my coworker calls me his “work mom,” my employee keeps fake quitting, and more

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

1. My coworker keeps calling me his “work mom”

My coworker is a very young 20-something man. He comes from a very sheltered background and is not very worldly. When he first started, the entire team took him under our wing to show him workplace norms and professional behavior. We work in healthcare education and interact with a diverse group of people. A few weeks ago, a group of us were chatting and I was talking about how sad I am that my older children recently moved out. He piped in and said that he would love to have me as a mom and he would never move out on me. I thought he was joking and just laughed it off. It is now becoming apparent that he meant it.

He called me “mom” the other day in front of a client. I waited until we were alone and told him not to address me as mom anymore because it completely demeans me in front of clients. He apologized. He did it again today, in front of another client, and that client then congratulated me on having my son work with me and for raising such a good worker. I again talked to him afterwards and he promised to only call me mom in private. I asked him to call me by my name at all times and he said that I take such good care of him that he has a hard time calling me by my first name.

I don’t do anything above and beyond what I would do for any coworker that needs my help. I don’t bake cookies for my team, I don’t tie his shoes and wipe his nose. I am the oldest on the team and I feel like he just defaults to me. Some people think it is funny and have started to jump on the bandwagon. I got an email today and in the subject line it said “Question for you, mom.” The others think it is weird. I don’t want to hurt his feelings or make it awkward, but truth be told I would love to choke him every time he does this. Can you help?

You’ve told him to stop and he’s continued to do it. The time has passed for worrying about hurting his feelings or making it awkward. The next time he does it, say this in the sternest tone you can muster: “Bob, I have told you repeatedly to stop calling me that. It’s offensive, it’s ageist, and it’s sexist, and it stops now unless you want to end up getting remedial training from HR. Are you clear on that?”

Because it is ageist and sexist, as well as demeaning. The fact that he’s continued after you clearly told him to stop — twice, no less — is ridiculous and gross, and if his feelings are a little hurt or he feels embarrassed by you escalating your tone, that’s on him, not on you.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Employee keeps fake quitting

I hired an employee less than 90 days ago. The team had not been fully staffed for several months and was happy to have him. A month after starting, he came into my office and started a meeting by saying, straight-faced, “I’ve been here a month, and I’ve decided to offer my resignation.” After a few seconds, he smiled and said he was kidding. He is not known for having a sense of humor. A couple of weeks ago, he walked into my office and handed me a single sheet of bonded stationery and again said, “ I’ve decided to tender my resignation.” After I took the sheet of paper, he explained instead that it was a thank-you note for being allowed to attend a trading program.

I have a very good sense of humor. I didn’t find either of these incidents funny. His work product is very good. His “soft” skills (beyond these incidents) are lacking, and, without going into further details, speak more to his character rather than naïveté or inexperience. If he does something like this again, can I accept his resignation — whether he was joking or not?

If you want him off your team, deal with that head-on. Don’t wait for him to make a joke about quitting and try to turn it into a real resignation. Instead, if his soft skills are problematic, you can either give him feedback about those and tell him you need to see improvement there in X weeks, or — if the issues are serious enough that you’re ready to let him go now — you can do that.

Meanwhile, though, if he does another joke resignation, say this: “That’s a very odd thing to say if you don’t mean it. Please don’t do it again.”

3. My coworkers badger me to take breaks when I don’t want to

My coworkers are great — they’re supportive and positive. The problem is, I’m feeling badgered by the fact that they keep asking me if I’ve taken a break, or if I’ve taken a break and it seems too short to them, they’ll ask if I’ve taken a “real” break.

I work long hours on my own volition because I take pride in the work that I do, and honestly, sometimes I’d rather be at work due to personal issues at home. I also tend to work long hours because I have a medical condition (um related to flatulence?) where I need to leave our work area to “air out” periodically throughout the day, meaning I’m away from my desk during work hours and end up working past my scheduled end time so I can work alone without distractions and worrying if someone will hear my *ahem* medical issue.

I suspect they don’t think I take breaks because I take them at different times than them. Most of my coworkers take lunch at 11:30 but I’m not even hungry by then, so I take lunch around 12:30.

To prevent burn out, my boss scheduled set break times for the team. They’re recurring appointments on our calendar. I appreciate that, but part of me is irritated that I’m expected to now take breaks at set times.

I’m usually the first one in the office and the last to leave, and my attendance and performance are fine. I’ve started to overhear (I’ve walked in on) coworkers talking about me working too much. It annoys me when they question me about my time or act as if I work too hard. I really want to say “I appreciate your concern, but I’m really into my project and will take a break when I’m ready.” Is this unreasonable? Am I supposed to be like my coworkers and take personal calls all the time and just work my schedule and nothing more? Can managers require to me to take breaks at certain times or at all?

I’m starting to feel like I’m being counseled for working. Shouldn’t it be the other way around with people be counseled for having crappy attendance and performance? I think my coworkers talk to my boss about how much I work, and that she’s of the same opinion.

Managers can require you to take breaks at specific times. And if you’re non-exempt, your state law may (or may not, depending on the state) require that you have a break after a certain number of hours of work, whether you want the break or not. But if your manager isn’t just enforcing the law, then you can certainly try explaining to her that you work better — and are happier — on a different schedule. You could say this to her: “I’ve noticed you’ve started scheduling breaks on my calendar. I actually find that I work better on a slightly different schedule — I like to go to lunch a little later, and I have a medical condition that means I need to get up frequently throughout the day, so I like to stay a bit later to make up for that. Is it okay with you if I keep doing what I’ve been doing, since it works well for me?”

As for your coworkers, you could say this the next time someone seems concerned about whether you need a break: “It’s kind of you to worry about me. I do take breaks; I just go at slightly different times. Please don’t worry — I’ve got a schedule that works well for me, and I’m very happy with it.” And if it still continues after that: “Hey, can I ask you to let me manage my own breaks? I know you mean well, but I’m starting to feel like I have to explain and defend my schedule to everyone, even though it works very well for me.”

4. Going on a vacation when you’re on short-term disability

My husband was recently injured outside of work. As he has a broken arm, he is mobile but unable to do his job, which is very rigorous and physical. He has been put on short-term disability for two months until he is fully recovered. However, we have a holiday planned during that time that is already booked and paid for. The physician has said he is fine to travel, as long as he’s not using his arm (which he won’t be).

Is it wrong to go on a pre-planned holiday while injured? Should he alert someone (supervisor, union rep) that he will be going out of the country for a few days? He’s worried about the optics of going on vacation while on short-term disability. I feel like his work can’t ask him to cancel the vacation just to stay at home — his doctor said it’s fine to go. What do you think?

There’s nothing unethical about going on vacation while he’s on disability if his doctor has cleared him for the trip but not for work. But that doesn’t mean it won’t look a little off to his employer if they hear about it, so I’d just be low-key about it — he shouldn’t post vacation photos on social media, etc. (To be clear, it’s silly to have to do this, and it’s probably more cautious than you need to be. He has a broken arm; it’s not like he’s claiming to need to be on bed rest and then jetting around Europe. But I’d err on the side of caution anyway.)

5. Being hired without ever meeting, when you’re local

I was interviewed at two places via phone and was was hired sight unseen (they not seeing me and me not seeing the office). For me to do an in-person interview would not have been an issue. I’m about one hour from one business, and about 10 minutes from the other.

Why would a business hire someone sight unseen? I find this a red flag.

Some employers will do that if you’re not local, but when you are? It’s odd, and I agree it’s a red flag. The stakes are high when you’re hiring someone, and it’s bizarre not to want to talk face-to-face when the person is easily able to meet in person. I’d consider this a danger sign that they may be too cavalier about how they hire, and possibly about how they operate in general. It’s possible that they’re deliberately hiding something about their workspace, but it’s more likely that they’re just not taking the process as seriously as they should.

But to get more data before deciding for sure, it would be entirely reasonable to say that you’re very interested but would like to meet in person before accepting.

{ 432 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT*

    #1 He’s coming off a little creepy, to me. Doing it in front if clients and then saying he’ll only do it in private? Saying he’d never move out on you? Ew!

    1. KarenT*

      And I love Alison’s line about remedial training from HR. That’s a pretty great line to use in a number of situations we’ve seen on this site.

      1. Student*

        The HR line can backfire if HR doesn’t ultimately back you up, though. Have to be a really confidant bluffer, or really confident your HR person/manager will come through on it.

          1. Say what, now?*

            I agree. I have one really excellent employee that I’m training to be a supervisor (she is 40) and another employee that is a mediocre worker (aged 50). The mediocre worker complained that the excellent employee was being given extra responsibility and she wasn’t and asked why. I told her that EE (Excellent Employee) was “quick to pick things up” and would be an asset for new people training who had questions. MW (Mediocre Worker) threw a fit about my statement to my boss saying that I was ageist. I had to sit through remedial training because I said that one employee was good at grasping new concepts. It doesn’t matter that there is a performance gap. I said “quick to pick things up” and that translates to “you’re a little older than her so you’re not worth the training to get to a supervisor” in both her mind and HR’s. Ageism is taken seriously by most HR reps.

            1. depizan*

              Wow. As someone between those two ages, I find HR’s belief that only people below a certain age can be “quick to pick things up” far more concerning and ageist. Is this some kind of dogwhistle I’m unaware of, or is there something I’m missing?

              1. ArtK*

                I agree. If there is any ageism in Say what’s story, it is the older employee and HR who are making the very poor assumption that “quicker to pick things up” means “younger.” People looking for offense where none is intended.

              2. Say what, now?*

                I completely get where you’re coming from, Depizan. I was also shocked that the phrase was a trigger. But when I think about it, I can kinda see it (in a very stretched out way) since people stereotype older people as change-adverse. I’m pretty sure that HR did an internal eye-roll but from what I understand she intonated that she could become litigious and they just went to cover their butts.

                The truth of the matter is that not everyone takes on new information at the same rate. My 40 year-old is exceptional and better than my 22 or 36-year-old employees. It’s just that she’s THAT good. That’s what upsets me, that I feel restricted in recognizing someone’s strengths because of how it will come off to people who don’t possess those same strengths.

                1. depizan*

                  Did HR offer any different wording for addressing things like how quickly someone learns new skills and the like? Because it seems like you’re going to be somewhat hampered in evaluating people if you can’t praise people who catch on quickly or address the problem if you have someone who’s unusually slow at learning a new procedure or the like. Which does both you and your employees a disservice.

                2. Say what, now?*

                  I can’t reply to your comment for some reason, Depizan. But no, the training more focused on “here’s how to see how that could be misconstrued and here are thing that businesses use to stereotype people over 40,” which was all really helpful since I never would have made the connection otherwise. I’ll file it away to remember for the future for sure.

                  Alison, do you have any alternative language that you would suggest?

                3. Ted Mosby*

                  I think that’s true but also to me “quick to pick things up” is more a nice way to say “smarter than you” than anything to do with change. If HR really clung to this logic everyone would just be promoted by age all of the time.

                  Also not sure how this whole story totally applies (or if it were just a funny story), because calling a supervisor Mom is just way more obviously egregious and wrong.

                4. Say what, now?*

                  Ted, the original comment was about how seriously HR takes ageism. Some people were questioning whether HR would back her up. In my experience ageism is something that they take very seriously. Probably because it’s an easy one to tackle unlike sexual harassment where the lines can be harder to see if there was ever a relationship between the two parties.

                5. Say what, now?*

                  Also, I think it’s unfair to say that catching onto new things quicker than another person means that they’re smarter. There are such a multitude of ways to be smart whether it means that you’re capable of learning new processes quickly, able to create new processes from scratch, improve existing processes that have been just taken as best practice for years, or what have you. In this case it’s not the case that mediocre worker is dumb, she’s just not focused.

              3. IT Dweeb*

                The ubiquity of the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” would certainly indicate that a lot of people equate ageing with an increased difficulty in learning new things.

                Anyway HR’s job (for better or worse) is not to adjudicate disputes like these, it’s to protect the company from legal or PR troubles. Even if they don’t think the accusation is reasonable, if remedial training is all it takes to get the accuser to “drop charges”, as it were, then that’s probably what they’ll push for.

          2. Observer*

            Especially since he already did it TWICE in front of clients, and the second time was after he’d been told to knock it off. HR may be stupid enough not to care about the other (bigger, imo) issues, but even if they only care about who is bringing in dollars, they need to care about this, because it IS going to negatively affect the view the clients hold of the company.

            1. Say what, now?*

              I would be jaw on the floor shocked if HR didn’t take this seriously. I don’t think OP will have to justify this further than it’s an ageist comment.

              1. Ted Mosby*

                I don’t think OP even has to reach that (very low) bar. Even if they were the same age it’s totally inappropriate and weird.

        1. KarenT*

          I don’t take it to mean the co-worker will actually be sent for HR training, but as a way to point out that someone is acting so poorly they need remedial training (not just regular training)

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously—his behavior is really really inappropriate. And instead of respecting your wishes, he’s still doing it? Because you “take such good care of him”? And now it’s spreading to your coworkers? Everyone here needs a refresher from Claire in HR .

      OP, I don’t know how you’re not tearing your hair out. I would be. Please be as frank/blunt as you need to be. Don’t worry about his hurt feelings. If you do something wildly inappropriate, sexist, and ageist to your coworker, you don’t get to have hurt feelings when they call you on your ish.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        Also, any emails from co-workers addressing you as mom will be immediately returned to sender for a correction.

        1. BananaRama*

          Agreed, since coworkers are now jumping on this bandwagon OP needs to nip this in the bud NOW. Depending on the familiarity with the coworkers, OP could just write back something with more tact than I possess, “This nickname is not appropriate; please do not use it. I do not find it humorous.” (My default would be along the lines of, “Not amused, not appreciated. Do NOT call me mom.”)

          1. Penguin*

            I would reply to the sender:
            “Opps, looks like you sent this private email for your mom to me by mistake! Anyways, let me know when you have an update on the X project!”

            1. Doctor Schmoctor*

              I think that would make it seem like you think it’s funny, and you’re playing along. It won’t stop the behaviour.

            2. High Score!*

              And when you send that “oops I got this personal email to your mom” reply, also CC HR on that.

              1. fposte*

                And it’s also an evasion when what’s needed is direct communication. One reason people can be drawn to maneuvers like this is that they’re uncomfortable with addressing the problem directly–but it’s still what needs to be done.

                1. Snark*

                  It’s also an impulse to pad things for the benefit of the problematic person, and nope. He needs his reprimand cask-strength.

              2. Ted Mosby*

                I don’t think it was meant as a joke. I took it as “I absolutely will not answer to mom and will ignore any communication addressed towards mom.” Although if other AAM readers don’t see it that way I’m suuuure he wouldn’t either.

          2. Q*

            I had some teenagers and 20-year-old pick up calling me “Mom” recently (I’m 24!) and my response was to point out that I wouldn’t be a good “mother” influence to them and it seems to have gotten the message that I didn’t like the nickname across.

            (they’re now calling me something else equally ridiculous, but I’ll live with this one)

            1. Breda*

              This is particularly weird, because, uh, it’s a social media trend for teenagers to call celebrities or other people they admire “mom” and “dad.” Not always even people older than them! Sometimes boy bands or teenage actors get this! Click on any tweet from someone popular – Obama, for example – and you’ll see dozens of replies that just say “dad.”

