cheating in an office bake-off, my boss is advertising my job because I was out sick, and more

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

1. Cheating in the office bake-off competition

This is more lighthearted but I am bothered by it. We’re having a departmental baking competition. There are about 70 people in the department and at least 10 are entering. One of my colleagues, Candice, is very talented and clearly the person to beat. Another colleague, Stuart, has been saying that he’ll get his nephew to bake his entry as his nephew is a semi-professional cake decorator. Stuart has mentioned it openly to a couple of people now, who have both jokingly said that’s cheating, but he seems quite set on the idea. He’s filling in the entry form right now.

If he does enter with a cake he didn’t make, should I mention it to the organizer? Only if he wins? How do I tell the organizer without sounding weird and petty? I would prefer not to create a bad atmosphere and be dramatic, but this really isn’t fair for the people who make their own cakes!

Why not just mention it to the organizer now and let her decide how to deal with it? You could just say, “Hey, if you only want people to enter with cakes they baked themselves, you should let people know that. Stuart is talking about entering with a cake made by his nephew, who decorates cakes professionally.”

I wouldn’t wait to see if he wins before speaking up — that’s likely to cause much more drama. The easiest thing would be for the organizer to head this off now.

2. My boss is advertising my job because I got sick before some pre-approved vacation time

A few months ago, I decided to make a big career move and change industries. I have been at my new job as an administrative assistant for just over two months. When I was offered this position, I made sure to notify my new boss of two upcoming trips that would require time off. When I officially accepted the job, my new boss had me write the two sets of dates on the calendar and wrote “approved” next to them. The Friday before my two days off (I was taking off Monday/Tuesday for an out-of-town wedding) I came down with a bad bug. I came into work feeling a little off, and slowly got worse as the morning went on. Due to my coughing and sneezing, my colleagues requested that I go home to ensure they did not catch my bug. After speaking with my boss, I was released for the day to go get well. Before I left, I reminded my boss that I would be out Monday and Tuesday and looked forward to seeing him Wednesday.

When I returned to work on Wednesday, I found a sent email (everyone in my office shares one email account) from my boss to our advertising partner asking to place an ad in the paper for an office admin (my job). I asked my colleagues if we were expanding the size of the staff and they said that due to my being sick and then taking two days of for my vacation, my boss didn’t feel like I was dedicated and was going to start looking “just in case.” I haven’t spoken to my boss because he is now out of town for the week. I have no idea how to address this situation when he returns. I am a good employee, I don’t have attendance issues, I didn’t ask to be sent home sick and he approved my vacation time almost three months ago when I was initially offered the position. My other already approved trip is for two weeks next month and I am worried for my job security. What is the best course of action here?

That is … not normal. Your boss decided to start looking “just in case” because you got sick and also had pre-scheduled vacation time? The only way this makes even a little sense is if you had already been out a lot in these first two months, which could give him reason to worry about your reliability. But since you noted that’s not the case, have there been any other signs that your boss is unreasonable or prone to leaping to wrong conclusions?

In any case, yes, talk to your boss as soon as he returns. Say something like this: “Do you have concerns about my reliability or commitment to the job? I hope I’ve shown a strong work ethic since I started, and I was alarmed to hear you’re advertising my position in case I don’t work out. Did I do something to cause that?” If he implies it’s a lot of time to miss when you’re new to the job, you can say, “When you offered me the job, I had two trips already scheduled, and I made sure to confirm with you that those would be okay before accepting the offer. And of course I couldn’t control the timing of when I got ill — and it was coworkers who asked me to go home so they didn’t get sick. Other than that, I haven’t missed any days. I take reliability very seriously. But I also have the two weeks off next month that you okayed when you offered me the position. I don’t want that to cause you to start looking for someone else to do my job.”

It’s hard to know how this is going to go — did he just forget that time was pre-approved? Is this a misunderstanding of some sort? Or is he wildly unfair and unreasonable? But having this conversation will get you a lot more data so you can figure out how to proceed.

3. How to weigh a refused reference

We recently interviewed someone who was qualified in ways we could evaluate in an interview, but had a short work history with a couple of interruptions. Both my boss and I were not very concerned about this, but other members of the hiring panel were, although it was not their job to assess work history.

We decided to ask the candidate for a single reference, not necessarily a supervisor, as kind of a hedge position, but I felt uncomfortable about doing so. When the recruiter was unable to contact the provided reference, they followed up with the candidate. The candidate, after contacting the reference themself, discovered that this person was uncomfortable providing a reference. The candidate then disclosed this information to us, and provided an alternative reference.

The recruiter believes this is a red flag. I believe that reference checks are not very reliable, and that without knowing why, the original reference’s discomfort isn’t anything to go off of. I’m somewhat biased because I made a lot of similar mistakes in the early days of my career–e.g., providing a reference without asking the reference first–and I was rarely if ever penalized. Am I being too lenient?

Short work history with multiple gaps, and the only reference he offered wasn’t comfortable giving one? Yeah, it’s a red flag. That doesn’t mean “definitely don’t hire this guy,” but it does mean that you shouldn’t hire him without doing a lot more digging. You should talk to at least two more references, and they should be managers. Maybe they’ll set your mind at ease — but maybe they’ll raise serious issues.

The issue isn’t that he offered you a reference without asking them first. It’s that the person he presumably thought would be his best reference refused to give one.

And remember, a good hire isn’t just someone who has the skills for the job (which is what it sounds like you evaluated in the interview), but also someone who is easy to work with, reliable, conscientious, honest, and lots of other things that you can’t know from a single interview, but which references can tell you about. Right now, you have someone who you think has the skills, but who has a short and checkered work history, and whose first choice of reference won’t vouch for his work. You need to keep digging.

4. Docking exempt employees’ pay

A previous employer used to require that salaried, exempt employees clock in and out every day. The stated reason was so that they could “keep track of everyone in case of an emergency.” However, in practice, payroll would make weekly calls to salaried, exempt employees if they hadn’t accumulated at least 40 hours during the previous week. For example, if an employee clocked in at 8:00 and out at 5:00, Monday through Thursday (they “allowed” an hour for lunch, whether you took it or not), but left at 3:00 on Friday because her child was vomiting at daycare and had to be picked up, payroll would ask if she wanted to have her pay docked for the “missing” time, or use 0.25 day of PTO. (However, if we had to work more than 40 hours in a week, we weren’t paid overtime, because we were salaried/exempt.)

This was their policy across the board for all salaried employees, regardless of the reason: if you went home sick after lunch, came in late because you had to meet the cable guy or take your dog to the vet, or for whatever reason didn’t have your butt in the chair for a minimum of 40 hours in any given week, it was either deducted from your PTO or your paycheck. Is this legal? It doesn’t meet my working definition of salaried, exempt employees, but I’m also not a lawyer or an HR expert, so I’m curious about your thoughts.

That is the very definition of treating exempt workers illegally. You cannot dock exempt employee’s daily pay except in very narrowly defined circumstances. If you do, you are essentially treating them as non-exempt, and thus you lose the exemption, meaning that you will need to pay them overtime whenever they work more than 40 hours in a week … and can be required to pay penalties and back wages.

If you’re exempt, they can require you to use PTO for that time. But they can’t make you take it unpaid.

5. Should I mail a copy of my resume after applying online?

I am a 48-year-old accountant currently poking around in the job market (employed) and wondered: When emailing and online job searching was fairly new, it was commonplace to submit your resume and cover letter online, then print out your documents on good quality paper, folded the correct way, and mail them (in an equal quality envelope, printed) via “snail mail.”

Is this still common practice? Should it be stamped “emailed XXdate”? Not at all? Bring your hard copy to the interview if you happen to score one?

Nope, definitely do not mail your materials. Apply online, and you’re done. If you mail them, it will look odd (why are you applying again when you’re already in their system from when you applied online?) and yes, a little dated (since nearly all hiring correspondence is done electronically these days), and it will even be mildly annoying to a lot of hiring managers.

But do bring a hard copy of your resume to the interview. They may or may not want it, but it’s good to have it with you in case you do. And it can be on regular paper; better quality resume paper is not an expected thing anymore.

{ 532 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    #2: I just don’t understand this – your boss saw that you were sick and let you go home. That was his decision. He gave you permission to do this. You didn’t just call and fake a cough or no-call either.

    And now he thinks you aren’t committed?! This is nothing more than passive-aggressive bullish!t and I’m willing to bet that well runs deep.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      It would be really easy to assume this is true, but right now it’s hearsay: “I asked my colleagues if we were expanding the size of the staff and they said that due to my being sick and then taking two days of for my vacation, my boss didn’t feel like I was dedicated and was going to start looking “just in case.”

      They all share one email account. What’s to stop someone from sending that email as a prank and then lying to OP about what the boss said? When did your boss go out of town, OP? Are you sure you’re being told the truth and this isn’t some kind of nasty prank?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This doesn’t sound like a prank. And if it is, the prankster should be fired.

        But regardless, Alison’s script will help OP suss out what’s going on. If it is the boss’s doing, then Mike C’s analysis seems bang on.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Well no, but OP has only hward about this from other people who’ve claimed to know how the boss feels. Best wait and not assume you’ve received reliable intel.

          1. sstabeler*

            I disagree. Oh, don’t confront the boss by saying “you’re advertising for my position- WTF?”, but saying “I heard you are advertising my position. Is that true, and if so, could you explain your concerns?” is reasonable- not least because my suggested wording both covers if a co-worker is playing a “prank” (I use quotes because even if intended as a prank, it is bad enough that the irresponsibility justifies the same punishment.) since the boss can just say “no, I wasn’t advertising your job- who told you that?” and if the boss IS advertising the OP’s job, it gives a chance to either clarify the situation, or clarify the boss’s expectations.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s possible someone else sent it and signed the boss’s name, but in the range of possibilities, that’s not one I’d consider likely. Possible, but not the likeliest. That would be pretty extraordinary malfeasance.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Recently there have been a wave of people suggesting things written about have been pranks (the shite response email, maybe Tiana was pranked and didn’t mention it) and I am wondering why this is?

          It always seems a really unlikely explanation, but even if it was, the way one initially reacts in each case is the same: email the boss re the rejection, ask Tiana what she was thinking and why she hadn’t checked, and in this case, ask the boss about it.

          I guess I’m just surprised why it is the first place people jump to, because in all cases these would be really mean things to do to a colleague, and I’d class it as deliberately undermining, rather than light-hearted joke. Or is this another thing where some office cultures are completely different?

          1. Myrin*

            I’d say that if something is very outrageous or beyond the pale, a few regular reasonable people can’t wrap their heads around anyone ever honestly and seriously doing [thing], so the next best solution is that someone got pranked.
            (FWIW, I haven’t really registered “a wave” of this lately – I see it every now and then but I’ve never gotten the feeling that it was a very dominant sentiment, even in the threads you mention.)

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Ive kori ed the wave, too, although I agree that it isn’t the dominant thread. But it is an unlikely explanation.

            2. Kathleen Adams*

              I did (and do) think there’s a good possibility that the shite email was the act of an extremely disgruntled employee – whether it qualifies as a prank is a matter of judgment.

              But that isn’t ordinarily a very likely thing, and it doesn’t seem likely here, either. I wouldn’t say there’s been a “wave” of people making this suggestion, but hey, I certainly don’t read every response to every letter.

            3. Statler von Waldorf*

              I’ll second Myrin’s opinion. If I’ve learned anything over the years, the biggest would be to never underestimate people’s ability to rationalize away something they don’t want to believe is true.

              1. Specialk9*

                If there is a shared email box and no controls, it would be easy for someone with ill intent to think they’d get away with it. But expecting the admin to check sent mail and see a mean email seems… Tortuous and poorly planned.

          2. INTP*

            The response email seemed like a possible prank to me just because you can post any Indeed job you want for free, so it would be a pretty easy prank to do. The only difficult thing would be getting access to the supposed sender’s email, but that’s possible for jerky coworkers, and the OP didn’t specify that it was definitely an email from the company’s domain (could be a random person making up jobs to troll people). I admit it’s a bit of a stretch, I just thought the possibility was large enough to verify it was real before sending the guy’s full name to Buzzfeed and potentially messing with someone’s life.

            This one would have to be someone in the company, willing to do the prank on a shared email account that everyone can see, willing to involve the advertiser in the prank, able to convince the entire company to go along with it when the OP asked, and knowing they’d almost certainly be caught when the boss gets back – I’d say it’s not a prank.

          3. JamieS*

            Admittedly I don’t read every comment on every post but I haven’t noticed a wave. There was the shite email but that was one letter and I think that was a different kind of situation because the content of the email was just so ridiculous. In this case the boss is being unreasonable but it’s not something that would be classified as borderline unbelievable.

      3. New Here*

        There’s a saying for this. It goes something like “if you hear hoofbeats in Central Park, don’t immediately assume it’s a zebra”, or something to that effect. But the point is, in any circumstance, the simplest explanation is probably the correct explanation. An elaborate and, honestly, cruel, prank is far too complicated and involves too many people. It’s far more likely that the boss is a jerk.

          1. Occam*

            Lol … That’s what my BIL told my husband when he was (hallucinating while) recovering from surgery and thought the hospital system was conspiring against him.

      4. Cleopatra Jones*

        But really, who does that? Especially since they all share one email account. Why are you putting the onus of finding out if this is real on the OP before she talks to the boss? If it’s legit, she needs to know so she can fix the issue or find a new job. If it’s not legit, then the prankster needs to be perp walked out of the front door because…ain’t NOBODY got time for that kind of foolishness.

      5. Fi Murphy*

        As I mentioned to above, since submitting this question, I have had the opportunity to speak with my boss. It was not someone in the office playing a prank- it was a genuine request from my boss. I am still digesting his reasoning that we discussed, but it is safe to say that I am exploring other potential job opportunities.

        1. MCM*

          If he had concerns or wanted to back track on granting your vacation before you started, he should have talked to you before sending that e-mail out.

          It could be he promised you something to hire you into the position that he no intention of honoring.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          And you’re going to leave this job and he’s going to say “See! I was right about Fi not being dedicated enough,” having no idea it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    2. Casper Lives*

      I agree. Also, I wonder if the boss is thinking that #2 being out for two weeks will cause too much backlog because he didn’t think through the logistics of having her gone when he hired her. That’s not the letter writer’s fault regardless.

        1. Casper Lives*

          She cane in with two planned breaks. The first is the two days that already happened. The second is the upcoming two weeks of vacation.

      1. I Herd the Cats*

        Yeah. Given the rest of the weirdness (one email account? w..t…h…) my money’s on the idea that the boss is now looking at his employee of two+ months being gone for two weeks *next* month and looking for a way to weasel out of that, maybe by replacing OP.

        Is anyone else surprised by the agreement, btw? I’m in no way faulting the LW, I’m just surprised that a potential employer would agree to give a new admin two weeks off so early in their employment. Again, I’m wondering if the employer is having second thoughts and looking for an excuse to rescind the approval and/or replace the employee.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Nah, I’m seeing that as standard. Possibly different (in UK) but it’s a normal question at offer stage and I’ve never seen reasonable holidays for pre-arranged events being refused to a new start… they just want to know about them.

        2. Hush42*

          I think it’s pretty normal- when one of my (ex)co-workers started 2 years ago she already had a week long vacation planned for the 4th week of her employment. She just told the hiring manager about it when she accepted the job and he agreed to it. (For reference I’m in the US). It was never held against her.

        3. K.*

          I think it’s normal if the vacation is planned before the hiring process. I’ve done this – not two weeks, but I once had plans to travel out of town for a wedding and was interviewing for a job right before. Once it was offered to me I told them of my travel plans and had them approved before I accepted (I would have turned down the job if I couldn’t go). I’ve seen friends of mine change jobs right before their weddings and honeymoons and either arrange to start after they return or take the time off right at the beginning. It’s never been a problem.

        4. One of the Sarahs*

          I think it’s especially common when start dates are at holiday/wedding-heavy times of year. Of course not everyone gets things agreed (I want to take the most important week of the year off) but it’s a decent thing for an employer to do, otherwise once someone starts making plans to look for work, they can’t make any plans for the next 6 months.

        5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Not surprised by the agreement. Sometimes people have life plans that don’t quite map onto a new job timeline, and negotiating around those plans during the offer/acceptance phase is super normal.

        6. Competent Commenter*

          Years ago my coworker was hired under this sort of agreement. She let us know when we made her the job offer, and said she would understand if we didn’t want to hire her because she would be leaving for a couple of weeks within her first two months. We said it wouldn’t be a problem, and got a temp to cover that time. No big deal.

          And then for at least two years after that every time she wanted to use her vacation time our boss would say, “I don’t think you have any vacation time left, do you?” in this kind but patronizing tone as though employee was probably trying to pull a fast one but boss was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. I remember this happening in a staff meeting. Thing is, we were all half-time workers and really didn’t have to use our vacation time much, Employee had never taken any paid vacation time! Boss just could not believe this. It was like that initial unpaid leave without pay created an impression with Boss that she was a habitual vacation user. We all backed Employee up in a team meeting once and Boss looked dumbfounded (and still dubious).

            1. Lora*

              Ummmm… track employees’ actual vacation time usage like you’re supposed to every once in a while, so you know you won’t have a ton of people all out at the end of the year trying to use up their vacation time before they lose it?

              Not that I do this very often myself, there’s HR software to manage it, but when I get a new project in I usually do check it against the schedule to make sure I’ll have enough trained people available to handle it.

              1. Kathleen Adams*

                Just to be clear, when I said “People. Whatcha gonna do?” I was expressing a certain fatalistic dismay at the attitude of the *boss*. Certainly there are lots of things the boss can do to avoid making such a dumb (and potentially damaging) error.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This. There are plenty of bosses out there who manage by Panic. They see something once, misinterpret it and that misinterpretation becomes their definition of what is going on. Panic follows as their minds assume worst case scenario about most things.

            OP, do you have anyone there who would help with advocacy? Some employees have a knack for cutting through the Layer of Panic and getting the point across. If this boss does not stop doing this, he will be perpetually hiring a new employee.

