why are contractors treated like second-class citizens, boss enters without knocking, and more

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

1. Why do some people look down on contractors and freelancers?

I’m a freelance writer contracting at a large company, and I’ve noticed that some people tend to look down on contractors and freelancers. The majority of people I’ve worked with have been lovely, but frequently there seems to be an attitude of mild disdain for contract workers. The row of cubicles that my fellow freelancers and I sit in right now is jokingly referred to as “Contractor’s Row.” Even the full-time project manager who trained me in said (facetiously) that contractors are sometimes treated like second-class citizens. Why do some people seem to have this aversion to contract workers?

They’re jerks?

In some companies there’s a culture where contractors are indeed seen as second-class citizens. To some extent, that can arise from the legal distinctions that companies are required to make between employees and contractors; if they treat them the same, they risk being forced to reclassify the contractors as employees (with all the accompanying costs for payroll taxes, benefits, and in some cases government-imposed fines). Preserving that distinction often means that contractors aren’t invited to company parties, aren’t allowed to use perks like company gyms, aren’t eligible for various awards, and so forth.

Once you have those distinctions in place, for some people it’s a short hop to actually thinking of or talking about contractors as “less than” in some way. And of course, some people really, really like distinctions that allow them to feel like they’re in the more favored group, and this set-up can bring that out.

2. Employee’s father is dying, and he’s struggling at work

I manage a part-time, junior level employee who started as an intern. “Bran” was fabulous, turning in high-level work quickly and consistently, which was why we asked him to stay on when his internship ended. However, over the past three months, the quality of his work has dipped significantly. We’ve had conversations about going slower, checking his work, and really focusing on minute details. I have shown him specific examples of errors so that he better knows his weak spots. It isn’t working. I know he’s capable of better work—he’s repeatedly demonstrated as such.

While under other circumstances I would put a PIP in place, this one is a special case. Bran’s father is very ill, and is now in hospice. I don’t want to cut Bran’s hours (his mother isn’t working so she can better take care of his father), or have a harsh conversation when he has so much going on at home. At the same time, I’m spending a lot of time proofing Bran’s work and fixing errors, which is affecting my own workload. We do not have an EAP. We’re a very small company without many resources. Any advice?

Talk to him, explain what you’re seeing, and ask what he thinks would help. This doesn’t have to be a harsh conversation; it can be a kind but straightforward one and you can frame it as finding out what kind of support he thinks might help. For example, you could say something like this: “I know you’re going through a really tough time right now with your dad. I want to give you as much flexibility and leeway as I can and I don’t expect you to be performing at 100% right now, but I’m spending more time fixing your work than I can realistically continue to do. But we have a bunch of options here, depending on what you think might help. I can let you pull back on your hours if you need to right now, or if it would help to be able to work from home some of the time, we could do that too. Or there might be other things you think would help that I don’t even know about, so I’m hoping to hear your thoughts — and don’t be afraid to make creative suggestions. If there are accommodations we can make, I’m open to them.”

3. My boss enters my office without knocking on my closed door

I am a physician in an academic medical institution. The door culture in our department is wide-ranging and fairly relaxed, as our personal offices are spread out and have different levels of noise and privacy. My colleague’s door to my right is nearly always open, my colleague’s door to my left is nearly always shut. I myself have been a fan of the half-open door, as my desk faces directly at the door and I find foot traffic from the conference room across the hall to be distracting.

When I’m on speakerphone for conference calls, discussing patient information on the phone, or (rarely) making personal calls, I tend to shut my office door for that time and reopen afterwards. My problem is that my “boss” (my department chairman) has a habit of opening doors and walking right into any office without knocking. I’ve seen him do it to other offices as well, so I know it’s not just me. It bothers me a lot, as I find it a bit rude and intrusive, particularly for patient confidentiality. I’ve taken to locking my door when I hear or see him coming down the hall, probably in a passive-aggressive move to show him that he can’t just barge in and force him to wait.

He’s not technically my manager and we tend to operate quite independently. This might not be a typical office culture you get asked about. I don’t feel in a position to have an etiquette talk with him, and I don’t think he even realizes people might find it intrusive to barge in without knocking. Is there anything I can do subtly to try to change his behavior?

So much of this is going to come down to your particular office culture, and since I can’t speak to that, you should adapt this accordingly. But given that patient confidentiality is in play, it generally should be reasonable to say something like, “Hey Bob, when I have my door closed it’s usually because I’m on a call where I might be discussing confidential patient information or otherwise need privacy. Can I ask you to knock first because of that?”

I do think you should say something though rather than just continuing to lock your door (unless lots of your colleagues do that too), since most offices don’t have a lot of locked doors and you risk him wondering what’s going on behind yours.

4. We’re required to bring in treats for meetings

I work part-time at a library and earn $12 an hour. We have monthly meetings and we rotate who will bring treats. The employees have to purchase the treats for the meetings with their own money, usually one or two times a year. I am the lowest-paid employee at these meetings and it seems like the average wage there is $17 an hour. For me the cost of these treats is at least an hour of my pay. Baking treats at home is not an option for me to lower the cost.

My question is can my employer require me to spend my own money on treats for a work meeting and is this illegal? How can I bring up that this seems unfair to employees without being a party pooper? I feel that I am there to make money, not to spend it even if it is only a couple times of the year. There was a period when my husband lost his job and we were starting to look into food pantries for help — thankfully I did not have treat duty during this time. However, if I cannot support both of us, let alone myself on a part-time job. Is it fair to ask part time employees to pay for a donut reward during a work meeting when they are not being paid a living wage?

They can require it, but a reasonable employer will let you opt out if you ask to. Try just saying this to whoever organizes it: “The cost of bringing in treats for everyone is out of my budget, so I need to opt out of the rotation.” If you want, you can add, “I of course won’t eat the treats others bring in since I’m opting out.”

5. Can I be required to fill out an anonymous survey?

Can my employer require me to fill out an anonymous survey? I’ve read how they aren’t necessarily anonymous, but do I have grounds to refuse? It would be better to have a smaller response rate than lies, I would think, but not if it’s going to lead to a write-up!

They can indeed require you to fill it out. That said, there’s nothing stopping you from writing “no comment” or “no answer” or even “not comfortable answering this” to questions you don’t want to answer.

{ 327 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, what aspect of the arrangement would make it illegal? Don’t get me wrong—I think this practice is problematic (especially if not everyone is on board with it), and your arguments about why it’s fair are well taken. But the lack of fairness doesn’t mean that it’s illegal.

    Perhaps I’m reading your letter too literally?

    1. Kismet*

      I’m not OP4, but I know that before I came here and started reading, I did assume that it was illegal to require you to use your own money to pay for business expenses, just because it is unfair, and I guess there’s still a naive idealist in me that expects laws to be at least somewhat fair. It’s actually been rather shocking, how much crappy stuff is legal.

      1. Eliza*

        Also, if it’s legal, it seems like it could be used to make an end-run around minimum wage laws. If you pay someone minimum wage but require them to pay for things out of pocket as a condition of employment, they’re effectively making less than that.

          1. Lolly*

            Wait what? Minimum-wage workers have to pay for their own uniforms? They’re not provided? Is that just certain companies/sectors or is it a US thing?

            I used to work as a bank teller (in Australia), we were given a catalogue of uniform options and allowed pick options up to a certain budget. I thought it was great since I was still at uni and that mean I didn’t have to spend money on work clothes.

            1. Anononon*

              It depends on the company. I worked for a company that had very specific uniforms, but for the most part, they provided them. You only had to pay if you didn’t return them at the end of the year. The only thing I had to pay for was a pair of high friction sneakers when I worked in one of the restaurants.

              1. Artemesia*

                When I worked less than minimum wage back in the dark ages in a restaurant (and it was a greasy spoon so not much tipping either) we had to buy our own uniforms.

              2. kittymommy*

                Mine has always been dependent on the place. One Dr office bought all of our scrubs another we had to get them. In the restaurants most provided the top, but the basic black pants were on you.

            2. McWhadden*

              While it varies it is very very common for minimum wage employees to have to pay for their own uniforms. To the point where it borders on being the norm.

              When I worked at a hotel in college my uniform was actually pretty expensive because it involved a blazer so I couldn’t afford the upfront so they provided it and they took the money out of my check.

            3. Bea*

              The few weeks I worked the books at a restaurant taught me yes, they charge for uniforms and ticket books even. That place was gross, that’s one reason I had no problem walking out. They’d also require tipping out even if you didn’t make enough to do so.

            4. Turquoisecow*

              I worked in a couple of supermarkets. We weren’t required to buy uniforms, even when the company changed the dress code after a few years and we were now required to wear a different color smock. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn of other companies doing this, though.

              1. Olive Hornby*

                When I worked in a grocery store, we had to buy the shirt (a polo with the company logo); the rest of the uniform (beige pants, black shoes, and black belt) were on us. We were making $.50 over minimum wage, and my memory is that it was deducted over multiple paychecks–though I’m not sure how this worked for the baggers, who were exactly at minimum wage and who were also required to buy the shirts…but I would also not be surprised if this family-owned pillar-of-the-community company was skirting labor law.

            5. Narise*

              The law states that if you deduct for uniforms it cannot drop an employee below minimum wage even for one check. So you either have to deduct over multiple checks or if they only make minimum wage not deduct at all.

              1. Justme*

                But if you call it dress code rather than uniforms, it’s different. It’s a way that some large retailers skirt that law.

                1. Anonymoose*

                  This is accurate. But we’re talking office job/retail clothing store (dress code) vs restaurant/retail supplies store (uniforms).

                2. Ego Chamber*

                  If I can’t wear it on my days off or to work at another job because of the company branding, that’s a uniform, and I resent having to pay for it.

                  White button-down? Dress code. White button-down with the company logo stitched onto it? Uniform. If you can only get a piece of the mandated dress code from the employer (because of the branding), that’s a uniform.

            6. Elsajeni*

              It varies, but it’s pretty common. When I worked retail, our dress code options were any plain white polo shirt or various company-branded shirts that we’d have to buy; most people went with the plain white polo, since either you had one already or you could get one cheaper than the company shirts. (We also had to wear an apron; those were provided, but they also weren’t really “ours,” we had to leave them hanging up in the breakroom and we weren’t supposed to claim a specific one.)

            7. Koko*

              I had to pay for my own uniform at every food service job I ever had – a Subway, two Pizza Huts, and a Jimmy Johns.

            8. Esme*

              I am fairly certain that I paid for my own uniform at Eckerd Drug Store when I was in college. I know I bought the dark navy pants. And I truly believe that I also purchased at least two smocks/jackets. This would have been in the mid-1980’s, btw.

            9. Anonymoose*

              Dear lord yes!! In restaurants you also have to purchase expensive non-slip shoes that are only found a few different vendors. We’re talking $75 (and that’s just for shoes!!) on a minimum wage. Remember this when you’re thining of the poor saps refilling your water and making your food.

              — previous front of house server/back of house line cook

              1. Anonymoose*

                That said, they’re tax deductible. I forgot about that part, and I certainly forgot it every time I did my taxes.

                1. Jessica*

                  That only matters if your total deductions would exceed the standard deduction, which for a minimum wage worker, it almost certainly wouldn’t. I didn’t start exceeding the standard deduction until I bought a house.

                2. hayling*

                  I imagine that many people working restaurant jobs on minimum wage don’t have enough itemized deductions for this to matter. Hell, I make a very good salary and I still don’t itemize, because I wouldn’t have more than the standard deduction.

            10. Ego Chamber*

              “Wait what? Minimum-wage workers have to pay for their own uniforms? They’re not provided? Is that just certain companies/sectors or is it a US thing?”

              Yuuup. I know it’s common in the States, not sure about other countries. A lot of times the company will have some nonsense justification about how people don’t return the uniforms and it costs them money when they don’t get them back, so they want a “deposit” (between $15-30 in my experience), or else there’s no justification and no deposit, and they just expect you to pay.

              It doesn’t seem legal to expect minimum wage employees to pay an amount that often means their first day was for no pay, and yet… (my first job back when minimum wage was like $5/hr: my first shift was 6 hours, and the uniform deposit was $30 for 2 branded t-shirts and an apron. fml).

            1. yasmara*

              Yep. I had to buy my grocery store smock/apron thing for my high school job, plus the required black pants and white collared shirts.

            2. Grapey*

              Not always – I worked in a few grocery stores and they gave me their shirt. I think it’s different if the company logo is actually branded on there.

              On the other hand, pieces that you can wear outside of your job I think are reasonable to make employees cover, like black pants or a white shirt.

              1. Anonymoose*

                Are you saying that you would reasonably wear a red polo shirt and dark khaki pants in your personal time (outside of cheering on the 49ers of course), and NOT be thought of as a Target imployee by friends and family?

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  I understand the sentiment, but maybe don’t wear them together?

                  Personally, I think khakis are unforgivably fugly, so I don’t wear them, but I understand they’re a common part of many neutral wardrobes, and I’ve seen lots of Target employees wearing red shirts that aren’t polos, and I know people who wear red polos by choice—just not with khakis. ;P

                  Also, I get asked if I work at Target/Walmart/wherever at least once per visit (I have never worked at any of those stores). I dress goth-lite and have earbuds in like all the time, so being thought of as “a Target employee” seems to have not much to do with the outfit and more to do with a random stranger’s own self-importance.

            3. SarahKay*

              Not just American companies. Ryanair (Irish budget airline) is famed for making all its staff pay for their uniform.

            4. Boo*

              I’ve never had to do that in the UK but I was super annoyed when I was a receptionist that the uniform provided was dry clean only. I never took it for dry cleaning, I just chucked it all in the washing machine. It was all about two sizes too big as well, to add insult to injury (I’m very petite and the smallest size was like me wearing my mum’s clothes).

              1. MsSolo*

                In the UK you’re entitled to a tax break if you have to launder your own uniforms. I’ve never bothered claim in, but I think it’s specifically there for jobs with uniforms that require specific treatment.

                As a teenager, shop work was always highly sought after because you got a clothing allowance to buy work clothes as well as a staff discount – everyone wanted that part time Top Shop gig! I am genuinely shocked US employers can charge for uniforms; even by the standards of the US’s terrible labour laws that never occurred to me. I was reading a thing recently about bridesmaids’ paying for their own dresses in the US and thought that was shocking because if you dictate what someone wears, you pay for it, like a uniform at work.

                1. Anonymoose*

                  This is exactly why I allowed my bridesmaids to wear whatever dress they wanted (plus im not into matchy-matchy). The photos were GORGEOUS, everybody looked exactly like they should (the men were allowed to do the same) and they all felt beautiful and it showed in the images. Miraculously, our group shots are totally cohesive. I’m not sure how or why but it’s obvious that you’re looking at a wedding party and not just a group of friends at a party. :)

            5. Slippy*

              Why pay for something when you can force your employees to pay for it? This is fairly common is low/minimum wage jobs in the US. Part of the reason for this is the legal system here does not award much in the way of additional damages other that returning lost money up to the minimum wage. In other words not many people will sue (individually) for $40 and few attorneys will take up the case.

              1. Specialk9*

                Why would someone get an attorney for small claims court? Lawyers are not usually allowed there, and usually the threshold for small claims court is several thousand dollars.

          2. Lindsay J*

            I think, though, that if you are forced to buy specific items for a uniform that you wouldn’t wear outside of work, that you are able to deduct the amount from your taxes.

            I’ve generally never had a problem with places that required a specific uniform – those have always been provided (though maybe I needed to pay to get a new shirt if mine became too dirty or something.

            The places I had an issue with were the places with a dress code, like “You can wear whatever you like, as long as it is all black with no logos and the shirts are at least half-sleeve, and your shoes need to be all black, non-slip, with no visible branding, but whatever brand you want.” Because invariably I didn’t own those things and needed to go out and buy them, and also those requirements don’t generally pass muster as being something you would only wear to one job the way that a company branded polo-shirt would.

            1. Natalie*

              Uniform items that you functionally *can’t* use outside of work (which is different than “won’t use” to the IRS) can theoretically be deducted as unreimbursed business expenses, but in practice this is going to apply to practically no one in retail. To start you would need enough deductions to itemize (70% of households don’t). You would need enough business expenses to exceed 2% of your AGI (the amount below that isn’t deductible), and even then you’re only getting 15-35% of the expense back.

              1. JeanB in NC*

                Thank you for bringing that up. It doesn’t seem to be well known that you don’t get to just take off business expenses off the amount of taxes owed.

