my boss pushes me to buy things from her spouse, jobs that want a 2-week trial period, and more

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

1. My boss pushes MLM products on me and comments on my looks

I’m the admin assistant to the vice president of the company. The former vice president retired six months ago. I worked for her for over three years and never had any problems. My new boss constantly comments on my looks, my clothes, my hair, etc. I have told her I am not comfortable with this, but she does it anyway. Her spouse is self-employed and involved in several “home businesses” such as Avon and Young Living. There is constant pressure for me to buy products or attend the home parties thrown by her wife. If a month goes by and I have not purchased anything, she will point it out and ask me why. She has asked me for a list of the names and ages of everyone I am buying Christmas gifts for because she says her wife will have something for everyone on my list and I won’t need to worry about shopping.

I’m not going to give junk to my family and friends. I can’t afford to keep buying the MLM stuff and I don’t have any need or use for any of it. It just sits at home collecting junk until I throw it out. I have directly told my boss I don’t need it and can’t afford it. When I do, she starts telling me how great all the stuff is and how everyone needs it. I have done the same when she comments on my looks and she says I should be flattered. How do I get my boss to understand once and for all she needs to stop commenting on my looks and pressuring me to buy junk from her spouse?

The company I work for has between 30-40 employees. We have one HR person and she may be friendly with my boss (they are members of the same club, I am pretty sure).

She’s really out of line here — intentionally or not, she’s using her position of power to pressure you into buying things from her spouse and ignoring your clear no’s, and that’s Not Okay.

Ideally you’d tell HR what’s going on and ask them to intervene, because companies generally don’t want people doing this. Even if HR is friends with her, in a decently run company they’d still be receptive to hearing what’s going on, especially if your company has a no-soliciting policy (check your handbook to see if you do). But if you’re not comfortable going to them, then all you can really do is stand firm with your boss. That means stop buying the MLM stuff — seriously, just stop; she can’t make you buy it — and say this to her: “Please stop asking me to buy things — since you’re my boss, it’s putting me in an awkward position.” Then if needed: “It’s important to me that I don’t feel pressured by my boss to buy things I can’t afford. I need to take this topic off the table.”

If you’re not comfortable with either of those, then you’d left with case-by-case refusals — meaning “No, thank you” and “No, I’m really not interested.” And stick to that. Do it often enough and she’ll probably back off.

As for the comments about the looks, again ideally you’d talk to HR since she hasn’t stopped when you told her to and she’s getting awfully close to harass-y territory with that. But if you don’t want to do that, then let’s roll this all into one conversation and say this: “Jane, there are two things that have been making me really uncomfortable lately. I don’t feel comfortable when you comment on my looks or pressure me to buy MLM products. Can you please stop both of those?” If she argues with you, then say this: “I understand you see it differently. I’d still like you to stop.”

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Jobs that want a two-week trial period

I am looking to take my career in a slightly different direction, so I am always looking for new opportunities. Several ads I have read for admin-type jobs talk about a two-week trial.

I think of my current company and employees have several months without goals before they are expected to be up to speed. I don’t know that we would have a staff if we judged whether someone would stay or go at two weeks. I can’t see risking leaving a decent job for someone who says if you can’t prove yourself right away (and do things how they expect — not necessarily how you were taught before), you would be out of a job. Am I totally out of touch or is this a common thing? This isn’t the first time I have seen this. This job was maybe a step above entry-level.

Nope, not normal, reasonable, or practical.

It is true that you can sometimes tell a lot about how well someone is going to work out in their first couple of weeks, but that still doesn’t make this reasonable. For one thing, no currently employed candidate is going to be able to take off two weeks from their current job to do this. For another, few candidates are going to be excited about signing on for such a flimsy trial period, so they’re screening for people without a lot of options. And really, the company is trying to shift all the burden of the normal risks of hiring on to their candidates. Companies that have rigorous hiring processes (which should include exercises and simulations of the work they’d be doing on the job anyway), train people well, and are forthright about addressing problems (including letting people go if they’re not working out) don’t need two-week trial periods.

3. Gifting up in a tragedy

I agree with the idea of not gifting up to managers, but I have a twist. Recently my grandboss suffered a house fire, and while I don’t know the particulars, the news photos show the house as unlivable for the foreseeable future. Grandboss has a teenager and toddler, and a dog that the news reports say was rescued from the fire. In this case, would there be anything wrong with donating a gift card to something like Wal-Mart or a grocery store to the family (perhaps even anonymously?) as I know that insurance can’t possibly cover all the day-to-day? As context, grandboss and I have recently been working together on a major project with boss’ blessing.

I think the normal rules about not gifting up get suspended when someone loses everything in a fire. That said, if you can, try to get a little more information about how she and her family are doing first. If they’re actually well taken care of financially (and some people are in situations like this), it might be that something else would be more useful than a grocery gift card, as thoughtful as that is.

4. I’ve missed a bunch of work soon after starting a new job

Tis the season for sick days and I’m only about five months into my job but have had really bad luck with my health lately. We had our massive annual event three weeks ago, and I got through that with no illness. But, since then, I had to go home the day after because I felt faint. Then, the week after I had to call out on Tuesday and Thursday for a fever/sinus infection likely caused by my post-event immune system collapse. My boss then sent me home early on Friday of that week as well because she wanted me to get rest. I came back for the short week before the holiday and was fine. But my roommate had a stomach bug that was passed to me and after nearly vomiting on my commute, I decided it’d be best to turn around and go home. I feel well enough to do work remotely but it’s been a mess these last few weeks and I’m still so new that I’m concerned about my VP walking my desk and noticing that I’m out of the office again.

I’m coming to this company from previous employers that heavily discouraged sick days (I once had a visual migraine and, despite my explanation that I just needed to sleep and that I really couldn’t see well, my supervisor made me get onto our standing and completely-able-to-be-rescheduled weekly check-in over the phone). My current boss seems to be super encouraging of employees staying home sick (which I totally agree with — if someone showed up to work with a stomach bug, I’d be annoyed at their lack of care for others). But, I do fear though that this mess of maladies will ultimately be a mark against me. Should I say something to allay fears that I’ll be chronically absent?

I hadn’t been out sick until this run of issues and overall it seems my boss is pleased with my performance but any advice of something to say to make it clear I’m not just skipping out on work or a complete weakling?

Acknowledge that it’s been a lot of time and that it’s unusual for you. Since you’re new, if you say nothing, your boss may wonder if you often miss this much work and that’s why it doesn’t seem remarkable to you. But most managers also understand that sometimes people just get hit with a lot of bad luck all at once, and if you frame it that way, you’ll probably allay any worries she might have.

You could say something like this: “I’ve had a perfect storm of bad luck health-wise these last few weeks! I’ve never had so many illnesses pile up on me like that before. I’m hoping it’s all behind me now, and I really appreciate you being understanding about it.”

5. Should I leave telemarketing work off my resume?

I’m a student and I’ve been maintaining a job on my university’s campus soliciting donations over the last year and a half. The pay is decent and the hours are pretty flexible. It’s essentially a call center with better work conditions. I’ve been debating leaving the job off of my resume, as I know that many people dislike these calls and do not hold callers in very high esteem. Should I?

No, you should be fine leaving it on. Campus fundraising jobs are really common to see on students’ and recent grads’ resumes, and lots of hiring managers like to see that you’ve done a job that requires reasonably polished phone skills and some elements of customer service and sales. And while it’s true that people dislike telemarketers, they tend to cut more slack for college students doing this kind of fundraising. (And really, even if it were a different type of telemarketing job, it would still be fine to leave it on your resume. Being personally annoyed with telemarketing calls don’t usually translate into holding it against a job applicant.)

{ 481 comments… read them below }

  1. AnonAndOn*

    MLMs can be so ridiculous. I hope you’re able to get her to stop this, OP 1. And her making comments about your looks is rude too.

    1. Artemesia*

      This is a classic ‘your boss sucks and is not going to get better.’ Say ‘no’ and start looking for another job, not in a rush but so you can open up your options. This is monstrous behavior from a boss.

        1. Say what, now?*

          This is the track I would take as well. If you were asked by an interviewer (and I really doubt you would be) why you chose the retired boss, you could just say that you chose to use your former VP as a reference because you worked under her longer and she can attest to your skills better.

      1. Specialk9*

        This is really not ok, and OP I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this. Financial pressure to enrich your boss, and sexual harassment, either would be a firing offense in a well run company.

        The world has changed abruptly recently, where suddenly women don’t have to deal with sexual harassment from men with power. I’m finding myself disconcerted that it changed so suddenly, I thought that was one of those things that had been and would be, time immemorial. But no – every day has a new report of someone famous fired after decades of sexually harassing women. It’s neat and disorienting.

        But here’s the thing, OP. It’s still sexual harassment when your boss is a gay woman. It’s still not acceptable and has all of the creepy feelings and abuse of power dynamics as if she were a straight man. So deal with this like you would a man: document all comments and incidents (have one list for harassment incidents, one for financial pressure, kept offsite) and go to HR.

          1. Observer*

            Based on what the OP says, it’s pretty clear that she is – “Her wife” is pretty much it.

            In a way, in this case the fact that it’s a man makes it worse from the legal pov. It really feels like this is happening in part because the OP is male- kind of a “payback” vibe. I could be wrong, but it’s the kind of thing any smart HR person would be thinking about.

            1. Sue No-Name*

              Yeah this is really speculative and silly. Please don’t assume such weird things purely based on individuals’ identities.

              1. Observer*

                What’s speculative here? The OP uses “her wife” and female pronouns through out, so gay woman is a given. Allison is the one who says that the OP is a male. So, no speculation there, either.

                I also don’t see anything speculative or silly about pointing out that it’s just as illegal to discriminate against a man as a woman, and therefore the OP’s HR should be concerned. Because, while no one here knows what’s in the boss’ mind, it’s not speculative to say that employers DO get bitten by this, and if the EEOC or a lawyer comes knocking with such a claim, it’s not going to be “silly”, it’s going to be a hassle (at best), whether or not that’ actually the reason that the boss is making these gross comments.

                1. Annabelle*

                  I can’t speak for the person who made the original comment but, someone who *is* a gay woman, I feel like focusing on the boss’ sexuality is silly, and it’s speculative to assume she’s a lesbian because there are many indentifiers under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.

                2. Jesmlet*

                  Please try to remember that bisexual people do exist… being a woman who is married to a woman does not make you gay. It just means you’re not straight.

                3. Delphine*

                  First you assumed that it must be sexual harassment because you figured the OP was a woman, and then when you realized he wasn’t, immediately decided it must be payback because he’s a man. You’ve got no evidence to support either assumption.

                4. Julia the Survivor*

                  It can be creepy and disgusting without being explicitly sexual.
                  I worked for a woman who would get offensively personal with both her staff and clients. Even though it wasn’t, as far as I could tell, sexual, it was still very creepy, presumptuous, inappropriate…

                5. Blynnda*

                  I admit that the phrasing “her wife” implied to me that the boss is not straight- she could be a myriad of other things that are totally unrelated to the issue at hand, including gay, bi, pan, etc. Doesn’t really matter, the MLM stuff and commenting on the looks are a problem regardless.
                  With that being said, OP says he is uncomfortable going to HR because he thinks they may be friends, and then he specifically says “they are part of the same club, i believe.” Am I the only one who hears this as a way of saying he believes the HR person is gay (or etc) and therefore not impartial? That seems problematic on OP’s end. . .

                6. Observer*

                  @Blynnda I’m wondering why you would think that “belong to the same club” would have to be a code word for also being gay?

                  I think that it really doesn’t change anything. Whether they are both gay, or they belong to the same knitting / country / cosplay club, the OP believes that this relationship would cause the HR person to be biased in favor of his boss. And it’s unfortunately not an unreasonable conclusion, regardless of what “club” it is.

                7. Observer*

                  Julia the Survivor, you are absolutely correct that “It can be creepy and disgusting without being explicitly sexual”. It’s just that *IF* it’s explicitly sexual it adds a layer of problem and a layer of potential legal liability.

                8. Lara*

                  Delphine: if a boss who is attracted to your gender makes constant comments about your looks i’d class that as harassment.

                  The payback comment is speculation bordering on homophobia, but if their genders were reversed there would be no-one suggesting that op’s boss was maybe teetering toward harassment; we’d be recommending HR.

            2. LBK*

              Whoa, what? Are we still talking about the MLM letter? I think this is just a case of the typical obnoxious, pushy tactics MLMs encourage you to use – it doesn’t sound any more targeted or personal than any other letter AAM has gotten about them.

              1. LBK*

                Also, what a gross, homophobic stereotype that a gay/bi woman would have some kind of vendetta against someone purely for being male.

                1. Observer*

                  You’re putting words in my mouth. The boss is clearly gay.

                  But, that’s not the issue. The fact is that boss is female and the admin is male. And SOME women (nothing to do with gay or straight) do have an odd kind of reaction to men lower than them in the pecking order. It’s not all that common, but it’s a real thing. And given how gross the boss’ behavior is here, I don’t think it’s all that much of a stretch to think that she might have this attitude. And, as I said, whether I’m right or wrong, it’s enough of a possibility in this case that a competent HR person would be thinking about this.

                2. LBK*

                  Huh? I’m not disagreeing with the boss being gay, that’s in the letter. I’m disagreeing with the idea that this has anything to do with some kind of man-hating payback – there’s not a single thing in the letter to suggest that’s what’s happening here aside from the boss being a woman. And there is a stereotype about lesbians in particular being man-haters. If that’s not what you meant then you need to be way more careful with the pieces you put together based on zero evidence.

                3. Observer*

                  So let me clarify this again – this has nothing to do with whether the boss is gay or not.

                  However, there is a very real phenomenon of some women who have an attitude towards men in traditionally female jobs. It’s not something I normally expect – it’s a very weird kind of behavior. But, the boss’ behavior is just the kind of thing that I would expect to see if she did have such an attitude. Then there are also the women who say things like “It’s not possible for a woman to discriminate against a man. (So I can do x, y or z, even though a man couldn’t do it to a woman.)” Not common, but real.

                  Is that happening here or is the boss just being a jerk? I don’t know. But the possibility should worry HR. Because being a jerk is not illegal. But being a jerk because of gender IS illegal. And what’s important here is the gender of the OP.

            3. M*

              Also the boss could be bi. But regardless it’s not cool for a boss to be commenting on an employees looks especially after the employee has asked them to stop.

              1. Fiennes*

                I read the comments on looks as being pitches for the MLM stuff: “You sure look tired. You need…Herbalife!” and so on, rather than specifically gendered/sexual. But LW1 is really the only one who can say.

                1. Specialk9*

                  Oh see that would make sense! I didn’t think of that. And her comments on appearance being related to the MLM pitches would totally explain why the OP didn’t give us any details on the kind of comments. I went straight to harassment, but “you look tired, here’s an eye cream” is obnoxious but not sexual harassment. It’s still wildly inappropriate, so still go to HR.

              2. Specialk9*

                It’s a good point that the boss could be bi! I know better but wasn’t thinking. Athe idea that sexual orientation is relevant to sexual harassment. Hmm. It seemed relevant when dealing with a gay female boss and a female subordinate… but learning OP is male (and still thinking that it’s harassment and he should report it) makes me think orientation really is irrelevant. Thanks for the feedback!

            4. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Sorry, I forgot that we knew the sex of her spouse.

              I don’t see any payback for being male here though! That seems like a real stretch and very, very speculative.

              1. Observer*

                It happens – nothing to do with orientation, but male support staff to a female. It’s not common, but I’ve seen it.

                I didn’t know it’s a bit of a “thing” till I read a Maid in America by Mary Romero (the original version). She mentions in passing some of her female colleagues who specifically preferred to hire male household help as a sort of turn-around of roles. Clearly that was a minority of her colleagues, but from the way she describes it there is little room to mistake the motivations as they spelled it out quite clearly.

                The truth is that it’s not highly likely, but it’s possible enough that HR should have some concern about it. It’s just another potential complication of behavior that’s totally inappropriate regardless of the reason.

              2. JM60*

                Knowing the gender of the two only tells you that she’s not straight. She could be bisexual. Regardless, the behavior of the boss is very inappropriate, even if the boss isn’t attracted to men.

          2. Yep, me again*

            Pronoun used is her in reference to the wife. I’d say it’s safe to assume this is a gay woman unless OP wants to clarify this is a transwoman.

            1. Annabelle*

              Trans women are women, so I’m not really sure what you’re getting at with this caveat? But also, the LW’s boss could be bi, pan, sexually fluid, or a myriad of other identifiers, none of which are especially relevant to the fact that she’s goading LW to buy stuff from her wife.

              1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

                All this. As anyone with a high school friend who’s gotten into LuLaRoe knows, MLM pushiness can get very extreme because that’s what sellers (and supportive spouses) are encouraged to do to be “good businesspeople.” The boss is being an asshole; that her wife is a woman isn’t relevant.

                1. Annabelle*

                  Exactly. Also, MLM tactics are not all that different from, well, harassment. I’ve gotten dozens of cold messages from people I either don’t know or haven’t making lots of comments on my appearance. Of course, that doesn’t make it okay. All of this is awful and inappropriate, but it’s really not necessary to center this woman’s queerness.

                2. Observer*

                  That’s true. The spouse’s gender really is not relevant which was kind of the point of the original comment – ie harassment is harassment regardless of the whether the boss is gay.

                3. Landshark*

                  Ugh. I hate their pushy tactics. Stop bugging me to buy your overpriced crap. I’ve never seen the pushy partners in my experience, but I can believe that it’s a thing, and using power like OP’s manager is doing to add extra layers of pushy harassment is abhorrent.

                1. JamieS*

                  Aebhel they are a same gender couple not a same sex couple. Knowing and acknowledging that doesn’t make someone transphobic. It makes them someone who’s taken middle school biology.

      2. paul*


        What Alison suggested may help but I’m not optimistic about a boss that’s that bad about these things being good overall.

        1. Julia the Survivor*

          He’s been there three years. If it was me I would try escalating first. If this can be resolved he may be able to stay, or transfer to a different position.

      3. Yep, me again*

        I would say start now or put away enough money for a cushion. Once you make it clear her pushiness will not work, she will increase the pressure on you in other ways and make your life hell.

        Get. Out.

