stress levels had returned to normal and people weren’t nearly as into it, which made it not so much a fun time as an obligation.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          I worked for a company once that had their “xmas” parties in March. The tradition had been that one year someone had procrastinated so badly (probably when the company was about 20 people) and then they liked it and kept it up. And yeah, way bigger party for the same money. There was an amusement park involved.

          1. Anonanonanon*

            I worked for an org where everyone was too burned out at the end of the year to deal with planning a Christmas party so we moved it to the start of February and had a big Groundhog’s Day blowout that was a lot of fun.

  5. eplawyer*

    #3 — It’s a luncheon before you go on break. Yes, it is clearly tied to Christmas, but everyone is assuming the new employee will be horribly offended by this connection. It is well within the realm of possibility that the new employee will see it as it is — a company lunch that comes before a day and half off. If you present it as no big deal and don’t be all “oh we’re trying to be inclusive here what do you want us to do” which puts the onus on the employee to solve your company’s diversity issue, chances are the new employee will have no problem with it.

    1. Just don't call it a winter light festival*

      Yep. I was raised in another religion and gave up mentioning this to people because I was driven round the freaking bend by assumptions that I cared about things I either didn’t mind or actively would have enjoyed. For example, that I would be offended by Christmas decorations. A housemate at university once assumed they couldn’t have a Christmas tree because I’d mind – what I actually minded was that assumption. I like chocolate as much as the next person but people assumed I’d be offended.

      I gave up mentioning it at all as the well-meaning assumptions drove me bananas.

      And oh, the disappointment as a kid being told “we were going to do xyz but figured you couldn’t” when I could have and wanted to.

      I would just tell them in a low key way that some things in the office are geared towards Christmas and to let you know if that’s an issue. Of course, it depends what they’ve said about their religion, but I’d just be a bit more chilled about it all.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No one so far has indicated they’re assuming the new person will be horribly offended. Like I wrote in the post, plenty of people won’t care. But some people would feel a bit alienated by it — not in a way they haven’t encountered plenty of times before, no doubt, but it can suck to feel like an office’s rituals aren’t really for you. And when an office cares about being inclusive, this is the kind of thing you should take into account.

      And really, just because some people wouldn’t care doesn’t mean no one would care, so I don’t know that it’s useful to catalogue who does and who doesn’t.

      1. Gaia*

        I agree. My company does have a holiday party every December. It is a major event and the staff nearly universally look forward to it every year. As a group, we tend to be pretty non-religious but the party still has definite Christmas themes (trees, gifts, decorations, etc). We’re making small changes year over year to make it less Christmas and more end-of-year-it-is-slow-as-hell-right-now celebration. While no one has expressed that they feel excluded yet, we recognize that it might be alienating to someone and the intent is for everyone to have a good time – so why do something that could limit that?

        1. blackcat*

          I have attended holiday parties that…
          1) Are referred to as New Year’s/end of the year parties, Winter Solstice parties (this was paired with a summer solstice party in June), and Newton’s birthday parties (science department in a school. Isaac Newton was supposedly born on Christmas).
          2) Had no “Christmas” decorations, instead having new year’s stuff and/or generic winter themed stuff (like snowflakes).

          These seem pretty successful in not alienating people. In most places I’ve been, we’ve been tied to an academic calendar, so there’s something natural to the “whoot, I don’t have to show my face here for 2+ weeks!” party and it’s a pretty natural time to have a gathering.

      2. Sandy*

        Can I just say that I really really love the distinction you just made there?

        Alienated versus offended.

        I am going to adopt that as my explanation from now on!

      3. Colette*


        If I were in a company where most of the employees celebrated a holiday I did not, I’d be glad to go for lunch with them, but I’d also be very aware that they were excited over something that didn’t involve me.

        For example, I used to work for a US based company, and every November people would wish me happy Thanksgiving. It was great – except our thanksgiving is in mid October. They meant well so I wouldn’t object, but it was still kind of clueless.

      4. Triplestep*

        “Alienated” is probably a good word to describe how I (a Jew) feel about most office Christmas celebrations; I am definitely not offended by them. And while it varies from person to person as as you point out in the post, I find that the more inclusive people try to be, the more “other” I feel. I want to say “Hey, Jews don’t have a major winter holiday, so don’t feel like you have to re-brand Christmas on my account!” I do know it comes with the best intentions, so of course I wouldn’t say that. But I do wish people would look around and see that inclusivity is often more more important to celebrants than non-celebrants, many of whom are just fine sharing a Christmas lunch. We get that it is Christmastime.

        1. Jule*

          Thank you for this. I’m Jewish and I feel the same way. Nothing is going to change the fact that we live in a majority-Christian culture. I’ll always remember that actively in a way that other people don’t, so sure, I guess I feel “alienated”, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want everyone else at my office (who are not all sympathetic friends) looking at me and being told to remember it too.

      5. Alliant*

        It also helps the culture if we white Christians of European heritage stop seeing the way we do things as the default or the correct way.

        Even if the office is 100 percent white, male, and Christian, there’s a value in examining the hidden privileges and biases.

        Even if there’s no one to be offended, there is value in changing th name or associations to be more inclusive.

        Thinking inclusively helps us white Christian cultured folks as much as it does POCs and religious minorities.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          A former supervisor wouldn’t allow any holiday decorations, because someone might be offended. Then in December she went out and bought poinsettias for every service desk. Kind of a mixed message there.

        2. Bette*

          What do you mean, “we white Christians”? Not everyone on this thread is. You’ve managed to alienate me in a post where you’re lecturing people about “examining hidden privileges and biases” and being “inclusive”.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think you’re misinterpreting. It’s like saying “those of us who…” It doesn’t mean she’s assuming everyone here fits that demographic.

      6. Specialk9*

        Exactly. I’m Jewish and I care. If there are other non Christians who don’t care, that’s totally moot. Some of us do care, a lot, and some of us do care, a little.

        And in case you think we’re just being mean and ruining your fun… please be aware that when we worry about being othered, it’s not just that it feels bad (which it does).

        We’re actively scared that Christians are going to start murdering us, again. (Like the last time we got othered. And the time before that. And -etc) Though I’ll admit I thought we were past that, only 2 years ago.

  6. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 This is actually my idea of hell (but for reasons that don’t apply in your case). So you have my sympathy!

    That said I think providing coverage during your lunch is a pretty normal thing to do. Sitting at your desk to do it? That’s kind of up to her. Maybe she likes getting out of her usual space. I do think it might help to see it as ‘the front desk’ rather than your desk – it’s where you sit, but it’s not like any other desk because people see it when they enter. Or maybe that’s why she sits there – so people don’t walk in to an empty front desk.

    It is boundary violating to go through your things (though there are posters here who’ve mentioned going through other people’s desks being acceptable in their office – can’t say I’ve ever worked anywhere this would be acceptable but it apparently happens). However, as it’s the front desk anyway, one thing I would do is just ensure you leave your stuff looking tidy. If you’ve written notes on a pad, flip it back to the front (or if possible use a notebook with a cover). If you have papers, stack them neatly. If everything is super neat your boss may feel less like it’s ripe for going through. Or is there a drawer you could put things in?

  7. Essie*

    LW #1 I would fill my purse to the brim with tampons, but that’s just me. Like, epic numbers of them, packed in like cardboard sardines.

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        This just trigged a crazy memory from my childhood. I don’t know if I was a particularly nosy kid or if this was something done to pre-empt any nosy tendencies, but my grandmother used to tell me that a mouse lived her in purse. He was her friend, but he did not like strangers so I was never to go into her purse because he didn’t know me and might bite me.

        I was terrified of being “bitten” so I never ever touched her purse.

      1. Agatha_31*

        Printed out craigslist ads.

        Help wanted ads.

        Time machine schematics with a small calendar with various historic dates and cryptic notes scribbled in half-illegible writing.

        A dog-eared copy of the Kama Sutra with notes about results &/or improvements scribbled throughout.

        A half-completed application to the Stone cutters Society.

        An unpublished manuscript labelled “Twilight 4” with the last page missing.


        1. Decima Dewey*

          A Post It Note all in runes.

          The Malleus Maleficarum.

          A paperback book of H. P. Lovecraft stories with angry notes in the margins.

          A membership card for the Trilateral Commission.

    1. Samata*

      This just reminded me of a time a very very nosy friend of the family came over for a visit. Person had zero boundaries. So, for this particular visit my dad filled our medicine cabinet with ping-pong balls. Hearing her gasp and the pitter-patter of 25 ping pong balls bouncing around the bathroom makes me laugh out loud 20 years later.

      When she came out she didn’t say anything and later found the ping pong balls shoved in a vanity drawer.

      1. Nerdling*

        I’m now incredibly sad that I don’t have a single medicine cabinet in my bathrooms for ping pong balls to cascade from.

        1. Samata*

          In any chance you check this today, he strategically laid them. It took him a long time to do it, so you have to make sure it’s worth it. And it was sooooo worth it!

    2. Science!*

      Oh man, this reminds me of my first post-college job. They renovated a building and moved my department’s offices over there, so my boss needed to move her entire office. So she gave me a couple of boxes and said “everything on the right side of the desk goes in this box, everything on the left side goes in this box, and everything in the drawers goes in this box.”

      As I boxed everything up, I opened up a drawer and there were all these pads and tampons! But not like a box of them, they were all in little sandwich bags, a couple in one, a couple in another. Clean and wrapped up. So I put them all in the box exactly as I found them.

      1. Ghost Town*

        I have a random assortment of pads and tampons similarly stashed in one of my desk drawers. They’ve made their way to my office as free samples, or as quick grabs to have something on hand during a surprise period or when supplies were low…

    3. JulieBulie*

      Reading all of these suggestions made my day!