              2. Specialk9*

                Exactly. The standard deduction in the US is $6,350 for singles and $12,700 for couples. That’s a really high hurdle to surpass! So basically any business expenses below that come out of your pocket.

                And even so, deducting only.gives you back a tiny fraction of that amount. Let’s say you make $30k a year, your taxes are 15% (above a certain amount). Even if you have a ton of business expenses (say you’re self employed) so you get above the standard deduction, and get to deduct the cost of a uniform – to keep the math easy let’s say the uniform is $100 – you only get back $15 of that.

                /Not a tax accountant

                1. Natalie*

                  keep the math easy let’s say the uniform is $100 – you only get back $15 of that.

                  Not even that much. You can only deduct the amount of business expenses that exceed 2% of your AGI. So if your $30K a year employee has an adjusted gross income of, say, $25K, the first $500 of unreimbursed business expenses cannot be deducted.

                  /accountant but not tax professional

            2. Em*

              I still have a pair of no-slip restaurant shoes and some Walmart khakis gathering dust in my parents’ closet from my fast food job in college!

      2. Fafaflunkie*

        What could make this illegal is this: OP makes $12/hour. What is the minimum wage for the jurisdiction s/he works in? Does this requirement that they pay for treats at meetings bring OP’s actual wage below the minimum wage of said jurisdiction? If so, OP has a case. If not, then while patently unfair, it’s not illegal. However, did OP actually sign off on this requirement as part of the terms of employment within the firm? If no, again OP has a case. If no, alas OP will have to deal with it. Talk with management and explain the situation. There could be a compromise to be found here.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Good point. If employee is already at minimum wage then forcing them to pay for treats would drop them below the legal minimum wage.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It would need to bring her salary below minimum wage for the whole pay period, which is unlikely since she’s making over minimum wage (but who knows, maybe it’s possible). They’d also need to tell her it’s a requirement they won’t waive (and if she hasn’t asked to opt out yet, then that’s not in play so far). But it’s not the case that the OP would have had to sign off on the requirement as part of her terms of employment; that’s not a thing in the U.S.

          1. PepperVL*

            That would depend on where OP lives. Some cities have minimum wage of $12 an hour, so requiring her to spend any money at all would put her under. Of course, she still has to ask to opt out, but if she’s working in one of those cities, she may have a case.

            1. Persephone*

              This inspired me to double-check the minimum wage in my city, since I also make $12/hour and am expected to pay for certain things at work. Imagine my irritation when I found a bunch of celebratory news articles about “[city] raising wage to $15/hour!” only to discover that all it meant was that the city was raising the wage for city employees, which is less than 200 people. For the record, the actual minimum wage is $7.25.

              1. Bea*

                I’m shocked they raised city employees. Over here in $15 minimum wage land there’s often a loophole to deny government employees and other details involved. Also if your employer offers health insurance, the minimum wage is reduced to $13. It’s a tricky system I’m still learning about.

            2. Turquoisecow*

              Yeah but requiring her to buy an hour’s wage worth of treats twice a year would probably not put her under for the entire pay period. Assuming the pay period is a week or two, an hour’s lost pay would not put her below minimum wage unless she only works two or three hours a week.

              Most likely the meeting organizers are not thinking about the cost of treats on their employees. If it’s a part-time job, they likely aren’t thinking that part-time employees really need their wages to survive, and buying snacks will create a hardship. Maybe by bringing up the issue, OP can change the way the meetings are run. Maybe snacks won’t be given out, or maybe the organizers will provide them. Or maybe some other accommodation could be provided.

          2. Fafaflunkie*

            Speaking as a Canadian, I’m not quite sure of U.S. laws regarding minimum wage. I do however know how this works in Ontario, where the current minimum wage is $11.60/hour in most cases (and goes to $14/hour as of 01/01/18), and the employee would have a case if this requirement to pay put the employee below minimum wage for that pay period.

            It all depends on the jurisdiction OP is in.

        3. JamieS*

          I don’t agree with the practice assuming OP didn’t volunteer for this but would being asked/required to bring in treats meet the definition of reducing wages? For instance let’s say OP worked 10 hours and they’re employer gave them a paycheck for $120 then OP went out and bought $50 worth of treats because her employer asked her to leaving her $70 for that pay period. What would be the criteria for an outside 3rd party (such as the DOL or an arbitrator) to reduce her pay by the cost of treats if there’s a question on whether OP was paid minimum wage.

          Would strong pressure be sufficient, would it have to literally be a job requirement (do it or you’re bounced out the door), or would only the amount of the actual paycheck matter and the treats are irrelevant?

          1. Ego Chamber*

            I believe it has to literally be a job requirement, but they don’t have to fire you if you refuse in order for it to be considered a requirement. Management saying “this is a requirement of the job” is sufficient, because the threat is implied, even if they don’t follow through.

        4. nacho*

          Minimum wages are usually 8-9 at most. Unless she was right on the cusp, a $5 thing of cookies wouldn’t put her under.

          1. Noobtastic*

            OP said it usually costs about as much as she makes in one hour. We’re not talking about a pack of Oreos here.

            Perhaps we should be. OP, if you can’t get out of it, I recommend making your treats as cheap as possible, and explain (to the whole group, if necessary), that it is all you can afford, since you are part time, and earn so little. Since they all have to face the extra-budgetary expense at least once a year, anyone who has ever been lowest on the totem pole will probably sympathize.

            But… Considering that this policy has been in place for a while, I would not count on sympathy. I’d just hope that “This is the most I can afford” box of store-brand cookies won’t land you in actual hot water for “cheaping out.”

            Good luck, OP. I think this policy stinks.

            1. Sassy AE*

              Right. Those chuckleheads can choke down a packet of saltines. (Just kidding… Kinda. Put Triscuts on a plate and call it a day.)

            2. Dust Bunny*

              So $12. Once or twice a year. That’s not $50 in treats, either.

              Yes, she should be able to opt out. But . . . $12. Once a year. This is not what is breaking their budget at home.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                But when the budget is broken at home for other reasons, that $12 is still $12 the OP doesn’t have. (And she did say the $12 was a *minimum* figure.)

                1. Lindsay J*

                  Yeah, there were times when I was making close to minimum wage where $20 was my grocery budget.

                  Paying for my rent, gas and electricity and water, cell phone, car, car insurance, gas, dog food, and student loan debt took up basically my entire paycheck.

                  (And honestly, sometimes the student loans didn’t get paid.) The rest were non-negotiable. I needed the cell phone to be able to communicate with work and my family and the rest of the outside world. I needed the car to get back and forth to work – if it got repoed I would lose my job and be fucked. I needed to eat. My dog needed to eat. I needed to not be homeless.

                  If I had to spend $12 on treats for work at the time, then I would be pretty much eating ramen every meal for two weeks. Which is not healthy, and makes you feel like shit generally – physically, mentally, and spiritually. It wouldn’t fuck up my year. It wouldn’t even fuck up my budget as much as – say – blowing a tire would. But it would be deeply demoralizing, and I would feel angry and frustrated and I would definitely be looking for a way out of doing it.

                  (As it is, my boss at the time was pretty great and would buy and leave like little instant meals at work for “whoever wants them” which was generally me. She was Hawaiian so a lot of them were SPAM and egg things, which weren’t something I would choose myself and weren’t something most of the other employees were at all interested in eating. But when your choice is ramen again, or lentils again, or nothing because your blown tire ate up your entire “discretionary” budget, or SPAM and egg instant meal, then SPAM starts looking pretty good. )

                2. Koko*

                  Exactly. It’s not fair to say any given purchase should be affordable. OP may already have had 4 other bills/purchases she couldn’t make that pay period and had to figure out what 4 things she could most do without or delay. Now, thanks to having to buy the treats, she needs to figure out what 5 things she can most do without or delay.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I don’t think people are arguing that OP can afford $12; they’re explaining that a $12 deduction is unlikely to bring her below minimum wage in the vast majority of places in the U.S.

                4. Koko*

                  I was responding to the parent comment that said, “But . . . $12. Once a year. This is not what is breaking their budget at home.”

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Sorry @Koko! I think the nesting made the responses off. I was responding to Rusty’s comment, but you’re right that the “breaking their budget” comment is probably not a fair assessment for anyone other than the OP to make.

              2. RPL*

                The expense might seem small to you, but OP is working part-time. That may be 10 hours a week; it may be 30; we don’t know. We also don’t know what other expenses they have, cost of living in their area, etc.

              3. Bea*

                I know many people who cannot afford $12 to be taken out of their budget. Cost of living is always increasing and depending on area and skill set, jobs aren’t a dime a dozen and snapped up freely.

                The OP explained she was poverty stricken at one point, needing food pantry assistance and you still come out with this kind of remark…ick. She has at least a two person household and brings in less than 40hrs a week at $12 an hour. That’s not enough to cover my rent on a studio apartment and utilities let alone food, gas or a bus pass.

              4. SarahKay*

                Hmmm, I don’t think anyone can say that $12 will or won’t break someone else’s budget.
                Some years ago I was struggling financially and $12 (well, in my case £8) was basically my food budget for the entire week. Now, that was 15 years or so ago, so obviously prices and cost of living have gone up, but even so, I can remember being broke enough to worry about every extra penny I needed to spend.

              5. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                It doesn’t really matter what the amount is. If you have your budget set and need every available dollar for your basic needs, then any unexpected amount is going to cause a hardship. If she doesn’t have $12 and overdraws trying to spend $12 – it’s suddenly a lot more than $12. It’s now a hole she has to dig herself out of.

              6. cookie monster*

                Yeah, I remember when I was young and just starting out, living in a dorm that I was so broke I was gathering pennies and nickels to afford a .25 cent snack cake (because that was the cheapest food available and I was hungry). the dining hall was only open very limited hours so heaven help you if you got hungry after 7pm and before 7am, you were out of luck. And all the $$ I made from my work at that time period was covering living expenses and going toward tuition etc.
                I can’t really make a judgment on what would break someone else’s budget.

              7. Noobtastic*

                If your grocery budget is $10 a week (like mine was in college), then yeah, $12 will break the budget. Not for the year, but for the week? I’d like to eat sometime during the week, other than a single serving of snacks at a work meeting, thanks.

                Some people are actually poor, you know.

    2. HannahS*

      I don’t think you’re taking her question too literally. She wrote in to a work advice column to ask if a practice at work that involves money and seems wrong is illegal. Some situations involving work, money, and things that seem wrong are illegal. It may be obvious to you that this is not, but most people don’t know much about employment law and it’s difficult/time consuming to find information that’s specific enough for one’s own situation.

      Illegal things have happened in previous jobs of mine and the only reason I knew is that I am related to a lawyer and could casually call her and go, “Hey, this involves money and seems wrong, is it illegal?” Things like, “they make me come in early and stay late but won’t pay me for that time” and, “my offer email said they’d pay me one amount and then changed it after I accepted the position.” That doesn’t sound so far off from “they make me pay for stuff for other people.” Yet my situations (and I was in Ontario, so YMMV) were illegal and hers is legal.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Yeah – being paid by an employer and then being expected to spend some of that salary on things for the employer is definitely in the “can this be legal?” category. And there are things that are legal in one place or situation but not another – California requires reimbursement of business expenses for employees, for example, but other states don’t.

        And in HannahS’s situation, if she were in the US and being made to come in early and stay late without extra pay, it would be illegal for an hourly employee, but perfectly legal for an exempt employee. Changing the pay listed in offer email would also generally be legal, and the best you could do is probably manage to collect unemployment if you quit as a result.

        1. Noobtastic*

          I once worked for a man who expected me to work overtime, but did not pay me for it, because I was “salaried,” but if I missed any time at all (or in one memorable occasion, came in late, but worked so late it was actually a 10 hour day, anyway), docked me for any time not worked within the assigned 8-5 range. Because I was “hourly.”

          Yep, hourly and salaried ON THE SAME DAY!

          After I quit, I found out that was illegal. And he was a lawyer!

          1. Noobtastic*

            I also found out that this is not as rare as it really ought to be. I wasn’t the only one who’s had this happen to them.

            Basically, I was young and inexperienced, and my boss hired me *specifically* because I was young and inexperienced. He said, he wanted to train me to do things *his* way, rather than industry standard. That should have been a big red flag for me, but I was young, inexperienced, and needed a job right away, so I swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

            I’ve met other people who were also fed this line when they were young and didn’t know better. My boss would never have pulled that on a middle-aged employee. We’ve seen too much, and learned not to give a fuck about turning people in to the appropriate authorities. Because we now realize that WE are not the ones causing trouble, or getting them into trouble. They caused it themselves, and got themselves into trouble by misbehaving in the first place. We hand all those shit sandwiches right back to the cook.

            But if you’re young, or you have for some reason already had to use up your savings for an emergency and now you’re desperate, sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and a shit sandwich, until you can get out of that situation. THEN you turn them in to the proper authorities.

            IF OP had a good cushion and didn’t need the job, I’d say to take this higher up the food chain, and ask for the policy to be dismissed, across the board, and make work meeting treats be part of the company budget, because I guarantee, OP is not the only one suffering from a tight budget right now. She’s just the only one writing into AAM.

            1. Thlayli*

              My company actually does that! I’m not 100% sure if it’s legal or not where I am (not in US) but since I only ever lost about €5 from it I’m not going to spend my time looking into it.

            2. One Esk Nineteen*

              “We hand all those shit sandwiches right back to the cook.” Okay, that’s an amazing turn of phrase.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m not asking because it’s obvious to me, I’m asking because sometimes when OP’s come back and provide more context about their thought process, it turns out that something shady/illegal really is going on.

    3. Librarian of the North*

      I don’t know, I was surprised to hear it isn’t illegal. Although, I live in Canada and it seems to me we have a lot more employee protection laws than most states (similar to California). I tried to figure out if this was illegal here and was unable to figure it out for this particular situation but there are laws preventing employees from paying what should be business expenses.

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        It would depend on your province, as labor laws are handled provincially. I know in BC that employers are required to reimburse employees for “any portion of an employer’s business cost” as per BC’s employment standards act. I think, but am not sure, that Alberta does not have that requirement, and I don’t know about the rest of the provinces.

    4. Anas*

      That’s a pretty cheap-ass company that doesn’t supply their own treats for meetings. And shame on any company that’s requiring employees to wear uniforms, then making them pay for said uniforms. Corporate America’s greed is astounding sometimes.

      1. Shadow*

        those little perks are frequently the first things to get cut when the company needs budget cuts. And in some places employees like those things so much they agree as a group to take turns providing it. That doesn’t mean that everyone in the group is happy about it, but it can be hard to be the only one who doesn’t want to participate

      2. Jen*

        She works for a library. It if is a public library there may be rules about what you can do with taxpayer money. Like federal government offices cannot provide coffee or coffee makers or napkins or spoons because it is “wasting” tax dollars, though they can usually put a filter on the tap water for potability reasons.

        1. Shadow*

          That’s a great point. Most public employers provide an extremely limited or no budget for stuff like this not because it’s law but mainly because they are worried about reporters portraying it as tax monies being used for govt employees to sit around all day eating lavish food.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That’s so true—every time I’ve worked for the government, staff contribute to our “coffee” pool (i.e., we all take turns buying coffee and have a common “fund” for supplies). I guess the distinction is that people who don’t drink coffee aren’t expected to contribute, which doesn’t seem to be the case for OP.

        3. Kelly*

          Another public university employee here. I work in an office where we don’t have a coffee maker and have a Britta pitcher that a colleague paid for out of her own pocket. The lack of a coffee maker is no big deal because most of us bring coffee from home or get it from a local coffee shop. The Britta pitcher was a solution that came about because of the lack of a filtered water fountain in the building. Apparently installing one was too expensive for the use of both staff and students, even though there are multiple ones across campus. I’m thinking of donating a plug in electric water heater for tea for my office so I don’t have to go to an adjacent department to fill my mug up this winter.

      3. Thlayli*

        A lot of companies don’t provide treats for meetings. It’s actually pretty rare to provide them. It’s also very rare for someone to be FORCED to provide them. As Alison pointed out above the employee hasn’t actually asked if she can opt out yet – when she asks if she can opt out they may be really nice about it.

        1. Anas*

          Yes, that’s kind of where I was going with it…I’m OK with no treats, we don’t have treats at meetings here. But, forcing people to bring them is beyond the pale. I’m really hoping once she speaks to someone, it will be not be an issue at all.