              It’s kind of bizarre and generally not received well, and it’s CERTAINLY not appropriate in the workplace. But when you’re dealing with actual teenagers, that might be the source. Definitely shut it down, though.

              1. Q*

                Fortunately this wasn’t the work place and was a social environment (we were assigned to a random group together for a collaborative project). But still.

              2. Say what, now?*

                Yeah, I’ve heard of this too. I find it terribly disrespectful which is ironic since (as you mention) it’s meant as a sign of respect.

              3. Kelsi*

                They also call celebrities and characters they like “my son/daughter/child” regardless of age so I wouldn’t read too much into it.

              4. snk*

                The mom and dad thing is meant to imply that the celeb is “giving you life,” which is another slang compliment.

      2. Snark*

        Yeah, this is one where you reduce the wee chap to a smoking crater and worry about the fallout later. Spike his head on your portcullis as a warning to the others and disregard his fee-fees.

      3. Koko*

        This guy is so much WTF. Who argues with a reasonable request like “Stop calling me mom”?? He offers a compromise that he’ll only call her that in private??? Why is it so important to him to call her “mom” when she’s been explicit that she doesn’t appreciate or want it???

        I just…can’t even understand how this guy’s brain works…it feels like the only possible explanations are 1) hidden camera prank 2) intentional sexist/ageist power play 3) he’s an alien. What reasonable person does this??

        1. Genny*

          My best guest would be he has a dysfunctional relationship with his own mother (I’m guessing it’s too smothering or helicopter-like since LW describes him as being sheltered). There’s probably also a not-so-healthy dose of being boundary challenged in that family.

          1. Perse's Mom*

            This seems most likely, really. If his upbringing was that sheltered, the wide world of An Office Job may be very scary and he’s clinging to what’s familiar… therefore Office Mom to protect and continue sheltering him.

          2. Kelsi*

            Yeah, this was actually kind of reminding me of a blog I used to read (sorry, no longer remember what it was called!) of a woman who had been in foster care for most of her childhood and was, as an adult, desperately seeking a mother figure. She wrote about begging her therapist to be her mother (and hwo hurt she was when the therapist responded in a sympathetic but professional way), which was heartbreaking but obviously very, very boundary-crossing.

            I may be reading something that’s completely not there, but to me it sounded like he was trying to meet an emotional need and having a hard time recognizing that he was doing it in a very inappropriate, unprofessional, and boundary-crossing way.

            1. Kelsi*

              Just want to clarify–what he did was way WAY out of bounds and I am not saying to go easy on him or coddle his feelings. Just speculating on what may have caused the behavior, because as Koko said upthread, it’s pretty bizarre.

            2. Noobtastic*

              If one is actually looking for a surrogate mother (or father) figure, I believe one would have better luck, not to mention being simply more appropriate, joining some sort of “Adopt-a-Grandparent” organization, or just hanging out at nursing homes, looking for a lonely older person who ACTUALLY WANTS a surrogate child.

              ASK FIRST. If the answer is no, then respect it, and seek a surrogate elsewhere. There actually are lots of lonely people out there willing, and even eager, to be surrogate parents to someone who is a good fit. It’s like dating. You don’t force it, and preferably, don’t “date” where you work.

        2. Sparky*

          A relative works at the same place as her mother. The rest of the family wonder if she calls her mother by her first name at work, or if she calls her “Mommy”, like she does in life. I hope for their professional sakes that she calls her mother by her first name, but it isn’t out of the realm of the possible that people work with a mother daughter team, and hear someone address someone else as “Mommy”.

          1. Alienor*

            I’ve never thought about it before, but I don’t know *what* I’d call my mom if I worked with her. I would probably avoid ever addressing her by any name, which is what I’ve done with my MIL for the last 20 years. (MIL wants me to call her “Mom” and I’m not comfortable with that, but it feels weird to call her “Debra,” so I just don’t call her anything.)

            1. msmorlowe*

              I worked with my mother before. I called her ‘Mam’ and referred to get as my mother casually, but if I was referring someone to her or speaking professionally I’d use her first name.

            2. Betty Cooper*

              I worked at the same place as my mother for a brief period while I was in college. The convention in that office was to call people Mr./Mrs./Ms. Lastname, so I called her Mrs. Cooper and she called me Ms. Cooper. It was weird for about a day, and then it was fine.

              1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

                I think it’s weirder that the office convention was to use last names! I feel like that’s really rare these days.

            3. Ted Mosby*

              lmaoooo I’m so happy I’m not the only one who refuses to address their in laws at all. I’ll call his grandparents “Grandma Mosby” and “Grandpa Mosby” bc they’re adorable.

            4. Anne of Green Gables*

              I worked in the same place but different department as my mom in high school, and later, when I came home from college breaks and continued working there, my dad also worked there. I referred to them by their first names in conversation in the workplace, iirc.

          2. Kelsi*

            Haha, my mom was one of my teachers in elementary school, and I had to address her as Mrs. OurLastName.

          3. Misc*

            My dad used to teach me (small school), and I’ve worked alongside him, and I absolutely called him Mr. Lastname (…I remember that he actually tried to get me to ‘practice’ the term before he was going to teach me which didn’t work at all, it’s like trying to practice a job interview; it feels totally fake in the wrong context, but feels totally normal in the right context, i.e. at work/school. If a nine year old can do it, so can an adult).

            Given I generally don’t have a direct professional relationship with my parents these days, it’s not really an issue, I’d use ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ if I just happened to overlap with them professionally and there was no actual day to day working relationship or power imbalance.

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I had a report who, during a meeting to redirect some of his work habits, complained to me that I was “momming” him. I was only giving him direct feedback about a task he was doing and how he would need to do it differently; I wasn’t doing anything “mom-ish” at all (other than existing as female and twenty-some years older than him).

          I told him I wasn’t mothering him, I was redirecting his work. He replied that that’s what moms do, and I said that I wasn’t addressing him in the capacity of being his mom. He retorted, “Well, you are a mom!”, referring, I guess, to the fact that I have two children?

          By then, I was fairly irritated, so I said, “If you’re referring to my age and gender, I don’t appreciate it!” And then he seemed to grasp that he was treading into troublesome territory and he backpedaled like crazy. He never said anything again about me being a mom, or mothering him, or whatever. I’m not sure what was even driving him to say that in the first place, but I got the sense from later, cumulative interactions with him that he had mommy issues in general.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Gah, still trying to unpack this. He was 27, but he behaved, emotionally, as if he were about 13 – 15: frequent, out-sized displays of frustration about the routine vicissitudes of the workday; hyper-sensitivity to any perceived criticism; little to no control over his emotional reactions to these things, resulting in snits, sulks, and tantrums. I mean, compared to him, I was definitely a mature adult. But WTF, all adult females are “mom” to him?

            1. Ted Mosby*

              WTF? I feel like this his honestly firable or close. Not just because it’s so far across the line that the line is a dot to him, but also you can’t coach someone out of sexism, ageism, or refusal to accept feedback.

            2. Silver*

              There are things that can cause those issues, like ADHD, but even if he has one or more of them, that’d be on him to fix. Rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is a tough thing, but still not your problem. You’re not his therapist.

              I have ADHD and I definitely matured slower than normal. I still wouldn’t call a co-worker mom or treat them like a parent in any way.

          2. Noobtastic*

            “No, Fergus. If I were your mother, I’d be washing your mouth out with soap, and then making you stand in the corner with your nose against the wall. And I’d take away your allowance, too. I am YOUR BOSS giving you PROFESSIONAL FEEDBACK. Don’t confuse the two again, or you’ll be dealing with HR about your bigotry. Your mother doesn’t work here, so leave your mommy issues at home. Now, about this work habit…”

            This story gave me an instant headache. It reminds me of those online ads that declare “Dallas Mom discovers way to whiten teeth for only $5! Dentists are outraged!” If it had been a man, they would have said, “Dallas man discovers…” But since it’s a woman, it’s “mom.” What if it had been a childless woman? A single woman? A single, childless woman? My guess is that they’d still say, “mom,” because any female above the age of 18, who accomplishes anything, must be minimized by reducing her to “walking womb,” as opposed to “person who is smart enough to actually accomplish a thing.” You know what I’d like to see? “Fabulous inventor also rears children! Those lucky kids!” Which, incidentally, could apply to men, too, because parents can be any gender, and parenting is important, darn it! And being a responsible parent should be considered an enhancement of your character, not used as a way to minimize your other accomplishments, or your identity as a human being.

            And now I really miss my dead father. Thanks, Fergus!

    3. Yomi*

      Seriously, that’s incredibly, incredibly creepy.

      It’s setting off lots of weird sirens in my brain. In front of a client? Ew, ew, ew, ew.

        1. Specialk9*

          I would go straight to HR at this point.

          To: creepy ageist/sexist boundary violator
          Cc: HR, manager
          Re: Stop calling me mom

          X, I have now verbally counseled you twice not to call me “mom”, and you continue to address me verbally and in emails by this term. You are not my son. I have been clear that I do not want you to call me by this ageist and sexist term, but you continue. Twice you called me “mom” in front of clients, who were confused.

          This ageist, sexist behavior must stop. You must comply with appropriate professional norms in all interactions with me.

          -(full name, including all titles and acronyms)”

          1. Snark*

            Boom goes the dynamite. Perfect response and tone. And yes, it does need to be this direct and this harsh.

            1. Snark*

              I miiiight add something like, “This is not only sexist and ageist, but so far outside professional norms as to make me personally uncomfortable. This would not be acceptable with any coworker, at any workplace.”

    4. Foreign Octopus*

      It’s the fact that he said “I’ll only do it in private” that’s really creeping me out. No, mate, don’t do it at all.

      OP, I’d be going crazy if he was doing this to me. It’s disrespectful to you and creates an awkward atmosphere among your other coworkers who are probably thinking that the guy is a weirdo. Don’t wait for the next instance of him calling you mom. Talk to him now. Since he’s new to the workplace, maybe explain why it’s inappropriate but that’s entirely up to you. Make it clear, like Alison said, that if he doesn’t stop, you’ll go to HR.

      On a side note, when I was 22 and working at McDonald’s, one of my coworkers said that I reminded her of her mother. That felt a bit weird to me then. If she’d started calling me mum, I probably would have run.

      1. depizan*

        “It’s the fact that he said “I’ll only do it in private” that’s really creeping me out.”

        Same. That’s the icky icing on an already weird situation.

        Though I find it pretty bizarre that he ever called her “mom” in front of clients. I can’t think of many places where it would be appropriate to use non-name nicknames in front of clients, much less one that’s guaranteed to cause confusion.

    5. Chalupa Batman*

      Agree. He’s being inappropriate, disrespectful, and more than a little creepy. And this is coming from someone who has had a “work mom.” She and I both used the phrase, and only used it as a private joke between us (and never in front of clients!!!). To us, it meant that we had a mutual affection and I trusted her for guidance and encouragement as a newer employee (and sometimes she brought me home baked goodies). We haven’t worked together in years and we still occasionally joke about it on Facebook. If she had EVER asked me not to call her that, even in a seemingly joking way, it would have stopped immediately. It was a show of affection and respect, and calling someone a nickname they don’t like is the opposite of that. Insisting on continuing is either a creepy boundary violation (and it sounds like OP has set the boundary clearly) or deliberate undermining, and neither one is ok.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Everything you and many other commentors have said…and being very, very disrespectful. I absolutely get the vibe that he is not seeing the OP as a competent peer. Whether this is because the OP is a woman, because the OP is older…whatever. This is certainly not the OP’s problem; this is the immature coworker’s problem.

        And the OP should do everything in her power to get it nipped in the bud immediately!

    6. Engineer Woman*

      Since OP#1 has asked coworker to stop twice already, I’d escalate to their manager if they report to same person. She’s already attempted to directly and firmly address this on her own and as a coworker, doesn’t have the (perceived) authority to do much else besides go to HR about it.
      However, their manager might be able to curtail this really strange behaviour – and if not, HR and a formal warning or even PIP is the next step. I mean, calling someone mom at work, especially someone who isn’t your mom and doesn’t want to be called mom, is wacko.

    7. Mary*


      “I don’t do anything above and beyond what I would do for any coworker that needs my help. I don’t bake cookies for my team, I don’t tie his shoes and wipe his nose.”

      – sounds exactly like someone who’s been a victim of sexual harassment feeling that they need to examine and justify their behaviour in case the offender just “got confused”. You don’t need to do this, LW! This is 100% on him: honestly, it’s not obvious “sexual”, but it sounds like it’s coming from the same impulse as harassment. He’s not comfortable managing a relationship with a female professional colleague, so he’s trying to force you into a position that’s more comfortable for him despite you having told him straight out that it’s not OK.


      If hurting his feelings is what it takes, do it and don’t worry about it for a minute. Entitled little sh*t.

      1. oldbiddy*

        this. nip it in the bud at a young age and hopefully he’ll learn to respect their female colleagues’ requests in the future.

    8. Amber Rose*

      LW 1, the rule is the same as with anything: you get to be called in the manner in which you prefer to be called. It would be the same if he were calling you dude, or lady, or zee, and you didn’t like it. It’s disrespectful at the least and harassment at the worst. Shut it down.

      Slight side note, is anyone else getting a weird fetish feel from that “only when we’re alone” thing? Ugh.

      LW 5, I’m thinking of the person who wrote in because they didn’t know the new office was dog friendly and they were allergic to dogs. There are downsides to not visiting the location prior to starting work that may not even occur to you now, but could bite you later. I think that prior to accepting such an offer, I would at a minimum ask to visit the office first.

      1. Umvue*

        Slight side note, is anyone else getting a weird fetish feel from that “only when we’re alone” thing? Ugh.

        Yep, me too.

        1. Snark*

          Well, I wasn’t, but I sure am now. And now I will go and take a long, hot shower with my favorite rubber ducky.

        2. Q*

          I guess I’m the only one who read it as “not in front of clients.”

          Not that it makes it okay by any means, but less…creepy, I think.

          1. Perse's Mom*

            Right, that’s how I read it as well. Not creepy so much as sad. And not sad as in ‘awwwwww,’ but sad as in ‘this kid is not very well adjusted and is desperate for some semblance of normalcy from his sheltered life.’

      2. FormerEmployee*

        LW 1: There is no “in private”. They work together. This is creepy because it makes it seem as if they have a personal relationship in addition to the work relationship when they don’t.

        LW 5: Per Amber Rose: “There are downsides to not visiting the location prior to starting work that may not even occur to you now, but could bite you later.” Some dogs do bite!

    9. Delphine*

      Not even a little creepy–super creepy. I feel gross just imagining a coworker telling me they’ll only call me mom in private. Ugh.

  2. Madame X*

    LW1 Even if you were his mom, it is incredibly unprofessional for him to call you that in front of clients. The fact that you aren’t his mom, makes his comment creepy and unprofessional. It is also very telling that he is not at all concerned about hurting your feelings, even though you are worried about how to address his behavior without hurting his feelings. Alison, is absolutely right that you should be even more direct about telling him to knock it off. He needs to understand that this is an egregious offense.

    1. Ted Mosby*

      Yes, just wanted to note that he’s not making you look bad. He’s making himself look terrible. This won’t reflect on you unless someone has questionable judgement to begin with.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I disagree. If I were the client in this situation, and your coworker called you Mom so I complimented you on your son, I’d be pretty disturbed that (a) it happened, and (b) you didn’t correct the misunderstanding immediately. I’d find the whole thing really weird and off-putting.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          It’d also still be weird if she HAD corrected the client… “like, oh no, he’s not my kid. He just calls me mom.”

