debriefing a project without personal attacks, letting people know I’ll be their reference, and more

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

1. Making sure a project debrief doesn’t become a personal attack on a coworker

We’re a small company of five (three full, two part-time) that sells, let’s say, teapots. The holidays are always a crazy time for us with everyone working full-steam. Going into this holiday, we knew it would be a little unusual: we weren’t able to restock on teapots earlier, we started selling other items that shipped out of our office instead of our teapot fulfillment center, and we had a fairly new part-time coworker, Jane.

Holiday ended up being a hot mess. It appears Jane got overwhelmed by the tasks she was being asked to do, and instead of letting the rest of the team or our boss know, she simply…stopped doing a significant amount of them.

My coworker and I only caught on to this two weeks before Christmas. The two of us plus our boss had to do a lot of extra work to ensure that customers would have their teapots in time for the holiday. This included learning how to do parts of Jane’s job, my coworker and I splitting half of Jane’s duties between the two of us, and all three of us staying late multiple nights to pack and ship the new items. We were (justifiably!) angry that Jane didn’t communicate her problems earlier, but even angrier that there was no point at which Jane apologized, took ownership over her mistakes, or even seemed to feel bad about the fact that she wasn’t doing her job properly. Instead, it seemed that she was very content to have us take over parts of her job, and ignored the fact that it cost us time and stress.

All of this is is background for the real question: we’re having a post-mortem meeting in the new year to figure out what went wrong. While I think Jane had a large part in that, there are also other legitimate items to discuss, and I don’t want this to become a vent session where Jane feels attacked. I’d love your thoughts on this: what’s the best way to healthily discuss what went wrong with holiday, including Jane’s mistakes, without having it feel like we’re ganging up on her?

I actually don’t think this is the right thing for a post-mortem; it’s more a conversation for Jane’s boss to have with her about what went wrong, and why, and how to avoid doing it again. Post-mortems are great when there’s not a serious performance issue/ball-dropping that needs to be discussed — they’re better for “next time we’ll order more shipping supplies” and “we didn’t communicate the strategy to the client as well as we needed to,” not “Jane didn’t do her job.” The latter is a manager conversation, not a group conversation.

Since it sounds like there are other issues you want to discuss too, ideally your manager would talk to Jane one-on-one first, work out whatever went wrong there, and then you could all do the post-mortem as a group after that piece of it has been dealt with.

2. Can I let employees know I’m willing to be a reference for them?

I have an employee who just told me he is leaving for one of our competitors. That’s too bad and I’ll miss him, but he’s also an excellent employee and I wish him the best. I recognize that he can’t stay at one place forever, and this new opportunity is higher pay, more responsibility, and more closely aligned with what he wants to do — basically, a better opportunity for him all around.

He told me that he had an issue when they made him an offer. They wanted a reference, but since this is his first job out of school, and he’s been here for almost five years, he doesn’t really have anyone to give him a reference. So he asked a coworker we had who left here almost three years ago who was the only person he could think of.

I would have written him a recommendation. Is there a way I can let my current employees know that they shouldn’t be afraid to ask me for one going forward? It’s a weird thing to offer, and plus I don’t want to put in their heads that they should be looking for a new job … I just want them to know that I know that it’s a totally normal thing, no hard feelings, and I’ll help them out if I can. Is that strange?

No, it’s not strange! It’s a great thing to do.

One way to do it is to find a natural opening for it when you’re talking to people about their professional development and future goals. There’s often a spot in those discussions where you could say, “By the way, I hope you won’t leave us any time soon, but at whatever point you’re thinking about moving on, I’d be glad to be a reference for you. You do great work, and I’d be glad to vouch for that if you ever need me to.” (Obviously, only say this to people who you could give glowing references for.)

However, there’s a big caveat here — which is that if you’ll be telling people that it’s okay to be open with you when they’re starting to job search, you have to be really careful about not penalizing them for it. You’re probably thinking, “Well, of course — I’m not going to make them leave that week or anything like that.” But there are more subtle forms of acting on the information, ones that can be very tough to resist. For example, if you know someone is actively job searching, are you really going to invest in developing them the same way you otherwise would? What if only one person can be sent to a conference — are you going to pick the person who’s about to leave? What if you have to lay off staff — will you be influenced to pick that person by knowing they might be leaving soon anyway? What if it’s been months and the person is still around — will you start getting antsy to find their replacement? These aren’t questions with easy answers (and different managers will answer them differently), so make sure you think through this kind of thing before inviting your staff to be fully candid with you about job searching.

3. I worked as a recruiter and they’re billing for placing me

I was previously employed as a recruiter, working basically on full commission. A great opportunity happened to come open with a client of mine that I was interested in myself, so I did what I felt would be the right thing to do…I went through all the steps to recruit for the position but also put myself in the mix just like all the other candidates. I got the job and have been in the position about six weeks.

Two weeks ago, my new manager (who is also the president of our company) came to me with an invoice from my previous employer and owner of the company. He had billed us in full for the amount he would have charged for the placement. My manager called him to see if he would be willing to reduce the amount since I got the job, and it was an unusual situation. My previous employer agreed to reduce the bill from $22,500 to $12,500.

In the meantime, I start to realize that, if he is going to consider this an actual placement and invoice us for the amount, he should pay me commission on the amount. What’s right is right, after all, and my previous employer had actually told my new manager how much work had gone into this placement. So…I write a very nice email to my previous employer explaining how, if he considers this a placement and is invoicing, then I would appreciate my commission on the placement and asked if he still had my bank information. He wrote me back saying he was shocked that I would demand commission (I was not in the least bit demanding), and he went on to say that I actually owed him the remainder of the invoice ($10,000) because of some mumbo-jumbo in my non-compete agreement.

I still think he should pay me commission if he is going to say I placed myself and invoiced us for the placement. By the way, my current manager thinks so, too. I’m thinking it is time for an attorney, but I found your site and was curious if you could offer any insight.

It will depend on the exact wording of your commission agreement with him. If you typically received commissions for placements you successfully made, and if you have a written agreement that requires those to be paid out even in these circumstances*, then I’d agree with you — but I also agree you’ll need a lawyer to take a look and tell you your options.

* It’s possible that the agreement says, for example, you only get your commission after the hire has worked for 90 days and if you’re still employed by the recruiting company, or something like that. So take a careful look at the wording.

4. I was passed over for work because I deactivated my Facebook account

I am a freelancer. Last week I deactivated my personal Facebook account to give myself a bit of a social media vacation. I had only turned it off for 10 hours when I woke to a Facebook message from a contractor who I had just connected with several weeks back on a Facebook thread. Her message read, “I went to your Facebook page last night to hire you for work, but I found you had blocked me. Is that true?”

I responded by saying that I absolutely had not blocked her, that I was just taking a social media vacation. Her response was decidedly upsetting. She apologized for the misunderstanding and told me that she “overreacted” by deciding to ask someone else to do the job instead, because she thought she had been blocked and it had hit some sort of nerve. I was then told that this was not my fault (which … I know? Because I didn’t do anything? I think?) and that surely there would be more work for me in the future.

I have a really sour taste in my mouth from this. I was reachable the whole time through Facebook Messenger — which she used to contact me after her “overreaction” anyway — not to mention my professional Facebook page (which was still up and running), LinkedIn, and my website. It would not have been hard to simply send me a message or email. I also don’t even know her, and the fact she anger-hired someone over me because of a perceived slight has me leery of future interactions.

But — did I screw up somehow? Should I stop deactivating my personal page? Am I simply behind the times and Facebook is now an essential item for business interactions and job searching, and I risk offending people and losing opportunities by taking breaks from what can be a really toxic social media atmosphere? What should I do about this moving forward? Am I right to think this was weird, or have I unwittingly committed a faux pas?

Nah, she’s just being weird. Don’t let it make you second-guess yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with deactivating your Facebook account, either temporarily or permanently, and there’s nothing wrong with assuming that business contacts will contact you using, you know, a business method like email or phone rather than a personal one.

And frankly, even if you had decided to disconnect from this person on Facebook, she shouldn’t be angry or upset about it. Lots of people trim down their connection list or decide to remove work contacts from Facebook if they prefer to use it for their personal life rather than their work life. So she’s being odd, and I’d bring some caution to future interactions with her, even if she does offer you work in the future.

5. Use-it-or-lose-it policies for vacation time

I currently have 35 vacation days that have carried over for quite some time. Staff was sent an email stating that we would forfeit any days not used by February 28, 2018. Can my company do this? It just does not seem a fair way to deal with this situation.

It depends on your state law. A small number of states (including California, Montana, and I think Nebraska) treat vacation time as earned compensation, meaning that an employer can’t then claw it back. Once you earn it, it’s yours. Employers in those states can put limits on how much vacation time can be accrued, but once it’s accrued, it has to be taken or paid out when the person leaves.

But in most other states, “use it or lose it” policies are pretty common. In some of those states though (like Illinois and Massachusetts), employers are required to give employees a reasonable amount of time to use that vacation time before it’s lost. You could certainly argue that two months isn’t enough time to take 35 vacation days, so it’s worth looking up your state’s law on this. (Try googling the name of your state plus “vacation laws.”)

If your state doesn’t help you here, you could try pushing back on this with your employer and asking for a longer period to use those days before they expire — or asking if you can instead have them paid out to you in money instead of time off.

{ 331 comments… read them below }

  1. Wakeen's Duck Club and Hanukkah Balls, LLC*

    1. “…that sells teapots. The holidays are always a crazy time for us with everyone working full-steam.”

    Teapots? Full-steam? I see what you did there, OP!

        1. Wakeen's Duck Club and Hanukkah Balls, LLC*

          “Wakeen’s Teapots” was already taken, otherwise, I would have gone with that.

          1. Snazzy Hat*

            I seriously thought you were the same person, simply updating your handle.

            Wait, was that a teapot pun? Sure, why not!

    1. OP #1*

      Unintentional, but totally up my humor alley. (High-five, subconscious!)

      Thanks for pointing it out, Wakeen’s Duck Club!

  2. Augusta Sugarbean*

    #4 You might offer a compromise to your employer – go ahead and schedule the vacation days for the next 3 months. Then you aren’t losing them and they aren’t carrying the financial liability indefinitely.

    1. Graciosa*

      I assume you meant this for #5, and I strongly support taking the vacation (even if it has to be before the end of February).

      35 days is most likely 7 weeks off – assuming no holidays – which is an AMAZING amount of vacation. It’s almost a sabbatical!

      Take ALL the vacation.

      The OP should tell the boss that evidently taking the vacation has been mandated by HR, and ask what days would be most convenient. With seven weeks to take before the end of February, there’s not a lot of flexibility, but it’s a tactful gesture and makes it much more obvious if the boss is the impediment and the issue has to be raised to HR for the OP to get to take the time.

      OP, take the vacation.

      1. nnn*

        Yes, thirded! If such a long absence on such short notice is operationally unfeasible, it’s on the employer to sort that out. Their policy, their problem. If OP’s manager doesn’t like it, they can advocate upstream for OP keeping their banked vacation as originally planned.

        1. Specialk9*

          When I left my job, I was paid out my banked vacation in money. Same with my spouse, in a different field. I’m not sure why this is legal – they’re changing policy with inadequate lead time, with what sure seems like the intent to rob employees of earned compensation. (Use or lose is good for the books, less so for employees.) Even if it’s technically legal, it’s such a *bad faith* move that it seems inadvisable for morale and retention.

      2. Thlayli*

        Absolutely. If they are going to be silly about it just book it all now as a big sabbatical before end February. If your boss gives you grief tell her this is what HR is requiring – but if she can agree with HR that you can carry some forward then you will work with that, but that you aren’t willing to lose time off you’ve earned.

        Basically you are calling their bluff. It’s a win-win for you. Either you get a nice long holiday or you get to carry your vacation forward.

        1. Anononon*

          I don’t see it as a win-win at all. Depending on the industry, requesting to take such a long vacation on such short notice would be unheard of and extremely questionable. And what bluff would you be calling? It’d be very easy for the company to just say, “uh, no.”

          1. Mel*

            But OP isn’t requesting to take a 7 week vacation. OP is being told by HR “Use this banked time (compensation) or lose it.” If HR is being unreasonable and giving OP 12 weeks (as an example) to use it, then OP is calling their bluff by going to his/her supervisor and saying “HR said I have to do this.”(shrug) because they probably *can* expand the deadline.
            My husband had this problem at his last job. They announced at Halloween that people had to get down to 20 hours of vacation before the end of the year, but if you couldn’t do that, you could make arrangements with HR. Husband couldn’t get down to 20 hours, so he laid out his plan to take the week of spring break off and HR was satisfied with that.

            1. WellRed*

              It’s only a bluff if HR isn’t actually planning to enforce it. Also, did HR do this or was HR instructed to do this by the company.

              1. LBK*

                The letter doesn’t even say HR had anything to do with this – it just says “staff was emailed” but not by whom.

                I feel like people are misreading this as some rogue HR admin yelling at people who haven’t used up their vacation time and pushing them to do it before it expires. To me, it just reads like a notification of a new policy, eg that unused time will now expire in February every year. If the OP has too much to reasonably take before it expires, tough cookies.

              2. Someone else*

                It doesn’t really matter if it’s HR or some higher up. Generally when this happens someone in Finance has looked at the books and said “we’re carrying too much liability for PTO, we need to get some people who’ve accrued a ton to use it and/or change the policy so they don’t accrue as much”. So then the proposal comes up: “moving forward, you’ll stop accruing after X, but also get below that cap before date Y or lose it”. Thereby fixing the liability problem. I’ve seen this happen plenty of times where no one looked at any individual’s time and just the total as a whole. So then Individual comes to Boss and says “to comply with this new policy you’re telling me to take off 4 out of every 5 days between now and the deadline. Do you want me to do that or are you telling me I’m going to be forced to lose it, no other option?” A really crappy employer might say “no exceptions, too bad for you, can’t take that much time off right now, guess you’ll have to lose it”, but most would react to that information either saying “yes take it all now” (probably pleasing no one, but sticking with the letter of the new policy) or saying “we’ll work something out”, such as, if the person puts in requests for when they will use it by the deadline, even if they didn’t actually use it all before the deadline (because neither side really wanted them out that much in one go) then it’s OK. Or they pay some of it out. Or plenty of other variations.
                So the “bluff” you’re calling is basically “did you think through the actual math here? or just look at the total liability and come up with this new policy without considering actual individuals? And will you be reasonable in the latter case?” MOST of the time when confronted with “hey did you really mean for this to be the effect?” (which might mean several key staffers being gone a month or more, overlapping, they backtrack right away.

          2. LBK*

            I’m with you on this – I think the company is most likely to say “You should have used it sooner, not our fault you’ve banked so much” and the OP will be SOL.

            It doesn’t hurt to ask, I suppose, but I think the odds that she’s going to end up on a 2-month vacation are pretty much zero. Especially on short notice.

            1. Susana*

              But .. I don’t see how they can insist she take the time, then tell her no, she has to work for free. If she’s got the time and they’re making her take it – then she takes it, no matter how inconvenient the timing is for the company.

              1. LBK*

                Where are you getting the impression that they’re insisting she take the time? They’re telling her that if she doesn’t use it by X date, it will disappear. “Use it or lose it” is a description of the policy, not an order – if they insist on anything, it’s going to be “lose it”.

                1. Artemesia*

                  It matters if this is a new or newly enforced policy or not. If it is new then it is grossly unfair and she should be allowed a sabbatical i.e. long vacation or a pay out. If this has always been the policy then they are likely to say, ‘you knew it and blew it.’ I’d take the 7 weeks if possible and use part of it to look for a new job.

                2. LBK*

                  I don’t disagree that it’s unfair but I don’t think she really has any leverage here. If they say no, you can’t take all the time off, what’s she going to do? Just not show up?

            2. Specialk9*

              LBK, based on your comments, did you actually read Alison’s response to the OP? Her post covers many of your questions.

              And no, employers aren’t feudal lords who get to just steal your leave through abrupt and capricious policy changes, and tough cookies. What a bizarre expectation of the power balance.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            It really should be on the company to figure out their new policy with a one-year heads-up. (I know of someone who basically got put on three-day weekends for the rest of the year.)

            I empathize with OP if they decide a job is better than no job and this isn’t their hill, but go into it as “So HR insists that I use 7 weeks of vacation over the next 9 weeks of work.” At least suggest that the company should be negotiating within their policy. Rather than saying “The new policy is that you must use all accrued vacation time in the next two months. And that you cannot take more than 1 week in a 2-month period.”

            1. Arjay*

              You’d think also that a reasonable policy would still allow some rollover, so that maybe they’d need to take 3 weeks off so as to only have 4 weeks in a rollover status to be taken throughout 2018.

            2. Beaded Librarian*

              I actually did that for a whole year after having trouble staying under the accrued PTO cap for two years in a row. Both years it was not my fault as we were shorter staffed and I HAD tried to take time off my boss just couldn’t give it too me. Worked great as it allowed me to go to school 3/4 time instead of the half that I could manage working full time.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Yup, ALL the vacation.

        And then try to actually take a bit of time away from home, on top of the classic staycation (all the projects and errands you’ve been meaning to get to, visit some local places midday on a Wednesday).

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      Exactly my thoughts- if they are saying you have to take the vacation or lose it, then they have given you a blank check to take all of it! If they have a problem with that, then they’ll have to adjust their stance. It would be ridiculous of them to think that you’d be OK with just “losing” it because of things like workload- it’s their job to manage things to ensure coverage, not yours, so do what they’ve told you to do- take the vacation!