        2. Anonymous and Loving It*

          Treats are unnecessary for meetings. I was an IT project manager for the state of California prior to retirement and held a LOT of meetings during my career (probably north of 100), and treats were not part of the agenda. Ever. Meetings were held to take care of business. That was standard practice where I worked. I’m amazed anyone would feel they needed treats at a meeting. We’re not five years old. We’re adults, employed to take care of business. Which we did.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            I don’t understand this weird dynamic you’re trying to set up consisting of Professional Adults vs Incompetent Children Who Would Like A Donut At The Meeting Please.

            Obviously, OP shouldn’t be forced into the rota if s/he can’t afford it, but I don’t think there’s anything objectively wrong with having a snack at a meeting and it’s really strange to imply it’s childish to want to eat something when you’re hungry.

        3. tigerStripes*

          I agree – treats are not a necessity, and forcing low-paid workers to buy treats for a meeting is silly. Just do without the treats.

    5. Rachel in Minneapolis*

      We have a member of our staff team who doesn’t participate in our treats rotation. She doesn’t eat sugar, gluten, or dairy so there are very few treats that she likes. She opted out of eating the treats and asked to be taken off the list. It’s really no problem at all! Sometimes if I remember I will bring in a fruit plate for her and everyone else to enjoy along with the donuts.

  2. designbot*

    Sometimes management creates the perception of contractors as second-class citizens too. A former boss of mine started everybody as an independent contractor (until he worked with a placement agency and got stingy about the fees, but that’s another story) as a sort of trial, and then hired full time once you’d proved yourself. The result was that the contractors in the office were either super new, or perpetually stuck on contract because the boss didn’t actually like them enough to bring them on full-time. If your coworkers have experienced an environment like that, it’s no wonder they think of full-time status as an indicator of quality!

        1. Noobtastic*

          That policy can actually work quite well, if run properly. I used to work for a boss who hired contractors to do the work, and then used the fact that he had to hire contractors to convince the higher-ups that he actually had a sufficient work-load to justify hiring more employees. As soon as he got the increased headcount approved, he’d start hiring the contractors who had, by this time, already proven their work quality and that they fit into the group, at large.

          But he never treated contractors as second class. He invited them to partake of almost all activities. Basically, if it was an activity on the department level or below (we had lots of teams), they were in it. If it was a company-wide thing, it was out of his hands, but he generally requested contractors be included whenever possible, such as an on-site company picnic where everyone got their choice of free burger or hot dog. Couldn’t manage it for the swanky Holiday party, though.

          There were a couple of contractors that were not hired. One had his contract renewed, on the understanding that if his work improved, he’d be offered a job at the end of it. It was sort of an informal PIP. He did not improve, though, and got work elsewhere. The other one I recall really was just in it for the short term, anyway, and was basically just earning a living until he could move. I don’t remember any other contractor in our department that did not go permanent. Maybe that’s because they all knew that they were just as much part of the team as any employee. Morale makes a huge difference, after all, and they got the same birthday cards as everyone else.

          We weren’t allowed to throw “official” showers if one got married or had a birthday, but you know what? We had the sort of team where the official party organizers asked someone else to officially organize the unofficial celebration, then said, “So, how can I help?” We’d pass the hat and spend on cake/punch/present, accordingly, and other than the fact that someone other than the official party-planners was actually running the show, it was pretty much just like all the others. Standard expectations that were high enough to be enjoyable, but low enough to make it easy to meet unofficially, made it equal and really easy to plan, since the list was always the same. Cake, punch, nuts, streamers, and a group gift off the registry. I think the only real difference was that employee showers could be held during an afternoon time slot, while contractor showers were at lunchtime. But then again, lunch was flexible, and if you were hourly, none of the managers in our department counted attending (or, indeed, setting up/cleaning up) a shower as non-working time. I think the lunchtime was more a case of optics than anything else.

          That place was by far my favorite place to work in all my work history, and that boss was the best. That man KEPT his workers, with the lowest turn-over I’ve ever seen. A few times, people left because their family moved away, and then a couple of years later, they moved back, and he snapped them right back up into the fold, convincing the higher-ups that we needed that one more position to do the work. And we worked hard, and exceeded expectations, so he could almost always get the positions when he asked for them, because we were just that good. Having that kind of a cohesive team, with associates who trusted each other and their boss meant that whenever he asked for more, we’d give it to him, and his superiors knew that. He always had our backs, whether we were employees or contractors.

          Whoops. Sorry about going on like that. I just felt so good about those memories of someone doing it RIGHT, I gushed. I think we need to hear happy stories, sometimes, or we’ll wither and die.

          1. Beatrice*

            That sounds awesome. I mean, he still might not have been classifying them correctly, but it sounds like he was really getting a lot of other things right.

            I have also seen workplaces where employees hired under a temp agency or contracting agency (where they were employees, just employees of the agency and not the company they were doing all their work for) were called “contractors”. I think that kind of arrangement would be legal, for what you described.

          2. Prince of Snarkness*

            My boss does the same thing. Short contract to test you, long contract while they get approval for a perm position.

          3. Calacademic*

            My boss does something very similar. Our distinction is that we have workers hired “on contract” but aren’t “independent contractors”. You still get a W2. It’s just that your position is only guaranteed for 6 months/1 year/2 years (can be renewed). In the interests of recession-proofing our department, the next set of employees we try to hire will actually all be long-term contract positions.

              1. AllDogsArePuppies*

                Is it illegal if you are technically working via a third party temp agency (get paid, benefits, w2, etc via them) but work similar to Noobtastic. My company has a policy that all entry level employees start as “contractors” via a Temp agency and get converted 6 months – a yearish in, depending on talent and budget.

                1. Nerdling*

                  A contractor, by law, doesn’t get treated as all the other employees. Per the IRS: An individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done. A temp, on the other hand, is an employee whose work has a set end-date or who has been told that they’re not coming on board permanently. The company still pays the normal taxes and UI and health/life insurance and so forth for a temp; they don’t pay all that for a contractor – the contractor handles the taxes (it’s why contractors generally charge more for a service – they have to build in the overhead to pay the IRS). If you treat your contractors as full employees whose benefits you just get to avoid paying, you’re misclassifying them and breaking the law.

                  So, someone contracts you to make them a chocolate teapot, because they only make candy ones. You can say, “I am hiring you to make me a dark chocolate teapot with a six-inch spout and a curlicue handle.” You can’t then say, “To make the teapot, you must use my facility and equipment; you must follow these steps in making it; and you must be here between the hours of 8am and 5pm every day until it is finished.” You can say all those things to your candy teapot makers because you’ve hired them as full employees, but you can’t say it to your contractors..

                2. Noobtastic*

                  “An individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done. ”

                  Our contractors had to follow our specific processes. The company directly what would be done, and how, so I guess they were not independent contractors.

                3. Noobtastic*

                  “An individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done. ”

                  Our contractors had to follow our specific processes. The company directly what would be done, and how, so I guess they were not independent contractors.

              2. Noobtastic*

                Really? Well I know we had a whole legal department in that company, so either there was more to this than meets the eye (maybe contracting them through a third party? I seem to recall them all coming from the same source, not independently), or else the legal department was really not on the ball.

                Either way, we weren’t sued for it. I guess if you’re going to break the law, break it in a way that makes everyone happy?

                I have no data on the actual financial workings of it all, at any rate.

                1. Misclassified*

                  Having dealt with it myself, there likely wouldn’t be a lawsuit unless the FLSA were involved. The Internal Revenue Code doesn’t create a private right of action to sue an employer for misclassifying workers. However, if through a third party, that would make it perfectly kosher, assuming they were employees of the third party who were then lended out to the main employer.

                2. Noobtastic*

                  They were employed through a third-party contracting service. Just like our temps were employed through a third-party contracting service.

                  Basically, if your job did not require a college degree, you were a “temp,” from the temp service, and if your job did require a college degree, you were a “contractor” from the contractor service.

                  If they used the term “contractor” differently than Allison, that might be the confusion, but I swear, that’s what they were all called at that job. “Contractors” did the technical work that required college degrees, and “temps” did data entry or admin work.

          4. Kelly*

            It sounds very similar to what the manufacturing company my dad works for does for most factory and production positions. Hire them through a temp agency that handles all the initial hiring paperwork, reference checks, and drug testing and bring them on as permanent company employees after a probation period of 3 to 6 months as temp workers. It saves the company time spend recruiting, interviewing and screening and it cuts down on the number of HR people each factory has. Once they’ve completed the temp/probationary period, they get health benefits, decent time off, and a raise once they get hired by the company.

            1. Noobtastic*

              This is it, exactly! Yes!

              So, is that illegal? OR is it just because “Contractor” can mean multiple things, and it’s illegal to do that with independent contractors?

          5. PhyllisB*

            In the 90’s I did temp work at a radio station as a receptionist. Those people were wonderful to me!! I was included in everything except the Christmas bonus. Which, of course I knew I couldn’t be. (Though the office manager told me she wished she could give me one.) I stupidly left when I got offered a full time job.

        2. designbot*

          Well, illegal classifications would be nothing unheard of in design, but he actually handled it better than most–I’ll leave you to judge whether this landed on the right side of the line or not. Contractors would be hired for a specific project in the beginning, and when that project ended one of several things might happen. If the boss liked them, he’d offer them a fulltime job. If he was iffy or just didn’t have fulltime demand, they’d go away until the next time there was a project need for them, rinse and repeat. If they weren’t working out, the contract would end, they’d go away, no muss no fuss. It was fairly well handled from what I’ve seen, but there were some perpetual contractors who’d wind up working for us a fair amount but for whatever reason couldn’t break through to full-time, and they wound up as a sort of second-class citizen.

    1. Allison*

      At my old company, a lot of people were brought onto my team on a contract-to-hire basis, but they were employed through a 3rd party company which made it legal. Most people were converted within six months, I was a contractor for over two years, so I wonder if the colleague who frequently talked down to me assumed I must be stupid and incompetent if I was still a contractor.

        1. Allison*

          I pushed to be made permanent last fall when they were going over the budget and headcount for 2017, and my boss said she’d advocate for that happening. Ultimately, they decided not to renew my contact into the new year, I ended up unemployed through January but then started a full-time job in February, so it had a happy ending.

          They said they just didn’t want to spend the money on my job function anymore, but I also wonder if pushing to be made full-time made them realize they couldn’t justify having me work there 5 days a week for that many years without a lick of vacation time like everyone else on the team.

          1. K.*

            Gotcha. Glad it worked out for you! My friend is in a similar situation – his contract has been renewed three times and he’s been where he is for a year. He has two months left on his current contract and he’s now saying he’ll walk if they don’t make him permanent (and actively job-hunting). He’s a W-2 contractor and took what was billed as a 3-month contract-to-perm job. There’s another contractor there who has been a contractor for two years, so he’s decided that the situation will likely exist as long as he lets it, and has resolved to change things on his end.

    2. AnonFedContractor*

      Only second class citizens? When I was a contractor, I would have found second class to be a huge upgrade! It seems especially bad in govt, where Feds essentially can’t get fired so some truly dysfunctional dynamics become routine.
      Once a particularly decent group of clients included me in the monthly birthday cake, and I was so touched that I got misty-eyed.

      I had to learn some really interesting techniques of an utterly vulnerable subordinate who has to walk carefully, cull favor, but also be assertive and quell the worst offenders with personality and body language, without actually getting fired.

      It was like being a wife in the 1800s and before, basically.

      1. Christine*

        Yes, I believe when I was a contractor part of the poor treatment had to do with the fact that the regular employees knew that if they messed up, someone was already right there who could take their place.

  3. AnonAndOn*

    3. Ugh! I feel for you. The boss is being rude.

    Where I used to work people had dry erase boards on their doors so when they closed them they put busy messages (such as “on the phone with a client”) or away messages on them. While something like that may prevent the boss from barging in it may not resolve the issue at hand that he lacks a sense of personal (as personal as one can be in an office) space.

    I hope things go well if you choose to have a chat with him using one of the above scripts.

    1. First Time Caller*

      Hi, LW3 here! Thank you for the sympathy! It feels good to have someone else also see the “Is he for real?!” aspect of this irritation. I do have an update though — today while my door was in its usual half-open state, my boss came by and knocked on the door AND WAITED for my reply before coming into my office. Will wonders never cease. This confirms my suspicions that he does know that knocking is a social custom and that he probably doesn’t go around thinking that politeness doesn’t apply to him.

      I forgot to mention in my original letter that the reason I’m hesitant to speak with him directly, with a soft script or not, is that there has been a history of his being a lousy manager (ah, academia). Prior to my arrival, he was even put through mandatory executive coaching. I’m sensitive to this history and don’t want to ruffle his feathers. In addition, medicine is an extremely hierarchical society, and as the junior-most person in the department, am keen to fly under the radar as long as possible. Frankly, I was ready for Alison to tell me to suck it up and deal with this small irritation in a job I otherwise love. It would have been a fair answer to give!

      Thank you for the idea of an away message or dry erase board on the door. I will try this! I’ve seen others put up signs on their office doors when they are not to be disturbed, usually when they are in important meetings or interview situations. This sounds like a good way to signal why the door is shut.

      1. Em Too*

        You could even leave a permanent ‘please knock if door is closed’ up there, to save having to think about it again.

      2. Noobtastic*

        I’m guessing that someone else had a talk with him about him barging in on *them* while they were dealing with something confidential, and he was told to just knock, period.

        Even with an open door, it’s a good thing to knock. Even with a CUBE, it’s a good thing to knock. If you’re concentrating, and then suddenly someone is standing right next to you, it’s really jarring, and can startle you, and it takes a lot longer to catch your breath, answer the question and then bring your heart rate back to normal and begin concentrating again than it does to hear a knock, answer a questions, and begin concentrating again.

        The dry erase board is good, because it means you can personalize the message, such as “on a conference call,” or “with a client,” or “working on a fiddly project,” so that people can gauge priorities, or whether they can slip in and hand you a note, or come back later, or actually interrupt.

        Also, I like Em Too’s suggestion of “Please knock if door is closed.” You might think the expectation should be there, anyway, but that makes it perfectly clear. Moreover, such a sign will apply to ALL the co-workers, and not just the one. You don’t have to have “the talk” with every new associate who joins the team.

        Actually, if it were me, and I had the option (some places are really picky, and won’t let you have signs), I’d have a dry-erase board on the wall right at face-height on the side next to the doorknob. I’d also have a sign next to the dry-erase board that says “If door is closed, write a message, knock to alert me, and leave. I’ll check the board after _________. If it *really* can’t wait until then, knock, then knock again, and wait for me to say ‘Come in,’ and I’ll deal with the interruption.” Yes, it’s wordy, but it points out that interrupting you is, indeed, an interruption, because some people don’t seem to understand that. Laminate this sign, and you can fill in the blank with what you’re doing, or just a time that you’ll check the dry-erase board for messages. Knowing when you’ll check the messages will cut down on interruptions, because they will be able to decide if that time is OK, or if it’s really urgent enough to require interrupting you. And the knocking when they leave you a message is a good reminder that you actually do need to check the message and adjust your sign. That reminder can be especially important during the early days, while you’re establishing the habit.

        But I have worked in a place where “do not disturb” signs were not allowed under any circumstances. It caused some awkward issues, I’ll tell you. Confidential personnel meetings? Pfffft. Better take that off-campus. Have your 1-on-1 PIP meetings in your car. Did not like working in that environment, nope.

        I’ve also worked in places where “do not disturb” signs were all over the place, and frequently left there for days on end, and people forgot to remove them. Having something that requires actual updating with a time would really cut down on the confusion. Also, if you have an actual “do not disturb under any circumstances” situation, it would be rare enough that people will notice and take it seriously.

        Even an always-closed office door can be welcoming with the proper signage. One place I worked, there was a manager who liked his door closed, but not because he hated interruptions. He just like his door closed because of drafts. He was actually quite sociable, and believed that having the odd (brief) chat with co-workers helped morale. So, he had a flip sign, with red on one side and green on the other. If the green side was up (and it almost always was, that was the default), then his door was “open,” and you could come in with a question or issue, or just stop to chat, get a candy from his jar, or whatever. On the rare occasions that he flipped it to red, though, it meant business, and people knew not to disturb him. But he was ALWAYS good about flipping it back to green, ASAP. Red was *real*. There’s a certain amount of training that has to happen to get people to know and understand and respect that red is real, but once they do, the system works really well.