      I wish I had something useful or humorous to add, but I really was stunned by this letter. I feel a little guilty if I accidentally catch a glimpse of the inside of someone’s purse. I wouldn’t dream of unzipping one and sticking my hand in there (especially now that I know there might be a mousetrap).

  8. KR*

    Number one would make me so uncomfortable! I’m sorry LW – that sounds awkward. I am in kind of my own space in my office. I wish I had my own office because I get so distracted with other people nearby, and I would HATE for someone to use my desk! Ugh! Alison has some good scripts. I agree with advice saying maybe taking your purse with you when you go to the ladies room. Someone like this has no boundaries and should be kept at a distance, in my opinion.

  9. nnn*

    For #3: if you do look at the option of moving the lunch from Christmas Eve, consider having it after the holidays – in January or February, for example. Or maybe something completely unrelated like after the end of your fiscal year.

    People who celebrate Christmas (and New Year’s) or who are adjacent to those who do often have a lot of plans and obligations and demands on their time in December, many of which require planning and preparation that demands even more of their time, and meanwhile the obligations of everyday life don’t go away.

    You could lighten their load by trading one of those December obligations for a free afternoon off, and then enjoying a meal and camaraderie at another time when those things are thinner on the ground.

    1. Peter the Bubblehead*

      The entire idea of the lunch is to give the employees half a day off prior to a regular Federal holiday. Moving it kinda negates the whole “We’re letting you go home so you can enjoy your time off with your families all the sooner” thing the company has going on.
      But if any of the employees are offended (or alienated) by having half a day off with pay, plus the company buying lunch, I’m sure they are free to work all day on the 24th and all day on the 25th.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Your arguments sound a bit hostile, actually – your solution to a company overtly celebrating Christmas is to insist that anyone who doesn’t like it should work when everyone else gets the day off.

        If you wanted to, instead, argue that best practice would be for companies to give employees floating holidays to use as they see fit – so that some work Christmas, some have it off, some work Yom Kippur, others have it off, etc. – then that’d be one thing. But you’re saying that if people dare to speak up about making an effort to be inclusive then those folks should just…. not get the same number of paid days off as Christian employees?

        And that seems rational (and Constitutional) to you?

        1. Specialk9*

          Yeah. Way to bear down on illegal religious discrimination, while playing the victim card.

      2. nnn*

        I don’t believe the lunch is the cause or trigger of the half-day off. (And even if it were, it’s easy enough to disconnect them on a policy level. There’s nothing stopping the company from saying “You can leave at noon!” on December 24 and “Let’s all have lunch!” on February 5)

  10. matcha123*

    With #3, I really think how the office does the party is important. Are people forced to or expected to pray? Are people reading from a Bible? Is there talk of which church someone attends?
    In that case, I wouldn’t be surprised if self-identified Christians felt uncomfortable.

    However, if it’s a casual brunch, I don’t think you need to assume the new hire would be horribly offended. Give her a heads-up and if she wants to skip it, let her.

    I think people here and online in general are very sensitive to anything related to religion. I personally have no interest in participating in any religion as a member, but have no problem going to religious dinners (Ramadan, Seder) as long as people are friendly and not trying to convert me.

      1. nonymous*

        as part of an employee-appreciation committee years ago, I was tasked with surveying technical staff what they wanted as a reward. #1 was time off and #2 was money. The opportunity socialize on company time (especially if work still needs to be done in a deadline-driven environment) was very low. For example, latte day (where an espresso stand was brought in) was viewed as less valuable than getting a $5 starbucks card to do so on own time.

        Not sure what your company culture is, but maybe going super low key and saying “Thanks for your hard work this year, early departure of 2 hrs!” + VISA card is the way to go?

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is me, too. I wouldn’t think twice about luncheon before an early departure and day off for Christmas, though I appreciate OP#3’s desire not to alienate her coworker.

      Another option is to do a lunch celebrating the new year. We have often found that people are off for the December holidays and, in order to include as many people as possible, we have tended to hold a lunch in early January to set a positive tone for the coming year.

    2. Starbuck*

      Choosing to go to a religious service or celebrate a holiday socially of your own volition is not the same as having a holiday celebration happen in your workplace, whether you’re required to attend or not. As a 3rd-generation non-religious person it’s very strange to me how easily people overlook the religious nature of holiday celebrations…. it’s right there in the name, yall.

      The fact that it’s happening at work IS a statement about which (or if) religious traditions are valued by staff & management. Not explicitly acknowledging that a religious holiday is being celebrated is not the same thing as being inclusive and avoiding the endorsement of any religion.

  11. Mad Baggins*

    #3 I really like the idea of moving the lunch to earlier in December or later in January.
    In the country where I work, it’s very common for companies to have a year-end party to celebrate getting through the year together. Why not make the lunch about celebrating your employees instead of about celebrating Christmas? (Your lunch may already be about this but making it more explicit will increase its value to all employees, regardless of religion–I’d rather go to a “thank you” lunch than a “Xmas Eve” lunch!)

  12. Q*

    #3: Can’t you just…ask the new employee how they’d like this handled? I get that it might be a little awkward, but explaining the situation in advance and explaining your intentions to not make them uncomfortable would go a long way, I think. An as Alison pointed out, there’s a ton of individual variation here.

  13. Edina Monsoon*

    Could you do it before Thanksgiving instead as that’s only 1 month earlier? That way no existing employees would feel like they were missing out.

    Are you certain that it’s truly optional to attend? My old boss used to do this and seemed to think they were treating their employees when actually no one wanted to go, we all wanted to leave asap but we knew that even though it was technically optional it really wasn’t.

  14. Amy*

    #3 – making any change at all singles that person out as different and could make things unneccessarily uncomfortable. I don’t see anything wrong with telling them you have a lunch on Christmas eve before taking a couple of days off work, and that they are most welcome to join you.

  15. Betsy*

    I wouldn’t dream if going through my mother’s, sister’s, or best friend’s purse without their permission, and they would have the same respect for me. It’s just Not Done. The fact that this woman does it is very troubling. I’d say something about it next time.

  16. KK*

    As a non-Christian person, I’d be really sad if my office cancelled a nice warm tradition because I arrived without asking me. I would love to be invited and be involved; since when people cannot participate in other people’s cultural traditions as guests? I think you should at least ask the person what they want.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      I think that’s a lovely idea. Admittedly, as someone who was raised Christian I recognize that lot of seemingly secular things do still have a lot of Christian coding attached to them, but as a Black person in a largely white culture, I am familiar with the feeling that the default in a lot of cases wasn’t created with someone like me in mind. For me, that is why it’s all the more important (and nice) to have places of openness, where people share what is dear to them.

    2. cheluzal*

      Seriously. Everyone is so afraid of offending, they can’t even act normal anymore!
      Most people celebrate Christmas. The office does. Have it. The person can come or not…I’m sure they’ve had a lifetime of making that choice just fine.

      1. Specialk9*

        “Everyone is so afraid of offending, they can’t even act normal anymore!
        Most people celebrate Christmas.”

        THIS RIGHT HERE is what bothers us. Celebrating Christmas is “normal”. People who don’t aren’t normal. We’ll spend thousands of dollars on other employees, but not on abnormal people. Uncomfortable by the intrusion of religion in the workplace? No treats for you, weirdo, and thanks for being a jerk by not being normal. Maybe you should just become normal, it’s not like it’s hard to convert to normal, after all, there’s a normal church right there. Weirdo.

  17. Excel Slayer*

    #3 – I don’t think you should assume you know the person’s feelings before you actually know them. Yeah, it’s crappy that Christmas lunches are predominately a thing and no other religion and/or holiday seems to be celebrated in the same way. But I’ve known people from other religions who wouldn’t take part but aren’t especially offended, people from other religions who would attend for the food, people from other religions who celebrate Christmas ‘culturally’. Maybe just be sensitive to their feelings, make it clear they’re welcome to attend without pressure, and play it by ear?

  18. Tealeaves*

    #3: Can we rename it as “year-end luncheon” or “holiday luncheon”? There would be festive food but that can’t be helped around that period. No matter which day in Dec you hold it, everyone knows a special lunch is for Christmas but at least we can try not being super obvious about it. Some people suggested moving the lunch to a week before, but I don’t think that’s possible because the lunch seems to be a casual event that wraps up with having the rest of the day off (a nice half day leading up to a public holiday).

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I was talking to a Jehovah’s witness I used to work with who mentioned he wasn’t coming to the office party that was in early December. There was nothing religious happening at the party and I said I viewed the party as a reward for a years hard work. They still didn’t want to come as it was a Christmas Party (with all the decorations, traditional food and so) they were worried about the perception of them attending the event in that context relabeling it would not have help them feel comfortable attending.

      1. Temperance*

        I work with many JWs, and they generally swing by our annual holiday party, grab a plate of food, and GTFO.

      2. Alter_ego*

        My company solved that by doing a winter outing at the end of January, and a summer outing at the end of July. The book ended seasonal parties and the distance from Christmas meant that our two Jehovahs witn so coworkers could fully participate.

    2. HannahS*

      Yep. “Year-end employee appreciation” is a good idea, IMO. Good food, no decorations, no carols, Mary from accounting can wear her hideous sweater, but Ahmed and Rivka won’t feel alienated. I think some people might not see a difference (“but if it’s at the same time as Christmas, it’s obviously for Christmas anyway!”) but I certainly would. Me and my other non-Christian friends often get together around Christian holidays because that’s the only time we have off and are in the same city and don’t have special family plans. It’s certainly a celebration–complete with great food–but it’s because we like to cook. It’s most definitely a “we’re all reunited!” celebration and not a Christmas celebration.