        1. Specialk9*

          I don’t know, this is pretty obviously inappropriate, I’d at least try management. It also gives him a case for retaliation if terminated or harassed further.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes. And strong agree with Alison that the comments on her looks/body sound harass-y. OP, does your boss make comments like that to your coworkers (of all genders)?

      But overall, I agree with Artemesia.. your boss sucks and is not going to change. I’m really sorry she’s being so invasive, bullying and inappropriate. It’s not ok or right.

      1. Stingray*

        The timing of this letter is great. MI’s Attorney General candidate, Dana Nessel, is campaigning on the promise that she won’t harass women. Which is funny, especially given today’s letter.

        1. the gold digger*

          Sheesh. It’s a sad day when you have to specify that you won’t be a jerk.

          My husband is running for office. Maybe he can include in his platform that not only will he not harass anyone, he also won’t accept bribes, cheat taxpayers, or make secret deals with Russia.

        2. Jesca*

          It is odd. Its not like misogyny is only open to men. I have seen a lot of women harass other women and agree/laugh/participate in the sexual harassment.

          1. Specialk9*

            Sexual harassment is by definition unwelcome. Sexually themed banter among friends, lovers, etc is fine (if inappropriate at work) if welcome. But since it can be hard to know if something is truly welcome, it’s not wise to play with that dynamic. My thoughts at least.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        And strong agree with Alison that the comments on her looks/body sound harass-y.

        This was the most disturbing part of the letter to me, especially when she said she told the manager to stop doing it and the problem persists! I would have been gone to HR about this nonsense because she’s way out of line.

      3. Mrs B*

        I would think that both the comments on the appearance and the pressure to purchase products are harassment. I would talk to HR about this, even if the HR person is a friend of the VP, if the workplace has a harassment policy and/or whistleblower policy they have to follow it regardless.

        1. moosetracks*

          Yeah, even though OP is a man and it’s not a gendered thing, it’s still definitely harassment (though obviously if any of the comments are sexual in any way, then it IS sexual harassment).

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Sexual harassment includes harassment on the basis of gender! The comments don’t have to be sexual in nature. There just has to be evidence that the boss is treating OP differently because of OP’s gender, usually when compared to another gender group (women can harass women, and women can harass men, and it doesn’t have to be sexual to be unlawful).

            But the comments are inappropriate and harassing in the non-legal sense of the word (and they may be harassing in the legal sense), and they should be reported up the chain or otherwise kiboshed.

            1. moosetracks*

              Oh, definitely! I just meant that it didn’t sound gendered, it more sounds like these comments are just ugly MLM tactics. I’d kind of imagined that the boss was doing this to everyone, but that the remarks may veer into negging about sexual things (e.g. “you need this cologne because it will make your partner want to have sex with you”) : but that may absolutely not be the case, and it could be that she IS specifically discriminating against him because he’s male and/or making specifically gendered, non-sexual comments, which is ALSO sexual harassment.

      4. Kelly L.*

        Quite possibly. Some of these MLMs actually teach this–the salesperson will either gushingly compliment the person, or neg them, to try to rope them in to buy the product. I’ve experienced both: “You have such pretty eyes! Our new eyeshadow colors blah blah blah…” and “I have just the thing for your blemish problem!” I’ve heard horror stories of fat shaming from people hawking weight loss shakes, and of husbands being talked into buying their wives anti-age cream because “she wants it, you know!” when she has never actually said such a thing. It’s so gross.

        1. Artemesia*

          I once sat on the deck of a park cabin in Tennessee on a lake with fellow book club members and we heard MLM members practicing their pitch on the deck of the next cabin. All these folksy pressure moves are well rehearsed and they are taught things like ‘a friend who doesn’t support your friend is not a friend’ and worse than that ‘people who don’t support a Christian businessperson are not good Christians.’ My husband used to prosecute securities fraud and I have read some of the scripts they teach to sell rubes on investments and they sound folksy, natural, smooth and engaging — while they are cheating you. The boss lays this crap on our OP as the result of the training on how to be aggressive that is part of the MLM. There should be an absolute ban on any such sales in the workplace. The most that should be allowed in any workplace is a catalogue and forms in the breakroom in case anyone wants to buy Avon or whatever and NO personal reminders. Same goes for Girl Scout cookies.

          1. Artemesia*

            That would be ‘friend who doesn’t support your business is not your friend’. And an example of a script to cheat farmers on an investment ‘What you running down there?’ Mark says ‘we have a herd of 40 cattle’ and crook says ‘Well had to ask, you know sometimes I get people claiming to be farmers who have a cat and a dog and a hamster. This investment is for farmers.’

            1. Jadelyn*

              Don’t you just love how “support your business” necessarily means “by buying shit from you”? I can support your “business” (which MLMs are not, really) by being a supportive cheerleader friend or listening to you vent about your struggles with it or whatever. But to tie “support” with “give money to”…yeah, no.

              The bringing religion into it is even grosser. I mean, did I miss the part where Jesus said “thou shalt waste money on MLMs as long as they’re being pushed by one of my people”?

              1. TootsNYC*

                Actually, he said, “You shall not make my Father’s house a marketplace.” I think he’d be pretty pissed at the idea that people are using “his Father’s house” (i.e., the umbrella of the Christian faith) to make money off of people!

                1. Jadelyn*

                  Oh yeah, the whole moneychangers in the temple thing, right? I hadn’t remembered that…which just makes it worse, I mean how badly do you have to twist and reinterpret your own religious stories to go from “Jesus flipped tables and chased a bunch of bankers out of the temple because he was pissed that they were doing business in the temple” to “Jesus wants you to sell things in his name and expects his followers to buy things sold by other believers”?

              2. Kelly L.*

                I will totally buy my friends’ stuff from their actual real businesses, like if they make crafts or wrote a book or something. But MLM and all its crappy makeup is a big fat NOPE. I don’t know how anyone’s supposed to actually make money at it, even leaving aside the predatory business model: whole circles of friends, all selling crap to each other and feeling obligated to buy each other’s crap in return. Just sit in a circle and pass dollar bills around.

              3. Specialk9*

                It’s ironic, because I often think that being a good friend would mean warning them that MLM schemes are exploitative. But I just don’t see anything good coming from that conversation so I have always kept my mouth shut.

          2. JustaTech*

            I never won a fundraising contest for school or for Girl Scouts because my dad refused to even bring in the catalog because he was so sick of other bosses strong-arming / guilt tripping their subordinates into buying cookies or gift wrap or whatever.
            It was an important lesson to learn, even if I didn’t really get it at 8.

            1. Traveling Teacher*

              +1 Same here! At the time, I was sad that I wouldn’t “win” a Girl Scout Barbie (or whatever), but now I’m glad that my parents taught me that lesson young.

            2. Annie on a Mouse*

              When I was in the eighth grade, my family had just moved to a new city and I was supposed to sell buckets of cookie dough to raise money to go on a school retreat. My teacher twitted me about not having sold any cookie dough—even if I didn’t know a lot of people in town, couldn’t my dad at least take the form into his office?

              Sadly I was too young to appreciate the look on her face when I responded, a little too honestly, “Because my mom says it’s inappropriate for my dad to pressure his staff to buy things they don’t want so I can go on a retreat.”

            1. Specialk9*

              Uh, that nested funny. The training on how to pressure people in a folksy way, using friendship and religion as cudgels, is the chilling thing.

  2. namelesscommentator*

    OP#3: This is really thoughtful. I’ve lost everything in a house fire before and the most useful things in the moments afterwards were visa giftcards, hotel stays, and a ride to the car dealership so we could get a set of keys made.

    Even if they have insurance and ultimately will be made whole there may be cash flow problems in the immediate – especially if their wallets burned. This is the main reason why the red cross visa gift card was one of the most helpful things.

    You can also ask what would be most helpful. Maybe you could send a note with an offer “Please let me know what you need” or “can I be on the look out for anything that you’re kids are missing…” with something like winter hats/socks for the family.

    1. Fiennes*

      I, too, had a fire, and that Red Cross money helped *so much* in the aftermath. What I needed most wasn’t so much food (which was perishable anyway) as it was basic necessities: plates, pots, shoes, even underwear. I agree that a Visa card that can be used for anything is the way to go.

      1. Collarbone High*

        After my apartment building burned down, the management company gave each resident a generous Target gift card and it was SUCH a help. I’ve started giving gift cards for any kind of disaster relief in the US because I realized that a lot of what you need to immediately buy isn’t the sort of thing that gets donated — underwear, feminine supplies, OTC medications, basic cooking supplies and dishes so you can cook if you get put up in a hotel.

        OP, that’s really thoughtful of you.

        1. JessaB*

          Also stuff for the dog and the baby. Dog food, dish, one of those stupid grabby things with baggies for picking up during walking the dog. Diapers, bottles, sippy cups. Stuffed toys. if I had no choice but to give a name brand gift card and not something open ended like a prepaid debit card, I’d go for a pet supply place or a baby goods shop. And don’t forget the teenager probably lost ALL their school supplies.

          It’s the stupid little stuff. The things that don’t cost a lot but you NEED them and you don’t think of them, until the teenager realises their backpack and all their stuff is gone, you go to walk the dog and have no leash. Insurance will cover the big stuff, but that also takes time, and ultimately they will cover the small stuff, but OMG you need that NOW.

      2. Specialk9*

        I’ve heard that before about the Red Cross. I never quite know what to think of them. Maybe yay domestically, nay internationally?

        1. Daffodil*

          My understanding is Red Cross is really good at helping people deal with the immediate aftermath of a crisis, but not so good on longer term rebuilding (which, in the case of something like a housefire, other resources and insurance can help with).

    2. Al Lo*

      Our house burned to the ground when I was a kid, and we had a ton of people give us second-hand clothes, books, toys, etc. We had more than we needed, and the generosity of our community was remarkable.

      The fire was on a Thursday, and one gift that really still stands out was the gift to my parents of a new, full set of dress clothes for each of them, delivered to them on Saturday, so that they had something to wear to church — dress, suit and tie, shoes, pantyhose/socks, right down to underwear. We had so much given to us kids in particular (since kids are much easier to give hand-me-downs to), and it was such a kindness for someone to think of my parents and go shopping for those outfits for them.

      1. Al Lo*

        We lived on a farm near a very small town — there was no fire department that could get to us within 20 minutes, and the closest several were volunteer fire departments, so by the time the firefighters got there, all they could really do was keep the fire from spreading. We lost everything, and found weird moments of humor in the situation and the weeks and months that followed, as my parents dealt with the insurance, re-building, and everything else that went along with it.

        We weren’t particularly involved in that town, but one of the community associations threw a house-warming party/shower for my mom some months later. Our church collected donations and brought out a van full of donated clothes, books, and toys within 48 hours of the fire (we were living with my grandma, so there was less concern about space than there would be if we were in a hotel or trying to find a rental). Family members and friends made copies of old photos and sent them back to us, so we have many of the photos we had before. People stepped up in all kinds of ways that we didn’t realize we needed until they provided us with something.

        One thing that sticks out to me was, 6 months after the fire, entering as a family and riding our bikes in the small town parade with signs on the backs thanking the volunteer fire department and community, and getting to throw the candy at the parade.

        All that to say — we were cared for, clothed, given reading materials (a huge priority for 12-year-old me), fed, and sheltered, and that went a long way to this being a defining, sad, but slightly fond memory of my childhood, rather than a traumatic one (it helps that we didn’t have a dramatic escape story). Being part of that village for your boss and family (in whatever way is appropriate) — particularly the kids — will be remembered for a long time.

        1. with a twist*

          I was holding it together until I got to the part about the parade, and now I’m trying not to cry at my desk. What a great way to show your appreciation for everything that was done for your family.

        2. puzzld*

          This isn’t so much for work friends, but if you know someone who has suffered a loss like that and you can replace family photos, etc. this is a kindness.

          1. Al Lo*

            Absolutely. Our fire was almost 25 years ago, so well before cloud storage, scanned photos/documents, and social media. It meant a lot to have people send us all kinds of old family photos again. There were obviously so many things that couldn’t be replaced, but those could.

            It’s part of why I’m so militant about cloud storage. I don’t understand people who (still!) can lose everything when a hard drive crashes. There was an in-between time when it made sense to burn photos to a CD and put them in a safe deposit box or somewhere offsite, but these days, so much can be recovered very quickly.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Our community did the same for us when our house burned when I was a kid. My mom worked as a custodian at the elementary school, and we were immediately given everything we needed to be almost whole again: sets of dishes, pots & pans, clothes, shoes, towels, sheet sets, cash — just everything! I don’t remember if there was a Red Cross person, but the teachers pretty much had us covered anyway.

      3. MsChanandlerBong*

        Excuse me, but could you please stop chopping onions in here? Thank you. (I’m bawling my eyes out over the kindness of the people who gave the dress clothes.)

        1. Al Lo*

          Another thing that I’d forgotten about until now — our closest neighbour had a baby napping when the fire happened, so she couldn’t leave her house to come help (not that she knew what she would do, anyway). My aunt came and picked up us kids so we didn’t have to watch, so we weren’t around to need to go to the neighbour’s house.

          So she stood on her porch, took pictures every few minutes, and noted the exact times that flames broke through the roof, each fire truck arrived, the fire department left, etc, thinking that my parents may need that documentation for insurance purposes and that they wouldn’t have the presence of mind to track any of those details. I can’t imagine that it would have been easy for her to stand there and watch it all happen, but she did, and gave what she could through it.

          Kindness in a situation like that comes in so many different forms.

      4. Observer*

        Incredibly touching.

        Letters like this and these kinds of stories really give a lift in a difficult time.

    3. Dawn*

      We had a house fire almost 10 years ago and lost everything. I had 7 kids ages 12 and under. We were crammed into two adjoining hotel rooms for 2 weeks before the insurance company found a rental house for us to stay in while rebuilding. We had to eat at restaurants for all meals which was expensive as you can imagine. Plus replacing everything for the 9 of us. The day of the fire, the Red Cross gave us $1200 and our insurance company gave us an advance on our policy of another couple thousand. I remember taking the kids to Target and Kohls at 8 p.m. to try to get a few changes of clothes, shoes, medications, etc. before both stores closed. Thankfully friends went with us and took a couple kids each so my husband and I could shop for ourselves as well.

      The best things people did for us was watch our children so we could meet with contractors/insurance people and shop for furniture, give us gift cards to restaurants, and cash. Both our workplaces collected money for us, which helped a lot.

      Our insurance company was awful and our mortgage company made the process even harder. We ended up having to declare bankruptcy. It was not a great experience for us and I switched insurance companies the day we could do so (we were stuck with them for 2-3 years after the fire for some reason).

      1. Specialk9*

        Wow. Insurance gave you $133 per person to replace all your clothes and things. That’s terrible.

      2. OhNo*

        Piggybacking on your comment about help with the kids – even if the grandboss is in a pretty stable financial situation after the fire, I wonder if they might be open to some kind of service-related gift for the kids, or even the dog. Gifting a day or two of babysitting, doggy daycare/boarding, or something else like that might be helpful even if the necessities are all covered.

    4. MCM*

      I feel for your boss. Another thought, that people might think about is the dog. Dog toys, bowls, bed, dog treats, etc. might be a great gift. They may also have a vet bill if the dog suffered smoke inhalation. Temporary housing may not accept a pet. Would someone be willing to board the dog for a few days to a week or two. Dog boarding is extremely expensive. A laundry basket full of items to clean with, etc. All the small things that you use to maintain a home would be great. Someone mentioned a Red Cross Visa. What exactly is that?

      1. browneyedgirl*

        I was going to say if they like dogs they could offer to dogsit for a few weeks, that’ll open up a lot more housing options for the boss.

      2. DJ*

        After a fire, the local Red Cross helps out. They give you money on a card based on how many people and their ages. They can also help you find a hotel/motel while you get things sorted with your insurance.

        Having been through this, I can say that one of the most useful gifts we got was cleaning supplies. Once we were in a new apartment, it was so nice that someone had given us dishwashing detergent and all those kinds of things. I remember us filling the dishwasher and having a moment where it was like “oh gosh, do we even have detergent” and then remembering that gift.

        1. MK*

          Just tacking on to all of this with a PSA: Folks with kids who experience displacing house fires should reach out to their school’s homeless liaison. The kids likely qualify for services under the McKinney-Vento Act, which can include free school meals for the rest of the year, school supplies, transportation from where ever the temporary housing is so they don’t have to leave their school, and other services that they may need to participate in school. Often, teachers will chip in to pay for these things for affected students out of their own pockets, but actually there’s federal funding available under this program – people usually just don’t realize it can apply here, since the family doesn’t meet our stereotype of homelessness.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I had no idea this was a thing and that it would apply to temporary displacement from disaster. I’m glad to hear it, but I wish it was better publicized.

  3. ExceptionToTheRule*

    OP5 – I know my university’s solicitation phone number & won’t answer. I blame the university for calling constantly, not the work study kids.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Ditto this. I never blame the students for telemarketing; I reserve my ire for the University’s development department.

    2. VioletEMT*

      I was a fundraiser at my university.
      After I graduated, when I received my first call from *that* number, I answered it, politely listened to the spiel, and said, “Thanks, I’ll donate, here’s the info… now please take me off the call list.” I still donate every year.

      The students don’t want to call people who don’t want to be called. Just ask to be taken off the list.

      I miss the people. I don’t miss the job. I did list it on my resume right away and it helped me get my first post-grad job, which was in customer service and involved dealing with phone calls.

      1. Lapak*

        I work in a university advancement office, and if you don’t want to be called VioletEMT has done exactly the right thing here. Just ask. Every properly-run fundraising office maintains a list of solicitation preferences (don’t contact me at all for any reason / or just for solicitations / or for event invitations / by phone / by email etc etc) and will respect what you tell them about your desires. Because we’re required to, and because it’s the right thing to do, and also because a real person calling you is the most expensive way of asking there is and we don’t want to waste that effort!

        1. blackcat*

          I am a PhD student, who got a masters for free along the way ( I just filed a piece of paper at the end of the second year).

          Completing that masters got me on the fundraising list. Meanwhile, I am an employee of the university, paid roughly 30k in a very high COL area.