      This is a wonderful case of natural consequences being their own punishment/incentive to change stupid decisions.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        In response to the worry that this would upset the bosses, I’d say approach the conversation in a friendly manner, treating them as reasonable. E.G. “HR says we have to use all our vacation by February 28, so it looks like I’ll need to take 7 weeks off in the next two months. I don’t want to inconvenience the department, but of course I have to take it all somehow- when should I schedule it to be least disruptive to you?” And from there treat them as reasonable, but don’t budge from “of course you agree I have to take the vacation I’ve earned, so how would you like me to do that?” If they ask for alternatives you could ask about a longer deadline or a payout as a way of you being accommodating to their schedule.

        I doubt this is the hill management will want to die on either, and you’re unlikely to be the only one with this problem so they would be alienating more than you if they handle all of you badly. (If they try it, don’t take “well, we screwed over this other person in your situation, so we have to screw you over too” as an argument- the answer to that is that the other person should be treated better, not you treated worse.)

      2. LBK*

        I am so confused – are people not familiar with “use it or lose it” policies? The idea isn’t that you’re entitled/required to take off all perishable PTO by the expiration date. The idea is that if you haven’t figured out a way to use that time in a way your manager agrees to by the expiration date, you don’t get to keep it. It’s meant to encourage people to take PTO in smaller chunks throughout the year rather than hoarding it and then using it all up at once in a big block (ie exactly what everyone is now telling the OP to attempt to do).

        Are a lot of the commenters suggesting she take all the time not from the US? That’s the only reason I can think that everyone seems to be under the impression she’s just been told to take a 2-month vacation when that is not how it would work at any company I’ve ever heard of. I think what’s most likely to happen is that the boss will say “the most I can let you take off between now and then is X” and then the OP will just lose the rest. It sucks but I think it’s always a risk of building up tons of PTO.

        1. WellRed*

          I’ve been very surprised by all the commenters saying “too bad for the company.” OP should see what steps they can to use at least some of those days, maybe with a plan to use x amount by y date. Eg, take a bunch of long weekends and accept you may lose a few.

          1. Specialk9*

            LBK, yes, thanks for your concern, we *have* all heard of use or lose, it’s a pretty widely understood concept. The problem here is a sudden switch from banking to use or lose, without adequate lead time or paying people for that banked time (like would happen if they quit).

        2. Stormfeather*

          I’d suggest people are familiar with it certainly, but would expect that if they’re going to switch policies mid-stream, they’d give a longer warning and more of an ability to use up the banked time rather than losing it. It’s a huge bait-and-switch.

          That being said, it might be a LEGAL bait-and-switch (I honestly have no clue, IANAL plus don’t know where the OP is), and I think it’s a bit naive to pretend that OF COURSE the company won’t have any problem with this and they’ll *have* to let the OP use the vacation. I think it’s completely unfair if they don’t, and there are certainly arguments to be made that the company *should* do this if they don’t want to antagonize some, if not many, of their employees. But that doesn’t mean that the company will naturally take the high road, or be obligated to do so.

          1. Stormfeather*

            Ah, I should have said “should do this or at least come up with some other alternative, such as grandfathering in some vacation retention or pay out for the missed vacation days” in that last paragraph.

          2. LBK*

            Right, exactly – assuming this is a new policy it would definitely be more fair of them to give a longer notice period before the saved time expires, but they haven’t, and I don’t think the company is under the impression that they’ve just pre-authorized all vacation time that will expire by that date. I think they’re under the impression that people will take what they can reasonably take and then lose the rest, and they’re okay with that.

            It is also possible that the OP is on the high end of saved time and that most people only have, say, a week or two banked up, so 3ish months is sufficient to use most or all of it and OP is an outlier that they didn’t feel was worth basing the new policy around.

            1. JessaB*

              There’s an issue here though. People earned this compensation by working for it. I get that they can change things going forward, but I’m not 100% sure they can just can it all without enough notice. IANAL either, but this is compensation. And up to the end of this year the rule was you can carry it over. This is not “you can’t carry it over, and we’re suddenly enforcing that,” this is, “you could carry it over, but we’re changing that like yesterday.” There’s a very good case for grandfathering, or for partial payouts or any of another ideas like scheduling it all out in the next year and having to take it. Also, they’re going to earn holiday in the coming year. Which means it’s not just the saved up amounts. It’s not a well thought out policy. Especially if someone were banking that leave to go have surgery or to go have a child or something.

              I have no problem with use or lose policies, but changing horses this fast, in the middle of a raging river, is not reasonable.

              1. LBK*

                Federal law doesn’t consider this compensation – there isn’t even a federal requirement that PTO be offered at all, never mind laws dictating how companies have to handle it. They can do it however they want. That doesn’t mean they should, and I agree (again) that this is a terrible way to handle it, and I agree there should be laws about this. But that doesn’t really help the OP or change her situation.

        3. Grad Student*

          That all makes sense if the PTO has been “use it or lose it” the whole time it’s been accruing, but it sounds like in this case the company has suddenly switched to a use it or lose it policy without much lead time to the “lose it” date. If the policy is going to encourage people to take time off in smaller chunks spread over a long period of time, the policy also has to exist over that same long period of time.

          I suppose it’s possible that OP just wasn’t aware of the policy/paying attention, but they did say their PTO has “carried over for quite some time” so that’s probably not the case.

          1. LBK*

            It does sound to me like the policy just changed, but I don’t think that obligates the employer to allow people to use up all their existing banked time, although it would certainly be the generous thing to do especially for people like the OP who have a lot.

            Like I said earlier, it doesn’t hurt to ask, but I don’t think people should be setting up the OP with the expectation that she’s entitled to take all this time and that the company has just mandated a 2-month vacation for her. I think it’s very unlikely that’s how it will play out and is based on a wild misreading of how these policies usually work, even when you’re newly converting to said policy.

            1. Grad Student*

              I agree that it doesn’t obligate the employer to allow people to use all their time, but it seems uncool enough that it’s worth asking to take all the time anyway (expecting that they might be rejected, and possibly hoping for some compromise solution as others have suggested). I guess I agree that it’s too much to tell OP “take the vacation” without caveats, but I don’t think the suggestion comes from not understanding “use it or lose it”..

              1. LBK*

                I guess I’m just confused how people are reading that letter as “HR is insisting the OP take the time off,” which is a direct quote from multiple comments. I don’t know how you take that impression from the letter unless you don’t understand what “use it or lose it” means.

                1. JessaB*

                  Well you worked like crazy, possibly forgoing holidays in times your boss didn’t want you to take off, and now you have a pile of time, and you may lose all that time off and compensation FOR it, because your company just realised bosses were not encouraging people to take time off. WORKED for time. Compensation you earned. And suddenly you are going to lose that without enough notice to use it. Yes it’s legal, but it shouldn’t be. It’s like saying “you earned 100, but we’re holding onto it for (presume it’s legal) reason x, but you didn’t ask for it by the end of the year so you lose it. But we never told you that before, and you’ve always been able to ask for that 100 whenever you wanted.” This is compensation that was promised when they took the job, and there were NO rules about having to use it before. Stuff going forward YES. But stuff you already earned, is not fair if you can’t get the benefit of it. Someone took a job based on these promises. That’s why a lot of companies grandfather things.

                  You have to draw on your bank first, but you must start using that time and you have x reasonable amount of time based on how much in that bank to draw it down. Heck a friend of mine when they died their family got over 20,000 in back owed leave because they were grandfathered with the federal government.

                  I think the issue here is that HR or whoever decided this saw a total leave balance and instead of starting with “hey supervisors stop discouraging your people from being out on a regular basis,” they started with the nuclear option without realising that most people probably have at least two weeks saved.

                  It’s not a bad policy it’s a lousy implementation. Because I could see having a months’ sick leave saved up but if you have that much holiday pay and you’re not there 10 years and maybe running 1 or 2 days a year saved, you’re NOT TAKING ANY. And that’s a management problem not a worker problem and punishing the workers is not how you do this.

                2. LBK*

                  I don’t disagree that it’s unfair. That doesn’t mean you can just unilaterally override your manager’s decision if they say “no, it’s not feasible to have you out for 2 months”. What are you gonna do? Just not show up anyone?

                  Reading the email as entitlement to take off all of your time regardless of business needs is a pretty willful interpretation. You might morally feel as though that’s what you should be able to do, but this isn’t actually a directive from the company for all managers to authorize all time off for people who are going to lose it, and it seems people are interpreting it that way.

                3. Someone else*

                  The point is they’re saying “use it or lose it” and it’s reasonable to assume since the PTO is part of one’s compensation package, giving such a short notice period for use implies they do want the employee to use it rather than lose it. Otherwise it basically comes off as “eff you, we’re cutting off this huge chunk of vacation you accrued because you didn’t use it before” (possibly because every time you asked to, we denied the request). If they come out with this policy intending to encourage people to use it but know it’s mathematically not possible for them to use it without screwing the company massively, they might as well not have bothered phrasing it as an “or”. If you assume good faith on the part of the employer, you assume they intend it to be mostly plausible to have both choices in that “or” statement.

                4. Specialk9*

                  LBK: “What are you gonna do? Just not show up anyone?”

                  Alison: “It depends on your state law. A small number of states (including California, Montana, and I think Nebraska) treat vacation time as earned compensation, meaning that an employer can’t then claw it back. Once you earn it, it’s yours. Employers in those states can put limits on how much vacation time can be accrued, but once it’s accrued, it has to be taken or paid out when the person leaves.

                  But in most other states, “use it or lose it” policies are pretty common. In some of those states though (like Illinois and Massachusetts), employers are required to give employees a reasonable amount of time to use that vacation time before it’s lost. You could certainly argue that two months isn’t enough time to take 35 vacation days, so it’s worth looking up your state’s law on this. (Try googling the name of your state plus “vacation laws.”)

                  If your state doesn’t help you here, you could try pushing back on this with your employer and asking for a longer period to use those days before they expire — or asking if you can instead have them paid out to you in money instead of time off.”

                  Um, that.

        4. Doreen*

          I think some of it is that people are reading the letter as if the company has just announced a new policy , and the employees are just now finding out in December that they have to use the leave they have been saving up for years by Feb 28. In which case it would be reasonable to say essentially, you’ve only given me two months notice to use up 7 weeks, which week do you want me to work? And that may be what the OP meant, but the letter doesn’t actually say it’s a new policy, just that an email was sent. I am probably going to send an email next week reminding people that they will lose any vacation over 300 hours that isn’t used by March 31 but it’s been the policy since I was hired 24 years ago so it isn’t news to anyone.

          1. LBK*

            It does sound to me as well that they’ve just changed the policy, but I still don’t think that means you can infer that the company is pre-authorizing people to take all their vacation before it expires. It’s a crappy thing to do but I think it’s frankly going to come off as out of touch and kind of aggressive if she uses the “I’m taking all this time whether you like it or not” approach. To be clear, I’m generally in favor of the informing vs asking method when it comes to PTO, but I think this is a unique circumstance that requires a slightly softer approach.

            I think the conversation should be something like “I want to use as much of this time as I possibly can but I understand it will probably be unreasonable for me to take all of it – can we talk about what makes sense so I’m not dropping a bunch of work on everyone but I also don’t waste all the time I’ve banked?” And that doesn’t prevent her boss from saying “Actually, it’s totally fine if you take all of it, seeya in March” if in fact that’s feasible.

            1. Beezus*

              It’s crappy and aggressive of the company to know people have that much time banked and then to not give enough notice they can use it up OR paying them out the remainder when the use/lose policy goes into action. It’s a morale killer.

              1. LBK*

                As I’ve said multiple times, I agree it’s a bad idea and a crappy thing to do. That doesn’t mean going in guns blazing is going to get OP the best result, ie best chance to use as much of her vacation as possible. She’d be perfectly right to tell them it’s crappy and unfair to do this, but does she want to be right or does she want to be happy?

                1. Beezus*

                  LBR she’d probably like to be both, but alas the world infrequently works that way.

                  Good luck, OP! I hope you can push back and take time off and/or get a pay out.

            2. Pebbles*

              I second the advice to go to your manager looking for some sort of negotiated agreement.

              My CurrentJob is use-it-or-lose-it by end of year with all vacation time in your bank January 1st, for you to use throughout the year as you wish. This has been in place for several years. Early November we were informed that it was being switched to accrual starting January 1st, with no carryover. Most people book their winter vacations a few months in advance, so my 10-day vacation in January that I had expected to have enough time for and had already booked, I now had no way of accruing enough vacation time in a week and a half into the new year. Thankfully my manager (and the two levels above) (re-)approved my vacation and have agreed to work with me to take it even though I technically haven’t earned that time (so the opposite position of OP).

              Really, I would have been looking for another job if they had said no, but OP, definitely talk with your manager and see if there’s some way to negotiate your PTO. What if you had been saving that time for something important that had been approved prior to this announcement but was to take place after their deadline? Significant changes in leave policy need to be clearly communicated long before any company-imposed deadline, because you know it’s just a numbers game that is only a positive on the company’s books but can negatively impact the company in morale and key people leaving for better work-life pastures.

        5. The Rat-Catcher*

          I for one am familiar with it, but you’re generally told up front what the cap is and that the sweep occurs on X date (in my company’s case). If there’s a change, the logical thing is to do a rollout period that is proportional to the amount of vacation people have. A two-month transition period when people have seven weeks or more built up is insufficient.
          So yes, they can say “well, guess you’re going to lose it” but they risk losing people who have that amount of time banked (probably people who have been there a while) as well as becoming known as That Company That Lies About Your Benefits.

          1. The Rat-Catcher*

            I read some of your further comments, LBK. I see what you mean, I think. I don’t think anyone is under the impression that HR or whoever actually intends to authorize a 7-week vacation. But OP framing it that way in the discussion might get them to realize that’s basically what they’ve asked, unless they want to be terrible or (what I think is more likely) take the standard routes of payout or extending her time to take the vacation.

  3. AcademiaNut*

    For #1, this strikes me as a discussion that Jane shouldn’t be part of. Longer term, higher level people can certainly have a discussion to figure out how to better monitor things in the future, so this sort of problem is caught earlier and dealt with, rather than turning into an emergency. But Jane’s part is, as AAM said, more appropriately a serious discussion with her manager about her job performance and expectations. A single employee doing a bad job isn’t really a post-mortem problem.

    1. Ron McDon*

      I completely agree with you and Alison – gosh that would be an awkward group meeting, my shoulders are up near my ears just thinking about it!

      But I suppose the decision about meeting with Jane to discuss the issue first is not the OP’s to make; I’d be interested to know if they’d feel comfortable raising this with their manager, and suggesting this is what should happen?

      I agree that otherwise there is a risk that the meeting could turn into a ‘it was due to Jane’ event, which would be hard to avoid but verrrrry awkward…

      1. On Fire*

        The awkward potential is boggling. I think OP1 should advocate for the Jane conversation to be separate, as Alison suggested, even if the final decision isn’t hers to make. That way, everyone goes into the post-mortem knowing the issue of Jane not doing her job has been addressed. Thus, this meeting is to plan for the other issues that happened. Think of it as developing contingency plans: if Jane had unexpected sick leave, left the job, was hit by a bus. “When/since X happens, we can improve/be more efficient by doing Y.”

        1. Kyrielle*

          If Jane had sick leave, left the job, or was hit by a bus, they’d have known she wasn’t doing her part, though – that would likely have been easier to handle. What they need to do is figure out how to manage visibility so they know if balls are getting dropped (in that and other areas – next time it might not be the person in Jane’s role!) even if the person is showing up and doing work (some work) each day.

      2. Ganache*

        What does ‘shoulders up near ears’ mean? I see it all the time on Captain Awkward but have never been able to suss out the meaning?

        1. LavaLamp*

          I think it means closing yourself off or shutting down/shutting out the person who’s making you feel bad. That’s how I take it anyway.

        2. Specialk9*

          It means hunching your shoulders in deep discomfort. It’s basically saying, yup, you’re right spot on with feeling that this situation isn’t ok, I wasn’t even there but even just hearing the bare bones description had me feeling icky and defensive. It’s affirmation of a disquieting situation.

        3. Kindling*

          It just means the idea is so uncomfortable that it’s causing your body to have a reflexive anxiety response (generally figuratively, not literally).

      3. OP #1*

        Luckily, I do feel close enough to my boss to suggest that there be at least two meetings: a one-on-one with Jane, and then a group meeting where we can discuss more of the banal “should have walked through what supplies we needed”, “should have had clearer conversations with our vendors”, etc.

        I think the risk with one big meeting is that the three of us are feeling emotional about the holiday time that we gave up, so it could easily turn into a big venting session. However, if we have a meeting just the three of us like AcademiaNut suggests, plus a one-on-one with Jane, plus a post-mortem for the other issues, I think we should be able to work through everything in a professional manner.

    2. Thlayli*

      I totally agree with the first part of Allisons advice that the manager needs to address this with Jane directly (personally I don’t see the point of keeping her in the job at all, but each to their own). However the second part of the advice – that the team then have a separate meeting to discuss everything ELSE that went wrong, is going to be very difficult to pull off. The only way it could work is if you let everyone else know in advance of the meeting that The Jane Issue has been dealt with and is not up for discussion at this meeting, and make sure they actually believe it has been dealt with. Otherwise I think it will 100% end up as ganging up on Jane.

