can’t take more than a week of vacation at a time, leaving work after dark, and more

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

1. I can’t take more than one week of vacation at a time

I’m an HR generalist who handles all the traditional HR roles plus payroll for a company of around 500 people. To give you an idea of my headspace, I’m basically this person but have been informed in no uncertain terms that I’m not getting a second person to help me out. Because of the workload, how often payroll needs run, and how long each payroll cycle takes to prepare, enter, and submit, I’ve never been able to take more than four work days off in a row.

Recently, I got permission to train someone else to handle payroll in case of my absence, and it was mentioned offhand that this would give me a bit more flexibility to schedule vacation time. My family has been wanting to take a 10-day trip to Europe for several years, so we started planning one.

We’re getting close to being ready to book, but when I went to my boss to discuss the days, I was met with a pretty firm denial, and was told that I can’t take more than week off, and it would need to be during the one non-payroll week in the month. This trip involves two overnight flights; I’m not spending that kind of money just for a couple of days of actual vacation.

My question isn’t “is my company terrible and should I look for a new job immediately?” because I already know the answer to that one. Rather my question to you and your readers is this: is limiting vacation time to no more than a week a common policy? This is the first time in my life I’m actually able to afford taking longer than a week, so I’ve never looked into it at previous jobs, but I’m pretty sure this is just yet another one of my company’s many dysfunctions.

It’s not unheard of. But it’s a bad policy because there’s tons of evidence that two-week vacations are better than shorter ones in helping people really disconnect, relax, and return to work refreshed (and often more creative and productive), and because it makes things really hard for anyone who has family who’s, say, a 12-hour plane ride away (or who might just want to visit somewhere that far away, or take a trip with multiple stops).

I’m curious whether this is a company-wide policy or if it just applies to you because of payroll. If it’s company-wide, you’re in a decent position to work to change it since you’re HR (and can present info on how this is making your company less attractive to employees and potential new hires). If it just applies to you, you’re in a decent position to point out that it’s unreasonable to have a major restriction that others don’t have, and that the whole point of training a back-up for payroll was to ensure that your company can still function even if you’re on vacation, hit by a bus, or otherwise not there.

2. Wording requests that aren’t really favors

I am looking for some advice on wording requests, especially email requests. Sometimes I need to email a request to a peer for a task that is part of their job duties. I usually word the emails along the lines of a question like “would you please do x?” or “would you mind doing x?” When I email for favors, I word the favors in the same way. Is there a better way to word regular requests to peers for tasks that doesn’t sound like I’m asking for a favor but also not coming across as directive?

The way you’re wording it is fine! Or “could do you do X?” or “I’m sending X on over to you — can you handle from here?” or so forth.

Yes, they may not really have a choice about the request because it’s part of their job, but you’re just being polite in wording it that way (instead of phrasing it as an order). It’s not likely to come across as asking for a favor that they can choose whether or not to grant, because they presumably realize it’s their job to do it. (The exception to this, of course, is if you’re dealing with someone obstructionist, but if that’s the case your wording isn’t likely to change that anyway.)

3. Staying in touch with a new employer in the months before my start date

I recently received a job offer and it will be a few months before my start date. Prior to then, I’m wondering if you could offer some suggestions on how to stay in contact with the my prospective employer.

You don’t really need to do a ton. If you want, you can ask if there’s anything you should read or otherwise do in the interim to help you hit the ground running — but that’s really optional and not something you’re expected to do. The only thing you really need to do is a week or two before your start date, reach out to confirm the start date, find out what time they want you to arrive on your first day, and say you’re looking forward to starting.