    3. Triplestep*

      Jew weighing in: I try to subtly encourage people to keep things “Christmas” – keep the name in the celebration and in the greetings, don’t dilute Christmas traditions on behalf of those who don’t celebrate. Jews don’t have a major winter holiday, and we all get that this is Christmastime.

      I’m obviously not speaking for all Jews, but when I hear “Holiday” any time between Thanksgiving and New Years, I hear a well-meaning attempt to avoid saying “Christmas”, and my brain translates it to Christmas anyway. While some Jews do celebrate Hanukkah in a big way, that tradition has mainly come about in the US due to its proximity to Christmas; Hanukkah is classified as a Minor Festival. (Ironically, the story of Hanukkah is the earliest documentation of a war fought for religious freedom. So probably not the best ingredient for a holiday mash-up anyway!)

      1. Anononon*

        Eh, another Jew here and I much prefer happy holidays over merry Christmas. There are other holidays going on besides Christmas and Hanukkah.

      2. Jule*

        Exactly! I appreciate “happy holidays” but any attempt to pretend that the whole nation’s calendar during the month of December isn’t based around Christmas is…not as inclusive as people want to think it is, to say the least.

      3. neverjaunty*

        Before all the crap about the “War on Christmas” started, “Happy Holidays” was shorthand for “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”, because it’s grnrrally celebrated as one big holiday season.

        *which is, let’s be blunt, an anti-Semitic dogwhistle.

        1. Susanne*

          Growing up in the east coast, it’s my memory that people always said happy holidays, businesses sent season’s greetings cards to their clients, and so forth. Because everyone knew that there were people of different faiths so it was normal to be inclusive. It’s amazing (and embarrassing) that there are still backwards parts of the country where they seem to re-discover yet again every December that there are non-Christians out there.

        2. Brittasaurus Rex*

          I prefer “Happy Saturnalia!” My antecedents coopted a Roman festival, so why not throw ’em some love?

        3. Eli*

          Plus “holidays” literally means “holy days” (um, obviously) so the uproar about “happy holidays” is truly nothing but a thin veil of anti-Semitism/anti-anything but Christian.

      4. Elizabeth H.*

        I’m Christian and celebrate Christmas in all the ways both secular-leaning and not – Christmas tree decorating, seasonal flavor Hershey’s kisses, going to church, wearing dumb sweaters, advent calendars, listening to a Charlie Brown Christmas, etc. but my family also celebrates the winter solstice (not spiritually, just for fun) and I actually care about it and about New Year’s. Even as a religious person who celebrates Christmas religiously, I feel like “happy Holidays” means something different to me than “**secretly**Merry Christmas.” My 2 cents.

  19. Tealeaves*

    #1: Locked drawer is a must even after you talk to her about it! Some people are just incredibly nosy.

    1. Sadsack*

      Yes, and even without the issue of the nosy boss, I would not have my purse accessible if my desk was actually the reception desk near the front door. Anyone could walk off with your purse or something out of it if the opportunity rises. This means visitors and coworkers.

    2. GG*

      I keep seeing people mentioning locking a drawer, even mentioning that if all the keys are lost how to get a replacement. But I can’t help but think of the worst case scenario of the boss actually already having a (secret) key to the desk. So I’d be careful about assuming that will do any good.

      1. Marty*

        That is easy enough to detect using any number of different tell-tales such as the old hair on the door trick, or drop a string over your purse and take a photo, or anything else that would help you notice that our has been disturbed.

  20. CBH*

    OP3 – can you hold another lunch on an important day for your employees religion? A Christmas lunch on 12/24, a Hanukkah lunch earlier in the month. That way it would appear that your company is making the attempt to celebrate holidays important to everyone.

    1. CBH*

      You wouldn’t have to break with tradition that employees have come to expect, but you would also be celebrating holidays important to others in the office. December is always a crazy time with the end of the year and prepping for the new year. I’m assuming whatever holidays are celebrated in your office, employees would appreciate the extra treats and efforts put forth to make the end of the year more festive as everyone is probably thinking anyway.

    2. Anonon*

      Personally, if I was a new hire and also the sole Jewish person at a company, and the company held a Hanukkah lunch, I would be really weirded out.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Saaaaame. I’d feel like a showpiece. So says the woman who makes latkes for her office every year, but that’s because it’s food and mine are amazing and I work in an office that uses any excuse possible to take 30 minutes for a nosh (we had an epic eclipse party, for example).

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Man, I wish I could be a part of that–I love latkes! (Side note: can you teach me your ways?)

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            My “recipe” is SUPER easy. Peel potatoes (I prefer russets, Yukon Golds are OK) and shred in the food processor with some onion, about 1 onion for every 4/5 potatoes. Toss with matzo meal, salt and pepper, an egg or two. (Do not ask me amounts, I do not know.) Fry in canola oil while watching like a hawk. Flip when you think the first side is done, and it may not be depending on the location of the latke in the pan, in which case you just have to keep trying until you get it right. Drain on paper towels. Eat hot with applesauce or sour cream or Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish. Or you can do what my FIL does and make a ham sandwich using latkes as bread.

          2. Specialk9*

            How to make latkes:
            Step 1 – go to Trader Joe’s
            Step 2 – fry up frozen latkes
            Step 3 – nom

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Ha, OldExjob used to do that. One time the plant manager threw a chili dog potluck just because we hadn’t had a potluck in a while. I ate so much I couldn’t have dinner until 10 pm.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeessssss. Very much so. Hanukkah isn’t a major Jewish holiday at all, and I would feel like a serious capital-T Token. Oooooh, it feels patronizing just thinking about it. (I know you meant well though, CBH.)

        1. Bibliovore*

          Mr. Bibliovore is non-practicing Catholic. As is his family. We have been married for over thirty years. Nothing I say will convince his family that as a Jewish person, I am not celebrating Hanukah during Christmas. There is no equivalency. I almost feel disrespectful and ungrateful that I don’t appreciate the singing of Adam Sandler songs at Christmas dinner. That said, I do enjoy their Christmas celebrations and if Mr. Bibliovore wants a tree, he going to have to do all the work involved.

        2. Alice*

          Christmas is not really a major holiday as society makes it out to be either. In Christianity, Easter is the most important holiday, not Christmas.

        3. Turquoisecow*

          Yeah, especially if you’re not celebrating any of the actually important Jewish holidays – or anything else Jewish at all. Do you do anything for Purim? Rosh Hashanah? No? Yeah, this is a token holiday.

          1. Specialk9*

            So those of us who do celebrate get to be annoyed at Christmas? Cool!

            Fun story – today (Sukkot, a Jewish holiday, though not a High Holy Day) at my temple’s sukkah (tent, ish) my toddler was handed his first citron and ceremonial sheef of grain to wave around. Instead, he grabbed the citron and bit it! (Wince) The rabbi laughed, wiped the drool on her shirt unperturbed, and kept going.

            He also thought it was cool that the tent roof was corn with cobs hanging down.

        4. Elizabeth H.*

          Something I think is kinda interesting (and could be discussed in an open thread) is the ways that the presence of Hannukah in December in the US, has followed similar patterns to the commericalization/secularization of Christmas. Like, when people say “Christmas is a secular holiday, it has religious origins but there’s nothing religious about a tree, I don’t see any references to Jesus in these gingerbread cookies or candy canes”, etc. etc. I feel like the Hannukah . . . stuff (for lack of a better term) you see in December is like the same kind of “fake-secular”? And that this somewhat evades the point that Hannukah isn’t a major Jewish holiday. Just a thought.

          1. Specialk9*

            You mean the pressure many Jews in majority Christian countries feel to ‘compete’ with Christmas so their kids aren’t disappointed, or decide to convert just so they get to have Santa and a tree? Yeah, it’s a thing.

            But isn’t Christmas just Christians coopting pagan holidays? So maybe all of us are really responding to ancient traditions. Mwahaha, or however Picts would say that.

    3. a different Vicki*

      As Alison noted, there is no important day for Judaism in December, and “we’re doing something for Hanukkah” might not feel inclusive, especially if the date matched this year’s Hanukkah but not next’s. Also, if he cares about Jewish holidays, he might find that a holiday lunch for Rosh Hashanah conflicted with religious observance. If the employee is Muslim, you’d have to check the calendar and reschedule the lunch every year, because Islam uses a lunar calendar that isn’t tied to the solar year.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          Of course it does, and Vicki didn’t say it doesn’t. But Judaism’s lunar calendar is tied to the solar year, and Islam’s isn’t. So Passover is always in the spring and the Days of Awe are always in the autumn, but Ramadan moves all the way around the civil calendar.

        1. Jessab*

          This. Which is why they say “May you see Eid in all the seasons of your life,” because it moves. A lot.

    4. Halster*

      It’s worth noting Islam also exists, and I think that’s the employee’s religion from comments further down, and Islam currently has no winter holidays.

    5. CBH*

      Hi All and OP3, My sincere apologies for my response. My heart was in the right place trying to find a solution for OP3. I hope I didn’t offend any anyone’s beliefs. It’s difficult trying to find solutions to inquiries – there’s no one size fits all! One of the reasons I love AAM is hearing different points of view on a topic. Thank you though for sharing your thoughts. OP3 keep us posted and let us know the outcome!

  21. OP Number 3*

    Just to add some clarity, this is literally a lunch. No prayers, no carols, no gifts. Also no booze just because… well, we never have.

    Also, as I responded to a comment below, it’s truly not mandatory. We’ve had folks in the past opt out and other than my predecessor gossiping about it (she retired over 10 years ago, thank goodness), no one has cared. We’re a pretty live-and-let-live bunch.