          I have asked to be taken off the list repeatedly, to no avail. Now I have the number blocked. And after the student on the phone once told me that he “had to ask for at least $500” according to his script (kid told me he felt bad about that, too, since he was a first gen college student and $500 seemed like a “crazy” amount to him), I settled on NEVER donating.

          If they had removed me from the list? Asked for $5? Maybe I would donate in the future. Bad policies really do harm the donor base, and I am baffled that my university does these things.

          1. Q*

            Yikes! Mine calls once a year and only asks for like 20 bucks (my graduation year, with decimals in there). They update my contact info, tell me what’s going on on campus, I listen politely, they invite me to come by whenever, I thank them, they ask for money, I say no because I have lots of debt and a poorly-paying job at this point, they laugh and commiserate, and then we hang up.

          2. sometimeswhy*

            I got two degrees from my university under two different names. They took my current name off their call list on request but keep calling and writing me asking for OldName to donate and, in my favorite twist of logic, won’t honor my requests to take OldName off their list because I am not OldName.

            The last time they called I asked the poor kid to put in my call notes that I thought that devalued my degrees and to please remove me, all the mes, from their list all the time telling them I knew it wasn’t their fault.

            1. Not that Anne, the other Anne*

              I also got two degrees under two names. They never called me under NewName, but I did get repeated calls under OldName. I ignored them for awhile but eventually actually answered. They asked for OldName, I truthfully said that no one by that name was at this number, and they never called again.

              Too bad your university can’t figure that out.

            2. Jadelyn*

              Is “Bureaucratic Logic” a course taught in the Philosophy dept perhaps? It’s like principles of formal logic, but twisted for maximum inconvenience.

              1. sometimeswhy*


                They’re also a renowned party school (that happened to have a REALLY GOOD MyField department) so maybe it’s all those kegstands?

          3. Coalea*

            I remember one year I had lost my job. A student called and asked me for a large donation, so I explained that I had no income at the moment and wouldn’t be able to donate. He lowered his original “ask” but kept pushing. I was really offended and haven’t donated since, even though I have the money now.

          4. Xarcady*

            About 3 years after I graduated, I got the annual call. But this time, the student asked for a specific dollar amount–which was more than double one week’s take-home pay. I’m afraid I just burst out laughing, because there was no way I could afford that. But we had a new alumnae director who thought this was a great idea.

            Yeah, I didn’t donate anything until she left.

          5. synchrojo*

            My undergrad institution has some brilliant development staff. Recent campaigns (which are almost always via email, not phone) include asking people to donate the amount to cover specific intro level textbooks, explaining that book costs are included in financial aid packages for students. The campaign encouraged people to buy books for a department/class they have fond memories of, or a class they wish they had taken. Another offered the opportunity to send a note to the student who currently has your campus mailbox– to offer encouragement as the end of the semester approaches. The ask to make a donation in their honor is secondary, but I am so much more likely to donate because they provided opportunities to give back that aren’t monetary as well.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Yes. I am death on most telemarketers (I work from home, and so am here to answer the phone) but when my kid’s college calls I donate or politely say no. (They call once, in the fall, not all year long.) And I’d say that goes for most fundraising for reputable organizations–leave “I’m Rachel at Cardholder Services” off your resume, but if you fundraised for WWF that should be positive to neutral.

        3. the gold digger*

          I asked last year to be taken off the local theatre troupe’s call list. They did, but they are calling again this year. We do buy an annual subscription, but we get the cheapest seats available.

          So they are calling again this year, despite my request last year. I finally emailed them and told them that buying the tickets we have is a stretch and a complete luxury and that my (unemployed) husband is running for public office and if he answers the phone when they call, he will ask them for money.

          (PS I know the arts are important, but the charity money we do give goes to local food pantries and homeless shelters. You can’t appreciate art if you are hungry.)

        4. another Liz*

          I did that several years ago. Suddenly I’m getting solicitations again, to include donations to my University in my estate and retirement planning. I paid my own way through school, I am nowhere near retirement. They seem to think I’m my own parents…

      2. Tableau Wizard*

        I am always polite to them, but I often lie and say that I just mailed in my donation – because I hate saying no, but I also can’t really donate right now.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I didn’t have any problem saying “I might consider helping pay for someone else’s education after I’m done paying for mine.” I mean, one year after graduation, a lot of us are paying student loans, dude.

        2. Julia the Survivor*

          It makes sense if colleges with low or moderate tuition ask for donations, but rich colleges with very high tuition do also. Why do they need donations? I think it’s just greed.
          I stopped trying to finish a degree because they don’t care at all about me or my life, they just want all my money. :'(

      3. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I give my alma mater plenty of both my money & time. Asking to be taken off the list doesn’t work, you just wind up back on it the next fundraising cycle. Easier to just send it to voicemail.

      4. Your Weird Uncle*

        I work at a university and we regularly hire undergrads in our department to help out. We recently had a young woman who worked as a university fundraiser, and she was able to speak about how this job helped her to be outgoing and eloquent and how much it improved her phone skills (which was an important part of the job we were hiring for). We definitely did not hold the job against her, and actually the fact that she highlighted the skills and experience it gave her made her a really strong candidate. Ultimately we hired someone else who had just a bit more experience, but it was a tough decision and even now I remain really impressed with her interview.

        1. TootsNYC*

          definitely–being able to point to specific skills, and to indicate that you know how to tell if they’ve gotten better, tells people a LOT about your ability to thrive in a workplace.

      5. the gold digger*

        I didn’t even realize until this letter that this is a paid function! When I did it at my school (as an undergraduate), we were volunteers. No wonder they can pay the university president a million dollars a year now.

    3. Adlib*

      I know my university’s number too and don’t answer. My best/favorite professor always said he wished the university would leave us alone for 10 years after graduation because most of us left there with debt and no job! They still call new grads, but I think it’s just not smart and doesn’t generate goodwill.

      1. SophieChotek*

        Your prof seems to actually be practical. I remember one of our profs looked blankly at us when we complained our reimbursement money could take 6 months to arrive. Good point – at least 10 years…although given the size of my student loans, never…LOL.

        Like others – I know my university numbers and I don’t answer either.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I’ve given to my uni once, and I would like to give more, but I haven’t made it a priority. The first year after graduation we bought a house, then I started a part-time masters program, then my husband started a business (1 income for a while), then we had a 2nd kid, and so on.

        I’m 17 years out of school now, and our oldest kid is in college. I actually have the money to donate, but every time I start to reach for my checkbook, I’m thinking “tuition is due next month”. . .But, I think I’m going to go do it right now. Seriously. Before I spend it all on Christmas and January tuition.

      3. Rana*

        My alma mater sort of turned the poverty of recent grads into a gentle, “we’re laughing with you” joke – they would accept any level of donation (like, say $5 for the year) and then you’d be sent a magnet with a funny picture welcoming you to the we’re poor but we still count alumni club. They needed the numbers to get additional funding from donors, but never did the high-expectation demands my graduate institution liked to pull.

        As a result I’ll still donate to my alma mater (up to $20 now) but have blocked my graduate institution’s calls.

      4. TootsNYC*

        I can see that calling right away will begin building the sort of relationship that means you still give a fig about your alma mater 10 years from now.

        If I were doing it, I’d be asking for $10 or $25, and also offering those “buy a book” or “send a note to the person with your old college mailbox” opportunities.

        Start with small amounts, and build the relationship, not the dollars.

    4. OhNo*

      Likewise. As long as you can honestly say that you were respectful of people’s time and polite when calling them, I don’t think there’s any cause to leave it off your resume. Anyone who would hold your work in that area against you just because they don’t like getting those types of calls isn’t worth working for in the first place.

    5. MCM*

      My university has started this wanting “100%” of employees to give donations to foundation funds. I’ve gotten hit up for 2 foundation accounts from the Dean’s Office within the last six months and I make less than $30,000.00. Not happy with it.

      1. AnonForThis*

        A school I worked at started doing this also — apparently it really increases their external donations when they can show employees are committed. I was super annoyed, but then I gave literally $1 that first year, and they left me alone. It really is “participation,” not amount. I asked if I could give a penny and have it count — yes.

        So, definitely reasonable to find this practice upsetting. But if you want to be left alone, that penny (or dime or dollar) might be worth it.

        1. MCM*

          I gave $2.00 the first time, and $5.00 this week. Our department beat all the others out in fundraising, and we are the smallest group.

        2. Bleeborp*

          Ug they do this at the community college where I work, too, and I find it very irritating. Constantly talking about how they want 100% participation makes it not feel optional and just very strange to expect me to donate money to a place where ideally I would like them to be paying me more! I get it goes to a foundation and it’s not the same pool of money, but it still feels weird.

        3. SarahTheEntwife*

          The school I work at does that too. It’s somehow particularly galling when they’re essentially just asking for their own money back. They’re my sole source of income! Asking me to give it back looks like poor financial planning.

      2. Samata*

        I worked in higher ed for years and got one of my master’s degrees while working there. As an employee I did get a break on tuition, only paying the taxes (which killed my take home pay) so our Alumni Office didn’t see us as “true alumni”. We weren’t invited to events and missed out on some other alumni-related communications…but when it came to donations, we sure were consider alumni then!

        It was quite soul crushing and did not motivate any of us to contribute.

      3. Sam*

        I was so mad when this happened to me. It’d be slightly more forgivable if I’d been an alum of the university, but as it was I was a new entry-level employee with no emotional attachment to the place. I refused every time on principle. At least they didn’t continue to hound me after I left the job.

    6. Landlocked Thalassophile*

      My kid is IN college and every single semester I get a call from them asking me for money. It’s always the week AFTER I pay their current tuition. Like the *thousands* I just paid them last week wasn’t enough? Seriously annoying, and that’s what I tell the fundraiser. “Just paid you guys thousands in tuition last week, you’ve bled me dry and I have nothing left to give.” Tuition’s due next week, so I should be getting another call the week of the week of the 10th, I guess…
      I would skip answering the call but with a kid currently on campus I always think it’s an emergency call or something. Just shows the University name on caller ID.

      1. Rana*

        Yeah, and it’s fun if you work for one of these institutions too. Talk about “gifting up.” (Yes, of course I’ll give money to my employer to spend on things other than my salary and benefits, why wouldn’t I?)

      2. TootsNYC*

        My answer is always, “I give to my own alma mater. You’ll have to ask my kid for money after she’s graduated. Though, given that she’s paying full tuition, she may not be in the mood.”

    7. JayneCobb*

      I do not understand the gall a university has to solicit voluntary donations from students who just paid them tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and fees. Especially when their bureaucratic nonsense tangles things up at every turn. I managed to graduate and get a job (completely unrelated to my degree) in spite of my university’s incompetence, not because of them. And I did it at my expense, to their financial benefit. Perhaps I should start calling them and asking for donations to my student loan payment fund?

      1. Iris Eyes*

        Right!? Like maybe a decade or two later I’ll think about donating to a scholarship fund or something or the glass gift for a reunion but why can’t you figure out how to efficiently run your organization with the money you charge? A university education is totally optional so why should I donate money when there are actual life and death needs that aren’t being taken care of.

        That said if there was a food pantry or something for students I would definitely donate to that. Preferably one that offers financial counseling and personal finance management skill training.

      2. pope suburban*

        Graduating into a recession, this was very much my take on it. You want money? Well, you’ll have to wait until the degree I earned from your institution actually makes me some! Not that I ever said that to the poor soul on the other end of the phone, who was probably three or four years younger than me and about to enter the same meat grinder that was making my life so stressful. I just asked them not to call, and they’ve been pretty good about it. But it was a painful reminder that post-college life hadn’t panned out at all the way I’d been told it would, and I’d worked toward.

      3. FormerDevelopmentOfficer*

        To be fair, as someone who has worked in fundraising and development, there is actual research/science behind why they start asking for donations as soon as you graduate (or even before you do so). Someone who gives $50 yearly out of habit to their university/school will ultimately give as much or more in their lifetime than someone who later donates thousands all at once. It is also easier to incrementally with time have people start donating more, so that overall as their income increases making that yearly donation $75 then $100 etc… will seem like less of a big deal than suddenly going from a $0 donation to a $500 one. It also ultimately helps fundraisers set up relationships and tailor engagement so that they can then ask for those larger donations, which often people do not think about until they are more financially comfortable which often corresponds to their kids starting to look at colleges. At that point however, it would take very large donations to catch up to where someone who began donating $20 one-year out of college would ultimately be. And university development offices are in it for the long game.

        I get it that people get annoyed or feel guilty or feel that they are already paying so much by paying off student loan debt and that the ask is some kind of personal call-out, but the likelihood that they will get one person to start donating (no matter the amount) yearly out of the 100 people they call is worth the long-term payout in the end.

        1. FormerDevelopmentOfficer*

          Also, LOL at people thinking tuition pays for much of what it costs to run a university and employ the people who work there. There’s a lot more that is coming from donations and endowments than what tuition covers.

          1. Lora*

            This is true, but it is also true that admin costs of universities and a lot of non-actual-education extras have increased ridiculously.


            I get it that hypothetically when you’ve got an acceptance letter from Decent College A and another from Decent College B, and no acceptance letter from Awesome First Choice, the calculation of “who has the best gym” can make a difference. But given that most colleges have wait lists, I am not going to believe it for one second that these are *necessary* expenses without actual data.

          2. Julia the Survivor*

            Even Georgetown?
            I heard about Georgetown. $100,000/year. No financial aid or scholarships.
            I said, ” sounds like a good way to make sure only the children of the rich go.”
            My friend still let his kid go. I wouldn’t have.

            1. Susanne*

              That’s simply incorrect. Georgetown’s cost of attendance is less than that and very much in line with its competition (basically the top 30 schools). They give tons of financial aid, like all their competitors. Indeed it’s the schools at the very top of the heap that give the most FA. Someone is telling you mistruths.

              1. Julia the Survivor*

                It was the father of the young man who wanted to go, who told me this. It was a few years ago.

                1. EmilyAnn*

                  When I moved to D.C. almost ten years ago, I was told the most expensive school in town was George Washington at 40K a year. Georgetown was a few thousand less. In the past 10 years I would guess that it’s closer to 50-60K, but no 100K per year.

    8. Alton*

      Ditto. I don’t answer, but I don’t have anything against the students. Actually, one of the reasons I don’t answer is because I don’t want to have to cut off their spiel or make them go through the spiel if I’m not going to donate.

      I agreed to donate once but said that I would do so via mailing it in. I was still pushed to commit to a particular amount, and then I got an *invoice* for said amount in the mail! I obviously didn’t owe them anything, but it was worded like a bill. That put me off donating.

    9. Charlotte Gray*

      T-Mobile marks my university’s fundraising number as “spam likely,” which I find absolutely hilarious! But they didn’t listen either when I used to answer. I was unemployed last year and after I explained that to the student, she apologized and kept lowering her ask amount until I think I finally just hung up.

    10. Anonymeece*

      Same. Especially since, if the kids calling are anything like I was when I worked there, it’s because we didn’t have money to put us through college so were taking any job to make ends meet!

      Some tips for people on here who get these calls, btw:

      1. They have to go through a set amount of numbers, and start a place. In my work, this was dependent on your major. So if you were a business major, we have to start with $2000, then $1000, then $500, and so on. It’s not that we want to ask for that much money, we had to go by the script or we would get in trouble. So if you’re comfortable donating only $5, just say that! Or, the best call I had, the guy said, “You have to go through a script?” and I said, “… yes, sir”, so he let me go through the script saying no, I technically did my job, he didn’t give, we both hung up happy.

      2. If you want off the list, specify *permanently*. At my work – and this was so shady – if someone said “Remove me from my list”, it meant remove them from the list… for that year. Only if they specified (which of course no one knew to do) “Remove me from your calling list for this year and all future years” would we take them off all of it. The more you know!

      Not sure if those are true for everywhere, but worth a shot!

    11. Thany*

      I worked at a call center for 3 years in customer service, which I hated for the better part of those years. I eventually managed to start a career in social work, and my phone experience become invaluable to me. I was able to build rapport and network easily over the phone with several people I never met. I recently cited my phone experience at the interview where I scored my current, awesome job. Don’t keep it off your resume. It might come in handy more than you think.

  4. bunniferous*

    We were affected by an apartment fire a few years ago. Right afterwards everyone was wanting to know what they could do but frankly I was just in shock. So please understand it is overwhelming to have so many people asking even if it is a blessing-but your instinct to give a gift card is spot on. Otherwise when enquiring what they need try to be specific-not just *do you need anything* but *do you need clothes for the kids * or *a place to stay* or *do you have groceries* so on and so forth.

    It took me a whole month to wind down and that was even after we only wound up losing a few things-but we did have to move, quickly, and I had just started a new job, so it was really pretty overwhelming. It could have been a LOT worse tho.

    1. Random Thoughts*

      I’d like to second the gift-card idea.
      A friend lost everything in a house fire and the most helpful things were gift cards. She lost all her identification so could not access her bank accounts for over a week, and being able to grab groceries etc was a life-saver. They ended up with so many duplicated items they couldn’t keep in the tiny place they were staying.

      Maybe you could see if your boss and others in the office wanted to go in and have the gift from the department if that makes it less weird ?

      1. Tau*

        I was thinking seeing if there’s going to be a collection or if you can get one started might be the way to go. It’s not unlikely other people want to help out, and if several people are participating someone who knows grand-boss well can hopefully do some subtle questioning and see what would be most useful for them right now.

        1. OhNo*

          Good point. Having a department-wide or company-wide collection would make things less awkward, and give those who haven’t heard or don’t feel comfortable going directly to them a chance to participate as well.

          That might also help so the grandboss doesn’t have to worry about who’s giving what, or distributing a list of needed items to everyone who asks, or dealing with duplicates. They can give one list to whoever is organizing the collection, and let them deal with the details.

          1. JessaB*

            Oh and if you’re a union shop, let the union know. Some bosses might not be in the same union, but if the person who has the loss is, especially call them. Mr B got very ill one year (out on disability ill,) and the shop steward in his company called the national and we got a very nice amount from their help fund. We also got a pot with a plant and an envelope with cash from the local that they had took up a collection for and brought to my door. I had no idea that they did that kind of thing before this happened, and my family have been union forever.