4. Leaving work when our parking lot is dark and deserted

I’ve been at my new job for about five months now and I absolutely love it. Great environment, awesome team, the whole package. But there is, of course, an issue. A month or so into my new position, my manager asked if I might be willing to change my schedule from 7-4 to 10-7 in order to better accommodate my specific clients. I was eager to be seen as a team player and agreed pretty much immediately. All in all, it was going pretty smoothly, and I’d even started to enjoy the peace of quiet of a cleared out office … until the recent time change. Now when I leave for the day, I’m walking out into a poorly lit parking lot, and (unless I’ve managed to swipe a closer spot on my break) that walk can be extended. Sometimes a couple of people who work on other teams will work late as well, but more often than not I leave without hearing or seeing anyone at all.

I’m also now having an issue with the doors being locked at seemingly random times. Just today, I went to the restroom around 5:30 and came back to find myself locked out of the office without my phone or keys. It took about 10 minutes before someone heard me and opened the door. I know that our building is in a safe area, but I also have anxiety so it can be difficult to think logically in the moment. My friends and family are encouraging me to bring this to my manager but I’m not sure if I’m just overreacting. How would I even bring this to him? As one of the youngest people in the office, I really don’t want to look like a scared little girl who’s afraid of the dark.

This isn’t about scared of the dark; it’s about having reasonable safety concerns. This is a very reasonable thing to bring up. You could say something like, “Since I’ve started working my new schedule, I’m finding that I’m often leaving after dark and having to walk across a pretty poorly lit lot to get to my car. While it’s still getting dark out before 7, I wonder if we can arrange for me to be able to park closer to the building, or get more lighting for the lot, or maybe some other solution I haven’t thought of? I want to make sure it feels safe to leave when I do.”

You should also let him know you’ve been getting locked out — but the solution to that one might just be that you need to bring your keys with you after a certain time. It would help to know what that time is, though, and hopefully he can help you find out.

5. Asking an employer to include maternity leave with a job offer

I’m hoping you can help me with what I feel is an annoying and outdated problem. I recently received a job offer from a growing tech start-up. I’m very excited at the prospect and feel it could be a fantastic fit except for one thing: they don’t currently have any maternity leave plan outside of FMLA (which is just we can’t legally fire you for 12 weeks, you’re welcome).

While I don’t need maternity leave now, I had planned on needing it within a year or so. I’m worried that if I take the job they will have no need to rush developing a plan, or that if they do develop one, it will not be as good as it might be and I’ll be stuck looking for a new position.

If I could be sure of a fair maternity leave benefit, I would have no qualms about joining this company and staying for a good long while. Is it possible for me to negotiate this benefit before my start date in a way that doesn’t make them rescind the offer? Any tips you can give for how to address this professionally are very, very much appreciated.

Well, the good thing about raising this once you already have a job offer is that they can’t really rescind the offer without making it obvious that they’re breaking the law. If you raise it before they’ve made you an offer, it’s trickier — because if they then don’t go on to offer you the job, you have to wonder if there’s illegal discrimination in play or if you weren’t going to get the job anyway. But at this point, you have the offer, and it’s illegal for them to yank it because you implied that you might get pregnant at some point. So you’re in a decent position here.

I’d say it this way: “I know you don’t currently offer maternity leave other than FMLA. While I’m not pregnant and don’t have immediate plans to get pregnant, I’d like to stay with you a while and in order to do that, I’d want to have a fair maternity leave plan in place. Would you be willing to offer (insert details of what you want here) and include that as part of the offer? I imagine having that would be helpful for other employees too as you continue to expand and need to be competitive with employers who offer parental leave — since it’s something that will be important to a huge swath of future employees.”

{ 223 comments… read them below }

  1. Gigglewater*

    I would probably say “huge swath of future employees”. Many people I work with care about parental leave not just the people birthing children (women)

    1. Bigglesworth*

      I agree. My cousin is in the process of adopting two kids who were in the foster system and he is taking parental leave in order to spend more time with them once it’s all finalized. It’s not just the female employees who would benefit from a parental leave plan.