    Our firm is extremely small, and up until this recent hire the briefest tenure for any of the employees was over ten years. The Christmas Eve lunch has been going on for over forty years, and I’m doubtful that changing the date is on any of the partners’ radar.

    I think if we ensure that our new employee knows that it’s legitimately voluntary and we choose a restaurant that doesn’t violate any dietary laws, that may be our best option at this time.

    1. OP Number 3*

      One more thing: I know I referred to this hire as “recent”, but the employee has been with us for six months at this time. We don’t have much turnover — one guy has been with us longer than anyone outside of the senior partner — so “recent” for us is kind of relative.

    2. eplawyer*

      Since it is a restaurant — call it a year end lunch. You have it before the Christmas holiday because so many people take the week off between Christmas and New Year’s, it wouldn’t be possible for the whole office to celebrate. Even if it’s not mandatory, you want it to be available to as many people as possible.

      Avoiding dietary restrictions is good. But remember, everyone might have them. Food allergies, etc. that way it’s not just picking the restaurant based on this one person.

      If the rest of the year you are inclusive, I doubt the person will feel alienated by a nice lunch out that happens to be the day before Christmas.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I really wouldn’t worry too much about this. I mean, I am touched that you do, but if it were me, the treading carefully would bother me more than just having lunch. The Christmas season is the time of year for big lunches! That’s just what companies do. If your new hire doesn’t attend Christmas festivities on principle, he will decline. And you’re very nice to look into the dietary laws issue; if your new employee keeps kosher or Halal, he might be ok with vegetarian options or he might not, just be prepared for the “might not” (and it sounds like this has come up before). You’re already several steps ahead just by considering his feelings, seriously.

      1. OP Number 3*

        Yes, the food issue has already come up. I don’t think the employee is super-strict, but did specify no pork. Otherwise, it appears we have a great deal of flexibility.

        Thank you so much for your perspective and your kind words.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          OP, it is great that you are being sensitive. If your not-so-new employee is ok with a Christmas eve lunch that has no carols, etc., and where you don’t serve pork, then there is no reason to change your tradition. I am Jewish and that would not bother me.

        2. Halster*

          I think saying an “end of the year” lunch would work here; a lot of companies have end of fiscal year celebrations generally!

          1. Jen S. 2.0*

            Agree. Many companies with employees of all stripes have end-of-year and holiday celebrations to thank employees for their hard work over the year, not solely to celebrate Christmas.

            There also are many, many holidays / observances / events between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, representing many religions and cultures. In that time period, Christian and non-Christian people celebrate the winter solstice, Kwanzaa, Pancha Ganapati (Hindu festival in honor of Lord Ganesha), Mawlid (the observance of the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad), Bodhi Day (Buddhist Day of Enlightenment), and even Festivus.

            If the lunch is already not super Christmasy, it can just be an end-of-year celebration.

      2. CM*

        I agree with all of this. I think you could also check in with the employee after the fact, to make sure they felt comfortable and included, whether they attended or not (although if they opted out, you’d have to be careful to avoid implying that everybody noticed and thought it was weird).

    4. Health Insurance Nerd*

      I am strongly in favor of not changing the lunch. It’s a 40 year tradition, and it’s not inherently religious (yes, it falls on Christmas Eve, but to a lot of people that’s just another day!). It’s wonderful that you are being so thoughtful and conscientious :)

      1. Alliant*

        Just bcaus something is a 40 year tradition does not mean it should be kept.

        If it would not be done it this were the fi st year, then you have to ask why.

        When I started my career, taking clients to strip clubs every Friday was tradition.

        Also, we use tradition a lost in the USA. I always ask “whose tradition?” because those traditions we hold dear often aren’t universal.

        Thanksgiving is traditional in the USA. It’s still racist and exclusionary and hurtful to many Americans. Particularly those whose ancestors were here before Columbus.

        1. Health Insurance Nerd*

          You lost me at when you equated going to strip club with an employee lunch.

          It’s the offices tradition, and although I’m from the US, I’m fairly certain that we haven’t corned the market on traditions.

          I said nothing about Thanksgiving as the question was not centered around Thanksgiving.

          There is nothing offensive about having a lunch for your employees, regardless of when that lunch is scheduled.

          1. paul*


            It’s a lunch before a holiday. It could be problematic if they were introducing religious elements to it but it sounds like it’s just a lunch at a restaurant without other stuff? If I’m understanding that correctly, then it’s not an imposition.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              It’s a lunch celebrating a non-universal holiday.

              It’s not about lunching together before a break (otherwise — why no Friday lunches, or day-before-Independence-day lunches? etc.).

              It’s about celebrating Christmas. Why are folks on this thread bending over backwards to believe that it isn’t?

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  I read something recently — and wish I could remember where! — about flipping the frame on how we think about racial bias (which could apply here as well).

                  There’s this need that many of us have to first consider every possible other reason before accepting the possibility that something (a statement, an act, a law, etc.) could be driven by racism.

                  Instead, what if we did just the opposite: acknowledge that because we live in a world in which racism and systemic discrimination exists, we should assume that racism affects and informs everything.

                  So, here: Instead of searching for benign explanations for this day-before-Christmas-lunch, let’s acknowledge that we live in a predominantly Christmas (or secular Christian) society, where Christian celebrations are normalized, and therefore the choice to have lunch on this day is obviously informed by that reality.

              1. Perse's Mom*

                Because for a lot of us, it’s like if your high school had a pizza party at lunch the day before winter break and then everybody got to go home after they ate. It’s an annual thing, it’s free food and socializing when on any other day you’d be in class.

                Yes, some company parties include explicitly Christmas trappings (my own does this with decorations and wrapped gifts – the manager really likes holiday themed games and random prizes), but from what the OP has described, literally the only relation their company lunch has to Christmas is the timing. It is a company lunch that happens to be right before Christmas.

                1. Specialk9*

                  @Perse, that argument makes no sense. If it’s *not* about celebrating a non-universal religious holiday, then do it mid-Jan. Doing it Dec 24 is Christmas, and exclusionary. Insisting on continuing a loaded tradition but then gaslighting about whether it’s loaded is… Special.

              2. UH*

                Christmas is a holiday in the US. No different than Memorial Day except no one tells me I can’t celebrate THAT.

    5. Alliant*

      Offense by an employee isn’t the only reason to be wary of this.

      Even if no one is offended, we white Americans of a Christian European heritage need to do a lot of self reflection about how our POV is the default and sometimes dominates others to the point of erasure and oppression. Especially when the tradition and POV have become secular, thus allowing us to delude ourselves into thinking it isn’t exclusionary.

      Even if everyone in the was office were religious and Christian, there is still value in ensuring its not a white, Christian secular celebration by default bc tradition meets inertia.

      Not all events hav to be religious to be part of the white European Christian POV. I know a lot of atheist Catholics of Irish heritage who would tell you that the Irish Catholic sticks even if they ceas to believe. I’m atheist, but my culture is shaped by my upbringing.

      We are at a cultural moment where we can either address this ourselves because it’s a morally correct thing to do even if no one else’s is around or we can wait until history does it for us.

      This is no different than men needing to man up when sexist things are said in front of them. Even if no women are present, the misogyny is harmful to women who aren’t there because it is part of a wider cultural normalization is the sentiment. It’s also harmful to the men there because of its impact on their views. It’s normalized if unchallenged.

      It’s not just about offense. It’s about what is viewed as normal and default in our culture. We should be wary of normalizing the assertion that this is a nation of and by white European Christians.

      Does this party do this? No idea. You are there. Do you think it does?

      Is the company blind to its biases?

      It’s not just about one person, it’s about all of us! This is why it strikes a cord in you.

      I’m not sure we equip people who are concerned with the proper toolkit to process and articulate this concerns.

      But congrats for trying to work through this.

      1. Mazzy*

        I just wanted to point out that there are alot of Hispanic and African American Christians! I’m seeing “white” being brought into this when Christianity isn’t a race thing, maybe it was 500 years ago but definitely not now! Where I live there is a sizeable Hispanic population and most of my coworkers that go to church are Mexican American. It would be very weird and maybe a little patronizing if they read this thread and saw being white brought up so much (do they need a reminder that they are not part of the majority race in the country?)?

        1. Sylvan*

          I do hope you don’t think Christianity hasn’t been a “race thing” in the last 500 years? That’s a lot of history, particularly colonialist history.

          1. Halster*

            Actually! Christianity has existed in Africa before colonialism. Ethiopian Christianity, in particular, has a long and deep history that stretches back to the Queen of Sheba. African Christianity is old, it did exist before colonialism, and it has it’s own deep cultural traditions, and incredibly beautiful landmarks (look into Lalibela, it’s gorgeous).

            1. paul*

              Christianity didn’t start in Europe, and didn’t really make a lot of inroads until around 500AD if memory serves (the date of the first European head of state adopting Christianity–I think like 490, 500 AD?).

              European Christianity has certainly been it’s own geo-political force for the last few hundred years, but it originated in the Middle East, and its early power bases were African. I’m not sure how much in common the major African denominations have with European protestant denominations or Catholicism though.

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        Ugh. Just because someone celebrates something somewhere doesn’t mean they are trying to erase other cultures. I’d rather live in a society where everybody celebrated their own culture, regardless if they were minority or majority, than a society where everybody says “Happy Holidays” lest they offend someone.

        1. Specialk9*

          Great, we agree! No more company paid-for celebrations based on religion. People can do religion on their own time, or spend their own dime to celebrate non religiously at work (like bringing in Christmas cookies or Shavuot cheesecakes).