      1. Coywolf*

        Well she could be kept at her job because surely her manager is capable of believing she can learn from her mistakes.

      2. JessaB*

        Especially since part of the project solution has to be some kind of check in system so we know where all the parts and balls are in this thing whilst it’s early enough to catch them before they fall all over the floor and out the window. This can’t be allowed to happen again and part of that is on the rest of the team. If they were picking up Jane’s slack, the very first time it happened there should have been a talk with the project lead, the second it should have ended up with the boss talking to Jane. They’re not completely innocent in this. If it took them too long to see that Jane wasn’t contributing, then the reporting methods are lousy. If it was dribs and drabs of little things then they failed to follow up by telling the bosses. Unless Jane was outright lying about things she was doing, someone had to know

        1. OP #1*

          Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of us to have a great reporting system. If someone tells us that they’re doing their job, we have to trust that they are! No one else has the time to be constantly doing check-ins. That’s what was so shocking about this situation: we’d never before run into this problem of someone not doing their job and telling us they were. We knew she was panicking, so we offered to step in and help out on one aspect of her job, which led to us uncovering how much still needed to be done.

          Certainly you’re not wrong: if she were feeling overwhelmed, she absolutely should have gone to our boss. And I hope those communication issues are covered in any meeting between the two of them.

    3. drpuma*

      While I do agree with Alison that Jane needs to be addressed individually first – the OP writes that multiple things went wrong, not just what Jane did. Provided that Jane’s manager is able to get Jane to accept responsibility for her actions, I do think it would be helpful for Jane to be involved in the debrief. The point of the debrief isn’t only “here’s what went wrong” but also “this is what we need to do differently next time.” Best-case scenario, it could be positive for both coworkers and Jane to be able to say/hear, “these are all the different ways we would like to support you and work together more productively, as long as you put a flag up sooner.”

      1. Mike C.*

        I think folks are really looking at this wrong, especially this part about “making sure Jane accepts responsibility. Focus on your processes rather than people. Look for actual root causes rather than symptoms.

        Outside of causes of actual malice, when you focus on people you get into personal fights – for every person saying that Jane is a massive screw up there will be another saying that management should have been managing better. That sort of information doesn’t lead itself towards an actual solution, it’s not useful.

        Additionally, given that it’s a tiny business, I’m willing to bet that lots of things are done by flying by the seat of one’s pants.

        1. LBK*

          So what this boils down to is that no one should be fired for performance because if something goes wrong it’s always the process, not the person? If Jane absconds with $100k from the company bank account the problem is that there wasn’t sufficient security, not that Jane is a crook? There can certainly be lessons learned about how you might mitigate the impacts of a bad employee in the future, but sometimes the “actual root cause” is that bad employee.

          1. Phoenix Programmer*

            U r really trying to book this down to Black and White and it’s not – there is a lot of grey.

            Typically no one should be fired for a first time performance issue outside of issues of character.

            Stole 100k? Yes fire the person. Made a mistake that cost company $100k research how mistake was made. Coach employee on behavior changes. Fire if performance issues continue after repeated coaching.

            Also if you for employees for one time mistakes it will have the opposite effect you are trying to achieve. People don’t speak up and even state holding mistakes in a “blame the person not the process” culture.

    4. LBK*

      Honestly it seems like the simplest solution is to just fire Jane before the meeting, I’m not sure why she hasn’t been already.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Yes. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the other employees to identify and strategize around everything ELSE that went wrong, when Jane was responsible for a huge, ongoing failure in her role that messed everyone else up. Get rid of Jane, then work on improving other processes.

        1. Observer*

          I disagree. If Jane isn’t dealt with at all, sure that’s going to be a problem. But otherwise, people should absolutely be willing to deal with all of the other issues. It’s obvious from what the OP said that as bad as Jane’s behavior was, it didn’t happen in a vacuum, and could very well have been precipitated by these other issues.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Jane’s input could be really valuable. Yes, she failed hugely. What contributed? Maybe it’s all Jane. (That’s possible!) Maybe the processes aren’t as well-documented as they could be, and when she tried to say she couldn’t figure something out she was dismissively told it’s simple, and after a couple times of that no longer felt that she could or should ask for help.

            1. Smithy*

              I agree with this. For a new person starting close to the holidays/busy season – it could easily be that between holidays/vacation/illness that her onboarding was cut short, check-in meeting canceled, etc. So opportunities for her to say I’m overwhelmed/these orders confuse me/how does this work/etc we’re lost. And in regards to Jane not apologizing – it may have been that her manager acknowledge fault in her onboarding/ lack of check in.

            2. Willis*

              This. If Jane’s response to her manager’s question of “what happened here?” shows that it was an “all Jane” problem and that she doesn’t really care how poorly things went, I think firing her is the way to go. If there’s mitigating factors, could be possible to keep her on. But, all that should be sussed out before asking other employees to debrief on the issues.

              1. OP #1*

                Thank you all for this thoughtful thread (on both sides of this argument).

                I think it’s important to note—and I failed to do this in my original post—that prior to holiday, Jane was a great employee. She did stellar work on all aspects of her job. I think it’s more important to keep her on and figure out why her work fell to pieces at the busiest time of the year / what processes weren’t working to support her than to fire her and try to find someone else while still keeping the company up and running.

      2. Phoenix Programmer*

        If Jane is fired for a one time performance issue what effect do you think that will have on other employees who think they may have made a mistake?

        If you want employees to be forthcoming with their word you have to disturb a culture of coaching and process analysis not “fire as soon as they slip up” culture.

        1. Stormfeather*

          But it doesn’t sound like it’s a one-time performance issue. It sounds like it’s a “one-time” performance issue, in scare quotes because it went on for weeks, an unreliability issue as they just swept it under the rug making the problem much worse, and a complete lack of understanding that she did make a mistake (which would probably lead to such mistakes in the future).

          Not saying that I would 100% say fire her, just that it should at least be on the table, and it’s not just a matter of “oh someone slips up, and they’re gone.”

        2. Observer*

          Jane may not have to be fired. But this is clearly NOT just a “slip up” or a “one time performance issue.” Just stopping to do a significant portion of your job – one which would apparently affect the ability to get product to customers with an effective deadline, no less – without telling anyone is not just a “slip up”. Keeping that up for more than a day or two takes it out of the “one time” category”. Failure to apologize or acknowledge the problem makes it even worse.

          I think that Alison’s description of this as “serious performance issue/ball-dropping” is right. And given that the rest of the staff have been directly harmed by her behavior, and are upset that she hasn’t even apologized, they are not likely to see a firing as their employer over-reacting to little things.

      3. Specialk9*

        Yeah, Jane almost took down the whole company. Let her get a job for a big corp where she can’t do so much damage.

    5. Clorinda*

      A huge problem here is that when Jane went off the rails, nobody noticed until she crashed. It’s a legitimate discussion to have: how do we make sure we are tracking everyone’s work so this doesn’t happen again? But Jane doesn’t need to be part of that conversation.

    6. wayward*

      It wasn’t clear to me whether the expectations of Jane had been realistic. She was apparently new and part-time — had she been getting a reasonable workload? Had she gotten the training she needed?

      1. LCL*

        Yes, I’m wondering at the part where it took 3 people to make up for the work that didn’t get done. Jane is ‘a fairly new part timer’ so she probably didn’t know enough about the work to know when to ask for help and what could be dropped.

        1. LBK*

          It’s not like the people that picked up her slack were devoting their full schedule to it – saying that it took 2-3 people to clean it up doesn’t indicate it was work that should have been given to that many people in the first place. Plus it’s always less efficient to take over someone else’s work because you have to spend half the time figuring out what still needs to be done before you can actually do it.

        2. Bea*

          It took that many people because the work piled up and it had to be quickly unpiled it sounds like to me. Been there, done that. I think that they let Jane sink due to lack of attention to making sure things were consistently being done to avoid a massive landslide. You can’t put so much on a new part time position without proper guidance.

        3. Mookie*

          Also, everyone else had to “learn” her job? (Who trained her?) And between three people a portion of a part-time role led to that amount of overtime? This place has multiple, bigger problems than Jane, and Jane’s a symptom, not a cause, for at least some of them.

          1. OP #1*

            Hi all! Thank you for these thoughts.

            You’re right. We’re a very small company, which means that each of us are pretty focused on our own jobs and getting that work done, and less on checking in with our coworkers and making sure their work is getting done. While this hasn’t been a problem in the past, it’s definitely not a perfect system, and it’s worth looking into how this could be fixed.

            Our jobs don’t tend to overlap a ton, which is why there were certain aspects of her job that we had to learn (she was trained by the person who previously held that job).

            I do feel, personally, that Jane was being asked to do a lot for a part-time job, and probably too much. My boss asks a lot of all of us. However, I think had she reached out to us or our boss—even something as simple as, “Hi, when I took this job on, I wasn’t expecting this amount of work. I’m afraid I’m not able to get it done within these hours you’ve given me, and I can’t take on more hours. How can we solve this?”—we could have reached a solution that involved all of us working together to create a better working environment, rather than a lot of panicky, resentful late nights.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I quit a Toxic Job where the final straw was holding a “postmortem” where I was blamed for my “Jane’s” failures… despite the fact that the event was pulled off flawlessly. And because my “Jane” had done similar things and lied about it, I kept receipts. It became extremely awkward for the Jane in my situation—and her managers (a different department)—to be confronted with the sheer magnitude of her incompetence.

      Which is all to say, as AcademiaNut notes, a single employee doing a bad job is not a post-mortem problem. And even if there were other system failures, it sounds like it’s going to be impossible to really assess performance without the Jane Effect totalizing the debrief.

      1. Observer*

        Well, it sounds like there were a lot of other problems there, besides having one bad employee. Also what you are describing is not out of character behavior by a relatively new employee, but an ongoing pattern of incompetence and dishonesty which should have been dealt with long before.

        The Op’s updates reinforce the idea that there are a number of issues here and that Jane is not normally someone who can’t be relied on.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Fair enough :) my main point is that one one person fails big time, it’s difficult to conduct an appropriate post mortem. If folks exclude that the person dropped the ball, it feels like a huge elephant in the room, but if they get into the weeds on why Jane flaked, it risks dominating the entire debrief.

          I think it might be more helpful to break the debrief up into parts to determine which issues merit/require team input and which issues are about managing an individual. It could be that there were onboarding failures, but I think that’s a management-level conversation, not a team debrief convo.

    8. Artemesia*

      Another example of ridiculously bad management. Of course Jane should not be given this feedback in an all hands review of the project; her manager should have long since sat down with her and put her on probation and let her know clearly that allowing clients to not get served because she can’t handle the workload OR alert management that she can’t is not acceptable. This is such a major fail that the fact that management has not already had this conversation with Jane suggests Jane isn’t the only one dropping the ball at this organization.

      Individual failings of this magnitude should never be part of a ‘lessons learned’ analysis of a completed project.

    9. BrightLights*

      It sounds like there’s legitimate non-Jane business to discuss so a post-mortem to deal with that may be useful. Our company had a similar situation in that several processes had a single point of failure and in the retrospective for that, it was emphasized that this conversation had to be about process and not people. If the problem was “Jane was overwhelmed and didn’t do her work,” in the group setting we discussed the procedural failures that led to 1) Jane feeling that way and 2) nobody knowing that the work wasn’t getting done until it was too late. Specific personnel issues were left to Jane and her direct manager. Because we stuck to process and not personal issues, in this situation there were a lot of other reasons for the project being a disaster, so lots of things to discuss besides our Jane and the things our Jane did or didn’t do, it was a productive conversation and not a pile on. I wonder if that approach would work for the LW’s situation?

      1. Artemesia*

        It is not possible to ‘stick to processes and not personal failings’ when a personal failure of this magnitude occurs. It is like saying ‘tell your child her actions are bad, not that she is bad.’ Kids get the picture either way. Yeah the latter is better, but a child who gets a lot of that is still hearing that she is bad. The big fail is that Jane didn’t alert others to the problem; hard to discuss that without everyone knowing Jane screwed up big time there.

        This may not be the year for an all hands analysis of the system over Christmas.

        1. BrightLights*

          It depends how many other Legitimate Business factors played into the grand disaster. If the only major issue was Jane, that’s one thing; the LW suggests that that wasn’t so, and once enough time has passed that people have distance to approach this from rationale and not anger, depending on the people involved, there may be a productive conversation in here. Mileage situationally variable.

          Note I’m discussing possible benefits to a PM in this case, not suggesting inviting Jane if there isn’t enough non-Jane business to make her input worthwhile (and not at all to parts that could turn into talking about The Time Jane Ruined Christmas By Failing At Her Job.) That’s asking for the conversation to turn into that. Her manager can be her proxy in the “what went wrong that Jane felt like she couldn’t tell anyone” conversation, and a facilitator should be prepared to moderate the discussion so it doesn’t turn into pitchforks at Jane.

  4. Ron McDon*

    #3 – initially I thought your ex-employer had a real nerve, billing your new employer, but on mulling it over I am not so sure; your new employer would have presumably paid the fee if they’d hired someone else, so it wasn’t an unexpected cost to them.

    I actually feel your new employer was out of line asking for a reduction in the amount they should pay; again, I presume they would have paid the fee without question if someone other than you had been hired.

    I think your old employer may be a bit annoyed that they lost you to a job you found through working for them, and thought they’d stick it to your new employer.

    I can see them being offended that you asked for your commission cut through placing yourself with a different employer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I think you were wrong to ask… definitely a case for a lawyer!

    It’s tricky, because I expect most people can see it from both points of view. This should be an interesting debate in the comments!

    1. JamieS*

      Whether or not the new employer would have paid the fee had the recruiter placed someone else is irrelevant. We wouldn’t expect the new employer to still pay the fee to the recruiter if they’d wound up hiring a candidate that didn’t go through the recruiter (such as an employee referral) would we? From my viewpoint a recruiter gets paid if they are the ones to make a placement not based on “we would’ve been paid had we done the job so we should be paid anyway.”

      So the question becomes is it reasonable to say the recruiting company placed OP? Someone who knows more about recruiting than me may say otherwise but just based on common sense I’d argue possibly yes if OP used the recruiting company’s resources or the recruiter is the only possible way for OP to have discovered the job (company doesn’t publicly advertise job openings). Otherwise no.

      1. MK*

        The OP says

        “I did what I felt would be the right thing to do…I went through all the steps to recruit for the position but also put myself in the mix just like all the other candidates”.

        To me, it seems that she did use her employers’ resources (the fact that the hiring company had commisioned the recruiting agency to find them candidates) to get a new job, and I don’t understand a) why they thought that was in aany way a right thing to do and b) why did the new employer thought they shouldn’t have to pay the agency’s fee, since they did end up hiring a candidate from the pool of candidates the agency sent to them.

        If I am wrong and the OP applied for the job seperately from the list of candidates she sent as an employee of the agency, I have to say this strikes me as a very unethical thing to do; I just don’t see how that isn’t a conflict of interest between her own application and her duty as an employee of the agency. She deliberately acted against her then-employer’s interests, by setting herself in competition with their candidates, while she was basically in charge of selecting said competition for the job. The right thing to do would be to find some excuse to hand over the case to someone else and then apply as an outside candidate. I have to say that I was surprised by Alison’s response.

        Oh, and, OP, the terms of your non-compete agreement is not “mumbo-jumbo”, it is terms you agreed upon. I am not a fan of such agreements, but in this case I don’t think it would be unreasonable for your employer to ask that you not set yourself up in competition with their interests while still working for them! And that doing so would have a penalty.

        1. Agatha_31*

          Yeah I was confused as to why anyone in this letter was surprised at a bill, based on how the LW described it playing out. Old company paid LW to fill the job, LW did fill the job. Could be we’re missing details but that sounds pretty straightforward and reasonable of old company as written.

          1. sap*

            Yeah, seriously. The reason #1’s former employer didn’t get the full recruiter fee is because #1 applied on her own, apparently not through her employer. If #1 hadn’t applied and had placed one of her agency’s candidates instead, they’d have the full fee less her commission. Instead, they have only half, because #1 chose to compete against her employer in her off time. Sounds like #1 is getting a deal, for costing her employer five figures by violating her responsibilities as an employee–she already has a new job and doesn’t have to awkwardly call these people for a reference!

          1. lulu*

            a lot of non-compete are not legally enforceable. But in this case it seems pretty straight forward conflict of interest, you’re not supposed to apply for a job that you’re hired to fill as a recruiter.

            1. JessaB*

              the majority of the non compete may or may not be enforceable. “Don’t use your employers direct resources to get yourself a job and do them out of half their fee and then have the nerve to ask for your commission on top of it,” is kind of beyond the borders of a non compete and into fraudulently using your access to your employers resources. The non compete has nothing to do with this unless the job the OP got was something the non compete would prohibit, and then you have to get into enforceability. It might actually BE. I mean if this job is close enough in scope and distance to hire the OP, it may be in direct competition and, I’d be nervous if I were the old company if OP was going to take contacts with them. Because they just stole half my fees and used my resources to get a new job. OP I’d look at that non compete very carefully if I were you and your lawyer.

              Honestly I’m a little surprised OP was hired by the new company. I don’t think they know the circumstances of how OP ended up in their talent pool. Not trying to pile on the OP here but I wouldn’t have hired them. What they did is unethical unless it was done fully openly. And if it was done fully openly there wouldn’t have been a fight over the amount of the hiring fee. That would have been agreed before OP started with the new company. I’d be worried about what OP would do when they were finished working for me.