          Really, this guy put the OP in a very awkward situation where no matter what she says (correcting the client or not), it’s a weird and unprofessional conversation.

        2. Ted Mosby*

          But if you had that level of awareness you probably wouldn’t have encouraged the behaviour by telling her how great her son was.

    2. Michelle*

      My son works in the same building that I do. We see each other maybe 3 times a day at most. He never calls me mom. He calls me by my first name.

      1. Mpls*

        +1 – Having worked with my mom in a small office, it was first names all the way. I wanted the impression of me to be that of a good employee, not her daughter.

      2. LBK*

        Yep, I interned at my mom’s company one summer and the only association we had at the office was carpooling together. I wouldn’t have dreamed of acting more familial towards her even when our work overlapped.

        1. Midge*

          Oh no… The summer after my freshman year of college, I volunteered in the 4 person branch of a larger organization that my mom managed. I am now try to recall (with a growing sense of embarrassment and horror!) whether or not I called her mom. I think I did! Welp.

          On the plus side, that summer helped me get over my aversion to talking to strangers on the phone. Part of my job was to call local businesses and ask if they’d like to make in-kind donations to the event we were hosting. Not fun, but in retrospect it’s an extremely beneficial experience to have had.

      3. I'm Not Phyllis*

        I worked in the same building as my mom once and I think I would have felt weird calling her by her first name so I guess I just didn’t call her anything?

      4. tink*

        I worked for the same company as my mom (and even in the same department at one point), and I never called her Mom while I was on the clock. She was FirstName. We wanted to keep it professional and keep work stuff at work and home stuff at home.

      5. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

        Argh, darn… I’ve been volunteering at the same place my Mum works for over two months now and I’ve just yesterday applied for the role I’ve been filling as a volunteer – and I’ve called her Mum the entire time! She also keeps checking my work but technically that’s her role as a supervisor ,except this has made me starting thinking about how that might look.

        Nobody else seems to care but now I have another thing to worry about…

        1. Ted Mosby*

          I think it’s preferable not to, but I really don’t think it’s big enough deal to not be hired. After two months the majority of your reputation will be built on your work!

        2. Cherith Ponsonby*

          I think it really depends on your workplace – some places it would be totally fine. If you wanted to make the change, though, coming on as a permanent employee would be a natural point to do it.

      1. LBK*

        I did actually have two classmates whose mother worked at our school and not only did they always refer to her as Mom, they did it as though it were her first name – they never said “after school, my mom is giving us a ride home,” they would say “after school, Mom is giving us a ride home”.

        Very nice and normal people in every other way, but that linguistic quirk always stood out to me (clearly, since I still remember it 10 years later).

        1. Alienor*

          I have a friend who always refers to his dad as “Dad” when we’re talking, as in “Dad’s coming to visit this weekend” and it feels very strange (ftr, we’ve been friends for a long time and are pretty close, but I’ve never actually met his dad). Even when I was married, my husband and I would say “your mom called” or “my dad wants to know if we can meet him for lunch,” not “Mom” and “Dad” as if we were siblings.

          1. Ted Mosby*

            I’m so happy you said this because I always say “my mother” or “my mom” and I’ve had several people tell me socially they think it’s really weird that i refer to her that way instead of mom. It really really threw me. Like she’s not YOUR mom.

            1. whingedrinking*

              Conversely, a friend of mine and my SO’s thinks it’s weird that when the SO is talking about his mom with his sister and other people are present, he’ll say “our mother”. You just can’t please everyone.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I did.

        I remember there being huge discussion with my classmates in my small-town school about what I would call my dad when he became my English teacher.

        I ended up calling him “Dad” without thinking about it. And I think if I’d called him “Mr. Lastname,” it would have been a bigger deal. I just never talked to him about home stuff at school.

      3. Kelsi*

        I kinda split the difference. Addressing her in class my mom was Mrs. OurLastName, but talking about her to others she was Mom/my mom, and addressing her (even at school) when I wasn’t in class–say, at lunch, or after the bell when I was hanging out in her classroom waiting to head home, she was Mom again.

    3. CaliCali*

      I work with someone whose dad is the CTO of the company (and he’s an excellent worker in his own right). In a work context, he always uses his dad’s first name, even when not directly addressing him in person. Other people will even say “I was talking with your dad” or something similar, but he himself will still use his name!

      1. Else*

        My brother is in a very similar situation work wise, and he calls our dad by his first name at work, and basically whenever he’s discussing anything vaguely work related outside of work. He reverts to “dad” when not talking about work – it’s quite funny to me when he uses both in the same string of sentences.

  3. all aboard the anon train*

    #1: This reminds me of the trend on social media to call celebs mom/dad and how people continue it even when some of those celebs have said it creeps them out or that they find it upsetting. A few have blocked people who do it or have left social media because of it. I’ve always found it unsettling though I couldn’t pinpoint why, but Alison’s reply to #1 just made me realize why I found the trend so creepy.

    It’s a different situation, but I wonder if this employee is just part of that mindset I’ve seen online. The fact that you’ve told him to stop and he hasn’t is concerning. I definitely recommend using Alison’s language and hopefully saying that you find it demeaning/sexist/ageist/etc. will make him realize he’s in the wrong. If that doesn’t work, do you have a manager you can escalate to or can you go straight to HR?

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Oh, it’s still happening. Read any comment to a celebrity’s tweet or instagram post and there’s dozens of comments calling them mom or dad.

        1. AnonAndOn*

          I did a Google search about it and it auto-populated before I finished typing it. The first thing to pop up was a Buzzfeed article from three years ago about teens doing it. It’s bizarre and sad.

          1. Thlayli*

            Oh that’s so sad. It makes me wonder what their relationship with their own parents is like if they look to celebrities for parental figures.

            1. Not Today Satan*

              I agree that it’s inappropriate, but (from what I understand of the trend as an un-hip adult) it’s not actually about being a parental figure. I think it just is a slang term for someone you think is cool.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Really? Because as a parent of a 15-year old, I can tell you that “mom” and “dad” are considered the complete, diametrical opposite of cool. ;)

                1. LBK*

                  I think it’s almost a term of deference/reverence, kind of like calling someone a boss or your queen but in a cozier, more familiar way. It implies a certain level of respect while still being warm and personal.

                2. Snark*

                  I can’t wait ten years for mine to think I’m lame. I’m going to dad-pun him into the GROUND. He’s going to dig a hole in the yard and live it it. Muahaha.

              2. Lindsay J*

                Haha this reminds me of the episode of Friends when Chandler accidentally calls Richard “Dad” and then tries to play it off that “dad” is slang for “a cool guy”.

            2. k8*

              lol I think y’all are reading way too much into it….it’s similar to saying “goals!” Clearly, this photo of Cardi B isn’t the be-all end-all of what I want to achieve in life, it’s just a cute pic….

              1. k8*

                …and no one is actually looking to Beyonce or Kesha as a parental figure. it’s really way more tongue-in-cheek than anything.

                (hit submit too soon, oops)

                1. all aboard the anon train*

                  @Anna: It started with Lorde retweeting a picture of Kim Kardashian and just writing “mom”. It spiraled out of control from there.

              2. Alienor*

                Yeah, for the most part it’s just a trend without any deep meaning. A lot of younger people will refer to celebrities as “my son” or “my child” for example, to mean “I really like this person and feel protective toward them.”

              3. Kelsi*

                This. I feel bad for the celebs who are made uncomfortable, but it’s not really meant to imply they actually think of that person as a parental figure. It’s just saying they admire/appreciate them.

            3. all aboard the anon train*

              They mean it either as a compliment of the celebrity being cool or a compliment that they think they’re attractive. Because a lot of the comments can be pretty sexual.

              1. Myrin*

                Yeah, I was just thinking that I’ve either missed this trend until now or people mean what I have only ever encountered in a “spank me, daddy!” fashion.

                1. all aboard the anon train*

                  There’s been a trend recently for entertainment sites to have celebs read and react to these tweets of people calling them dad in a sexual manner. Talk about awkward work situations. I immediately back click on those videos out of pure secondhand embarrassment for the actor.

                  It’s one of those times where I’m glad I don’t work in entertainment because something like that in the normal world would be immediate grounds for going to HR.

          2. Delphine*

            It’s spread to adults, too. A child actor recently had to ask his (often adult) fans to stop tweeting “dad” at him.

    1. Mookie*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking of, and this is almost worst than that because at least on the interwebs you’re you’re not doing this to their faces and they never have to engage with you again or at all.

  4. Always science-ing*

    OP #4: If you haven’t already, confirm that your husband is not prevented from leaving the country/state etc. as part of his medical/disability coverage. A family member of mine was on short term disability a couple of years ago and the policy was clear that they would have lost their disability benefits if they had left the country during their leave.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      I came here to say that. If it’s clear by law, I’d just let my boss know that I had already scheduled the trip and my doctor had cleared me to travel. But he knows the culture of his office best and it should be his call what to do.

  5. Ted Mosby*

    #2: i think Alison is spot on here. I think everyone deserves at least some feed back unless they’ve done something particularly egregious (i.e. something particularly bad in front of a client, something racist/sexist, etc). If all of his problems are of this nature, you can easily tell him this kind of thing isn’t acceptable and he needs to stop.

    But if he’s not coachable (or it’s not worth it), and you want to fire him, why would you wait for him to fake quit?

    1. LA*

      Well, it sounds like it’s something he’s doing often enough that LW *could* wait until he does it again and accept the resignation, and while it would mean waiting a bit before getting rid of him, it would (hopefully) be the simplest way to teach him to never, ever try to fake resign again at future jobs. It would be sort of karmic (oh, you thought it was funny to say you’re resigning? Well, be careful what you wish for…).

      But obviously if that’s the only issue, it would be better to just sit down with him and tell him it’s not funny and it’s not appropriate.

      1. Ted Mosby*

        I think a far, far simpler way to teach him not to do that would be to clearly tell him it’s not ok to do that.

    2. Specialk9*

      I can’t imagine why I’d want to keep on someone who told me twice they were quitting, especially with them handing me a blank piece of paper? That’s weird and demeaning and premeditated.

      1. depizan*

        I’m at a loss as to why the employee would even *do* this. Especially when the letter writer notes: “He is not known for having a sense of humor.” Is he hoping the letter writer will take him up on it? Does he think he can cause some kind of trouble for the company/organization if the letter writer did? Is he hoping the letter writer will give him a bunch of complements in begging him to stay? I just don’t get it.

        1. Perse's Mom*

          Maybe he’s thinking he can get unemployment out of it if they fire him (or accept his ‘resignation’ which he may spin as ‘it was a joke and they fired me for it’)?

        2. Lynn Whitehat*

          Yeah, when I saw the title, I thought it was going to be an impulsive thing. Like blurting out, “OMG, this is ridiculous! I can’t do this, I quit!” This is really weird.

        3. Tiny Soprano*

          Yeah I’ve known people who have terrible/strange/awkward senses of humour like that, who when the joke doesn’t work the first time will just try again with the same joke. Very annoying and perplexing, but a genuine thing that some people do. I can just imagine him standing there waiting for people to laugh.

    3. Engineer Woman*

      If this bothers OP#2 enough to write to AAM about it -and I agree it’s weird, bothersome and incomprehensible – OP#2 should meet with the employee to understand why he is doing this. Of course, whatever the reason may be, it needs to be made clearly known to employee that such behavior is not appropriate and needs to stop.

  6. T3k*

    #5: The job I have now, none of us saw eachother until I showed up for my first day on the job and I’m one of the few locals at the 200+ company. From what I can gather, they only interview in person if it’s a high-level position, whether as I was hired into an entry level. Granted, this is probably the norm for its industry (tech related) and it’s normal for even small companies to have keycoded doors to get inside.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      My current job has a local office but the entire team I’m on is remote, so I didn’t meet any of them until after I started and still haven’t met most of them. They’re scattered all over the place and I’m not anywhere near important enough to fly them in for an interview.

      Luckily they’re all delightful. I’m also familiar with the company generally (it’s large and reputable) and know a few people who work there, so I was much less worried about the situation than I could have been.

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

      My particular corner of my field rarely does interviews. In fact I think I’ve only had a phone screen once before starting a job. But I know that isn’t typical.

      1. JamieS*

        I know this isn’t how it works but I’m now envisioning people being hired in your field by walking in off the street, sitting at a random desk, looking around, and declaring “I work here now!’.

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

          If only. I’d be employed now if that were the case!

          (In reality it’s almost all done by email. If your CV shows enough experience and you have references that will back you up, it’s all they really need. Especially for short term contracts.)

    3. Leena Wants Cake*

      Concur. I have gotten a perfectly acceptable job from a perfectly legitimate company through phone interviews only. Maybe this is a tech field thing? Also–it was easy to tell that they were desperate to fill this position, so maybe they did bypass some of the formalities?

    4. k8*

      im not sure what you do in tech, but as a developer, I expect to go through multiple rounds of screening/interviewing, and would be leery of a company that didn’t do that (I guess with remote teams it’d be different? im not super interested in working remotely so I have less experience there, but I have done skype/Google Hangouts interviews for remote teams before, so I’d expect at least a few of those)

      1. T3k*

        My guess is, because I was local, that didn’t feel they needed to do anything beyond a few phone interviews and they needed to fill the position relatively quickly and I was relatively low risk (I could start immediately, didn’t need to relocate, etc.). I’ll have to ask the other person who joined a few weeks later for a similar position if they did any kind of video chat with them, as he had to “relocate” from halfway across the country (I put that in quotes because he only brought what he needed as he’s used to short term relocations for these kinds of jobs and already knows he’ll head back home if his contract isn’t extended).

        I do know that for higher level positions, like senior directors, they will fly them in if they’re too far away, put them in a nearby hotel, interview them extensively in person, etc.

    5. rubyrose*

      I was hired site unseen once, at the end of a 20 minute phone call. It was for a position that did customer service by phone and I would work from home. The phone interview was structured in such a way that the interviewer was screening me for my voice, ability to listen and appropriately respond to information, and my English skills.

  7. Emily Spinach*

    I read #3 through a lens that might not be fair to them, but I see situations where their work habits are other people’s business.

    For example, I had a coworker (at a non-exempt job) who overworked and didn’t put the extra time on their timesheet, which yes resulted in frustration for everyone else. For one thing, at this job they staff future projects based on how many reported hours current projects take, so this behavior screws over colleagues who end up with tasks that can’t be completed in the time allotted. Second, it’s a terrible labor practice that puts our (very kind!) employer at risk, legally. And last, it meant she often did parts of tasks when no one else was around to see/know about them, resulting in some bad communication on projects that were meant to be for multiple workers.

    It’s totally possible that LW3 isn’t in that situation at all, but if going overtime without permission/without putting in for those hours is a factor in this scenario, then I think the concern of the colleagues is not necessarily misplaced.

    1. Five after Midnight*

      The other issue may be that by working so much the OP makes the rest of the team look “bad” by comparison. There was an AAM post about overdelivering recently (link in my name (hopefully it works)). I’m sure the instant case is not that egregious but it could be an issue. It reminds me of a friend of mine who got a job in government and one of the first thing she was told, true story, was to “go get a cup of coffee and read a newspaper for an hour because no one works here before 10am and you are making us look bad.”