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Great, we agree! As long as the company lunch doesn’t have any religion, we’re all good. If it happens to fall the same week as a religious observance, nobody should care, right?

  22. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    No.4. It sounds like you made the right decision and saved yourself a lot of stress and a possible toxic workplace.
    This may be a good question for another day. Is there anyone you know that if hired by your workplace would cause you to quit on the spot? I know that I have one.

    1. A Good Jess*

      Yes, I have one person like this. It wasn’t until after he left that several of us compared experiences and realized how toxic he was– each person thought that everyone else was okay with him but he was just terrible to one of us. Except that everyone agreed he was especially terrible to me. About a year after he left I saw a list of behaviors that constitute emotional abuse in a relationship, and he had basically translated all of those to the workplace and done them to me.

      I don’t think I’d quit on the spot, but I would be ready to. I am in a government agency and we have an ombudsman who deals specifically with employee relations, so I would start there in preparation for speaking with my supervisor and his supervisors. If they could find some solution that involves moving me to a spot where I never have to interact with this person then it could work. (I’m in a position now where I wouldn’t mind moving. If I did mind then it would be a bigger problem.)

    2. BackedOut*

      #4 OP here. I feel good about my decision personally, I just feel bad about the position I put the company in, and about being so vague in my reasons for rescinding my acceptance. I guess it’s fortunate that even though this is a pretty small industry, this particular company is a bit outside the inner circle because their main location is in another state. So it’s unlikely to be a problem for me in other job searches. If they had been more inside the goings-on of the industry, it’s unlikely they would have hired this woman.

    3. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Oh, yes – absolutely. I have one person. She brought false allegations about me to our dept head who then passed them on to HR to deal with. She brought up subjective issues (unprofessionalism, not being a team player, etc.), then backed them up with examples where she completely twisted the facts or left out key components (to the point that they were outright lies). She was also extremely carefuly to only use examples of verbal situations, so I’m reasonably sure this was all purposeful.

      I’ve actually given a lot of thought to what I’d do if she showed up at my company as a new employee. If she was working in a role that had any sort of management or authority over me (formal or informal) I’d immediately start job hunting and would most likely put in my notice asap. If she were a peer or in a different dept (unlikely as our experience is identical and very niche) I’d ask for a meeting with HR and ask if it would be possible to document our previous issue (a note in my personnel file or something similar). I don’t know how much good it would actually do, but I’d feel much better knowing that I have it on the record that she lied about me previously in a professional and serious setting. My thinking is that just in case she were to try something similar it might show some sort of pattern.

      But also, hopefully it would never come to this. I’d be willing to spend any political capital I have to prevent her from being hired – both because of our previous interactions and because I think she’d be a very poor fit culturally for any place that I am a fit at.

    4. Cassandra*

      There is a company in town that does wonderful work I would genuinely enjoy, and definitely have the background and experience for.

      I will not work there until such time as one man currently there is history. On being hired to teach a course for the department I work for, he propositioned one of our students. No way, no day, nohow — I will not work anywhere near him ever. (Of course he is never working here again.)

  23. JOB_Application*

    #2: Under the same assumption the application did not specify how many jobs or how far back you should list your history:

    Let’s say you were fired from a job 10 years ago (after working there for less than a year) because it wasn’t a good fit and it’s not relevant to the current job you’re applying for. You managed to have two-three great jobs after that. Can you exclude the job you were fired from from the application or do you have to include that? Does the company have grounds to fire you simply because you did not include that job from your application?

    1. Kelly*

      It depends on how you look at it. Assuming it’s like most jobs in the U.S. where you work at-will, your employment can be terminated for any reason not prohibited by law (and hence yes). On the other hand, such a firing would likely be determined to be not for cause if you were to for example claim that you were being illegally discriminated against or you go to file for unemployment benefits, unless the employer can demonstrated that the omitted fact would’ve been (lawfully) material in the hiring decision (so from this perspective probably no).

  24. MicroManagered*

    OP1 I think this lack of respect for your boundaries is going to show in other ways over time. Since you’re newer to the job, your manager is probably on good-behavior, so she’s violating your boundaries to do nice things…. but she’s not going to just grow a set of boundaries if ever she’s not-pleased with you. I’d really watch out for this person.

    1. Happy Temp*

      The fact that the boss waited around for OP #1 to come back to say “I put things in your purse!” suggests to me that the boss was testing your reaction.

      If the boss had time to hang around and wait for you to come back, the boss had time to personally hand you the things. I can’t think of another reason to just…be there to announce that. The boss could have left the things on the desk with a note, or left the things on the desk or in a drawer and sent a quick email to say the same thing (“Those are for you.”).

      I’m with others who say 1. lock your things away every time 2. have a script prepared for when the boss asks “Why is this drawer locked?” or “Why do you have a locked file box [or whatever you might bring to keep your purse safe] under your desk?” and 3. be vigilant about other boundary-pushing (because in my view, it’s coming).

      Sorr you have to go through this.

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        Yeah – that really struck me as strange too!

        I used to work at a front desk and I never really considered the space “mine” as I do with desks/cubicals I’ve occupied since then. It always felt like more of a communal space that I happen to sit at, rather than “Sunshine’s Desk”. I knew people often opened drawers when using the fax machine nearby looking for basic supplies or that other people would sit the space regularly (for coverage, etc.).

        The purse thing is very strange and the notes on your notes strikes me as strange as well. I’d be very on guard around this person (I’d be extremely cautious about sharing anything personal with them until you have have a better feel for them) and would be prepared to move on (if possible) as this behavior seems like it will escalate.

  25. Murphy*

    OP#1 I agree with some others that going into your purse is pretty major boundary crossing!

    I wouldn’t want my boss going through my notebook either. Not because there’s anything there I would’t want him to see (nothing earth-shattering in my purse either, for that matter) but because it just feels weird. It’s my personal work notes, shorthand, and crappy handwriting. It doesn’t seem like something he’d need to see. But this is at least work related.

  26. Emi.*

    I have a question for non-Christians: If having a “Christmas party” bothers you (at whatever level), are you any less bothered by a “holiday party” with holly branches and red velvet bows and twinkly lights? Does that make a difference to you, and if so, what kind of difference? It’s always seemed like a fake cover-up to me, but I’m Christian so I dunno.

    1. Alliant*

      It’s not just about the religion, it’s about forcing a dominant POV.

      What would happen if someone Hindi wanted to share their traditions? Someone Shinto?

      There’s an issue of individual parties and acts but this is also about a wider cultural dialogue.

      There would be no issue with Christian imagery of it weren’t viewed as the default and xclusinf other voices wasn’t part of our history in the USA.

      The reason these issues become touchy is because we aren’t honest about how we view whiteness and European Christianity in the USA. If we were, thes individual celebrations would not be so much of an issue,

      That is to say, I agreee with you to a point. I’d the secularization is done in a way that still maintains a “traditional” white American POV, then its spackling

      1. Mazzy*

        Well I think it depends on the mix of your particular office, to begin with. I’m seeing the “dominant POV” and comments like that, but if that is the mix of your office, it would be silly to accomodate groups that don’t work at your company at all (***yes I’m aware that this question is about accomodating someone that is there).
        I just thought about my job and it’s ~ 15% Jewish and the rest evenly split white/Hispanic/black, probably half of them are Christians, the rest grew up Chrstian. So we don’t have to worry about accomodating Hindu or Shinto or whatever else because doing so would have zero impact.

        1. Purplesaurus*

          I have to ask, why do we accept religious observations in the workplace to begin with? And I know we’re just talking about a lunch in this circumstance, but the argument that an office doesn’t need to accommodate non-dominant groups* is highly problematic.

          (*To the extent that this is possible, e.g. hiring practices that do not exclude women, poc, people with disabilities, and other protected classes.)

          1. fposte*

            I read Mazzy as saying something different than you; I thought she was saying that her workplace does accommodate non-dominant groups. They just don’t provide an accommodation for a holiday if nobody at that workplace observes it.

            Pragmatically speaking, we accept Christian holidays in the workplace because school and commercial schedules are built around them, and the cultural cost of rescheduling entire industries would be massive even if you got everybody in the country on board–which you wouldn’t. So I think we have to go forward with that in mind while still doing our best to make room for people whose lives revolve around a different schedule.

        2. Specialk9*

          I’m not sure you would know everyone’s religion. You’re assuming you do (“probably half”). Because… it’s the norm?

          But I know several converts who *reeeeeally* don’t ‘look like’ that religion, but their religion didn’t come up until an advanced degree of closeness.

          But also, you’re strongly defending that Christians are normal. … You know what? Never mind. You’re not going to be convinced.

    2. Temperance*

      I’m an ex-Christian atheist, and my org has people of many, and no, faiths. We have a secular holiday lunch at the end of November, where we receive our org’s gift, and we have a staff holiday party in the first or second week of December. None of the decor is “secular Christmas” or even Christmas-lite, so no reds, greens, etc.

      I obviously am not as much of an outsider as someone who is non-Christian and a person of faith, but I think my org does a good job of including people. (We always have really good kosher stuff at our parties!)

    3. Sylvan*

      Nope. It’s just a Christmas celebration with a different name. Sometimes it can unintentionally look like an attempt to present a religious event as a secular one by framing it as The Universal Holiday, too.

    4. Halster*

      It’s still super annoying, especially because my faith (Islam) doesn’t currently have any winter holidays. So, uh, what am I supposed to be celebrating here?

        1. Specialk9*


          I figure we celebrate winter holidays for the same reasons the ancient Irish ancestors originally invented the holiday that was coopted to be Christmas: winter is long and bleak and we need a break; and the symmetry of celebrating each of the four seasons. (Looks at watch – yeah, it’s been roughly 3 months, we need a party.) I figure evergreen is a powerful symbol of hope that cold won’t win, and it smells great, and it’s kinda all that’s still full of life in winter.