            2. JenniCraft*

              I responded to this elsewhere as well, but just wanted to let you know…we did have the option to apply for positions we were working to fill. That part actually is in writing, so it doesn’t come into play in this scenario.

              I also keep calling it a non-compete because it does mostly cover leaving the firm for another recruiting firm or starting your own. It is technically an employment agreement, though, and includes many other things like this.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                Knowing that it’s in writing that you are welcome to apply to jobs that come to you to fill makes a huge difference to me. Considering that’s expressly spelled out, I wonder if this has ever happened before?! It seems like something to develop a clear policy on. I can see both sides, I can see the argument that you shouldn’t get commission because you are no longer working for ex-employer at the time commission would be paid out, but maybe I’m misunderstanding – did not receiving the commission bring your overall earnings significantly below what they would normally be, averaging over the few pay periods before you left the company?
                I don’t have a problem with the new employer negotiating for a reduced invoice, if they are considering you as an external applicant (not sent to them by the recruiting firm you previously worked at) but whether you are an “external” or recruited applicant is the sticky question.
                I would be inclined to just look at it loke

              2. Elizabeth H.*

                (hit submit by mistake)… Look at it like, you were no longer employed by ex-employer at the time that the client (your new company) was invoiced, so given your terms of employment with ex-employer were no longer in effect you don’t get the commission nor are you on the hook for any nonpayment of an invoice.

              3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                If that’s the case, then I think your Old Employer is being bitter. But I also think it may make sense to let go of the commission in order to wrap the relationship between you and Old Employer. I understand why your Old Employer may feel hoodwinked or bitter. It seems like it’s his fault for having an employment K that lets recruiters apply for external positions that they may also be recruiting for.

                It sounds like your New Employer engaged your Old Employer to recruit. Even though you contacted New Employer before recruitment began, it sounds like there was an underlying agreement between the two companies re: recruitment services. Is that an accurate description?

                If there wasn’t an agreement, though, then of course the bill is ridiculous and no one should pay it. I know you say you didn’t use agency resources, but was there any other agreement or scope of work in place that would explain why Old Employer is suggesting a transaction occurred?

                If so, then the contract stands. If your Old Employer is discounting their fee by $10K, that’s pretty substantial, no? In other situations where the fee is discounted, would that typically impact the recruiter’s commission?

                Based on your description, it doesn’t sound like the non-compete applies—you were working on behalf of Old Employer, not on behalf of a private business or New Employer. But of course, have an employment law lawyer (with experience in contracts) take a look.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          The bill seems straightforward–new company hired someone sent to them by recruiting company.

          The commission on a job where you sent in half a dozen people who weren’t as well-suited, plus you–that is going to look weird weird weird even if you genuinely sent in the best half-dozen competitors against yourself.

          1. JenniCraft*

            I know it’s hard to believe, but I actually did send in amazing candidates. I was not sure I would get the job, and it would have made me look terrible had I sent in crappy candidates who weren’t qualified or who didn’t have the criteria the company was looking for. I could have not gotten the job and lost a good client in the meantime. I had no other choice, in my mind.

        3. SignalLost*

          Yeah, I’m not a fan of the amount of inadvertent advantage OP may have given herself. I’m not talking about applying per se, but I am talking about things like possibly being able to better tailor her resume to the posting. I don’t begin to have an informed opinion on the recruiting fee, but it strikes me that OP was hired out of the candidate mix presented by the agency, undoubtedly because she was a qualified candidate and possibly because her application had a little extra oomph, so the agency is owed the fee, same as they would be if the client had hired Steve The Random Applicant.

          1. Mike C.*

            I really don’t see a problem here. It’s no different than knowing someone who works there and bending their ear a bit about what sort of thing they’re looking for.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              The problem is more that she was in charge of selecting and submitting the oomph-lacking resumes of all her competitors. Usually if you’re bending the ear of a personal contact, that person isn’t also ensuring that no other applicants can access any inside scoop.

              1. JessaB*

                This. I didn’t even think of this, I presumed OP was submitting all other qualified candidates. I didn’t even think of the fact that they could tailor both their resume AND the pool of other applicants.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            It seems really hard to believe she wouldn’t have access to insider knowledge. The few times I worked with a recruiter is that they provided some info on the position and I believe did some advocating to get me hired. I agree that the original agency seems to be owed the fee.

        4. JenniCraft*

          This does get a bit sticky, and there are some more details that can help fill in the blanks. I reached out to the company I am now working for two months prior to them coming to me with this particular position to fill. I told them I would love to be considered for an opportunity there because they are a great company. My previous employer knew I was looking but not specifically where (I had been there over three years and was ready to be in a better workplace). The person who came to me to fill the job I took did not know I had reached out to her company previously. I spoke with her about the job and what they were looking for in this position. After hours that same day, I called her on her cell and told her I was interested in the job. I asked her how they wanted me to handle the situation and if they would be interested in hiring me. She said I should put myself into the mix with the others and let the best candidate win. I guess this is hard for some people to comprehend, but I acted very ethically the whole way through the process. With each step I took, I made sure I was handling myself in such a way that anyone else involved in the process would look back and agree with the way I did things. I also didn’t know for sure I was going to get the job, so I couldn’t give them crappy candidates to make myself look better. Either way, I figured I would get a great new job or get a great placement. By the way…no one else worked on this job with me, and no company resources were spent on it.

          I suspect every recruiting firm has its own policy for people looking for other jobs, which is why my agreement says we are welcome to accept a job with a client. It also says we are responsible for the full amount of the fee if the client refuses to pay. My current company did not refuse to pay and actually would have been happy to pay the full amount if that’s what it came down to. He simply called to negotiate the fee with my previous employer. My previous employer did not have to reduce the amount but chose to do so. My real problem is with him saying my current company is not paying the full amount so now I am responsible for it. He only did this, though, after I asked him for my commission. Based on my agreement, he is due me any commission that I have earned, and he does not mention otherwise in his communication with me.

          I’ve tried to keep any personal items out of this discussion, but someone mentioned my previous employer sounds bitter, and that is definitely true. I was the top producer in a very small firm, and (based on what I have heard from friends who still work there) my leaving has sent him in a tailspin.

          Bottom line…will I grieve forever if I don’t get the commission on this? Absolutely not. Do I understand how my previous employer could justify invoicing for this placement? Yes. However, if he is invoicing for the recruiting work done on this, then he should pay the commission earned as well.

          1. MK*

            Frankly, OP, I think t would have been better, if at all possible, if you had just refered the new company to another recruiter and avoid this complicated scenario where you are both a recruiter and a candidate. It sounds to me you did create a very awkward situation by trying to have it both ways, give yourself the best chance for the new job and not lose anything in your old one. I get that it was allowed, but it was a bad idea.

            Also, it sounds to me that all this would have been avoided if your new employer had just paid the invoice instead of trying to “renegotiate” out of paying the full amount. I don’t see that they had any grounds to ask that, since they told you themselves to add yourself to the mix of candidates sent to them by the agency. And I can understand why your old employer felt they couldn’t say no to a client.

            Lastly, it sounds to me that your old employer does owe you the commission, but you do owe them the money their lost when your new company asked for a reduction in fees. They may indeed be bitter for losing you, but I would point out that they seem to have been willing to let it go till you asked for the commission; I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to think that, if you are going to insist on your rights per the employment agreement, they will do the same.

      2. Ron McDon*

        We wouldn’t expect the new employer to still pay the fee to the recruiter if they’d wound up hiring a candidate that didn’t go through the recruiter (such as an employee referral) would we?

        Ah, yes, I meant that had the OP, working as a recruiter, found them an employee the employer would have paid the fee – I didn’t make myself clear!

    2. Thlayli*

      it is a tricky one. One aspect is since oldjob only got half the pay, OP can really only expect half the commission at a maximum.

    3. Mirve*

      Perhaps the reduction in fee is equivalent to the commission?
      If so, I would drop pursuing the commission.

    4. Can't think of cool name*

      All of this and further, let’s not forget or discount the harm to reputation OPs actions could subject her former employer too. It is entirely likely that business and recruits will avoid working with former employer when this situation becomes known.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        I’m not sure if businesses would avoid the original agency, but I would if I were a recruit and had options.

    5. Jesmlet*

      Seems like OP got the job because she worked for the recruiting company (would be different if there was also an open advertisement for the position somewhere else) so her old employer should be able to bill for the full amount, and OP earned them that money (even if it was through ‘placing’ herself) so she should get the commission. But definitely look at the fine print on your agreement. Non-compete mumbo jumbo isn’t always bullshit.

    6. AKchic*

      It was pretty funny that the client would ask for a discount on the bill since they still got the services they wanted. They hired the company to find them an employee. They got an employee. They should pay for that. Full price. Doesn’t matter WHO the employee is or where the employee came from. The employment agency has every right to be miffed at the idea that the employer would even ask for a discount. I wonder if they hired the person just to try to pull that “discount” line, but that’s the cynic in me.

      I can also see the employment agency being mad at an employee inserting themselves into a job hunt, getting hired, losing half of the fee, and then asking for their commission on that reduced fee on top of everything else.

      I wholeheartedly agree that this really is a no-win situation for the employment agency because they’ve lost an employee, they will probably need to rewrite their employment contracts for their own employees because of this, they may lose a client, they’ve lost some money, and yes, everyone should have a lawyer to figure out who is owed what here. Messy all around.

    7. BeautifulVoid*

      The more I think it over, the more I believe Old Employer is behaving the least badly here. I’m not going to get into the ethics of what OP did here, but based on what we know, it doesn’t have the greatest optics for reasons other people have pointed out. Honestly, though, I think New Employer should have just paid the fee without trying to haggle. The job was done, they had an agreement, and the fact that OP is the new employee who got the job via Old Employer shouldn’t change anything. (And also, if we’re being totally honest here, I’m kind of side-eyeing New Employer for thinking that everything about this is A-Okay. It’s not clear at what point they learned OP was both an applicant and their recruiter, but nothing here indicates they ever thought twice about it, which…maybe they should have. And then not tried to argue about the fee, which I already said, but it bears repeating.) Is Old Employer being a little petty by sending the invoice? On the surface, it looks that way, but I really can’t blame them.

      OP, I can understand why your reaction to seeing that invoice was to ask for a commission, but I really hope that doesn’t come back to bite you. I don’t know what’s in the “mumb0-jumbo” and whether or not it’s enforceable, but I feel like the best course of action here would have been for your company to pay the (reduced!) fee, and then for everyone to let it go and cease contact with Old Employer.

      1. JenniCraft*

        Thank you for your insight. I did respond above about the sticky situation I was in with this, but I did handle it all on the up and up with the candidates and the new employer. In hindsight, I did the best I could do with old employer because I did not know for sure I would get this particular job. As I said above, I have tried not to insert personal thoughts into this, but those things do come into play. My old employer was an egotistical hothead who could be great one minute and blowing up, firing people the next. I was his longest-running employee at a little over three years, and I was his top producer of all time. He knew I was ready to move on after three years of his emotional roller coaster, but it was a touchy subject, as you can imagine.

        I think I just see things as very black and white sometimes. If he is going to bill for the placement, which I actually don’t argue he shouldn’t, then he should pay commission on it. The negotiation piece is common in the industry, so that really doesn’t bother me. Again…old employer did not have to reduce the fee.

        Interesting to hear all opinions on the matter…thanks again!

  5. Graciosa*

    Regarding #1, I disagree with Alison that you could have a productive post mortem even after the manager talks to Jane. She was just too much of the issue, and trying to have a conversation about fixing the problems while avoiding discussing a major cause is going to leave people feeling that the process (and their input) has no value.

    Other participants will have to avoid providing real feedback because it might be badly perceived – and the manager or facilitator will have to keep enforcing rules of conduct – and the net result will be that everyone other than Jane will feel this is adding insult to injury.

    As a manager, I just wouldn’t go there on this one – and I say that as someone who thinks “my” best ideas involve “directing” the team to do whatever they tell me would be best (and then giving them money and public kudos for getting it done).

    1. Wintermute*

      I agree entirely. It’s like asking “EXCEPT FOR THE GIANT ELEPHANT IN THE MIDDLE how do you like the room layout?”

      1. Wintermute*

        or slightly less tactfully, a debriefing at this point where you’re trying not to address Jane’s performance issues would be like the old joke “well aside from THAT Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?”

        1. OP #1*


          Yes, because of that, I think it’s wise to do what Alison suggested and have (at least!) two separate meetings.

    2. Yvette*

      I agree. It might be better to make note (private, among the managers) of the issues not related to Jane and have a meeting prior to the next holiday season where they can be presented to the group as potential pitfalls and ask for input then. Jane may even no longer be there at that point.

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        I kind of like this idea (at least in theory). It seems to me that this would give everyone some space and time reflect on what really happened. I think this also might be a really good way to keep the conversation forward thinking – as in “what can we do, during the upcoming busy season – that is soon to be upon us, to prevent issues x,y and z that came up last year” rather than “what just went wrong with x, y and z, that we’re all still annoyed and stressed, and yeah,yeah, yeah we all know Jane sucks, but besides that?”

    3. Mike C.*

      The more I think about this, the more concerned I am. How is it that the OP knows that the cause of the problem is actually Jane before the post-mortem has been performed?

      That’s the whole point of these sorts of meetings, right? To actually get to the bottom of what’s really going on? All we know now is that “Jane dropped the ball”. We (and I include the OP here) don’t know why.

      This rush to just assign blame is going to lead to more problems in the future.

      1. LBK*

        I know you love root cause analysis but sometimes it really is just as clear as “Jane dropped the ball”. I don’t get why we have to psychoanalyze everything – have none of you ever worked with a bad employee?

        1. Turquoisecow*

          But how do we know that Jane is the problem? Sure, Jane may not have done things she was supposed to do. But she’s new and part time, so it’s reasonable to assume that she may not know all the things she needs to know about how to ask for help if she’s overwhelmed, or even what tasks she was supposed to do. As a new, part-time employee, why did OP and others take as long as they did to realize Jane wasn’t doing the job? Should they have been supervising more closely? Did they give her more autonomy than she should have had at that point?

          It’s easy to throw the new person under the bus, but often the reason the person fails is because the company hasn’t adequately trained or supported them in this role.

          1. Dawn*

            I agree. Everyone is pointing their fingers at Jane, but she is new and part time. It’s easy to say it’s all her fault, but if she was set up for failure, by lack of training or mismanagement, then is it actually her fault? This could be an overall failure, bad employee + bad oversight = bad results.

            1. LBK*

              I guess I’m not clear what people think she should’ve been trained on better since she was doing the work at one point – how to prioritize? How to ask for help? Those aren’t generally things you teach people in onboarding.

              1. Mike C.*

                It’s impossible to know because the analysis hasn’t happened yet. Once the OP has some data, then conclusions can be arrived at and improvements can be made.

              2. Academic Addie*

                I, obviously, have no idea what’s going on in this workplace, and we don’t have the info to find out. But why would management call a post-mortem to figure out what went wrong if what went wrong is “Jane sucks”?

                I disagree that you don’t teach people how to prioritize and ask for help in onboarding. I largely put senior students in charge of onboarding newer student workers. I’ve definitely pulled aside senior students and said “Hey, by being snippy, you’re teaching the newbies not to ask for help.” And I definitely cover prioritizing. It’s not necessarily intuitive what functions are “must have” every day and which are floating wishlist items to a new person.

                I’m not saying all those things are the issue, and there’s nothing wrong with Jane. But if nothing larger is an issue, why have this meeting at all?

              3. SRB*

                Maybe it’s just me, but I totally do.
                Our (my, but the company moats broadly too) management approach here is “if you’re overwhelmed, we always have someone who can pick some of your work up and who could use the hours so please let us know in advance of the due date and we will lift your load.” But I’ve had some new employees coming from environments where the attitude was “get it done even if it means 80 hour work weeks, don’t ask questions because questions are stupid and you’re stupid for asking.” Or interns (usually current students) who have the same mindset. So in training I always say: “Tell me x days in advance if you have questions, or think you won’t get it done by the deadline and we will get a second person on it” I have to because otherwise I’ll get at least one person doing like Jane and not letting me know until after the deadline that they are swamped.

        2. Mike C.*

          Yes, sometimes that is the answer. But you don’t know that without bothering to look first. Even if you’re willing to actually look, coming in with preconceived notions can blind one to other issues that need fixing.

          1. LBK*

            I think what it comes down to for me is that I struggle to come up with mitigating circumstances that would reframe Jane’s behavior in such a light that I wouldn’t put at least 90% of the blame for what she did on herself. The only explanation I could come up with would be that this is such a toxic work environment that she couldn’t get help or was being blown off/yelled at for asking, and that’s a problem for management to figure out, not something to be solved in a group post mortem.

            1. Lora*

              Or she was given conflicting information and nobody senior gave her a clear decision on which direction to take. Or the information she was given was completely contrary to every industry standard. Or the staff are hoarding information because they believe it makes them un-fire-able/immune to layoffs. Or there is a corporate culture of information being stuck in silos and people simply don’t respond to requests at all because “that’s not my department” even though the question is about teapot handles and they are in the Department of Handles. Or the person she asked is an a-hole in general and gave her a nonsense answer. Or the person assigned to teach her kept routing her to the wrong people. Or the person she asked is mired so deep in office politics that literally anyone asking them anything no matter how polite is treated like HOW DARE YOU QUESTION MY BRILLIANCE. I can think of about a zillion reasons, all encountered in real life, why maybe Jane did ask for help and didn’t get any and now people are all innocently (read: disingenuously) asking, gosh golly gee how did this come to pass?