    2. Kirsten*

      Seconding all of this. My immediate family has dealt with a tornado and a fire, and in both cases, gift cards were super helpful in getting things that were more immediate needs (food, toiletries, new clothes) before insurance money started to kick in. Meals were great too, because there was so much to do, and either no cooking facilities or very limited access. And because the feeling of being overwhelmed is so exhausting, one of the other nicest things that people did was offering to clean or shop for specific things so we didn’t have to do everything ourselves.

      1. MCM*

        Restaurant gift cards & certificates. Even if it’s fast-food would be helpful. While their heads are reeling, I doubt they feel like grocery shopping & cooking. Close friends could offer to do the shopping for them.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        A friend of mine had an apartment fire, and while most of the damage was confined to an adjoining apartment, they had a *lot* of smoke. Everything they owned had to be washed, and people volunteered to help. That’s probably too personal a service to offer a grandboss, though.

        1. JessaB*

          I dunno, I’d have no problem offering anyone even grandboss, “I have a commercial grade washing machine and dryer able to handle a full set of king bedding at once, and you’re welcome to come use it, I’ll supply the detergent, and we can chow down on pizza my treat, and watch movies on my big screen TV. I promise my cat won’t take up after your dog, and she’ll share her kibble if the dog cares.” Class and rank issues go away when there’s a disaster no matter how big or small. “Heck, boss drop off the laundry and I’ll do it and return it to you.”

        2. Lindsay J*

          A gift certificate to one of the places where you drop off your stuff and they wash it and fold it all for you could work. Some of them will even pick up and drop off the stuff at your location.

    3. MechanicalPencil*

      I’m not in a situation with a fire, but in a situation where people are offering help. When they ask if I need “anything”, I have no idea. But if I’m offered specifics, it gives me a better frame of reference of what the person has in mind, what they’re thinking I might need, etc. And honestly, that people are thinking to check in on me is sweet, even though it’s been more than a month since it’s all started.

      1. JessaB*

        Exactly, the hardest thing for someone in crisis, is to answer a generic “what do you need or how can I help,” type question. Any kind of specific offer can at least trigger a “nope don’t need that but hey need this,” kind of thought process.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    #1 and #3 both—FFS.

    It seems like employers are getting more and more outrageous. I know most of them are not like this, but come on. And Alison, feel free to post that crazy job listing I tweeted and sent you, just for laughs, if you want. Because damn.

    1. JamieS*

      I hope you mean #1 and #2. Seriously though it sounds like these employers have just up and left their senses somewhere in the gutter.

  6. Lioness*

    OP 5. As someone who has been recently called for donations for my school, and it not being the first time; college students aren’t even remotely as annoying as other telemarketers. They are so much more understanding of not being able to donate that we talked about their major and others.

    Agree with Allison, even if the calls are viewed unfavorably, that’s the call not the individual doing their job. You still developed skills that you can write about.

    1. Random Thoughts*

      I hate telemarketing calls with a passion, however if I had a candidate with that on their resume I would, all other things being equal, probably put them on the shortlist. The reason is I would respect what it would take to be in that type of job for more than a few hours. I certainly wouldn’t last ! And the skills that they would have picked up would impress me, especially from a new graduate.

      1. Lioness*

        Yea. Same thought. Really hate the calls, but don’t have any animosity towards the students and most of them are really chill in terms of not pushing it further. Only ever had one that kept asking for donations over and over in which case I just hung up, but yea I could not do that job.

      2. drpuma*

        +1. Anyone with the people skills and intestinal fortitude to stick it out in any call-center-type job has my respect immediately!

      3. Legal Beagle*

        +1 That is a hard job! I’d be impressed with a college student who took it seriously and could articulate some skills they gained.

  7. Still Here*

    OP#1 If the manager was a man making unwanted comments about a woman it would be considered sexual harassment. Seems like same principle should apply here, and your response should reflect that. I have no good specific suggestions but I am sure others here will.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I was also thinking of the recent spate of high profile people being fired for harassment. Perhaps OP1 should approach her HR and mention the harassment and how no one is immune to the consequences of such behavior anymore. Even a bad HR must recognize the optics of not stopping the unwanted comments.

    2. eplawyer*

      Women can sexually harass too. That’s been lost in all the revelations lately. It’s about power, not gender. Anyone who has power over another can harass, including sexually. This boss has entered that territory when she refuses to stop commenting on looks despite being asked to stop.

      However, I do ask, how clear has your No been? Alison usually comments on this. People think they have conveyed a clear message when its been very wishy-washy. Have you said No I don’t want to buy the MLM thing. Please stop with the comments on my looks. Or have you said I can’t afford the MLM thing right now. Which gives an opening for later. Or have you said THanks but its embarassing to hear my looks commented on all the time. Which gives an opening to believe you really like and if she only does it once a day its fine. Be clear and unequivocal.

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        Same sex sexual harassment was recognized by the US Supreme court in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998).

      2. Jadelyn*

        Re your second point, the key to declining these kinds of advances is NEVER offer excuses. And that goes for any sales pitch, whether it’s MLM, upselling at a car dealership, retail workers trying to get you to sign up for a credit card (and please be kind to them, they can get written up and even fired if they don’t push the card hard enough, and most of them hate having to do it anyway) – any situation in which someone is trying to sell you something you don’t want, don’t offer excuses.

        Because they teach you scripts for every excuse under the sun. (I will never forget the retail manager who pulled me aside and “coached” me on scripts I should’ve used on a woman whose reason for declining the card was that she and her husband were trying to buy their first house and they needed not to do anything that would affect their credit until it was all wrapped up; I smiled and congratulated her on taking that step and didn’t push the card further. My manager overheard and scolded me for not pursuing it, and I remember looking at her incredulously and saying “Wait, you really think I should have tried to damage someone’s chance at being able to afford THEIR FIRST HOUSE for the sake of a $500 limit retail card?” I don’t remember her answer, though.)

        Giving an excuse makes it a negotiation and just draws the whole thing out. Just smile and say “No thank you” – don’t give them an opening to try to negotiate with you over it.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*


          “No, thank you” is a powerful statement. You’re polite, you’ve acknowledged the other speaker as a human being, and you’ve declined whatever they’re offering you. It’s hard to argue with, and it’s easy to repeat if needed. Just keep smiling and saying “No, thank you”… and walk away.

    3. Midge*

      Exactly. I disagree with Alison on this one. Your boss isn’t “awfully close to harass-y territory”, she IS sexually harassing you. She makes frequent comments on your appearance and when you tell her to stop she says you should be flattered?!?! That’s not acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man or a woman.

  8. Scotty Smalls*


    If they say they don’t need anything financially, they might still appreciate a home cooked meal. Especially if they are staying in a hotel.

    1. Say what, now?*

      Or if having them over for a meal would be awkward I think baking them a tray of cookies, especially around the holidays, would be well received. You could even put the gift card in an envelope attached to a tray of cookies if handing them a gift card feels weird. That way it gives you time to make a get away before they see it if you like (this is just a quirk of mine but I hate emotional thank yous, they make me super uncomfortable so I try and avoid them).

    2. Leslie*

      I honestly don’t want anybody’s home cooked meals. I don’t know what ingredients they use, how does their kitchen look like, if they adhere to any kinds of food prep standards, and so on.

  9. Tau*

    #4 – on reread I saw that you’ve been in the position for five months, and it’s only in the past three weeks or so that you’ve started being off sick. Alison’s script is still probably worth using for your peace of mind, but personally I wouldn’t worry about this too much – they have over four months of sickness-free time to compare this to and your boss sounds reasonable enough to understand that bad luck happens.

  10. jesicka309*

    OP #3 – as someone who had a house fire, let me give you a few perspectives of what happened to me.
    1. My work organised a collection. It was really sweet, but completely unnecessary given that insurance covered *most* things.
    2. A co-worker tried to give me a gift card. I turned him down as again, I didn’t need it, and it felt completely weird to accept donations knowing that insurance money was coming soon. And we weren’t that close.
    3. My local football club did a BBQ fundraiser without my knowledge and gave us a $1000 shopping centre giftcard + cash. We were completely overwhelmed, but grateful, because at that stage we were looking at purchasing more household goods and it meant that we could save some of our insurance money to put towards rebuilding our house, instead of pots and pans. The club are my second family.

    I guess the main message from me is that while you really mean well, you may make your boss feel really uncomfortable (I don’t need the money, I need my house back!) Would you give money if someone’s family member died? Because that’s the level of grief you’re talking about here – they don’t want a new bookcase, they want their old irreplaceable books. They don’t want a giftcard, they want the never ending insurance rollercoaster to end. And if you’re not particularly close it can feel patronising or infantalising.

    The best gift you can give? Support. Offer to grab a coffee and talk ‘non house’. Or ‘vent about how hard insurance is’. Genuinely care about what’s happened. Listen when they talk and offer specific things as they come up. The head of my department had the same sweater I did, and when she heard I’d lost my whole warddrobe, her sweater appeared on my desk. That meant more to me than any gift card or voucher. Lend them a spare laptop charger if theirs is gone forever. Their new furniture taking forever to come in? Offer them the spare couch in your basement

    1. Not Australian*

      This is truly moving, thank you for sharing. I’ve never had a house fire, but I won’t forget that after a sudden bereavement – when I got the news at work and couldn’t leave immediately – one of my colleagues unexpectedly made me a sandwich and a cup of tea and just put them in front of me. I’m guessing it’s the little thoughtful details that will always be appreciated the most.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Also not a house fire, but my childhood home flooded. Their kids might appreciate some things to do, like any books or board games you happen to be giving away.

        As an adult I also once had part of my rented home destroyed by a storm. (So I guess water and I are not friends?) When the ceiling fell in, it narrowly missed killing my pets and my flatmate had to send me pictures as I was convinced they must be dead and he was just trying to spare my feelings.

        My insurance company was fantastic. All I had to do was answer their questions and open my door eg they sent people to collect my ruined electrical goods. But it was still an exhausting and stressful process that took up a lot of mental energy. I just really appreciated people being kind and patient with me and not expecting me to keep answering questions about it because I was being asked those questions over and over by different people who all meant well but were just adding to my exhaustion. Ask how they are, not how the insurance is going or other specific things they are probably being asked 50 times a day.

        Letter writer, you sound like a kind person and it’s terribly hard to hear about things like this happening to someone you know. I don’t doubt that being around people like yourself will be helpful regardless.

        1. Inspector Spacetime*

          What was the name of the fantastic insurance company, if you don’t mind me asking? And is it in the States? I’ve heard so many bad things about so many companies, so I’d like to know the name of a good one for future reference, you know?

          1. Talk*

            We had a really positive experience with AllState throughout a half-million dollar house destroyed/life turned upside down claim.

            Their adjusters made a really emotional and stressful process go as easily as possible. Their team was excellent.

            We’ve also had 95% positive with their auto claims department.

    2. anon scientist*

      I just want to point out that it all depends on the circumstances. When my dad died, a good friend of mine gave me 50 bucks. She knew that money was really tight for me, and since I had to travel to the funeral, I really, really appreciated that money. We talked about it and she said at first she felt weird, but she knew I needed it, and she could afford it.

    3. Drama Llama*

      This is an interesting perspective but I don’t think it applies to everybody. I had a friend who lost everything in a house fire. He did have insurance but the money took ages to come. (And sometimes insurance doesn’t cover full replacement costs, either – so you can end up significantly out of pocket). When another group of friends and I pitched in for a gift card he used the money for much needed essential purchases.

      As a side note, I think it would have been a gesture of goodwill to accept the collection and donation – even if you didn’t need it. You could donate it to a charitable cause and tell your coworkers later that you “paid it forward” after getting your insurance settled. It’s an acknowledgment of their thought and time and effort they pulled together out of a desire to support you. Kind of like, if your grandma knits you an ugly sweater, you’d still smile and say thanks, rather than rejecting it and telling her you have no need for it.

      1. BananaRama*

        A coworker had an apartment fire in the unit below, while the coworker didn’t lose everything, they had a significant amount of damage to their property. Including having to take all the clothing and bedding to the laundry mat and dry cleaning to get rid of the water and smoke. The mattresses and sofas were just a lost cause by that point. Additionally, as insult to injury, they discovered that between the time the clean up occurred and being allowed to get out their stuff, someone(s) came in and stole a bunch of their undamaged electronics. Not only was there the fire aftermath, but reporting the theft to the police as well.

        We ran a collection for them at work to help cover the day to day and they sincerely appreciated. Every one deals with tragedy differently and is able to bounce back differently.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yeah, I would never assume that people are financially taken care of just because they have insurance.

    4. always in email jail*

      This is a very valuable perspective, thank you for sharing.
      I will say that in some segments of the US population, it IS common to give money after a death, or when a loved one is severely ill. The thinking is it can cover hospital parking, meals out (either in a hospital cafeteria or just ordering in pizza while everyone is too overwhelmed to cook), childcare (might need a babysitter while you make funeral arrangements) etc.

      1. OhNo*

        I come from the upper midwest and giving money seems to be a common thing in my area case of death or illness in the family. I know when I was in the hopital, my dad got quite a few monetary gifts from family friends to help with things like parking ramp fees or buying dinner for him and my brother at home. Knowing how my dad is about gifts, I’m sure he felt awkward accepting, but I could see how much it helped, so I’m glad he did.

        1. always in email jail*

          Yea hospital parking is no joke, neither is childcare necessary for funeral-planning (especially since many people would normally rely on family, who are likely also involved in the planning/grieving, so they’ve lost their usual support system)

      2. Woah*

        I was surprised, but after my grandfather died many of the people his age sent money to my grandmother- a holdover from days when the union would take up a collection to bury people so as not to burden the family with expenses when they’d lost their breadwinner. In this case, since he had death insurance, the money was sent on to the charity he sponsored when he was alive. I really liked the idea though.

      3. Windchime*

        We do this in my family, too. Those who can afford it will often chip in and send a check to help with funeral and other related expenses.

    5. Fiennes*

      Listen, as someone else who had a house fire, I feel all this–but not everyone’s insurance comes through for them swiftly, or at all. In my case I submitted a wholly honest report of items lost and their value…only to have the insurance company give me less than half of the replacement value. I was solidly middle class and still had months of real financial difficulty. Any embarrassment I felt about receiving help was minimal and short-lived.

      My point: Don’t assume grandboss doesn’t need money, but don’t assume they *don’t.” Alison is spot on about asking around first to determine what the real needs are.

  11. Yeah, I'm Queer*

    LW1 “they are members of the same club” Does this mean that they are both lesbians? We do not automatically defend each other. Many of us know right from wrong as well as you do.

    1. Random Thoughts*

      I read it as more of a social/religious/hobby club. I’m not sure how you got to their orientation from that ?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I just got this email from the OP:

          “To clarify, when I stated my manager and the HR person were part of the same club, I was referring to a country club. The president of the company is also a member and the annual membership fee is three years worth of my annual salary. It is an exclusive club where the members are friends and tend to stick together.”

          1. LBK*

            Thanks for getting this clarification, definitely clears things up (especially why the OP would be concerned that they would stick together, since I wouldn’t think even a normal social group like a book club or something would create that much of a bond).

          2. Lora*

            Oh boy, I see where OP would be worried. There’s a group like that at one particular site of a company I used to work for – good job overall, but there was definitely a clique who all paid $50,000/year or something to Old Money Boston Brahmin Country Club and golfed together, and they all sort of covered for each other’s screw-ups or laziness and it was annoying as heck. Fergus didn’t do his part of a project? Oh well, that’s OK, he was awfully busy with…something else…for Wakeen. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

            They used to have off site team building type of things at the country club. It wasn’t that nice. But it was where all the high rollers went, so. Honestly, if you’re gonna do that high roller networking type of thing, there are plenty of charity fundraiser-y things where you’ll meet all the same people and get much nicer experiences. I go to dinner-dance and concert fundraisers that also have silent auctions and stuff for local free health care clinics, museums, etc. and I meet all the fancy people. But it’s like being in a fraternity I guess.

          3. Observer*

            Oh yeah. They are likely to be cliquish as all get out.

            OP, document your head off. I’d say that’s your only chance of getting some movement out of HR. Unless she’s also doing this to others, in which case maybe there is strength in numbers.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Missed thread! Replying to the above. Of course it’s a social club and trying to get head around thought process that went elsewhere.

    2. Anon for this*

      Not to derail, but to respond to the several poeple saying otherwise, we do sometimes use odd-seeming references for this sort of thing. I say that someone is “on the bowling team” (and I’m on the bowling team).

      1. Christy*

        Right—sometimes people use weird euphemisms! (“Bats for your team”, “is in the family”, etc.) As another lesbian, I thought it was probably 50/50 that OP1 meant in the same social club versus also an LGBT person. I don’t think it’s totally off-base and I don’t think it’s derailing to bring it up. And agreed—if HR is gay, you might even have a stronger reaction, because it makes “the club” look bad.

    3. Bobstinacy*

      It’s pretty common for uncomfortable straight people to use all kinds of euphemisms for queerness rather than directly naming it.

      I’ve been referred to as being on a team, in a club, part of a sisterhood, part of the chorus line, and many more.

      I’m giving the LW the benefit of the doubt, but I have that part of the letter a bit of side eye as well. Maybe I just know more latent homophobes than people that belong to clubs!

      1. Emmylou*

        I just wrote the same thing below. It’s a common thing to have people say things like “they play for the same team” or “they’re in the same club” when there is vague discomfort with queerness.

      2. Susanne*

        “It’s pretty common for uncomfortable straight people to use all kinds of euphemisms for queerness rather than directly naming it.”

        That may be, but there was absolutely nothing in the letter to suggest that the OP was uncomfortable with her boss being gay. She used “her wife” matter-of-factly to describe the situation; if she had wanted to say “and eeeewww, I’m so squicked out that my boss is married to a woman!” she would have said that. There’s also absolutely nothing in the letter to assume that the OP even knows or cares about the sexual orientation of the HR person; why should she, as it’s irrelevant to anything.

        1. Bobstinacy*

          We (myself and the other queer people in this thread) are simply pointing out that there’s certain language that is used when talking about us that will fly under the radar of non queer folks.

          Also trust me as someone who lives it, very few people nowadays will actually say “Eeewwww gaaaayyys” in most contexts. They will use lot of coded language that’s easy to see through when you live with it daily.

          Anyway, as I said in my comment, I’m giving the LW the benefit of the doubt. We should probably avoid dragging the topic off the main letter by getting into the nitty gritty of subversive homophobia.