      1. a1*

        I’m not sure this is the case. She says she takes her breaks, just at different times. She likes lunch at 12:30 no 11:30. So they’re just not syncing up. Plus, she says she walks away often due to her medical issue and feels better working late because of it (to make up time and to not have to walk away all the time, to be able to work uninterrupted).

        1. logicbutton*

          The important thing isn’t whether the LW is actually working more hours (although they do, in fact, imply that they are, and not just because of the medical issue), but that other people are perceiving it that way. If the coworkers think the boss might start to hold everyone to the standard set by LW’s schedule, they’re right to worry, especially if the hours the coworkers are already working are perfectly reasonable.

          1. OhNo*

            Exactly. If the LW is the only one working while everyone else is on a 10am break, and someone comes in, many people’s first thought is going to be that the whole group is slacking off except for the LW. And then what happens next time that person has a project? They’d probably request the LW on it, regardless of if it makes sense for the department.

            It also might be an issue of managing workload or expectations. It could be that the manager wants to control project assignment, but if the LW’s the only one working when something urgent comes in, they start on it before the manager even knows it exists. Or if the LW works late and knocks out a project before it was promised to the recipient, they could be laying groundwork for the client to expect the same quick turnaround next time. There are lots of reasons here where doing this could mess up the rest of the department, even if it doesn’t seem like it would.

            1. a1*

              Why would that be everyone’s first thought? My thought would be different schedules. Same thing I think when people come in at different times than me or leave at different times than me. It’s a weird assumption, imo, and yes some people may make it but that’s on them.

              Everyone always taking their breaks at the same is what would seem weird to me. Our biorhythms are different, there’s coverage concerns, someone might need to leave early for a doctor’s appt, maybe someone is trying to prep for being out, etc. I’ve never worked somewhere where everyone took a break at the same time – not in retail, not in a corporate office, not in a smaller company, not in a large one.

              1. Tiny Soprano*

                Seconded. I get annoyed when the whole accounts team decides to go to lunch all at the same time. Like sure, it’s lovely that they’re friends, but it’d be better if they could stagger it a bit so that when Grumpy McOverdue rings up at half past one about an unpaid invoice there’d be at least someone for them to talk to. Sometimes coverage is more important than the perception of any one individual.

    2. logicbutton*

      I had the same thought. Remember that recent letter from the person whose coworker was always working all day and all night to complete projects and it skewed their bosses’ expectations, to disastrous results? That may be the kind of thing LW3’s coworkers are worried about.

    3. Ask a different manager*

      Those, plus, if that “extra hard-working ethic” appearance starts to creep into performance evaluations, it’s penalizing people who want to take reasonable breaks. The advice to point out that you take as many breaks as everyone else, just at different times, is good.

      It may sound ridiculous, but it really can put perceived pressure on others to stay as long as you. If it’s just a perception thing and not reality, then fix the perception, stat.

      1. Enya*

        Oh, yes. There is one person in our department who stays very late every day and sometimes comes in on Sundays just for the sheer joy of the work. None of us get overtime, so there’s no benefit to this. But… We’re sure that this person gets an outstanding review and better raise than the rest of us every year, even though we’re all good workers. But when you compare us to Superworker, there’s no way we can measure up. It’s caused some bad feelings but we’ve all decided to try and let it go. Nothing we can do about it anyway.

        1. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker who did that, I think he might have come in every day (because if he went to work his wife would pack him lunch, I can’t explain). But he wasn’t actually *productive* in that time, so it didn’t count for him in anyone’s mind, and generally counted against him. (Not that we had performance reviews, but that’s another story.)

      2. INTP*

        Absolutely. If an employer wants a culture where breaks and reasonable hours are encouraged they have to proactively promote it because the tendency otherwise is to fall back to rewarding extra exertion and going “above and beyond.” This means sometimes not allowing your staff to work extra even if they’d prefer to be at work than home, requiring them to take breaks when they say they don’t want to, etc.

    4. Kathlynn*

      yeah, due to some staffing changes I have one coworker coming in for graveyards an hour early so he can do work that needs another person watching till. A different coworker used to come in a half hour early to grab thing without having to get till coverage. both off the clock, even though we aren’t supposed to work off the clock, not to mention they are still required to be paid. But the management doesn’t care. And they change what’s expected of the staff based on this.

    5. Mrs B*

      Agreed. I work for a public service agency and have expressed concerns to management that often no one is scheduled to work before we are open to the public, leading to staff coming in half an hour early on their own time just to make sure lights are turned on, computers are logged in and the till is ready when our clients arrive. While I have no issues with doing this in an emergency situation, the assumption that I am willing to work off the clock a few hours a month bothers me. Naturally the fact that other co-workers will come in and start working before their scheduled shift makes me look like a complainer and “not a team player”. I can appreciate that the poster is finding some relief from her personal life by going all in with her work, but it can cause unfair expectations for others who do not want or are not able to do so.

      1. Antilles*

        Not only does it cause unfair expectations for others, it also sets the expectations for OP very high. If you put in a lot of extra time now, it’s training the bosses to expect the current extra-hours level of performance from her. Then, once OP goes back to a more typical level of work for whatever reason* and her productivity goes down accordingly, management won’t see it as “well, OP’s now a mid-pack performer which is fine”, it’ll be “OP is slipping?”
        *This is a ‘when’, not an ‘if’. Maybe things in the personal life settle down, maybe OP adopts a pet, maybe it’s a significant other, maybe it’s health issues, maybe it’s burnout, but at some point, this *will* happen.

      2. Librariana*

        I used to work at a public library that opened at 10 am, and someone was scheduled to come in at 9:30 to turn on the lights, computers, etc, get the books from the book drop, and so forth. Then we could get things done that were hard to get done when patrons were there. We got paid for it. You should get paid for it.

        1. Beaded Librarian*

          At my library we work what one coworker refers to as retail hours. Staff is there a 1/2 early to get things ready, lights, till, bookdrop, computers. And we stay a 1/2 hour late so we can get things done without having to literally shoobpatrons our the door so we clock out on time. We get paid for it too.

        2. Mrs B*

          my manager’s reply is that I should come in at my starting time and since we are a less busy location clients will be fine to wait while we get this done, so my coming in early is my choice not mandatory.

      3. paul*

        If you’re hourly, report that to your state labor agency (assuming you’re in the US). People in public service jobs deserve to get paid for work done too!

    6. Alton*

      Yep. The OP might not be doing anything that affects their coworkers negatively, but they seem to have the impression that working longer is better or at least neutral by default, and that’s not always true. There are a lot of factors–non-exempt employees have to be paid overtime, “overperforming” employees can create skewed expectations, and a lot of good employers care about their employees having a work-life balance.

    7. INTP*

      Yep. And another thing, if OP is non-exempt, besides being legally required to take breaks at another time, she may be legally required to be paid OT for coming in early and staying late. Even if she’s off task for a lot of the day, breaks below 20 minutes can’t be docked from your pay, so she may still be “on the clock” nearly all day with a lot of shorter bathroom breaks. In this case the employer might prefer to put her on a schedule where she can just come in early or late normally and work a normal length day.

      Employers do have to proactively guard a pro-break, pro-reasonable hours culture if they want to keep it, so I don’t think the boss and coworkers are just being petty here. OP has valid concerns as well, of course, I think she just needs to come clean about what is going on with her boss since her long hours have clearly been noticed.

    8. Kathleen Adams*

      I agree with all of this, and I also want to caution the OP about being judgy his/herself. OP, you are asking for people to judge you on the quality of your work, not any of your scheduling oddities, so try to do the same thing for your coworkers, too.

      I could be misinterpreting, of course, but some of what the OP seems to be hinting about coworkers hint at a potential problem, e.g., “Am I supposed to be like my coworkers and take personal calls all the time and just work my schedule and nothing more?” and “Shouldn’t it be the other way around with people be counseled for having crappy attendance and performance?”

      If you actually know that your coworkers actually have crappy attendance and performance, that’s one thing. It’s still not a good idea to focus on that since (1) there are undoubtedly factors in play that you know nothing about and (2) this is something that’s definitely Not Your Problem, so it’s a waste of time and energy to worry about it.

      But it’s also perfectly possible that your coworkers are doing their work just fine and have perfectly acceptable attendance, but you’re allowing your preferences to seep into your assessments of them. It’s also possible that your natural irritation at their unwelcome attention is irritating you to the extent that you’re lashing out a bit. :-) That, too, is both possible and natural.

      1. SignalLost*

        That struck me as well. I was more-or-less willing to go along with the OP’s assessment of her needs (with generally the same reservations expressed in this thread) until I got to that part, which makes it seem like her work schedule isn’t entirely about personal or medical needs, it’s also about dislike and contempt for her coworkers.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          Yes – even though she’d earlier mentioned how great and supportive they are. The OP seemed to go in just a few sentences from “They’re great!” to “They’re careless and lazy!” What’s up with that?

          OP, all I’m saying is, do unto (and think unto) others as you would have them do unto you. By that I mean that if you are given some freedom regarding your own schedule so long as you do your work, give your coworkers that same freedom.

      2. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah, it sounds like OP might be falling into the trap that existed at my old workplace where everyone judged everyone else on a “butts in seats” viewpoint.

        The standard hours were 8:30-4:45. Some people were salaried and worked longer hours than that because their jobs kind of required it. Some people were hourly. Some of the hourly people, with permission from their managers, worked 8:00-4:15 or something like that. The people who came in at 8:30 didn’t see that the 8:00 people had been there for a half hour, but they sure noticed when they left before them, and made comments.

        The answer to OP’s question varies if she’s exempt or not. If she is working the proper number of hours and taking the proper number of breaks, and her manager knows this, then she should stop worrying about what hours other people are or are not working, especially if she wants those people to not worry about her hours.

        In a perfect world, people work when they work and everything is fine, but in my experience, people often notice things like this (especially if there is job insecurity of any kind) and the perception or “optics” of when you’re working or not working does matter.

    9. Mannerly*

      Also, if #3 is actually taking their required breaks but at different times, it should be a cinch to put them in their calendar so the boss can see they are actually taking breaks. Because I suspect they aren’t really.

  8. WeevilWobble*

    #2 This might be off but sometimes people who lack a sense of humor (and you say he doesn’t) mimic funny things they’ve seen other people do. But without getting the nuance or context. Maybe at an old job someone did the “I resign” gag and saw it got a good reaction because it worked in that context.

    #1 I could see how in a warped way the first time he called you mom was meant very genuinely as a compliment and he didn’t get how weird it was. After he’s been told not to? He’s just a jerk. Your feelings on the topic don’t matter to him so his shouldn’t matter to you.

    1. Just employed here*

      I’d feel like double bluffing the fake-quitter next time he does it, and start processing his resignation and only halt it very late, just to show him how not funny it is. But yeah, only in my daydreams would I stoop that low.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I was so tempted to write the same (except that it seems cruel because of the power dynamic). But yes, this “joke” got tired quickly! You’d think more than once is already too many times.

        1. Anony nonny no*

          Did I misunderstand the letter, or has the employee only made this joke twice? While I don’t think it’s funny, and his manner of “resigning” makes it look more serious, it seems that it’s an exaggeration to say he “keeps” fake quitting if he’s only done it twice.
          Please correct me if I’ve missed something in the letter.

          1. Lars the Real Girl*

            Even once is weird, twice is too many – especially in less than 3 months after starting.

            I think the script I would take if you’re waiting until the next time he tries this is “Is there some sort of reaction you’re hoping to get out of this?” Assuming he says something about “oh I’m just trying to be funny”, I would say “it’s not funny, it’s unprofessional, and if it happens again I won’t treat it as a joke and we’ll be processing your termination paperwork”

            (That’s probably not totally professional but it’s what I would WANT to say.)

            1. Anon Accountant*

              I’m not a manager but I like this wording. Tell him it isn’t funny and warn him you will process his resignation paperwork.

              Very direct and to the point.

              1. President Porpoise*

                Actually, this happened at an old job once. There was a lady who would jokingly say “I quit!” all the time. She wasn’t a stellar employee, and it peeved off my (generally unreasonable and crappy) employer. One day, in a meeting, she jokingly said “I quit!” when presented with a slight change in job duties. Her manager said, “Ok then, I’ll get the paperwork together. Your last day is today.” The employee said, “No, wait, I was joking.” The manager said, “I wasn’t.”

                1. princess paperwork*

                  Same thing happened at my old job. Smarty Pants said “I quit” in front of a room full of colleagues and the manager. Manager asked for the date of his last day. Smarty Pants said “I’ll let you know.” He never provided a last day, so the Manager chose one for him. Security escorted him out on that day because he refused to leave and kept insisting it was a joke. He sued for wrongful termination and lost because everyone in the room said “It didn’t seem like a joke.”

              1. Lars the Real Girl*

                As I said, probably not the most professional, but it’s what I would be wanting to say in my head.

            2. Artemesia*

              “Is there something you are hoping to get out of this. It is not funny and it is unprofessional. The next time you do this ‘quitting’ drama, I am going to accept your resignation. Cut it out.”

            1. Mainly lurking*

              But he’s only been there 90 days. How many more times does he plan to pull this stunt in the next 90 days?

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I can just picture the socially awkward interpreting “she smiled when I fake quit!” to mean it was really funny and should become their running joke.

          3. MCMonkeyBean*

            Normally I would say you need three instances to create a pattern, but doing something SO unusual twice in such a short time certainly sets a weird precedent.

            1. SignalLost*

              So out of context, too. I mean, if the quitter is the office funny guy, he has a lot more room to make that joke and make it more often.

            2. Artemesia*

              No kidding. I managed to work 45 years without ever fake quitting once. Twice in a couple of months is very weird and very inappropriately unprofessional.

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            OP suggests it’s happened twice, but as I noted, even once is too much for this kind of “joke.” But the first time gets a pass. The second time, and any future occurrences, are really not funny.

            1. JulieBulie*

              I’d say the first time should get a pass – but with some advice. “Matters of one’s continued employment are not a safe topic for humor in the office.”

            2. OverboilingTeapot*

              A flat, serious “that isn’t funny or professional” will get you pretty far, in my experience, ~especially~ if you’re typically a pretty congenial person. From the cheerful, laid-back type it’s actually kind of terrifying :)

        2. Kathleen Adams*

          I used to know a guy that (apparently – I didn’t witness this myself) would resign repeatedly and storm off in a huff, only to return the next day as though nothing had happened. His performance wasn’t a joke, though – it was a temper tantrum. His manager seemed to take the attitude that “Oh, that’s just Hissy being Hissy!”

          That worked just fine until he got a new manager, who definitely didn’t approve of Hissy being Hissy, and when Hissy turned in his resignation in a fit of temper, NM accepted it and Hissy was out of there.

          It must have been a very satisfying moment for NM.

          1. Red Reader*

            Yup. I worked somewhere once with a guy who did that a lot — quit when he wasn’t getting his own way, then come back the next day. In that particular case, the union required management to let an employee who submitted a resignation to rescind that resignation once. After the sixth or seventh time he did it, he came back on Monday all “I’m rescinding my resignation” and was told “Not this time you’re not.” He tried to take it to the union and they were like “You’ve what? How many times? Sorry, bud.”

      2. Mookie*

        If his tone is really light and airy after “resigning,” I’d say something facetious, like “you know, Gary, we have a strict policy that each employee’s first two resignations are free but for the third one we bill double, suspend wages indefinitely, and add another name to our no-rehire list. Let me give you a copy of that policy” and then hand him a photocopy of your knee that you’ve drawn a stern face on.