        3. Observer*

          Root cause analysis is not about “psychoanalyzing” things. It’s about figuring out all of the pieces of what went wrong from beginning to end.

          A good analysis will look at several questions, including:

          Was the process reasonable?

          Why was Jane overwhelmed?

          Why did no one catch the problem sooner?

          Was Jane properly trained? Was she given all of the information she needed, and was it correct? (This can cover a LOT of ground.)

          Did she know who was supposed to help her if she had a problem, was the person the one who would be expected to understand her issues and was that person someone she had confidence she could approach? If no to any part of this, why not?

          This is not an exhaustive list. But these are all questions that need to be answered to avoid similar messes in the future.

          1. OP #1*

            Wow, hi everyone!

            First of all, I would like to say that we’re absolutely an office where questions can be asked. Prior to this issue, we were getting along with Jane very well, she was doing a great job, and we were very pleased with her work. Whenever she had questions or needed help, we were happy to step in and show her the ropes. So her lack of communication over holiday about feeling overwhelmed came as a surprise.

            Second, to Academic Addie’s question: there were definitely items separate from Jane’s performance that affected holiday, which is why it’s important for us to have a post-mortem regardless. To Mike C. and LBK: you’re both right! Some of these decisions probably affected Jane’s feeling overwhelmed, so it’s certainly possible that there are root causes. However, she chose to not say anything to us about that feeling, which ultimately led to us taking over parts of her job and finding out that there was even more to be done during crunch time. That’s the part that feels like a Jane problem.

            1. Observer*

              From what you are saying, it sounds like you need to address more than Jane. I do definitely agree that Jane dropped the ball here, but you still need to address the other issues AND you need to figure out why Jane did something like this. It’s always a reasonable question, even when you’re dealing with something that’s an automatic firing offense (I’m not saying this is) or someone who has a tendency to do poor work. When it’s something that’s out of character, it’s especially important, because you don’t want this to happen again – not with Jane, and not with someone else. So, was her failure to communicate a “JUST Jane” problem (eg something was going on in her life that was affecting her) or a “Jane reacting poorly to something in the workplace.”

              1. a1*

                From what you are saying, it sounds like you need to address more than Jane.

                OP1 knows this, and has stated it several times. I’m not sure why people keep bringing it up as some revelation or additional recommendation.

                1. Observer*

                  Two reasons. Some people are pushing the idea that Jane is the problem and that that’s really the only thing that needs to be addressed. Also, what the OP says doesn’t entirely answer some of the potential questions that a good PM process should cover.

                  And, I give the OP credit for recognizing this.

  6. BePositive*

    #4 – that is a weird reaction. I wouldn’t want to work with anyone who took it personally thinking they were ‘blocked when they aren’t a personal friend. But….a client is a client and as a freelancer you may not have this luxury. Could you create a business page? This is what I do so I don’t have to friend clients and keeps your access to you current

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      She has a business page.

      ” I was reachable the whole time through Facebook Messenger — which she used to contact me after her “overreaction” anyway — not to mention my professional Facebook page (which was still up and running), LinkedIn, and my website. “

      1. MK*

        Which then begs the question why the client tried to make contact through the personal page. While I agree the client’s reaction was weirdly personal and frankly childish, the OP should probably reconsider how she uses social media for her bussiness. If you did have contact with the client through your personal site, don’t do that in the future. If it’s not easy to tell which is your personal and which your bussiness page, this is a problem. And keep in mind that you might have multiple ways to get in touch with you available, but many clients might not bother to look for them: if they strike out when reaching out to you once, they will move on to the next candidate.

        1. Triplestep*

          I assumed that the Facebook communication was initiated by the client, which would have been a huge red flag for me as a freelancer. But if OP had initiated contact this way herself in the first place, then yes … She probably should rethink that. Call me old-school, but I think email should be the default for business communication because it is the most universally used and the most natural for paper-trail forming.

          1. sap*

            I had the weirdest experience with a small business the other day. They found my personal Facebook and personally messaged me a coupon code… Then followed up a little bit later when I hadn’t used the code yet.

            I’m still going to keep patronizing the business, but it was creepy like woah.

            1. Namast'ay in Bed*

              That’s actually a Facebook advertising option now! And while I agree it’s def a little creepy/off-putting, it’s not actually them personally seeking you out, it’s just a different form of an ad showing up in your newsfeed, but in messenger instead. I believe there’s also an option to add a follow-up message if you haven’t responded or interacted with the original offer, so again, nothing personal. (But still a little creepy!)

            2. AKchic*

              I had this happen too!
              I liked what I thought was a fan page because I liked the content. Turned out to be a secondary business page, but nowhere within my scrolling did I see any advertising of goods or services. Just memes. Within 15 minutes, I was IM’d a coupon code for the business website, good for that day only. Now, I already liked the business page, but it really made me question liking the business page, or the fan page (both sci-fi content). It seemed disingenuous.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            It’s possible that the business and personal accounts aren’t as blatantly separate. One of my good friends has two Facebook accounts, one personal and one business. The personal is her first name and middle name and the second one is her first name and last name. I get them confused myself sometimes. Her name is unique enough that it might not be so obvious.

            From what was written by the OP, it sounds like the OP was participating on a Facebook thread and the potential client interacted with her there. If she was doing so on her personal account, I could see how it was confusing for the client even if the OP provided instructions on how to contact her through her business account.

          3. Susana*

            My thoughts precisely, Triple. What is this – junior high? Who contacts a business client/contractor through Facebook? LinkedIn, maybe – and then only if you can’t track them down in any normal way. This reminds me of people who get offended when I haven’t let them know if I’m coming to a party they’re having, when all they did was post the notice on Facebook (which I’m on maybe 5 times a year, tops).

            1. Windchime*

              Gahh, I hate this. I have family members that do this–they do invitations to things like baby showers through a Facebook invitation which I somehow never see. It’s just not something that grabs my attention.

              Call me. Text me. Heck, send me an invitation in the mail. But stop with the weird Facebook “events”.

        2. Elizabeth*

          “the OP should probably reconsider how she uses social media for her bussiness”

          Yeah, it sounded like OP first met the potential client in conversation on a Facebook wall, so it’s possible that the potential client wasn’t even aware that OP had a business page and couldn’t have found their way to it via the deactivated personal page.

          It might make sense to use the business account to engage in any job-related discussions on public Facebook pages so that if you *do* meet potential clients, they’re engaging with your business account and not the personal account, which makes follow-up way easier.

          (If OP *was* using the business account to interact but the client tried to jump straight to the personal account, then that’s just weird.)

        3. Jesmlet*

          Right, this is the weirdest part for me. Had they used OP’s personal FB to message each other before? How else would the client see OP’s personal page? If I had a business page on FB, I’d probably change my personal page to First Name Middle Name so the two aren’t tied so closely together, and never mix their uses.

          1. OP#4*

            Thanks for the advice about the FB deactivation to both Alison and the commenters!

            To clarify: I commented on a mutual friend’s FB thread (not job-related, but field-related) with my personal name, and the contractor engaged with me there. She sent me a message on the messenger app to continue the discussion. She asked if we could continue to be in contact, and I replied yes, but let her know email was the best way to reach me.

            Re: the business/personal FB page access: I have a separate invisible FB account that I use in order to keep the business page visible when I take social media vacations, so it was definitely up and running. Not only that — my personal Facebook messenger app was still online. (When you block someone, even that disappears to the blocked person). To me this makes it even weirder to me that this avenue wasn’t used until after the job was given to someone else.

            The only thing I can think of was that I didn’t put my email address in the original message. This was remiss of me, but — well, I was still findable, and message-able, and email-able (my address is posted on the other avenues). But maybe she felt I gave mixed signals?

            I guess my own lesson is that I just need to be SUPER clear about how to be reachable and maybe draw a bigger line in the sand when it comes to interacting with people on my personal page and personal messenger. I am indeed friends with a *lot* of people in my field on my personal page, and it’s hard to avoid crossover with work and friend relationships. I tried once to remove people that weren’t “real” friends and encourage them to follow my business page, but it is pretty par for the course in my field for people to personally “friend” each other when they meet on a job. I do restrict my personal page — people who are not close with me don’t see personal posts — but drawing a line in the sand is really, really hard to do because it’s just so gray between connections and friends.

            This never used to be an issue because I was NEVER contacted for a job outside of email. Even phone messages are out of the norm now, but it has happened. However, this year I had several people contact me through FB messenger for work which is REALLY weird for me. I always thanked them and asked them to email me directly with the details. It’s worked out okay, but I still don’t understand it — it just seems like such an unreliable means of doing business. But even then, I didn’t think deactivating the personal page would cause issues, because I’m so reachable outside it.

            In any case, thanks so much to all of you for the insight on this!

  7. Someone else*

    OP4 said she does have a business page, and it was still up the whole time. That’s part of what makes the client’s behaviour extra weird. I never use Facebook so I don’t know if the notifications are generic or specific or if there’s any logical reason why one person deactivating her account might read to another account that previously were friended with it (and I’m not even sure if that’s the case here) would look similar or the same as “so-and-so has unfriended and/or blocked you). I was under the impression from conversations I’ve heard other people have about such things that when someone’s been blocked there’s usually a way to do it such that they don’t know, and thus won’t come barking at you about it (friends do this with relatives all the time, so it seems). So unless I’m misguided there, which I realize is very possible, I think all signs currently point to “this client is weird and taking not-personal things personally.”

    1. Gen*

      My in-laws haven’t spoken to me in a month because I deactivated my facebook and it “looked like I blocked them” (this statement from a tech savvy 30-something) so I guess blocking and deactivation look similar? I did actually deactivated because I felt I couldn’t safely block them- I’d rather leave than offend them specifically- so that was annoying. Professionally speaking though, I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t use a more professional method of contact. I guess this is a warning not to connect with employers on Facebook?

      1. Doreen Kostner*

        I think that whether you block someone or deactivate your account, it looks the same to them- when they search for your account, they won’t see it. You can also “unfriend someone” which means you won’t show up in their friends list ( and they can therefore discover you are no longer friends) but they can still find you in a search or “unfollow” them , which means you will still show up on their friends list but you won’t see their posts in your news feed. But I also think a lot of people use the terms incorrectly , such as saying they’ve “blocked” someone when in actuality they have ‘unfollowed” that person.

      2. AKchic*

        You can also “Mute” them. I love the “Mute” button. There was also a feature I saw that allowed you to “Take a break”, but I haven’t seen it in a bit. Granted, I haven’t taken a look in a while for it either. I happily unfollow and mute people I have to work with for volunteer things. I expect that they mute me too. We are necessary evils in each other’s lives.

    2. VintageLydia*

      When you block someone, if they search for your page they wont find it, and all your comments/likes/etc will be gone (you’ll still see the count, though. Like if a post says it has two comments but only one shows up… that’s why.

      Deactivation looks exactly the same.

      For unfriending, you can still search and find their page, but only see the information you have set as public.

      You can UNFOLLOW someone and you will still show up on your friends list, but their posts won’t appear on your timeline. You can still navigate to their page to read things (this is what I do with annoying relatives.) But they can still see your stuff on their timeline unless they unfollowed you, too, so you still have to be mindful/adjust privacy settings if you don’t want them to see things.

      1. Arjay*

        You can also stay friends with someone but put them onto your restricted list. They will still see you on their friends list, but they will only see your public posts. I’ve done this and I intentionally post innocuous things to public so I don’t disappear completely.

    3. Kyrielle*

      There are tools that can detect when someone has “unfriended” you – they can’t tell blocked vs unfriended vs deleted tho, at least the ones I’ve seen – and alert you. Why you’d *want* that, I have no idea.

  8. Massmatt*

    #1–IMO there are THREE dysfunctions here. 1) is the most obvious–Jane did not do the work, did not tell anyone “hey I cannot do this work” or whatever, and others had to step in and add to their own workload to carry hers. But 2) what sort of organization has Jane take on additional duties without adequate supervision (it wasn’t noticed for weeks), and why is it Jane couldn’t/wouldn’t do them? Was she trained? Was she supported? And especially if the answers to those questions are “yes”, the 3) Why are the very people who had to take on Jane’s duties (in addition to their own) worried above all else about making sure JANE is not put on the spot?

    I agree with Allison that the main discussion should be between Jane and her manager, but it sounds like there are bigger issues to discuss also.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I came here to say something similar to point 2 and I believe some careful thought is needed on why Jane didn’t say anything. Is that a failing in her or was something else lacking? Why did nobody notice? Did she have a clear person to tell and know she could?

      I’ve had jobs where I didn’t feel able to speak up when I was drowning. And if she’s new and it’s a Christmas rush someone should have had more oversight.

      1. MK*

        Ok, but Jane’s reaction is an issue regardless. If I found out, I had massively mess up a part of my job, even if there were extenuating circumstances, even if someone else failed in some way that contributed to that, I would be mortified. If her reaction is to sit back and let others do her work without even apologising, maybe it would be better to worry about how to make her realise she screwed up than trying to sheild her from critisism.

      2. sap*

        Yeah, it sounds like there was a least some aspect of “Jane got hired right before the Christmas rush and got thrown in the deep end, and we were surprised by and unprepared for that result!” Which is not indicative of a healthy workplace–that’s probably on #1’s management rather than #1, but if one (newly hires, untested person) can gum up your system, the system is the most broken part of that machine.

        1. LBK*

          People get hired when they get hired…I don’t think it would’ve made sense to delay her start date for a month or two just so she could avoid coming on during the busy period. That’s not necessarily indicative of a bad workplace, just the natural passage of time. Some people end up getting hired during the busy season, it just happens.

          1. Observer*

            The issue isn’t that they hired someone at a bad time, but that they didn’t factor that into their planning. It’s quite probable that she should have had less thrown at her, and CERTAIN that she should have had more oversight.

            1. LBK*

              I would agree if she had never been doing the work in the first place, but it sounds like she was doing it and then stopped – so she’d gotten enough training or whatever other preparation she needed to be able to do the tasks. And once someone’s proven they understand the work well enough to do it autonomously, I don’t think it’s normal to continue to supervise them. That starts to get into micromanagement.

              I’ve had times where I end up having so much to do that I get paralyzed by not knowing how to prioritize, so I’ll end up going to my boss to work through it and figure out what order to do things in, what to delegate, what to postpone, etc. It sounds like this employee got to that point and instead of asking for help, just shut down completely and only did the things she was comfortable doing. That’s unacceptable, and I don’t think it’s a failure of the workplace.

              1. Phoenix Programmer*

                Checking in regularly for the first couple of weeks with spot checks after that to insure new hire is doing well is not micromanaging.

              2. Phoenix Programmer*

                As a manager it also strikes me as odd no one was checking in with the new hire during their first busy season.

              3. Wicked Odd*

                I suspect that the problem was unclear priorities, considering it was a new hire. I’ve seen inexperienced employees do the parts of the job they understand (or the parts that haven’t since been gummed up by whatever internal process) and end up having the frictionless stuff fill up their time. That leaves them dropping the ball on the hard stuff.

                I’m seeing a general feeling in the comments that an employee will just “not do” parts of their job, which is unacceptable. While that’s true (those things need to get done), there will always be employees that need guidance in prioritizing (especially when they start a new job!)

                1. teclatrans*

                  Yes, this is what I was thinking (but didn’t have words to describe), I was thinking perhaps Jane wad doing the frictionless work and hoping that she would somehow miraculously get to the overwhelming stuff later.

                  OP1 says Jane had been a very good coworker before Holiday hit, so I think there is a very good chance that even this “Jane-specific” problem has some basis in process issues.

          2. Mike C.*

            The point is more that this problem is likely much more complicated than simply “the newbie temp screwed up”. A good analysis hasn’t even been performed yet.

        2. SignalLost*

          Going from “fairly new” in OP to “hired right before the Christmas rush” is a really generous stretch.

          1. OP #1*

            Thanks for pointing this out! She was hired late summer and received the bulk of her training before Christmas season. She had full control over the job several weeks before any of this started happening.

      3. LBK*

        But if it’s the Christmas rush I also don’t know that it’s reasonable for that oversight to occur – sounds like everyone was already swamped and didn’t have time to babysit her.

        It’s also one thing to not say anything at the time (which I think is still a massive, massive issue that I would possibly fire her over) but to not even say anything after it’s been discovered and others are taking over her work? At the very least she could apologize and say she got overwhelmed and wasn’t sure to do, but she seems to be carrying on as though this is all completely normal.

        1. Observer*

          If they have someone who needs supervision and no means to provide it, their system is broken. If you can’t provide the things that are reasonably needed for success, then that’s your problem. Also, what was missing here was not “babysitting” but reasonable amount of supervision. The fact that it took weeks to discover that major parts of her job were not being done really indicated more balls were dropped that just Jane’s.

          That’s not to excuse Jane – I could easily see her being fired over this. And that’s why I agree with Alison that the manager has to deal with Jane separately and have the PM for all of the other issues.