          2. Specialk9*

            You’d think the employee would have that happen once, power-walk back to her desk, create a spreadsheet, send to boss and team, and send boss the full thing every single leave request.

            And then leave, because a-hole!

    3. Gen*

      I’ve worked a few places where managers would expect you to abandon pre-approved time off if you got sick immediately before it, especially if it was either side of a weekend. In those places there was an automatic assumption that anything that extended a weekend was fake and therefore you had to fall on your sword to prove you were dedicated or you were immediately considered untrustworthy. It’s a terrrible practice but I’ve seen it enough not to be surprised

      1. Just employed here*

        I was thinking this, had she “only” called in sick. But she was there, with her symptoms!

        (The whole office shares one email account? Is this 1992 Ltd? Or am I being unfair and this is normal in some field?)

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yeah, that took me aback, too! It’s one thing if there’s a shared generic account that multiple people have access to (like sales(at)chocolateteapots(dot)org being accessible to multiple people so even if someone quits they don’t have to update the website or worry about former customers losing contact) – but this sounded like there was just one single email address for all of them. Like someone’s under the impression that email addresses are a precious and limited resource and they can’t afford to just give everyone their own!

        2. Kerr*

          I feel like this is a giant red flag of some kind. Like it’s just the tip of an iceberg of trouble hiding beneath the surface. ONE email account?! In 2017? Unless it’s a tiny retail store with one computer…?

          Anyway, OP 2, I’m sorry. This isn’t normal behavior at all for a boss, especially one who approved your vacation time in advance! On the positive side, he gave written approval so you can point to that.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            It’s still a TREMENDOUS red flag that no one there has basic problem-solving skills, nor can they plan with the big picture in mind. E-mail addresses are FREE, and it is trivial for even a novice user to set up email forwarding to multiple addresses. The fact that they haven’t thought to do that would make me run away, far and fast.

            1. AndersonDarling*

              Plus a boss that doesn’t remember approving or doesn’t understand what it means to approve time off. Then to passive aggressively post the replacement job ad before leaving for a week- it’s all sounding wack-a-do.

            2. Footiepjs*

              Business email is generally not free. O365 Enterprise is 4 dollars a month per license, if I’m remembering correctly. And then you’d need an Office license for the use of Outlook. Not that MS is the solution that every business selects, but I imagine others are similarly priced.

              Ad-supported free email is fine but not the solution I’d choose for my imaginary business.

              1. Observer*

                Actually, you don’t need a separate licence for outlook and you can do a basic Google domain for free, for email use. Sure, you’re using a not-great web interface, but it’s MILES ahead of a shared account.

                And, if I REALLY had to choose between a free gmail account where I had to see ads, or a single shared account – NO CONTEST whatsoever. The individual accounts win, hands down.

                1. zora*

                  Google Apps gives you your own domain and is from free to incredibly cheap for a small group of people. It is priced based on how much you use.

            3. MCM*

              Suspect that the 1 e-mail address is a control thing. Can see and read everything that comes in. Or isn’t willing to pay for someone to do IT, or unable to do it themselves?

              Combination of all the above.

        3. Observer*

          No, this is not normal. And for anyone who explains that this is a reasonable way to go because there is a cost to each individual mail bis (es, people have said this on the site before), if you can’t find the $60 per year to give an employee their own email, you need to rethink your entire business model.

          1. Clever Name*

            Exactly. I was going to make a similar comment. I work for a small company, and even when the company was the owner plus a few employees, they had separate emails.

          2. Tiny Soprano*

            Seconded. If your business can’t support the cost of doing business then that should be a red flag.

      2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I could see the boss being suspicious about the timing… except the boss actually saw the OP, who was sneezing and coughing so much their coworkers were unsettled by it! Does the boss think the OP took sneezing powder or something to fake it??

        1. Kathlynn*

          And even if I was sick, I’d want that time to ensure I had a chance to get better. Like, not all illnesses are 24 hour bugs. (lots are, but lots aren’t)

          1. Competent Commenter*

            And the ones that are 24 hour bugs usually involve vomiting and more so who wants to bounce back into work the next day anyway? And who wants to sit next to them if they do?

        1. eplawyer*

          If it were me, next time they tried to send home for being sick I would mention how dedicated and committed I am and that I was staying. Then when everyone else catches what I had, maybe boss will rethink things. Maybe.

          1. Jesca*

            I do this now. And when people complain, I just say hey boss says I need to be here. Right here. In this very seat. Even though I could work from home and that we have a a good bit of PTO and vacation time, and that I have huge lulls in my work loads, and that I don’t even need to be here to do my work, I need to be right here in this seat. Butts in seats, guys!

            I won’t forget to ask this question at the next interview when I start job searching in two years.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I DID ask this question yesterday in my interview, re backup in a home-sick / hit-by-a-bus scenario. Although I have a cold and showed up to the interview anyway, LOL. (I did not shake hands with anyone and Purell’d the crap out of myself and let the interviewer know that.)

              FWIW, I liked the answer.

          2. Mrs. Fenris*

            I wouldn’t count on it! I worked for years for one of those old schoil bosses who genuinely thought that getting sick was a sign of weak character. He got truly angry when anybody called in sick. I dragged myself in once when I was horribly sick with norovirus, gave it to him, and he ended up taking the first sick days he had taken in 15 years. He didn’t learn a dang thing, and he is still terrorizing his employees for being weak enough to get sick.

            1. OhNo*

              Those kind of people are always the worst. When they get sick, it’s because of random chance or bad luck, and they’re definitely too ill to go to work. But when anyone else gets sick, it’s because they’re just weak, and they should just tough it out and come into work, the lazy buggers.

              (In case it wasn’t obvious, I have definitely worked for a boss like this in the past. By far the most irritating boss I’ve ever had.)

            2. Broadcastlady*

              Yep. No one to cover my morning show as we’d just let the other personality go, so I did the entire morning show while also doing prep for a colonoscopy scheduled for noon that same day. Boss has also had me work through highly contagious C-Diff twice. If I’m not there, we aren’t on the air. (Disclaimer: I love my job, will never leave, but I have my moments).

          3. Tiny Soprano*

            Haha yes, like the time I tried to come to work in the throes of glandular fever (I was delirious so I thought it was a good idea. It wasn’t.) The problem with bosses like what LW has described though is that they wouldn’t think it was that bad even if you came in with ebola. Bosses like that are very quick to forget things that are inconvenient to their narrative.

        2. LBK*

          But she did! And was told to go home! That’s the craziest part to me. Unless the boss thinks this is some grand Ferris Bueller deception, it should be clear she wasn’t just faking it to get an extra day on her vacation.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            He might not have wanted to send her home though, he might have just felt he had to because her colleagues had complained. So there’s may some extra misplaced resentment towards LW there for that.

      3. DoDah*

        Me too. We had one staff member who had some flu-thing and called out on a Friday. For the next 4 years (until she left) CEO referred to her as, “the PERSON WHO ALWAYS CALLED OUT EVERY FRIDAY.”

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          That reminds me of the post we had where the company complained that employees were taking advantage of them by calling out sick on Mondays and Fridays—approximately 40% of their callouts happenened on those two days because you know…40% of the work days…but no it must be some vast conspiracy to extend weekends even though the math adds up.

          1. Grand Mouse*

            If I were sick I would intentionally call out on Monday or Friday if I wasn’t worried about how it looks. Better to have extended rest then come back to work and need to take more time off anyway.

      4. JanetM*

        Long ago, I had a week of vacation scheduled. About a month before my vacation, I received a witness subpoena regarding a car accident, for a trial scheduled the Friday before my vacation.

        I took the subpoena to work, made a copy for my personnel file (keeping the original) and showed it to my manager, who said, in a tone full of doubt, “This is awfully *convenient*… Let me see the original. I’ll just call the court and confirm this.” (It was confirmed, and I was allowed to take the day off. Unpaid, of course.) (Oh, and no, I did not have attendance or performance issues.)

        1. esra*

          It probably cost the company more in paying the manager to confirm with the court than it would have to let you take a paid day off.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah, because that worked into 5 phone calls before it was over. Things that seem to be a simple question are not always simple.

      5. Samata*

        I have worked at places like this. You come in sick and your a inconsiderate fool for infecting the office. You call off and are obviously faking it. ESPECIALLY if you had taken/were taking vacation time within the same month.

        The places are no-win but way more common that I ever realized.

      6. cornflower blue*

        One of my local school districts has a policy that teachers cannot take a sick day attached to a holiday. They don’t get PTO, so this not only expects people to time their illness, but also discourages them from doing things like planning minor procedures up against long weekends that would give them extra time to recover without missing school.

    4. Myrin*

      Totally agreed. I’m blown away by someone thinking of another as not being “dedicated enough” over a two-and-a-half day absence.

      Also, looking for another admin “just in case”? I mean. Are you or are you not placing an ad for the position in the paper? Are you planning to interview people just for funsies and then have it all been for naught if you suddenly decide that your current admin is dedicated enough after all?

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I’ve seen “just in case” hiring. It basically means they will go through the entire process of advertising, screening and interviewing, and then if they decide they don’t really need someone after all, they just shut the process down at the last minute and don’t make anyone an offer. It sucks for everybody involved — the person whose job is being advertised, who’s walking on eggshells; the people who apply in good faith, not knowing that the company is not at all sure they’ve even got a position to offer, and even the company because it wastes a ton of their managers’ time on something they never use.

        To be clear, I understand that in normal hiring practices, things do happen at times which lead to canceling the job and not hiring anyone, even after the whole process. But it’s a bit different from going into it knowing that you probably don’t have a job to offer and you’re just lining somebody up in case you decide you do.

        1. Jesca*

          When you put it like that, this is whole thing is so unbelievably rude and kinda cruel! And then to send the email out over the SHARED email to everyone knew!

        2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Actually… I think that it can *sometimes* (in rare circumstances) make sense to go through the the just-in-case hiring process. For example, if you have an employee who develops a serious health condition and goes on leave. In their communications, they are unsure when or if they’ll be able to return to work. The position is critical for your business and not really work that a temp could do. So you start a hiring process, post ads, begin gathering applications, maybe even run some initial phone screens and interviews. Then the employee gets good news about their health that they’ll be able to return by x date, so the process is halted because their employee is coming back. You start that process hoping that your employee will be able to come back and that you won’t need someone new, but knowing that if you do need someone new, you need to get a jump on the process.

          Hiring takes a long time and quite a bit of effort. If the company waited until the news arrived and the news wasn’t good… they might be really pinched instead of being able to move forward with a new candidate and get them trained/up to speed.

    5. Phoenix Programmer*

      I am with Mike C. Forgetting he pre approved your PTO or no, this is outrageous behavior from the boss.

      Personally I would start job searching. Still have the conversation but use it to try and turn down the heat while you continue job searching. I wouldn’t trust the boss to actually stop the search even if they did displayed a change of heart.

      Also if you have changed industry you really need a great boss who will provide candid feedback to be successful. This boss is clearly not it

      1. Jesca*

        I agree. And honestly I would be pretty open and candid when I leave why I was leaving. I mean, don;t be rude, but be clear that you are leaving because you do not feel secure in this environment.

    6. Fi Murphy*

      Mike- I did not understand either, which is why I submitted this question! I think you hit the nail on the head with “passive-aggressive”- since submitting this question, I have spoken with my boss and learned that even having one sick day is something he looks down upon. It may be a generational thing (he is in his early 80’s) but expressed to me his beliefs that employees should not miss work except in the case of an emergency, which he said to me the day after returning from a week long vacation. This situation has enlightened me to see that he doesn’t practice what he preaches, which is not a quality I admire in a manager.

      1. Samata*

        But you came to work when you were sick! You went home because other co-workers wanted you to. I would say you can feel confident about starting a new job search.

        1. Specialk9*

          Yeah, OP took a half sick day! Not even one! Can we all wish organ stones on him or something?

      2. Natalie*

        even having one sick day is something he looks down upon

        Oh, eff this guy. I’m pretty sure the germ theory was accepted even when he was a lad, so he should know better.

      3. Myrin*

        In his belief system, what do employees who become sick do, then? Let’s make that “gravely sick”, maybe, so that it’s not so easy for him to weasle out of that saying they should come to work anyway.

      4. Observer*

        No, this is not generational. This kind of stupidity is no more common in older bosses than in younger bosses. Look at how common this is in retail and food service – Don’t tell me that all of these places are run by older people!

    7. Ama*

      This reminds me of the time I had to intervene with a boss at an old job when he started fuming that an employee (I wasn’t her manager but I logged her time off in the system) had been out “far too frequently.”

      She had been out exactly four days in six months. However those four days were concentrated over three weeks — she had taken a Friday and a Monday as a long-planned vacation, at the end of the week after that she took a sick day, and in the middle of the following week she’d taken a day to attend a friend’s funeral. And it just so happened that the boss himself, who had been working from home frequently, was only in the office those four days in the same three weeks, so every time he looked for her she was out.

      I pointed out that it was just a coincidence that he happened to keep missing her which seemed to calm him down (although I also mentioned the conversation to her actual manager just so she could also run interference if needed).

    8. Plague of frogs*

      “I haven’t spoken to my boss because he is now out of town for the week.”

      Better start advertising for his replacement.

  2. MilkMoon (UK)*

    LW1: Man, Stuart sounds like a real spoilsport, way too competitive and completely missing the fun of a casual bake-off. What’s it going to be? A ‘success’-flavoured sponge iced with masculine pride? Calm down lad.

    1. Agatha_31*

      Right? That is just weiiiiird on so many levels and yeah, the genders involved just make him look that much more… well, more someone I’d be side-eyeing for a *long* time and wondering what other, actually important work areas he might cheat in if he decides you’re competition he can’t ‘beat’ fairly. What the hell.

      1. Eron*

        I don’t think the gender has anything to do here. You have a “competition” and someone is apparently taking it too seriously. That isn’t something that is unique to any population group; and gender doesn’t make someone look worse.

    2. Lady Blerd*

      This is the kind of thing that triggers my inner rules follower. He would on my crap list forever and a day

    3. Jan*

      I worked in an office with an INSANE bake sale every year. People went batshit over this and you only won bragging rights and I think maybe a $25 gift card. But people would plan and slave for hours. A woman in my department won one year and I lost and she taunted me about this for weeks. I’m a fairly sane person but I swear by the end of this I wanted to punch her in the face or cry. It had a weird sort of “traditional gender role” feel too it where it was like “You may be working women but at least you’re also good in the kitchen so we know you’re keeping your husband’s fed.”

      And every year this damn bake sale came and went and competition was brutal and those who won would just gloat. I honestly did consider going and getting something made by the end of my time there just to shut them all up.

      1. FormerEmployee*

        I know you can’t say this, but I would have been so tempted to tell the gloating winner the following:

        “It’s nice to know you’re good at something!”

      2. Specialk9*

        Yeah, this is a competition I wouldn’t want to even enter. I’ll gladly praise the skill of anyone who bakes me cake though! (Most anyone, so long as they’re not unkind or creepy.)

    4. oranges & lemons*

      Yeah, I don’t get it either, unless there’s a significant prize attached. Hope you savour the feeling that a cake that you physically carried into the building won a contest!

      1. teclatrans*

        See, when you put it that way, I wonder if it’s more about slapping down the usual winner, bringing her low.

        1. Anna*

          There’s weirdly a lot of pride associated with these casual contests. At one of the places I worked we did a for-fun departmental writing contest. There were rules, words you had to use for extra points, two judges who didn’t know who wrote what, and a very innocuous prize (like a $5 coffee card or something). We held it three times. I won every time, which was really an affront to the guy who had an MFA and was working on his great American sci-fi novel.

          1. many bells down*

            I entered a writing contest in an online forum once, and a woman who didn’t won any of the prizes posted a long rant about how the contest was CLEARLY rigged, because she didn’t win anything and her “uncle, Stephen King” had written her entry. Which, first of all, if he HAD she’d have been disqualified anyway. And secondly, there’s no way Stephen King makes that many grammar errors in a 400-word story.
            She was lying of course, both about the entry and that King was her uncle. It was super bizarre and the only prizes were items for the online game that hosted the contest.

    5. Plague of frogs*

      Well, sure, Stuart is a tool. But if this office manipulates his ego correctly, they could get a lot of free cake out of him. I’m thinking they should declare a tie and have a “bake-off.” Maybe repeatedly.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, one of my old workplaces had a cookie baking contest, and the winner used store-bought dough. It became the source of gripes about cheating for years.

    Which is to say that it would probably be helpful to let the organizer know, and it might help if folks are willing to take a step back emotionally from the contest.

    1. paul*

      We had an office chili cookoff for 3-4 years…the winner was a person that’d go buy a gallon or so of Wendy’s chili and add some extra spices.

      Can’t say it made me feel good about my chili recipe!

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        We have an annual soup contest that someone won a few years back with a package of “just add water” mix. It’s referred to as the soup-doping scandal or soup-gate, as the contest is held in conjunction with the Super Bowl. OP do keep in mind that cake decorating & baking might not be the same skill, but if he’s talking it up enough people will probably hear about it to not need any intervention.

      2. JamieS*

        So what I’m getting from that is you work in an office where not one person has a good chili recipe that they’re willing to share.

        OP #1 I’m going to go against the grain a bit and say that unless the prize is something reasonably considered a major prize let it go. Assuming this isn’t symptomatic of a larger issue with Stuart this doesn’t seem like a thing you need to make a stand on or regulate.

        1. paul*

          Oh, I agree it doesn’t really rise to the level of being truly upset about it.

          I was just bummed/slightly ashamed that Wendy’s beat me out 3 years running.

          1. Snark*

            That strikes me as an instant DQ. Sorry, if you’re not making the chili yourself, you don’t get to run.

            1. Eron*

              I don’t get this whole “cheating” thing; but perhaps it is because I work in an office where people routinely and openly bring store-brought food (think Costco cake-still in the plastic box with the price tag on it).

              I always thought the point of these things (bake sales, pot lucks, competition, etc.) was to get sweets at the office.