        2. LBK*

          She used “her wife” matter-of-factly to describe the situation; if she had wanted to say “and eeeewww, I’m so squicked out that my boss is married to a woman!” she would have said that.

          That’s just blatantly untrue and misses the entire concept of a dogwhistle or microaggression. Not saying that’s what the OP is doing, but thinking that the only people who have problems with gay people are the ones who explicitly say it is flat out wrong. Ironically, the people who complain the most about “political correctness” tend to be the ones who have learned how to use coded language to say what they mean and get their message across to people with similar thinking while still giving themselves plausible deniability.

      3. LBK*

        Yeah…I didn’t catch it the first time around (I actually totally missed that the boss was a lesbian) but rereading now I can kinda see how that might be a euphemism. It’s weird to me that the OP doesn’t specify what kind of club she thinks they’re part of together – I feel like I would more naturally say “they’re part of the same book club” if I actually meant they were doing some activity together outside of work.

        Hopefully the OP can clarify, because that phrasing is definitely the kind of innuendo some people who are uncomfortable with being explicit about homosexuality use. It’s unfortunate that she stumbled into that wording if that’s not what she meant.

        1. Bobstinacy*

          I’m honestly not too fussed either way – I more popped in to contribute because people started flocking to say how silly that interpretation is and… yeah, it’s not unfortunately.

        2. Sue Wilson*

          I can see how people would read it that way, but frankly, homophobes like that are usually way more confident in saying no to people they have contempt for, ymmv. Contextually, this just isn’t the situation where that would be my first reading.

      4. Alton*

        My “favorite” was when someone referred to my sexual orientation as my “situation.” Yeah, it’s not uncommon for people to beat around the bush in weird ways like that.

        But yeah, I wouldn’t assume that’s what the LW meant.

    4. Myrin*

      Yeah, I read it exactly the same way. I mean, it’s possible that OP thinks the HR person is also a lesbian and as such would automatically defend another lesbian and that that’s the only reason she hesitates to go to HR; but I can imagine three different readings of this one sentence alone and really, it doesn’t change the advice.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I thought first of a fellow MLMer, then of racquetball. Because someone who wants you to buy their MLM crap probably won’t see the problem in having it pushed on you by other people. Just like I’d hesitate to go to HR about someone’s proselytizing their church if I knew HR went to the same church.

    5. Academic Addie*

      My cousin does a lot of this MLM stuff, and sometimes the MLMs go by the name of “shopping clubs” that you pay to have access to. If the boss if doing a bunch of these, some are probably “clubs.”

    6. emmylou*

      I think it’s interesting that queer-identified people heard the coded euphemism here and others completely didn’t. We are generally attuned to weird language people use about queerness. Not saying I’m 100% certain but I’d be willing to bet if asked that’s what she meant.

        1. emmylou*

          It doesn’t change the advice, that’s true. But it’s one of those jarring phrasings that jumped out at me as soon as I read it to the point where I wondered why Alison didn’t comment on it.

    7. Bobstinacy*

      There’s been more than one queer person in this thread that has been referred to as ‘being in a club’ because of their queerness. It’s not a made up scenario, and hearing about how other people experience the world differently than you shouldn’t be this aggravating.

      I’d like to gently point out that perhaps it isnt the queer folk in this thread that are showing signs of being offended.

      1. serenity*

        Agreed. The nitpicky-ness and snippiness in these comments is getting worse and worse over time. Perhaps a natural effect of AAM’s growing audience, but I’m finding it tiresome…

    8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m not sure it’s a very weird stretch (as folks noted below, it’s a common euphemism), but when I read the letter, I assumed there was a 50/50 or 60/40 chance it was innocuous. Perhaps it wasn’t.

      But I’ve become increasingly wary of calling out ambiguous-but-possibly-subtle dog whistles in the letters when: (1) it doesn’t change the advice, and; (2) there’s an equally plausible and non-offensive interpretation if we give OP the benefit of the doubt. Of course, some letters make obvious that the OP truly does harbor offensive or problematic biases, but those are usually more overt.

  12. In the Outdoor industry*

    #1 I’m astonished at this. The MLM pressure is bad enough, but from what I’m reading, this is also sexual harassment. And you may need to escalate your documentation and reporting – because it is inappropriate.

      1. Chocolate lover*

        The sales push is bad enough, but the Christmas list really put it over the top. Heck to the no.

      2. LouiseM*

        This. In a country where almost a quarter of the population identifies non-Christian, it feels really tone-deaf to assume your direct reports celebrate Christmas at all. Whatever her intention, your boss is basically creating a hostile work environment here.

        1. FancyCatPants*

          At OldJob a number of my coworkers were Jewish and didn’t appreciate all the veiled references to “holiday parties” which were somehow always decorated in red and green. It went so far that the receptionist put out a mini Christmas tree decorated with blue and silver tinsel and called it a “Hanukkah bush.”

    1. MK*

      My understanding was that that the comments about the OP’s looks were tied to the MLM pressure, in the sense that they are thinly disguised sales pitches, like “your eyes are so beautiful, this Avon mascara my wife sells would really bring them out” (I am not sure if that constitutes sexual harassment). But on rereading the letter, they could well be seperate issues.

    2. Juliecatharine*

      I absolutely think this is harassment. I think reporting it leaves her open to retaliation (so wrong but this kind of boss is definitely the type to go that route) and that she should document, document, document *then* report that I have asked Evil Boss on xyz dates to stop but behavior continued. That way if she is subject to retaliation she has a long list to show a lawyer if need be.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Honestly, it depends on what the comments are. If it’s tied to the MLM pitches (like “you have lovely skin but this product will make it glow!”) that’s not going to rise to the level of sexual harassment in the legal sense.

  13. Prudencep*

    OP4 I get your concern. I worked in one organisation where I was off sick after the first week and the manager there made such a big deal about it that I’m slightly paranoid still, and that was almost 10 years ago! I think (hope) that most managers are more understanding and know that these things happen. Sometimes all it takes it getting sick once to suddenly get everything, so I hope if you just acknowledge it with your new boss then everything will be fine. They might also be reassured to hear that it’s not something about the role or the company that has upset you.

    I hope you feel better soon!

      1. Rae*

        I was coming on here to say the same thing since OP4 seems to be pretty well ignored on this thread.

        I hated starting new school terms when I worked at a college. ALWAYS got sick. New people=new germs. UGGG

  14. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    OP2 (trial period): I’m a bit confused what a trial period means in a place where firing someone is always legal. In my country, firing people is very regulated and only allowed in certain cases, but there’s always a trial period in the beginning at a new job. Trial period in this context means the time when either the employer or the employee can end the contract immediately if they feel it’s not a good fit. Firing after the trial period is much harder. I believe US people live in a trial period kind of situation all the time so I don’t understand what could be added with an actual trial period? (And no, our trial period is not two weeks. It’s a maximum of six months, or for a shorter fixed-term contract, half of the time. So if you do a temp job for a month the trial period would be two weeks.)

    OP5 (telemarketing): I have done it and I wouldn’t leave it off my resume. I believe many employers value it, because it shows you’re willing to work even if the pay isn’t so good and the work is repetitive and includes listening to rude and angry people. And also that you’ve had enough sales to stay in that job for more than a few weeks. Of course some people can see it negatively but that’s true for every single thing you can put on your resume.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I think the point was that with limited job security you’re always on trial. However, a two-week trial period says the company may have particularly unrealistic expectations!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I think Alison was dead on that this hurdle screens for the desperate. You don’t want to work for a company that does that.

      2. Darren*

        But you would for a 6 month probation? I understand the 2 weeks seems to be triggering some sort of alarm bells but if anything as long as they are paying you for those 2 weeks it seems if anything less risky than a 6 month probation which I’ve found to be basically standard across my industry.

        Is it just the wording “trial period”? Would a 2 week probation sound better?

        1. Lance*

          Yes, because six months is a far more generous time to get paid for, to determine if the job’s a good fit on either end… and to leave your current job for. What if someone can’t afford to take those two weeks off their current job? Then what are they supposed to do?

          1. Jen RO*

            But there is no guarantee that you will get paid for those 6 months – in fact, this is the whole point of the trial period: you can leave or get fired without notice. After that, firing someone is a very lengthy process.

            On topic, my (European) reading of the situation in the letter is that, if they feel the need to mention a trial period in a country that is already at-will, there’s something fishy.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I think the reasoning is that the Right Candidate will be so blindly confident in their skills that they will quit old job and start new job. (Someone had a tale of a doctor’s office trying to hire a receptionist who would swear upfront, in the interview, that she would stay in the job for, like, 5 years. Because that’s not a red flag at all.)

        2. SignalLost*

          Six months also gives the employee time to see the issues and get a strong sense of the day-to-day (I would not say I had a good sense of any of my jobs in less than a full year, because all industries have seasons) and assess whether they are a good fit for this company. If the employee decides the answer is no by month four, six months is also time to job search. Two weeks doesn’t allow for any of that – what if your two weeks was during the company’s busy period and people assumed you had more knowledge than you did because they didn’t have time to walk you through X in great detail?

          1. Sharon*

            The other issue I’ve seen in my professional jobs is that while you might be ready and willing to “hit the ground running”, it can take weeks for the *company* to ramp up. For example at one job I had, it took a full week for them to get me a computer and email address. And they sat me down to just read manuals for another week and a half after that!

        3. Just employed here*

          A six (or, as in my country typically, four) month probation period is really just more of a “just in case” thing here, precisely because it is so hard to fire people otherwise.

          The expectation of both parts is definitely that the employment will continue, so it’s not a “let’s see how you can perform” kind of trial period. I don’t think I know anyone who’s been let go during their probation period.

        4. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Look: if you have a six-month probation, you will probably know in a few weeks if it’s going to work out, leaving you months of notice to look for a new job, and for the employer to find a replacement.

          If a TWO WEEK probationary period doesn’t work out, how much time do you have to job search??

          1. Ainomiaka*

            The 6 months is not a commitment generally -at least in my experience. So 6 months andtwo weeks give exactly the same amount of time to job search -as much time after you leave as it takes.

        5. Rusty Shackelford*

          A six month probation says (to me) that we’re hiring you as an actual full employee, but we’re going to be watching you carefully at first, or not giving you every benefit at first. A two week trial says we’re hiring you as a temp, and if we like you after two weeks, we’ll hire you as an employee.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right. In the U.S., probationary period (like 6-month ones) don’t generally mean “we’ll commit to 6 months and then we’ll see.” It means “we’re hiring you as a regular employee, but for the first 6 months we’re not committing to going through our normal progressive discipline policy if things aren’t working out.” It’s a way of exempting themselves if they have internal rules requiring multiple warnings, coaching, etc.

            A 2-week trial period isn’t the same thing at all.

            1. Just employed here*

              It’s the same in many EU countries, just with the added weight of the law giving more flexibility during the probationary period.

        6. LBK*

          While it’s true that in either case they could fire you on the second day, setting a 6-month probation period implies that they’re willing to give someone at least a couple months to learn the job before making a determination. There’s very few jobs you can learn in 2 weeks – it’s going to be nearly impossible to prove you’re competent at the job in that time period unless this is a stupidly easy job.

          I mean, I trained retail cashiers for a while, which is a pretty simple job all things considered, and I even gave them longer than that before judging whether they were cut out for it or not.

        7. Lindsay J*

          The wording is what does it for me.

          A probation period to me says that they have confidence in you, they’re hiring you as a full employee and expect you to succeed, and they are keeping the probation period as an out just in case.

          A trial period to me implies that it’s more like an audition, and that they feel like there is a good chance that a percentage of candidates will fail the trial period. (Or even that they are purposely overhiring to guarantee some will fail the trial period, like hiring 10 sales people for what is ultimately 7 full-time slots).

        8. nonegiven*

          It’s fine, if you’re unemployed anyway. But quit your steady job for a guaranteed 2 weeks to learn a new job? Don’t a lot of places give you 90 days minimum to show you can get up to speed? I wouldn’t quit a steady gig for that either unless it was really toxic.

    1. Marie*

      Yeah, I’m confused too. Can someone expand on what is a trial period in America?
      Where I’m from it’s the six month period at the beginning of the contract, and basically the only time you can get fired (or quit) without it turning into a months-long hassle.
      In an at-will state I don’t really see the point.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Well, I’ve never experienced it, but if I saw that for a job for which I was applying, I’d assume that basically they’re hiring you on a temporary basis, for two weeks with an option for longer if you both agree. A very uncertain situation, IMO. But a probationary period is more of a permanent hire, but with ways to opt out if things are unusually bad. I would interpret “probationary period” as having considerably more job security than a “trial period”. A probationary period means the job is yours to lose only if you screw it up, whereas a trial period means you’re basically a temp, with zero obligation to keep you on after that even if you go above and beyond.

      2. TL -*

        For at least one of the large companies I’ve worked for, the first 6 months you could fire without going through HR; after that, you needed to use a PIP and go through a series of meetings with boss/employee (unless gross misconduct. Then you could get fired immediately.)
        Some companies also use it as a no benefits/vacation period, so you’re an employee but without full benefits.
        Generally, it’s just a shorthand for “big issues mean immediate dismal” instead of the more involved coaching you might expect otherwise.

        1. Natalie*

          It’s worth noting that group health insurance can’t have a waiting period longer than 90 days, but that’s a relatively new law (part of the ACA that became effective 2014).

        2. LBK*

          Right – there’s no real legal difference, it’s more of an internal policy and it sets expectations for the employee that they’re not likely to get a lot of leeway to show improvement if they’re not performing well.

        3. JamieS*

          That’s my experience too although 2 weeks seems a bit short to me for that. I’d expect at least a couple months if there was an “evaluation period” at all.

          As an aside, I’ve noticed this trips some people up so I think it’s important for non-American readers/posters to remember that while most U.S. employers are at will and can technically fire employees immediately for any reason that doesn’t mean that’s what normally happens. Most decent employers, and many indecent employers as well, have a policy they follow for termination so in general people don’t live in constant fear of being fired without cause. Otherwise if an employer had a reputation firing people willy nilly for no good reason it’s unlikely they’d be able to attract and retain decent staff which no employer wants. That’s not to imply immediate terminations don’t occur but I wouldn’t consider them the norm.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      I think it’s a matter of emphasis.

      In a normal hiring process in an at-will employement situation, people are hired with the expectation that they will stay on at the job. A probation period means that if someone *does* really screw up, or turns out to be a poor fit, the employer wouldn’t proceed with their usual procedure of a PIP, and monitoring improvments in performance, and working their way to termination. But the original intention is that this will be a real hire.

      With a two week trial period, it sounds more like the decision to hire occurs after the trial period. It’s less a probationary period, and more a two week long paid job interview, after which they might hire you, but might not. Given that much greater uncertainty, the only people who are likely to agree to this are ones who are not currently employed, and really need the job.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Yes! It sounds like you’re not REALLY hired until after the 2-week trial. Terrible policy.

        For the people asking about US employment practices – Even in an at-will state, hiring and firing is a hassle, so (smart) companies want to retain their new hires. Getting fired usually isn’t something that comes out of a clear blue sky at a functional employer. So even if the new hire isn’t a rockstar right off the bat, most employers will give some leeway because it’s better for them to help you succeed in the role than to fire you and start over right away. As an employee, when I start a new job, I expect it to last as long as I do it well. But no, that expectation is not backed up by any law, and it does create a lot of anxiety about job security. (Note: This applies to white-collar/office jobs. Retail/labor/etc. is a different ballgame.)

    3. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

      I’ve never had a job that had a “trial period” but as an American, what I would assume is that:
      – It’s unpaid or has a drastically low salary.
      – No benefits.
      – No negotiations on either of these things until after you “pass” the trial period (and have put in essentially two weeks of normal or above average time and energy).
      – No protections or perks as an employee (or limited ones as a “trial” employee).
      – You’re under much higher scrutiny. All jobs should have some scrutiny but trial period suggests if you mess up, even as a newbie, it’s YOUR fault. It can feel like a coverup for bad and toxic work environments.

      Essentially it sounds like those nightmare interviews with lengthy, convoluted exams or exploitative work exercises, but for two weeks.

      1. OP 2*

        I am OP 2. Unfortunately I have seen several job listings where it was plainly written that there would be a two week trial period. I wish I could post this latest one, but the ad is no longer available. This one was for a “ lead generator” at a real estate office.Answer phones and convince callers into listing with agency. I am interested in getting into real estate and have been for many years. This is a salaried position, the listing said. I work in a related field in a position with sales goals, so I figured it might be a good fit. But my current company doesn’t cut you loose after two weeks if you aren’t killing it. And I would be afraid to ask questions etc… as obviously they are expecting you to jump right in and do it.

        Like I said, this isn’t the first listing like this. And isn’t even a recent thing. I took a job twenty five years ago, after graduating college and desperately wanting a job “in my field”. Survived the two weeks but was constantly on eggshells. Less than two months later, I found my job listed in the paper. They fired a girl to hire me (which I learned after I started. And it didn’t endear me to the rest of the office). And they planned on doing the same to me.

        Obviously this listings are looking for people without a lot of options. I can’t see giving up my current job for one of these.

        1. Cassie*

          In the context of the type of position you’re talking about, it sounds like the job wants to bring in new blood, suck them dry of their contacts, and then spit them out again. Any time a selling or creative job specifies a strict and short trial period, I’m wary. It’s coded language for “we’re going to use you”.

          1. pope suburban*

            Yes. Exactly this. I’ve spent a lot of time job-searching, some of it quite desperately, thanks to graduating in the beginning of the recession. Now I can spot a scam or a shady practice at a hundred yards, and I see exactly what you’re seeing. Fly-by-night companies that don’t care about long-term projects or creating a productive culture will just rotate anyone through these positions. Their goal is to get work or material for free or as close to it as possible; these outfits aren’t thinking about work and hiring the way we think of them traditionally.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I mean for the full time job. (Unpaid trials strike me as illegal.) That the company will tell you final salary and benefits will depend on how you do in the two week trial, no need to worry about that now. and if you’re confident that you’ll do well that shouldn’t be a problem, right?

            1. Ainomiaka*

              I have not encountered that setup. Not going to say it’s impossible, but it’s far enough from my experience to seem really strange.