          1. LBK*

            It sounds like she had been doing the work at one point, so if someone is doing their job I don’t get why you need to regularly check in on them just to make sure they don’t stop at some point. It’s such a weird and almost shocking thing to do that I don’t think it would even occur to most bosses to check. I mean, I could probably get away with not doing half my job and it would take weeks for my boss to notice enough for it to form a pattern, because most of my deliverables don’t go through him. If I’m sending things straight to the end recipient most of the time, it’s not until multiple people come back to him and say “LBK hasn’t responded to my request in 2 weeks, what’s going on?” that he might realize what’s happening.

            1. Observer*

              Because doing something and being able to do it at significantly higher speeds, under significantly higher pressure simply is not the same thing. She’s relatively new, and doing things that have significant impact on workflow yet it took WEEKS for anyone to notice that there was a complete breakdown. That’s a failure of management.

        2. J*

          If it’s Christmas rush and there’s a new employee then the better choice may have been to have the additional help she was eventually given stay late weeks earlier than they did. If it took two coworkers to help with half her job then they likely assigned too much. I agree with others who have said they should look at why it wasn’t noticed or Jane didn’t say anything. It’s entirely possible that she did say something, but the person who over assigned the work ignored Jane there as well.

    2. OP #1*

      Hi Massmatt! You make some excellent points here, and I really appreciate it.

      Re: 1, that’s what we’re going to try and deal with, possibly in a one-on-one “boss and Jane only” meeting.

      Re: 2, the additional duties were going on smoothly prior to holiday rush. I imagine that as things got busier, it’s possibly Jane felt less supported, but then we go back to issue 1: why didn’t she say anything? To be fair, there isn’t a great supervising system, but there are only five of us total (one boss, four employees). We’re each focused on our own areas, so it’s not always easy for us to realize when someone else isn’t doing their part.

      Re: 3, I don’t want the other legitimate issues—communication with vendors, not ordering enough shipping supplies, etc.—to get lost in a swirl of “Jane ruined Christmas!” I wanted Alison’s input on a solution that works through all the issues and doesn’t end with Jane quitting on us in a huff because she felt personally attacked.

  9. nnn*

    For #1, while I do agree that Jane should be given guidance in private, one thing that you might consider doing in the plenary postmortem is to introduce a New Rule: if you suspect you might not be able to handle your assigned workload, err on the side of speaking up sooner rather than later. Under this New Rule, saying that you might not be able to handle it is officially deemed Responsible and Professional, and no one will face professional or social censure for speaking up.

    Something in your work environment either led Jane to believe that speaking up would be a bad idea, or failed to disabuse her of her pre-existing notion that speaking up would be a bad idea. Making this an Official Rule would address these situations, both now with Jane and with potential future employees. It would also give you a framework to nip in the bud any behaviours or attitudes that might subtly dissuade people from speaking up.

    Several years ago, my workplace had great success at implementing a cultural change that many people didn’t even realize we needed by introducing “New Rule: err on the side of overcommunicating.” Some things had fallen through the cracks because some people made assumptions and other people felt foolish asking questions. By specifically instructing us to overcommunicate, they created an environment in which people didn’t feel as foolish asking questions or making clarifications because they were specifically following instructions, and people didn’t respond with surprise when other sought clarifications about the obvious because that was exactly what we had just been instructed to do. Going in, a lot of people would have said that this rule is unnecessary and it’s glaringly obvious when to communicate, but introducing the rule resulted in a clear, almost-immediate improvement. Perhaps something similar would help in OP#1’s workplace.

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      This. At my summer job the bosses literally told us to never assume we knew something when we weren’t sure and to ask questions. They’d rather have you ask one question too many than several too few.
      Nurture the kind of environment where asking questions or asking for help isn’t considered stupid or annoying, and make sure your employees *know* they’re not being considered stupid or annoying for doing any of these things.

    2. JamieS*

      Another possibility that I’m not sure was considered is maybe Jane didn’t realize the full extent of her responsibilities so didn’t know she was behind or needed to ask for help. I know OP framed it as Jane intentionally didn’t do her job (which is also very likely) but OP’s also coming from a place of experience where it may be obvious that XYZ need to be done whereas Jane may have only known XY needed to be done. OP also mentioned having to stay late to pack and ship the new items so I’m presuming part of Jane’s job involved the new processes of selling new items and shipping from their location. Was Jane hired specifically for that or was this something new she needed to learn? If it was new, what was the training like? Was it formal training or more of a fly by night learn as we go type of training?

      Overall it sounds to me like there’s definitely an issue with Jane not meeting expectations but I don’t think OP’s company should approach it as “this is a Jane issue not a company issue”. Even if it was 100% Jane intentionally not speaking up the fact it went weeks before anyone noticed speaks to there likely being an issue with proper supervision at the least.

    3. LBK*

      I’m not sure why people are so ardently defending that the workplace must be the issue and not accepting that Jane might just not be a great employee…I’m not saying it’s impossible that there’s a communication problem in the office but I don’t think it’s up to them to teach her basic professional expectations like asking questions when you don’t understand something, which is perfectly fine in all but the most truly dysfunctional offices.

      1. Observer*

        I think what you are missing is that it’s not an either / or situation. Jane is most definitely a problem. But, the workplace definitely has problems as well. This is based on both what happened and what the OP explicitly says.

        1. LBK*

          I guess I just don’t agree that we have enough info to say the workplace has problems – the admittance of other elements of a project having some issues doesn’t mean the workplace as a whole is inherently flawed. Most long-term projects run into some problems that are worth discussing and learning from, I doubt there’s a single workplace out there that carries off every project without a hitch.

          1. Phoenix Programmer*

            New employee causing problems unnoticed for weeks almost tanking most important time of year is a company problem.

          2. JamieS*

            I don’t think anyone is saying the company as a whole is problematic or inherently flawed. Just that the company may have also had some shortcomings that contributed to the specific problem OP wrote about. After all, most workplace problems aren’t either the employee is 100% at fault or the company is 100% at fault.

      2. Cassandra*

        There is quite a bit of management and organizational-behavior theory and research (from Deming on up) indicating that blame-the-person is frequently a cop-out that won’t solve problems with the system in which the blamed person is embedded.

        Commenters are picking up on (to my mind, quite reasonable) clues in the OP’s letter that the whole workplace has solvable issues that contributed to the Jane fiasco, and recommending that the OP fix those in addition to dealing appropriately with Jane. I agree, because replacing Jane won’t automatically fix e.g. the lack of project monitoring that let Jane’s issues snowball unbeknownst to everyone else.

        1. LBK*

          I’m not denying that scapegoats are a thing, but sometimes people do just suck at their jobs. It’s a big stretch to me to suggest that the project having some other issues could indicate that the company is so toxic that Jane couldn’t even do one of the most simple, basic things a professional is expected to do: ask for help if she doesn’t understand something.

          I really believe environments that completely quash that are rare – I think much more often it’s people having their own issues with lack of confidence or fear of looking stupid that would pressure them into keeping their mouths shut regardless of how open their workplace is. I say this because I’ve had multiple situations where someone just quietly failed because they were scared to ask questions even though plenty of other people in that role had had no problem doing so, so it’s clear it wasn’t the office environment that was the problem.

          I feel a certain level of empathy for Jane if she does have those kinds of issues that make it hard for her to speak up…but I also don’t think it’s necessarily her employer’s job to help her get better at that. You kinda have to figure that one out for yourself.

      3. Lora*

        Because the workplace would have discovered that Jane was not the most awesome employee ever long before she messed up the whole project if they were providing appropriate supervision.

        You give a new person some kind of training and a basic project and you assign them a mentor before you increase their workload, and you calculate that it will take 2.5X as long as a fully trained person would take to do the task, and slow down the mentor by 50% because they will have to explain what they are doing and move slowly. If they are screwups, both you and they will find out quickly: they will realize they can’t manage the pace or workload, the mentor and you will realize that they are learning too slow or don’t have a talent for it or whatever. At that point it’s only been a couple of weeks, so you call back your second best interviewee and ask if they’d like a job. The person who is not fitting in might have other options still available. That’s pretty basic Supervising People 101.

        However, in the middle of busy season where everyone is working flat out and doesn’t have capacity for trainees, you give the new employee a pass on not picking things up or training mistakes or inappropriate use of shortcuts or whatever, because you didn’t put in the time to teach them properly. That’s on you as the manager to assign low risk tasks in such a time period, so if the person screws up due to lack of supervision it’s not a total disaster.

    4. Mike C.*

      I don’t think this is a bad idea, but what is a bad idea is rushing to solutions before a solid analysis is performed.

      1. LBK*

        I agree there. Creating a sweeping rule like that (which honestly sounds weird and ineffective to me) is going to be very off-putting to the rest of the team if the issue is just that Jane sucked.

      2. Lora*

        I have not-fond memories of a notorious information hoarder (trying to make himself indispensable, hahahaha) shouting “if you don’t know something, ask!” in response to being told that he hadn’t provided an acceptable amount of information for tech transfer. When the piles of emails from various people asking were produced, he changed the subject and refused to discuss it further.

        He did the same thing in response to being told unequivocally that his math was wrong. Like AxB=C arithmetic. No, I’m not asking how to do the math, I’m telling YOU how to math…

        If there was an executive meeting other groups weren’t invited to, which directly affected them, and it was his actual job to communicate the information, and he hadn’t and the other groups were angry to find out that they had to re-do work as a result: “If you don’t know, ask!”

        In general, being able to write a clear and concise specification and/or scope of work is a good skill for everyone to have. It will save ever so much grief down the road.

    5. OP #1*

      I do think that is a great rule, and I appreciate you adding it to the discussion.

      I’m not sure it would work for us, though. Jane felt totally comfortable asking questions during her training and her first few months (before holiday rush), and we were happy to walk her through whatever issue she had. Her lack of communication during holiday—at least to her full-time coworkers!–came as a total surprise.

  10. echidna*

    #1: As a systems person, I wouldn’t assume that the root cause is Jane. If I had a penny for every time a company or bank or whatever blamed the new hire for whatever stuff-up happened, I would at least be richer. I suspect a training/management failure contributed strongly to the debacle. Also, I would guess that Jane was overwhelmed, and did not even have a sense of how to get the support she needed. Did she have written reporting requirements? A checklist of tasks, and who to go to for help? What training did she have? Did anyone check in on her, asking detailed questions that would have shown the problem?

    1. Kerr*

      Agreed. I mean, Jane clearly needed to communicate instead of not doing her job – this was a major screw-up. But management REALLY needs to review their own actions before all responsibility for the screw-up is thrown on the part-time new hire. (!) As someone who’s been thrown in the deep end and had people assume that I even knew what tasks were mine and how they were supposed to be done, I kinda feel for Jane.

      Sounds like it would be a good idea for all the employees to have one-on-one meetings with their manager to debrief, not just Jane.

    2. SallytooShort*

      I think there is a lot to this.

      Jane is clearly in the wrong for not communicating.

      But how did a new person who only works part-time get into this situation?

      A postmortem should focus on how the organization can change to prevent that happening again regardless of whether it’s Jane. And I do get it’s very, very small. But there are systems to put in place.

      1. SignalLost*

        Why is everyone assuming Jane was hired five minutes ago and of course she cracked? Fairly new is NOT the same as hired last week.

        1. Phoenix Programmer*

          For PT even if she was hired a month ago that’s only 2 weeks experience. Regardless “fairly new” implies “first Christmas rush” so really their should have been more oversight or at least check-ins detailed enough to discover a significant portion of her work was going undone.

          1. SignalLost*

            But from that standpoint, it was everyone’s first Christmas rush with new products and processes. Leaving aside that I am specifically addressing the commenters in this post who have gone from “fairly new”, which could be August on back to me, to just hired and untrained, there also the issue that when I have worked in orgs or departments that small (most of my career), there is less oversight and it’s on the employee to say when they’re sinking. You simply don’t have the layer of redundant management to make micromanagement possible. A good manager will still ask for progress reports (and I think that is something highly useful to discuss in a PM) but there is a lot of independent work at that size, and it is on the employee to say if they’re having a problem with their work. (It is anuwhere, really, but my current department has seven or eight managers, and the odds they’ll notice you struggling with something are much higher than I’ve had in the past. I’ve had jobs where, even aside from business trips, I didn’t see my manager for a week at a time.)

            1. LBK*

              I agree – many roles are expected to be autonomous and bosses don’t really have direct insight to productivity. My boss doesn’t see most of the work I do unless he was CC’d on the original email request and thus gets copied on my reply, but for the most part I’m just in direct communication with the end recipient of my work and it’s all just done in Excel, so there’s no central metric tracker for my boss to look at and see how many requests I’ve fulfilled.

              And moreover, there shouldn’t need to be – it’s just expected that I’m doing my job and letting him know when I have issues. We do have regular check-ins but even during those it’s incumbent on me to let him know what’s going on because like I said, he doesn’t have visibility to the specific things I’m working on a lot of the time. If I just say “everything’s good, don’t need any help,” how’s he supposed to know differently?

              If Nina is, say, in customer service and handling inquiries directly with clients and just stops answering those emails, it’s really easy that no one would know until a client escalated it to her boss, because who would expect that you’d need to ensure an employee was actually doing their job?

            2. Phoenix Programmer*

              A week sure – but several when u r fairly new everyone is trying out new processes and no one was checking time lines? That is bad management.

              Also we don’t know that new hire doesn’t speak up. The op is a coworker and not a boss and really can’t know the full extent of new hire and bosses discussions attend processes. For all we know new how spine up early on and was told “make it work” so kept quite after that. That would also explain the lack of apology.

            3. Observer*

              Sure, it’s generally on an employee to speak up when they are overwhelmed. But it is ALSO on the manager to notice when large amounts of work are being left undone for more than a few days. Between basic supervision of the employee AND of the work – of that employee and of the others whose work is being affected, this should have popped up much sooner than it did.

              What is really telling here is that it wasn’t even the boss who caught the problem, but her co-workers.

              When you know that you are significantly changing your process and you have a relatively new hire on board, extra supervision just has to be part of the plan. If it isn’t that’s on the planner. Not that it excuses someone who just stops doing her job and doesn’t even apologize. It just means that there is a problem with both the employee AND employer.

              1. LBK*

                I just don’t think we have enough info about the timeline here to be definitive that she was dropped into the deep end too soon – some people seem to be inferring she was hired, like, the day the busy season started, but the letter is vague enough that she could’ve already been there for a few months, which is plenty of time to be expected to be up and running at many jobs. And I’ll reiterate that she *was* doing the work at some point, so I think once someone’s operating on their own, you shouldn’t have to expect to come back every week and say “Hey, you’re still doing your job, right?”

                I think it also depends what kind of work she was doing. If she was, like, working in shipping and hadn’t fulfilled any orders in a month, then I agree that one’s on management for not noticing sooner. But if a big part of her work was more ad hoc, siloed and with nebulous timelines (like most of my work is) then that could easily be dropped and no one would be the wiser until someone went to her boss and said “Is Nina out of the office? I haven’t heard back on my email from 2 weeks ago.”

                FWIW it also makes a lot more sense to me that her coworkers would catch it before her bosses because if she is doing work with dependencies, her coworkers would probably be the ones most impacted by her not delivering her work. I’m the one who needs to use the compensation report from our payroll team, not their manager, so I’m gonna notice sooner than they will if I don’t have it.

                1. Observer*

                  If she’s “relatively new” then she’s clearly never had a busy season “full steam ahead”. That is always different enough that you simply cannot assume that someone will just know what they need to be doing. Any manager that makes that assumption is not doing their job well.

                  Her work clearly wasn’t nebulous – it directly impacted the ability to ship products. And, it shouldn’t take weeks to notice that someone is not responding to emails / turning around orders or whatever.

                  Lastly, as you noticed, her coworkers’ tasks were apparently dependent on her work. Yet, the manager not only failed to notice that Jane’s work was not being done, but that the work that was dependent on it was ALSO being pushed back. That should have led the manager to ask questions a LOT sooner.

                  I don’t necessarily think that the place is toxic. But I have yet to see a well managed organization where something like this could happen. And any time I have seen someone’s lack of work flying under the radar for so long, it’s been part of a larger issue,

          1. SignalLost*

            Yes, actually, they are. The thread above this one about this letter is starting from the default assumption Jane was hired right before the rush to deal with the rush. This thread is also veering into that territory.

    3. Lora*

      Yes, this. Also, is Jane’s boss named Ken? I once had a manager who was so insanely toxic that if you asked a question, no matter how reasonable, you would be berated as stupid and incompetent. Then you would spend half a day frantically researching industry standards and asking other people because you would doubt yourself so much. He did this to everyone, even 25+ year industry veterans would walk out of meetings with this guy wondering what the heck happened. And of course he loaded everyone up with 20 projects and refused to set priorities or accept anyone else’s reasonable priorities so everything got 1/20th done until people in other departments gave up and did it themselves in frustration. The department quickly had 100% turnover and contractors refusing to work with him.

      Also have seen multiple companies with “throw em in the deep end” training methods and management wondering why they basically function on the heroics of a few long time employees.

      Not that I haven’t seen woefully incompetent employees with the work ethic of my ex-husband, but they tend to quit fast when training and mentoring and supervision are all sufficient. Or you notice fast, anyway.

    4. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I really, really wish more folks would consider this perspective. Rarely is the person really the cause of problems.

    5. Tuxedo Cat*

      I think it’s worthwhile investigating this. It seems like this could have or should have been caught before the situation became a crisis.