      3. SS*

        I wouldn’t wait until next time…. I would call him into my office and tell him that these ‘fake quits’ are unprofessional and that if he does it again that it will be accepted as a true resignation.

    2. LPUK*

      I once had an employee resign, explaining he was moving 150 miles away (in UK that’s a lot) in order to be closer to his wife’s family; we talked over details about resignation dates etc and then I asked ‘ is there anything else?’ And he said ‘Well you could try and persuade me to stay’. I said why would I do that as he’d already told me he was moving away from the area. He put it in writing , I processed it ( and inwardly cheered as he wasn’t a great worker) and appointed a great temp to his role… and all went swimmingly until 2 days before he was due to leave, when he came to me and said he was withdrawing his resignation. He was shocked when I said it was now too late because i’d replaced him but HR backed me up. I wondered if it was some kind of joke or power play to resign when he didn’t mean to, but for that to work, you really need to be a stellar player that they can’t do without, and he certainly wasn’t (jobsworth attitude, not a team player and bonus sexual-harasser – of me in fact, which was one of the reasons I was so pleased to see him go)

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        One hundred and fifty miles away would be a long commute in the U.S. too! It’s not considered a far distance for, say, a day-trip, but not many people want to drive that far every day for a job – not even in Southern California, which is where I’m from (though I don’t live there now) and where the commuting standards are…a bit different from much of the country.

    3. McWhadden*

      Once a couple of us were chatting in the copy room and a co-worker accidentally knocked some boxes over. He pretended that it was on purpose as if he was throwing a tantrum and joked “efff this place I quit!” (actually said “f” not the full word.)

      It was funny! Because it was us co-workers not management. And he was just improving off of having accidentally knocked something over. And we all knew each other well enough to understand it was a joke.

    4. CM*

      On #2, I wouldn’t wait until it happens again — I’d mention it now and say, “Even though you’ve only been here a few months, you’ve joked about quitting twice. This does not reflect well on you and your willingness to do this job, and I don’t find it funny. Please don’t do that again.” But since there are other problems with this person, Alison’s suggestion to focus on those instead probably makes sense — it sounds like the fake-quitting issue can wait until the more immediate issues are addressed.

    5. Jennifer*

      This is reminding me of Abraham Lincoln and Salmon P. Chase. Chase resigned FOUR times from the Cabinet and then changed his mind. Lincoln allowed this/talked him back in three times and on the fourth time finally decided to accept it. Sorry dude, you wanted to leave, now leave….

  9. Not A Manager*

    I also read #3 a bit differently. If the co-workers AND the manager have coincidentally developed concerns about break times and burn-out, they might have deeper concerns that they are not sharing with her. The LW mentions difficulties at home and acknowledges that she works longer hours than her colleagues. Is it possible that she is exhibiting some other behaviors that concern them, that they are trying to mitigate by suggesting that she take longer breaks? I’d suggest that she ask her manager if she has any insights into why the colleagues are so concerned, to the point that they’re even talking about the issue amongst themselves.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      +1. I kind of said this down below already but I don’t think it’s preferable to just have this kind of thing go unnoticed.

      Also, I really think it’s worth talking to your boss about breaks and such rather than guessing at what they think.

    2. Amey*

      I agree – I’ve seen people exhibit similar behaviours in my office and it’s almost always been in someone on the way to complete burnout. This might not be the case for the OP but it’s possible that the co-workers have been burned before. I’ve seen new people do this unnecessarily during our quieter periods and then crash and burn during our busier periods when it is actually hard to take a break (and you really have to!)

    3. Not Today Satan*

      Also, if the culture at this office is to work 40 hours, a coworker starting to work more than that would trouble me. Soon others might feel the pressure to stay late as well, and eventually there’s an unspoken expectation that people who leave at 5 are flakes. So I was try to nip this in the bud too if my manager was on board.

    4. Jennifer*

      I get the impression also that LW3 feels bad about taking breaks when they spend so much time in the bathroom every day. I think that’s really coloring this situation and I’m not sure what to tell them about that one. Like technically this shouldn’t be a problem but socially it probably really could be.

    5. Specialk9*

      Yeah, I’m wondering if OP is unaware of being snippy or twitchy, and that’s why they think your breaks are their business?

      Or they could be worried about the ‘making us look.bad’ thing, but with the manager involved that seems less likely.

    6. Rae*

      Yep, this is exactly what I felt about the post. At my office, we were really about the peer pressure towards working hours. Our jobs could easily be almost endless. Those who added even an extra hour could change their entire performance stats (minutes logged on phone calls, emails sent, tickets closed) drastically. We had all put in a solid 8 hours. We did not want to be judged on the performance of someone willing to put in 9 hours.

  10. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

    #4 – Make sure disability allows him to leave the local area! Some policies specifically state that an employee must remain within a certain distance or time of work while on disability. This happened to a friend who was recovering from chemo and drove 6+ hours over the course of two days to visit her daughter at college. (Friend was a passenger!) Work found out when they called to see how she was feeling. She ended up having to take that time as unpaid because she had exhausted her PTO.

      1. Soon to be former fed*

        Why? I find this notion that being unable to perform your paid job for a time means you should be locked up at home in ashes and sackcloth rather disturbing.

        1. fposte*

          The firing is the employer’s call, but the area coverage may not be–short term disability is an insurance policy, and the insurers are likely the ones setting that limitation. That being said, I think that’s less of a thing now than it used to be.

        2. JessaB*

          Some leave insurance though might not cover out of area (just like some medical insurance doesn’t cover out of network,) so if you go on holiday and OMG get worse, get injured more, etc. the company that actually pays/manages your benefits might be in a pickle. Of course that doesn’t count going out of state for specific treatment (IE having surgery at the Mayo clinic or something.)

          Also while it is possible to be able to travel and NOT to work (I don’t know what job person with broken arm has, they may do factory work that requires both arms functioning,) there’s a general belief that being unable to work kind of means you’re generally unable. Might not be true, but that’s how companies and most people think. Travelling to visit someone for a short period is one thing, but going on holiday the optics aren’t necessarily good.

          But optics aren’t the issue. If the contract that pays for your leave says you have to stay within x location unless going for medical treatment, that’s the contract. You want to get paid your leave, have whatever guarantees your company offers you regarding your job, then you stay home.

          The optics thing comes from people generally believing that “unable to do the general functions of the job” is synonymous with “unable to do activities of daily living.” It’s not, but that’s what people THINK it means.

          Which is why you get all the people who think OMG I saw so and so in Kroger today and they’re supposed to be off ill, I knew they were lying. When so and so has zero chicken soup in the house and is waiting for the prescriptions at the pharmacy. And maybe went to eat at that restaurant because after treatment that place has the only food they can keep down and they don’t have to cook which they can’t.

          1. neverjaunty*

            And it’s a thing now for some workplaces to do surveillance of people who claim disability or workers’ comp.

            1. halfmanhalfshark*

              Usually it’s the insurance company that insures and/or administers the benefits and not the actual employer, unless the entire plan is self-funded and administered.

              But yes, as a general rule, any time you are out on disability or workers’ comp and being paid benefits, you should assume that you will be under some level of surveillance when you leave your home.

              1. Roja*

                Surveillance, as in, someone literally tails you and takes photos and/or video? Or surveillance as in assume that someone might see you and report?

          2. Case of the Mondays*

            This. It is so frustrating. It gets worse when the medical issue involves mental health and the treatment is to start doing things you enjoy. I’ve heard of people getting in trouble for being seen running or golfing while out on disability. The disability was for severe depression and the being outside exercising was doctor’s orders. You can be better enough to exercise before you are better enough to return to work.

            I have had the “if you are out you stay home” mentality burned into me by my parents to the point where I expressed surprise that a friend on maternity leave was going to come into the office to visit with her baby. I generally thought you were supposed to be home while on leave. That’s the difference in our policies though. Mine grants leave for the period of disability to the mother. Hers granted X number of weeks leave that included bonding time so it was fine for her to be out and about doing things.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I had a (horrible, horrible) boss who tried to get one of her reports’ maternity leave cancelled because the woman came back to attend a staff Christmas party. Because if she can go to a party, she can do a job that requires her to be on her feet all day. Luckily, saner heads higher up prevailed.

              1. EddieSherbert*

                That’s horrible! I’m glad she didn’t have to come back early.

                At most of my work places, people on maternity/paternity leave have even stopped by the office to introduce coworkers to baby DURING THEIR LEAVE (gasp!). I can’t imagine how that manager would handle that…

            2. Mary*

              Good heavens, everything I learn about US maternity leave is worse than the last thing. I can’t imagine a policy more likely to promote PND!

            3. Broadcastlady*

              Yeah, my parents instilled this in me. If you are too ill to come to work/go to school, you don’t leave the house.

              1. Broadcastlady*

                Adding: I am not including maternity leave in that, and obviously, they were okay with a doctor’s visit.

              2. Rainy*

                My parents did too, and it took me a long time to get over that absolutely ridiculous attitude. How are you supposed to get medication/food/suitable beverages if you can’t leave the house? What if it’s something short term like a migraine or food poisoning or an allergic reaction and you’re too ill to go to work or school but fine toward evening? What if you stay home sick because you were up all night with food poisoning and got no sleep, but by 6 or 7 you feel okay to go run errands or hang out with a friend?

                I used to pretty much keep working until I was literally so sick I couldn’t move, because if I had other stuff to do or fun plans, and stayed home from class or work, I felt like I couldn’t run errands or do fun things. It’s silly and I’m glad I finally realized it and started treating myself better than that bullshit.

              3. Rusty Shackelford*

                If I’m too sick to go to work/school, I’m too sick to do anything optional. I’ll go to the doctor, I’ll go get meds and supplies. If I called in sick and you see me at Walmart, you’re going to see me with a cart full of Kleenex and soup. That’s the only way I feel okay about it. But then, I’ve never called in sick when I wasn’t sick (I’ve been less sick and more sick, but always sick) and from what I read here, I’m fairly atypical.

                1. Broadcastlady*

                  I’m with you. I won’t even take our evening family stroll In the neighborhood if I left work early sick because our office manager lives in the same neighborhood and might see me. (I cant completely call out due to the logistics and time of my air shift, best I can do is leave when the next personality comes in).

              4. Genny*

                I think it’s one of those things that makes sense for a parent-child relationship when the parent is trying to determine if the kid is really sick or is just trying to get out of the not-fun-thing they have to do. It stops making sense when you’ve moved out of your parents house and are now solely responsible for feeding yourself, getting medication, caring for other dependents, etc.

            4. Clewgarnet*

              There was a story about a British man who was on sick leave for stress. His doctor advised him to go on holiday, so he and his wife went to Australia. While there, he saved some children from a shark attack and ended up on the news. At which point his employer sacked him, for being well enough to go on holiday while off sick.

              I suspect there may have been more behind the story, and I was certainly allowed to go on holiday, and even compete my horse, when off sick with stress/depression, but I confirmed with my employer that they were okay with it.

        3. Ms. Annie*

          Actually, I get this as a big picture thing. The company is paying you while you are not working because you physically cannot work. If you go on vacation while you are on disability, then, you *could* be scamming the company out of extra PTO time. I am not saying LW is, but he *could* be.

          And, I am sure that if LW’s company has a rule about this, it’s because someone did intentionally scam them.

    1. LW#4*

      LW#4 here! I probably should have mentioned in my letter that we are not American. Since Canadian health care/health insurance works pretty different, I wasn’t even thinking about insurance issues. We ended up talking to the union rep after canvassing some coworkers and everyone told us the same thing as Alison – go, enjoy, don’t brag about it. It’s a job where all workers are required to be at 100% physical and mental health, so it apparently comes up a lot where people can’t be at work but could easily go rest in Mexico/visit family across the country.

      Sorry to hear so many people have had worse luck due to their insurance providers/employers. I’m about to go on maternity leave and am very glad there is no expectation that I stay in my house for the year!

      1. esra*

        I’m about to go on maternity leave and am very glad there is no expectation that I stay in my house for the year!

        That would end up like some Yellow Wallpaper nonsense.

  11. Copper Boom*

    #4 – At my employer, it’s standard to let the leader know about your trip. As long as your Dr has okayed it and confirmed it won’t delay recovery, the leader wouldn’t bat an eye about it. I work at a very trusting employer though, so I’m sure company dynamics are key to this.

  12. PumpkinSpiceForever*

    #5: I was hired for my most recent position after a few telephone interviews, and never having seen anyone in the flesh or going to their office 45 minutes away. In my case, its that the employer is heavily invested in telecommuting. In order to get all the required people to interview me in a timely manner, they went with telephone interviews. Despite the potential red flags, things have actually worked out quite nicely. However, this is probably an anomaly.

  13. HannahS*

    #1 Please don’t worry about making it awkward. It’s already awkward! He calls you his mother! After being told to stop! WTF! You’re seeing him as this really young, inexperienced guy, but I implore you to have higher standards of young people. “I like you, I know, I’ll ignore your stated wishes about how you want to be treated, and disregard it when you tell me to stop and I’ll excuse it by paying you a kind-of-compliment.” Yeah, no. You’ll be doing all of womankind a favour by telling him to knock. it. off. Frankly, you’ll be doing him a favour too; how will he learn how to behave in the big wide world if no one ever tells him?

    It’s a lie that we are encouraged to tell ourselves, that *that* guy is too young/inexperienced/socially awkward/has a crush on you to know better. And maybe it’s more comfortable to pity him and to think that this is because he’s young than to ponder that, actually, he doesn’t care what you want, he feels entitled to refer to you however he likes, and he sees nothing wrong with demeaning you in front of your clients. If he’d messed up once, and then stopped and was mortified when told how inappropriate it was, then sure, we could chalk it up to whatever unworldly background he had. This pattern of behaviour? This is deliberate clueless-ness. He’s not doing it by accident.

    I’m sorry, it sucks. It will be awkward. There’s no magical phrase that you can utter that will make this conversation comfortable. But think of it this way: if you bear up and say Alison’s script, it’ll be acutely uncomfortable for 30 seconds and then maybe for the week while he sulks, then it’ll STOP. If you wait until you have exactly the perfect way of getting him to stop that won’t hurt his feelings or make him uncomfortable, it’ll be acutely uncomfortable for you forever.

    Also, tell your other coworkers stuff like, “Please just call me Natalie.” “I’m not your mom, so Natalie’s good.” “Only my actual kids are allowed to call me that, so I’m Natalie to you!” “Ugh, Bob started that and I honestly think it’s really weird. I’d much rather stick with my actual name.”

    1. persimmon*

      Seriously. I actually feel like the headline is almost understating it. He’s not calling her “work mom,” he’s calling her “mom.” Very odd.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        I agree. I was hoping for extenuating circumstances (prime example, my first job out of school I called my boss “dad” – my own dad had been a bit poorly, and I was worried about him, so when I heard a male voice talking to me out of a sea of female co-workers, my brain made the unwanted connection – kind of like how a child in pre-school sometimes calls the teacher “mummy”. I was *mortified*! And it was only the one time when grand-boss pulled me up on it (until I explained about the distraction and how embarrassed and sorry I was). Boss was only about 7 years older than me, was his first managerial position – I assume that’s why grand-boss got involved.)
        You need to say something, because what niggles me is the lack of respect from the remaining co-workers. It’s possible that the young man also has some other issues with personal boundaries, but the rest of the team really ought to know better

      2. CMF*

        Yes! I definitely had “work moms” at previous jobs, when I was much younger. That meant it was a manager who took me under their wing, or someone who I felt safe asking silly work-related questions too, or felt comfortable voicing actual complaints (venting or legitimate) that I didn’t want to air to the entire group.