        I find that in environments where most people use the same sort of system of “do not disturb” signage, they get better results, because more people respect the signs. For some reason, if people start hanging up cutesy “do not disturb” signs that they made themselves, in some “friendly” font with flowers and panda bears, people will laugh at it, and barge right in. But in the office I worked, where they had a huge project and at the project launch, they handed out identical “I’m working on XYZ project. Do Not Disturb.” signs, everyone knew not to disturb them if they were working on that project, and they respected the signs. Unfortunately, once the project was over, the signs didn’t work, because people said, “Hey! You’re not working on XYZ! I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s not XYZ, so it must be interruptible, and I’m coming in.” Standardization worked well, as long as everyone recognized the reason for that standardization. Once that reason was gone, a simple hand-written “Do Not Disturb” sign worked better than the old standardized signs, and cutesy home-made signs didn’t seem to work, at all. In fact, sometimes, people would be passing by the cube with the cutesy sign, and actually stop *simply to compliment them on their sign*. Talk about inefficient! If they had just bought a bunch of bulk “Do Not Disturb” signs, and handed those out at the beginning of the XYZ project, and gave them to all new employees as part of their standard welcoming package, it probably would have worked quite well, because it would establish the right of anyone to request not to be disturbed, at any time, for any reason, all while tying it in to XYZ project which everyone involved understood to be both vitally important for the company, and rather fiddly, requiring extra concentration.

        OP, could you maybe bring up the issue at a department meeting, and ask for some standardized signage? If everyone has a dry-erase board, then everyone will know to check it when they visit someone else, and they’ll respect it for others, just as they would want others to respect their own board. Mostly. Since you’re coming up to the end of the year, you might be able to get into that sweet spot of “We have X amount in budget, but only spent Y, and if we don’t spend the full X, then next year, the budgeting committee will only give us Y, even though we have Z issue coming up that will require more money, so how can we spend this extra money now, to ensure we have no shortfall next year?”

        1. synchrojo*

          re: the flip signs– I wondered if this might be a good solution for the OP, given that she’s in a medical profession, and presumably most people working there would be trained to notice/respect something similar on an office door. A coworker of mine had them on his computer in an open office setting, and they worked well.

      3. Antilles*

        Similar to the dry-erase boards, my boss has a few of the big post-its on the inside of her office for various things (“conference call – do not disturb”, “out of office, please call my cell”, etc) that she just moves to the outside of her door when she closes it. Seems to work pretty well.

        1. Competent Commenter*

          Me too! Exact same system. Less easy for me to overlook and leave up than a whiteboard.

          1. yasmara*

            Several managers in my last building would have signs on the door saying, “Door closed for meeting, please come back later.” At least one even had a little clock with hands and a message like “I expect to be free at:” and they could set the time. That seemed a bit much to me, but a sign on the door isn’t too out of the norm for some offices.

            1. hermit crab*

              I think the next step up after that is Mrs Weasley’s clock — no need to update it yourself. There could be sections for traveling, conference call, board meeting, mortal peril, etc.

        2. Aunt Vixen*

          I had a collection of stickies and colleagues who honored them. The most important was for use when my door was closed and light was off; it read “Migraine – please proceed gently.” Folks would tap instead of knocking and creep in quietly and not be surprised to find me sitting in the dark looking at my computer through my sunglasses. There’s a lot I miss about that job.

      4. AnonAndOn*

        Thanks for the update! Glad to hear that he’s starting to get better with his closed door etiquette. Good luck with the dry erase board or whatever you choose to use.

      5. RB*

        What if you were changing clothes? Wouldn’t he be terribly embarassed? What if you could arrange to be changing clothes next time you see him in the vicinity? (without actually revealing too much skin, whatever you’re comfortable with). Of course, if he’s not the type to get embarassed this wouldn’t work.

    2. Been there*

      I’m on my phone/in conference calls about 90% of my day. I found a really simple solution to the whole when is it ok to come in problem. It started when I had the only coffee maker in the building in my office (long story) so it was a bit of a high traffic area.

      My door is always locked -I use my key in the morning to open it but the lock stays engaged-, so if I’m on a call and ok with people coming in with or without knocking (actually I prefer not knocking to minimize noise if I’m on a call) the door is slightly ajar. If it’s fully closed that means I’m on a call that needs to be private/confidential, so people will wait. I’m constantly opening and closing the door during the day but for the most part this system works.

  4. Drama Llama*

    LW2: I like Alison’s advice here, but here’s a follow up question. What if Bran won’t respond at all to LW’s conversation? I’ve had similar situations where the employee was in difficult personal circumstances and the work quality drops. I want to be understanding and make accommodations but there is a reasonable limit to that.

    One example is an employee who had an accident and was off work for several weeks. The rest of her team worked long, overtime hours, and the team leader couldn’t approve any holiday applications. We kept waiting and waiting for “Sylvia” to recover. Her doctor scheduled surgery and expected she would need several more weeks off. After that she would require gradual part time hours and light duties. It didn’t make sense to hire someone new just for that short term (training period is three months for the role), and there were no light duties available given the scope of the job. It basically meant the rest of the team had to work much harder for an unspecified period of time until she was back to full capacity.

    We were worried about other staff being over worked and/or quitting so reduced them back to 40 hour weeks. This meant the business lost sales…a lot. (No room for bonuses, pay raises, etc). So there was a domino effect of one person being off work for a long period of time. I had a conversation with Sylvia using the wording similar wording to what Alison suggested. But Sylvia wouldn’t budge, and what she wanted was for us to keep the job open for as long as it took her to recover. She didn’t really seem to care that much that other people in her team were affected by her absence. I made suggestions on slightly altering her job description or relocating her to a different branch (that was 10 minutes walk away from her current workplace) but she flatly rejected this.

    In LW’s situation, Bran might be open to part time hours or other changes to make LW’s work easier. But what if he’s not? What if he simply wants to continue working full time and continue to make mistakes and drain LW’s time and resources in correcting his work?

    1. HA2*

      I think, fundamentally, there are three options:
      1) Take the hit to team productivity while “Sylvia”/Bran recover.
      2) Hire an additional person on a part-time or temporary basis until Sylvia/Bran recover, if that’s possible.
      3) Fire Sylvia/Bran and hire a replacement.

      The tradeoff between the three likely depends on the expected time for recovery.

      The Sylvia case is I think actually a lot more straightforward. She had an accident. Doctor’s orders to keep it light for a fixed period of time. I’m not surprised that no amount of pressure would make her budge on that – no job is worth endangering recovery from an injury for! But there’s a fixed time period for the recovery to help you make the decision for what option to take.

      The Bran case is more likely to yield something, actually – he’s distracted and mentally having a hard time, but perhaps there’s adjustments that can be made to reduce or change his workload to something he can manage. It might be easier to find accomodations for that than for doctors’ orders. But if he can’t, then it comes down to the same three options.

      1. Drama Llama*

        Sorry I didn’t explain this very well. I didn’t mean I was expecting her to come back to work against medical advice. I made suggestions for her to come back to work but based on her medical restrictions post op we would either have to transfer her or alter her job description slightly so we could hire another person. But she was resistent to all my suggestions which would allow us to keep her job open… she basically insisted on her exact same role being kept open for her for months.

      2. Bran's Boss*

        Hey, OP2 here. Bran’s father passed away last weekend, so he is currently on bereavement leave. He said he wants to come back on Monday, but I told him not to force it if he didn’t feel up to it—he should take all the time he needs. He is part-time and paid by the hour, so there is no time off/leave that needs to be dealt with. The rest of the team is currently managing his workload. It’s a little hectic, but nothing out of control.

        Also, I’d like to note that firing Bran was never on the table. That would be monstrous and I cannot believe there are managers out there who would consider it an option.

        I’ve rearranged everyone’s workloads a bit to put some easier, less involved projects on Bran’s plate. Hopefully it’ll help him get back in the swing of things and we can transition him back to his high level work in a month or so.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          The rearrangement is a very humane way of proceeding. When my dad was dying I asked my team for almost that – not that they couldn’t assign me a task with a deadline, but I was pretty distracted and much more likely than usual to drop any given ball at any time, so I gave them explicit license to nag me more than any of us would have been comfortable with in regular circumstances. And there was definitely a point within the first couple of months after he passed that I realized I was able to handle my own sh*t again without my co-workers cutting it into bite-sized pieces for me.

          Thanks for being a sympathetic boss. I expect Bran will appreciate that and remember it.

        2. I'm A Little TeaPot*

          that’s horrible for Bran, that his father passed away. I’m glad that he’s got a supportive manager during this time.

        3. JulieBulie*

          Thanks for the update!

          If Bran still wants to work, is there any mindless/tedious work that needs to be done, like a special project to reorganize a file system or something like that? This might be a good time to have Bran work on something that’s a little different, important but not urgent, that will benefit the whole team.

        4. Noobtastic*

          Good for you! Too bad about Bran’s father. At least now he can move forward. That limbo of waiting for the end is harsh.

      3. Epsilon Delta*

        I would posit that there’s a fourth, albeit very unpopular with employers, option:
        4) Hire enough staff in the first place so that you can absorb hits to productivity when a team member is out.

        People get into accidents, they have surgery, they have babies, they rage-quit unexpectedly. It’s important to have some slack so you can cover those events until you’re fully staffed again.

          1. Noobtastic*

            That’s how I play strategy games, and although I don’t soar to the skies as quickly as I might if I played it close, I also have a built-in cushion when the unexpected hits, and I don’t crash and burn.

            But I have never been in charge of hiring and firing, or budgets.

    2. Amy*

      As far as I can see, if LW2 is not willing to change, he can very, very easily be fired. There’s a 3 month record of poor work quality and no ADA concerns, so if he’s failing to work with his very compassionate boss…

      Your situation with “Sylvia” is somewhat different, but you were under no obligation to hold her job indefinitely. Based on federal law, you could have moved to fill the position immediately upon her accident, and then provided her a substantially similar job if she came back to work within three months. Beyond 3 months, you were not obligated to save a job for her at all. The law may have been more generous in your state, but never to the point that you had to hold her specific job for the 3+ months it looks like you did save it.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        This is ridiculous. It isn’t a matter of “willing” to change. The employee is not getting distracted on purpose!!! It is a matter of emotional distraction due to a horrific once in a lifetime circumstance.
        If Bran is in a thinking type of position there’s going to be some degradation of work. He’s distracted, most likely losing sleep, and stressed. Any of these things fuzz your thinking and keep you from doing high quality work. Together they create a perfect storm.
        Other employees will see how the OP treats Bran in this circumstance. It’s important to be compassionate while trying to keep business afloat.
        I’d suggest work from home and/or flexible hours. You could also offer unpaid leave. Maybe you could assign him lighter duties.
        Bran was a good worker. He can be that again once this thing passes. Handled rightly, this is an opportunity to create loyal employees.

        1. Boo*

          +1 on an opportunity to create loyal employees.

          I’ve talked down thread about what happened with an old boss of mine and I could never forgive her for it.

        2. Noobtastic*

          +2 on loyal employees.

          Bran’s co-workers will also see how you treat him, and if you treat him fairly, but compassionately, then they will feel confident that they can expect fairness and compassion from you, too. With that expectation, even if it never actually applies to them, you’ll gain their loyalty, just as if they were in Bran’s shoes.

          However, fairness is there, as well, and if your solution to Bran’s problem involves over-burdening others, especially long-term, then you’ll lose loyalty. Short term, they’ll likely be willing to pick up the slack, if they know he’s suffering a loss, even if it is stretched out. Dad’s still in hospice, and Bran is still stressed? Yeah, we’ll help out, and that sucks. Dad died three months ago? Please, Bran get some therapy, if you can’t get back your regular workload. We’re not going to carry you, forever.

          Communication is key, as is visibility.

        3. The Supreme Troll*

          Engineer Girl, absolutely! I know the OP is in an extremely difficult dilemma right now, but, she has to remember that Bran is not a robot (and I really don’t mean this in a condescending way; it is just that sometimes it is easy to overlook the personal side of those who work for you or with you). If the OP puts the business needs of the company strictly first above all else (which, yes, is ideally what every manager should do, but life is unpredictable), then her other employees might take note of how Bran is being treated, and it won’t be for the positive.

        4. Grapey*

          Maybe Bran’s coworkers can do the extra work that OP is doing, which is what my team usually does in this kind of situation. But then again that might ding their loyalty (see how many people complain when someone is out on parental leave for example.)

          1. Noobtastic*

            The difference is, most people chose to become parents. Bran did not choose to have a mortal parent. Becoming a parent is not inevitable, but mortality hits us all, sooner or later. And therefor, it is generally considered taboo to complain about the fact that someone is inconveniencing us by being hit by mortality, against his will.

        5. Bran's Boss*

          OP2 here. I mentioned this upthread, but Bran’s father passed last weekend and he is on leave. Our department has pulled together to manage his workload. Even though I’m concerned with getting everything done, I’m more concerned about being kind and compassionate toward a young person who was dealt a really crappy hand. He’s a phenomenal talent with an amazing career ahead of him. And, beyond being unkind, it would be really short-sighted to jeopardize his longterm viability at our company.

          1. SarahKay*

            Bran’s Boss (OP2), you sound like a great manager. I’m glad you’re looking out for all your team – and I’m sure they appreciate it!

          2. The Supreme Troll*

            I agree with the others, your thoughtfulness & compassion is much, much appreciated. I am wishing you all the best.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      Sylvia is not responsible for the staffing problem so should not be blamed for it. Staffing issues are on management.
      Long overtime hours and a rejection of holidays due to a single person out? That’s bad management. It is not on Sylvia to fix people being affected by her absence. It is up to management.
      No, you shouldn’t have to hold her job open beyond 3 months. But don’t blame her for the staffing issues.

      1. Drama Llama*

        My question isn’t who is to blame, Engineer Girl. Nor is it a suggestion that Sylvia should be responsible for staffing issues. But if you want to misinterpret it that way and feel offended feel free to do so.

        In a small team prolonged absence does have an impact on the rest of the team. This is totally different to short term absence which businesses expect and have plans for. If one person is absent for weeks/months without any specific time frame on their return to full duties, this will be a significant problem to any team, particularly a small one. Kind of surprised this needs an explanation.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          I never stated I was offended so please don’t put words in my mouth.
          All businesses need succession and catastrophe plans. If you’re knocked sideways by a single person being out then something is off.
          At some time you need to hire temp help, even if it is less efficient. You actually stated that you were losing business due to staffing issues. That’s a call to action.

        2. Ramona Flowers*

          This may be a cultural or geographical difference but I was surprised that you expected her to prioritise the impact over wanting to keep her job. And that you didn’t hire temp cover.

          1. Amey*

            I’m surprised too but I do think in the UK this would be much less likely to happen. I’m not sure what the legal protections are for people on long-term sick leave but I’m aware of lots of people who have had many months of long-term sick leave at my employer and their job was expected to be held open for them (and people acted up and/or temp cover was hired.) This is coming from someone currently on a standard 12 months’ maternity leave so I think businesses here are more used to having to suck up the expense of having employees out like this.

            1. Noobtastic*

              Local laws vary widely (by local, here, I actually mean country. We’re not all in America). For some places, three months or even six is completely within her rights to expect you to hold her job open. For others, she has no protections, at all.

              With at three month’s training, though, that does make things tough. Is there no possibility of calling in a former employee to do contract work for that time? He might need a bit of training to bring him up to speed again, but not nearly as much.

            2. Bagpuss*

              There isn’t much in the way of specific legal protections, other the the normal equality act ones (i.e. protection from discrimination based on disability etc). There does seem to be a fairly common misconception that you can’t be dismissed / disciplined while you are off sick, but it is not true. The issue is that the employer must follow a fair process for discipline and dismissal and has to consider whether discrimination (Disability) factors in.

              Generally, people’s rights to paid sick leave will be in their employment contract and can vary hugely. In the public sector, it is fairly common for here to be very long periods of entitlement, (3-6 months at full pay, then the same at half pay, is not uncommon). In the private sector, rights to paid sick leave tend to be shorter – 5-10 days is not uncommon.

              Someone who is off sick can be dismissed on the basis of capacity – i.e. that they are not able to do their job. The employer has to follow a fair procedure , which might typically include considering whether the person can return with accommodations being made, whether there are suitable light duties etc. It’s common for employers to involve Occupation Health in cases of extended absence in order to assess whether the employee can return to work and what accommodations or adjustments might be needed if they do.

              If someone had a doctors note saying they were fit for light duties, but refused to do them because they were different to their normal role, then in most cases that would be a disciplinary matter. (although The employer would not be entitled to pay them a lower salary, even if the light work was a more junior role). In my experience, most employment contracts in the UK include a provision that duties include ‘such other duties as the employer requires’ in any event, and changing the duties would normally be a reasonable change in any event.