  27. Rebecca Too*

    OP #5: I was a retail manager for a very long time and I read your question as the manager is making your husband take PTO in order to balance payroll or make their payroll goal. A former peer of mine got fired for this very thing; he insisted on 2 of his employees taking PTO because it doesn’t “count” as scheduled hours, therefore it does not impact the payroll budget. Is it legal as far as the state is concerned? Probably. Is it ethical for a manager to do that in order to benefit from it? Nope. I don’t know what recourse your husband has, but the 2 employees that were being forced to take their PTO by my former peer called an anonymous phone number my former company had for situations like this. It was investigated, he was let go, and their PTO was reinstated.

    1. Antilles*

      The recourse really depends on the company. There’s a sadly large number of retail companies that take a fairly hands-off approach to personnel issues – as long as your branch meets its’ numbers and you’re not getting us into legal/PR trouble, your store is your store.

    2. Karen D*

      I am not really sure what the OP meant by “balance,” but I don’t think the demand to use up some accrued PTO is automatically as bad as it might initially seem. In fact, I think it makes a lot of sense because of two things: October. And retail.

      In my company, PTO is granted via calendar year and does not roll over, so everyone’s PTO resets on Dec. 31 (though there’s a one-month grace period in January for scheduled PTO). IF there are a large number of employees with unused PTO on the books in October? That’s a real issue for a retail establishment, just from a logistical point of view., because they’re headed into crunch time and they can’t have huge chunks of PTO making Swiss cheese of their schedules.

      At my (non-retail) company, employees are strongly encouraged to schedule at least half of their PTO by July (not necessarily take it, but schedule it on the books). At all costs, the management wants to avoid having to say to someone “Yep, you earned that PTO but all the available vacation slots are taken from now through the end of the year, so you’re going to lose it.” But still, every year there’s one or two employees who think that if they hoard all their PTO to the end, they will be able to circumvent the restrictions and wrangle time off during the holidays (holiday time off is generally allocated by lottery) by wailing that they’e going to lose it if they aren’t allowed to take it.

  28. Sal*

    Best Solution: Every time there is a day off (MLK day, President’s day, etc.) give everyone half of the previous work day off (so Friday before a long weekend if it’s a Monday off) and have a voluntary lunch then as well. Yes, still started with Christmas lunch, but now everyone gets more half-days and lunches if they want them. Except Thanksgiving, when you should probably give the Friday off instead.

    1. Bea*

      That’s not practical or cost effective to do every holiday. I agree adding another one would be great but not every one. Most companies in the US have a set number of holidays, that will multiply by .5 and not all industries can handle that. Nor does everyone want half days. I have a wicked commute, half days aren’t a treat.

      Christmas Eve is usually a quiet day many have the full day off. Thats why it works. And the Thursday after thanksgiving is a regular day off except for seasonal businesses I’ve been a part of.

  29. Temperance*

    LW3: I suggest talking to your new employee, and letting her know about the tradition, and ask her what she would like to do. There are lots of way to make it inclusive, like having some good options from a kosher or halal caterer in addition to whatever you traditionally offer, and have enough so that others can partake instead of the one sad kosher meal wrapped in saran wrap.

    She has likely been through this situation, or something similar, in the past, as a religious minority. If you approach from a place of making her want to feel included and not as an afterthought, you can have a good conversation.

  30. Anonymous72*

    LW #1 – I currently work with a boundary violator who is on the level of a superbly curious five-year-old with time to ask intrusive questions all day and who has a master key to all the offices, including mine. She regularly goes into offices to pick through drawers and take things. I can’t have anything interesting in my unlockable desk hutch and must lock my desk drawers and take the key with me. I can’t have photos on my desk, or else she’ll ask endless intrusive questions about them; I can’t have regular office things on my desk, or else she’ll take them; etc. My phone extension is available on her desk phone for Reasons (she is not my secretary!), and she’ll answer my phone calls on the FIRST RING, even after I’ve asked her multiple times to stop. Then she can’t transfer the call to my real phone, since she’s already on my extension, and she insists I come take my call at her desk. It’s 100% on purpose. So: forget having anyone non-work-related call me at work, because the odds are she’ll pick up the call before I can even reach for the handset. Cue 20 questions.

    My boss once sat my coworker down (after my coworker literally, honest-to-God screamed at me for not returning a call to someone who she had told I would call back; my boss wanted to call the person back personally); my coworker’s behavior improved for a couple weeks, and then it went right back to normal. The behavior is baked-in – it will not change, it will not stop, and it will not get better. If I were you, I’d start looking. You’ve already taken the time to write a letter about this, so it’s grating on you this much already. It won’t get better. She’ll get worse, and you’ll get more frustrated – and she’s your boss. Not a good situation.

    1. Temperance*

      I’m not sure how feasible this is for you, but I would have some fun with her. Like printing photos off the internet and changing them out regularly, and refusing to answer questions so the drama queen goes bonkers trying to figure it out.

    2. Bea*

      Omg this horror story of a co-worker! I don’t think the OP is in that same boat considering this is about coverage and not some hovering beast like you dealt with. She was acting like she was policing you doing your job. I loath calling anyone specific to an extension and someone else picking up unless you answer it as a courtesy or you are indeed an assistant.

    3. Karen D*

      Holy cow. What the heck is your management thinking?

      Your boss must take the master key away. Immediately. Take away the phone that can pick up other people’s calls and replace it with a standard handset. Immediately. The next time she takes something that does not belong to her, she should face immediate and harsh discipline.

      She’s indisputably the one who decided to behave that way, but the fact that she’s been allowed to mushroom into such a monster with such ineffective pushback is 100 percent on management. Any one of the behaviors you describe would be very close to a firing offense at my workplace.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I’d want a stop to that phone thing immediately, and if the boss is dissuaded by the likelihood of a tantrum that’s a really bad sign. This is a configuration that’s actively antithetical to work; I don’t know why work hasn’t changed it.

    4. Perse's Mom*

      Then she can’t transfer the call to my real phone, since she’s already on my extension, and she insists I come take my call at her desk.

      (let’s hope the HTML works there)

      “I can’t just now; please take a message/their number and I will call them back just as soon as I’m able.”

      Since clearly management is not willing to do their job and shut her BS down.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        Or, if she’s likely to attempt to sabotage you over that, do indeed take the call at her desk, collect their number yourself, and inform them you will call them back immediately (from YOUR desk).

        I would also be very tempted to get any tech support you have involved to get your extension removed from her phone (assuming this isn’t something she can just revert herself), but that might require making sure your boss has your back on at least that one thing. Your chances might increase if you handle any kind of sensitive information, in which case CLEARLY it’s not okay for you to take these calls while she sits there to eavesdrop.

    5. OP #1*

      You wound up really hitting the nail on the head! I wrote this letter last month and already resigned over her awful behavior. I left a longer comment about some of the other boundaries that she crossed with me a little further down – suffice it to say that she really didn’t respect my personal space at all and also happened to be extremely rude besides that.

      I’m so sorry you had one of these types of coworkers too – working with this woman was AWFUL and I wouldn’t wish a second on it on anyone.

  31. Bea*

    #1 She may sit at your desk so that the font isn’t left open. Yes there’s a bell and limited foot traffic but the area still needs coverage for breaks longer than a bathroom break. It also may remind her to pick up the phone since it’s not her usual task unless the front desk is busy and it transfers to hers. Then the clients must wait until it transfers and a couple extra rings can make some folks annoyed and wondering why it’s taking so long.

    She should never go into your purse. That’s not cool.

    The rest is very standard kind of stuff. My boss would flip through mail I was sorting years ago. It was a pet peeve of mine. Along with people touching the box of loose whatsits or dodads I may have been using to create hardware packages. But I’ll tell you straight away being the front desk in a small office, that’s how things roll.

    The purse thing gets to me though. My quasi boss only ever touched mine once. I forgot it and I always hung it up. So he put it in a drawer and left me a note. That was him protecting my valuables and not going through them which was appreciated.

    1. Specialk9*

      I could never resist a box of loose hardware whats-its. It wouldn’t strike me as personal, so not weird to touch so long as they weren’t fragile or mid-project like screws about to go back in. I’m a fiddler. I steal my bosses’ paperclips all the time. Then I look at the paperclip in my hands, perplexed.

  32. neverjaunty*

    OP #3, perhaps a more important issue is how your company handles holidays that aren’t Christian.

    Do employees have to use PTO for their own faith’s major celebrations, while Christmas and Easter are “free” days everyone gets? Does the company consider those other faiths when scheduling events generally, so that nobody has to point out that the company picnic or a major training day conflict with those?

    Those things are much more respectful of other faiths than what you call the holiday lunch.

    1. OP Number 3*

      The Christmas Eve/ Christmas Day-and-a-half is the only religious holiday we get at work. Any other days people want to take off would need to be by using vacation time.

      I do need to get the employee’s holidays on my office calendar, though. I don’t want to schedule a training that includes a meal during Ramadan. Good catch there.

      1. Sylvan*

        I’m not Muslim, but my experience with Muslim friends and coworkers is that they don’t need or want to be excluded from events during Ramadan simply because they aren’t going to eat at those events. This would be a good thing to ask the employee about so they can talk about how they observe holidays.