              1. Kyrielle*

                Potlucks or bake sales yes, but competition usually has a prize (generally small) for the winner. If this were a bake sale or a potluck, I don’t think there’d be any complaints about a professional making the cake (and if I were bringing a cake to a potluck, everyone is better off if I bought it or at least used a mix, because it would be a better cake, most likely).

                But for a contest, it’s like entering writing you actually got your friend the professional author to write – it’s cheating. (Even if the prize is tiny, or even if it’s only bragging rights, it’s still cheating – and a lot of people (me included) have hair-trigger ‘hey, no fair!’ reactions to that.)

              2. Mookie*

                When they frame it is a competition that will result in prizes, the competition is almost never about Who Can Afford to Overpay for Something (Likely of Dubious Quality), but about demonstrating personal skills in pastry. Otherwise, yeah, you’d just have a rotating (preferably opt-in) roster.

            2. many bells down*

              I feel similarly about Halloween costume contests. Like the one year my daughter’s handmade “Jane from Tarzan” ensemble lost to a kid whose parents had $200 to blow at the Disney store.

          2. Cleopatra Jones*

            Well, if it’s any consolation Wendy’s chili, McDonald’s fries, and all other fast food are basically made in labs. Companies spend millions of dollars a year to research, create, and trademark the specific flavor of their products.
            So it’s not like yours is terrible, it’s just that theirs is engineered to specifically be distinct, and to get you to fork out money to purchase it because you can’t recreate the flavor. It’s why the french fries that you make at home with real potatoes will never taste like McDonald’s french fries.

            1. Mookie*

              Yep. Cake box mixes embody this rule — you have to know something about food science to replicate that classic crumb and tenderness while imparting actual flavor — as do emulsions (real butter, for example, is rarely a pure, “buttery” flavor after baking without some added reinforcements). Palates accustomed to corporate food seek out textures and flavors that satisfy those particular cultivated tastes and people will often subconsciously judge scratch-made food of better quality and created by a defter hand with these expectations in mind, even when something subjectively superior is on offer. It’s weird how many “hacks” and “dupes” of fast food there are out there when such food is readily available for purchase (though often marked up, of course).

          3. Kate 2*

            I agree with Cleopatra Jones. It’s a little like natural grown tobacco cigarettes vs manufactured cigarettes with all the addictive chemicals. Of course the latter are going to win out. Companies work really hard to make you want to eat and eat and eat their food. Nutrition and health never come into it.

        2. You're Not My Supervisor*

          That’s where I stand… I was wondering what the prize is. If you’re competing for “best cake baker” title and nothing else, who cares. If it’s a $200 gift card, I’m gonna be salty if someone cheats.

          1. Phish*

            I agree with this. I can see how it would bother you but unless it’s a big prize and a huge deal I would just let this go. I think there’s a higher risk of coming across negatively (either a little petty/rigidity of rules/tattletale) in what I think is supposed to be a fun event for very little upside.

          2. Grapey*

            Same here. I’d be excited to see what a pro cake looks like if it’s just for the fun of it, but if there’s a real prize attached then I’d be more hesitant.

          3. taco_emoji*

            I dunno… to me, cheating for money at least falls in the normal realm of human fallibility — like I can empathize with the motivation if not the action. But cheating just for a pat on the back is pretty disturbingly antisocial in my book.

            1. Mookie*

              He can save himself a ding in his reputation if he still brings the food for people to enjoy but exempts himself from the competition altogether. I shouldn’t hold my breath, though.

      3. Mockingjay*

        We had a chili cook-off last year. I created a vegetarian chili and a coworker did a marvelous one with beef tips. The guy who won had chili that tasted like a can of Hormel.

        1. Snark*

          My neighbor lost a green chile contest to a guy who put basil in his. BASIL. A zombie army of New Mexican grandmothers will haunt him forever.

              1. Snark*

                Basil in green chile. BASIL IN GREEN CHILE. And not even fresh! No, it was like a handful of dried basil, so it tasted like dusty licorice and confusion. And he used canned chiles.

                1. paul*

                  those of us not in NM are sometimes stuck with canned green chile’s :( It’s sad but true. Though if I make it back over this year I’m stocking up on dried ones.

                2. Snark*

                  I have found that the 505 brand ones in the glass jars are pretty acceptable, but ever since we moved back to Colorado, I just cram the freezer with the ones they roast at the garden center in my neighborhood. I’m SO spoiled.

          1. Lissa*

            Can you explain to this new cook why basil in chili is bad? I make chili a lot typically just from random online recipes and want to make sure I don’t do something horrific….

            1. Monsters of Men*

              I’m Indian and I use basil a lot in my cooking so I’m assuming it just doesn’t belong, flavour wise, in chili.

            2. Natalie*

              “Green chili” is a specific variety, unsurprisingly made with green chiles. Basil would just be weird, taste-wise.

            3. Snark*

              Basil would be a weird flavor in just about any chile, but the green chile stew I’m referring to is a traditional New Mexican stew of pork, potatoes, and green New Mexican chiles, and basil just has absolutely no place at all in the flavor profile. It’d be super weird. It’s a rustic fall stew from the desert, and the traditional seasonings would be more northern Mexican – a bit of cumin, black pepper, Mexican oregano, maybe some cilantro if you need an herbaceous kick.

              Don’t get me wrong – I love basil, but not in Latino food.

              1. Specialk9*

                Dammit Snark, when are you publishing your recipe book?! I don’t even have a grill but even so…

                So hungry

        2. ClownBaby*

          This happened at my company last year. My chili (I found it most delicious), I will admit, was more for “foodie” people, certainly not appealing to the masses (rosemary lamb)..but one of my coworkers made a much more traditional chili that was delicious, and got beat out by what I thought tasted and looked like canned, store-bought.

          1. Mookie*

            I kind of hate how results like that reveal that some people don’t want something new or better or provocative; they want the same old thing they always had but in smaller batches. Like, they believe every chef’s aspiration is to replicate and achieve the dizzying heights of the world’s best chef, Snr Boyardee.

      4. cornflower blue*

        We also had a yearly chili cookoff, and one of the judges PITCHED A FIT upon finding out that a contestant had used meat obtained by hunting instead of only grocery-store bought. I don’t think it was a sanitation issue, I think she was just freaked out to discover that she’d eaten squirrel. (Judges were screened for allergies, but actual specific ingredients were withheld until after judging to avoid influence.) I can maybe see being taken aback if this was a slick ad agency in Manhatten, but this is a “get your hands dirty” industry deep in the heart of Redneck Country.

        1. Purplesaurus*

          I wouldn’t be freaked out that the meat was hunted, but that it was a freakin’ squirrel! WTF!

          1. Horse Lover*

            Oooooo, my grandma’s squirrel and dumplings are the best. You’d never know it wasn’t chicken unless someone told.

          2. Kathleen Adams*

            My husband grew up eating squirrel. He says it’s not his fav but it’s OK. I’ve never had it, but honestly, in chili, you can hide almost any meat with the possible exception of, say, whale.

            1. Anna*

              I think that was kind of the point of chili, right? Make something palatable from something that might not be great?

          3. Specialk9*

            I would eat squirrel chili any time I could. It’s illegal in the US to buy hunted meat (specifically venison, I’m not actually sure about others), and no hunters I know wanted to barter what I had. Talk about the ultimate humane animal life, no feedlots.

            1. Candi*


              In some states (hi!) wild meat can be legally sold.


              The seller is a licensed seller of wild meat.

              There’s a butcher over in (city) that’s been in business for years that has such a license. For a fee, they dress game. They’ll take meat (usually venison) in lieu of money.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I’m sure they just asked “do you have any food allergies,” but in my head, each judge was presented with a checklist of things they might be allergic to, including squirrel, and I prefer this scenario.

          1. cornflower blue*

            I didn’t realize until the first competition how many stealth ingredients end up in chili (chocolate, coffee, honey, sherry, beer, and anchovies were all news to me) so vetting people for allergies is doubly important for an “anything goes” type of food like this.

            But I wish I could confirm that you are correct, because that would have been amazing.

            1. Nolan*

              Seeing anchovies in your list just made me wonder if fish sauce would be a good addition to my usual chili “recipe” (it’s a very “play it by ear” process for me) Hmmm… I may need to experiment this weekend.

        3. paul*

          …I’ve eaten squirrel. It’s fine. What was their issue? Deep fried and served with some gravy and it is positively awesome.

          1. EddieSherbert*

            I didn’t think it was common, and I’d probably feel kind of weird about it… but I also totally would eat it just to say I’ve eaten squirrel. lol

            1. Jesca*

              It is not common. But at a past job a guy brought in some dish made with squirrel and didn’t tell anyone about it until afterwards. I don’t eat potluck lunches anymore without knowing what it is. I just can’t eat squirrels!

              1. Broadcastlady*

                Super common in my area. I host a call in swap shop on radio, and people call in both looking for and selling squirrels for the meat. Opossum is also commonly eaten here.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                I could. They like to commit suicide on the electrical transformer behind my house and it’s hella annoying. Come be my lunch, you little saboteur.

                @Broadcastlady below; I wouldn’t eat opossum. I hear the meat is pretty greasy, plus they are harmless beneficial animals and I like them.

            2. AngelicGamer*

              ^ I’ve done this with eating sheep brains. It was delicious (BBQ hole in the wall place in Evanston, Indiana with the sauce on the side) and now I can go “mmm brains” for real at people.

          2. ExceptionToTheRule*

            Depends on where you live. If it’s an area where people do a lot of subsistence hunting, then it’s pretty common actually. And there are parts of America where people do subsistence hunting. A deer or two for a family of four is a winter’s worth of meat.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Yep. An ex-bf grew up like this, along with other families in his very rural area. Game wardens looked the other way because they knew hunters had kids to feed and weren’t out just for sport.

            2. cornflower blue*

              Squirrel doesn’t seem like a good ROI to me, like fishing for guppies. But I get that subsistence hunters take what they can get, and hunters who are trying to be good stewards of the environment would probably concentrate on nuisance animals.

              1. Natalie*

                Squirrels are really only nuisance animals in cities. In the woods where they belong they are a part of the ecosystem and are preyed on by smaller predators like hawks, coyotes, bobcats, etc.

            1. LavaLamp*

              I couldn’t eat squirrel due to a squirrel I follow on Instagram ( Tintin the European Red squirrel for anyone curious) He’s too adorable.

              I’d probably be okay with deer, or moose or something like that. I just have problems with people who hunt animals that aren’t generally hunted. Like mountain lion. And I’d want to know because it’s just rude to feed somebody something that’s not generally a food that people eat in your area.

          3. Cercis*

            I think it depends upon where you’re from. Where I grew up? It is a very commonly eaten meat, along with deer, wild turkey, duck and quail (and probably other things that could easily be hunted but that we don’t want to know about including opossum, raccoon and bobcat). Sunday dinner in my family was typically either catfish or squirrel (my grandpa hunted, fished and trapped).

        4. Wednesday*

          Bear. Have you ever had bear roast and then had the leftovers in chili? Venison is like tofu in comparison.

        5. Trout 'Waver*

          Venison Chili is the best I’ve tasted, but I do want to try wild boar. I bet that makes some mean chili.

          1. paul*

            Wild boar can be challenging; the older ones tend to be very gamey and flat taste bad. Not to mention the parasite loads.

            That said, some of the best ribs I’ve had have been from moderate sized (think sub 250 lbs or so) wild pig.

            1. Anna*

              Mmmm…parasite loads.


              I think that would be my issue with eating squirrel. It’s a wild animal and who knows what sorts of things it’s got going on?

        6. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          My stuffed bunny is also named Bunny. I don’t even have the excuse of being fairly young when I got her– I think I was eleven or twelve. Her original name was Floppy, but it didn’t stick. I also had a big pink bear named Pink Bear (I got her when I was 3, though). Clearly creative names were not my forte.

        7. Anna*

          This is how I feel about blood sausage. One of my favorite stews is a bean stew called fabada from northern Spain. It is so good. There are a bunch of different pork-based meats in it, including blood sausage. It’s rich and tasty and yeah, I’ll totally eat blood sausage on a cracker.

          It helps that I can call it morcilla complete with the “th” sound and most people don’t know what it is.

        8. einahpets*

          My daughter’s favorite stuffed animal is a stuffed bear named… Bear.

          She was the first grandchild on both sides of the family and so she got a TON of stuffed animals. I had bought three Christmas cards at the grocery store and got this stuffed bear as a free gift. This is the only stuffed animal she has latched onto. My youngest also loves this bear and they will frequently be in the midst of trying to stealthly (as stealth as a preschooler or toddler can be, anyways) steal the bear from the other and hide it in their room. I’ve tried other bears to no avail. This is the only bear for both of them.

      5. Elizabeth West*

        We had one of those at Exjob. God, I loved chili day. That was also my allowed enormous chili dog lunch day. To my knowledge, nobody ever cheated, though I suppose that could have happened.

    2. Circus peanuts*

      I would check the rules first. It might be okay to enter as a team so if Stuart signs the entry Stuart and Leroy, it might fly.

      I work in a library and we always have an edible book competition each spring. You are supposed to bring in food with a book theme. I once used Duncan Hines cake mix and won best tasting entry that year and it was okay. Best tasting was one of the minor wins though, it was almost like an honorable mention. I honestly wouldn’t voted for it though because each year, strangely enough, someone would enter an orange flavored cake and decorate it like a clock for Clockwork Orange. JMO, orange flavored cakes should always win over a standard flavor like chocolate but that year was the first that didn’t have an orange Flavored cake. Another year, I entered a bowl of funyons with a Jesus statue in the middle of the bowl for Lord of the Rings and no one batted an eye over my laziness. It helped that the higher ups encouraged a lot of entries so the could charge patrons to help judge.

      1. Circus peanuts*

        I forgot to add, a library patron entered a pizza that he had ordered from a pizza chain that he had told what kind of toppings would go on it and how to arrange them for if I remember correctly honored Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. People loved it and he got an honorable mention.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          These seem different to me, because what’s being judged is more the cleverness of concept than the execution. Flavor is more an execution thing, and you said that “best tasting” was only a minor award in your case. The big ones, from what I can tell, all went for cleverness of idea.

          It’s ok to get help executing if they’re primarily judging you on concept, just as it’s okay to work from a published recipe if they’re primarily judging you on execution… it’s less okay, in my eyes, to get help with the part which is primarily being evaluated.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Gah, I used to bake homemade cakes for all the family birthdays. Then for once I used a box mix because I got lazy, and people were all, “ This is the best cake evahhh!!!” It made me kind of irritated at the time, but now? Oh well, now I have my excuse to use Duncan Hines. I still make the frosting from scratch, though.

        1. Adlib*

          My coworker made whoopie pies recently, and her scratch cake recipe failed so she switched to a box mix which made them turn out wonderfully. She was pretty irritated about it too, but they were amazing!

        2. Xarcady*

          I know two people who decorate cakes professionally. One of them teaches cake decorating classes. Both use Duncan Hines cake mixes. Most scratch cakes are not as moist as mix cakes and people have become accustomed to the moistness.

          So even if this guy uses his nephew’s cake–it may look real pretty, but there’s a good chance it will be a box mix.

          Also, decorating skills do not necessarily translate to baking skills.

          1. XK*

            I’ll admit it – if I was entering an office contest, I would ask one of my amazing cake decorating friends to help. I am a great baker – my cakes are delicious! But they are ugly. :-)

            1. Sydney Bristow*

              Mine too! I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I should open a bakery, but it would have to be one of those evening bakeries filled with ugly, but yummy treats because I’m not getting up at the crack of dawn and I just don’t have the skills to make them pretty.

            2. Specialk9*

              Have you seen those rainbow or ombre cakes? 4-5 layers, each a different color. Ombre: deep colored up to a very light colored layer. Rainbow: red layer, orange, etc.

          2. ThatGirl*

            Hi so I work at a company that makes baking and decorating supplies and although we have plenty of recipes for from-scratch cakes, our pan sizes are mostly based on box mixes!

            And yes, being able to bake and being able to decorate are two different skill sets.

            1. Mookie*

              Do you do the mixes in-house or have someone manufacture for you a proprietary recipe? That wouldn’t be particularly surprising. Shortcuts like that are an industry staple for good reason. Buying them wholesale, though, doesn’t sound particularly cost-efficient.

        3. Anders*

          A friend and I were eating at a place around here known for it’s fancy cakes. My friend asked for the recipe for the cake slice we split. The waitress said it was Betty Crocker white cake, but shhh don’t tell anybody. My friend didn’t believe it, but we happened to be driving past the same place one night after it was closed, and we checked out the dumpster. The waitress was telling the truth. And that wasn’t the only not-made-from-scratch-on-premises item.

          Just this month there was a huge to-do over a trendy California restaurant that was serving a $12.95 chicken dish that was made with Popeye’s chicken. Many restaurants that serve a sauced baked chicken breast over rice/potatoes/mushrooms make it from frozen precooked chicken breasts from their meat supplier. Not all, but more than most people think.

      3. Emi.*

        Ha, my library’s contest was specifically for cakes, and they had three age groups: adults, kids, and family/team (which were usually the best!). Every year, there were at least two or three entrants who just painted the Twilight cover art on a slightly lumpy sheet cake, and not once–in five years–did anyone think to use a real apple.

      4. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

        I just want you to know I’ve been giggling for the last 5 mins at your “Lord of the Rings”. That is awesomely funny. You would have gotten my vote! hahaha.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Oh! “Lord of the RINGS”! I’ve been thinking “Lord of the FLIES” and I couldn’t figure out what the onion rings meant.

    3. CoffeeLover*

      It’s funny how people get up in arms about bake-off injustices, but seem to ignore real and important issues. Maybe it’s a funnel for frustration (get it…. funnel)?

      Stuart’s mistake is telling people about his plan. Maybe he thinks it’s better than taking the credit for himself? I’m sure he’s not the only one that will submit something baked by a family member or semi-store bought. With the others, people will be happy to give the award in blissful ignorance. With him, there may be office-wide outrage.