              So in the ‘Sylvia’ example, Sylvia could absolutely be expected and required to work the light duties and could be disciplined and potentially dismissed, if she refused.

              And if she were unable to do any work, how long the employer would have to hold the job open would depend on her employment contract and rights to sick leave, to the nature of the sickness and what the recovery period was likely to be, and to the business needs.

              1. HRM*

                There’s a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing. Doing things right means meeting legal expectations. This is the minimal standard that must be met. Doing the right thing means going beyond those expectations to offer and execute company policies supportive to employees under any number of given, reasonable circumstances. Good, well managed companies know how to do this and do it all the time as part of normal business policy and practice. And yes, even in the good ol’ USA. Many, many companies. Not arguing any of the points made so far, just chiming in.

          2. paul*

            There’s a lot of times when temps aren’t really a good option. I don’t know what field Llama is in, but take anything that’s fairly specialized and I can imagine it being impossible or nearly so to find a temp for it.

            1. Lindsay J*

              But, I think, in a lot of jobs, there are ways to use temp work that would alleviate some of the burden on the employees.

              Like, maybe the specialized role isn’t something you can use temp work for. But if there are 4 other people in the same specialized role and they all do specialized work XY&Z 90% of the time, but they also do smaller tasks A, B, and C that are trainable and that take up 10% of their time. Then bring in someone to do everyone’s A, B, and C work. They’ll have 16 or 20 hours of work a week to do, and that’s 16 hours that everyone else on the team can use to pick up the slack on Silvia or Bran’s XY&Z work.

        3. tigerStripes*

          I’m just feeling sorry for Sylvia. First she’s in an accident and trying to recover, then she’s trying to keep her job so that she can get back to it when she can, and it sounds like her manager considers Sylvia something of an obstacle. Maybe Sylvia is being an obstacle, but she’s going through a rough time – maybe she should be given some slack.

      2. Perse's Mom*

        How does ranting about poor staffing levels answer Drama’s question about the situation with Sylvia specifically?

    4. Database Administrator*

      That’s not really up to Bran, is it?
      Be as compassionate as can be. Offer as many accommodations as you can find. Let the team cover for him as long as they can take it.
      And if it is no longer possible, and the situation is not improving, and LW / the team / the company can’t take it any more, then unfortunately Bran needs to be put on a PIP or have his hours cut, even if nobody wants that.

  5. Natalie*

    Regarding #1, this can be an issue even if the contractors are W2 employees through a staffing firm. The Microsoft “permatemps” case was about that, as the permatemps were treated exactly like direct employees but couldn’t participate in the stock purchase plan. IIRC they eventually ended up settling the case.

  6. JamieS*

    Re #3: I know this partly depends on what exactly patient info OP3 is discussing but in general wouldn’t patient confidentiality trump “office culture”? Also, not to sound overly critical, but the second script doesn’t read right to me. It’s a great script if this is OP’s first week on the job but it seems off to me to ask about office culture if OP’s been there for a bit. That’s like someone who’s worked somewhere a year asking where the bathroom was. Would seem extremely off to me.

      1. First Time Caller*

        You’re both partially correct! I’m a junior faculty so pretty far down on the totem pole and new-ish in practice, but I’ve been at this job for about 16 months. My boss has been doing this for 16 months and I’ve been irritated about it for 15 months.

        1. JulieBulie*

          I’m thinking just continue to lock the door. Not because you’re passive-aggressive, but because you very simply don’t want him opening the door. Don’t explain why until you (soon, if not already) hear him try the door while you’re on a call.

          Because even if you ask him to knock first and he agrees, I feel pretty confident that he’ll forget. It is his habit to just walk right in, and even with the best of intentions he will probably continue to do it without thinking about it.

          Someone upthread suggested putting a dry-erase sign on your door, I think, and that’s a good idea too, if it’s feasible. Either “Confidential call in progress” or maybe just “Please do not disturb” (optionally add “available after 3:15” if applicable).

  7. Anon123*

    Re #1 contractors are often paid rates that seem higher than employees salary leading to some resentment as well. Those benefits come with a price tag that most employees ignore.

    Re #5 If the survey is truly anonymous they won’t know if you’ve filled it out or not. You may get annoying reminders but there’s no way they know it’s you.

    1. Hotstreak*

      Not only are they “paid more”, but they probably aren’t unionized. Working in a union shop, where management brings in non-union contractors, they are seen as anti labor and treated poorly (just my one experience!).

      1. cheeky*

        I am in a professional union (white-collar work), and yeah, union employees generally don’t love contractors, not so much on an individual level (don’t be rude!) but because contractors doing union work is a contract issue. My union negotiates with my company when my company wants to bring on contractors to do union work.

    2. Mike C.*

      There are plenty of ways to know that someone has participated in a survey without showing their results, in much the same way I can know that my ballot has been counted without anyone else knowing who I voted for.

      Good surveys are done by outside companies with logins and a strict refusal to show team data when the team is too small. Good surveys are also done by companies that aren’t strictly incompetent or toxic and so on. So if you have any reason to believe your workplace is bad or would compromise those results then go ahead and skip them. But if you work for a normal employer then skipping that survey is like skipping an election.

      1. Artemesia*

        Employees should always assume that the employer has access to their answers whether an outside company handles this or not. This is more likely to be true than not. And especially if the place is dysfunctional, being honest is fairly likely to come back to bite you.

          1. Anonymity*

            Perhaps, for an example – my work does this as well, the semi-annual survey. We have two of them running, currently – one departmentally, the other company wide. I was just informed that for the former, they know who has or has not taken the survey. They know percentages, yes, but they also know BY NAME which of us have and have not. If they know who HAS taken the survey, they can look at answers to questions for context clues, writing styles, whatever to better narrow down anyone who might have a negative opinion.

            Given this new knowledge, I will not be taking any surveys my company sends in the future. I no longer trust them to be truly anonymous.

      1. Noobtastic*

        Online surveys done at work *through a disinterested third party* are anonymous.

        Basically, the third party can report who did or did not participate, but they don’t share the actual data with their client. The client gets a report of the data once it has been fully collated and analyzed.

        But, if the survey is being handled in-house, don’t trust to any anonymity. Whoever is distributing the survey should be able to tell you who is collecting and collating the data. So, ask that source, and make your choices from there. IF you get “I promise, I won’t check the names; I’ll just read the answers,” then run for the hills.

        1. Mary*

          We were once sent a “confidential” survey … through a Webmonkey account that I and everyone else in my office had the password to.

        2. Pineapple Incident*

          True. My old employer did this a couple of different ways- annually they’d send their very official required survey for hospital safety culture among staff, and the results were tabulated and summarized for management by Qualtrics. Other surveys, like hospital-wide IT surveys and certain others regarding parts of the job, were conducted in-house and were definitely NOT anonymous.

          It was widely known that our managers would have access to who-said-what in the in-house surveys, and that if you told a professional anecdote that reflected poorly on the organization, it could come back to haunt you. Many of the nurses I knew flatly refused to fill those out.

      2. Mike C.*

        Look, if you’re going to be completely paranoid about a decent company using best practices (like an independent third party) to try and get some useful feedback from employees in an actionable form (as opposed to say, exit interviews) that’s your choice but don’t be surprised if things you want or issues you care about don’t ever get resolved.

      3. yasmara*

        What @MommyMD said. My company sends out an “anonymous” survey about quarterly…except it even says in the survey that your individual answers are sent to your immediate manager. My manager manages 4 people right now. I’m pretty sure she can figure out each of our answers if we fully and completely answered the questions.

      4. My 2 cents*

        I hear this a lot but I’ve never understood where it comes from. I get that some employers really are that dysfunctional, but is it really the case that most of these surveys are not anonymous? I’m not doubting you necessarily, just curious!

    3. Matilda Jefferies*

      Re #5 If the survey is truly anonymous they won’t know if you’ve filled it out or not.

      This is correct as far as it goes, but a lot depends on the survey design, and what sorts of measures are taking place at the back end to keep people from being identified. I’m going to have a bit of a Cliff Claven moment here, because it’s actually my job to review surveys before they’re distributed, to make sure they actually are anonymous.

      I reviewed one recently which was designed for managers in a particular organization, where they asked the managers to identify their program area. So, assuming most program areas only have one manager, that person has instantly identified themself by filling in that field.

      It’s all done with the best of intentions, of course – they weren’t looking for a sneaky way to identify people, they were just putting in a question that they thought was standard for all surveys. But if there hadn’t been an independent review beforehand, the survey would have been distributed with the identifying field included.

      So yes, if the survey is truly anonymous, then you won’t be identified. But the problem is that we don’t always have a way of knowing how truly anonymous it is. And speaking as someone who sees a lot of these things cross my desk, I would say that it’s not unreasonable for OP5 (or anyone!) to question exactly how anonymous any given survey is.

      1. JulieBulie*

        Right – we have SurveyMonkey surveys, they say they’re totally anonymous, but we have discovered that they organize and report responses by department. That’s very interesting since the survey doesn’t ask us which department we’re in.

        And when an employee survey from corporate comes back negative, they have local management form “action team committees” with employees to “solve the problem” and then submit progress reports. Which is pretty ironic, since most of our gripes are related to corporate-level stuff that can’t be solved by local leadership.

      2. Anonymity*

        Right. Our recent department survey asked how long we had been with the company. That can be a very identifying piece of information!

    4. Specialk9*

      Contractor rates can be higher, but takehome is a reaction of that. In my case, half. The rest of that is overhead, G&A, etc.

    5. A*

      Contractors are likely only paid more if they are independent contractors. W2 contractors like me are in an entirely different category, because we are considered staff of a different company. I get paid 1/3 of what my permanent coworkers get paid, with poor benefits and no perks, for doing the exact same work. And somehow the company can get away with this because we are W2 temps and are term limited to 2 years. Its such a common practice with the large tech companies here in Silicon Valley.

  8. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – There are several other things that weren’t mentioned. First, contractors aren’t permanent. They therefore aren’t seen as sticking around for the long haul. They may also be seen as not as committed to the employer.
    Another is that they are the first to be laid off. They are seen as expendable. People may develop funny attitudes about them being disposable.
    Some people also view contractors as “losers” who can’t get a real job. It doesn’t line up worth the fact that an incompetent employee can’t stay in the business very long. But these are all emotional attitudes, not logical ones.

    1. Jeanne*

      For us, it wasn’t that they were lesser. They were only there about 3 months and then left. We didn’t develop much of a relationship with them. They worked a few months, usually with odd hours, and disappeared forever.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah TBH we also view contractors as having one foot out the door. Also if there’s a problem with a contract they’ll bail quickly, while full time employees are the ones who are going to stick around to sort out the fallout – so there’s sometimes an element of that, that they’re not invested.

  9. Boo*

    #OP2: I want to thank Alison for such a compassionate and sensible response.

    I was Bran a few years ago. I lost my dad after a long and heartbreaking illness (5 years ago today actually) then 3 months later my mum became seriously ill, needed dangerous surgery and turned out to have a cancerous tumour. After a long time being part time carer for my dad I then found myself being the primary hospital contact for my mum. My work absolutely suffered.

    My boss at the time let me have time off I needed to visit etc then called me in for a meeting the same day we got my mum’s cancer results back. We literally went from me saying yes we’ve got the all clear to her listing the various ways I hadn’t performed over the last 3 months. My sins included looking bored, having a shocking memory, “not smiling enough” and being difficult (no example given).

    I was pretty devastated; I knew I hadn’t been doing great but to get reamed like that felt totally out of the blue and to be honest I felt pretty proud that I’d managed to continue going to work at all.

    All I needed was a bit of time to get back on my feet and a bit of support and kindness doing so. I’m sure Bran, a previous high performer, is exactly the same.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I’m so sorry that you had this experience at what was already a difficult time. And I’m so sorry you lost your dad.

      I’d just like to add that Bran may need time to go away and think about what would help as he may not be able to answer on the spot.

      1. Boo*

        Thanks Ramona.

        And yes agreed on the time to think! He will have so much going on in his head right now.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I remember when my Mom died I was surprised by how scatterbrained I was. I did not expect it. I was terrified that it was permanent and I could no longer be a design engineer. It did come back, slowly. But my boss at the time was a real jerk about it.
      Conversely, when my Dad died my manager gave me 2 weeks compassion and 2 weeks personal leave. I came back ready to work and received high performance appraisals.
      Same company, two different managers.

      1. Boo*

        I’m sorry that happened to you and for your loss.

        It is amazing the difference a good manager makes. I have a much more demanding job now and spend 20 hours a week commuting. One of the reasons I do this is because I know that if something similar were to happen again, my manager now would absolutely have my back and look after me.

    3. Noobtastic*

      “”We literally went from me saying yes we’ve got the all clear to her listing the various ways I hadn’t performed over the last 3 months.”

      So, you went from “Good news! The problem is over, and now I can start to get back to normal,” to “This is a list of all the ways you were WRONG.” ?! How is that even remotely helpful?

      Also, if you’re not customer-facing, what difference does it make if you don’t “smile enough,” or even at all?

      1. Boo*

        Ha! Yeah no exaggeration, the conversation was literally this:
        Boss: “how is your mum?”
        Me: “fantastic news! We got the results back on the tumour and it’s a form of cancer but very rare and not aggressive and her chances of it getting worse is really low, we’re so relieved thank you”.
        Boss: “great! Right, now we need to have a talk. Your memory is *shocking* and when you double booked that meeting it was *so* embarrassing, etc etc”

        Honestly, it was like some sort of mental/emotional whiplash. I hadn’t realised that by merely giving me time off to liaise with the hospital/visit she was basically giving me rope to hang myself?

        I don’t really know about the smiling thing either, that was bizarre. I shared a tiny office with two other PAs, and my desk faced the door. The Chief Exec’s PA complained I didn’t smile and say good morning when she walked in. Now I understand my boss wanted to keep on her boss’s good side, but seriously? I did point out I wasn’t in a customer facing position; that I was engrossed in my work and may not have even noticed her in time to smile and say hi; and that I’d had a very hard time personally and if people thought I should smile more it would be nice if they talked to me and asked if I was alright instead of complaining. Possibly not the best response but I was not in a great place at the time.

        1. EOA*

          Some people have a really hard time understanding grief and trauma. I am guessing that what you went through was too threatening to your boss, and her way of heading off feeling anxiety was to blame you for things that were out of your control.

          1. Noobtastic*

            If I’m mean to a person who just lost a loved one, then I’ll never lose a loved one! LOGIC!

            I’ve actually seen that “logic” in various situations in society. Most frequently, “If I’m mean to a person who is fat, then I’ll never get fat!” But really, it happens about all sorts of things.

            Sure, Boo’s boss could have been motivated by fear. It’s still a massive jerk move.

            Boo, this was a former boss, right? Not current, please?

    4. cncx*

      a boss did something similar to me in a trying personal time too, and i never forgot it. like you said, i knew i wasn’t employee of the year, but i was coming in and doing SOMETHING. i was so hurt by it that at my next job, i had a health issue and was freaking out that my boss would be the same, and i remember being actually confused that he was being kind and flexible when i told him i needed an operation. It is like people said in the other comments- if not for the affected employee, the other coworkers see how people get treated. And my only consolation is that the boss who was mean to me had a LOT of people quit on her with no notice, leave her in the lurch, etc- and i like to think it was in part due to how they saw me get treated.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I can relate. Past bad employers mean I find it hard to believe and trust that I really do work for kind human beings who understand that sometimes life happens.

    5. JulieBulie*

      That’s terrible, Boo. I’m sorry you went through that.

      And if looking bored is an actionable offense, then I’m screwed.

      1. Boo*

        Thanks Julie.

        And LOL I actually think that Resting Bored Face is a thing – when I was at school my history teacher complained in my school report that I always looked bored and his was one of my favourite classes, I was one of the few kids paying attention!

  10. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 I think you need a sign on your door saying please knock as you may be on a confidential call.

  11. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    No.4. One of my first jobs was in an office with every exec having their own secretary. The culture was that the secretaries kept their individual bosses candy dishes filled with candy. These dishes were filled and emptied on a regular basis. Not dollar store candy but gourmet candy from the local candy store, paid from the secretary’s pocket. Only one secretary pushed back against that unwritten rule. She maintained that she didn’t make enough money to buy special treats for her boss that she couldn’t provide for her own kids. As far as I recall, her boss paid for his treats and she wasn’t penalized.