        1. Sigrid*

          I’ve had the same experience. I’ve always thought it was rude to have a situation involving a meal if one of the attendees can’t eat for whatever reason, but every Muslim colleague I’ve ever had (and I live in southeast Michigan, I’ve had many) have said they’d rather business proceed as usual during Ramadan, so if something usually involves a meal it should still involve a meal, and they are fine with not eating while everyone else does. They don’t speak for every Muslim, of course, so if you have anyone on staff who is fasting you should ask.

      2. Halster*

        A note for Ramadan: Please, please, please do not do anything in the afternoons. We are basically dead then! It’s also worth noting that during Ramadan, we often pray throughout the night (especially in the last ten days!) so your employee would be generally exhausted.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          This is a good point. I wouldn’t necessarily feel bad eating in front of someone during Ramadan (I wouldn’t go out of my way to do it– thinking snacks at work and such) but man, I wouldn’t want to suggest everyone take a really long walk together at 4pm during Ramadan.

        2. OP Number 3*

          We wouldn’t exclude the employee by any means, and it is definitely not my job to police how anyone else practices their religion or to make assumptions. My goal is to, basically, not be a jerk.

          1. Halster*

            Under that! Muslims have Friday prayer. I don’t know if this person attends the prayer, but if they do, it would be reasonable to give them like, an hour to 1.5 hours (that’s about the length of the prayer) off in the day that they can make up at another time.

            1. OP Number 3*

              I will talk to the partners about that for sure. We do have flex-time available, and tend to use the heck out of it; we need to be sure our employee is aware.

  33. EchoSparks*

    I certainly don’t speak for all non-Christians, but as a Jewish person, how I feel about Christmas work events strongly correlates to how much my own religious practice is respected the rest of the year. My current workplace is very accommodating and respectful. My boss let me adjust my hours so I can leave early every Friday for Shabbat. I take Jewish holidays off, even if it’s bad timing for work (this year I missed a super mandatory annual meeting because it fell on a holiday and my boss encouraged me to take the day off and not worry about it). When it feels like I’m taking half of Sept/Oct off my team wishes me well and asks how my holidays were when I’m back in the office. Because I overall feel like I have the space and resources I need, I don’t have any issue with participating in work Christmas events or walking around an office thoroughly bedecked in Christmas decorations. I would probably feel differently if I was spending the whole year fighting for time to observe my holidays (or putting up with subtle shade/guilt-tripping for being gone or leaving early).

    1. neverjaunty*

      This. There’s such a difference between being a guest at celebrations of people who treat you with equal respect, and being seen as an intruder.

    1. Specialk9*

      Oh wow. Wow.

      Not Hanukkah balls, but nude gold painted used Barbies as company awards? O_o

      And this made me laugh:
      “One of my coworkers got holiday decorations banned permanently after he found all the human and animal shaped decorations (elves, Santas, reindeer, etc.) in the office and arranged them in compromising positions late at night.”

  34. Lauren*

    #3 – Just because you say it isn’t mandatory, doesn’t mean that your employees don’t feel obligated to go – because of the day off. In my family, we treat Christmas Eve as more important the Christmas Day – so while I would feel comfortable skipping the lunch, you don’t know if your employees feel that way.

    Just say – doing it in December just isn’t practical anymore with other holiday conflicts, vacations, prepping, and last minute shopping – so we are switching an after New Year’s lunch instead.

    1. Temperance*

      I think that this might still be stigmatizing to the only non-Christian in the group, though. It will be painfully obvious that this is mere pretext, because this tradition has been going on for years and years. Talking to this person is the best course of action.

  35. Matilda Jefferies*

    #2, I actually do remember start and end dates for most of my jobs, going back to 2001. Useless waste of brain space as far as I’m concerned, but there you have it!

    But for people whose brain is not filled up with trivia like that, you’re totally fine to approximate.

    1. Emi.*

      Routinely unzipping all employees’ purses while they’re in the bathroom is also outrageous, though. If you have to go through people’s stuff, you should be transparent about it.

      1. Jessab*

        yes and they should be present. You don’t want any possibility of “omg missing things.” If it’s mandatory, then do it officially and openly, or have it like some factories and retail places, purses/bags/things that carry stuff must be transparent.

  36. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    When I worked for our federal govt years ago Christmas Eve day was almost a day off. People brought their kids in for the morning and around noontime the word from above came down and everyone that could leave was allowed to. Of course a few people had to stay to maintain minimal support levels but it was get the heck out of Dodge for most of us. To the effect that the afternoon rush hour started at 1PM instead of 4PM. If anyone is on here from Ottawa, ON posts, they can confirm whether or not this still happens.

  37. This Daydreamer*

    OP1, I’m wondering if maybe the boss is just incredibly bored while covering for you at the desk. Try leaving a minor task that you “were going to get to after lunch” or have some desk toys or just something to keep her occupied. And she might not have looked through your purse, just unzipped it and left her gifts and rezipped it, thinking it was just a good place to leave them for you. I would definitely let her know that you’re uncomfortable with her going into your purse and/or lock it up or take it with you whenever you step away.

    But yeah, I may be way too kind. I have ADHD so boredom was the first thing that came to mind. Keep an eye out for other boundary violations. If I’m wrong it’s likely to get worse.

  38. Colorado*

    OP#1: annotating the notes, super annoying. Opening your purse, no, just no! My 6 year old knows better than to go through my purse. I would be heading to the adult store to buy the most obnoxious “toy” and it would live right in my purse on top of everything else. Haha! But of course I’m a dreamer too ;-)

  39. Lady Phoenix*

    OP #1: It aounds like she is testing your boundaries to see what she can get away with in a later time. And the company brand items is just a way to gaslight you into accepting her instrusive actions, so that when she goes to steal your things — you won’t have the mind to report her.

    Keep your purse with you or put in a drawer with a lock and key only you have. If she keeps being invasive, document it and take it to her boss.

    You should also glance at some new jobs if things head to the shit end.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      … that seems like an extreme interpretation. It’s at least as likely that she’s just weird and awkward.

  40. OP #3- Thanksgiving event?*

    #3- In my former workplace, we had a “family lunch” on the half day before Thanksigiving break. I hated that job, but I do miss that tradition! Maybe you could adopt something like that?

    Fwiw- I think that if you or your colleagues insist on a December “holiday” event, you might as well keep it on the day before Christmas. People will probably be more relaxed the day before the break, and it just seems to fit more naturally. I’m an observant Jew and would absolutely not be offended by this.

  41. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I say this with peace and love, and as one of the world’s worst Christmas shopping procrastinators. And also as an introvert. A “not mandatory” Christmas Eve luncheon before a 1/2 day off would drive me bananas. Yeah, it’s a nice thing, and yeah it’s not mandatory, but I would see it as standing in the way of my 1/2 day off (where, inevitably I’d instead be frantically buying Christmas presents; I recognize this flaw, and I totally own that this happens with me). Christmas Eve is often hectic for people – planning for family gatherings, last minute stuff, etc. And I call the lunch “not mandatory” because although it really isn’t, a lot of times there’s pressure to attend things because they’re work things.

    If you want to keep it as is, say it like this to new co-worker, “hey, new co-worker, our office has this tradition and I want you to know about it. I hope you’ll come because it’s a nice lunch that we all get to have on the company dime and then we get a half day off.” If co-worker says, “rad! I’m there!” then no foul. If co-worker is uncomfortable because it’s around Christmas, adjust accordingly. Perhaps suggest to the powers-that-be that maybe this year you have a Valentine Lunch instead.

    1. OP Number 3*

      I will say than anyone can opt not. They not only can, but do, for the exact reasons you’re mentioning. I’m usually first up from the table myself.

      I know there can be holiday traditions at workplaces that are only technically voluntary, but this one really is, thank goodness.

    2. Nacho*

      I hate “not manditory” anythings. we recently had a “not manditory” brunch which started about an hour before I normally wake up (night shift). Or potlucks that force me to spend an hour cooking when normally I’d just have tossed together a bagel or something 2 minutes before I left.

  42. Echo*

    “especially since Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday, which a lot of non-Jews don’t realize)”

    THANK YOU for pointing this out! Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Purim, Passover, and Sukkot are the major observances unless I’ve left one out and in that case I apologize. My family is pretty Americanized, so we do have fun celebrations for Hanukkah, but it would definitely read really oddly to focus on it in the workplace.

    I lived with a roommate who has no Christian relatives to celebrate Christmas with, and he loved having the extra time off around the end of the year. It’s really really pleasant to have what ends up being a bunch of random time off to travel or staycation, and fun to celebrate with coworkers. I wouldn’t sweat this one too much, OP #3.

    (Also, the non-Jewish side of my family is Orthodox, where Christmas isn’t a major holiday either. That would be St. Basil’s Day on Jan 1. Celebrations and time off for Christmas is basically just an accepted thing that happens in US workplaces.)

  43. Kobayashi*

    I grew up one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I can only speak for myself, but I really didn’t mind participating as long as the event wasn’t overly Christmassy — meaning, no carol singing, exchanging of Christmas presents, etc. If it’s just a work lunch before everyone takes off, that would not have bothered me in the slightest, and I would have been happy to participate.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Yes, of course.

        I don’t actually understand how this is a question. Santa Claus is a Christmas figure; “Secret Santa” exchanges that just happen to occur in December are obviously Christmas present exchanges.

  44. Phoenix Programmer*

    #3 cue exhaustion. The fact that the only PC solution is no lunch ever is so exhausting. Someone trying to do the right thing and they get 100 different answers with a ton of baggage is honestly too much for many people to take on. I didn’t even ask the question and I find myself getting frustrated and wanting to cry out “don’t go then!” It’s irritating and is one of the few examples of sjw I agree with. Keep the lunch as is. Move the lunch. Moving the lunch won’t help because it is stained forever! Ask the employee don’t ask the employee. This lunch is creepy. This lunch is a sweet gesture. Ughhhhhhhh.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not really that hard, and no one has said “no lunch ever.”