    4. Antilles*

      OP#1, one of my old workplaces had a cookie baking contest, and the winner used store-bought dough.
      Seriously? I love store-bought dough and use it quite a bit- it’s super simple, cost-efficient, and basically turns “making cookies” into a grand total of 5 minutes of actual work (put dough on sheet, go do something else, come back and take off sheet)…but the idea that a mass of people could legitimately vote for those over actual home-baked cookies is incredible.

      1. Purplesaurus*

        I don’t see anything wrong with store-bought dough, and I could understand someone who, like myself, does not bake thinking they are “making cookies.”

      2. MechanicalPencil*

        I just use store bought dough to go straight into my belly. That baking thing takes too long.

          1. JustaTech*

            Uh, be careful doing this. The eggs in the dough are pasteurized, but the flour hasn’t been, and raw cookie dough (specifically the flour in it) was the source of a nasty E. coli outbreak that was *really* hard to track down about 3 years ago. (Sorry to be a party pooper; I totally eat raw dough, but only the stuff I’ve made myself.)

            1. Specialk9*

              Oh is that why the King Arthur website makes such a big deal about flour being able to get one sick. I think it was overly cautious.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Seriously. I think the person bought something nicer than Pillsbury, but still something you could find in a normal grocery store.

        Personally I did not like the cookies, and someone brought an intense Nutella-stuffed chocolate chip cookie recipe that was suuuuper extra (but delicious in very small amounts). Third place was someone’s abuela’s wedding cookies (which they did not bake—they literally made their grandma bake them).

        The person who came in second was so mad. She tried to pretend she was over it and a good sport. But from time to time she would passive-aggressively ask the winner if their [legal brief / homemade lunch / hand-made birthday card] was also “store bought.”

        And guess what the prize was? Literally a piece of colored paper that you got to hang on your office door that said you’d won the “Summer 201x” cookie baking contest.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I’ve never worked in an office with any kind of cooking contest, and now I’m kind of glad, because I really am a very good pie maker, and if one of my pies lost to one made by someone who’d used canned filling or frozen crust or something, I would be pissed. Petty? You betcha. But that’s the truth. That the prize was only a piece of paper would me some small comfort, but only *small* comfort.

          But I’d mostly be mad at the judges. Philistines! :-)

      4. Mookie*


        Only for people who can’t afford to buy the staples in bulk* or who lack access to regular refrigeration.

        *the spectre of people pushing dried beans on other people like it single-handedly solves poverty and food insecurity rears its ugly, translucent head

      1. patricia*

        From reading the comments on this post it is apparent that there is a wide range of office cooking competition scandals. Hilarious. That be a great open thread.

      2. patricia*

        Gah, I read your post as referring to office “cookie” scandals and then basically restated your point. Complete with missing word typo. And now can’t edit or delete. Weekend needs to begin now, please!

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Oh, definitely. My most recent one is that several co-workers made a spontaneous contest out of our office’s admin-only potluck (held each semester on the day after grades are due, when the professors and doctoral students have gone until the next semester). One coworker got really mad that her homemade dish didn’t win, and that the dish that won was basically a hot pocket made from store-bought croissant dough, a package of sliced pepperoni, and a jar of store-bought spaghetti sauce. She was mad for two weeks!

      4. Midge*

        There doesn’t even need to be a content involved for feelings to be mildly hurt!

        I had a coworker who would bring in all kinds of from-the-box baked goods. I mean, they’re designed to taste good, so yeah, they’re enjoyable. They’re just low effort as far as baking goes. But the amount of gushing that people would do over her “baking” drove me mad. As you might guess, the treats I occasionally brought into the office were all lovingly made from scratch. I stopped bringing them because while people seemed appreciative of my stuff, they just would not shut about about what an amazing baker this other woman was. I had to stop for my own sanity and pride.

        1. Xarcady*

          And then there’s the people who ask what mix you’ve used to make your brownies, and are stunned when you tell them the brownies were made from scratch. They do not know that you can make brownies from scratch.

          I think there are people for whom baking only ever involves a box mix.

    5. Brooke*

      I am a known baker in my office. I once made five different types of brownies and asked my coworkers to taste test which one they liked best (I had a ranking and points system and everything).

      The two that tied for the win? My go-to from-scratch recipe and a box mix.

      1. Midge*

        It’s infuriating that those boxed brownie mixes are so good. Like, why can’t I crack the code to make superior brownies from scratch? Sigh.

    6. Smithy*

      I agree about bringing it up now. In an old job there were some holiday decorating competitions and the bad blood about winners/losers cut deep. How were winners chosen, were some decorating choices inappropriate, etc etc.

      I always thought that the size of the prize didn’t help (always felts a touch over generous for our sector), but clearly this kind of bad blood can spread regardless. So yeah…..sure it’s not huge, but if there’s a way to deal with this now, definitely do it.

    7. Mel*

      Ohhhhhh, you just gave me flashbacks to when I was put in charge of the church bake sale. Since I was a “young mom” I was given a Speech from a Older Church Lady about how the bake sale was supposed to be homemade treats, etc and that us young moms take shortcuts with store bought dough and pie crusts. I rolled my eyes and carried on.
      I promise you this, every damn slice and bake cookie I got that year was from someone on that board that decided I was in charge. And they were all 65 year old women. The “young moms” all brought in homemade stuff. I wanted to burn it all down.

  4. MK*

    #3, OP, I would advise that you change your attitude about this hire, because the vibe I get from your letter is that you want to hire him because he can do the job and you are purposefully ignoring anything that might be against him. Why were you (and you boss) not concerned about the interruptions in this guy’s resume? That’s a genuinely concerning thing, and trying to dismiss the people in the panel concerns by saying it’s not their job to evaluate work history? That’s really trying to find an excuse not to take their input into account on your part. Also, I don’t get why you asked for a single reference, and even made it easy on him to name anyone he wanted, but when that fell through, it should be doubly concerning.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      +1. You relaxed your reference requirements and he couldn’t meet them. Why are you so keen to hire him anyway?

      1. JamieS*

        In OP’s defense I don’t think they relaxed reference requirements, I think they didn’t have any to begin with.

        Speaking more broadly than just this specific incident, and not to sound too critical, but OP saying they felt uncomfortable even asking for a reference and that they basically put no stock in references doesn’t give me high hopes for OP’s hiring practices.

        1. Casper Lives*

          I hope OP thinks about what you said. My employer does not ask for nor check references. They’ve hired and quickly fired two people in the past few months, but haven’t changed their hiring practices. A lot of people can look good in an interview.

          1. 2 Cents*

            Yeah, we hired a guy who looked *fabulous* on the resume. I don’t think the people who hired him checked any references. He’s the biggest slacker I’ve ever met in my life. He’s been here less than 3 months, but every time the boss is out (vacation, off-site client meeting) he LEAVES. This is not normal for our office. Plus, everything he’s ever turned in, I get to go through with a fine-toothed comb because he has problems copying-and-pasting accurate information from one source to the next. *nightmare*

          2. Lil Fidget*

            I think there’s a lot of overlap between “slick guy who interviews well” and “useless guy who stinks at job,” actually.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Ugh, yes. Another item today on the list of things that make me irritated:

              1. People loving my box mix cakes sooo much more than they liked my from-scratch cakes.

              2. The fact that some people are so good at interviewing with no correlation (or inverse correlation) to how good they’ll be in the job, while I can’t figure out how to interview that well for jobs that I know I would do well. Some people are all jazz hands and no substance.

              1. LeRainDrop*

                “Some people are all jazz hands and no substance.” +1, LOL! Seriously, though, OP needs to probe much further on this candidate if she really wants to proceed with him. She seems strangely hesitant to read the flashing warning signs here.

                In my experience, the absolute worst employee I ever saw in my department was hired without our partner actually checking his references. He was fired after about 6 months due to his many different performance issues and inability to show any improvement after many instances of us providing him coaching and feedback talks that escalated in seriousness. Based on what we experienced with him, I can’t imagine that he didn’t have similar major problems with his prior employers, which would have been discovered by our partner if she had checked any references. Indeed, even after he was fired from my firm, and he knew that we had a very negative view of his performance, he still listed our partner as a reference for his next job applications! The next place that hired him never checked the reference with our partner. Had they done so, they would have heard her decline to be a reference (even though she would have wanted to give honest, negative feedback, the separation agreement prevents that).

        2. Jesmlet*

          In the 13 years of my company being open, I’m the only person whose references weren’t all reached and they decided to move forward with me anyway. They’re lucky I’m not a psycho because even I knew that was the wrong call. Two promotions in 1.5 years for me, but the majority of the time, such lax policies on reference checking ends up badly. Unless all you do is recruit people every day (I work for a staffing agency), your gut isn’t that fantastic at sussing out whether or not someone is a good worker.

        3. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker at OldJob who was a total pain in the butt. One day my boss is complaining about coworker to the lab manager, who very tartly informed boss that if he (boss) had talked to a single one of coworker’s references (including the lab manager!), then boss would have been told exactly how much of a pain coworker is.

          Then again, that boss should probably never have hired me, given I had zero experience at the specific skill he wanted me to do, but hey, learning experiences!

          1. 2 Cents*

            There’s a difference between hard skills, like what you didn’t have experience in, and soft skills, like “are you an annoying coworker”? I’d take the person who needed some training in the hard skills over someone who is royally annoying any day.

    2. Agatha_31*

      Yeah, all the things Op is trying to skip over seem like pretty rational issues to raise objections over. Op, you should be considering hires in the best interests of your company, not in the best interests of ‘a total stranger who may have made mistakes or who very equally possibly is just a bad employee who knows how to cover that with a pretty veneer and hope no one looks further.’

      1. Just employed here*

        The applicant may be totally able to do the job, and still totally unreliable and hopeless at actually getting it done.

      2. Lil Fidget*

        It was kind of interesting to get the other side of this perspective. I’ve often wondered what the hiring managers at my org were thinking when they make decisions that don’t make sense to me.

    3. Matilda Jefferies*

      I had the same thought – OP seems convinced that this person is the right one for the job, regardless of anything else that might come up. And I agree with Alison that you should definitely be doing more digging here, and really taking into account what you’re hearing.

      I was on a hiring panel once where we (collectively!) did this. We had a candidate that we all loved, and despite multiple red flags, we decided to hire her. During her first two weeks, she
      ~tried to get her position reclassified
      ~refused to acknowledge me as her supervisor
      ~made her coworker cry.

      And that was just the first two weeks! To put it mildly, she was a disaster. And if we had paid attention to some of the red flags we saw in the hiring process, we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble.

    4. SamKD*

      Another +1 here. I would run, not walk, away from this candidate. It is SO much easier to not hire someone iffy than to be stuck with a bad employee. The former means you’re short-staffed which is unpleasant, but a toxic employee can take down a whole department which is disastrous. Gaps in work history plus no references offered plus requested reference won’t sing praise equals Big Trouble.

    5. Candi*

      Here’s a story from when Alison -Alison!- almost didn’t check references, because the guy was just that awesome when interviewing:

      Good thing she finally did, though. Turned out the reason the guy had no references from his last two jobs is he’d stolen from his last two jobs!

      Add to that this quote from AAM commentator Brogrammer:

      “When you’re wearing rose colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”

      The guy’s skills have the glasses on you, LW. Take them off. For your and your company’s sake.

  5. I can do it!*

    #2 Nearly the exact same thing happened to me! I’d just moved and was exhausted, like, past the point where I was *really* functioning at work, and it seemed like the next day’s workday was going to be a lull in all my projects so I asked my boss if I could have the next day off, and he said yes. Afterwards I got an email like “it seems like you don’t want to be here.” I caught him in the hallway like, I’m sorry, I was exhausted and you said it was ok? I would not have taken the day if you thought we had too much to do? Also maybe talk to me in person?

    Keep an eye on this!! It was eventually revealed to me that the workplace was ultra-toxic (under a heavy veneer of This is a great place to work we are so laid back! (spoiler: they were not laid back)) and they wanted to discourage taking time off. Or I guess more specifically, they felt like we *shouldn’t* take time off but that they also *shouldn’t* deny it, so were just weird when you did. For me your boss’s behavior is a real big red flag.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      That is outstandingly passive aggressive. How dare you not know what we really meant! No, it’s FINE, nothing is wrong…

      And then to send you an email like that. Wow. I’m sorry you worked for people like this.

      However, your boss presumably didn’t share an email address with the entire company. I will reiterate my caveat that someone else could’ve sent this and signed off as the boss.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, I work with a guy who will be all “Take all the time you need, of course!” or “You’re doing just fine, don’t worry” and then five minutes later is telling everyone else how the person is missing too much time or screwing up. He is extremely impulsive, so it’s primarily about him thinking in the moment that of course you go home sick. Then someone asks him who’s going to cover, and suddenly there’s a negative consequence to him and AAAGH the sky is falling!

    3. Legal Beagle*

      Did we work at the same place? ;-)

      My old job didn’t like remote work but the CEO didn’t want to make a policy forbidding it (for reasons I never understood). So while technically it was allowed with manager’s approval, the subtext was that we just shouldn’t request it. One time I asked to work remotely for a specific day, and my boss looked at me and said, “Well…I don’t like to say no, so…” (long pause) Me: “So…yes?” Boss: “Yeah, ok.”

      I got the point and quit asking after that.

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, there are several red flags in your description of the candidate, but it sounds like you’re minimizing those issues or trying to excuse them. For example: (1) folks were concerned about job history, but it’s “not their job to assess work history”; (2) you’re disinclined to seek or check other managers or references, even though doing so is essential due diligence; (3) a reference refuses to serve as a reference; (4) the recruiter flagged the candidate based on their independent assessment of the situation.

    I think it could be helpful to go back to the core qualities you’re looking for in a new hire and to determine where there are gaps, unknowns, or potentially negative information. And if there are red flags, I think you should follow up with the candidate and ask him to explain or address those flags. How he responds will be telling (and should be accompanied by independent verification by contacting his managers, as Alison notes). There’s nothing to gain from ignoring these flags and everything to gain by confronting them head-on.

    It would be much worse to hire him on faith and then have to fire him, or to have to redo hiring, when you could have probed his issues during the hiring process.

    1. Emily Spinach*

      I noted the same things, and agree that dismissing the concerns of the other committee members is not wise. Why have a varied hiring committee if you’re not considering all their input?

      1. Kj*

        Because this team really needs this guy, so they want to overlook every red flag in a vain attempt to lighten their workload that will fail because something is fatally wrong with this hire?

        But that is just an educated guess…..

        1. MK*

          It’s equally possible that the candidate wowed the OP (and her boss) and they are willing to overlook much. Unfortunatelly, charm and charisma really can get you very far in life.

        2. Creag an Tuire*

          I’ll go ahead and bid for “The position underpays for the qualifications demanded, so they’re jumping on the first person with the skillset willing to take the job.”

      2. Antilles*

        Right. You don’t necessarily need to agree with all of their evaluations and it can be OK to move ahead even if committee members have concerns. But you don’t completely blow it off with “not your job”.
        Especially as part of the pattern PCBH has called out. If it was only “folks concerned about job history”, then you might have a case to write it off as “well, that’s not really an issue because of A, B, C”. But you can’t do that when it’s combined with all the other red flags.

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      I’m not sure what the hiring panel’s purpose is. I’ve participated in very few hiring processes where I could shape the decision, but I was never given a specific role. I knew I didn’t make the final decision, but my input on anything related to the candidate was asked for.

  7. Emily Spinach*

    I can imagine a situation where a spouse/partner regularly makes the employee’s contributions to potlucks and could end up doing the same for the baking contest, not with nefarious intent. So maybe the rules should be really clear about that (your small kids can help, but cakes must be mostly/all the employee’s own work! or similar), if they’re not already, which would also help some the nephew situation in this letter. Unless this guy fully doesn’t care about knowingly cheating, which is its own issue.

    1. Mes*

      Cheating at a small workplace cake competition is so bizarre. Is there even a prize? I would probably ignore it.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Interested in why a spouse would be different to anyone else, though. What about a casual fling who was a pro baker? What about someone’s parent?

          1. Roscoe*

            I completely agree. Where would you draw the line. I just brought up spouse first because I don’t think many people would have a problem if a married couple did it together, even if the other person technically did more. But they may have a problem with a roommate who is a profesional baker.

            1. Kate 2*

              Oh no that would definitely be cheating if a married couple did it together! Two people are not one person after all, married or not. Like, if I run the first half of a marathon, and my spouse runs the second half, vs one person running the whole thing. Two hands, two people’s years worth of baking experience and knowledge vs one person doing it all by themselves. It’s an unfair leg up on the competition.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            My SIL is married to a Michelin-starred chef, and his food advice is quite excellent. I feel like his help would be an immense leg up, unless he was literally just boiling water or setting a timer.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Well, one would hope it would be, but after reading about all the people preferring box mixes and pre-prepared items, I don’t know if I trust them to know good, chef-prepared food when they taste it.

              1. starsaphire*


                This whole thing just mystifies me. I mean, to me, store-bought cookie dough and dessert mixes taste awful and full of weird chemical flavors. I find myself wondering if the people judging the competition just… haven’t ever tasted homemade cakes/cookies/pastries?

                Maybe the preservative flavors taste normal to some people, and so when they taste a dessert without them, it’s missing something, and it doesn’t seem to be as good. That’s my best guess, anyway.

                Either that, or I’m just a food snob and have really weird taste buds. ;)

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            I mean, I’d love it if you brought food cooked by your significant other/neighbor/babysitter/aunt who happened to be an excellent professional chef/baker. But yeah, I’d consider it cheating if you entered their food in a contest and claimed it as your own.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I would say yes. I think there is a big difference between bringing something made by a family member to a potluck versus to a competition.

      1. CheeryO*

        Yeah, this. We have a really casual soup/chili contest every year in the fall, and I can’t imagine someone trying to institute rules around it. It’s just a fun thing. (Then again, we’re a pretty laid-back bunch. Cheating would not be met with drama, only with teasing the person in perpetuity.)