    1. Noobtastic*

      Good for her boss!

      I can understand a secretary voluntarily deciding to provide a candy dish for the entire office. It helps maintain a pleasant atmosphere and one imagines it makes the other workers value one more. One imagines.

      However, for the poor secretary to be expected to buy ANY treats, let alone expensive ones, for her BOSS?! And on an on-going basis? I am not surprised, but the shock is still there. Like sticking your wet finger into an electrical socket. “Yep, still hurts as much as I expected it to.”

      Too bad her sensible boss couldn’t convince his co-bosses that this is incredibly awful, and get them to stop it, across the board. If they want candy dishes, THEY should pay. Send out the secretary to buy the stuff, if you want, but PAY.

      Next you’ll be telling me that in that office, it was expected that the secretaries gave their bosses birthday and Christmas gifts every year. And not just “dollar store” gifts, either, but fancy ones. And if the secretaries were particularly good that year, maybe they got a Hallmark card, because the bosses cared enough to give the very best.

    2. Shadow*

      i always wonder how much of this pressure is really from the boss and how much of it is peer or self pressure. I can picture bosses never really paying attention to where the candy comes from. It sort of reminds me of the stay late pressure people feel when the boss works late.

  12. Noobtastic*

    #1 – Yep, they’re jerks. It is entirely possible to maintain the legal distinction between contractors while also maintaining them as valued members of the team. So, they don’t get the benefits, they don’t get to use certain perks that are available to employees, but they are invited to all the meetings/activities/social things. I’ve seen it done so well that most employees didn’t even know who was a contractor and who was an employee. However, that company had a lot of employee perks (like gym, EAP, etc.) that were either 1) non-visible, or 2) opt-in, so there again, unless you knew, you didn’t know.

    #2 – How much percent of your time are you now spending fixing his work? Perhaps offer to cut back on his workload by that same percent, until two weeks or a month after his father dies, thus giving him the extra time to check his own work while he’s in this difficult period. Adding a definite (well, comparatively speaking) deadline will also allow him to focus on bringing his work back up to par after his father’s passing, and if it takes longer, then you’ll have grounds to talk to him again. Meanwhile, you’ll be able to get the good quality work (if slightly less of it), and have the same amount of time to handle your own, while looking good with your people-skills. He’ll probably be grateful, and that increases loyalty.

    #3 – Definitely have the talk, and point out that you usually have your door half-open, so when you close it, it MEANS something. Also, put up a reminder sign on the door, or next to it (get one of those temporary stick-on hooks, like Command, or whatever brand you like, so you don’t do any permanent damage to the wall or door), and put up a sign, whenever you mean to close the door. That will give him a visual warning that you have a good reason to have the door closed, and that you will open it when you are ready. If he’s smart, he will honor it, and either knock, or come back later. If not, then (depending on how confidential “confidential” is in this situation) you may need to elevate the issue, because he’s endangering patient confidentiality, which could open the company up to a lawsuit (maybe, depends on the situation). I’d really emphasize the confidentiality issue when you talk to him, and *ask him* what would be the consequences for a breach of that confidentiality. He may know how serious it is, but just not consider it. Forcing him to put those consequences into words himself makes him 1) think about it, where he ignored it before, and 2) prove that he understands, so he can’t deny it later.

    #4 – If you want to eat the treats at the meetings, or you’re not allowed to opt out, could you ask for one hour’s extra work (you seem to be an hourly-wage employee), on the months/weeks when you will be asked to treat? That would cover the treats, without eating into your established budget. Also, if the higher-ups complain about the overtime, this would open the door to you explaining that you need the extra hours to pay for the treats, and ask if perhaps the policy could be changed.

    Really, a work meeting should either have no treats at all or have the treats be paid for by the company, itself. Work treats should be a part of the budget.

    #5 – Being noncommittal is good, unless the questions are things about which you actually do feel strongly. So much depends on how much you can trust the company to keep things anonymous. Perhaps you could ask what is the actual process for dealing with the questionnaires? Do they send them to a disinterested third party to collate the data? If so, you can almost certainly answer the questions fully and truthfully. If they send it to someone in house, then you’re probably right to be nervous about it.

    1. Grits McGee*

      Re #4 and paying for work treats- I will add the caveat that if this is a public library, there are probably rules about what can and can’t be paid for from the library budget. I work in federal government, where spending on any food or personal supplies is completely banned- no $ for events of any kind, coffee makers, kleenex, hand sanitizer, office supplies (when Congress can’t pass a budget).

      Although, that does remind me- when we have parties, staff contributions are based on rank. Office chief does $100, managers do $50, senior staff do $10, junior staff do $5, etc. OP#4, could you suggest a general office treat fund with contributions structured like this?

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I was just thinking, the reason people rotate instead of asking for a dollar each is probably just because somebody has to be responsible for picking it up and bringing it in, and collecting money from people is usually a nightmare, so the simplest solution is to rotate.

        If OP #4 hasn’t partaken in any work treats, of course she can ask to not participate, but she mentioned her husband being out of work and not being “up” in the rotation during that time, so she’s not new, and I would think that if she had asked to bow out then she wouldn’t have written in, or would have mentioned that in the letter. With that in mind, I think even if it’s a hardship she now needs to figure out a way to get a cheap tray of cookies from the day-old discount bin for her next time up in the rotation, and only after that should she ask to not participate. You can’t participate in this kind of activity only when you don’t have to pay, but then ask not to pay when it is your turn. I sympathize, and I understand that she might not have wanted to draw her coworkers’ attention to her family’s hardship by not participating, but fair or not, if she asks to stop participating when it’s her turn, her coworkers may think of her as a moocher.

      2. Parenthetically*

        I think that’s the best idea — prorated to people’s pay.

        (Although honestly, I’ve been on some tight budgets but $12 once or twice a YEAR seems pretty far down the list of “stuff to get riled up about at work.”)

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          (Although honestly, I’ve been on some tight budgets but $12 once or twice a YEAR seems pretty far down the list of “stuff to get riled up about at work.”)

          I don’t know… if I’d recently been on such a tight budget that I was “starting to look into food pantries for help,” I’d be riled up about being required to spend $12 (or more, according to the OP) on snacks for my coworkers.

          1. Else*

            Yeah… If your food budget for the week is $50, or even $100, an extra $12-$20 for feeding other people is a big percentage. Maybe you’re on a tight budget and you manage to plan to set aside $20 for something like a movie, or takeout for your family – why should they have to give up their treat to give one to your better paid coworkers? This is a bad policy unless it’s opt-in without social pressure. My old library also had a thing sort of like this, but you could choose to sign up for bringing treats or for doing the cleanup, or for being the person to watch the front-desk – nobody cared which, so long as you did it once a year. Note that two of those don’t require any investment of money but all were considered of equal value.

            1. Noobtastic*

              I like that! having a non-monetary option is great! Similar to having a non-food option for the pot-luck.

        2. Kismet*

          I’ve lived on some tight budgets where I lived paycheck-to-paycheck, couldn’t save up, and had literally no extras (it was all going to food, transportation, rent, and other necessities). Asking me to shell out even $5 would have meant taking it out of a necessity – and probably my food, so they’d basically have been telling me to go without meals so my coworkers could have munchies. I would definitely resent that.

        3. SarahKay*

          But whether it’s twice a year or twice a week, if you are literally accounting for every penny you earn, every week, to buy necessities, then you don’t have a spare $12.
          Yes, it’s *worse* if it’s twice a week, but if you don’t have it then you don’t have it. Anyone that’s considering food banks is going to be seriously struggling.

    2. Anonymous and Loving It*

      Re: #4. If you can’t get out of it, go to a day-old bakery and pick up a package of cookies (look for the really stale ones) and bring those in. Don’t take them out of the bag. Tell them it’s all you can afford, and tell them you hope they enjoy them.

      Treats at meetings are unnecessary. What are these people, five years old? Work is for work. You want treats? Buy yourself some. I find this whole idea of “treats for a meeting” ridiculous in the extreme. My team’s “treat” was bringing a project in on-time and on-budget, and the opportunities for upward job mobility and higher pay such demonstrated competence and hard work made possible.

      1. Clemintines*

        I have worked places that require people to bring potluck type meals 5 times a year. They even once threw a bridal shower for an employee with cake and punch. It was so over the top for the wages we were earning. Plus I was out 20-40 bucks each event. These are antiquated and often don’t fit peoples budgets or dietary restrictions anyways…Agreed!!!

  13. MommyMD*

    I’m a physician as well and a new Department Administrator had taken to just barging into my office when the door was closed. I noticed she was doing it to everyone but I consider it very rude. I asked her politely if she could please knock. She looked taken aback but started to knock. You are a physician. You deserve respect for your position. Everyone does. Bursting through a closed door is not respectful or courteous.

      1. JulieBulie*

        Sometimes I really wish I could draw. I’d do a whole series of “Here Comes Kool-Aid Man” sketches.

    1. First Time Caller*

      I’m trying to imagine an admin assistant bursting into my office like you describe and I can’t even fathom it with the admins I work with. The main issue is that he’s the *chairman* and I’m not thrilled at the idea of giving someone that high up a lesson on etiquette. It’s good to be king, you know?

      1. JulieBulie*

        This is why I suggested somewhere above to just continue locking the door and optionally put up a sign that you’re on a call. I wouldn’t want to have that talk with him either, but hopefully the locked door (and optional sign) will be self-explanatory. If not, and he mentions it to you, then your reply will simply be an answer to his question and won’t feel like an etiquette lesson or even a request.

        I mean, it wouldn’t be crazy to ask him to knock instead, but if you aren’t comfortable asking him or don’t think it will work, then you gotta lock the door.

      2. Robin Sparkles*

        She said department administrator not admin assistant – a department administrator is often at a director or even executive level overseeing the business and not necessarily the same as a chair but still very much high up in the organization.

  14. Ian Mac Eochagáin*

    No 1: how common is it for companies in North America to hire contractors and have them in the office? It’s a recurring theme here on AAM, and there was a reference above to Microsoft doing it. I presume companies do it to save money, which is what makes it so widespread. I wonder why all of these contractors sit in the office though – wouldn’t many of them (not all: not everyone likes remote work and some work can’t be done remotely) they be much happier working remotely and enjoying all the freedom of being self-employed? I’m doing some work for a former employer at the moment and wouldn’t dream of doing it in the office. It just seems, overall, to be a strange contradiction: these people are legally self-employed and yet have to work in the office and be subject to all the usual office rules. It’s all very reminiscent of the disputes in the UK about whether Deliveroo, etc., “contractors” are employees are not, with employers deliberately using specific words to make sure they have no legal obligations towards the delivery people, but still expecting from them the commitment only employees would be obliged to give.

    1. hbc*

      A lot of times, contractors are brought in to work on specific projects that they should be present for, whether they’re contracted independently or through an outside agency. At my company, we have engineers brought in to augment our team and speed up the design of a particular project. I doubt they could spend more than one day a week elsewhere without it being a major hindrance–they’re often pulling a part out of the 3D printer, seeing how the physical testing is going, double checking with that guy on the production floor whether the current equipment can handle torx head screws. And smaller/less technical companies often don’t have the infrastructure to telework effectively, even if it was all something that could be done on a computer.

      I’ll admit, it gets pretty sketchy if you essentially have contractors on site and no end to work planned for people with that skillset.

      1. Else*

        Yes – my cousin does this. The things he works on require a lot of initial attention and are very specialized, but once they’re set up and fully implemented, they really only require occasional check-ins unless the companies want to make some pretty big changes. It wouldn’t make sense for them to hire someone to focus on them permanently, so they hire his contracting company to set the stuff up by working on site for whatever amount of time and then to be remotely on call on as support as needed. This is pretty common for software or systems kinds of things.

        1. Ian Mac Eochagáin*

          Essentially, then, the people you give as examples work like plumbers and electricians. Do they have their own companies?

    2. Kiki*

      My husband is a freelance developer in the robotics industry. He has to be physically in the office in order to test the robots that the company is paying him to develop. That’s a specific example, though.

    3. Natalie*

      Well, you’re talking about two different kinds of contractors here – in the US, at least, we tend to use the same word for both times, just to be super confusing.

      A lot of office “contractors” *are not* self-employed, the Microsoft case I mentioned upthread included. Big Company contracts with a professional services firm whose service is providing staff. The employees are regular old employees of Staffing, Inc., with taxes handled just like any other employee and benefits if the staffing firm offers them, and they work on assignment at Big Company. The benefit to Big Company is largely flexibility – they don’t need to handle recruiting and training, if someone isn’t working out they can just tell Staffing Firm, Inc. to pull them from the assignment. If they need to downsize they just terminate or reduce the contract and don’t take a hit to their own unemployment tax rate. Sometimes there are also financial benefits if the direct employees of Big Company are entitled to some kind of benefit that contractors are not, but that can get legally tricky depending on exactly how the handbook is worded, what state you’re in, and so forth.

      A genuinely self-employed person would be an “independent contractor”. Someone who is being classified as an independent contractor but acting like an employee is being misclassified.

      1. Ian Mac Eochagáin*

        Thanks Natalie for that explanation. I think I get it now: in the US you have two main types of contractors, “electricians” and “temps”, only the former of which are truly self-employed. I’m glad I am truly my own boss!

    4. Manders*

      This is a little weird, but a lot of my friends would call themselves contractors for Microsoft even though they aren’t contractors in the legal sense–they’re technically employed by a staffing firm, which then contracts them out to Microsoft. They don’t pay their own payroll taxes in the same way someone who’s legally a contractor would have to do.

      It’s very much true that companies in the US hire contractors and have them in the office (sometimes legally, sometimes not legally but in a way desperate workers won’t raise a stink about), but in the tech industry some people who call themselves contractors are actually just a different company’s employees.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I’ve worked as a “contractor” plenty, and my experience is that we’re always actually temp workers, in that we’re employed by a staffing agency. But who wants to be a “temp”? Not me! I did that in my 20’s, and it involved dull office work in small companies where everyone else was 20 years my senior and had worked together for 10+ years. So, “contractor” it is. And that is how large corporations get around the “Microsoft” problem — they don’t HAVE contractors, they have someone else’s employee.

        I was working for Large National Bank in the 90’s (as an employee), in a group with a lot of self-employed programmers. I saw the fallout from the MS legal decisions. There were lots of people who were good coders and they were truly independent contractors, billing the company directly for their time. Then the decision came down that the bank would only contract with actual corporations, so some people decided to go that legal route and spend the $$ to incorporate. Some of them “hired” colleagues as well — which did mean they had to handle disbursing moneys and possibly payroll stuff. Some people became employed by the bank and presumably were happy to do so, because benefits. (And then after that I truly *did* see some contractors come in – they were specialists who were brought in to solve specific data-processing issues, which usually took 6-8 months, and they were gone.)

        1. Ian Mac Eochagáin*

          Do you remember whether there were any rational reasons for the bank deciding it would contract work out only to companies and not self-employed sole traders?

    5. AnonFedContractor*

      The US government couldn’t run without contractors doing most of the actual work.

      There are absolutely good Feds… But one can’t be fired (with very few exceptions) and the hiring process is broken, and the financial incentives aren’t like in private sector, so there are lots and lots of mediocre to nightmare Feds. So they hire contractors to work, part-time to full-time, and they tend to be bright and hard-working. And contractors can be fired! Without contractors, the US govt would simply not function.

      Most of my contracts had me embedded full-time at the client site, for years, essentially running a program but with a Fed technically in charge. A few contracts were part-time or we worked from our company site.

      There were sometimes weird feelings from the Feds: resentment, contempt, delight in having a whipping boy. They pay a huge hourly rate (not knowing that we only got a fraction of that), and that breeds resentment. Many knew of Feds who retired and got a big pay bump to come back as a contractor, not realizing that was both unusual and a reflection of seniority and specialized knowledge so us young’uns weren’t getting that much. And we’re disposable so sometimes we deal with misplaced anger at these Feds who behave badly but can’t be fired, but at least they can vent spleen on the contractors!

      Other Feds were delights, who treated contractors as actual humans. It was a refreshing change.

      1. AnonFedContractor*

        Oh, a clarifying point from comments later in this thread: in this context, contractors are fully-benefited employees of a firm that provides contractors with varying skillsets. So my company had contracts grouped by subject. So when ones project was ending, or if I wanted off for whatever reason, there were other contracts to go to.

        I had to maintain client relationships (manager and essentially co-workers, though with a power edge on their end), company co-worker relationships (we cycled in and off contracts and proposals, in broad loops), and company management relationships (they assigned us to projects and proposals).