        I literally not once ever called them “mom.” Ever.

        1. InkyPinky*

          Just no. The word for ‘work mom’ is mentor. We certainly never use it for men – imagine referring to someone as a ‘work dad’, and that’ll put the inherent sexism of ‘work mom’ to clear light. Someone like that is a mentor. Or even a work friend.

          If it’s a term you’d use only for women, then it’s sexist, plain and simple.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            I’ve definitely had friends who’ve referred to having “work dads.” It was exactly the same thing — a mentoring, friendly relationship.

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      Exactly. Tell him it’s unacceptable. Using the word “creepy” when talking to others can help.

      He is being creepy and using “but I like you!” to undermine you. Don’t let him.

    3. Julia*

      Because the guy is young, I’d have thought he had heard about calling people what they wanted to be called, consent etc.

    4. Katniss*

      Yup. And OP, he disregarded your “no”. TWICE. That is not the action of someone clueless: that’s the action of someone who doesn’t care how you feel.

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, there’s only so far well-meaning awkwardness takes you. If you’re told twice to stop, you’re either malicious or pathological.

  14. AnonAndOn*

    1. I’ve learned in situations like this that it’s best to be a broken record:

    Guy: “Thanks for helping me at work, Mom.”
    OP: “Call me Jane.”
    Guy: “I prefer to call you Mom.”
    OP: “Call me Jane.”
    Guy: “I’ll only do it in private.”
    OP: “Call me Jane.”

    And so forth. It’s about not explaining or defending your right to be called by your name or getting caught up in his many excuses for disrespecting your boundaries regarding this.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Guy: “Thanks for helping me at work, Mom.”
      OP: “Call me Jane.”
      Guy: “I prefer to call you Mom.”

      OP: “It’s not up to you. You may not do that. Call me Jane”
      Guy: “I’ll only do it in private.”
      OP: “I am reporting you to HR.”

      I think the repeating can work – but this guy has demonstrated zero respect for a colleague and is deliberately undermining her. HR needs to be involved in this bullying.

  15. MommyMD*

    Be extremely careful about leaving the state or country while collecting disability. There can be job and legal consequences in many cases. You need to find out if it is allowed.

  16. Ruth (UK)*

    2. I’m typically not a fan of pranks anyway and I wouldn’t like the fake resignation either but I can kind of see how the second one (with the stationary) might have seemed funny in the guy’s head. I can I imagine him writing the note / whatever to give to the boss and then realising it looked a bit like a resignation letter and then thinking pulling the line might be funny (even though I know it wasn’t, I’ve disagreed with enough people over what they seem to think is funny that I can see someone thinking this would be funny).

    At a volunteer project I lead at, I sometimes joke with volunteers that I know well with the line ‘right, that’s it, you’re fired’ (while smiling/laughing). This is most often in response to them teasing me over something (eg. Referencing the biblical flood of I’ve used too much water for mopping). They then often reply with a comic delivery of the cliché phrase ‘you can’t fire me, I quit!’

    Of course the situation and dynamic is different but I can’t help wondering if this guy is misreading the situation enough and not understanding enough that he feels he’s making that same sort of joke that I make with the volunteers at my project and not realising it’s not being taken that way…

    1. Lars the Real Girl*

      Only you can read your own situation and make the okay/not okay judgement, but I’d ask you to re-look at the jokes between people you manage. I had a manager who I was friends with who would constantly use the “just remember I can fire you” and “just remember who signs your timecards” in work and social situations after the types of teasing you describe. I’m sure she thought it was lighthearted and joke-y, but it was deeply uncomfortable and demeaning and I couldn’t come up with a way to deal with it/approach it with her so it just kept going.

      This may not be your situation at all, but sometimes it can be tough to judge from a position of power so I’d just urge additional self/situation reflection to make sure this is really funny for everyone.

      1. Wednesday Mouse*

        I can’t speak for Ruth, but the dynamics around being fired are very different in the UK. At-will employment isn’t the norm here – getting fired is a very serious thing, and whilst I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, there are certain steps that have to be taken before a firing. Simply saying “you’re fired!” isn’t even close to enough to actually fire someone, in a legal sense. I can see how such jokes might come off as more threatening than intended in the US, but in the UK where the culture is vastly different in this area, the jokes are seen as just that; jokes.

        (Also I realise Ruth was referencing a volunteer situation and not a traditional employee/employer relationship, but even so the culture is very different).

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          There’s also the TV show The Apprentice with Alan Sugar saying “You’re fired!” – I’ve seen people doing it as an impression of him now. (I am also in the UK and it’s true that it’s not the norm to just fire someone that way).

      2. Wanna-Alp*

        In case anyone else has this situation, I have a suggestion:

        “If we are going to make jokes based on a power differential, please can we poke fun in the direction of people with more power, rather than less?”

      3. Ruth (UK)*

        I can’t actually fire these people which is partly what makes it a joke. They’re also my (social) friends. This is a local and casual soup kitchen type set up, not a job. You can’t get ‘fired’ and you’d have to something pretty extreme to be asked not to volunteer again (like violence). In practice we have never had this come up. They frequently joke that we won’t get paid if we don’t do x fast/well enough (obviously we are not paid anyway)

        I wouldn’t make the joke at work or with people I manage. There’s not really a power dynamic with me and the people I joke with (they can also lead shifts if they want but whoever leads washes the aprons so I normally agree to do it).

        I think it’s also a kind of joke to how people get fired in American movies. Where someone just tells someone they’re fired as if you can actually do that.

      4. Antilles*

        The way it’s described, I think it’s fine. The key here is that Ruth is talking about volunteers not employees. Volunteers are a lot different from employees because (a) there’s no money on the line, (b) volunteers generally have a lot more freedom, and (c) it’s often a pretty casual environment. Also, given that the volunteers are shooting right back with a snarky joke of their own, it seems likely they’re taking it in the spirit that it’s meant.

        1. fposte*

          I think the key here is that Ruth can’t fire them and they’re social friends. That they joke back isn’t enough to make it okay–that’s what people with less power often do with uncomfortable situations.

          1. Ruth (UK)*

            I thought more on this after I posted and I agree with this. I’ve been in differently structured volunteer environments where this type of joke wouldn’t have been appropriate, where I’ve only known those people through that project.

            I think this one is way more casual in the set up as it really is just a local group of people (who are also each others’ social circle) who organise and run this set up. A lot of us are also allotment holders in the same allotment site and also coordinate gardening related activities together etc. These are the sort of people who would send me a text like ‘my squash plant went mad so I’ve left some on your doorstep, hope you can use them’ (paraphrased but true story).

            So it’s my relationship with them that makes it ok to have that type ok joke (and also why it’s not ok for the op in the original post above to joke that way about quitting with his work boss).

    2. BananaRama*

      A manager in my office was strongly talked to because he liked to joke with “you’re fired,” or something similar. Someone who was fresh into the work force (and the office) took this seriously and became a little hysterical at being “fired” so abruptly within a short time. Management and HR were not pleased.

      As others have pointed out the power dynamic lends a lot of weight towards firing being a topic that should not be joked about. I would stop the jokes with anyone superior or subordinate and be very cautious using it around peers.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’m typically not a fan of pranks anyway and I wouldn’t like the fake resignation either but I can kind of see how the second one (with the stationary) might have seemed funny in the guy’s head.

      The second one could have been funny if it didn’t follow the first one. I’m handing you a piece of paper, it must be a resignation, ha ha. But being part of a pattern just made it fall completely flat.

    4. Competent Commenter*

      I had a lot of really awful supervisors in my early career and as a result found myself very anxious around managers for a number of years after that. My (not ideal) coping mechanism for a while was to tend to make a lot of light jokes around them. I had a director 20 years ago who today would probably be described as being “on the spectrum.” She was a nice person and did a pretty good job but didn’t have a lot of imagination and was very stiff in her affect even when she was smiling and being nice to you. One day she came into my office, sat on the chair right next to me and said “Competent Commenter, you’re fired!” I just sat there openmouthed for a moment and then she said, “Just kidding! You told me I should tell more jokes!” Cue my uncomfortable laughter.

      1. #2’s Manager*

        I heard something the other day that managers have the power to uplift employees or put them in therapy. I think we can all relate.
        Regarding this employee, while I would describe him as somewhat reserved, he is extremely self-confident around me and others in the office. I appreciate your observation though.

  17. Irish Em*

    LW1: I had a colleague called Monica. Her nickname was Mon (just like in Friends). We were talking in front of customers and I called her Mon, a customer thought I said Mom and shenanigans ensued. Both of us instantly shut down the misapprehension and we all (customer included) had a good laugh about it after. But the ten or so seconds after the customer asked was Monica my mother were so cringey. I honestly do not understand how he thinks calling you Mom on purpose is in any way a positive thing. It needs to stop. Please update us on how things go!

  18. another Liz*

    #5-My old boss did this. In his case, it was a control issue. He wanted to be solely in charge of all the decisions, and it was a way to actively avoid input from anyone else. (He was uber religious, the man is the head of the house and King of the Castle type.) So yeah, I am firmly in the “red flag” camp.

  19. Overeducated*

    #5 My current position only had phone interviews because they couldn’t pay for long distance travel but did want to consider out of town candidates, and there are strict rules about treating all candidates the same. (Apparently one local person showed up at the office, and was told to sit in the parking lot and call from the car. Yikes…it can go too far.) This may be more common in more rule-bound settings where non-local applicants are considered.

    1. Struck by Lightning*

      I have only ever had ONE in person interview in my entire professional career for this exact reason. I’m a fed and our hiring policies are very strict about treating all candidates exactly the same. I’ve interviewed internal candidates who called in from the conference room down the hall. In my experience, allowing some candidates to interview by phone and some in person is a major, major red flag that a federal office has serious levels of disfunction and are willing to break policy and law at a whim. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find larger companies with similar policies.

  20. AdAgencyChick*

    #3, I wonder whether some of your coworkers’ pressure is coming from the fear that you’re making them look bad by working longer hours than they are, and that you’ll create an expectation with your manager that your hours are the normal ones.

    If you think some of that is at play, in addition to Alison’s script you might add to your coworkers that even your manager is in on the “take more breaks” train, so you know that she’s not expecting the place to turn into a sweatshop. And your “longer hours” are really just a rearrangement of breaks in the way that you prefer to take them.

  21. Stan*

    #1 — I actually worked with my dad for a couple of years, both of us in a similar client-facing role. Most people didn’t even realize we were related. We were both really diligent about using names and keeping personal interactions to a minimum at the office. So, since it was inappropriate to call my actual father “Dad” at work, how much more inappropriate is it that some random coworker is calling you “Mom”????

    1. Michelle*

      My oldest son and I work in the same building. We see each other maybe 3 times a day. He always calls me by my first name.

      Funny anecdote: my youngest son started calling me by my first name when he started kindergarten. I asked him why he was calling me “Michelle” instead of “Mom”? He said your real name is Michelle so I am going to call you that.

      1. TiffIf*

        My grandfather called my grandmother “Honey” and she called him “Pop”. This is what my Dad always heard them call each other and so thought that was what he was supposed to call them. Ergo, he called his parents Pop and Honey. Honey became a lifelong nickname for my Grandmother, she introduced herself to people with that moniker and that was what her friends all knew her by. In her obituary she was called Honey.

    2. Samata*

      I was thinking this. I live in a small-ish town but work for a bigger employer. We have a number of husband-wife, parent-child employees. I have never heard one refer to the other as “My mom/dad/father/son” or address them as such in a conversation at work.

  22. Narise*

    For 2 I am in the same boat sort of. I have employee that will have an a stressful day and she doesn’t handle stress well and she will come in at the end of the day and tell me that she’s going to be quitting and she’s very upset. Then the next day she acts like it didn’t happen. I decided the next time she does this I’m going to give her paper and ask her to put it in writing and include her last day. I’m not sure yet how this will work or if she will actually do it but it’ll make her realize that I will except her resignation. For the guy that’s joking that he’s going to quit tell him once is a joke, twice is annoying , and the third time is final meaning he can’t take it back.

    1. Wanna-Alp*

      Maybe she will take you up on it, and then you have her resignation, but the next day she wants to take it back and is horrified she can’t. Would you be ok with that?

      Ok, she shouldn’t have done it, but people can do things that they didn’t mean to do, when they are upset. I suggest that instead, you tell her explicitly that you are not going to accept her resignation while she is upset, but that if she really means it, she should bring a letter of resignation tomorrow at a specific time. That way you are taking her words seriously and treating her with respect, while also trying to protect her.

      1. fposte*

        But you can and also should tell her to knock off the resigning and find another way to deal with her stress. It’s not going to help her position or her work there.

        1. Been there*

          I agree, there are different ways to express stress. I for one have been known to utter phrases like; “Am I too old to run away and join the circus?!” “Alas, I think it’s too late for me to run away from home” or “Heading out for the day, must buy lottery tickets!” and sometimes even… “It’s a good thing the company has a clear policy about drinking at work”

          I too have an employee that is like the quitter above. I’m not going to change a lifetime of negative outlook in her, but I will coach when she comes up with phrases like ‘I quit’. luckily for me she’s generally receptive to the coaching, sometimes I really think she doesn’t know how she comes across or how her bad moods affect those around her.

      2. neverjaunty*

        People can also learn not to throw tantrums when they’re under stress, and they should definitely learn that being under stress does not magically entitle you to a real-life Undo button.

        If Narise says “look, the next time you resign I will accept it”, the employee is on notice. And if she chooses to resign anyway, that’s on her.

      3. Narise*

        Reply to Wanna-Alp- Yes at this point I would be ok with accepting her resignation even if it meant she was upset about it the next day. I’ve listened to her several times while she was upset saying she was going to quit without taking any action but next time will be different. At one point we checked if it was possible for her to transfer to a different position and I had to involve several people in those conversations and she changed her mind again. I can’t manage someone else’s emotions or their decisions or talk them out of their decisions even if it seems like they will regret it the next day.

        1. JulieBulie*

          This sounds like someone who has a poor grasp of cause and effect. Eventually she will learn a hard lesson about consequences. But I do hope you will have a conversation with her about this (during a calm time) before it happens again, rather than have her put it in writing while she’s still upset.

      4. Specialk9*

        You seem to think a manager should let an employee act unprofessionally because they’re upset. That’s weird and paternalistic. We can expect people to act properly. Tantrum-quitting-but-not-for-reals is really immature, unacceptable behavior.

    2. A Day at the Zoo*

      I managed an employee like that. She would get emotional and carry on in the office, disrupting people. She used her “resignations” to have people tell her how wonderful she was and how we all lived her. Except that she was not wonderful –she was adequate but not a great employee.

      I told the next time she did this I would accept it as her two week notice. It never happened again. She was fired though a couple of years later after I had left the firm.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        This seems a little kinder, more helpful, and more effective, to give a warning that a behavior is inappropriate and spell out consequences if it happens again. Or even “Wow, you must have had a bad day. Do you really want to quit? If that’s what you feel you need to do, we’ll need to [do X, Y, and Z]….” Although if they’re a problem employee anyway, asking them to put it in writing as Narise suggested might be preferable, but if it’s that bad you should probably put them on a PIP and/or just fire them.