    2. many bells down*

      Hah my husband always wants to make stupidly elaborate things for his office potlucks. I’m like “kitchen’s that way babe.” I’m not making 4 dozen themed hors d’oeuvres for his co-workers.

    3. SarahKay*

      Seconded. Definitely make sure the rules are clear before the competition takes place. If you bring it up after the judging then the drama this will create will almost certainly be appalling.

  8. MilkMoon (UK)*

    LW2: Honestly, I’d be looking for a new job; not because this one can’t be salvaged, but because I’ve lost all tolerance for sh!tty managers. Rubbish people don’t deserve decent people, that goes for all areas of life. Be the un-dedicated flake he believes you are and fly to new horizons – with behaviour like this he’s not earning dedication.

    Probationary periods work both ways, many employers like to forget that!

    1. fposte*

      It looks like this is probably in the U.S., so there’s no legal probationary period and most people have at-will employment no matter how long they’re employed–you can look for a new job whenever you please.

    2. clow*

      This! I couldn’t agree more. Crap managers are everywhere and my tolerance for them is zero. Why should OP or anyone else stick around in a job with a manager like this? and this sort of thing is generally the tip of the iceberg.

    3. Happy Lurker*

      Absolutely look for a new job. I give kudos to manager/owner being 80 and still running his office, but it’s not a good one. He seriously just didn’t think about hiring a temp for upcoming vacation? Probably too newfangled like individual email accounts.
      Put that resume out there OP and good luck.
      Don’t forget to come back and update us!

  9. HannahS*

    LW1, petty as it may be, I’d be really upset by Stuart doing that. The whole point of these silly work competitions is that they’re not really about winning. They’re about seeing and enjoying people’s hobbies! Finding out who the dark horse competitor is! Eating cake! It’s good-natured. It’s, like, intramural baking. Stuart’s making the whole thing about winning AND he’s injecting dishonesty in a place where it’s so bizarre (not that it would be justified at higher stakes, but at least we’d all understand it a bit better). It just would ruin the fun for everyone. Also, what’s his plan? To unveil his gorgeous cake and then play it off as a prank? Or just hope that no one rats him out in the moment?

    As for talking to the organizer, I actually wouldn’t worry about coming off weirdly; if they’re going to the trouble of organizing it, they probably want it to go as planned. You can even acknowledge the awkward if it would make you feel more comfortable: “Hey Jean, I know this is a bit strange, but I overheard Stuart saying that he’s planning to cheat in the baking contest by having a professional make his entry. I wanted to let you know because I think that kind of thing really takes away from the fun of these friendly competitions.”

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Also, you wouldn’t be causing drama or creating a bad atmosphere, just mentioning the information.

      1. JamieS*

        Yeah, if I worked there, I wouldn’t be upset. From my POV his cheating just means more delicious cake for me. Possibly a selfish POV but I think there are some things a person can be selfish over and quality of cake offered for my consumption is one of those things.

      2. I Dodged a Ballet*

        Except that Stuart can bring in a gorgeous cake made my his nephew at any time, and people would maybe even oooh and aaah over it more when there aren’t other cakes around. He doesn’t need to bring one in at friendly contest time to show up everyone else. I think it violates the spirit of the event.

      3. HannahS*

        And if he was planning to go, “Hey, I got my nephew to make us this awesome cake” the LW wouldn’t have written in. Also, there will be nine other cakes, so let’s not pretend he’s doing this to give the office a treat. It’s not the same as when the office does a potluck and eh, I don’t feel like cooking so I buy yogurt cups to share. Although this is a strange thing to type at 2:30 in the morning, it’s not about the cake, it’s about the principle of the matter.

        Look, when I say that I’d be really upset, I don’t mean I’d go home and stew over how the crown should have been mine, all mine. I’d be irritated. But I’d still think that cheating at a work competition spoiled the fun, was really, really weird, and it would give me concerns about collaborating with him–if he’s this emotionally invested and willing to be dishonest in a recreational cake competition, is he someone that I can trust not to throw me under the bus if something goes wrong? Is he someone that will give me the credit I deserve? The people organizing the activity should care about that, because friendly competitions are meant to bring people together and to boost morale.

        1. sap*

          Yeah. There’s being competitive in a healthy way, like, I enjoy being recognized for my achievements when I win things for achievements I’m proud of, enjoy that I learn what elements of someone else’s (better) work I can learn from to improve my own work when I do not win, and, like, even if I think my work is the best and someone else doesn’t I have still learned something about how others assesses value in a given Thing.

          And then there’s wanting to win a cake competition for the sake of winning, and therefore bringing someone else’s cake. That’s, like, a dysfunctional need to be the best at all times as recognized by The Judge Of Best Stuff. That’s a person who will resent me for doing good work, if the boss doesn’t give that person more praise than I get. That’s a person who will blame me for anything that goes wrong so I look worse than he does, even if no reasonable observer would attribute the negative event to him either way (“unfortunately, we were unable to attend the conference because the airport flooded.” “But if sap had listened to me and booked the slightly earlier flight like I suggested, we might’ve gotten out in time anyway.”)

        2. Mike C.*

          I don’t think you have to be emotionally invested in something just to grab a cake made by someone else – in fact, just the opposite.

          1. HannahS*

            But if he doesn’t care, why bother to enter a competition at all? It takes literally no work to stay out of a competition that you don’t care about.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Actually, I think you have to be fairly emotionally invested in a competition to be willing to cheat on it. Now, I’d agree with you if every employee were assigned to bring a dessert – if I didn’t care, I’d buy something and be done with it. But this guy is going to the trouble of entering a contest. That doesn’t say “I’m not invested in this” to me.

          3. Mookie*

            A lack of emotional investment would entail expressing utter disinterest in participating. He wants to have his cake… and win it, too. :)

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          Look, when I say that I’d be really upset, I don’t mean I’d go home and stew over how the crown should have been mine, all mine. I’d be irritated. But I’d still think that cheating at a work competition spoiled the fun, was really, really weird, and it would give me concerns about collaborating with him–if he’s this emotionally invested and willing to be dishonest in a recreational cake competition, is he someone that I can trust not to throw me under the bus if something goes wrong?

          This, to me, is the bottom line. It’s such a peculiar thing to do – not earth-shattering, not cosmic-consequence-creating, but just plain weird and petty and dishonest for no good reason – that it would color the way I feel about him from now on.

        4. McWhadden*

          “And if he was planning to go, ‘Hey, I got my nephew to make us this awesome cake’ the LW wouldn’t have written in.”

          He has already been very open and forthcoming about who is making the cake.

          1. HannahS*

            And yet is also entering it into a competition under his own name and is continuing to do so after being told by several people that it’s cheating. Whether Stuart is obsessed with winning, or thinks this is a funny prank, or just missed the message on the nature of office competitions, his actions will upset people, and that should be avoided.

      4. Perse's Mom*

        So, we recently had something akin to this for Halloween. People made spooky cakes and brought them in. We got to vote for our favorite, the winner got a small gift card, and those of us in the office got to bid on them (proceeds going to charity).

        It would have been pretty awful if a dozen people worked their tails off to bake and decorate their own cakes just to have this guy show up with something his nephew made and professional decorated. It’s not in the spirit of the ‘competition,’ and it has a high chance of making the other bakers feel bad about their own contributions… and feel less than positive toward this overly competitive coworker.

        1. Mike C.*

          Feel bad about raising money for charity? That’s a strange outcome.

          Look, barring additional information (first prize is a new car, second prize is a set of steak knives and third prize is you’re fired) I think folks are putting too much emotional worth on this. This is the “extra-mild” taco seasoning of workplace sins. It’s cake.

          1. Fictional Butt*

            It doesn’t really matter whether you think the emotional worth people are putting into this is too much. This is the amount of emotion people are putting in. It’s data. You can’t just hand-wave it away.

            If I was Stuart’s coworker, him being petty enough to cheat at a cake baking contest would make me have concerns about working with him. Someone telling me “it’s just cake” would not alleviate those concerns.

            1. wickedtongue*

              Yes, it’s a character issue. People who are so bizarrely invested in a friendly contest that they cheat (and brag about it) inevitably have other issues. I’ve seen this play out in person –a costume contest cheater (who bragged about having a professional make-up artist “friend” while not actually doing a real costume…he sulked when he didn’t win, tho) who turned out to be secretly mounting a campaign of harassment (sexual and otherwise) against several friends and acquaintances.

          2. Purplesaurus*

            Lost it here and third prize is you’re fired and died here This is the “extra-mild” taco seasoning of workplace sins.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            Mike, I’m starting to suspect you’ve entered someone else’s cake in your deep dark past…

            It’s not about the cake. It’s about dishonesty.

            1. Purplesaurus*

              It’s dishonest if Stuart were trying to pass someone else’s cake off as his own without telling anyone. Instead, he’s been open about it. So it seems to me more about what’s permissible in the unwritten rules of the workplace bake-off than a matter of ethics.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                Well, that’s true. I was under the impression that Stuart was going to enter the cake as his (I wouldn’t call mentioning it to “a couple” of people being open.) But if he’s being completely honest, and announcing that the cake is being made by a semi-professional baker, that’s a different issue. And if that’s what he plans to do, I still think it’s odd, and it’s completely missing the point of a friendly office competition.

                1. Purplesaurus*

                  I agree it’s a little odd. But maybe this is the only way he can participate? Who knows. But I guess it would change things a bit if he enters and stops mentioning that his nephew made it.

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  But maybe this is the only way he can participate?

                  Well, not participating is always an option…

              2. Mookie*

                No, a competition, by definition, has specific parameters. Whether or not they’ve been formalized here is irrelevant, because the OP is abundantly clear about what the universal expectations are, and they include making your own cake. Merely entering a competition with the knowledge that you’re going to cheat is dishonest. It doesn’t matter that he’s rubbing people’s noses in it; that makes the dishonesty worst, not non-existent.

          4. Grad student*

            I don’t think Perse’s Mom meant feeling bad about their monetary contributions, but about their cake contributions (which are presumably creations people are initially proud of).

          5. Stop That Goat*

            I don’t think it’s unusual for folks to become somewhat emotionally invested in a creation that they spent both their time and money on. Personally, I know that when I cook anything for other people, I’m invested in making sure they enjoy it. That holds even more true when you involve a competition.

          6. fposte*

            I think it would still bug me. It would bug me if somebody cheats at company softball or Rosie Ruizes their way through a company 5k to win, too. (It also makes me cringe a little at working with the person.)

            1. HannahS*

              Yeah. It’s just a question of “my coworker is planning to engage in poor sportsmanship, should I tell anyone and try to have him stopped?” Holds true for pretty much every work recreation activity.

          7. Frank Doyle*

            But I don’t think you’re seeing the same point that a lot of us are, which is that it’s not the cake, or the prize, it’s a friendly competition, and by flouting the rules he’s defeating the entire point of the competition. As can be seen here, if he goes through with it and wins, and is found out, it’s going to create a LOT of ill will in the office, even if there are a few people like you, Mike C, who don’t care. Because there WILL be people who do care.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yes, and I think it would be a kindness to the woman that OP said was expected to be the main contender to mention it. She might care a lot but as the expected front-runner, she might not feel comfortable complaining for fear of seeming petty. So if someone else brings it up and gets the rules clarified I bet she would appreciate it.

              Or maybe she doesn’t care at all, we obviously can’t know. But the fact that she *might* is worth bringing it up to me!

          8. Parenthetically*

            I 100% think that cake slicer slices both ways, though, you know? If it’s such a small thing, it costs him nothing NOT to enter under false pretenses. The way to make this no-drama is to say to him with a grin, “Nice try, pal — bring whatever you want, but only cakes baked by the entrant will be scored in the competition. We’ll totally enjoy eating your nephew’s awesome cake, though!” Sure it’s not the biggest office sin, but it’s irritating, and a really stupid hill to die on — what does he get out of it? The satisfaction of winning on someone else’s merit? The satisfaction of seeing everyone else NOT win? That’s pretty uncool.

            (Also it just occurred to me that if Neffy makes cakes for a living/side hustle, it’s extra uncool to ask him to bake a cake to be entered in a competition under someone else’s name. That’s not even asking him to Do It For The Exposure, man!)

          9. Not So NewReader*

            I dunno, Mike. I think that if people are not having fun then cancel the event. This is not sounding like a lot of fun to me. Any time there is a competition though, some people are going to be more competitive than others, it’s the differences in people really.
            I am just wondering why someone doesn’t tell Stuart, “Look we take our cakes seriously here. It has to be done by the employee alone, from scratch with no outside help.” It’s pretty straightforward to say that. Matter of fact, letting people know what the perimeters are before the contest is probably the best way to diffuse many issues. I am not a big fan of “we will tell you AFTER you did something that you should not have done it that way.” I would not expect Stuart or anyone else to have ESP.

            1. Mookie*

              Agreed. He’s privileging the pleasure he’s getting out of ruffling feathers over permitting his colleagues to have fun in a way and by means they’ve agreed to. He’s a spoilsport. It’s not enough that they want to enjoy themselves and that he’s invited to do so if he’ll behave; he wants to misbehave and he wants everyone to be delighted with that and with him. It’s narcissistic.

      5. babblemouth*

        The litmus test here is: Would Stuart still bring that cake if it wasn’t a competition? If this was just a giant cake-eating day, would he get out of his way to do this? Because the Candices of this world totally would, but I don’t think that Stuarts would.

        1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

          Does entering a professional decorated cake into a casual office competition sound like something a villain in a Reese Witherspoon movie would do?

          And there’s our answer.

          1. SarahKay*

            And there’s my coffee on my keyboard! Also, this really is the perfect litmus test for bad behaviour.

        2. Decima Dewey*

          Stuart seems to be making the assumption that his cake decorator nephew can make a delicious cake. Which may or may not be the case. Some decorated cakes are beautiful, but the cake itself is mediocre and the pretty icing just tastes like Crisco.

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      I think it’s worthwhile mentioning if only for the organizers to think about what the competition’s purpose is and whether it’s getting too competitive… It could very well just be a Stuart issue but maybe other people have issues with the competition.

  10. onnellinen*

    With the candidate in letter #3, my first thought was “Oh man, this guy can’t even come up with a good, credible reason why his reference won’t work!”.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Indeed! “The candidate, after contacting the reference themself, discovered that this person was uncomfortable providing a reference.“ But why? And why didn’t they tell you, letter writer? Are you sure they even exist? Why is this not more troubling to you?

      I’m scratching my head trying to think what skills or qualities you could possibly assess so fully in an interview that references cease to matter or that red flags stop registering.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, there are a lot of things you can’t evaluate in an interview. For example, the candidate:
        – only replies to emails from people above him in the org chart
        – punched a coworker
        – stole from her last 3 employers
        -sexually harassed coworkers
        – borrowed thousands of dollars from coworkers and made no attempt to pay it back
        – consistently missed deadlines

      2. EddieSherbert*

        And honestly, to me, checking with your references before giving their information out is such a BASIC and commonly known thing – like “don’t wear sweatpants to the interview” level thing – I’d want to look into this guy more.

        Is he aware of office norms? Is he going to swear like a sailor when talking to clients? Is he going to loudly chew gum during meetings?

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          References can give some info like is he going to go to work regularly? I knew someone who had phenomenal skills with the actual job tasks (computer programming). He probably could demonstrate them on the spot, too. He was a super nice guy and affable… However, he was routinely fired from jobs because he just stopped showing up and didn’t tell them anything.

      3. MicroManagered*

        Yes. Because if it *was* one of the few good reasons not to give reference, the candidate would be eager to tell you so. (Good reasons being: The company has a strict policy against giving references—I worked for one where it was a HUGE no-no for managers to give references. What a dumb policy, but it’s a thing. The reference, by some twist of fate, is up for the same job and the candidate didn’t know it—happened to a friend of mine.)

    2. Nolan*

      To put this in perspective OP3, my job was hiring a while back and my managers interviewed a guy who was great on paper and did great in his interviews. They were planning to hire him. But when asked for references, he couldn’t produce a single one. And that was the end of the road for his candidacy.

      When I was a manager for a geek convention, part of our volunteer “hiring” procedure was to check references. You/your boss should reconsider your approach to hiring, your current system seems like you’re screening for warm bodies, not reliable employees.

  11. Library Fairy*

    Funny story, related to #1.

    When I was in high school my student orgnization hosted a cookie bake off fundraiser. The idea was it was free to enter, you just had to bring 4 dozen homemade cookies and students could pay $1 to sample all the cookies and vote for a winner. It was a neat idea, but unfortunately we had way more people interested in eating than baking. So my teacher asks us involved in the orgnization to enter the compensation so we’d have enough entries. No problem, I like baking, and seriously doubt I will win this. Only with so much going on right then I didn’t have time! My mother stepped in and baked 4 dozen of my favirote family recipie cookie and I entered them into the contest. Imagine my surprise and dismay when “I” won first place! That certificate still lives in her home office.

    Fast forward about 7 years, I’m living with my parents after college when my mom asks me to whip up a dessert for her to take for the office Halloween party. What my mom hadn’t realized when we asked me to make dessert was that it was a contest for best Halloween dessert. The “boo berry” cheesecake bars were a huge hit and took home first prize. I treasure “my” pie server award.

    Long story short, both my mom and I are prize winning bakers for contests entered in the others name.

    1. jmm*

      We had an employee fun day, with lunch outside, a band, etc., and part of the fun was a pie baking contest. Some employees baked pies, a group of food science department employees judged the pies, and everyone got to eat the pies.

      I was the organizer of the fun day, and was worried we would not have enough pies submitted for the number of people who would be expecting to eat pie, so I baked a lemon meringue pie and a coconut cream pie. I’ve been baking for years and was food editor of a small newspaper at one point, so most things I cook taste pretty good. Unfortunately, I got busy and didn’t tell the judges to leave my pies out of the judging. All the pies were submitted anonymously, and guess who won first and second place? Me… That was one of my top five most awkward work moments…I’m sure everyone at the fun day figured I’d cheated/bribed my way into winning the pie competition.