        We got paid a salary, with standard reviews, health and other benefits, and 401k matching. I had a desk at the client site if embedded full-time, or I had a desk (or hot desk) at my company office. Even when embedded at the client site, I went to the company office occasionally to do training, do project management reviews, keep relationships, and drink free coffee.

    6. Risha*

      I’m a software developer who make the poor decision to become rather overspecialized on a fairly rare software package, and ended up doing this for several years. Each time I was formally an employee of a small contracting company (received health insurance, a W2, etc. from them), but I was hired to fill a contract position at a specific company and then let go immediately after that project ended. I sat in my contracted company’s office, used their equipment, followed their rules and hours and dress code, had a manager and a supervisor at the company, led projects, met with customers, took classes, went to holiday parties and department meetings, and was generally treated like any employee doing the exact same work. The big exceptions were that I was paid hourly and therefore had no holiday or vacation time, didn’t have access to specific perks like the gym or the big yearly employee only bash, and didn’t go through the normal performance review and planning process. (At the place I stayed for 4 and a half years, though, my manager did submit a quick yearly evaluation to my contracting company, and gave me a raise each time.) This is exceedingly normal for certain types of technology positions, and I was usually one of many. Some places were fantastic, and were deeply apologetic when then finally ran out of work for you to do. Others (*cough* UPS *cough*) treated you like dirt.

    7. Coldbrewinacup*

      We are required to be in the office, at least in my experience. Some companies are better than others when it comes to the treatment of temps, but many are pretty bad. It’s a sad state of affairs. And so many are treated like crap by the other employees– at one gig, one lady treated us like servants, asking us to get her copies from the copy machine, get her office supplies like more staples and pens, and push a cart of files for her. Stuff like that does not help morale.

  15. Sandy*

    At my company, contractors have often been brought in less to fill a specific gap than as a stick against current employees.

    Don’t want to do dangerous work? Okay, we’ll get a contractor instead.
    Don’t want to be doing 70+ hour weeks? Bet the contractors will do it.
    Don’t want to accept a cut in benefits? Contractors don’t get benefits anyways.

    I’d be willing to bet that it’s expensive and probably not in line with what the definition of a contractor is supposed to be. You can see why they are not always warmly received when they turn up.

    In some ways I feel bad for them. In our industry, many of them are younger and trying to get a leg up (rather than experienced, older folks who wanted the freedom of contracting or freelancing). They are freelancing or contracting in hopes that it will turn into something less tenuous. Unfortunately for them, it is unlikely to work. The staff don’t like them and management figures that if they are willing to do what employees won’t, why hire them as employees at all?

    1. Parenthetically*

      Yeah, I think sometimes it’s that employers hire contractors to get around employment laws or to essentially blackmail their employees, and that makes contractors seem like scabs.

      1. LQ*

        Yeah, I have seen contractors treated like scabs by both bosses and employees. That was one of my first thoughts on the second class citizen thing.

  16. Karen*

    LW4: you can opt out but as Allison points out, you should then also not eat what the others bring in since you’re not contributing. What I would do is bring in $5 worth of dollar store candy and call it a day. If anyone says anything just shrug and say “that’s all my budget has room for.”

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      I definitely agree. And, as long as the OP is then not eating or taking home the treats that other have brought, I do think that her superiors would be really foolish to not trust her and understand her situation. It could even merit a change to this policy that they currently have.

    2. AJ*

      How about Little Debbie’s/Hostess cakes? I believe the oatmeal cream pies are $1.50-2.50 for a box of 12. If the LW doesn’t want to disclose her situation, – “they remind me of my childhood”

    3. anony-mouse*

      Yes, I second just buying cheaper treats.

      I think for most people work treats are just about getting some kind of treat and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a donut or a cookie, a Mars bar or a no name chocolate bar from an Aldi bag.

      It’s just about having something there, not about how much it costs or which treat exactly it is.

      We have traditions about when you bring treats to the office but the kinds of treats and the money you spend are your decision and so far nobody has harassed anybody about their choice.

  17. Karo*

    #1 – FWIW, I wouldn’t think “Contractor’s Row” is derogatory, it’s just where the contractors happen to sit. In my office we refer to the hallway where most of the execs sit as “Executive Row” because it’s easy shorthand for “oh, the CEO sits over by Fergus and Lucinda, near the Llama wranglers department”

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I think it’s context dependent. I could see it going either way depending on how contractors are treated in general at a particular location.

      1. Karo*

        You’re right – I should’ve said it’s not necessarily derogatory. It absolutely can be derogatory depending on the situation.

      2. hermit crab*

        Yeah, this could fall on a gradient anywhere from condescending/awful to neutral/fine. (We had a “dark side” and a “light side” at a previous office because of the way sunlight fell on the building, and people would send meeting invites with the location listed as “come to the dark side.”) Basically, I guess it’s not the name that is going to make or break this — treatment of the human beings is. Though the name can certainly add insult to injury.

    2. InfoGeek*

      I was coming here to say the same thing.

      We have a “visitor’s row” upstairs. I don’t see “Contractor’s row” any differently.

  18. Persephoneunderground*

    What if they can’t free-write answers or skip them/decline to answer? Computerized forms with required fields or no “none of the above” choice can really force the issue.

    1. Kyrielle*

      If I don’t believe it’s anonymous, I lie through my teeth, in that case. If it’s a 1-5 scale with 1 the best, I’ll pick 1 for things I feel positive about, and 2 for things I don’t so much, and maybe 3 if I _really_ feel I can’t mark a 4…but I hesitate to go as far as neutral if I don’t feel safe. Companies that want honest answers should also make sure employees feel safe giving them. (Something my current job does, and my previous job did under some management and not under other management.)

      Yes, I prevent them from improving on things. Yes, I prevent problem areas from being identified. But I’m willing to do that if I don’t think they’ll listen to it or improve things – especially if I’m very identifiable. (If I’m in a mass of people with about the same years of service / role / office / etc., I might be more honest, because hey, they’re less likely to id me…but for a good chunk of my career, I was an outlier in my group.)

      1. Kyrielle*

        …really feel I can’t mark a 2. Good grief, I reversed my made-up scale in my head halfway through.

  19. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Re: LW 1 – I’ve worked on short- and long-term contracts, by choice and also out of need. Most employers and the teams I worked with were wonderful to work for and with, and didn’t make a distinction. A small group treated contractors like 3rd class citizens.

    At one of my favorite projects, an HR Manager always referred to me as ‘The Contractor.’ In emails and even meetings, she simply didn’t refer to me directly or by name: ‘I’d like The Contractor to update us on her vendor review for Project XYZ…’ and so on. One of her peers got Security to make me a badge with my new name: The Contractor. With a big, red ‘C’ on it for my status.

    The HR Manager didn’t think it was as funny as the rest of us did. Maybe she didn’t get The Scarlet Letter reference…

  20. Runner*

    No. 4 is part time. I think Alison’s suggested response is the way to go — and maybe adding into the conversation that asking a part time employee to foot the bill for office treats could be a financial difficulty for others too or in the future.

  21. nnn*

    #2: If yours is the kind of small company where people wear a lot of hats as a matter of course, one of the options you could make available to Bran is to assign him any less detail-oriented work, even if it’s outside the scope of the kind of tasks you originally hired him for.

    As an analogy, if someone had a broken arm and couldn’t carry boxes around, you might have them walk around with a clipboard and take inventory. Bran has a broken heart and doesn’t have the attention to detail to take inventory, but maybe he can carry boxes around.

    1. tigerStripes*

      I like this. When I’m stressed (thankfully not for the same reason), it’s much harder to focus, but I can still do other tasks. Bran might appreciate this, and it should be an option so that he can opt out of it if that won’t help.

  22. Barefoot Librarian*

    LW #3, we have a pretty open door policy at my work, but sometimes I’m in a webinar, a conference call, or talking with a vendor and need the privacy that a closed door offers. About six months ago I put a small plan whiteboard on my door (with just command strips so it didn’t damage the wood) and now I just take a moment to write a couple of words as to why the door is closed such as “on a call” or “webinar”. My door is still unlocked, but I’ve noticed a great decrease in people walking in unannounced or even knocking during those times unless it’s something important. They tend to respect the note.

  23. pepp3rminty*

    Re: #1, this feels like a silly question, but I’m honestly feeling really ignorant here: why is it that so many threads and comments on here assume that “contractor” necessarily implies a freelance/self-employed/no-benefits situation?

    I’ve been a contractor for more than 4 years now, and many of my coworkers and colleagues are contractors as well, but not a single one of us is “freelance” or “self-employed” (and I’ve never worked with anyone who was!). We all work for corporations, have managers, get insurance and 401ks and so on; when you introduce yourself as a contractor around the office, people ask what company you work for, so the “contractor = freelance” assumption seems totally out of left field to me! We have assigned desks and cubicles in the same office building as our civil servant teammates and bosses, and we’re all generally treated as an essential part of the team. I’ve never heard any sort of disdain for contractors around these parts… in fact, a solid portion of contract employees are retired feds whose decades+ of expertise is invaluable to our daily work, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to be treated with disdain since they’ve already proven they can do the “real” job they’re now supporting.

    I don’t have a lot of experience with contractors in other fields (I’m in the aerospace industry), but I’m wondering if this is some sort of cultural difference? This is an utterly baffling preconception to me as I’ve met and worked with TONS of contractors, and none of them are in that “freelance” category that everyone’s assuming!

    1. Sue No-Name*

      I think here they’re abbreviating from “independent contractor” even though that’s definitely not the norm in all contexts (I also work in an office where the contractors all come from various home offices that are contracting corporations).

      1. hermit crab*

        Yeah, I think the issue is that we use the same word for when it’s an individual person who’s a contractor and for when it’s a whole organization.

        In my case, I work for a consulting firm, and it’s the company as a whole who’s a “federal contractor.” When I am on calls with my clients and their colleagues, I introduce myself as a contractor, but I’m a full-time W2 employee of my company. Our company actually contracts out some IT stuff, so our desktop support folks are also technically contractors but, again, they’re full-time employees of the IT firm. And then sometimes we will hire freelancers for particular projects, and those people *are* 1099 independent contractors. It’s like a whole layer cake of contractors, contractors all the way down. :)

        1. pepp3rminty*

          Interesting! Thank you for the clarification. I’ve always heard the company called a “federal/government contracting company”, but the employees are the “government contractors” – but that might just be a misnomer common in this particular fed agency and not technically correct.

          I think we’re in a similar boat with contract work for feds – it’s a lot closer to consulting work than it is to this “fixed-term contract” notion where there’s a specific task to complete and then your job is over. We’ve lost contracts through recompetes, but not through just… being “done”. I can’t even imagine how that would make sense – there’s no specific deliverable to be completed. The deliverable is expertise and staff support, right?

          I’m actually not sure I’ve ever known anybody working as an actual 1099 independent contractor. Like you said, even the IT folks are employees of another company on subcontract to ours. I guess maybe the whole notion of “freelancing” is not really something that exists in this industry…?

          1. hermit crab*

            Presumably there are non-solicitation issues involved, so if Freelancer A is a subcontractor to us, she probably can’t also be a subcontractor to our competitor under another contract (just an assumption — I actually have no idea how this works).

    2. Pineapple Incident*

      I’m a contractor with the gov’t and also kind of resent that implication, since it comes with some unfair connotations. I am technically employed and paid by a small staffing firm, with medical benefits and W2s and all that jazz. In fact, because of the hiring freeze on FTE gov’t employees, 21 out of the 48 people in my office are contractors all performing various administrative actions to support scientific lab staff.

      1. pepp3rminty*

        Yes, 100%! It honestly frustrates me that everyone – from Alison all the way down through the comments – assumes the “1099 independent contractor” interpretation and gives these super specialized responses about no benefits and so on… when that’s (in my experience) waaaaaaaaaay less common than (what I think of as) the standard “working under contract to a larger company or the government” interpretation that the word has always carried in my head.

        Plus, between hiring freezes, budget cuts and continuing resolutions, government shutdown furloughs, security clearance backlogs, convoluted bid and selection processes, and waiting periods for details… when my team needs more staff, it takes a couple weeks max to get a contractor to fill the role, while it could take months or even a year to get a fed on board. We use contractors for everything; it’s a common joke that the feds are there to be subject matter experts, while the contractors do all the work.

        1. Noobtastic*

          1099 independent contractor? OK, that’s totally new to me.

          In my office I talked about up-thread, which was wonderful, but apparently flagrantly illegal, I guess Allison meant 1099 independent contractors (whatever that means), and I meant “people we called contractors who we always brought in via the same staffing service.”

          We used two staffing services. For the positions that required a degree, they were “contractors,” and for the positions that did not require a degree, they were “temps.” That was literally the only distinction between them. Wait, one more distinction. Temps got bigger cubes but had to be on-site, and contractors were allowed to work from home. I believe, however, that was more a function of the actual jobs they did than whether or not they had degrees. The temp *jobs* required being on-site, with bigger cubes, file cabinets, and lots of paper shuffling, while the contractor *jobs* required a laptop and a plug, and occasional access to a network printer. One small file drawer was more than enough for their paperwork.

          Allison, with this different definition, does it make it more legal?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It depends on details I don’t have, but I wouldn’t assume it’s legal. In the Microsoft case, where Microsoft ended up owing millions in payroll taxes, the ruling was that the contractors were in fact being treated as employees of Microsoft and the staffing firm was basically just processing their payroll.

            1. Noobtastic*

              The contractors, whose jobs did not require standard-sized cubes, all worked in smaller cubes, big enough to do the job, but not standard cubes. When they were hired on permanently, they moved to standard-sized cubes, with a file cabinet they may or may not need, and a visitor chair.

              So, no, they were included in the team, socially, but it was more than just “the staffing firm was basically just processing their payroll,” since there was that physical change there. Also, they never had to do “team-building training days,” like the rest of the department. I thought they were lucky to get to just work on their projects, rather than do trust falls, and try to figure out how to fit twenty people onto a 2×2 square in “shark infested waters,” and then go back and catch up on lost time. I really hated cross-the-river day. Sorry, off-topic.

              I’m going to continue to believe that it was legal, and that the boss just really treated his temps and contractors well.

    3. Mockingjay*

      I think the contractor that Letter Writer 1 describes is classified as a 1099 independent contractor for employment and taxes (in the USA). They are often used by businesses who don’t have the wherewithal to offer benefits, or to perform a one-time, immediate service, or as a cost-cutting measure. 1099 contractors have to pay their own taxes (including income and self-employment taxes (Social Security and Medicare)), find and pay for their own insurance, and fund their own retirement.

      Federal or defense contracting is a whole other animal. I have been a contractor my entire working life, as full-time exempt, with benefits.

      1. pepp3rminty*

        Aha, that makes a lot more sense. The “1099 contractor” seems like a really specialty/niche thing, though… isn’t that a much less-common employment situation? I mean, defense contractors alone are some of the largest
        corporations in the nation – surely there must be more people working under that kind of “contractor” umbrella than these one-off independent contractors, right? It seems weird to assume the latter instead of the former meaning of the word.

        1. Noobtastic*

          I was raised by a government defense contractor, and didn’t even know that contractors COULD be independent.

        2. Iris Eyes*

          The legal use of them is probably less common than the illegal use of them. The construction industry is especially bad from what I’ve seen, at least at small business level (like a truck and a crew level).

    4. The IT Manager*

      Yes! Frankly I think Alison missed the boat on her answer.

      I will say this is not necessarily true. Most contractors are hard working, team players. Many contract companies want to do a great job and not just because they want more business with organization but their may be friction:
      1) Jealousy that the contract employees have a higher salary or their company is paid more for their work (which doesn’t all go to the contract employee) than organization’s own employees.
      2) Contract company is trying to make money off the contract and they may do that by cutting corners and might turn in sub-par work (or that might just happen because of their own resources or difficulty of the task). Poorly written contracts or exploitation of loopholes exacerbate this: we meant X, but you gave us Y. The legal contract only requires Y.
      3) Deliverables contract means organization cannot tell the contractor how to do the job an only what delivered product looks like. Poorly written contracts allow the cutting of corners from what the organization may have intended but didn’t ask for.

      The bad reputation come from some bad apple contractors. They do exist but they’re certainly not all of them. Unfortunately contractors are often painted with the same brush from people who have been burned in the past.

  24. Wakeen's Duck Club*

    #4 – Is reimbursement possible? If you’re expected to buy treats, a good company would reimburse you.