  23. Rachel G*

    “I take such good care of him that he has a hard time calling me by my first name.” I would be STUNNED if this guy even had a thought of calling another superior “Dad”

    1. Snark*

      Of course not. My feeling is that he’s so sheltered and socially maladroit that he mistakes collegial pleasantness from any older woman as motherly.

  24. Snark*

    #5 – It’s odd, but not unheard of. My fantastic current employer hired me after a few pretty detailed phone interviews, and I actually never interacted with any of my bosses or coworkers for over 9 months after I started working for them. It was working at a remote site, and while there was an office in the same city I lived in at the time, they never asked to meet with me – probably because they needed me to move to another state on three weeks’ notice and they knew I really didn’t have the time. And I’d been vouched for by an old mentor. But my wife joked with me, in that notjoke kind of way, that I was being catfished and we’d end up one state over with no job.

    All that said, in most normal circumstances, that would be pretty weird. It’s just not unheard of. I’ve been with the same employer for 5 years and it’s worked out great.

    1. Red Reader*

      At one point, I got a call from a temp agency offering me a position in a local office affiliated with the town hospital. Due to the weather at the time (midwest in January), I never met with either the temp agency or the position’s manager in person, I was just told when to show up. And yeah, I was mildly concerned on my way into the building (which involved going around the back and knocking on an unmarked door) that it was all a scam somehow and I was about to be identity-thefted and knocked over the head with a brick or something. I temped there for six months.

      Then when I was getting ready to leave for another organization, a different department in the hospital org offered me a full-time position after literally five minutes of interview – a position that was fully remote, and I didn’t meet my manager or director or anyone else on the team in person for a full year afters.

      I’m still in a remote position for that org (management now) and I have a direct report that has reported to me for almost two years that I’ve never met.

  25. Not your Mom*

    #1: what a weirdo that guy. I hate that some people feel entitled to do stuff like that.
    When I first got pregnant, one of my male coworker (older than me) started calling me mom. It was very strange but I was to shy at the time to address it. At some point, I got fed up and called him “sure thing dad!” when I replied to him saying “mom, can you pass me that report?”. Somehow that shocked him. “Why areyou calling me dad?” “Well I thought this was our thing, given that you’re calli g me mom” “well no, you’re pregnant, so it’s ok to call you mom” “well the way I see it, you have a 3 year old daughter at home, so I think it’s also to call you dad” “…(him speechless)…”

    In retrospective, this was my immature way of dealing with the situation (1st job out of university, younger in the department, shy and unsure of my place). Today I would definitely handle this differently (more like the script). That’s more like I deal with my kids minus the HR bit ha ha ha.

      1. LBK*

        Eh, it was effective and not outright rude, but I don’t know if I would consider it especially professional. I think a script like Alison’s is at least a better first step.

    1. Zathras*

      Whaaaaaaat. There are zero appropriate conclusions to the phrase “You’re pregnant, so it’s OK to…”

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Whaaaaaaat. There are zero appropriate conclusions to the phrase “You’re pregnant, so it’s OK to…”

        “… take a break and put your feet up.” Yes.
        “… ask me not to wear that cologne that triggers your nausea.” Yes.
        “… do things to you/call you things that I wouldn’t if you weren’t pregnant.” Hell to the no.

        1. Snark*

          In general, though, have you ever known a generally clueless dude to stick the dismount on that sentence? Nah fam.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            True. Most people who are tempted to say “you’re pregnant so it’s okay to…” should just stop talking. Whatever comes out next will probably not be good.

        2. Broadcastlady*

          Ha! I had a co-worker that microwaved radio-active frozen sausage biscuits every morning. Small radio station and the smell permeated. Everyone hated it, but when I got pregnant, the smell sent me into terrible nausea. I asked him if he would eat them OR heat them at home, and he told me he stopped dealing with pregnancy requests after his own wife’s third pregnancy and proceeded to heat his biscuit (and then griped about my request to everyone else in the station). Boss ultimately told me he wasn’t getting involved. Co-worker was a passive aggressive complainer, elderly, semi-retired and set in his ways. No one wanted to deal with him, so I just dealt with the smell. He passed away about a year later.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            I was really lucky – the smell of coffee (my first and true love) made me SO sick first trimester and I had to ask some cubicle neighbors to move a coffee machine. I told them why and they were happy to comply.

          2. Esme Squalor*

            What a colossal prick. This reminds me of the scene in The Office where Dwight won’t stop doing something smelly at his desk (peeling beets? Eating stinky food? Something like that) that triggers Pam’s pregnancy nausea, so she vomits in her trash can while maintaining eye contact.

    2. CMF*

      When I was pregnant, my father-in-law started calling me “mom,” and when I said that was inappropriate, I was not his mother, he actually said, “well what am I supposed to call you, then?” THE SAME THING YOU’VE BEEN CALLING ME FOR THE LAST TEN YEARS WITH NO ISSUE.

      1. eplawyer*

        so apparently giving birth means you lost all identity except as the parental figure of another human being?

        I also hate when the other parent only refers to you as Mom — even listing Mom on the phone. No, that person has a name. The kids can figure out that they say Mom and you say Cersei.

        1. NewBoss5000*

          My parents still do that, and I’m 40! It drives me crazy: I know my dad’s name, Mom. I’m not going to be confused and wonder who you’re talking about.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            It’s not about you, it’s just that it’s a difficult habit to break. I don’t call Mr. Shackelford “Dad” to his face, but I find it almost impossible not to refer to him that way when I’m talking to The Kid.

            1. fposte*

              I also think that’s a pretty common convention; my parents followed it, and most people I know do the same. They call “Jane!” when they’re actually calling a spouse, but it’s “Go tell Mom” to the kid.

              1. LBK*

                Right, I think generally speaking if you know someone by multiple names, in conversation you call them whatever the person you’re talking to calls them. Similar thing with teachers growing up – if you’re a teacher talking about another teacher to a student, you’re probably going to refer to her as Mrs. Smith rather than Jane.

                1. Myrin*

                  Yeah, that sounds completely normal to me.
                  (However, I do know some people who actually and in all honesty call their partner “Mum/Dad” to their face [or, in the case of our neighbours above us, “grandpa”!!], which I’ve always found weird and even kinda icky although I can’t really articulate why.)

                2. LBK*

                  I mean, it’s pretty weird to refer to someone you’re presumably attracted to as Mom/Dad (or if you’re our VP, “Mother,” which, ew).

            2. President Porpoise*

              I call Mr. Porpoise ‘Dad’ but only in the kid’s hearing. Is that weird? It just seems to help her with her language skills. At 16 months, she still doesn’t consistently call me Mom. That’s what I get for not being the stay at home parent I guess.

              1. Observer*

                There is nothing weird about it. Some people do it that way, others don’t. I don’t think it really matters in the grand scheme of things. If it makes things easier for you or your kid, that’s the way to go. She’ll eventually figure out that her father has a name.

              2. Detective Amy Santiago*

                I’m not a parent, but I think it makes perfect sense to do this when your kid is developing their language skills.

              3. Jenny Jenn*

                100%. My niece called my brother “honey” and “sugar” for a long time because that is what she heard her mom (his wife) call him. Until they are old enough to understand names/nicknames it’s a helpful shortcut.

                Also – cut yourself a break! D is an easier letter (phonetically) than M, so kids always say Dada first.

            3. Arielle*

              Heh, my husband and I have no children and we refer to each other as Mommy and Daddy when we’re talking to the dog. It looks weirder typed out than it actually is (I hope).

              1. crookedfinger*

                I call both of my cats my “babies” and call myself their “mommy” and it pisses my boyfriend off… I like to point out that I ADOPTED them, so I can refer to myself as their mommy all I want!

          2. Polar Bear don't care*

            I am 45. My father, in speaking to me about my mother, will say, “Jane– I mean, your mom, said xyz.” I have told him I know who Jane is, but he still corrects it every time. :)

          3. Artemesia*

            There was some jocularity about the Reagans calling each other Mommy and Daddy. But that actually apparently was a thing in their generation. I read my parents love letters and they were referring to each other as Mammy and Pappy before they even married. I hate this but it was pretty common in the generation before ours (and apparently Pence still follows this tradition by referring to his own wife as Mother) I think it turns women from being women/lovers to being neutered nurturing servants, but it is a hot button for me.

        2. Broadcastlady*

          Meh, my husband and I have a 3 year old and we do this. We call each other “mom” and “dad” in front of our son because he repeats everything, including our given names when we are called them in front of him. We find that we still say mom and dad out of habit when not around him.

        3. Mrs. Fenris*

          Both sets of my grandparents called each other “Mother” and “Daddy.” My dad tried calling my mom “Mother” a few times, and Mom shut that down every single time until he stopped doing it. She HATED it.

    3. Nea*

      I’m with Snark – you handled it just fine and (IMO) perfectly maturely. He stepped out of line for a poor reason, you let him know how silly he sounded and how ridiculous his reasoning was… and then it all stopped.

      Continuing the routine after he stopped or making a big scene might have been immature, but one and done? Perfectly handled.

    4. JulieBulie*

      When someone is rude to you, it’s great if you can find a polite and effective way to deal with it. But the need to respond in the moment sometimes precludes a thoughtful and mature reply. Especially when you’re inexperienced.

      Long ago, I had an elderly coworker who called me “young lady” the first time we met. So I called him “old man.” He was taken aback at first, but it became our thing. And he stopped addressing other employees as “young lady.”

      I suppose it wasn’t ideal even in 1997, but it felt/seemed okay at the time. If I heard anyone address a coworker as “young lady” now, though, I’d be too angry to respond in such a flippant and lighthearted manner. I think (hope) the ship has sailed on “young lady.”

      As for “Mom” and “Dad,” hellz no. (Speaking of workplaces that are “like family”… *shudder*)

      1. Artemesia*

        I love the jujitzu approach to this sort of thing i.e. ‘young lady’ – ‘old man’. I have told my story of this. On a plane in my mid 20s, in my corporate suit on my way to give a speech somewhere, the old guy next to me asked me if I was a ‘career girl’. I said ‘yes, yes I am. Are you a career boy?’ He was dumbstruck, blushed, stuttered. Parity for the win.

      2. Else*

        What I think is really gross is this tendency for some middle-aged or younger men to refer to elderly women as “young lady”. I think that they intend it to be complimentary, but it’s revoltingly condescending. In my experience, men who do this sort of thing are just never able to treat women as normal, equal peers no matter their age.

  26. Sally Sue*

    #1: I actually work with my father. We are on different teams but occasionally we end up in the same client meeting. Clients often figure it out because we have the same unique last name. In those meetings or other discussions with coworkers, I refer to him by his first name. The only person who makes it difficult is my mother who regularly calls me whenever she can’t get in contact with my father and asks me to find him…I tell her no.

  27. Cassie*

    I work with someone who walks around telling people they’re fired (with no authority to actually do so, to be clear). It’s what I call “Family Guy funny”: gets a startled short laugh the first time, quickly becomes unfunny with repetition, then you start laughing again in confusion and desperation when it just. won’t. stop.

    1. OverboilingTeapot*

      Insincere smile: “Haha, you don’t have the authority!”
      Followed by deadeye stare: “and you’re lucky that I don’t either.”

  28. Employment Lawyer*

    4. Going on a vacation when you’re on short-term disability
    That’s a tricky one. I would be inclined to be proactive:

    “Cersei, I wanted to let you know that I have a pre-planned family vacation coming up. My broken arm keeps me from doing my job as a lumberjack, but of course I’m not on total disability, and it doesn’t prevent me from walking around L.A. with my wife and kids.

    I’m worried that you will think I’m shirking work, which I would never do. Is this going to be a problem? Do you need more information before I go? Is there anything you need me to do?”

    The fact that you ask and draw notice to it should eliminate any concerns that you’re a slacker.

    1. McWhadden*

      I usually advocate not saying anything until it becomes a thing. But here I totally agree with you.

      I think most employers will be reasonable if it’s presented in this way. But if they hear of it second hand they will likely draw the wrong conclusions. And then when you try to explain it sounds like excuses.

      And, honestly, if the work does have an issue with it now you know.

      1. LBK*

        Totally agreed, I think this is one of those cases where it will only be an issue if you don’t bring it up; it’s not shady until you make it look shady.

  29. OP #1*

    Thank you to Allison and everyone for the comments, insight and advice. I am a long time reader of the blog and I always thought that when something inappropriate was said, I would surely be able to handle it. I think what threw me off is his insistence that he will do it in private. I don’t get a creep vibe but I do get a needy, narcissistic, I am so adorable how can you resist me vibe. He did it again this morning so I am going to talk to him using the ideas here and see where it goes. I am also sending back that email – that was a great idea!

      1. Myrin*

        Right? I don’t know if anyone else here watched Gravity Falls but this immediately made me think of Li’l Gideon. *shudder*

        1. Amber Rose*

          Oh, ewww. I’m picturing working with someone like Li’l Gideon and now I know what I’ll be seeing in my nightmares tonight.

        2. meat lord*

          Oh, no. OH NO. That’s a very apt comparison and it gives me the heebie-jeebies. Good luck dealing with this dude, OP!

    1. Been there*

      Don’t you just love it when coworkers/employees throw you a curve ball. Sometimes I think there’s a wheel of fun that lives in a closet at work with the most improbable weird scenarios to play out just to see you get flummoxed. I agree with the others this is something to shut down quick and hard.

      I would use words like: ‘totally inappropriate’, ‘questionable judgement’ ,’absolutely unprofessional’, and ‘never again’.

    2. Madame X*

      I’m glad to hear you finally advice helpful. If you feel comfortable, please come back with an update!

    3. Sunshine Brite*

      Oh my, yes document this and let someone else (boss, HR) know your efforts too. The more you talk about him, the more the hair on my arm stands up a bit. Especially when he ‘jokes’ about living together and never leaving you and continuing to cross the boundary of calling you ‘Mom’

    4. Karlee*

      I’ve had this happen more than once and I always shut it down immediately. As a manager I do a lot of coaching and young professionals especially can misunderstand my role and my motivation. When they call me mom, I tell the offending team member that I am not their mother, I don’t love them unconditionally, I am paid to support them – I don’t do it out of love, that while I want them to be successful for them it’s also critical for my own success, and I will fire them if they don’t do their job. I say that with a smile but make it clear that I’m not joking. It works and while it sounds harsh it doesn’t come off that way in the moment. But no-one misunderstands.

    5. CM*

      ” I always thought that when something inappropriate was said, I would surely be able to handle it”

      I know, right?

      I’m glad the advice here has given you the backup you needed to shut this guy down. Oddly, I feel like actually being a mom has given me the tools I need to deal with this stuff: I’ve had lots of practice with the stern face and “That is not acceptable.”

      1. Jay*

        OP1 good luck. I’m sorry you’re going through this – narcissistic sounds about right. What a pain in the ass to deal with and I’d probably be refraining myself from smacking him. I hope to hear a positive update of him knocking this off!!

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I feel like being a manager has prepared me in some ways for motherhood. I’m much better at having a stern, direct conversation and intervening on bad behavior early. We’ll see!

    6. Observer*

      This actually doesn’t surprise me. There are two possibilities here. Either he won’t get it because he’s too self absorbed, in which case any awkwardness is TOTALLY on him. Or he’ll figure out he’s out of line, and you will have done him a favor.