  12. Casper Lives*

    1: I don’t think approaching the organizer would cause drama at all as long as you’re calm about it.

    A baking contest sounds fun. I wonder if my office would be interested.

    1. Adlib*

      I’ve been thinking of suggesting one at my office solely because a field supervisor bragged about his cheesecake, and now I need to know just how good it is.

    2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      My old office did a different seasonal cooking contest each quarter (e.g. winter=soup, spring=salad, summer=cold dessert, fall=pie) and people voted by putting $ in jars (we used the proceeds to donate to a different charity each month). It was a blast and so many amazing dishes were created. I swear I expanded my recipe catalogue 100x working there

  13. KR*

    Can I just say that your whole department sharing one email sounds awful, not-flaky employee. How bizarre of your boss, and to be so obvious about it.

  14. nnn*

    I feel like everyone would be happier if the focus of the cake competition were changed to “YAY, we get to taste all kinds of different cakes!”

    1. Mookie*

      A former workplace sort of had that kind of eating competition! First round, one-half of the department blind taste-tested samples and then with their sight restored as a group tried to identify based on looks which was which, involving the identification and parsing of ingredients and guessing at whether the samples were constructed to look deceiving or otherwise belie their flavor. Second round, another one-quarter competed individually to describe, accurately and in detail, what each sample tasted like to the remaining one-quarter, who then ate them and decided, on a points system, who described each sample best.

      It worked because (a) GOOD FOOD NOM NOM and everyone had a bit of everything and (b) everybody got to do what they wanted to do. The last group of people just wanted to eat and enjoy themselves (judging things subjectively felt more relaxing to them), while allowing the hyper-competitive, very verbal co-workers to participate in the second group and everyone else in a more straightforward, objective challenge (you either match the sample with the taste or you don’t) requiring teamwork, shared knowledge, and blindfolds.

      It was a little involved, but ran smoothly because it was an idea we’d developed together based on what we were all good at and who we liked working with. And it turned out to be bonding and moralizing, rather than divisive in that way.

  15. Chocolate Teapot*

    5. I first entered the world of work just after the internet became common. I still remember printing CVs and snail-mailing to employers. Normal paper is 80g per square meter so I would use 90g in order that my applications would look and feel better quality.

    In general, I always understood the rule to be apply as shown in the advert and no circumnavigation. Even so an extra supply of CVs at interview was a good idea.

  16. RG*

    You know, being too young to remember things is happening is often, but I have to say: there’s a right (and subsequently wrong) way to fold a resume?

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      You could fold it up like a cootie catcher/fortune teller, or one of those paper triangles we’d play “table football” with at lunch. Or just wad it into a ball and stomp on the envelope until it was mostly flat.

      (I guess I’m too young, too, unless the answer is just “neatly, in close-to-thirds” like you’d fold regular business correspondence?)

    2. Al Lo*

      I think I remember learning that an accordion fold (so the address is showing on the top) was a business fold, and a fold-both-sides-toward-the-middle fold into thirds (where all of the content on the front of the paper is on the inside of the fold) was for personal mail only. So, by that logic, a resume should be folded the first way, not the second?

      1. Frank Doyle*

        Ohhhhhhh. That makes sense, and I had never really thought of that before! Oh man how embarrassing, I’ve been folding my business correspondence wrong all this time!

        1. Jennifer M.*

          I took typing in high school for one of my practical arts credits. This was in the ’90s. When they were able to, the school tried to schedule it in the computer lab so it was really a keyboarding class, but sometimes depending on how they could get yearbook advisors (yearbook was a class), there would be scheduling conflicts and the typing class was in the old typing classroom using electric typewriters. I took it in the typing classroom. Because of that class, I am a whiz if you ever need someone to fill out one of those forms that is on pressure sensitive paper to make multiple copies. Anyway, in addition to learning how to touch type, we learned how to format personal and business business correspondence, including how to fold the paper so the address would be visible through a window envelope in a business size envelope, how to fold a letter that goes into one of those smaller envelopes, and so forth.

      2. Risha*

        There’s also a reverse C (so that the address is on top). And once in a great while the inner C is used for business mail, but in that case either the envelope isn’t window and is printed as well or (more typically) the address is printed on the back. In reality, how any given business folds their correspondence varies by culture, envelopes, required inserts, and machinery.

        Source: I program notices and letters professionally, and knowing which way a specific business and/or printer folds their output is essential for positioning the address correctly.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      Yup. Proper business three-fold. Google “How to fold a business letter” The first links describe the technique.

  17. Just employed here*

    I got my first real job in 2005, and I did the “email, then also print out and post” thing. I remember getting a paper cut while putting the thing together at the post office (of course with only one copy of each sheet) and blood dripping *almost* on the paper… That would have been a weird application — everything nice and correctly spelled, but with a few drops of blood like some passive agressive “hire me or else”.

    Once I got the job, I learned that I was the only applicant who had done this double posting thing. It didn’t help me get the job, I was actually only a runner up but ended up getting the job anyway when the chosen applicant had to decline after already accepting because of a family emergency. We knew all about him, and all the other applicants, because we reused the empty sides of the print outs of the application papers for months afterwards. Hello privacy and data security…

    1. nonymous*

      At an old job, the company started posting openings on craigslist as well. I remember one coworker who was hired because she was the only one to apply all three ways (responding to the craigslist ad as directed, submitting via HR electronically and snail mail). It turned out that HR was so bad at electronic stuff they were only processing the online submissions 1x/month but the hard copy ones were forwarded to the hiring manager right away.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I applied for a job a month ago where I had to print an application they sent me, fill it out, scan it, and email it back. Not allowed to bring it in, just send it back to a specific email. It was not a fillable form, hence the printing and scanning. Just a PDF of their application.

      The app asked for my SS# and had spaces for salary at each job. I left those blank, since I sent the application as a PDF attachment (because scan, hello) and email is not secure. I heard nothing back. However, I’m not exactly sorry–who does that?

  18. Junior Dev*

    #2 reminds me of a recent post on /r/relationships about someone whose partner would re-download the Tinder app every time they had a fight.

    It’s possible your boss is just extremely inconsiderate (and it’s worth talking about like Alison said) but if they’re truly advertising your job because you took a sick day that’s extremely not ok, and it makes me think they’re trying to hold it over your head to punish you.

    1. Look What You Made Me Do*

      I had to ban myself from looking at r/relationships because the posts would make me so mad. Why do people put up with this kind of thing? The first time someone pulled that kind of passive aggressive move on me would also be the last.

      1. TL -*

        Ugh I had a really passive aggressive friend (had, but she a good friend in many other respects) and she would always get mad and then act passive aggressively because, in her mind, once she was mad it became the other person’s job to fix it, entirely (including figuring out why she was mad and how to make it up to her.)

        She was really surprised when she got mad at me and I let the friendship end rather than deal with that….

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Passive aggressive SOs and passive aggressive bosses are all in the same league, The League of Move On.

  19. Perse's Mom*

    #2 and #3 are giving me various shades of anxiety and alarm.
    Having worked for a boss who prioritized deadlines over our health despite saying aloud oh how he wished coughs and sneezes were purple so he could see who was sick and send them home (while ignoring awful coughing (bronchitis and pneumonia!) in two separate employees)… use Alison’s suggested wording, OP, but GET OUT if you don’t buy his response as genuinely contrite.

    Being stuck currently with a coworker who’s about as reliable as that one friend or relative we all have who either shows up an hour late if at all and has increasingly ridiculous excuses for why everything terrible always happens to them… OP 3, why would you want to bring this onto your team? Hold out for someone who at least has a reference that’s willing to talk to you!

    1. Not Australian*

      ” … that one friend or relative we all have who either shows up an hour late if at all and has increasingly ridiculous excuses … ”

      OT, but this reminded me of my old boss who was so lovely (but scatty!) that we forgave her everything. In the mornings we would always take bets on (a) how late Margaret would be today and (b) what the excuse would be; attacks by aliens between the lift and our office door were usually favourite. In reality she was the sort of person people *always* wanted to chat to, and she was far too polite to tear herself away, so just walking along a corridor could take her an hour.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        I wish that were the case here, honestly. =/ Alas, if this coworker is getting distracted by anything, it’s not other coworkers as they elect to work from home even when they’re supposed to be in the office for the day.

  20. Myrin*

    OP #5, let me chime in as someone from a country where sending hardcopy application materials is still common (and oh, how awkward I feel whenever I read on here how outrageous that seems to be in the US – you guys must think us incredibly backwards): even here, you either do one or the other but not both. I’ve seen many a job ad which said that they accept both paper and online applications and even with those, it’s very clear that you can decide between the two but don’t do both simultaneously.

    1. Tau*

      and oh, how awkward I feel whenever I read on here how outrageous that seems to be in the US – you guys must think us incredibly backwards

      The hard-copy applications, the letters of reference, high school graduations, dates of birth and photographs on your CV… yeah. Especially weird when you learn about job-hunting from AAM and then have to adapt it to German norms.

      1. Myrin*

        Although I wouldn’t technically call your other examples “backwards”, just different/another normal.

  21. CandyTeapot*

    I’m a fat diabetic that happens to love baking and cake decoration. However, to avoid judgment (or looking like a Helpful Caretaking Woman in technology) I do not bring it up in professional settings. My worst nightmare would be to have someone showing a new employee around and be introduced as “this is Brandy, she makes great cookies” instead of something about my tech skills.

    A competition with a significant prize would probably be the only way to get me to reveal my spectacular cake game in the workplace. If I took that professional risk just for cheater Stuart to take the win, oh, I’d be absolutely furious.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This exactly. I worked somewhere where I was known to make good baked goods and I was often introduced to new hires like this, “this is Delta. Her office is that one, and she makes these great cupcakes.” Not, “this is Delta, who is a very good lawyer and a great resource on teapot fraud cases.” I’m also not a big fan of shortcuts, so I’d be pretty upset with Stuart. I am a big fan of putting your money where your mouth is, so I’d probably challenge Stuart to a 1 one 1 bake-off duel, to be held at a neutral kitchen site and invite everyone to watch.

    2. Lany*

      I’m a known baker in my office, and the introduction is typically, “This is Lany, she’s an amazing project manager AND baker.” I don’t mind my baking skills being mentioned! I’m as proud of them as my “real” work skills.

    3. EddieSherbert*

      I think that’s interesting, because I have a coworker who sits next to me in my office who legitimately has a pie-making business on the side, and he has never been introduced to new hires “as the pie guy” or anything. And his pies are amazing! Lol

      (Maybe it’s because we have an open office plan where they deliberately mix departments? So it’s like, “here’s Eddie – she’s in marketing, she sits next to Fergus in sales and Wakeen, who is a software developer, etc.”)

  22. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Letter #1 reminds me of a charity baking competition we held last year at my old workplace. Lots of people put enormous amounts of effort into making delicious (and beautiful!) cakes, biscuits etc. My manager, who wasn’t exactly blessed with Common Sense, rocked up with a huuuge bag of shop-bought stuff (UK people: think Mr Kipling Fondant Fancies etc.) which because the big boss has supplied them, all the buyers snapped up leaving the homemade creations largely uneaten.

    We did make a lot of cash for charity, though…

  23. Erin*

    #2 What is up with everyone sharing the same email address in the office? Is that not s huge red flag in and of itself?

    1. SR*

      Eh, it can make sense in some situations. If a company is open 7 days a week, you can’t have every employee working every day, but you still need to be responsive to customers who send emails to any of the employees on any day of the week. I’m not sure how you would do that other than sharing an email (or at least having access to coworkers’ emails, and checking them regularly). Still possibly a red flag in this particular situation, but not always.

      1. Naptime Enthusiast*

        In that case, a Group inbox that everyone has access to, like “” would be a great solution. They’re common in Outlook, and people can either reply from that group inbox email address or their own personal one.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Having an email account multiple people can access makes sense for something like that. But having the shared email be the ONLY email for everyone to use ever? That’s more than a little odd I think.

      3. Observer*

        That’s a terrible way to handle things, even in that situation. There is a reason why things like group emails and distribution lists exist.

  24. Roscoe*

    #1 What is the prize here? I mean, unless its a huge cash prize, I’d just let it go. It just seems like a kind of petty thing that can turn into a big thing if you bring it up. Like why make waves over something as simple as a bake off ? I’m not saying what he did is good, but are you sure its against the rules? For example my office does a holiday cookie exchange and we vote on the winner. I think the winner gets like a $5 starbucks card or something. I’m going to guess at least some of the people there had help from their spouse or someone they live with. And that doesn’t matter to me one bit. The cookies were the best. If I found out my co-workers wife made the cookies, and he won, I wouldn’t care. But if another co-worker felt the need to make a big deal of it, my opinion of them would probably change because it would just seem that they are taking a fun event and trying to stir up drama. Let it go.

    1. always in email jail*

      I could see this getting really ugly if it’s either a cash prize, or something like a few extra hours of leave or a good parking space… there’s some things you just don’t mess with!

      1. Roscoe*

        True, which is why I asked what the prize was. A $10 gift card, not a big deal. An extra vacation day though, I can see

    2. Kate 2*

      But OP isn’t the one “trying to stir up drama”. The other employee is, by cheating and lying. Lots of people, as shown by the comments here, care about cheating. And as AAM says, it’s likely to come out anyway, and if it comes out after prizes have been awarded it is going to be a much bigger deal.

    3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

      To me it’s the cheating, not the prize or the quality of the cake. If my colleague is willing to cheat on something that’s just for fun, what will he do to shirk responsibility or cut corners on something important?

  25. always in email jail*

    Maybe I’m a grinch, but I would hate to work in an office where we were constantly asked to participate in potlucks or bake offs. I don’t know who keeps a clean kitchen and who doesn’t! and I don’t want to spend my free time cooking/baking things my family and I won’t even get to enjoy! Also throw in the whole dynamic of being a female manager and being torn between looking like a bad sport and being “good at baking because I’m a woman” or something. Just no.
    Luckily I work for a public health agency so potlucks etc. are strongly discouraged (we don’t need to be on the news for a foodborne illness outbreak at the health dept… yikes)

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        Wait. You had a food-born illness outbreak because of a potluck or you’re just forced to participate in potlucks?

    1. Another GenX Dev Manager*

      At a previous job I did the monthly birthday cakes because I could and I wanted to – as one of many devs it wasn’t a hit to my reputation.

      As a manager now, I do not bake except for milestone work anniversaries and milestone birthdays, and bringing in a couple of the secret family recipe coffee cakes over Christmas.

      It’s just too fraught.

  26. Nox*

    3.) I’ve head situations were references given were afraid to speak with us for legal reasons or have agreements similar to ours where we sign stating we aren’t permitted to offer any type of reference to former employees. I generally have worked around this by having them list me by my married name and providing my personal number since it’s a different area code. Just a thought.

    5.) For me there’s nothing more irritating than people who come into the office to drop off resumes or mail them when they sent the application online a few hours or day prior. One time a guy did this and not only did he keep harassing my phone to book an interview, he showed up an hour late to the interview, cut me off mid interview to text someone for 2 minutes and didn’t apologize to me for the lateness. When I sent the rejection email, he still keeps calling from blocked numbers demanding to know what he did wrong. Another person mailed it and then tried to send flowers to the “gal” at the front desk in exchange for setting up a meeting with the man in charge [our CEO is a woman].


  27. eplawyer*

    #1 — this is a team building exercise and Stuart is cheating at it. Which kind of defeats the purpose of team building.

    I too would wonder about someone so hyper-competitive they would cheat at an office bake off. Doesn’t matter the size of the prize. This guy is about winning at all costs — for even minor things. Not someone I want to work with.

    There is one attorney around here who thinks every issue in every case is a battle and every battle is a fight to the death. Needless to say no one likes going up against him. I got him early on in my career. I stood my ground on some petty issue that if we had wasted time on trial on it, I would have won anyway. He had to give in or cost his client time and money on a trial. An issue his client probably would have agreed my client’s positio any way if he has just asked his client. You are not representing your clients well if you care personally more about winning or losing any particular issue.

    1. paul*

      Or, he could simply be someone that really hates baking but still feels like he has to bring something *shrug*>

      I find it mildly annoying (see my chili cookoff story) but I think people are reading way too much into his motives with the absence of other motivations.

      1. a1*

        There are about 70 people in the department and at least 10 are entering

        It’s not the whole office, he shouldn’t feel the need to bake something. He’s choosing to bring something that he hasn’t made.

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        If he hates baking and feels like he needs to bring something in, why doesn’t he just bring in a clearly store bought cake? Or not enter but bring the cake in day of with the idea that “I want to share but I don’t like baking”?

        It also doesn’t sound like everyone has to participate.

      3. Purplesaurus*

        I agree, especially with people reading into his motives. I don’t see how he’s automatically a hyper-competitive cheater versus maybe a clueless dude who saw “cake competition” and “nephew cake decorator” and put the two together. There’s really no more information in the letter than this.

        I do think it’s fair to mention the issue to the organizer of the event, but the guy told a couple coworkers what he’s doing already, so I imagine everyone will know not to vote for him if the organizer does end up allowing it, or they could be voting for Nephew Cake rather than Stuart Cake.

        1. Kate 2*

          It’s standard in any competition that the person entering has to, actually, be the person doing the thing. Especially when it’s a “within group” event. You would have to have never heard of a contest or competition in your life to be that clueless.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I think it’s easier to assume ignorance than assume malice. We have people here saying they would never trust this person again. Why go that route when it could be prevented by talking to the person. He has told how many people and NO ONE has said anything to him? That is not on him, that one is on all the people who heard him say that and said nothing. He is telling people what he is going to do, so everyone waits for him to do it then pounces on him for cheating? hmmm.

            1. Mookie*

              But people didn’t say nothing?

              Stuart has mentioned it openly to a couple of people now, who have both jokingly said that’s cheating, but he seems quite set on the idea.

              His colleagues are not acting in bad faith, setting him up, or waiting to “pounce” on him. He knows what’s going on because they told him.