    4. Drama Llama*

      I read it as an unpaid trial session.

      Paid or unpaid, it’s still grossly unfair to the applicant. After two weeks into a job, they might have missed out other job opportunities or feel more invested in the role. Thus they have much less bargaining power when discussing permanent salary/benefits or other employment conditions.

      Normal companies don’t require two weeks of close scrutiny to decide whether or not you are a good fit. It’s a crappy way to treat people.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Plus any possible reason for them to do this could be solved by them going through a temp agency. It sounds like they want temp-to-perm but don’t want to pay the agency fees or deal with the bureaucracy.

    5. Ainomiaka*

      From my experience (US, both government without union and industry) a trial period was a period where it was even easier than normal to fire you, with benefits limited and potential to respond to discipline/firing nonexistent. Shorter trial periods would be considered a perk, and are used as such by some places looking to fill jobs that they don’t want to raise the salary for. I don’t understand this idea that a 6 months one is better for the employee at all. Or that you’d have the full 6 months of pay to job search. I wouldn’t have been paid for the 6 months if they decided at any time that I wasn’t working out. And that could have been on day 2. You were considered fully hired on day 1 though-it’s not like they were making the decision to hire you at the end of the trial period. And you were paid for all time worked.

    6. wayward*

      Seems like in at least some environments, the “two week trial period” in lieu of carefully screening hires could be kind of a security risk. That wouldn’t be especially appealing to quality workers looking for a stable job, but for someone who wanted to steal or gain network access, it could be quite an opportunity.

  15. Knitting Cat Lady*

    Gah, MLMs!

    Luckily I don’t know anyone who bought into one.

    But I’ve heard many stories of friendships destroyed because one person tried to sell stuff to their friends at every opportunity.

    I think there should be a new etiquette rule:

    Bring up your MLM stuff only once per person. And NOT AT ALL if you work with them!

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Of course that would be better.

        Unfortunately too many people’s common sense fails when money is involved.

        Somehow ‘If it sounds too good to be true it usually is’ isn’t heeded by a lot of people.

        I was flat hunting this year. The amount of scammers that contacted me was amazing. And their ploys were so transparent! But there seem to be enough people gullible enough for them to make a profit…

        1. Snark*

          It’s predatory, because a) a very few people actually do make a good living on these Ponzi schemes, and b) because it is – on paper, in theory – a really ideal setup for a lot of people, particularly those who relocate frequently, who aren’t particularly highly educated, and for whom holding down a traditional job is hard due to kids or other life constraints. They’ve got their hooks DEEP into the community of military spouses, for example.

          1. Emi.*

            This is why the intense scorn and hatred lobbed at MLM saleswomen (and they’re usually women, for many of the reasons you mention) really bothers me. It’s so horribly condescending, and there’s so much “dumb girls, lol” baked in.

            1. Snark*

              I think the irritation the rest of their social network feels when every social and family event is turned into an infomercial is valid. Even then, it’s kind of understandable, because you sell or you’re losing money. But people get really nasty to MLM salesfolk – personally nasty.

      2. Traveling Teacher*

        The amount of my friends and former coworkers who have bought in to the MLM madness is absolutely shocking to me. Besides showing them John Oliver’s piece on MLMs (which is on his official YouTube channel), there’s not a whole lot more I’ve been able to do to get through to them.

        A decade ago, I found out that a friend of mine had been stockpiling (buying the required amount of merchandise every month to maintain her “good standing”) and had two closets full of her MLM’s stuff. She couldn’t return it, though, and lost thousands when she was right out of university, which is the only thing that kept her in (and buying). She just kept thinking she’d be able to sell the stuff…

      3. Lora*

        This. I have women friends in STEM who joined MLMs to make cash on the side since they are underpaid. I started my own little company with much less cash investment and MUCH more support than I got as an employee of some of the places I’ve worked. If you really want to have your own business on the side, start one! Set up an Etsy or eBay store or whatever for crafts. Plant your backyard in weird fruit trees and sell the fruit at farmers markets. Open a non-skeevy massage therapy place and call it Safe Hands or whatever. Do that, you will do way better than you would an MLM. One of the things an MLM sells is that they provide you with business support things you’d otherwise have a hard time getting – trust me, you will find small business support around every corner, you will trip over small business support, compared to the crummier workplaces you’ve been in. Most are paid for by your tax dollars, too.

        Ugh, it drives me bonkers. Sorry for the rant.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          Seconding this! If self-employment is your best option, or you need a part-time side hustle, starting your own business is so much better than buying into an MLM! I’m happy to buy handmade Christmas ornaments, or earrings, or dog treats, or whatever, to “support a working mom!” – not so happy to buy scammy MLM products.

          And yes, there’s tons of help for small businesses out there. SCORE (retirees mentoring new business people) is one. Local Chambers of Commerce are usually happy to provide help. There’s Rotary, various professional organizations, women’s organizations, etc.

          MLM’s though – they are a scam, a rip-off, a fraud, a swindle, and a racket. Avoid avoid avoid.

          1. Lora*

            I love SCORE! They were a great help to me, talking me through the process and giving me lists of contacts for attorneys to draw up boilerplate Terms & Conditions agreements, who to contact for insurance, things like that. It sounds expensive, but I think it was about $1000 not counting capital equipment, and only because I filed an LLC in Massachusetts, which is stupid expensive – in other states it’s more like $100-300 – and I was persnickety about getting a good lawyer to write the NDA and T&C specific to my business, plus I hired a CPA to help with the LLC forms. If you’re doing sole proprietorship, it’s just the cost for a business license in your state/town, which is usually more like $20-50.

            There are soooooo many free classes, assistance with SBIRs, business incubators, things like that. The local unemployment offices even host seminars and offer one on one counseling and support, and if what you need is more complicated than what they can offer, they are happy to send you to someone who can help. Everyone is nice and helpful and unlike my day job, nobody tried to grab my rear or give me wrong information or hide critical information from me, and all the people were very respectful and honest and kind and direct. After the second class I went to, I literally cried tears of happiness on the way home because I couldn’t believe how nice everyone was.

      4. Buffy Summers*

        I dunno – Avon’s pretty reputable, isn’t it? It’s been around forever anyway, and I actually really like it. I also use Young Living, but I don’t sell either of them and have no intention of doing so.
        Obviously I get that it can get incredibly annoying when people push you to buy buy buy – the person who got me into Young Living is a bit like that, but I’ve just learned to ignore her (it’s mostly on Facebook that I get the sales pitches, so it’s easily ignored there).
        I guess I’m in the minority, though, when it comes to liking some MLM products. Tupperware also comes to mind. Great stuff.

        1. Snark*

          Avon is reputable mostly because it’s been around forever, but they’re all run along similar, and shady, lines.

          1. Buffy Summers*

            Well, yeah, I can see your point on that. Most people think they’re signing up to sell a product and they’ll make lots of money at it. They don’t realize that only selling the product is never going to bring in the kind of money they’ve been told they can make – you have to recruit people to be in your downline and then push them to recruit and make sales goals, etc. That’s where the pink Cadillacs come from. :) Recruiting people is far more difficult than simply selling some trinkets.
            I…er…may or may not have sold Avon once upon a time…
            I have often wondered, though, if a company, say Avon, actually managed to recruit the entire world to be Avon reps, would the company go out of business for lack of buyers? Haha.

            1. Cuddles Chatterji*

              John Oliver’s excellent segment on MLMs touches on this. There’s a certain point at which it’s mathematically impossible to operate an MLM that operates at X levels with each person recruiting Y other people.

          2. Blue Anne*

            Yes. Like Pampered Chef. It’s been around for decades, the company has been purchased by Berkshire Hathaway, they’re actually decent products – but it’s still an MLM.

    1. BananaRama*

      I have a strict “I don’t buy things from friends” rule after too many MLM pressure. I also extend it to “I don’t buy things from MLM” at all. Which I also call pyramid schemes and scams, it raises the hackles of any MLM sales person.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s frustrating to me because I might LOVE a casual get together with half a dozen women for coffee, or a ‘stitch and bitch’, or some other social gathering. But not if the point is marketing.

        1. Artemesia*

          I quit a book club in the new city I now live in when someone was allowed to do a cooking equipment demonstration at one of the meetings to sell their crappy chef products. I NEVER do sales parties and I am not belonging to a book club that smuggles them in.

        2. Snark*

          We had to move fairly frequently for a few years there following my contracts, and my wife got warmly invited to “book clubs” and “knitting groups” and “yoga classes” by new neighbors and acquaintances that ended up being hard sell MLM sessions. She ended up staying for a few of them just because she found it to be a fascinating anthropological experience.

          Apparently, one time, someone noticed that she had dog tags on her keychain. Someone asked, “Oh, is your husband a veteran?” “No, I am.” *record scratch*

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      I hate MLM’s with the fire of a trillion red-hot suns. They are a scourge, a plague, a blot on humanity’s escutcheon. I remember the days of Avon and Tupperware, and those were reasonable organizations that sold good products, but nowadays it seems like every third person has leggings or essential oils or scammy “weight loss” products to push on people.

      Feel free to say no to all of it.

      1. SignalLost*

        My favourite hairbrush was from Avon. I actually don’t know how my mother got it; I don’t remember her ever having any other Avon products, but she has a friend who has done a bunch of MLMs, so I assume that was the vector.

      2. MuseumChick*

        I just had to say you have perfectly stated my feelings towards MLMs!

        I will never forget an acquaintance who got involved with a MLM, she invited to several “parties” all of which I politely declined. A few months later she put up a post on FB about how people would rather spend many at big box stores than support “working moms”. I guess I wasn’t the only one not buying from her!

      3. Landlocked Thalassophile*

        I feel the same. Hate them with a passion. They destroy friendships and finances. People who run them are predatory.

      4. Iris Eyes*

        In my area there is an Avon store (brick and mortar) that keeps a good portion of the products (non clothing/shoes) in stock with trial products (so you can test it out.) That’s my go-to place for most of my makeup products.

      5. AKchic*

        I 100% agree with you. I can’t agree with you more. MLMs are a blight to society and intelligence. So many seemingly intelligent people (and morons, let’s not beat around the bush) get suckered into it.
        My mom and first stepdad got suckered into Amway when I was a kid. I watched them lose money as they tried to afford my stepdad’s diabetic supplies (the whole reason why they got into Amway in the first place). We were drinking whey milk (ew), and my mom bought the make-up suitcase and they went in whole hog and ended up losing thousands. My stepdad ended up dying because gee, pyramid schemes don’t make the low-level pee-ons any money. Shocker.
        Now I watch friends and other family shill garbage. Diet pills that do nothing but give you the runs, “essential” oils, stinky smelly stuff, bags, make-up, leggings and clothing, cookware, magazines, books, whatever junk they can, after they sink $5000+ into the start-up and continue sinking money they can’t afford into their “business” and keep losing money and alienating friends and family trying to hawk the garbage.
        I watched my inept sister (a complete moron, admittedly) try to sell diet pills to a woman who is 5’9″ and 115lbs, that she’d never met, but saw on my mom’s facebook friend’s list. She also tried to claim that these same pills would cure my nerve and spine damage. Yeah, sorry, but I’m not taking advice from a girl who starved her child because she assumed her child was at risk for diabetes simply because SHE was diabetic and put him on a “special” diet and nearly killed him because she didn’t consult with a doctor or a nutritionist and I called social services on her because nobody wanted to upset her.

        I’m watching multiple friends lose money. I watched one in-law nearly go bankrupt because they didn’t have the sense to stop buying into their MLM. It took an accountant to help convince that special case.

    3. Peggy*

      Everyone who hates direct sales as much as I do should join the group “sounds like an MLM but ok” on Facebook. (Terrible language, I mean the women in this group have shown me dozens of swears I’ve never even heard before, but so many good ideas to battle against the perisistant MLMers in your life!)

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I just went looking for it, and it looks like the group was shut down due to drama. Oh well.

        I don’t have any persistent MLMers in my life….those that don’t get the hint aren’t in my life any longer! I do have a very close friend who posts a lot of aromatherapy stuff for sale on FB, but she is very good about not bringing it up at all when we hang out.

      2. Susanne*

        I don’t know why you need “ideas” to battle against the MLMers in your life. A battle implies that you’re engaging/participating. You can’t battle with me if I walk away from you.

        If they post their wares on Facebook, you’re perfectly free to ignore that post and comment on their cat photos instead. If they accost you in person, you’re perfectly free to say “Thanks for asking, but I’m not interested / it’s not for me / no thanks” and rinse and repeat as needed. The End.

        The art of letting unwanted suggestions/requests fall flat is a very important one to master early on.

        1. peggy*

          Any of you live in an area where MLMers account for 50% of the people you know? Like… near a military base perhaps? And you’re constantly bombarded with requests to “help out a friend” and “put food on the table for the family” and “support a small business” – to the tune of 30 Facebook party invites at the same time, constant texts and calls and DMs asking you why you won’t just help a friend out and host a party? If they haven’t completely invaded your life, then maybe you don’t need support, humor, or ideas for tactics to avoid them without disowning half of your friends and family. You’re lucky if that’s the case, these predatory companies have completely invaded my circle. I’m fortunate, they just annoy the shit out of me – but I’ve seen them destroy families.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Sounds awful. My SIL joined a cosmetics MLM for a while, and it’s really not that easy to say “not interested, thanks” to a family member. There *are* people who you’d rather not “just walk away” from. Luckily my sensitive skin reacted badly to the samples she gave me.

            1. peggy*

              It’s worst when a dozen people you know are selling the same garbage. Sorry, 7 friends from high school who look at me as an untapped resource in their marketing network… even if I did like your crappy 3D mascara, why would I buy it from you when my sister, sister in law, next door neighbor, close friend, and coworker also sell the same junk? Also with shipping the mascara costs like $37 so no, I’m not setting up a recurring monthly order, you nutcase.

              You can’t go to coffee with a friend without being pitched to, you can’t walk into work without being handed a catalog and being asked to talk about this “new opportunity”, you can’t go to a family gathering without hearing sob stories and pitches for 6 different products, and you get messages from family members like “your cousin’s girlfriend’s daughter started her own legging business so we better see you at the launch party to support her!”

              It’s exhausting. Blocking an old aquaintence on Facebook is easy, saying no to one random person who says “do you need a new skincare consultant” is easy. Constantly, every single day, over and over, telling your friends and family you won’t support their “business” is harder.

            2. Annabelle*

              Ugh, I feel you. My SIL has joined 8 MLMs so far. She moved out of state, so we don’t see her much anymore, but it’s really difficult to shut down a family member.

          2. Lora*

            “put food on the table for the family”

            Every time someone tells me that, I ask if they can use any of whatever the garden is overproducing at the moment (so right now…uhhh, how about some sourdough bread and peach jam?). You can’t use any zucchini / green beans / peaches / blackberries / radicchio / cherry tomatoes? Really? You’d be doing me a favor to take them, you know. Oh, you didn’t mean you were literally going hungry, huh?

            Annoys the heck out of me, when I was young I was poorer than a church mouse and really did struggle to eat enough.

          3. PlainJane*

            It’s also hurtful when you find out that people you thought were friends see you as nothing more than a way to line their pockets. Wow! My friend invited me to a party. Oh, wait… Or, yay! My friend invited me out for coffee. Cue the 2-hour high-pressure sales and loss of a friend when you say no.

          4. Susanne*

            So then someone doesn’t like you bc you didn’t blow $100 you don’t have on their stupid junk. So what? Why is that important and why is this person’s friendship worthwhile?

            Don’t you have standards as to whose opinion you care about and whose opinion you don’t care about? If you bug me excessively or try to guilt me over not buying your dreck, then wouldn’t the appropriate reaction reaction be “you’re pretty much a loser and not worth my time”, not “oh no, I need you to like me anyway”? What’s the big deal if people you don’t like, don’t like you back?

            I hate how women are socialized that they are supposed to care about never offending people, or care what other people think of them without regard for what they think of the person first.

        2. Annabelle*

          The thing is though, MLMers get a lot of training on “overcoming objections” and most of them take it very seriously. I also live near a Navy base and it seems like every other woman between the ages of 16 and 50 sells some sort of MLM product. It’s just unavoidable in some parts of the country.

      3. pope suburban*

        Yes! I’m in there too and I love it. There’s a recent post about Pure Romance and keto that had me laughing so hard I cried.

        1. Annabelle*

          I don’t want to derail, but I just needed to say that I was absolutely dying at that ridiculous post earlier.

          1. pope suburban*

            I just…no? I have so many questions about that. The answer to probably 99% of them is “Yikes!”

    4. Cleopatra Jones*

      I had to end a years long friendship with someone because it seemed like she joined every MLM scheme out there. Every time I spoke with her, she was on to a new MLM (computer phones, insurance, crystal ware, perfume, jewelry. You name it, and she probably tried it). I finally had to tell her that I didn’t work to support her newest ‘business venture’.

    5. kittymommy*

      There are several friends I have blocked on social media because of mom’s (if I see one more post about how those damn oils cute everything I’m going to go hallistic). I dint think I would have much patience if my boss was doing this!

  16. Grand Mouse*

    Gah, #4 really speaks to me right now. I’ve had to miss a few days in my first month. Luckily(?) they know I’m disabled and work specifically with disabled people. But this gives me an idea of what to approach my boss with. So thanks for the timely question!

    1. Neon Blue*

      Remembering now that the boss’s spouse, not the boss herself, is in the MLM. Still question whether the OP meant the club reference in a homophobic way.
      Women can make inappropriate comments as well as men, and this boss is certainly doing so.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          He didn’t. Like I noted above, he sent me this:

          “To clarify, when I stated my manager and the HR person were part of the same club, I was referring to a country club. The president of the company is also a member and the annual membership fee is three years worth of my annual salary. It is an exclusive club where the members are friends and tend to stick together.”

          1. Jen*

            Interesting, I was guessing it was a lack of capitalization because I’ve known a lot of bosses and HR people who belong to country clubs and they are very open about how important it is for networking and the buisness

      1. Thursday Next*

        OP refers to her boss and her wife matter-of-factly, which to me suggests that there’s no homophobia implicit. I took “club” to mean some kind of social club.

        1. paul*

          Plus Alison defaults to “she” for all letter writers so it’s entirely possible the manager’s actually a guy too.