    6. AKchic*

      You know – you aren’t wrong. At all.
      I don’t know how many times I have started a new job, to find that the job is a cluster of disaster, to be told “just figure it out” with absolutely no guidance and the expectation that I *will* figure it out (because that’s what I’ve been hired to do – to be the magical whiz person since I’m the 20 year old magical manic pixie receptionist/fairy godmother). Anytime I asked for guidance it would be met with exasperation and the tone of general dismay that I was a disappointment and a bad choice of hire because I couldn’t just figure out their clusterfrak that they couldn’t figure out, or didn’t want to figure out. They didn’t want help, they just wanted it to go away, and they wanted the low-man on the totem pole to be the scapegoat should anything be looked at later on.

      I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here. I’m saying that management needs to ensure that if low-person staff is feeling overwhelmed or has questions, they have a clear-cut way of asking for help and they don’t feel like they are being judged or minimized.

      1. OP #1*

        Wow! I have to say, I was not expecting the wave of “maybe it’s company culture” in the comments, but it’s certainly worth looking into. I think as coworkers, we’ve done a good job of being there for each other, being open to questions (especially because Jane started in August), and generally creating a welcoming work environment. However, as some people have aptly pointed out, I don’t know how my boss and Jane have interacted, so it’s entirely possible there’s something there that I would know nothing about.

        Regarding how things are managed: it’s not the worst place I’ve ever worked, but it’s not the smoothest, either. Hence why there are other important things to discuss in a post-mortem that don’t have anything to do with Jane’s performance (but easily could have affected her).

        Thanks everyone, for making me think more deeply about this problem!

        1. Observer*

          I give you a lot credit for listening to all of this with an open mind and trying to take something useful out of this.

  11. Greg M.*

    you know before reading this blog I never would have imagined there were so many different companies making teapots and that it required such expertise. Also it sounds like an industry filled with drama, you get so many teapot makers writing in here. makes me happy I went for programming.

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      Not to mention the amount of companies working with llamas. Never knew they were so much in demand.

      1. Agatha_31*

        I called around to different post-secondary institutions asking about what sort of llama grooming degree options they offered, but I kept getting hung up on. Clearly the waiting lists are so long already that they’ve just stopped taking names and are sick of latecomers like myself still calling in to ask.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      And I’d never even heard of chocolate teapots, yet I’ve seen them discussed here. It’s astounding!

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I always think of chocolate teapots when I read YA fiction about the 1800s (it’s nearly always based in the UK).

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Ok, I just read the analysis, and it is hilarious. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  12. Detective Amy Santiago*


    Did you tell your former boss that you were submitting yourself as a candidate to fill a client request? If not, then I think your boss has every right to be upset that you requested a commission for placing yourself.

    Most likely, your new company has a contract with old company that lays out a fee schedule. Just because you were an internal employee doesn’t mean that your new company doesn’t have to follow that contract. It was pretty gumption-y of them to ask for a reduced fee when they essentially poached an employee. Ideally, that kind of thing would have been worked out between old boss and new boss.

    1. kittymommy*

      Yes, this. There’s definitely something about this that males me uncomfortable, though i can’t exactly articulate why. I don’t get the feeling that the previous employer knew about the LW applying. Is love yup know more about the non compete, that’s not really mumbo-jumbo.

      1. Tex*

        It’s because OP and the recruiting company were hired to be a neutral third party source for sourcing and weeding out candidates. Without supervision, who is to say that she didn’t submit resumes for people equally qualified for the job in order to gain an advantage?

        The ethical thing would have been to inform her agency employer that she wanted the job and then have the recruitment duties shifted to another person in the office to at least maintain some sort of fair play of selecting the best candidates for interviews.

        Now the agency company is out half their commission and an employee down. They can’t push back and probably took a discount because they don’t want to lose a long term client.

        1. JenniCraft*

          Thank you! As stated above, I did put myself against the very best candidates for this position, who all interviewed with the president of my new company. I did not have a relationship with him prior to this position, so there was no insider advantage there. He was able to ask others within the organization for their opinions of me because I had worked with other managers and had a couple of placements here prior. They were all glowing recommendations, which definitely helped, but I acted the way I did prior to all of this just wanting to be a good recruiter and not thinking I would possibly be working here one day.

          I guess the one thing I didn’t do was tell my previous employer I was submitting myself for this particular position, but, knowing his personality, he could have very well fired me on the spot…even though he had a policy in place for us to do that very thing. I actually had planned on doing that, but my husband strongly advised me not to. That’s where the personal knowledge intersects with all of this. Previous employer has a big ego and an even bigger temper. I just couldn’t risk losing my job. That’s a tough call for anyone to make.

    2. SallytooShort*

      Yes, I don’t understand the grounds of asking for a reduced fee, at all. From the client side things pretty much worked as it should have except the candidate they chose happened to be the recruiter.

      I understand why the recruiting company might agree to a reduction (to keep the client for the future) but really that seems wrong. They used this service and got exactly what they wanted out of it.

      And I don’t know enough about the field to say submitting yourself is an issue in and of itself. But I do know enough about contracts to know that language in non-compete agreements shouldn’t be dismissed as mumbo jumbo.

        1. Sara*

          Its also sketchy of her current employer to ask for a reduction when that company didn’t do anything different than if the placement was filled by an outside candidate.

      1. Natalie*

        But I do know enough about contracts to know that language in non-compete agreements shouldn’t be dismissed as mumbo jumbo.

        No, but the OP should absolutely have a lawyer look at the non compete rather than just take their old employer’s word on the terms. For one, I don’t think it’s typical to have to pay the old employer – usually they just bar you from working for a direct competitor for a set amount of time. For another, a lot of non competes are unenforceable under state laws, both legislated and case law.

        1. SallytooShort*

          It’s not very unusual to have a penalty sum if they violate the non-compete. And a situation like this would likely be enforceable. The employer wants to recover the sum the employee cost them by submitting their own name and getting hired.

          I don’t think they should just take the former employer’s word for it. But I also am not sure this is a battle they should have taken up, in the first place.

          1. Natalie*

            And a situation like this would likely be enforceable

            This depends way too much on both the state in question and both the wording and circumstances of the non-compete to say one way or another. Hence the need for the lawyer.

            The OP probably shouldn’t have taken up this fight, but given that their old employer is demanding a not insignificant sum of money, they’re in it now.

            1. SallytooShort*

              No doubt she should speak to a lawyer. But so far the ex-employer only suggested it in an email in response to the request for a commission.

              If the LW doesn’t pursue it further chances are the employer won’t. It’s just not a large amount of money to get into a legal dispute over.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I agree with Natalie on the non-compete. California doesn’t recognize non-compete agreements, but employers still make people sign them and threaten to enforce them in the hope that the employee will be scared into backing off. And even states that recognize them often have limits on geography and term. So this is really context and state specific (although I agree that OP should not dismiss it as “mumbo jumbo”).

              That said, I agree with Sally that I don’t understand the reduced fee / commission / umbrage at all. OP’s new employer used old employer’s services, and those services resulted in hiring OP. New Employer should pay for the agreed upon services, as Old Employer satisfied their end of the contract.

        2. Doreen Kostner*

          First the OP should have a lawyer look at the agreement – but the agreement Allison (and probably the old employer) is talking about isn’t a non-compete, which in general keeps a person from taking a job with a competitor. It’s a commission agreement, which lays out the circumstances under which a commission is payable. And IMO, it’s very likely that neither the commission agreement with the OP nor the agreement with the new employer contemplates the exact situation where the recruiter herself takes the job – which means that the former employer may be well within his or her rights to charge the new employer the full $22,500 and the OP has every right to the commission on that fee. But that may have repercussions to the OP at her new company, which would then be paying an extra $10K fee so the OP could get her commission ( And I’m wondering how much her commission would have been on a $22.5K fee – if it’s around $10K that may be entirely where the discount came from)

          It almost certainly doesn’t include anything that requires the OP to pay former employer the $10K discount given to the new employer, but since that apparently only came up after the fee to the new employer was reduced and the OP started asking for her commission on it, I suspect that was a bit of bluster. Because it seems to me that the old employer was the least sketchy party in this. The OP wants a commission for placing herself in a new job even thought the new company got a discount , the new company wants a discount even though they would have paid the full fee if they had chosen one of the other candidates , and the old employer lost an employee , discounted the bill and now has an ex-employee who wants to receive a commission on the discounted bill for finding herself a new job.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It sounds like the agreement may include commission and a non-compete. I suspect it’s an omnibus employment agreement. But I think OP should really reconsider their position before going to the mattresses on this one. I suspect if OP backs off of the commission, Old Employer will back off of the “pay the discount” position.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Unless the OP went to work as a recruiter for this client, I’m not sure a non compete would even be applicable though. It’s very likely that the new employer has a legally enforceable contract with the old employer though. That’s how it typically works with staffing agencies and recruiters.

              That being said, I think it’s pretty tone deaf and inappropriate for the OP to ask for a commission on getting themself a new job.

              1. Tuxedo Cat*

                I saw this more as the OP, by applying independently to a job she knew about through Old Company, was competing with Old Company. She was competing against Old Company, sort of like a one-off recruiting business party of one. It would’ve been one thing if she found out about the job at New Company and had no idea that Old Company was recruiting for that position.

                Legally, I’m not sure if it’s enforceable. It seems off, though, because she took business away from Old Company.

                1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  But from the letter, it doesn’t sound like she applied independently. It sounds like she added herself to the pool of candidates she sent over.

                2. Tuxedo Cat*

                  I assumed she might’ve applied independently because otherwise, why the New Company think they don’t owe a fee? Also, it seemed like the OP seemed surprised that New Company would be charged.

            1. Doreen*

              Yes, but there’s also got to be some sort of commission agreement. It’s possible that they are both part of a single ingredient like [b]Princess Consuela Banana Hammock[/b] said, but it wouldn’t normally be the non-compete section that applied here as the OP did not go to work for a competitor.

          2. Jesmlet*

            The way my commission works is I get a percentage of the amount of money I bring in for the company – I’m assuming this is pretty universal. To that effect, OP should get the agreed upon percentage of whatever her new company ends up paying the old company. Personally I think it should be the full amount. The most sketchy part for me is the new employer asking to reduce the fee at all. I suspect old employer only agreed to the discount because they were concerned about getting paid at all and understandably want OP to make up the difference. They should get their $22,500 and OP should get the percentage of that that’s in the commission agreement. But life isn’t fair and this probably won’t be what happens, all because new employer wanted to be stingy and partially reneg.

            1. JenniCraft*

              Yes! This is really my point…that I am owed commission on money I brought into the firm, and there is no “unpaid” amount since he reduced the fee and re-invoiced. The reduced fee is not unusual. Previous employer does this all the time when people call to ask for different terms for different positions. That was not an aggressive or threatening conversation. He simply agreed to cut it in half (which is another funny thing since he didn’t actually cut it in half, he took off $10,000). There is nothing in the employment agreement saying I am not owed commission on money that is paid after I leave.

  13. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 That person sounds a bit volatile and you’ve probably dodged a bullet by not working for them.

    1. Clorinda*

      Oh, so much this. Imagine the client taking offence to how the invoice was worded and then refusing to pay, plus leaving bad reviews everywhere. Bullet dodged.

  14. idi01*

    #2: Don’t. You are telling people that it is OK to leave, or people will think that you want them to leave. Plus if your boss finds out, he could be really upset with you.

    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      …it *is* okay to leave, and a good boss would be encouraged that their employees support each other regardless of the next step.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yeah, this isn’t slavery or indentured servitude. Some companies even treat former employees as “alumni” who leave to gain different skills and experience and sometimes even bring that back to the original company.

        1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

          Seriously. I’m seeing a few hints of “we don’t want you to go anywhere else, but we’re also not going to try very hard to retain you” at my current department, and it’s making me want to do the employee equivalent of throwing a distraction in one direction and running very fast in the other.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is only the case if you work at a toxic/dysfunctional workplace. Most employers think it’s ok for employees to leave, and they aren’t upset when people move on because… well, people move on. And most employees I know would not see this as subtle signaling that you want them to leave.

  15. Triplestep*

    #2, your letter reads a bit like you’re making this about you. I don’t believe this is as much about wanting to make your employees aware you’ll recommend them, as it is about your feeling a little hurt that they are not confiding in you. Given that interviews and reference checks so often don’t turn into job solid job offers, it’s understandable that many people don’t want to make it weird for themselves at work by tipping their hands. I don’t think you should expect it to go any differently it did last time around, and you really shouldn’t take it personally.

    A better practice might be to wish departing employees well, and tell them you will be a reference in the future should they want one.

    1. Legal Beagle*

      I agree with you that it may not be practical for employees to proactively list their current boss as a reference, but I think you’re projecting an unnecessarily negative vibe onto the LW. She specifically noted that the employee in this case didn’t have other solid references, so she could have been of great use to him, had he known it was okay to offer her as a reference. LW wants to help other employees avoid that issue in the future, which is very gracious and supportive of her. There’s nothing in the letter to suggest that LW is motivated by self-interest.

      1. Alfonzo T.*

        OP here. If I am being totally honest with myself…of course some of it is hurt feelings. I mean, I’m such a great boss, why would they ever want to leave, they should want to be with me forever, amirite? But yeah, I know that my current employees moving on is a normal part of life, and I shouldn’t be offended. And it is definitely true that I wish them the best and am willing to help them out if they want it.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          Very understandable! I’ve had and left great bosses, both for career growth opportunities and for personal circumstances outside my job. As an employee, good managers are hard to find and hard to leave. Letting them go with your support and well wishes is also part of being a good manager – I’m sure your employees appreciate that!

      2. Alfonzo T.*

        By the way totally unrelated side note: before I read this blog regularly, I used to assume that all managers were men. I like how Alison and the commenters don’t make that assumption. It’s nice to see the world moving in that direction…

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s one of the reasons why I default to “she” and “her” — there’s so much research showing that when people picture a default manager, they picture a man. Defaulting to “she” is a good way to push back at that assumption, and I think it really does work to change people’s thinking!

  16. Project Manager*

    I don’t know much (anything) about recruiting, but I’m really surprised it would be considered ethical for a recruiter to submit themself as a candidate for the same position they’re recruiting for. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It’s really not. If OP was interested in the job, they should have handed it over to someone else in their company and went through their supervisor to express their interest, not just toss themselves in the mix.

      1. Jesmlet*

        Agreed, it’s not. Even though we’re taking OP at their word that they put their best effort into finding other candidates, it really should’ve been handed off to someone else to manage. If I was a client and an external recruiter did this, unless we had a fantastic and lengthy prior relationship, I would’ve gone up the chain and insisted on dealing with someone else. The more I think about this, the more my opinion of OP’s new company drops.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          And if I had an employee who did this without giving me a heads up, they would not be getting a decent reference from me in the future. It’s really not appropriate behavior for a recruiter.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah; I’m not a recruiter, so I’m often surprised by the norms in that field. But it seems like such a blatant conflict of interest to apply for a position you’ve been hired to recruit for that I can’t understand why OP and their new company thinks it’s ok to shirk the bill?

          1. JenniCraft*

            This is an easy thing to say from afar. I could have passed it off to someone else, but that would have been a huge giveaway that I was putting myself in the mix. As I stated somewhere above, my former employer likely would have fired me, even though he has a policy in place for this. It was quite the volatile work environment, and I never knew how he was going to react to anything. I just couldn’t risk being fired.

  17. rosiebyanyothername*

    My company’s vacation time policy is why I’m at work the week between Xmas and New Year’s… our vacation time and sick time is combined, and because I had a nasty cold last week, my long Xmas weekend is no more. :(

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      Same boat. Next year I finally have enough seniority to afford a real vacation, a couple of long weekends, and getting sick won’t throw a wrench in it.

    2. Phoenix Programmer*

      That said I feel for op. HR did this hoping to have people in ops boat magically lose all their PTO. They have no intention of honoring their agreement.

    3. AKchic*

      Same here. My 13 year old is here with me this week, and because I was sick last month, I no longer have any time to take off this month. I’m hoping I will be able to have enough money in 2018 to get my tonsils removed and hopefully cut down on my sick leave, because I *need* vacation time.

  18. Antilles*

    As a general piece of advice, you should REALLY avoid building up this much unused PTO at any time*. Remember that vacation time is a benefit of your job…and also remember that in most of the US, there’s little to no restrictions on what they can do with unused PTO so there’s a lot of unfortunate scenarios where you could get screwed out of that benefit. Maybe the company changes policies unexpectedly (like now!). Maybe you leave for another job and just lose the PTO unused. Maybe your company shuts down entirely (unlikely but possible). And so on.
    *Unless you have a specific reason why you’re building up a month and a half of vacation – family lives halfway across the world so your visits require several weeks, you’re planning on taking a long sabbatical, you have an upcoming surgery/ongoing medical issue and expect to need several weeks off as full-paid PTO rather than FMLA leave, stuff like that.

    1. cheluzal*

      I’m a teacher and whatever we don’t use through the years is paid at retirement, so some people really get a nice chunk when they leave (plus we get enough time off throughout year, albeit unpaid).

      I just had a major medical crisis and was glad I had almost 3 months of sick time stored, so I was able to get paid for it.