        2. Pommette!*

          I also agree. Doting uncle who wants an excuse to show off his nephew’s amazing baking skills seems as likely as hyper-competitive jerk who wants to best his colleagues. Especially considering how open he is being about it.

          I’m a baker and have strong feelings about baking. Bringing someone else’s cake to a contest? That’s dishonourable! But from what I’ve seen, people who don’t bake often don’t share those feelings. Stuart might think that what he’s doing is all in good fun, and might not see the contest as a serious event on which it might even be possible to cheat.

  28. Naomi*

    I’ve been thinking about #1, and I think it makes a difference a) that the nephew is a professional and b) whether Stuart plans to pass the cake off as his own work.

    I could see a scenario where it would be OK to bring in a cake that an amateur baker relative had made, especially if done openly–e.g., Fergus brings in “Aunt Jane’s Double Fudge Torte” and enters it on Jane’s behalf rather than taking the credit himself. But entering an amateur baking contest with a cake made by a professional, even if the professional happens to share DNA with you, is not playing fair. I’d cut Stuart some slack for it if he at least acknowledged publicly that he called in a ringer, but I’d still want the professional cake to be disqualified from competition.

    1. Naomi*

      Also, if there aren’t explicit rules for the competition, the organizer should probably fix that before the appointed day rather than leave people to guess at unwritten rules. I can see other areas of confusion arising, such as one person assuming it’s fine to use a boxed mix and other people getting annoyed after the fact because they assumed all cakes must be made from scratch. (I think that one could go either way, but the organizer should make a ruling and announce it so everyone’s on the same page.) And in Stuart’s case, having the rules spelled out would draw a clearer line about whether professionally-made cakes/ cakes not made by the entrant are acceptable.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Since Stuart is telling people about his nephew’s help I am not seeing a lot of clandestine activity here.

  29. Aud*

    I wonder if Stuart has even asked his nephew if he’s willing to bake and decorate a cake for this contest. I’d take bets that after entering the contest Stuart is either not going to bring anything in or show up with a cake he bought at the grocery store.

  30. PunkrockPM*

    #4 – this really hits home for the environment I am in currently. We are salaried employees, with the expectation that we work at least 42 – 45 hours per week and are expected to take PTO to “make up” any hours that don’t hit this range. I have been expected to log “unpaid” time – essentially my pay being docked – since I don’t have any PTO for hours to make up this time. The environment I work in is definitely toxic. When questioned about this, my nanamanager responded that “we have to protect the company”. (From what, I’m trying to figure out).

    And because I have GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and am recovering from a major depressive episode (which I was penalized for in my annual review although I made my namomanagers aware of my illness), I’ve had to take PTO to manage my illness, as well as doctor’s appointments. I am approved for short-term FMLA, but am not paid for these days.

    As a salaried employee I do have certain expectations that if I work a 60 hour week, there is flexibility with other time off. Perhaps this is from being treated so well in other positions. I’m sure this varies from company to company. Thankfully, I am starting a new position soon.

    We had a “culture assessment” by HR who interviewed employees due to concerns like these. No changes have come of it. It makes me wonder if I should bring this to the attention of the labor board.

    1. fposte*

      Some of this is specially sucky, but some of this is pretty common. FMLA being unpaid, if you don’t have paid vacation or sick days to burn on it, is absolutely usual, for instance. The requirement to take PTO for time off even if you’re still working over a 40-hour week is legal, and it’s required in my state job for absences of half a day or more; the issue is if they make you clock in, dock your pay (not just your PTO), or perform other maneuvers that make you functionally non-exempt but don’t pay you OT. If those things are happening, you can definitely report those to the state DOL.

      However, as you’re aware, just because they’re not rare policies doesn’t mean you can’t find a job with better ones; sounds like you’ve done that, so that’s good.

      1. fposte*

        Re-looking at your comment, I may have misread “I have been expected to log “unpaid” time – essentially my pay being docked – since I don’t have any PTO for hours to make up this time.” I thought you meant going into the red on PTO, but maybe not. Even if it’s not FMLA, as long as it’s full days and not partial days and they’ve got a clear policy that once you burn sick days you don’t get paid for them, it’s federally legal (though state is worth a check). That is particularly stinky, though.

        1. Nea*

          If I’m reading correctly, PunkRock is expected to work 45 hours so if they only work 40, they are docked 5 hours pay – essentially paid for a 35-hour week in penalty for not working unpaid overtime. That has got to be all kinds of illegal.

          1. PunkrockPM*

            Hi Nea,

            Yes, you are correct. If we don’t “make up the time”, we are expected to use PTO. In my case, since I don’t have any PTO left, I have to log it as “unpaid”.

          2. EddieSherbert*

            That what it sounds like to me too, which is just supper effed up. Sorry I don’t have any advice, just lots of horror on your behalf, PunkrockPM!

          3. fposte*

            Whether it’s illegal or not depends on why Punk Rock isn’t working the other hours and when those hours are. If she goes home at 5 every day even though they think she should stay until 8 because eff it, they can’t touch her pay for that because it’s a partial day. If she goes home at noon on Friday because she’s sick, they can’t touch her pay for that because it’s a partial day.

            If she doesn’t come in at all Friday because she’s sick, and she’s burned through her PTO already and they have a clear policy, they absolutely *can* dock her pay for that Friday. If she takes a personal day Friday and has no vacation, they *can* dock her pay for that. (This is all federal–some states may have more protection, but I’m not thinking that’s common.)

            It’s sucky, and most places would just put her in the PTO red for that. But it’s legal.

            1. PunkrockPM*

              Hi fposte,

              Yes, I completely understand and agree re: the PTO and FMLA issue. I have no problems with it.

              To clarify, you’ve hit it regarding the partial days. If I take an 8 hour sick day, I understand and do not disagree taking it as unpaid.

              If I go home sick, or have to take time for a doctor’s appointment, or have to work a partial day, I am expected to make up the time or take it as unpaid. So, for example, I leave at 3pm for a dr’s appointment and it ends up being an 6 hour day. If I don’t make up those 2 hours to get to 42-45 hours, I am expected to take those hours as “unpaid”. We are paid on a bi-weekly basis.

              Now, if I manage to get to 50 hours or more one week, and 35 the next, I’m expected to take 5 hours as unpaid to get to “40”. Then informed the expectation is that I work 42-45 hours per week.

              F***** up? Yes.

              1. fposte*

                Effed up and illegal. If you’ve been tracking those hours, you could be eligible for a wage claim, since they’ve basically forfeited your exempt status.

      2. PunkrockPM*

        Hi fposte,

        Yes, I understand re: FMLA and honestly, I’m quite ok with it. My issue is that because I burned all my PTO due to my illness, if I don’t “make up the time to hit 42-45, I’m expected to log it as unpaid hours.

        Thank goodness I’m out of this environment soon! From talking with other employees at other sites, this is extremely unusual and not company policy – but the toxic nanomanagement’s.

        1. fposte*

          If this isn’t company policy and you’re already considering talking to the authorities, it wouldn’t hurt to notify HR on your way out; even if what’s happening is legal (I’m still not clear exactly how the time is working, so I don’t know) it’s asking for trouble when a company has a widely disparate application of something like this.

  31. Em*

    I’m a little surprised that no one has mentioned that with #2, just taking so much vacation time right after being hired actually IS a sign that someone may not have the same level of professional commitment an office is looking for. Yes, the boss pre-approved it and should have thought harder about the request if it was going to be a sticking point for him. But if I were the manager of an employee who asked to take over two weeks of vacation time right after their start date, I don’t know that I would grant that request. As a frame of reference, I’m ~5 years into my career and have only ever been given two weeks of PTO a year, and in most places, that had to be accrued. To use it all in one block would have been incredibly disruptive to the team and really out of touch with the culture.

    Obviously the boss still made a mistake not thinking harder about the impact of the employee’s absence if that’s really what this is about, because it’s truly an awful thing to give someone a job and accept their vacation request upfront and then change your mind – but I wouldn’t assume it’s all based on taking one day of sick time, either.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’m a little surprised that no one has mentioned that with #2, just taking so much vacation time right after being hired actually IS a sign that someone may not have the same level of professional commitment an office is looking for.

      I’m not surprised at all, because I suspect that very few people agree with you.

      1. Dankar*

        Not gonna lie, this comment made me laugh out loud. Not sure if it’s just how dryly I read it, or what…

        I think you’re right, though. I’ve gone into professional jobs with days requested off, and even my partner went into a serving job telling them that he’d be gone for 9 days in January. Happens all the time, and it’s totally fine if you negotiate it up front.

      2. FormerEmployee*

        I totally agree with Rusty – not surprised at all.

        While I sometimes had to rearrange my personal life for my demanding job, I would never want to work for a place where having a personal life was seen as an impediment to being considered a good employee.

    2. McWhadden*

      It is very normal to have preexisting travel commitments and mention them in an interview to be approved.

      1. Natalie*

        For whatever its worth I probably wouldn’t mention it in an interview unless the company asked, but it’s definitely normal to bring it up if/when you’re offered the job.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Exactly, and then it’s the manager’s responsibility to approve it or not as per the company’s culture and needs. If it’s not going to work, then it’s on the manager to decline approval.

    3. Alton*

      I disagree that pre-planned absences show a lack of commitment. People have lives, and job hunting can take time. Vacation plans, family commitments, or other important personal commitments can’t always be easily changed when you get a job offer. And you can’t put your life on hold indefinitely.

      The manager in this case knew about the pre-planned absences. And if having the employee absent is going to pose a problem, it’s unlikely that initiating a search for someone new would fix that in the short term. They’re probably not going to have a brand new person in the role and up to speed before the OP comes back from vacation.

    4. BadPlanning*

      At my place of work, this would actually probably be fine as long if you discussed it at the time of the hire — especially if it was a pre-scheduled sort of vacation. If you were a professional hire, you’d probably come in with 3-4 weeks of vacation — although it would be pro-rated depending on how late you joined. But it would be available to you at the start. Some people might raise an eyebrow, but would wait and see how you generally worked out.

    5. One of the Sarahs*

      But are you suggesting people who are job hunting shouldn’t commit to anything for the next 6 months to a year?

      In this case, the OP was going to an out-of-town wedding, but it could be a parent booking something in the school holidays, or even there’s an opportunity to go away somewhere fun, and in all these case, of course they should book, in my view.

      It’s something to bring up in the negotiations before the job is accepted, as OP did, and of course some businesses can say no, but I think maybe you’ve worked in a place that’s really mean with holidays. (Of course, I say this from the UK, where 20 days leave a year is pretty standard as a starting point, if not regulated)

      1. McWhadden*

        It seems like they are suggesting that even people with jobs they have been at for years can’t commit to vacations.

        1. Anon for This*

          I wouldn’t go that far. And to be fair to the poster, there are employers that can be very rigid about things like PTO. If you work in a rigid environment and you are a rule follower, and you haven’t worked in a more flexible environment, then I can understand why that person might thing that the flexibility of taking a pre-planned vacation (or PTO early on) isn’t appropriate.

          1. McWhadden*

            “To use it all in one block would have been incredibly disruptive to the team and really out of touch with the culture.”

            1. Em*

              Yes, that’s what I said and I stand by that- on my most recent team I worked alongside someone who’d been with the company for 11 years, and there was no way he would have ever left for that long. Just not part of the culture there.

              1. zora*

                Ok, yes, there are some places where that is the culture, sure.

                However, I don’t think it is logical for you to go from that to “this person doesn’t have the same level of professional commitment.” That’s a pretty big leap, I think. I think “professional commitment” and “never takes 2 week vacations” aren’t the same. I would say it more like “this person takes more time off” or “wants more work-life balance” than the company.

                And it’s especially weird to hold that against someone when they were never told that was the case. If that is an issue, you need to discuss that in the interview phase with candidates, because that is pretty extreme, even in the US, and you need to make sure they know that is the expectation.

    6. Anon for This*

      Most good employers understand that employees and potential employees won’t put their lives on hold for months or years on end while they job hunt and/or settle into a new job. Life happens. I am more interested in hiring someone who I think will do a good job and will contribution to the department over the next several years, than I am about making sure that their butt is in their seat for specific amount of time.

      The time off requests were made and approved before the LW started the job. Employers who hold requests that they have approved against their employees are wrong and being deeply unfair.

    7. KRM*

      But it’s not unusual for people to have planned vacations in advance, before they know they would be switching jobs or finding a new opportunity. I had a two week trip planned that I told my temp job about when I was hired, so I could get that time off, and I also took 3 days off two weeks after I started a permanent job, for a vacation I had planned in the spring. Granted, we get two days of PTO a month, and only having two weeks a year sucks, but if someone has a vacation planned before they start, and the boss says “sure, use your two weeks on that, no problem!”, there really shouldn’t be any issue around it. Life isn’t perfect.

    8. 2 Cents*

      We hired a guy (different one from the flaky one above) who had his wedding and honeymoon scheduled about 6 weeks after hire. There was no issue because he made us aware of the situation immediately. In fact, I would have thought him very strange if he’d canceled or delayed any of it, just because our hiring timeline came so close to his planned celebrations.

    9. Amber Rose*

      That’s a pretty industry specific thing. I only get two weeks a year but it’s not accrued it’s just there, and if I want to borrow against next year and take three weeks off in one go I just have to check and make sure I don’t overlap with the people covering my job. Husband gets four weeks off every year, and can take as much as he wants as long as he’s not planning it over significant times, like major deadlines or year-end.

    10. LBK*

      There’s a difference between requesting two weeks off on your first day and telling a new employer that you had pre-scheduled vacations that you’d need to take time off for. I travel a lot, so if planning something 6 months in advance and then unexpectedly starting a new job in the interim is a sign of lacking professional commitment, then I guess I’m very uncommitted.

    11. Jaybeetee*

      The difference is she was upfront that this was pre-planned stuff, and the boss approved it. That’s actually quite common – I had a friend years ago who had been job-hunting for months, and had also planned a month-long trip to Europe (lucky guy, he wasn’t hurting for money). Wouldn’t you know it, after months of searching, an offer came through – that would require relocation, no less – about a month before his trip. Like, he picked up, moved down there, worked like a week, then took off for a month, then went back – I think he’s still with that company, years later. Mind you, this is engineering, advanced stuff, where employers are more willing to agree to that kind of thing if they find someone who fits their quals.

      The boss doesn’t have a leg to stand on if he knew all this and approved it. What would be different would be if she started, *then* booked off a bunch of time right off the bat. That can look unprofessional.

    12. Natalie*

      I think you are making a couple of incorrect assumptions:

      But if I were the manager of an employee who asked to take over two weeks of vacation time right after their start date, I don’t know that I would grant that request.

      The OP says they informed the manager of these vacations *when they were made the job offer*, not after they started the job. This is a really, really normal, part of the negotiation process. If you can’t or won’t grant the request, that gives the candidate the opportunity to decide if it’s worth it to them to accept the job and cancel the vacation or vice versa.

      Also, in environments were people accrue vacation, rather than getting it upfront, it’s extremely common to take these early vacation unpaid.

      1. Em*

        I understand the conversation happened before they accepted the offer. I was referring to the fact that the vacation time was to be taken very soon after starting.

        1. Natalie*

          So then what about it reads as “less committed” from you? The LW didn’t make vacation plans *at* a her employer – there wasn’t even an employer to be committed to at the time that she made the plans.

          To be frank, based on the various things you’ve mentioned about vacation, you seem to have worked in an industry that has a really skewed norms for the workers. Or at least extremely one sided.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

          I hope that if you’re doing the hiring and this is a problem for you, you actually tell your prospective new hire that it can’t be accommodated and let them decide whether to accept the offer. It’s pretty unpleasant to approve it and then tacitly rescind that approval.

    13. CaliCali*

      I had a 1.5-week long international trip planned prior to starting a new job. I’d been job hunting for a few months, and I couldn’t really control the timing of when they contacted me, when they interviewed me, etc. I brought up the trip at the offer stage, since it was within two months of my start date and they agreed to it, though it would be unpaid time off since I wouldn’t have been able to accrue any vacation, which I understood. It all worked out fine — I feel like smart employers recognize that a pre-planned vacation time isn’t an indicator of long-term commitment.

    14. tigerlily*

      She didn’t ask right after her start date, it was negotiated as part of her hiring. That’s not a sign of a lack of professional commitment, it’s a sign of being a person in the world with life outside of work. If you’re going to look down on people having lives and plans that don’t line up perfectly with a job hunt, then you’re going to lose good candidates. I just recently started a new job in July, but had a vacation already planned and paid for in August. I negotiated that vacation as part of my hiring. If the manager had said no, I wouldn’t have taken the job.

  32. Stop That Goat*

    I went through something similar with a chili cookoff at a past job. After the winner was announced, the winner mentioned that his wife (a chef) had made his chili. I could tell it annoyed a few folks but they let him keep the win. The following years, it clearly spelled out that entries had to come from workers. He never heard the end of it either.

  33. Alton*

    #3: I don’t think a refusal to give a reference is a huge red flag all on its own. It can be, but there are other reasons someone might not agree to give a reference. But I think you have to look at the whole picture. There are multiple things here that could combine to be a red flag.

    I can sympathize with people who struggle to find references, because as a recent grad, most of my work experience was tied up in a family business and another company that was deeply dysfunctional and where I had little interaction with my managers, so I didn’t really have previous managers I felt comfortable using.

    But when hiring, it’s fair to want someone who can demonstrate that they have the experience and/or skills to excel, and if there are questions about that, it’s good to be cautious.

    1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Yeah – that struck me as well. I just don’t think that refusing to give a reference is red flag on its own. There are numerous reasons that potential reference could have refused besides “candidate is a flake”. Maybe they’re big on decorum and was annoyed that the candidate did not ask them first (but was happy with candidate’s actual work product). Maybe HR just recently sent out a directive about how all references need to be given from HR directly. Maybe the they were caught off guard and couldn’t remember who the candidate was. Maybe they feel they are too busy, doing such important work, that giving references is a waste of time (speaking from experience on this one!).