          1. Sandra*

            I doubt it, since the letter writer refers to the manager as “she” and “her” several times in the letter.

  17. OP #3*

    Thanks for the advice, Alison and commenters. A little more context: I don’t know the grandboss well; I’ve only been here about 6 months and she’s so busy that I often only see her at scheduled meetings or passing in the restroom! So far, there has been nothing in email about any collection and I’ve been out of the office so have not heard any verbal comments.

    I did see this as similar to contributing to flowers or a charity in a funeral situation, but I’ve come from 25+ years in academia which is a weird duck employment-wise, so still getting my corporate radar in line.

    1. Grits McGee*

      Since you’re still new and you don’t have a personal relationship with grandboss, maybe it would be a good idea to discretely run the idea by someone with more seniority or longer tenure and see if that’s something that a) wouldn’t be out of line for the culture of the office, and b) be something that wouldn’t make grandboss uncomfortable.

      1. straws*

        Yes, this! My husband’s coworker lost everything in a fire. Even though he was fairly close to the guy, he asked another coworker that was more apprised of the situation what would be most helpful. We ended up getting gift cards for their teenage girls to get school clothes and supplies (the fire happened 2 weeks before the school year). It worked out really well, and he didn’t have to add to the constant questions that we were sure his coworker was getting.

    2. Elemeno P.*

      Is there someone who knows her better that you can ask? It may depend on group dynamics, but I imagine a thoughtful gesture would mean a lot. It might just be me, but I feel like the gifting up rule doesn’t always apply in big situations like that.

      I’m part of a 6 person team and my grandboss is in the hospital right now, so a few of us got him cookies and flowers and visited him last night. It really made him feel happy and loved.

  18. Drama Llama*

    When sister applied for a waitressing job the owner required a trial period, which is common in F&B. She worked a shift without pay. He called her again after 1-2 weeks for a second trial, and said she would need to go through several more trial sessions. I told her to not bother because it was obvious he just needed some casual staff and didn’t want to pay for it. (I also said she should leave nasty online reviews for his business but she was way too mature for that).

    I dislike the whole idea of an unpaid trial, regardless of the job. Sure, you can ask applicants to go through work-related exercises and vet them thoroughly. But to ask someone to come and work for free is not okay. People deserve compensation for their time working, or even training while they’re not doing any productive work. Yeah, it’s a pain if people quit (or are fired) during training before companies recoup the costs of their investment. But all of that is a normal cost of business that companies should shoulder. Kind of like spending money on a potential client who takes their business elsewhere in the end.

    OP2- take two week trial periods as a big red flag of unfair management.

    1. K.*

      I interviewed for a position a few years ago and the boss told me during the interview that there would be a week-long unpaid trial as part of the process. It was because she’d waited too long to start hiring (the predecessor had given a very generous two months’ notice. She was going to school for a career change and her boss knew she was applying – it was a long time coming) and she didn’t want to have any lag time. She basically wanted unpaid temps. I declined.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Red flag? Isn’t even one day a violation of the minimum wage law? Alison has covered how unpaid internships have fairly firm requirements for teaching/training in job skills, although those are probably violated about as often as contractor/employee boundaries.

      An equally immature response would have been for your sister to have accepted a shift and then no-show, then when the slimeball called to complain, have her tell him “Oh well, I guess you’ll have to dock my pay!”

      1. fposte*

        It looks like the key thing with an unpaid trial is that the work has to be for evaluative purposes only–it can’t actually contribute to business product. A shift waiting a customers without pay does not sound like it was for evaluative purposes only.

    3. No, please*

      I don’t understand how unpaid trials are even legal. I’m sure there are loopholes or some work arounds that businesses utilize. Even apprenticeships pay in my former field. Apprentices start with zero skills, for the most part.

  19. Kate*

    OP1, you said you told your boss you can’t afford to buy them. So maybe if you’ve done all the things Allison said and he’s still pressuring you, you can remind him again that you can’t afford it. If he wants you to buy them, then he needs to pay you double! That might put an end to it :DDD

    1. Bird*

      I don’t think that giving the boss ANY opening to shill her wife’s MLM products is a good idea. She is clearly fully invested in her wife’s activities, and the OP saying that she would buy the stuff if she made more money doesn’t solve OP’s actual problem, which is that she doesn’t want to be constantly bombarded with sales pitches and inappropriate personal comments. If none of Alison’s suggestions work, the OP should try to find a new job, not appear to capitulate to this boss’s bad behavior.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I agree – giving an MLM seller an inch will be giving them a mile. With MLM’s the only thing is to nip any sales offers/pitches in the very green bud. (God I hate MLM’s!)

        Finding another job might be the only solution if Boss and Wife keep up the MLM pressure, sadly. MLMs are a brainwashing cult and some of the buyers-in will not be happy until the entire world is blanketed under a pile of fugly leggings and swimming in an ocean of diet shakes.

    2. Imaginary Number*

      Coming up with an excuse only encourages the hunbots. Then they’ll come after you with a “sale”. Or they’ll try to guilt trip you for purchasing something else that’s pricey and not buying from them.

      “I won’t buy X (or any MLMs) and there’s nothing that will change my mind” is the only thing that works.

      1. Allison*

        “they’ll try to guilt trip you for purchasing something else that’s pricey and not buying from them.”

        Guh that’s my favorite. And by favorite I mean the thing I hate most about MLM- sorry, “home sellers.” They’re convinced if you buy lipstick from Sephora, you’re a bad, selfish, mean person who’s not fulfilling your moral duty to support fellow sisters or some garbage. Because no one at Sephora has student loans, a mortgage, kids, etc.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Oh yes this. I once read a HUGE rant on social media by an MLM person that basically said, “How dare anyone buy anything from Target/WalMart/Whatever, EVER, when their dear close sister friend colleague faaaaaaamily members sell Lularoe/YL/Scentsy/Pampered Chef/Mary Kay/Blah blah blah blah!?! Don’t you love your friends?! Don’t you want to support their business!?” It was awful. I have dear friends who sell oils or bags or jewelry or whatever, and they are actually great — no pressure, no guilt trips, they’re just kind of there in the background if you want to approach them and get a bottle of lavender oil or some leggings or whatever.

        2. Lora*

          What blows my mind is that those same employers often have job openings for part time hours or weird hours that they could fit a couple evenings per week or an evening and a weekend day into alongside their day job, and they wouldn’t have to pay any money up front, and they would actually make a few bucks. Have an ex-friend who did all that stuff, even though her kids were in school and she could have fit a regular part-time job into their schedule (instead of what she actually did while they were at school: watch TV and nap). All she did was lose money, even though literally everyone including her husband told her it was a scam.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      “You can’t afford NOT to! Don’t you see how much money you’d save if you bought X instead of buying Y at Walmart?”

      Or… “You need to earn some extra money? Do I have a business for YOU!”

    4. Iris Eyes*

      That will probably just trigger then “well then you should open your own and start selling then all your money problems will go away” response.

    5. Observer*

      No. Just stop giving reasons for not buying. It doesn’t matter whether the OP can afford them or not. All that matters is that the OP does NOT want to spend his money on these items. It doesn’t matter why.

  20. MuseumChick*

    OP1, this is a situation where being a broke record can sometimes help:

    Boss: “You haven’t bought anything in awhile!”
    You: “Yes, that will be impossible going forward.”
    Boss: “What why!”
    You: “It’s personal. Again, it won’t be possible going forward”
    Bos: “But the products are sooooooo awesome!:
    You: “Again, that will be impossible”
    Boss: “TELL ME WHY!!!”
    You: “Again, its personal and won’t be possible going forward.”

    Same thing for when she comments on your looks. Literally, everytime she starts to say something:

    Boss: *comment on your looks”
    You: Please do not comment on my looks, it makes me uncomfortable.
    Boss: It shouldn’t it
    You: It does. Please do not comment on my looks.
    Repeat every time she says something

    Basically, you are making the conversations here really boring for her be always saying the same thing.

    Also, your boss sucks and that isn’t going to change.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      As Greyjoy put it, every inch you give the MLMer will be taken as an opening to tell you why you need to give a yard. You need a hard line dialed way back to “buy nothing”, and don’t cross it.

    2. No Green No Haze*

      OP#1 — It seems to me the broken-record repetition is key. It feels unnatural and rude in the context of a human conversation to simply repeat a response you’ve already made, but her ignoring your answer means there’s no magic single phrase that is the right one that will turn her off. She has already taken your interaction to Awkwardville; you’ll just be acknowledging that and joining her there.

      Her not taking perfectly reasonable “no”s for answers is already a breach of etiquette (quite apart from trying to sell you MLM garbage to begin with!), so saying “No, thank you” “No, thank you” “No, thank you” “No, thank you” “No, thank you” “No, thank you” for as long as it’s needed per occasion should stop this behavior.

      Super easy for me to say, comfortably behind a keyboard, of course — your know your relationship with your boss and I don’t — but it seems to me that with a social breach like this a major part of handling it is not wanting to commit a social breach yourself, and I think you’re past that.

  21. Deirdre*

    OP1, along with the great advice – asking for the behavior to stop, I would encourage you to keep notes on what was asked and your response. A timeline with date, comment, and response can be very helpful should you have to talk to HR at some point. That kind of documentation speaks to persistent and pervasive conduct and will could be a helpful visual of the issue.

    1. Bird*

      That’s a really good suggestion! It can also serve as reassurance to the OP that she is not overreacting, in case she runs into people who try to minimize the situation.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Great idea. I was thinking as a last resort, if the boss starts to get nasty when the OP starts holding firm on not buying anything, the OP should pointedly ask “Is this a requirement of my continued employment, or will not giving you money for these products affect my performance reviews?” It’s kind of confrontational, but if the boss becomes a bit of a bully about it, the only way to get her to stop might be to push back a bit.

    3. Ten*

      I remember a woman from my last job who started working on a Monday and made several appearance-related comments to coworkers as openers to pitch her MLM stuff. The recipients of her remarks took offense and complained. She was gone by Thursday.
      But at the same company people would bring in order forms for Girl Scout cookies or other school fundraisers and simply leave them on a table in the break room and people were fine with it. No pressure, just order if you want to and ignore it otherwise. It really just depends on your company’s attitude toward (and written policies about) employee soliciting.

  22. SchoolStarts!*

    I once did a trial period back in the mid-90s. I tried to do the work well so they would keep me and I was paid. In the end, I do realize they were right – I wasn’t the best fit for their company and I was not retained for long. But it’s not the best way to hire people. I was in my early 20s and didn’t know better.

    1. OP 2*

      That is about when I did mine. I agree maybe I wasn’t the best fit (they expected an experienced person to jump right in and handle multiple things at once knowing I had zero experience.) But maybe I could have been if given a proper chance. I was desperate at the time and didn’t feel I could turn a job down—especially in my “field”. I know better now.

  23. Florida*

    OP Telemarketer,
    You can reframe this to be a good job for a college student. You learned how to persist after hours of rejection, how to get past the initial “no,” comfort in speaking to someone you don’t know, how to concentrate in a distracting environment, how to be polite when the customer is crazy rude, etc.
    There are a lot of skills you learn in a call center that are appealing to an employer. Definitely keep this on your resume.

    1. Lucky*

      Plus, if OP #5 will be competing with other new grads for jobs, having any work experience on her/his resume will give her/him a leg up. I’ve been in the position to hire new grads and you would be surprised (or maybe you won’t, but I was) at how many had no work experience at all, or had only done internships. Waiting tables, working at a call center, working retail or fast food – those typical high & college jobs – all develop and show translatable skills.

    2. Wheezy Weasel*

      You’re also working with other full-time University staff in the advancement office and learning office norms as they apply to working in academia support office roles, as well as how to politely interact with faculty members, influential alumni, and other staff members across campus to get what you need from your larger campus team.

    3. nonprofit fun*

      My college call center job is what got my foot in the door in the nonprofit sector! OP #5, having that job on your resume shows that you have good communication skills, customer service skills, and sales skills. Plus, the fact that you even worked in college is commendable; a lot of students graduate without so much as an internship. To this day, I still have better phone etiquette than most people my age (us millennials are, unfortunately, phone-phobic).

      OP, not sure what your career goals are, but nonprofit fundraising can be really rewarding and it is a lot different than cold-calling. Much more about relationship-building. Good luck in your search!

    4. hayling*

      My husband worked at our university’s call center. There’s a ton of turnover and he worked there long enough that he was promoted to supervisor. He parlayed that into a sales job when he graduated. Definitely keep it on your resume!

  24. Oryx*

    At ExJob, our Admin Assistant (who had been there for decades and was well established in the pecking order) once had a friend of hers who sold some kind of MLM jewelry come in for a “party” for all of us “girls.” ::eyeroll:: I knew I wouldn’t be buying so I make the, I thought polite, decision to not attend the party.

    Well, AA left out catalogs in our break room and all over in the weeks leading up and one day I was there in the lunch room and my female coworkers were going over the magazine and someone asked what I was planning on buying. I said nothing. The looks on their faces, like they didn’t realize not buying was even an option. Nobody can *make* you buy.

    But then the day of the party, I was hiding in the library when one of our other higher ups came and found me and was all “You’re missing the party!” and would not leave until I went. So then I had to awkwardly sit there while the woman went through her jewelry spiel and then sneak out without buying anything.

    I admittedly use/wear products that can be classified as MLMs but I buy directly from actual real life friends and while I know those companies have issues, if my friends are happy and it supports them in whatever way, I’ll continue to do so. That said, MLMs have ZERO business being in the workplace especially if it’s coming from someone in a position of power. No, just no.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      You need to hide better. When my neighbor had occasional MLMs, which I couldn’t attend because I was “busy,” I grudgingly made sure I was off somewhere else.

      1. Oryx*

        Ha, I know. Luckily I don’t work there anymore but, yes: as the librarian I was essentially hiding in my office, making it easy for them to find me.

  25. Reilly*

    I had a boss who had a house fire and insurance was so good, everything she owned was improved and upgraded. She did not need money or items or gift cards to rebuild her life. However, she was displaced and had to couch surf for a few weeks before her insurance arranged for her temp housing, and then she had to live in a tiny efficiency studio with limited amenities and without any of her belongings for months, and she was worried her coverage would run out before her house was done. She needed emotional support and understanding from people closest to her at work, homemade meals, distractions, and small comforts for her space when it felt like she’d never get home. It was the first time someone close to me was in this situation and it opened my eyes to a whole new perspective. In her particular situation, money-wise she was 1000% fine, but she was an emotional wreck while living through the aftermath of the fire.

  26. nnn*

    For #3, another thing to look into is whether there’s an existing fundraiser for them. Do some googling, search social media for their name, search GoFundMe and similar, see if there’s something mentioned in media coverage. Depending on context and personalities, you could even inquire at work if anyone has heard of anything.

    It’s far less problematic, optics-wise, to donate to an existing fundraiser established by someone outside the workplace than it is to gift up.

  27. straws*

    I know MLMs were the focus of #1 and are a pretty hot button topic. However, I was aghast when I read this line: “I have done the same when she comments on my looks and she says I should be flattered.” What?? Your boss should not be commenting on your looks. And then insisting that you should be flattered? This would make my skin crawl right out the door. If her comment is meant to be flattering and you say that it made you uncomfortable, the only correct response is a sincere apology that includes that she meant it to be flattering and will never do so again. I’d definitely escalate it somewhere. Possibly feel out the HR person (maybe by bringing up the MLM-pushing and seeing what the reaction is?) first. Is there anyone else above or at the same level as your VP that you could go to if she isn’t?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think it’s that, while both boundary violating, they are pretty divergent problems. And there’s standard advice about focusing on one thing, rather than “I need you to stop doing A. Oh, and W. Also X, too.” Which dilutes what you’re asking.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yeah, if this was a male boss making comments to a female report, it would have been the focus of the responses.

      OP #1, this is incredibly creepy and inappropriate. You should not have to tolerate these kind of comments from anyone in the workplace.

    2. Buffy Summers*

      I agree. Isn’t that sexual harassment? Would it be different if it were a male boss complimenting a female employee, then defending with, “It’s a compliment; you should be flattered!”? I think that right there goes beyond harassy-territory and straight into the Land of Sexual Harassment.

    3. Snark*

      “Thanks, but I really don’t want to be flattered by my boss. Let’s keep our relationship professional, please.”

    4. Cassie*

      I wold have a VERY difficult time not commenting on a coworker’s looks, if her skin was crawling out the door. Although by “commenting” I kinda mean “screaming in terror”.

    5. Lora*

      YES. This is creepy.

      I’m trying to think of acceptable ways bosses have commented on my looks. Pretty much restricted to “wow, you got all dressed up for the presentation, huh?” and “I love how you put your hair up, that must have taken a while to do” type of thing. The occasional, “wow, look at you, are you going out somewhere special after work?” It’s limited, is what I’m saying, there’s not an abundance of non-creepy comments about someone’s looks, just like there’s not an overwhelming number of food comments to say in the break room other than “that looks/smells great, did you make it / do you have a recipe?”

  28. Suz*

    Several years ago my dad and stepmom lost everything in a house fire. Their insurance company paid for them to live in a hotel for several months while their house was being rebuilt. So they didn’t need to buy groceries, TP, etc. Their biggest immediate need was for clothes and shoes.

  29. Drew*

    OP#1: If your boss is a VP, that implies there’s someone above her with a “President” job title. Maybe it’s time to escalate.

  30. MCM*

    1. My boss pushes MLM products on me and comments on my looks

    In this situation I would go to HR period, regardless of their friendship. Sounds like she needs a slap on the hand, if not upside the head regarding the looks comments. Are the comments about your looks said to push the products? I’m going say it, are they inappropriate in the sexual harassment aspect?

  31. blackcat*

    Maybe this is because I’m an animal person, but I would probably get a few people to go in together and buy some dog toys. That’s what I did for my cousin after she lost everything in a fire. While her church/the red cross helped with $$, clothes, etc in the immediate aftermath, she said she was so happy when she opened up my box and her two dogs dove in and each grabbed a toy. Because the dog toys were a low priority for replacing, the doggies had nothing. New toys resulted in less stress for the dogs, which made everyone happier.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Yes! Dog toys, food, new leash, maybe some bedding. I’m not a dog owner–I have cats–but I’m pretty sure the dog would appreciate it, as well as the owners so they don’t have to think about it.