      By the way, this has nothing to do with his sheltered background. Even a sheltered 10 year old is capable of understanding that common politeness mandates that when someone asks you NOT to call them by a particular name, you DO NOT CALL THEM BY THAT NAME.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        I get that kids will sometimes accidentally call their teachers “mom” and “dad”… but you kinda stop doing that after elementary school because by then you know the difference between a parent from another authority figure.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah. And I cannot imagine any kid actually continuing to call a teacher Mom / Dad after explicitly being told to stop – unless they are specifically trying to be disrespectful or needle the teacher.

    7. Katie the Fed*

      “I do get a needy, narcissistic, I am so adorable how can you resist me vibe”

      Oh. I have one of these working for me. Really, nobody finds you cute and we can all see through it.

    8. Specialk9*

      I think you hope that talking to him, again, is going to work. But you haven’t been unclear, he’s been uncaring about your preferences or feelings. At this point, continuing to do the same thing and hoping for a different outcome isn’t going to work. This is time for HR involvement, with a formal complaint.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. One more talking to is IMHO one too many. But since you are doing that, I would make it clear that another incident will go to HR and a PIP. And I would probably touch base with HR on the issue. And use ‘ageist’ and ‘sexist’ and that you have asked him to desist on X number of occasions and he continues to insist on using this ageist sexist language. He should go to straight to a PIP if you can’t fire him immediately if he does it again. It is insubordination along with ageism and sexism. Once is understandable if weird; more than that when he has been told is harassment or insubordination or both.

  30. Cautionary tail*

    Op #5, I had a face to face interview in a Starbucks so even though I saw my new boss, I still did not see the office or anyone else before my first day on the job. After the first day I did not see my boss again for a month and only monthly thereafter. Thus began four years of toxic job hell till I got out of there, complete with workplace PTSD that even now, five years after leaving, still affects me.

  31. Soon to be former fed*

    For the mom issue, respond like one. “Didn’t I tell you not to do that? Go to your cubicle while I decide what the consequences of your misbehavior will be.” Then clearly lay out those consequences for any future infractions.

    1. nutella fitzgerald*

      I’m not sure if this is a serious comment (Hiring Mgr?) but it sounds like it would be even more uncomfortable to say this than to be called “mom” repeatedly :|

    2. Aisling*

      So she doesn’t want to be called mom, and you think that can be combatted by her acting like a mom? No. All that will do is reinforce the “mom” idea to the coworker.

        1. JulieBulie*

          I assumed it was a joke, and I laughed, because I had been thinking the same thing as I was reading the letter. Damn, if this were fiction, or a hopelessly dysfunctional workplace, there would be so many opportunities here…

          But I know this is no fun for OP, and the jokes aren’t helpful, especially since her coworkers have joined in on this “mom” thing too. That’s not funny at all.

  32. zapateria la bailarina*

    ugh that first letter just made me angrier and angrier the further i read. i agree wholeheartedly with alison’s advice – this needs to be shut down, and quickly. his feelings do not matter. he is being absolutely inappropriate and needs to be called out for it.

  33. NacSacJack*

    OP #3, Are you working in a govt office? Your fellow co-workers may not like you working late. They may think you’re getting OT when you’re really not. I have a friend who got fired within his 90 days probationary period because he didnt have his computer shut off at 4:30pm, even though he was in the middle of processing a transaction. And he wasnt allowed to start or even turn on his computer before 8am nor stay late to try and understand some policies and procedures. And it was his co-workers that reported him to his boss. His boss didn’t know.

  34. bopper*

    I have an exempt co-worker who works too much…she will say how she pretty much has to work morning til night and doesn’t do much else and is happy that her husband does alot of things around the house so she can work…she had cancer and still worked from home. I tell her all the time she is working too much..she is starting to feel it and is at the point of quitting instead of backing down and working a reasonable number of hours.

  35. JoJo*

    Larry David did that when he worked for Saturday Night Live. He quit, stomping off in a huff, realized he needed the job, and showed up Monday morning as if nothing had happened. It actually worked. He wrote that into a Seinfeld episode where George tried the same thing, unsuccessfully.

    1. McWhadden*

      Ha, as much as I love him, if Larry David has done something you probably don’t want to be doing it.

    2. PB*

      Interesting! A coworker at my last job did this, too, and cursed out the manager while “quitting.” She was allowed to keep her job, which upset a lot of people.

    3. Becky*

      My roommate used to work with someone who wasn’t the best employee and then she tried to “joke” quite. The company was perfectly happy to take it seriously and suddenly when she realized that she tried to take it back but the company refused.

  36. Bossy Magoo*

    #4 – Reason number 8 billion why I have a personal policy against having anyone from work as a Facebook friend.

    1. Silver*

      Absolutely. I don’t drink or really go out anywhere, but I still have my Facebook set to friends-only. It’s just not worth the risk. We can be Facebook friends after I’m no longer there (I tend to work temp jobs)

  37. Blergh*

    #3 – I’ve worked with way too many people who have worked de facto overtime without being compensated. And I’m not in a field that requires or expects overtime. And these people lord their overtime over others and take any opportunity to mention that they come in earlier than everyone else and stay later than everyone else. I don’t know if that’s the case here, and any others I’ve dealt with haven’t had medical issues that I know of, but it’s a slippery slope that can cause some issues with coworkers who can’t work extra for various reasons.

  38. Birdie*

    #2 That is so cringe worthy. I would be bothered and not want him on my team. I hope everything works out!

  39. Nita*

    OP #5 – it does happen, but I was involved in a funny mix-up once… I was hired by phone to help out at a restaurant. When I showed up, the manager was very surprised and swore he never hired me. It took a while to figure out that he’d just hired a lady who shares my very rare name. When I called, he assumed that it’s her calling to confirm the start date. It all worked out nicely – he decided that since we both had the experience, he’ll just hire us both, since there was plenty of work even for two people. Win-win!

  40. Matilda Jefferies*

    #4, yes, your husband should definitely tell his supervisor. For one thing, you (and the company) want to be sure he’s being paid correctly for that time – there’s most likely a rule that he can ‘t be using STD and vacation pay at the same time.

    You also (I assume) want to be transparent about how those days are counted. Is he thinking that those days won’t count as vacation days because he’s on disability, and he’ll still have them available when he gets back? It’s possible that that’s true, but it’s also possible that it’s not, and it would suck to be counting on those days for later only to learn that you don’t actually have them. I think it’s going to be more complicated than it seems on the surface, and you’d be much better off to sort everything out before you go, rather than finding out it’s a tangled mess when he gets back to work.

    1. Gigglewater*

      hehe it took me much longer than I expected to figure out that STD was not the disease but short term disability leave

  41. Temperance*

    LW4: your spouse should consult his handbook or talk to his union rep. I was on short-term disability last year, and I had no restrictions other than “temperance isn’t allowed to work”. I wasn’t physically able to go on vacation or anything, but if I had been able to, it wouldn’t have been an issue. I don’t have a physical job, though.

      1. The Strand*

        Yes, I think it matters if he might be trading on the “innocence” of being new to the workforce. The fact that he’s digging in his heels after being given direct criticism gives me pause. I would be concerned about a narrative where his supposed naivete means he’s getting second, third, fourth chances. The LW brought up his lack of experience first. That thought should be removed from discussion with HR because I have seen people excused inappropriately because of youth, inexperience.

  42. peachie*

    #3: I do see the issues that folks are bringing up about potential issues when it comes to expectations/performance reviews for other non-exempt employees. I have to admit that I never really thought about it from that angle before.

    That said, I’m grateful to work in an environment where I can work the amount that I need to and take breaks when I need/want. I really don’t like taking breaks; I never have. I know it’s weird, but I don’t really do lunch breaks. That’s been my eating schedule since I was, like, 12, and I’m fine. I tried taking a lunch break for a while, but I really never felt better or more productive–if anything, I found it harder to get back into the work I was doing. (I have started taking a 10 minute apple-and-crossword-puzzle break in the afternoon, and admittedly, that is very nice.)

    This varies by department, but my boss (in my department of 2) is very flexible; she knows that we’re both responsible people who care about making sure our job is done, so she treats me like an adult and trusts me to manage my own schedule. I really, really appreciate working in a place where, as long as I’m in during core hours, my supervisor does. not. care. as long as I get my work done and my hours in, and I always do.

    (Also, thanks to this discussion, I learned that my locale (a) does not require any breaks; and (b) requires breaks up to 20 minutes be paid. That makes me feel better–I thought I was (gently) skirting the rules with my short/weirdly timed breaks!)

  43. Emi.*

    “I asked him to call me by my name at all times and he said that I take such good care of him that he has a hard time calling me by my first name.”

    I call bullshit on this. He’s perfectly capable of calling you by your name. He just doesn’t want to, which is too bad for him.

    1. fposte*

      Yup, totally. I’m also creeped out by the “take such good care of him.” She’s told him some stuff; that doesn’t make her his caretaker.

    2. Observer*

      Totally – and if he really had an issue with calling someone by their first name, there are other ways to get around it.

      My daughter worked for my employer for a while. She called me Ma around other staff, but she didn’t call me anything around outsiders – Ma would have been inappropriate and calling me by first name would totally have wierded her out. But, no on cared (or even noticed) that she never used my name.

  44. Skeptic-analyst*

    OP# 4: I work in STD. You might want to give them a heads up if you will be out of the country for a long time in case they need to get in touch. Otherwise, enjoy your trip. I hope his arm heals up fast!

  45. Lady Phoenix*

    He said he would stop after you told him the first time, only to change it so that he called you by that title in private. That sounds like a blaring red flag to me.

    It is time to shit that shit down. Any emails with the title should be used as documentation and any further conversations should be logged. Then take it to HR.

    Right now he is pushing the boundary and that is not good.

  46. Manager-at-Large*

    re: Parental references in the office
    For OP#1 – you’ve gotten good advice here – you have to shut this down.

    I can remember a conversation with one or two colleages – we were all managers reporting to the same director. I don’t remember what we were talking about exactly but someone said “I think we need to ask dad” meaning our director. It was harmless, non-public and not repeated. But it was pretty funny at the time.

    I can also remember hearing someone say to the office self-designated nagger (one who nags you) “ok MOM, it won’t happen again” – again, one time, to make a point – probably not smart but way different than using Mom as a substitute for a name. Just WOW on that OP#1.

  47. Bookworm*

    #5: I’ve dealt with variations of this. First was an internship where the office manager from another state handled all the interviews by phone (I don’t know the process for local candidates but I would have been at a branch location). He offered me the position and I felt very uneasy about it and turned it down. They would consider me for a full-time position a few years later with in-person, local interviews but that was another messy story Long story short, in the end I believe I lucked out and it was best not to have accepted.

    For one telecommute job I was interviewed over the phone and had the option of working at a co-working space that was local and available for me to use. This worked out fine. I’ve never used the space (never needed it) and mostly communicate with my co-workers via email and sometimes chat/phone but all things considered while it’s not a great job it also hasn’t turned out to be a total nightmare or anything either.

    Letter also doesn’t say (I also am not sure if it’s in the comments) but I think it can also really depend on the job you’re taking on. I’ve been hired over the phone for temp, no path for advancement type work because the place really needs a hand and it’s just grunt work (filing, typing, shredding papers)/they don’t have time to schedule in-person interviews/they were about to move. But if it’s a position that’s expected to be for the long-term and you might need to really “fit” with your co-workers then maybe a pause is a good idea.

  48. Nea*

    OP #1 – I know you’ve already gotten a lot of good advice, but I have to admit, the more I think about your letter, the more my blood boils. You’ve repeatedly set a boundary and he repeatedly attempts to negotiate it (only to not stick by his self-negotiated limits either).

    Alison as always has the best script, but if he tries to negotiate that too – because I can completely see him responding that he’s not being ageist or sexist, it’s a mark of his regard – I herewith suggest a second script, one preferably to be delivered in public: “So you’re saying that you are not willing or able to behave in an appropriately professional manner after repeated reminders. This behavior will be noted to HR and your supervisors.” No “I” to it. He already knows you need him to stop and he’s not stopping. This isn’t about *you* anymore. It’s about *him* behaving unprofessionally and *he* will be the one dealing with the consequences if *he* doesn’t straighten up and fly right.

  49. clow*

    # 1 – This is all sorts of cringy. First, he shouldnt call you that, and would probably never do this to a male boss. Second, he has shown a clear lack of respect and lack of boundaries by continuing to call you that after you told him to stop. He doesn’t need or deserve anyone to care about his feelings, he needs and deserves a kick in the pants to bring him back to reality.

    # 5 – This has happened to me, it was a very junior role and I had recommendations from several people working in the company already so maybe that played into it because everyone else I know had an in person interview. It is a bit weird, but it was a great place to work so I don’t really think its a huge red flag. That being said, I do not like the practice of not having on site interviews, it makes things very one way, you can not gauge what the atmosphere is like or what your team is like just by a short phone interview. I would go with your gut though if something feels off.

  50. meat lord*

    “I again talked to him afterwards and he promised to only call me mom in private. I asked him to call me by my name at all times and he said that I take such good care of him that he has a hard time calling me by my first name.”

    Ew, ew, ew. Being sheltered, young, and unworldly is no excuse for this guy to do this.

    1. Observer*


      Being sheltered or unworldly has nothing to do with this. And while being young may PARTLY explain this, it doesn’t come close to excusing it. By the way, the part that “young” might explain is NOT that he doesn’t understand that he’s being rude, but that he thinks he can get away with it by making these stupid excuses.

  51. Jana*

    Wow, OP #1, this employee’s behavior is incredibly sexist. First, deciding to start calling you “mom”; second, ignoring your request to instead call you by your name; and, third, referring to you by this inappropriate nickname in front of clients! I wonder if there’s a man in the office he’d be comfortable referring to as “dad” and would he ignore that man’s request to stop.

    Also, youth has nothing to do with this. I mean, unless he’s six-years-old. His behavior is sexist, ageist, creepy, and, in general, rude.

  52. OCD*

    For #4, I wonder if this is their attempt at fairness? When I worked in academia, if we had a candidate who was not local and thus had to do a phone or video conferencing interview, we had to do it for all to ensure fairness. However, it seems odd not to then invite them for an in-person chat even after extending an offer but before things are final. I think it’s worth asking as Alison suggested that you’d like to come by for an in-person meeting before making a decision.

  53. Mindy*

    Per OP#1 and being called “Mom”. I work in an environment with a number of people from different cultures. I am in my 60’s and have many direct reports that are teenagers or early twenties. A number of them call me Mom and there are several workers in other areas in their 30’s and 40’s, that call me “mama”. I initially tried to stop it without success but was told that in some cultures it is a sign of respect. We have a casual work place and only use first names so calling me Mrs. Teapot would be apparently weirder than Mom and they would consider calling me by my first name disrespectful to my age. In front of clients they refer to me as my title or nothing at all. It is no longer a big deal.

    1. OverboilingTeapot*

      You don’t think that in the long run you’re setting them up to creep people out in other workplaces the way LW #1’s employee does? I’m in my 50s, and a single instance of that would make my skin crawl, and probably permanently change my perception of somebody.

  54. askyermom*

    I don’t agree that calling someone “mom” is demeaning, but it’s terribly personal and definitely not okay in this situation since it’s unwelcome. If you aren’t sure you should call someone “mom,” just ask!!

Comments are closed.