      I too sympathize with people who struggle to find references. My first job out of school improperly classified me as an independent contractor, laid me off when I finally brought it up to them after 2 years, claimed they fired me when I filed for unemployment, underwent an audit as a result of me winning my unemployment case and then soon after ceased operations and sold the company. Obviously no one there was going to be giving me a reference (it was a small startup – owners were my direct supervisors and colleagues were all out of work due to my actions). Second job – only one that I could find (b/c hey, no references!) – was at a small, toxic, incredibly dysfunctional family owned company. After a year or so boss asked me point blank if I was searching for a new role. Being young and naive I answered honestly and said that I was. He told that day would be my last. Obviously they were not going to be acting as a reference for me.

      So yeah. I was left with no references and a spotty job history, but it’s not because I was a flake or because anyone had ever had any issues with my actual work output/product. Through a combo of temping and dumbluck I finally climbed out of the toxic work swamp, but once you’re in it and the longer you’re in it the harder it is to get out.

      Definitely look at everything as a whole. Reference refusal + other issues can be a red flag. Just don’t take it as one automatically.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        Yeah, I’ve experienced reference droughts myself recently – I worked temp/contract for years, which resulted in two things: 1) Several short-term positions where either the companies didn’t give references at all or where I wasn’t really there long enough for it to “count”, and 2) The references I did have getting called A LOT, because I was changing jobs so frequently and every place wanted reference checks, plus some temp agencies were doing reference checks when I signed on with them, not when they found me something.

        At this point, I’m finally permanently employed, but I’ve had to “retire” a few of my references because I know they were called so many times and I don’t want to keep bothering them. I can cobble together a few references, but not exactly a long list.

    2. INTP*

      Yeah, under other circumstances, it might be a tiny, overlook-able red flag. But here:
      -Candidate has spotty job history
      -Candidate provided a reference without checking with that reference
      -The one person Candidate thought would give the best reference isn’t comfortable giving one at all

      At the least, I’d want to speak with 2-3 positive references before feeling sure about this guy. It sounds like OP is really rooting for this guy but there are enough red flags that you really need to investigate further.

    3. cornflower blue*

      Agreed that as a stand-alone it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. At two companies in a row, I was part of massive layoffs that gutted the companies. There was almost no one left at either business who had even worked directly with me, much less supervised me. At the second job, my boss used the timing to take early retirement and become an expat. I couldn’t find her.

  34. Fictional Butt*

    I think some people don’t understand why Stuart’s cake cheat would be so upsetting. Here’s my perspective: when you’re shy, or just don’t quite fit in with the rest of your office, it can be really exciting to get a chance to show off your skills and interests. It’s a chance for you to get attention for once, and maybe find out that you do have something in common with some of your coworkers. But if one of your more gregarious coworkers sweeps in and steals the show, it kind of ruins it. It’s like they’re not even letting you have 5 minutes of fame.

    I think this can play out as a male/female thing too– when a man is cheating at a baking competition so he can beat a woman, it’s like he can’t even let women win at their own game. He has to assert his dominance over everything. (Not to say that baking is a women thing, but that’s how it plays out in many offices.)

    1. babblemouth*

      I also suspect anyone entering with a genuine entry is going to spend a significant amount of time on their cake. It would feel particularly disheartening for someone else to swoop in and steal the victory after outsourcing most of the effort.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Exactly. To a lot, maybe even most people, this seems like no big deal at all. But if even *one* person might care about it, then it could breed resentment when it’s meant to do the opposite and be a fun team building experience. So I think it’s worth mentioning to the organizers on behalf of the people that might care but be afraid to speak up because they don’t want people to accuse them of overreacting. If someone with no horse in the race says something it will get the point across without any drama.

        Heck, maybe the organizers will even decide it’s okay for Stuart to bring in that cake. But by clarifying the rules, at least everyone else will know what the expect when they decide how much effort to put into their own cake.

      1. Fictional Butt*

        I get where you’re coming from on that. I just feel like cooking and baking are still so gendered in our society, especially in the workplace, that we shouldn’t overlook the implications.

        1. Fictional Butt*

          I mainly brought it up because it’s a pattern I’ve seen before: there’s a mixed-gender social group, the people with more stereotypically feminine interests come up with an activity they’d enjoy, the people with more stereotypically masculine interests intentionally derail it because they can’t deal with an activity not being completely tailored to their interests.

          1. Fictional Butt*

            (And I don’t mean to say that’s definitely happening here. Just that it’s a possibility. Sorry for the long replying-to-myself thread.)

          2. Fictional Butt*

            (And it’s not necessarily a gender thing, I guess. It could be any competing interests/personality types. Ok I’m done now I promise.)

        2. Kate 2*

          I agree with your comments. I’ve seen it go down that way too. Also I think the denial that baking and cooking are mostly female pursuits is kind of funny. I don’t know a single guy who cooks or bakes. Barbecues, yes, could do a box mix in a pinch, or scrambled eggs, yes. But cooking or baking, no.

  35. Sara*

    Just here to express my appreciation for the Great British Bake Off names used in #1! Love that show.

  36. A.N.O.N.*


    As Alison said, they can make you use up your PTO for every hour you’re away. However, once your PTO bank is exhausted, they still cannot dock your pay. There’d essentially be no consequences for coming in a hour or two late every day.

    Except that, of course, they can always fire you. But they can’t dock your pay!

      1. Natalie*

        I don’t think so. There are some different rules for government employees with regard to overtime (they are allowed to get comp time in lieu of time-and-a-half pay) but I think the exempt pay rules are the same.

  37. ket*

    Definitely mention the professional baker, but don’t make it a big negative. Let the organizers come up with a “best assisted win” category or divisions like weightlifting has — raw and (we don’t ask if you use performance enhancers). Or if it really wins, announce Fergus’ nephew wins! with great fanfare.

    As a prof, I have assignments that have to be done 100% by the students alone with no resources except their own brain, and assignments that I call “open world” — talk to whoever you want, read whatever you want, come up with something good and provide a writeup in your own words that acknowledges all the resources you used. Construct it out of quotes as long as you’re clear they’re quotes! I’m fine with eating Fergus’ nephew’s cake, not fine with anyone lying about who made it.

    1. Gloucesterina*

      ket, I’m enjoying the idea of distinguishing between “open world” and individually completed assignments. It helps students see how engaging with the “open world” makes your own brain!

    2. Monroe*

      . . . That isn’t how powerlifting works (I assume you meant powerlifting since your comment makes even less sense in the context of weightlifting).

      Powerlifting has raw competitions and open competitions that allow certain kinds of supportive equipment. It has nothing to do with whether the federation hosting the competition conducts drug testing or not.

  38. FD*

    #1- Does anyone else feel like this entire setup belongs on a comedy show? This feels like the setup for an episode of Keeping Up Appearances or something.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Alternatively, a family show, where hijinks ensue, there’s a touching moment, and then everyone learns the value of hard work and integrity.

      Or a soap opera, where everyone cries about it the whole time, new enemies are made, and someone eats a baked good and gets amnesia.

      Or what Hiring Mngr posted below.

  39. Do not get me started on workplace competitions*

    #1 – I don’t know what it is with the corporate environment, but people take winning SO SERIOUSLY (gee, I wonder why), sometimes to the point of – yes – cheating.

    Case #1: Halloween Pumpkin Carving Competition
    Teams were provided a room so they could carve freely, but they were only allowed a maximum of two hours. After that, all hands must be off the pumpkin. One group didn’t finish in time, so they took their pumpkin to their desks and continued to work on it until the judging period. It was a voting system. They won.

    Case #2: Holiday Card Contest
    As an annual holiday tradition, young children of employees were invited to submit holiday-themed artwork, and the winning pieces would receive a nice prize and be featured on the company’s holiday cards. Many questionable submissions were received, i.e. artwork that looked like they were done by adults. One in particular was a real piece of work (pun intended). She went from stick figures the year before, at age 6, to flippin’ Leonardo Da Vinci at age 7. It was a voting system. She also won.

    In informal competitions such as these, I find that there are two types of contestants: 1) those who see rules as something that applies to everyone, and 2) those who see rules as something that applies to everyone but them. At the end of the day, it’s up to the organizers and/or judges – how lenient do they want to be?

  40. B*

    #1 – I entered a cake bake-off at an old company and after that experience won’t do it again, especially because of stories like this. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to make a cake from scratch with the decorations. I made a cake to look like a teapot that had just become our bestseller because I worked on that teapot and was so proud of it. Everyone who was watching loved the look and the taste but the judges awarded a cake to the “favorite” person on a team because they liked that person better.

    A bake-off can be fun if all are playing with the same rules, but most of the time that is not the case…

    1. Brandy*

      That’s how these typically go. It makes you disheartened and not want to participate. And everyone clearly knows what’s happening, that they won do to popularity, not skill.

    2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      We have a bake-off at my current company, but it’s all anonymous (well unless you tell people what you baked, but thankfully everyone seems to be pretty good about the anonymous thing) until after the voting takes place.

      1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

        Same here. Plus, we vote with money, we have an empty bag in back of the dessert and that money all goes to our charity fund. This last go-around I liked all of them so I put a dollar in each bag and a five in my favorite one.

  41. Hiring Mgr*

    #1 reminds me of the time I brought in Pepperidge Farm Milanos just in a ziploc bag and everyone thought I had baked these amazing cookies by hand. I must admit I was so caught up in the glory and adulation that I let everyone believe I had in fact baked them.

    In my exit interview I finally came clean and admitted what I had done (with regard to the Milanos). The HR rep said that while she was disappointed that I didn’t admit it earlier, she admired my honesty in finally stepping up. The good news is that I was able to spin this into an award winning blog post where I pretended to have a big revelation about honesty, integrity, etc.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      But would the HR rep agree to provide a reference, or did she refuse because she was uncomfortable doing so after The Milano Incident?

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        HR will only confirm the date I brought the Milanos in and the specific type of Milano (it was regular, not mint or extra chocolate, etc.).

  42. clow*

    #4 makes me wonder, what exactly are the benefits to being salaried? It seems like a way for companies to get more work from you for free and you get nothing out of it.

    1. LBK*

      In theory, the benefit is that your time isn’t monitored so closely because you’re not paid based on the exact amount of time you work. Most salaried people are given flexibility on their hours (eg I don’t have a specific time I need to be in the office, I can take a long lunch to run errands if I need to, I can leave a little early for a doctor’s appointment without taking PTO, etc). But obviously a company that treats it like this isn’t allowing you that benefit.

    2. Squeeble*

      Theoretically it also gives you more freedom, like you can leave early or come in late here and there if your schedule demands it without having to take PTO.

    3. McWhadden*

      You are guaranteed your salary/time. An hourly employee can have their hours cut with little notice. And suddenly you aren’t making what you thought.

      But, yes, it can just be an excuse to take advantage of workers in some industries. A hotel I worked for when I was in college tried to make a bunch of line people salaried “managers” basically in order to avoid overtime (which was not legal but it took some time to work that bit out.)

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Salaries employees can have their hours cut with no notice; they just can’t be retroactively cut (or, I suppose, within a given work week).

    4. clow*

      Maybe I am misunderstanding, but Allison said that they can make you use PTO for stuff like leaving early etc. If they can legally require you to use PTO for stuff like that, would there really be a benefit (unless you work somewhere where they dock hours)? Not trying to be argumentative, just really trying to get why anyone would wish to be salaried.

      1. Natalie*

        Just because something is legal doesn’t mean its a universal practice. I’ve never worked anywhere that made people take PTO for absences under a half-day.

      2. SF2K01*

        To give an example where they’re doing it all legally (unlike the above company), if the hours never change (e.g. they’re both always working exactly 40 hours a week), then there is no difference between being hourly and salaried.

        The reason people want to be salaried is because the whole point of being salaried is that you are paid for your ability, rather than your time. This means a higher level of independence and responsibility, flexibility in work scheduling, all commensurate with a higher pay, in exchange for the possibility of having to do overtime or work irregular hours; often that the work is expected to be more a part of your life.

        Tl;dr, Being salaried is about getting your job done. Being hourly is about being available to do work in a set time frame.

  43. Rusty Shackelford*

    #3 reminds me of something that played out a long time ago when I was on a listserv (gather round, children) related to my job. Someone posted that they were tempted to hire a person who seemed to have the skills they needed, but there were a couple of weird red flags, one of which was related to their references. Basically, they wanted the listserv to talk them into ignoring their misgivings. They did end up hiring this person, and the exact issues that the red flags brought up happened to them. I mean, I know, sometimes bad things happen to good people. But sometimes bad things happen because you are stupid and make bad decisions.

  44. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-We used to do bake off’s at my old job frequently. It was a lot of fun. After the first one, where a colleague had her pastry chef husband make her cupcakes, we just instituted a rule that the dessert had to be made by you, the employee, without assistance. Stuart sounds super annoying. I’d probably say something pre-competition and give Stuart serious side eye but otherwise let it go. This is supposed to be fun.

  45. Free Meerkats*

    Sounds like LW#4 needs to request her pay records from the previous three years (the statute of limitations for willful violations), figure out what she’s owed for the unpaid OT, and give her company the opportunity to pay or get filed on. Oh yeah, let all her similarly situated coworkers know the rules and what they are entitled to. Also, start looking for a new job.

    1. BlueWolf*

      LW mention it was a previous employer, so I guess they wised up and got a new job. My boyfriend was in a situation where he was misclassified as an independent contract rather than employee at a job (they eventually reclassified him partway through his employment). The employer had to pay fines and he had to file an amended tax return to get back taxes he shouldn’t have paid. The business did at least have their accountant help with the amended returns.

  46. boop the first*

    Heh. Maybe I am too cynical but I am skeptical about the predicted outcome of #1. Specifically that:
    a) Nephew is going to be okay with being voluntold to make a fancy cake for uncle, presumably for free
    b) That, actually, uncle is willing to pay for it without issue
    c) That nephew is really the “professional” we are imagining. I’m sure grocery store teen clerks with no training would qualify as a “professional” in an uncle’s eye, as well.

    There are way too many variables in this situation!

    1. KV*

      I don’t know… I have a brother who IS a professional cake baker and decorator who would totally do this for me if I paid for the ingredients, because he loves to experiment. You find a lot of people like this make cakes in their spare time but don’t want to eat them (both because calories and tired of cake), so they look for someone to give them to.

  47. Mabel*

    RE: #4 If you’re exempt, they can require you to use PTO for that time. But they can’t make you take it unpaid.
    And what if you run out of PTO? They would need to pay you, wouldn’t they? I think I remember reading in AAM that if you’re exempt, and you work any part of a work week, you have to be paid for that week. Am I remembering this right?

    1. Natalie*

      Yes, if the person runs out of PTO they can’t dock your pay for any absences of less than a full day. If you are absent for a full day for “personal reason”, sickness (in accordance with a bona fide sick time plan, policy or practice), or unpaid suspension they can deduct the equivalent of one day’s pay. They can also pro-rate your pay in your first or last week if you don’t work a full week.

  48. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#3…totally agree with Alison’s advice on this one, and I think that more than likely, the combination of red flags are indicative of a problem. But just an anecdotal aside, I have known a couple of people in my career who are very strange about references. Glowing or horrific, they just won’t give them. My own boss is one of these people and has made that known. The only references he will give are internal within the organization and only then, if mandatory. I can only assume that he’s been burned in the past. I have an excellent evaluation and we have a good rapport and I spoke to him about being a reference for a non-work related volunteer opportunity and he flat out refused. I was shocked and he said it was just a blanket policy that he’s had and won’t change at this point. I have since found out that he’s done it to other people as well. Some people are just weird like that.

  49. HRish Dude*

    Re #1 – We had a different kind of cheater in our bakeoff. We had a woman who showed up an hour late with her baked goods and kept stuffing the ballot box. However, she went so far overboard that she ended up with more votes than we had employees. We ended up just disqualifying her because it was so completely obvious.

  50. Jennifer Thneed*

    > But do bring a hard copy of your resume to the interview.

    Yes. Do this. I always do this, and always give them copies. (I don’t just offer verbally, I hand it over while offering.) I have always had people be pleasantly surprised, which suggests to me that lots of people don’t do it. I have several reasons:

    * If I’m being sent by an agency, they have usually altered my resume to add their own info, and that throws off my careful formatting. (And formatting is part of writing. My resume is my first writing sample. It has to look good.)

    * The agency usually strips out my personal contact information, and I dislike that. My resume has MY contact info on it. I never go around an agency! but this way the hiring manager might hold onto my resume for another time.

    * I can see what’s on the interviewer’s desk, and it’s usually a crappy copy. I want to give them a nicer version. If I print it myself, I have more control.

    * There’s often someone in the room who didn’t see what the agency sent. I can make things easier for everyone if I bring along a few copies.

    * I do this with my writing samples, too. For all the above reasons, plus one: some of them have information that I want to leave behind.

    I have a couple of samples that are directions for how to change settings in your computer that I think everyone should always change. (semi-evil grin here) An example: how to turn off automatic underlining for spell-checking, because I personally hate that and find it very distracting while writing or editing. Another example: how to make IM’s and email subject lines NOT pop-up on your screen, for when you’re projecting something. (Major source of information insecurity, there.) I also have one for how to make minor edits in Wikipedia, which is very few words but lots of screenshots with circles and arrows. (No paragraphs on the back of each one, sorry.)

    TL;DR: Bring copies of your resume with you to the interview.

  51. Sue Jones*

    #5 Thanx so much for answering my question. Sooo glad I asked. Have also appreciated all the cover letter info out here thx again!!!

  52. anna*

    Question #4 doesn’t seem to me that the employer is requiring employees to take unpaid leave — just that they have the option to use unpaid leave instead of PTO. At a workplace that doesn’t offer a ton of PTO, and doesn’t approve vacation requests unless you have enough PTO hours banked to cover it, I can see unpaid leave being preferable for an employee who has to take a partial day off. Is it still not allowed if employees are given an option? It seems to me like it would only become illegal if an employee with no PTO was required to take unpaid leave.

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