  25. USS Enterprise*

    I am an immigrant and I live and work in the US for more than 15 years now, just to add a different and interesting perspective, in my home country, it’s completely the opposite. The vast majority of professional workers have labor contracts. That includes profession such as doctors, dentists, engineers, … pretty much everybody. A typical contract lasts for 3-5 years, and at the end of that contract, employer and employee sit down for a review, negotiation, sign a new one, or part way or whatever. Contracts include terms of employment and separation clauses in case a party want to end the contract, what the costs would be and so forth. The people who do not have employment contracts, are considered “second class”, because it provides no security.

    When I got my first job in the US, the first question my mom asked was “How long is the contract?” and she freaked out when I told her that’s not how they do it here. It’s call a “full-time permanent position”.
    “So it means they can fire you at any time?”
    “Actually, yes, …”

    1. Kiki*

      I wish it worked this way here! I actually do have a contract (I work in education, which is one of the few industries that has them here) but my contract says I can still be fired at any time for any reason. If *I* choose to leave before the contract is up, though, there are fines associated (as well as a damaged reputation).

    2. fposte*

      To add another layer of confusion, “contractor” in the US is usually short for a 1099 contractor rather than covering the kind of contract you describe. I have an employment contract, but I’m not a “contractor.”

  26. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#4….you sound upset in your letter. I just wanted to point out that it’s entirely possible that your manager or co-workers don’t know your financial situation. I’m assuming you have not told them. I’ve worked with part-time, low wage folks that are flush with cash and others that are struggling, as you sound like you are right now. (I hope it gets better soon!) Your manager and co-workers may have assumed that you have income from other sources and this isn’t burdensome for you, especially if you don’t speak to anyone about your situation. I would just give them the benefit of the doubt that they assumed you had other income sources and use Alison’s wording.

    For what it’s worth, when I was a retail manager, virtually everyone was part-time, and quite frankly, less than about 20% of them were supporting themselves solely on that part-time income. Most had other income from some other source, and I often assumed that this was the case with everyone unless I was told otherwise or saw obvious signs such as not eating anything for lunch on an 8 hour shift, holy pants or shoes, etc. I am happy to say that in my years of reading AAM, I have gradually come to realize that people’s situations are not always what they appear to be on the surface and I should really consider all angles…so thanks for that AAM!

  27. clow*

    OP 1 – I feel for you. I contracted for several years, its common in my industry, in fact, half the team is made up of contractors. We got no sick days, no vacation days, none of the cool things that the regular employees got, but we did get all of the same responsibilities, workload, and pay. Also, any holidays meant we were not getting paid so November and December were every contractors nightmare. It went through a third party in my case, so we were given the option of health insurance, but it was expensive and since contracts can be cut at any point, not many opted for it. A lot of people made us feel like second class citizens, some even acted like we had it better because “they could get laid off so there is stress” (yes people actually told me this). The move to permanent employee felt like it was a contest in who sucked up to the right person at the right time. I don’t see this attitude ending until companies stop forcing people to contract just to save some money.

    1. Shadow*

      But that’s sort of the nature of temping and is freuquently a selling point- that there’s really no commitment and and you can end it painlessly. Its the equivalent of continuing to only go on coffee dates but not on a real date because you want to evaluate compatibility first.

      1. clow*

        I would say painless depends on the person. Without stability many people have trouble saving/settling and feeling confidant that they can spend money. Depending on time between contracts, people can really have a hard time financially (of course, if financially things are fine, than it can be great to have free time to yourself). Once a contract is over, and you find yourself unemployed (in my case, each contractor had to wait 3 months before the company would bring them back on for another year) it can be hard to find another job. Companies want people who are already employed. It is true there is no commitment and jumping ship whenever you want is nice (however, i wouldn’t say there is no consequence for this, another company will ask why you left, even when I say I was on contract, they still want to know the circumstances behind me leaving), many people love the freedom it affords them, and the chance to work on a larger variety of projects as you switch to different contracts is great. The tradeoff however, is a lack of stability and benefits and to many, it feels unfair.

        1. Shadow*

          Painless for the employer I meant. For the temp there is frequenty this natural feeling like you’re not good enough to be hired directly by the company. The concept is not so bad at first especially when it’s framed as an opportunity to get hired permanent. Eventually most everyone wants that sense of security and that requires a company to commit to hire you permanently for most people. So for a company to keep you on as a temp there’s this continuing feeling like you crave marriage but they’re not ready and don’t know if they will ever be.

          1. JM in England*

            I’ve often been burnt of the promise of a temp job becoming permanent. In my working life to date, only one employer has ever made good on this and this led to the first of the two long term jobs that I’ve held….

    2. Coalea*

      This sounds very similar to my experience as a contractor. In addition to all the the points you mentioned, at the place where I worked, regular employees had access to a covered parking garage, whereas contractors had to park in a distant outdoor lot – and were even required to enter through a separate entrance! I used the phrase “second-class citizen” a lot when describing that experience! So glad it was a short-term thing and I’m back to being a full-time, permanent employee!

  28. Shadow*

    And sometimes temps and contractors just feel like second class citizens even when employers are treating them wonderfully. It’s easy to be envious of “co-workers” who have are employed by a company with full time employees that have much more job security, benefits, perks, etc

    1. clow*

      Yes, that is also very true. I’ve seen both in the same company. I have seen cases where there was belligerence on the part of contractors, no matter how they were treated, stemming from resentment toward full time employees, to the point where they are sabotaging their own chances of becoming full time. On the flip side, now that I am a full time employee, the stuff I have heard come out of the mouths of some people about contractors is pretty much in line with what I suspected. I guess it really varies with different people.

  29. theletter*

    #OP4: You could also point out that treats are not necessarily required for these meetings. You’re at work to work, not to share baked goods. If the decision was on me, I’d kill off the rotation and tell my attendees that the policy for bringing of treats is now strictly “as the desire to cook strikes you”. If these meetings run so long that hunger strikes, the meeting should be shortened, or a break should be added to allow people to replenish themselves as they see fit.

  30. Katherine*

    #1: I was an attorney contractor for a while. One day the employee team I worked with stood 5 feet away from my group having a birthday cake for someone. They stood right in front of us, ate, drank and were merry, and did not invite us to join, even when they were finished and half the cake was left.

    At that same place, when we were onboarded, the person in charge said “On Monday’s there’s a free breakfast in the kitchen. Don’t eat it.”

    It was apparently really important for them to remind us that we were NOT real employees. It was a miserable place.

    1. AKJ*

      I was a contractor/staffing agency employee at a major corporation known for giving employees awesome perks, and we were at company headquarters, which had all the best amenities. The only ones we were allowed to use were the company cafeteria (although we couldn’t participate in any of the meal plans, we just had to pay like it was a regular cafeteria – it was worth it, though) and the company health clinic. Everything else was off limits.
      It wasn’t a bad place to work, really, but it was a little demoralizing to see all of the nice stuff they had available and then not be able to use it.

  31. Safely Retired*

    I am sure my response is influenced by working at the same company for 28 years, at a time where contractors were used for specific technical expertise we were lacking. That said…

    Of course contractors are going to be treated differently. They are different. An employee is assumed to continue to be around for a good while. If an employee comes to me with a question I am likely to give an expansive answer beyond “insert tab A in slot B”. Spending the time to be sure an employee understands the context of their work within the project, and within the broader operation of the company, is an investment that can pay back over the years the employee is with the company. Training an employee to work effectively can pay back for years, even decades. A contractor, in contrast, is assumed to be transient and only there to complete specific tasks. Why would we invest time in building the knowledge of a contractor beyond what they will be using here?

    1. clow*

      Depends on the company. As a contractor, I had to train employees, mentor interns, and in every other way perform the same way as a full time employee. Difference was only that my paychecks came from a different place and at the end of the year I was let go, being told I would most likely return at the start of the next project. Of course, my response is also influenced by working for one company as a contractor for 5 years.

    2. AnonFedContractor*

      I worked for *years* on client sites, embedded on-site, providing an advanced skillset they didn’t have. Even when I switched clients, I still ran into old clients at industry meetings, and made connections across organizations. I still stay in contact, years later, with the ones who acted like I was actually human. But that’s govt contracting, it’s an odd beast.

    3. Coldbrewinacup*

      Things are very, very different now, especially depending on what kinds of jobs we’re talking about. Companies nowadays keep temps for months and years at a time to keep from having to pay benefits. The place where I work currently has 4 temps who have all been there at least a year, doing the same job as myself (I was a temp for nearly a year) but with no benefits, no vacation, nothing. They don’t get to participate in company events, they don’t get paid for holidays, and they are all sitting in one corner of the office and no one really comes over here to talk to them. Not even the boss. It’s not a great situation, but very, very common in office work these days.

  32. ShesAGraphicDesigner*

    #1: I was a contractor at a major (international) food company, starting out as a seasonal 1-month temp, then asked to stay on permanently, and then was given duties (and a raise) that fully changed my job description to something that matched a full-time coworker (graphic/web design). I had no paid days off (including days the office was closed for holidays or weather) or any other benefits aside from insurance. What further complicated the relationship was that 99.99% of the jobs this contracting company filled were factory jobs, not degree-requiring office jobs. So when I had to go to orientation, it was all about OSHA standards on hard-hat wearing and MSDS sheets.

    Anyway, it was made VERY clear that contractors were second class citizens. We had our own parking area waaaay off to the side of the property. We weren’t invited to participate in any employee development or volunteer opportunities. We weren’t technically allowed to go have lunch off-site because of “liability issues,” but this never stopped me because f*ck you.

    The two specific instances that drove this home to me were when an international cohort of the same company was visiting our office, the GM was introducing my specific team to them, name by name, and he very obviously skipped over me. Another time, my coworker (who did the same job as me but as a full-time employee) and I were interested in attending an educational seminar off-site where we could learn new skills & technology. At first we were both given the go-ahead, but then I was told that 1. I’d have to pay for my own ticket and 2. They wouldn’t pay me for the day. I didn’t end up going, and in solidarity, my coworker didn’t either because f*ck you.

    Throughout the 3 years I was there, I was told over and over again that they wanted to create an employee position for me, but either there were budget restrictions, hiring freezes, grandboss is on vacay, etc, so it never happened until 6 months after a restructure and we got a new boss. He created my position with some additions, then made me apply and interview for it (which is not the norm – 2 other similar contractor positions were made full-time and automatically filled by their respective employees with the job posting as a formality) and then rejected me, but! He “generously” kept me on for another month so I could look for work, WHILE WORKING NEXT TO MY REPLACEMENT.

    Also, just to amp it up a bit, the department was all men in their mid-30s+, and I was an early 20s woman, so the fact that it was totally a Boys Club played a major factor. The two contractors who slid into employee jobs were also men.

  33. Jady*

    OP #1

    Disclaimer: Speaking in big generalizations in this post! My experiences, etc.

    In the software development industry for the technical employees, the treatment of contractors and H1B-Visa is a symptom of a problem outside of their hands. In this industry, contractors are commonly used due to their (sometimes significantly) lower costs and ease to replace.

    This directly impacts existing employees in a lot of ways. It pushes salaries down industry-wide, employees are often left to clean up the mess created by inexperience, and rushed results and turnover. These aren’t trivial, they can have many-years-long consequences.

    Employees (the good ones at least) will have long-term in mind with things like compatibility, dependability, reuse, and will general push against the management (to a degree) when poor decisions are being made in regards to the technical details.

    In addition, it’s general acceptance that some employers abuse the current H1B programs, and it’s common belief that contractors are poorer quality than a standard employees. I have worked with both and if we’re generalizing as a whole for my industry I wouldn’t disagree.

    And for some fun – Most people I work with now, and have worked with in the past, all have their own horror-story. The best one by far was a coworker’s situation around 7 years ago about the contracting team literally fabricating results (progress reports, testing results, presentations, etc) for nearly a year. They had presented themselves as completely on schedule, until the due date. Then – job done! – they handed their existing work over and were gone. They were short of best-case 50% complete according to management. If you’d asked the team responsible for completing it – they would have provided a negative number.

    Obviously it’s not the fault of the contractors – they just want a job, and they shouldn’t be treated poorly merely because the company hired them, are experienced, whatever. But they are the day-to-day interactions of the employees – so it’s bound to create negativity.

  34. Specialist*

    Letter 3–physician here as well. You know you need to play this carefully. I’ve found this site to be really helpful in a number of different areas. However, I am sure you’ve noticed the differences between office culture and medical culture. We are more likely to deal with bullying behavior and to have no recourse. I highly recommend Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability. Short reads and really helpful with the situations we encounter. They were recommended to me by another physician and I’ve since given many sets as gifts.

    My suggestion would be to find yourself a recent article on HIPAA and patient confidentiality. Then say something about how you’d been reading this article and had noticed that your boss had started knocking on entering doors. Clearly, they are looking into this issue as well. You think that the knocking is a good way to go and wanted to know if the boss was thinking about anything else to stay in compliance with privacy policies. Do you need signs or is the position of the door sufficient?

    I had a similar issue with an office manager years ago who would walk into exam rooms while knocking on the door. Exam rooms! With exposed patients. Completely unacceptable, but when I asked that this not happen I was told that she should be able to go wherever she felt she needed to go. I am no longer at that facility. I should have handled that differently.

    1. First Time Caller*

      LW3 here. Thank you very much for the rec of Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability. I will look into it. And yes, I’m so glad you are noting for others that office culture and medical culture are different. Nobody bats an eye when I lock my office door — as you know, we’re required to lock our office doors if we’ll be away for a period of time, given how much confidential patient information is sitting in our offices. As I had hoped, the comments section has been helpful in helping me decide what to do, and I appreciate all the physicians who’ve replied to help me craft a game plan.

      I don’t know if I could have kept my mouth shut in your situation with the office manager walking into exam rooms unannounced. That’s so horrible! I would have felt so apologetic and embarrassed for my patients, and I would have lost my cool for sure.

      In reply to Robin Sparkles above, the idea of any admin (Departmental Administrator, Administrative Assistant, Business Manager, I don’t care what the title or the fancypants importance level is) treating a physician with that dismissive level of formality would be unusual. For better or for worse, that’s just how the medical culture is.

  35. square eyes*

    For #3, why not a sticky note on the door saying “on a call, please knock” or “on a call, do not disturb”? I see that at my institution and people respect that. The locked door is overkill.

  36. Granny K*

    Regarding #2 with the employee with a terminally ill father, note that when someone goes into hospice, they usually have less than a 6 month prognosis. So this situation may change in the near future.

  37. JM in England*

    Re #1 Contractors treated as second class citizens

    I have considerable firsthand experience of this, especially during my early career during the 1990s. A lot of this time was spent at two large multinational corporations in my field. At the first, most of the perm employees in my department seemed to look down their their nose at me and I was given what I would class as the “grunt” work to do. Also, when I looked at the job board at my site, nearly all had “only open to established employees” written at the ad’s bottom: today, that would be regarded as discrimination under UK law. Ended up being on a weekly rolling contract at this place, which was an extra reason to dread Mondays and a major factor in me leaving there.

    The second company was better in terms of culture and contractors made up 40% of the people in my department. However, second-class citizenship manifested itself in a different way. Every six weeks, the department’s director held an all-staff meeting. At one of these, he outlined a new scheme for recognising outstanding employees; only at the end of his speech did he say it was for perm staff only. Felt like a punch in the guts!

    Since then, changes to the law have somewhat improved the lot of UK contract workers such as the introduction of paid holidays and pensions. However, even today (my last four jobs have been contact, current one is perm) contractors still feel a different breed to regular employees……

  38. MJ*

    The treats thing seems insane to me. It’s legal for them to require you to bring in treats to share? If you refused, what would you be written up for? Failure to provide work resources out of your own pocket?

  39. seven*

    #4– A lot of you really hate treats here! I am surprised at the amount of “kill the rotation” or just say no comments. If she can’t afford the treats (honestly tho $25 a year isn’t a lot but it’s whatever) then she should speak to her boss in private about it before her next turn. Just say it’s messes up my budget and ask if there is something else that can be worked out. We do treats often at my job and we all chip in for snacks. It seems like your department is small and a box of coffee and a set of munchkins costs about $8. You will definitely be seen as the party pooper if you do a passive action such as buying a box of store cookies that costs $2 and saying this is all i can afford. Really just talk to your boss and maybe she will cover them during your turn or change the way treats are purchased. But recognize if you can’t or won’t put in for the treats, other people may take issue with you eating their treats on other months.

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