      It’s not that hard to just not treat the dominant religious traditions as if they’re everyone’s.

      Truly, it’s not difficult. Plenty of offices manage it.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        If it is easy why is there over 150 comments on “how to fix” on the first comment on this blog?

        Every time the topic of having office holidays comes up it’s always the same massive back and forth.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The issue in this case is that they have an existing practice which isn’t inclusive and are trying to figure out how to adapt it without making people feel the new person ruined it. That’s different.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            And, tbh, because people get weirdly self-righteous about this particular topic. Like it’s such a hardship to have lunch in January instead of December.

          2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Ok, I can feel myself getting pulled into Internet Outrage and responding too much. Apologies, and I’m signing off. :)

  45. Countess Chocula*

    I’m an atheist but I’m happy to get free food for any occasion.

    I hate office Christmas parties, though. Not really for religious reasons, but honestly there is already SO MUCH to do in December that having to fit in some sort of office xmas deal is just one more chore. (Our well-meaning receptionist puts out like two Hanukkah decorations because I once mentioned I wasn’t Christian so I think she just assumed I was Jewish. I’m tempted to mess with her by claiming a new religion each year until the front desk is filled with miscellaneous iconography, including some sort of of Satanist dark lord, but I digress…)

    One year I convinced my company to have the winter “holiday” party celebrate Polar Bear day, and everyone loved the idea. Polar Bear cookies, cocoa, optional snow tubing party. Aside from one guy who thought it was some sort of climate change conspiracy, it wasn’t controversial.

  46. Biff*

    Friendly neighborhood pagan checking in regarding #3:

    I’d prefer they tell me what’s what, and than ask me if there’s a better way to include me. For example, “Hey Biff, it just so happens to be that everyone here celebrates Christmas, and so the company has gotten in the habit of giving everyone Christmas Eve afternoon off, and we usually have a potluck luncheon early in the day to send everyone off. We feel like this could exclude you and were wondering how we could do better.”

    I would probably respond with “Would it be possible for me to work the afternoon of Christmas Eve so that I may have Solstice Afternoon off? I’ll still come to the luncheon.” OR, I might say, “I have friends who love to throw a Christmas Eve get-together, so I’d love to have that afternoon off anyway.” Lots of pagans celebrate a non-secular form of Christmas with friends or family. I’ve known atheists, Jews, and Hindus who also enjoy celebrating a sort of secular hybrid version of the Holiday. It’s a fun holiday.

    So I vote, ask the new employee.

  47. MMMeyer*

    Op 3, please don’t go the inclusive holiday route.
    Hanukkah is over this year on the 20th. So I am unsure what holiday you would be including in a luncheon held on the 24th.
    And as many (MANY) others have noted, Hanukkah is a minor Rabbinical holiday. My husband and I didn’t grow up celebrating it AT ALL and didn’t as adults, until we moved to a very heavy Christian area (my husband is military) and it became very important to the kids.

    1. OP Number 3*

      The employee is Muslim, so Hanukkah is not an option :)
      (Sorry to emoticon — sometimes I can’t hold back)

      1. kobayashi*

        Half of my extended family is Muslim. As long as it is not overly Christmassy in nature, I know most of them wouldn’t think twice about it. That being said, that’s just them, not this particular employee. However, if it’s JUST a luncheon before the break, with no overt “Christmas celebrations,” I think the vast majority of non-Christmas-celebrating persons would reasonably be okay with the tradition. Of course, a few might have an issue with it because it falls on Christmas Eve, but I think it best to just explain it as “Hey, some of us go to lunch on December 24th before the holiday break. It’s totally optional. If you’re interested, here are the details…” This is assuming, of course, there aren’t Christmas gift exchanges, Christmas decorations, etc.

  48. Stop That Goat*

    I’m of the mind that this isn’t really a holiday celebration. At this point, the only ties to the holiday are the fact that it happens in December. I’m not sure that people would make the argument that a lunch in February is because of Valentine’s day although I could see it for Thanksgiving. However, I’m an agnostic and would have zero issue with participating in holiday celebrations for any religion.

  49. Nacho*

    OP3: Speaking as a non-Christian, most of us really don’t care. We’re used to it by now, and nothing you do for your holiday lunch is going to change the fact that your office gives Christmas and Christmas Eve night off but not Yom Kippur or Eid Al-Fitr. Assuming he’s American, he probably grew up celebrating Christmas anyway, because that’s what America, as a country, does every December. Like Alison pointed out, any changes you make because of him are going to turn him into “the guy who forced everyone to make changes to accommodate him”, and that’s not something the new guy ever wants to be.

    Just nicely point out to him that you’re going to do a Christmas Lunch, you know he doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but he’s invited anyways, and if he doesn’t come, don’t take it personally.

  50. OP #1*

    Wow! I wrote the first letter right when I started with my previous company and in the time since I sent it in, I’ve actually resigned. (This isn’t a dig at Alison taking time to get back to me or anything – it was only a short while that I worked there before I decided enough was enough.)

    As Alison and some commenters predicted, she didn’t stop at violating boundaries when it came to front desk coverage. She also went on to pick my food wrappers out of the trash and tell me I was eating too unhealthily. When I told her that I preferred to keep my food consumption my own business, she chuckled and rolled her eyes and said something about how people my age are too sensitive. Another time, she told me not to lock my computer when I went to the bathroom “because it looks like you’re hiding what sites you were just on.” Okay, or it protects confidential workplace information from any rando who could walk in???

    One day, she touched my hair in the middle of a conversation without asking permission or saying anything about why she was doing it. A couple of times, she came up behind me and leaned so close over my shoulder that I could feel her breath before I knew she was there. The first time she did this, I jolted in surprise, and she started laughing and told me not to work so hard. I said something about how I really don’t like being surprised and she smirked and said “But I love to surprise you!” and did it again a few more times after that.

    Most alarmingly, she had a thing about accusing me of logging onto her computer using remote desktop. She charged over to my desk one day and said “Why were you just on my computer?” and when I gawked at her and explained that I hadn’t been, she didn’t seem to believe me. A few days later, she came back and demanded, “Were you just on my computer again?”, proving that no, in fact, she hadn’t believed me from day one. I assured her again that I had never done anything like that and she stalked away.

    Long story short, I quit with no notice after a month. I felt bad, and I know how unprofessional that is, but at least it’s not somewhere I worked long enough to have to list it on my resume. It was a nightmare and I’m just glad to be done!

    1. TCO*

      No need to feel bad or unprofessional about that! Your boss was way out of line and made the job intolerable for you. This was clearly not a “normal” workplace, and if she’s not following basic office norms then you don’t have to feel bad about not following all of them (like giving 2 weeks’ notice) either. I’m glad you were decisive and brave enough to get out quickly, and I hope that wherever you land next is better.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Oh my godddddddd. What a weirdo. Glad you’re free of her, and I think that behavior is more than enough justification to quit without notice!

      Hope you’ve found a great new gig or find one soon.

    3. Stop That Goat*

      Some of that behavior is so far past the norm that I’m not surprised that you quit without notice. Good luck on your job hunt and your next venture!

    4. This Daydreamer*

      Holy crap! Yeah, my interpretation was WWWAAAYYYYYY off. I’m glad you got away from her so quickly.

    5. Chinook*

      Quitting was a great choice. There is a difference between having to adapt to sharing a workspace and working with someone with no boundaries. And quitting after a month with no notice is so much more professional than screaming “what the h@!! was she doing snooping through my stuff again. I quit!”, grabbing your purse and jacket and angrily walking to the elevator in tears, which is how I did react to the snoop who complained about what she found (which was an email filed deep in Outlook complaining about her snooping).

    6. Gingerblue*

      Wow. Good for you for getting out of there! The bits about her leaning over your shoulder and touching your hair honestly made me jerk back from my computer in revulsion.

      As for professionalism, I’d have been tempted to buy a cheap purse at a thrift store, put a small note saying “I quit, and the fact that you’re reading this is why”, and leaving it behind on my chair when I left for lunch; so you’re way ahead of me.

    7. Bea*

      Woah I wasn’t expecting her to be that nuts! I’m glad you got out of there. Notice would have given her time to do all her garbage for another 2 weeks :(

  51. Manager-at-Large*

    #2 – This is tricky depending on how senior you are and what field you are in. Rachel may have 30+ years experience in a field like IT – but state-of-the-art in 1995 is not really relevant today at a technology level, but at a project experience level might be worth including. If she has 15 years at the last company – it’s hard to show that at one employer and then how many previous jobs to show? It isn’t only Phoebe with 5 jobs in 11 years post-college that has tough decisions.

    #3 – company holiday lunches read the same to me as company “good project pizza” lunches or quarterly “give out gold stars” lunches. They are not charged with religious overtones for me. That said, I like companies where there are 1 or 2 “personal holiday” days – where the intent is you can take them for any reason – but if there is a religious or political or other day that applies for you – you don’t have to dip into your PTO to have it off. If you prefer not to – take off your birthday or one of the many school holidays that are not federal holidays – whatever you like.

  52. Jennifer Thneed*

    Nobody else has addressed this titbit of #4:

    > She then introduced me to her service dog, who was very poorly trained and would not leave me alone the whole rest of our meeting.

    That wasn’t a service dog. She may have claimed it was to be allowed to bring it to work. She may even have purchased a fake “working dog” vest for it. But she’s still wrong or lying about that. (And this is something I have a hair up my butt about, along with people who claim food allergies when they just dislike something. Both kinds of fakers make life harder for people who actually have these issues.)

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