  19. LQ*

    #2 My boss did this. (Note he’s still my boss.) At a performance review where I asked about a promotion he said they were working on it and how much they appreciated having me. He also pointed out that in government things move slow and that he would support me if I couldn’t wait but he really hoped I would. He’s been very clear that he wants to keep me around (and I’ve gotten several promotions as well as other opportunities), but I’m confident if I needed him to I could use him as a reference. I’m not entirely sure HIS boss would be happy with it, but it makes me really glad I work for my boss. If you do make really clear to the people you want to stay that you want them to stay or it can feel like you’re pushing them out the door.
    (My boss said this and here’s this expensive intensive leadership program that will make you much more valuable that I’d be happy to send you to if you are interested in the same meeting.)

  20. Lady Phoenix*

    LW #1:
    I don’t think doing a post moterm would be a good idea. You all seem to know that Jane is the problem—so unless you don’t invite her to the meeting, I can’t see you guys not ganging up on her. I would just have the boss have a one on one meeting with her and consider letting her go if she is in the probabtion stage. That way, you can use this quiet time to pick up and train a new person and have them ready for when the orders come in.

    1. SignalLost*

      The OP said Jane was one of many problems, many of which came from developing and field-testing a new process more or less on the fly. Improving that process for next year is a fantastic reason to have a post mortem. Jane was not the only issue.

      1. SallytooShort*

        But if they don’t address the Jane issues separately then it will turn into a Jane bashing session. Which would be spectacularly unhelpful for everyone.

  21. SallytooShort*

    #1 Realistically, is Jane even likely to still be working there much longer? She’s part-time. She clearly isn’t engaged in this work.

    What use will a postmortem be if it focuses almost entirely on someone who likely won’t be around next time?

    #3 I doubt the non-compete language is just mumbo jumbo and this may not be a fight you want to make if it incentivizes him to try to get you to pay for breaching a non-compete clause. The fact is you did use your position to get this job and cost your then employer $10,000 by doing so. He may have some legitimate grounds to go after you.

    I’m not saying you did anything wrong. But, legally, there may very well be grounds to try to collect from you. Depending, of course, on the language of the terms of your engagement.

  22. Janet*

    #4: Are you sure deactivating yor personal account had no impact to your business page? Those accounts are linked through your personal account and you need an active personal account to open and run the business page.

    A bit off topic; drama is bound to happen when you deactivate your Facebook. I don’t see why the deactivatation is necessary for a break… take the apps off of your phone and block the website in your browser.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      I feel that being “ignored”for no reason vs clearly being deactivated will cause more drama.

  23. Legal Beagle*

    #4 – I think you can make your personal page invisible in searches, so it won’t pop up when someone searches your name on Facebook. That should get them to your business page instead, where they can see you are active, message you, etc. If I were you, I would not use my personal Facebook page for any work business (including being friends with professional connections). Direct those people to your business page and they can like/follow the page to “connect” and keep up with you.

    1. Sualah*


      I have a friend who does photography on the side, and we were actual friends first. Once she made a Facebook account for her photography business, I message/like/comment there for all photographic things. We’re still friends and I still comment on her regular posts, but if I want to schedule a session or recommend her or whatever, I make sure to use her business page. I don’t know that she actually cares that much, but that’s how I do it.

  24. Sara*

    For #3 – I am sure that the non-compete prohibits you from profiting from placing yourself. That seems like a clause that would be standard in a recruiting contract. If it isn’t, I’m willing to bet its a part of that company now. I’m sure you shouldn’t be invoiced personally, but its also kind of a weird move for your current employer to negotiate a lower rate when he DID use the recruiting firm to find a new employee. I don’t know why you being a former employee of the firm means your new employer should have a lower cost. You heard about the position through the firm and applied through the firm. What happened that requires a 10k reduction?

  25. DigitalDruid*

    #3: IANAL, so this is not legal advice….

    If the previous employer tries to bill you for this, I would tell them to get lost. You are under no obligation to pay that, since you were not contracting them to find you a job. If they flat out refuse to pay you a commission, then that would probably hurt their case since they are alleging that they used their labor to place you. They can’t reasonably expect to have the cake and eat it too.

    The non-compete is a completely separate issue, which is probably why Allison is telling you to look at your employment agreement. Here in California, non-competes are still routinely placed in employment contracts, even though employers know that they are notoriously impossible to enforce here. There are also laws on the books in many places that prohibit an employer from demanding a fee from an employee for the “privilege” of working there, and there are also laws in some places that prohibit practices that would prohibit or discourage the professional mobility of employees.

    Bear in mind that it is easy and cheap to make threats, but much more difficult and expensive to back those threats up. In my workplace, we have a contractor for IT services that pays its employees almost nothing and is basically engaged in some sketchy practices. These employees are routinely warned that if they pursue employment opportunities with us, they will be sued for “loss of income” to the contractor. Well, several of them have done just that-and not a single one has been sued.

    $10K is not a lot of money in the context of a lawsuit. A couple of days in court and the time drafting the paperwork would easily eat that up and more. Would an employer sue for that amount without being certain of the outcome? I kinda doubt it, unless they were doing it solely to make a point.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      They aren’t trying to bill the OP, they are billing the OP’s new employer, who presumably *did* have a contract with them to utilize their recruiting services.

      What OP did was fairly unethical.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think Digital Druid is referring to the follow-up email where OP suggested they should receive their commission on placing themselves in the position, so the Old Employer countered by saying OP owes the $10K difference because of the non-compete agreement.

      2. JenniCraft*

        I see you have a strong opinion that I was unethical in the way I handled this, and you are entitled to your opinion. I don’t think you know very much about the recruiting world, though, and I am entitled to my opinion, as well.

        To clear up what you said above, the previous employer is now billing me for the additional $10,000, which he agreed to deduct. It is common practice (or at least it was in his firm) for clients to negotiate fees and terms, and my previous employer agreed to reduce the fee because I worked on this position on my own and did not employ any agency resources. Honestly, If I had not told him about this job and the fact that I was working on it, he would have never known about it.

        In the case that he billed my new company ANY amount, I was going to ask for commission because, due to my employment agreement (which includes non-compete wording), I am due any commission that I have earned after I leave. If the new company paid for this placement, which is a placement I made as the recruiter who worked on it, then I should receive commission.

        If you ask any of the candidates who also interviewed for this position, they would say I handled the situation ethically. I knew of no other way to do it, which is probably why I feel so shocked by my old employer telling me he doesn’t owe me commission. I guess my mistake is expecting others to behave in the same manner as I would.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I actually work as a recruiter and I have never heard of a recruiter placing themselves in a position like this. It’s absolutely considered unethical in my professional circles.

          1. teclatrans*

            OP3 has clarified upthread that her recruiting job includes an explicit agreement that recruiters could apply for jobs they were placing, though, so I can see why she wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with it.

            1. JenniCraft*

              Thank you. I would also like to follow up with the fact that, since I left, a former co-worker has accepted a position with a client he was working with, just as I did. My former employer invoiced the other client as well and is refusing to pay commission to my former co-worker. That’s the root of my problem with this…if he invoices a company based on a job that was done, he should pay the commission due to the recruiter who worked on/filled the job.

  26. Phoenix Programmer*

    #1 I think it is important to remember that as a coworker you don’t have the full picture of what Jane did or did not say to her boss. You also don’t know walkway her training or instructions truly looked like.

  27. AshK434*

    It seems super shady to me that a recruiter put himself up for consideration for a job he’s actively recruiting for. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?

  28. AC*

    My question for OP #5 is – why would you even bank 35 vacation days? I’ve rolled over a few vacation days to save up for a longer trip here and there, but I cannot imagine passing up on that much time off.

    Assuming OP is in the US, most employers give so little vacation time to begin with, that just seems masochistic.

    1. Dawn*

      Some places make it really difficult to use vacation time. Lots of managers can just not authorize the time, it’s always “too busy”… But I could be jumping to a conclusion based on my own biased opinion from toxic jobs.

    2. Doreen*

      Most employers in the US may give very little vacation time, but some give plenty and some jobs tend to have people who stay a long time. At my job, there is a certain date each year we cannot be over 40 days ( the date is different for different groups) and every year people lose time. It’s not that people don’t take any vacation for four years and end up at 40 days – they end up by having 20 days they’ve earned in the past year, and 5 left from the 20 they earned last year and so on. I tend to keep the balance in my leave bank as close as I can to 30 days – but that absolutely doesn’t mean I don’t take time off. It means there are years when I took my five personal days, two floating holidays and eight vacation days rather than the ten I earned , which still gave me 15 days of my choosing off and let me bank two days. And other years where I took the five personal, two floaters and 13 vacation days out of the 20 I’ve earned, which gave me 4 weeks off and 7 days to bank.

    3. Karen K*

      I realize that this is going to horrify people, but I currently have approximately 10 weeks (400 hours) of PTO banked. When I was non-exempt, I kept it under control, because non-exempt employees can cash out a certain amount of PTO every year depending on how long they’ve been working here. Now that I’m exempt, I’ve been doing my best to use it, and this holiday season has been helpful. I should also pick a week and take it off. Keep in mind that this is combo sick/vacation/holiday time. I’m allowed to bank up to 440 hours, based on how long I’ve been with the company. When I leave/retire, I can cash it out.

      Now that I have people who can cover for me, I can take a true vacation – no email, voicemail, etc. It’s great.

    4. LQ*

      I feel like I’m not doing anything big enough to “deserve vacation time” so I keep holding off. I usually take a bunch of single days and half days in November (Nanowrimo) but this year I didn’t (work was incredibly busy and I was working on a not writing project that ate my writing brain so I didn’t write) so I’m going to hit my (fairly generous) cap this year if I don’t start spending it down. Vacation time is wrought.

      I think caps can be very helpful for that if they are generous enough and if you don’t slam them down with an unreasonable time frame. There are a dozen other ways to start a cap that would help get at what the business is likely getting at (holding all that on it’s books, possibly wanting people to take vacation) that aren’t take it all in 2 months or it’s gone!

    5. Elizabeth*

      I earn approximately 10.5 hours every 2 weeks. I took a 10-day vacation in July, and I cashed in 130 hours in November. I’m not in danger of maxing out my PTO bank now, but I was before cash-out. I still have over 200 hours in my PTO bank. I can’t realistically use all of the PTO I’m earning.

      If you have worked somewhere with generous leave policies that include increasing earn rates as you gain tenure, it becomes difficult to use everything you earn.

      1. Tassie Tiger*

        …I get two days a year…
        Sorry, I know this is not incredibly contributing, I’m just feeling blue collar shame/shock..

        1. Former Employee*

          Tassie Tiger: I’m so sorry that this discussion made you feel that way. I remember what it was like to be afraid that I’d lose my job because I took too many sick days and these were white collar jobs, though they tended to be kind of lower level clerical type jobs back when I was young (and dinosaurs roamed the earth). I know I got marked down at review time for being out too many days. As I got older and moved into better jobs, there was a shift in how I was treated if I had to be out sick, but it was a number of years before things got to that point.

        2. Julianne*

          I only got 1 vacation day and 4 sick days at a previous job, so I get it! It was really challenging, and I was very lucky that I was healthy enough that year to only use 1 sick day.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I bank a lot of vacation and PTO days, even when I take vacation. I’ve always assumed the generous leave is an offset for the relatively low (compared to the private sector) pay. My last big leave cash-out was to take a 3.5 week, multi-country vacation, and I still had 2 weeks of leave left when I came back.

      Some jobs make it difficult to take leave in the normal course of things, and some jobs compensate your (non-exempt, salaried) OT hours with comp time. Or, you may take your vacation days strategically. There’s a lot of reasons why this can add up without OP being self-sacrificing or masochistic.

      1. The Rat-Catcher*

        Comp time makes a HUGE difference in my office. People routinely have hundreds of hours of comp time that is only paid out annually (if that).

    7. SC Anonibrarian*

      Conversely, I feel like 35 days isn’t really on the high side. I’ve been with my current employer for about 10 years and I have about a month of sick leave and a separate month of vacation banked, and I use hours of it here and there pretty regularly in dribs and drabs. But our schedule is fixed and leaves time in the workweek for appointments and such, and any conferences or meetings have to count travel time as work time also. So between that, and with my tenure here, unless I’m out sick one day every month and take one day a month as vacation leave, (or take a twelve day vacation every year – which, hahahaha that’s never going to happen) then I’m steadily accruing leave. I can get up to about 300 hours of each before it caps, and it also is guaranteed to be either paid out or added to my hours worked when I leave or retire. So really there’s no incentive for me to try to use it up – besides that, I’ve seen too many of my coworkers screwed over by a bad chronic illness or cancer or pregnancy to cut myself short. FMLA is only 6 months total and it’s unpaid – I need those paychecks.

      1. SC Anonibrarian*

        Small correction – I just hit 10 and I keep forgetting that it bumped again to a day and a half of vacation accrued every month. So yeah. 18 DAYS of straight-up vacation leave every year plus mandatory-use comp time, plus federal and state and county holidays, plus sick leave. I could conceivably manage a part time freelance job just using my leave time at this point.

    8. Witty Nickname*

      Not all employers give so little though. I’ve got a bit more than 35 days banked, and still take plenty of time off. I just have a very generous amount of PTO and have been here long enough to have let it accrue enough that I can take most of my PTO each year and still have to make sure I don’t hit our accrual limits.

      My company was purchased earlier this year, and the new company has less PTO time (but offers additional time off that mostly makes up for what I’m losing). That means a lower accrual limit. I’ll be about 50 hours over my new limit when the new policies kick in next week – thankfully, they have decided that rather than saying “sorry, you can’t accrue any more until you get below the new limit,” they are moving all of the extra time to a separate bucket of PTO that I can choose to use if I want to, or just let it sit there until I leave and get it paid out (I’d rather have it paid out now, but at least I am not going to lose any future accrual this way). I’ll still start the new year at the new accrual limit, so I’m taking a couple days off right away and then will plan out a few more days off here and there until I can take a longer vacation. But I’m basically going to be in “keep a close eye on your accrual and make sure you take enough time off so you don’t hit the limit” mode until I leave this job. And I’m good with that, because all of that accrued PTO has to be paid out when I leave.

      1. AC*

        Interesting, I’m 30 and only on my second FT-with-benefits job, so I guess my experience is more limited than I realized. I have never been given more than 15 vacation days, which seems to be the standard among my friends, and I currently can’t roll over more than 5 at a time. So the idea of only using 10 days per year for seven years to accrue 35 seems insane to me!

    9. LBK*

      Very interesting to see so many comments saying people have more PTO than they can even use; it’s such a contrast to the prevailing notion that the US is a stingy place for vacation time. Not that a collection of anecdotes creates data, but it is weird how many people are jumping in to say that having 35 days banked up is easy or common when it seems like on every other post about vacation days, most people don’t even get 35 days a year total, never mind enough that they could save up 35 while still presumably taking some time off.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        I think a big part of this is age related. Every coworker I know who has 10+ years at the company has about 10 weeks banked. In part because PTO is graduated by seniority. Also because in my experience they are on grandfathered PTO plans. Lastly many are purposefully banking for retirement.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        It in part reflects the problem of actually taking the time off to which you are theoretically entitled. It’s why unlimited vacation has a dodgy rep–it’s only great if your request for time-off isn’t met by “But… that’s one of the 52 weeks of the year we’re especially busy! You can’t take time-off then.”

        1. Windchime*

          This is what I was thinking. But when using the earned vacation hours isn’t allowed… it really worth anything? I guess if you someday get it paid out in cash it would be, but it seems disingenuous to award vacation hours to employees, forbid them from actually *using* it, and then tell them there is a limit and they will lose a bunch of those hours.

          I’m lucky that my boss is a big proponent of work-life balance and pretty much always approves PTO requests.

      3. Someone else*

        In my field it’s very common for people to have a ton banked because their roles are the type to get called in to do something (remotely) while out. For example: Manager with 10 years experience who accrues 4 weeks a year, but only usually even tries to take 2 one week vacations (one in summer, one in winter)…but ends up getting called to deal with something 2hrs a day during that vacation. So the 10 days tried to take effectively ends up being 7.5, plus they weren’t trying to use it all anyway….so it just keeps piling up.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think it’s b/c I’m in California and non-exempt, tbh. I rack up a ton of comp time just because of the nature of my job, so even when my vacation compensation was meager, my vacation days would often rollover because my employer pressured us to first drawdown our comp time balance (so they wouldn’t have to pay it out). If I lived elsewhere, I suspect my leave accrual / rollover / drawdown would be different.

  29. gl*

    Facebook is not the place for professional connections. At all. Ever. They can learn way too much about you and you get stuck if you want to disconnect, like what just happened to #4.

    Try and segment your professional communications via certain channels and let professional connections know, no hard feelings but Facebook is for close friends and family only. They can have professional conversations via email or Linkedin.

  30. Monica*

    No, the Facebook thing is completely wrong. Disconnecting can appear to others as though they have been blocked – I don’t know if it’s an error or not, but when I disconnected recently a load of my friends saw a page that appeared I’d blocked them, while other friends could still see loads of old posts. Also your work page is run off your personal account (there is no way to have a Page without having a personal account) so even if you checked the button to keep the page active it’s quite possible disconnecting affected it. There’s no reason for someone to message you, that’s silly – if I went to a Page and found it had been removed I’d assume either the person has blocked me or left, it would be very bizarre to attempt to send a pm under those circumstances!

    I feel bad for the LW but if you are going to use FB as a professional tool you need to be consistent about it. Several times I’ve attempted to employ or give jobs to small businesses who only have an FB Page rather than a website, and went elsewhere because the Page wasn’t monitored enough. That’s basic business sense. If it’s an issue running your business site off a personal social media then separate the two completely.

Comments are closed.