    2. Granny K*

      I would also offer dog sitting/watching in case this person needs a whole Saturday or weekend to run around and has no place to leave the dog(s).

  32. BadPlanning*

    The comments on OP #1s looks might be a “sales technique” for shilling the MLM products. Either to compliment her into buying stuff (oh you have such good taste, I know you’d love this jewelry) or shame her into it (your skin really needs this firming cream, then you’d be glowing!). I recently read a blog about someone who did the “Go to the store and sidle up to someone, compliment them and then try to get them to try samples of your product.”

    It doesn’t make it better — but it might be more empowering to think of it in terms of a gross sales technique.

    Stay strong and do not buy!

    1. BadPlanning*

      Now that I read it, “empowering” probably isn’t the best term. I meant that it might help to distance yourself from the inappropriate comments on your appearance.

      1. emmylou*

        Yeah, my neighbour who is both a pilates teacher (a genuine pursuit lol) and roams wildly across the MLM spectrum of “health products” (essential oils, arbonne, etc.) is constantly fake complimenting me on “being a businesswoman” like her to try to get me to help her recruit people. Um, I have a consulting practice based on my phd that is about strategic change in healthcare, and I work with the CEOs and senior teams of hospitals and university faculties. That is not the same kind of business as selling fake health products. Annoys the crap out of me.

          1. emmylou*

            nothing except that she tries to tie all of this other MLM health garbage into the same framework — ie, I understand pilates therefore am an expert on health therefore this other MLM stuff is good. She uses the legitimacy of her skills as a pilates teacher to imply that she must know what she is talking about with essential oils and suchlike. Like it’s all part of the same “health spectrum”

    2. Allison*

      That’s what I was thinking. They’re inappropriate and not okay, but it’s not uncommon for these MLM hunbots to butter up their acquaintances by complimenting their appearance. “Hey hun, your makeup is on point today! I’ll bet you’d love this new mascara Younique just released, it’s sooooo you!”

      1. Lissa*

        Can someone explain “hunbot”? I’ve seen it a couple times on this thread and figure from context it’s someone who sells MLMs but what is the context? Robotic medieval barbarians is all I can picture…

        1. bohtie*

          from what little I know about this sort of thing, Younique in particular is full of sellers who constantly use pet names for each other to sort of force a relationship (particularly “hun,” or, as a salty ex-Baltimorean, I must point out “hon”) and that plus “robot” (since they tend to use the same repeat phrases and fake affect) = hunbot

    3. Blue Eagle*

      If the boss won’t honor your request to not comment on your appearance and/or keeps asking you to buy the MLM products, maybe try another tack. Perhaps a different potential answer when the boss comments about LW#1 appearance: “no thank you, I don’t wish to buy any products for my appearance”.

      And maybe answer the sales pitch with a question “why is it that I’m always short of money at the end of the month?” and then say to yourself (but out loud) “stay on budget, stay on budget” etc as you leave the area where your boss is.

  33. Bobstinacy*

    #2 that sounds like a scam, two weeks and no guarantee of a job? D:

    I work in the kitchen industry and we do trial shifts that mean more than your interview or resume combined, but they’re usually max 4 hour shifts. Not two (!) weeks.

    1. Competent Commenter*

      When my husband worked at a large independent copy store the owner typically hired people for two weeks as a trial. He paid them for that time. My husband said it was actually a very good way to see if people could fit it, do the work, and cope with a high pressure, high deadline workplace. I would consider this an exception, and it only worked because it was a low-wage industry and most of the people who came looking for a job did not currently have one. Although the owner had some personality issues and could be difficult to work with, people often worked there for years, probably because they had a tightknit crew, they got paid vacation, and they got health insurance, which was unusual for that kind of work. So in this case, on balance a two week trial really wasn’t a bad thing. Doesn’t mean it’s not ridiculous in other circumstances though.

      1. Bobstinacy*

        That’s a good point about being paid, I was assuming unpaid because that’s the restaurant life.

        I’ve always loved the trial shift, both as a manager and a worker, it gives both parties a chance to really see if it’s a good fit. Also I’ve avoided a few toxic hell workplaces by walking in and seeing the chaos up close.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          If you are doing actual work you should actually get paid. Even if its only a 4 hour trial shift, maybe its at a reduced rate but should still be paid.

          1. Bobstinacy*

            Absolutely, those are the laws here as well.

            Unfortunately the food industry isn’t very good at following things like employment laws and there’s a lot of intercommunity repercussions to people who try to get them enforced.

            1. JessaB*

              Exactly, everyone knows everyone in restaurants and food service and when you see even people like Mario Batali being sued for wage and tip violations you realise the time hasn’t quite come like it has with harassment.

              Right now we’re lucky people who harass people are getting fired at unusual rates, even people in power. Something happened that caused a sea change in the “oh that’s just Hollywood” routine, it’s always been like that.

              Those changes haven’t happened yet in the restaurant industry, especially because a lot of the staff involved are young, or foreign, or of shaky immigration status, or have other reasons that they can’t or don’t have the power or standing to make those changes without losing their jobs and only source of income and being pretty sure they will lose their place in the industry. Also the industry lobby is pretty strong and it’s not easy to get a lawsuit going in the first place. You only have the rights you can afford to (both personally and financially) go after. And individual restaurants really don’t have the potential profit for an attorney to go after. It’s a very diverse and scattered industry.

    2. tourist herder*

      exactly! my boss hires tour guides, and resume/interview are no guarantee that someone will be a good fit. They get paid cash to follow along on a tour, and observe/help out on a support shift at the shop. After successfully leading a tour with support from an experienced guide, and getting a positive evaluation on their support shifts (how good is their work ethic, basically) they can be worked in to the regular schedule and put on payroll.
      This makes more sense for us, as it’s often a 2nd or 3rd job for people, and we’re open for extended hours, 7 days a week. Folks only need to make time for a few 2-4 hour paid trial shifts.

  34. CynicallySweet7*

    #2 I actually disagree with Allison’s answer here. In most professions a two week trial period would be really weird, but not admin. I worked as one for awhile, and having a trial period from between two weeks to a month is really really common. Your best bet it to hook up with a placement agency! There are ones that are specifically tailored for admins, so I suggest finding a reputable agency and go from there (I’d give you the name of mine, but unless you work in my specific city it wouldn’t be helpful). Good luck!!

    1. CynicallySweet7*

      I should’ve been more specific about why finding an agency is important. It’s because sometimes it can take awhile to find somewhere you mesh, and a good agency will make sure that you’re not out of work for more than a few days at a time!

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      I wonder if this is a regional thing. I’ve never seen trial periods for admin positions other than temp-to-perm arrangements.

    3. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Its definitely fairly common for admin roles in my area/industry to be “temp-to-perm”. Though in my experience (at reputable companies) the temp period is usually longer – typically 1-3 months (though there is the option to turn permanent earlier if both parties agree that it is a good fit). In the ones I’ve seen the employee is typically paid through a recruiting agency for the temp period, often at a lower rate and with no benefits. Once converted to perm – the employee is officially employed by the company (with benefits).

  35. Imaginary Number*

    There’s very little that pisses me off these days more than MLMs. They’re cults. I have friends (mostly former friends) who put everything else below their MLM. Friends, family, coworkers. They’re all just potential customers to them. It’s sick. I’m tired of having old friends and acquaintances reaching out to me, sounding like they’re interested in reconnecting, when really all they want to do is sell me lipstick.

    The easiest thing is to be very straightforward that you will not purchase from any MLM, no matter the product, no matter the seller. Even if there’s one you like, don’t purchase it from your boss’s spouse. That way it’s impersonal. You’re not refusing because your boss is being a ridiculous ass (which they are) but because you don’t purchase from MLMs anymore period.

    1. Searching*

      Right there with you. I live in a state that could be considered the capital of MLMs. It is astounding to me how many people are gullible enough (or perhaps it is desperation) to think they can actually make money on that crap. And often it is through church connections (at least in this state) that these MLM scumbags take advantage of their victims (same with financial investment schemes) – abusing their misplaced trust.

      I couldn’t believe it when someone in my MBA class tried one of those MLM pitches on us. Disgusting – but at least he was shut down quickly in that crowd. Everyone should watch that John Oliver video.

  36. Sandra*

    Re: #1. I really feel for the letter writer. The manager sounds terrible to work with. I can’t decide which is worse, the MLM stuff or the commenting on looks. I doubt the manager would make such comments if the letter writer was a man. As a women, she should know how much women are judged about their appearance and she should not being doing it to a fellow women, especially one who is a subordinate. I also highly doubt she would try to push all the MLM stuff on a man. You have my sympathy, LW #1.

    1. Never. Again.*

      I agree! I made the mistake of purchasing Avon from a coworker once. After my purchase, she left catalogs on my desk every week, sent “promotional texts” to my cell phone (which I had only provided for billing purposes), and even started leaving voicemails. I had to be very firm to make it all stop. “Please stop contacting me on my personal phone. I am no longer interested in Avon products.”

    2. Marthooh*

      Ahhh, but the letter writer IS a man, according to one of Alison’s replies! I was amazed, too. I guess MLM groupies are trained to do equal-opportunity pestering…

  37. Observer*

    #1 A lot of people don’t consider Avon junk, and they aren’t a typical MLM. Which is to say that you are much better off focusing on the fact that you don’t need or want what she’s pushing. Because while she could try to argue the merits of the case, “I don’t want it.” is not something she can claim is untrue.

    Obviously you may need to find a more tactful way to put it, but that is your boundary. And that’s really all that matters. This is not something that you need or want and it’s absolutely NONE of her business why. You can decide to not buy from a company for any reason – even ones that seem trivial to others, like you don’t like the way the word “Avon” sounds – and it’s not her place to argue the point. Don’t give her the chance to litigate this with you. Stick to “No.” however you want to dress it up. Just totally skip the “because” part.

  38. Manager-at-Large*

    OP5 (telemarketing) – put it on your resume. Depending on your future field, you might be able to dig a little deeper too. If you are interested in IT or general business, talk to the supervisors and staff – how do they make the schedules, how does the software work, how do they generate the call lists, how do the skills work, etc. Then when you have interviews, you can speak to other aspects of the business needs and operations for a call center and not just “I talked to poeple on the phone who didn’t want to talk to me”.

  39. John R*

    I lost everything in an apartment fire when I was in my early 20s. At work, a co-worker gave me a card. It had $102. The $2 was because their son, who was then six or seven, wanted me to have his allowance for the week because I needed it more than him. It was very touching and helpful and now that I’m older and more secure financially I’ve paid it forward to others.

  40. Granny K*

    House Fire: gift cards are nice but what this boss may need is help finding reputable contractors/builders, a dog sitter (or keeping the dog for a while) or temporary use of certain items (car, luggage, guest house).

  41. OP4*

    Thanks for the thoughts all. A few additional notes that I’ll make:
    The days that I had been out (3 in total) I was able to work remotely and do 95% of my job (I do some customer service via phone but our team’s assistant was able to cover that).
    Then, after I sent this, I had to call out again because of the flu (fever, stomach issues, aches, the whole shebang)–I was out yesterday and truly offline for the first time. I’m working remotely today because I still hadn’t managed to try eating and have been told that you should return to work until you’ve been fever-free for a full 24 hours. Overall the response from my boss has been fine and our VP texted me this morning (we’re a tiny team and the layers are thin) to ask if I was okay, which I appreciated. I explained that I have the flu and didn’t want to spread my germs.
    That said, it does still bug me that I’ve been out sick 5 days basically in the last month, working remotely or not. I’ll say something to both my boss and our VP in the vein of Thank you for understanding and leave it at that unless I hear otherwise.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      You might also try to minimize other absences for a while to make up for it. I worry about taking time off, although I think it’s in my head, but if I’m sick for a few days in a month I’ll decide not to take personal time to do something non urgent, or not to schedule my annual checkups for a while longer, or I might decide to push through some smaller ailments that I might have decided to “take it easy” for in a different month. I dunno at least it makes me feel better about it. But do acknowledge to your bosses that this is not typical for you and that you don’t think this is an unremarkable amount of absence (since you don’t). That’s more likely to be what they’d worry about.

  42. Must Love Cats*

    OP 2, I recently lost a job after 2 weeks. I’ve been unemployed for a little over a year due to my spouse’s relocation so it was especially hard for me mentally. Had the job been advertised with a trial period, I believe that I would have gone in with my eyes wide open and not been blindsided. To this day, I don’t know what I did wrong if anything. I showed up on time, got along well with others, was catching on quickly, etc. That said, I wouldn’t apply to a job with a known 2 week trial period unless I was unemployed or absolutely hated my current job. Like another poster said…too many red flags. I’m sure their turnover rates are really high too. Best wishes.

  43. I want to help, but I'm poor.*

    My grandboss lost everything to a fire recently, and I was wondering about the gift protocol as well! This grandboss created a registry for their new home, and many employees are contributing, but all I can afford is a $25 gift card towards the registry. (Most of the items are over $100, so $25 seems like an embarrassingly, laughably small amount.) Would it be better to skip the gift card and write a sympathy note? :/

    1. Observer*

      Don’t kid yourself – that $25 is useful when you have this much to cover. If your boss considers it laughable, he’s not worth your money.

  44. AKchic*

    LW 1: “No” is a full sentence, and a complete answer. You do not owe your supervisor an explanation for not purchasing her wife’s MLMs. However, I would make it a 100% refusal to purchase ANY MLMs from the office in general. Don’t give anyone an opening (in case the supervisor’s wife ends up getting someone else to buy in and start selling).
    I would also document every instance of attempts to sell to you and comments on your looks. You may need this information for future use. Also talk to HR and let that person know about the pressure-selling tactics. It may help, it may not, but at least it’s documented that you attempted to go through “proper channels” after saying no and asking that it stop directly.

    1. Observer*

      Good point.

      The documentation could come in handy. Especially if you get let go “for cause” (ie the cause being that you refused to buy the goods.) This documentation will help you get unemployment.

    2. JessaB*

      Yes, I have a rule, I do not buy from people at work. Not MLM, not cookies, not any fundraisers for school, nothing. I am not in a place where I can afford to do everyone’s thing, and I’m not going to play favourites. Nor with my friends when so many of them sell the same stuff. I have an advantage since I do like a couple of Avon products (mostly legacy scents from when I was young.) I buy from their website and do not put in an agent’s name. But I’m not going to play “but you bought from Sueeeeee. Why won’t you buy from me?” Not even if I love the product. Also most of those things are way higher priced than comparable goods from regular stores and the quality isn’t really much better and in some cases is worse.

      Back in the day when you had ONE neighbourhood Avon person, who went door to door, it was different. If you wanted it, you had to wait for the rep to come around. Nowadays I can get it online and not bother. And the funniest thing is that nobody I know sells Avon, the one and only MLM product that I’d ever buy and then only around the holidays and times of year that they sell their legacy stuff (okay I’m still crazy for Hawai’ian White Ginger in the little perfume stick tube.)

  45. MCM*

    2. Jobs that want a two-week trial period

    I am wondering if by posting the two-week trial period that they are looking to hire a vulnerable population. Ones that are unemployed and desperate for a job. If you are desperate enough to work for them, they can treat you like crap. Also wonder if they bring people in, work them for two weeks, than turn around and fire them. That they have a short term need and do not want to deal with contractor/temp agencies.

  46. JessaB*

    Re the fire – If I were going to give a gift card in a situation like this I’d make it one of those prepaid debit kind of things (google to see which ones have no fees for use,) to make it open ended and they can spend it wherever they want including for instance vet fees if the dog needed care, which the insurance might or might not even cover.

    IF you have the resources another option might be to offer to take in the dog while they work on fixing up the housing situation, a lot of temporary housing doesn’t take animals in.

  47. QuakerBanker*

    My university called me 4 months after I had graduated, asking for money. I was having a hard time finding a job within my field, so I working the same low-paying job that I had worked while attending university. Jokingly, I suggested to the student worker who called that he should call me back in 10 years, because that was how long it would probably take for me to get my life together. They haven’t called me since.

  48. Gina Linetti*

    Last year I applied for a bookkeeping job at a local cannabis dispensary. The application process included four hours of “volunteer” work, which ended up being two afternoons spent packaging eighths of cannabis flower.

    I made the mistake of saying (in a joking manner), “What does this have to do with bookkeeping?”

    I did my two “volunteer” shifts, and that was it. They never called me back.

  49. OP #5*

    Aah, I’m late! But thank you everyone for your advice and thoughts! I think I’m going to leave the job on my resume. I’d also like to address a few gripes peoples have with university fundraising calls – with the caveat that other universities might operate differently:

    1) the script sets specific amounts and callers are required to go through at least three solicitation attempts before hanging up. This is actually evaluated so we have to do it to keep the job. Also, we are required to try to evade refusals so if you don’t want to listen to the whole spiel, it’s better to be firm and decisive in your refusal at the beginning of the call (but please don’t be rude).
    2) saying you won’t donate will only take you off the list until the next round; like the poster earlier said, you have to specify that you want to be off the list permanently. You can also request a temporary strike on your number, say until you’ve finished your graduate studies.
    3) there are actually many projects, especially students run projects at my university that are solely supported by alumni donations, so not everything is covered by tuition/government
    4) participation does help in getting more funding (or at least that’s what my manager claims) so even small amounts help. That being said, there is a certain amount of expectation that because we work for the university, and especially since we work within the fundraising department, that we will be giving when we graduate.

    The job itself isn’t that bad. We are included in the union agreement so the pay is decent and the environment is much better than a regular call center. I do think some of the tactics employed are ridiculous and that the amounts set are rather high but people are generally nice. :)

    1. Annonymous*

      I was going to hop in to add that there are a lot of entry-level jobs in business to business call centers that aren’t aggressive telemarketing but would love to see that work on your resume. If you’re job hunting on a liberal arts degree, it’s not a bad foot in the door.

  50. Phil*

    Regarding number 5, as someone who has been a hiring manager in the past, I would actually be impressed with someone who has been in that type of position for an extended period, especially if I was hiring for a customer service type job. It shows that you have patience, drive, and a thick skin that allows you to shake off negative experiences, and not let them affect the rest of your day. Rather than being ashamed of it, you should show it off – you’ve been through the trenches and come out the other side!

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