    2. Green*

      Agreed! One of the best things employers can do for women is to have fair parental leave for ALL parents. The Atlantic has had some good pieces on this — “Daddy Track” in 2014 and “How to Build a Society of Equally Involved Parents” in 2016.

    3. krysb*

      Work just took away our maternity leave (substituted with short-term disability instead), because one of the men asked for paternity leave. Our normally forward-thinking company (before we were bought by another company…) told him that he wasn’t giving birth, so should have the leave. He (an attorney) responded that “assistant” didn’t give birth, but she was allowed to take maternity leave when she adopted her baby from China. W.T.F.

      1. Jesmlet*

        The paid family leave that’s starting in NY has been a huge pain in the butt for me from an HR standpoint, but it’s great for addressing this issue. Parents should be allowed to bond with their children, regardless of their gender and regardless of whether or not the child came out of them.

  2. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

    LW1 If it wasn’t such a burn all your bridges move, I wonder what would happen if the letter writer decided to quit on the spot without any notice? Presumably her workplace would still manage to function. That being said it’s very poor business practices to have just one person responsible for the vital workings of your business.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Well that’s the thing. They need her more than she needs them – she has more leverage than she realises. We need you and you don’t have any power is actually cognitive dissonance.

    2. Hildegard Von Bingen*

      Yup. One of the key concepts I learned early on in IT is to avoid the “single point of failure” whenever possible. Robust systems build in redundancy and automated fail-over. Works for business systems and staffing, too.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        And that applies to people as single points of failure, too. I’m the IT guy for a similar sized company to the letter writers, and it’s a mission critical position. When I told my boss (who can do a lot of my job, but certainly not all) I wanted to take a 2 week vacation outside the country, he nearly had a heart attack.

        But we figured out how to make it work, including the company paying for a rental cell phone that would work there, for emergencies. I take a certain measure of pride in the fact that I didn’t get a single call, and didn’t come back to find my boss curled up in a corner of his office crying in terror. And it was a heck of a vacation.

      2. ceiswyn*

        Yup. One previous company I worked for had a very obvious single point of failure; the one employee who really /understood/ how to set up and troubleshoot certain complex processes in the software we produced. And unsurprisingly, she was always too busy for meetings or knowledge sharing.

        So I sneaked her out to the nearest pub and bought her lunch, and in exchange she explained the fundamental principles. And I went away and wrote them up, and when I was done I took her for lunch again and we went a bit further…

        She got lunch without interruptions, I got information, the company got a technical document it had needed for about three years, and the pub got customers. Everybody won!

    3. Mallory*

      Or, you know, major health issues or surgery. Or a family emergency. It’s just bad practice.

      1. dawbs*

        yup yup–at oldjob, I had a ‘what to do if dawbs gets hit by a bus’ folder.
        Which got used because a ‘minor outpatient procedure’ turned into ‘major surgery, oh look, 8 weeks off work’–redundancy FTW

      2. Magenta Sky*

        Some people *are* irreplaceable. The companies they work for, that allow that, are doomed, due to their own ineptness.

    4. JessaB*

      Not to mention OP is responsible for payroll. Isn’t it an industry standard that anyone who handles money must take at LEAST a full week off, in order to prevent fraud. OP is honest, but geez, this is a setup for the company being robbed blind. They don’t have someone who spends their money out of the building often enough to check up on them. Especially if the ONLY time they want OP out is when the payroll is not being run. If I were their accountant/auditor I’d flip a gasket at their lousy security processes. The next person, and there will be one if they don’t get their act together and treat OP reasonably may not be honest at all. I mean OP is not going to put up with this kind of garbage for long.

      1. A. Schuyler*

        Yes! I work for a financial services organisation and even though I don’t handle money or customers, I’m covered by the company-wide policy requiring 10 consecutive business days leave every year. This is so important, not just for the people taking a break from the office, but also to give the organisation a chance to test its continuity plans and catch any gaps (either intentional or unintentional).

        1. Mabel*

          I think the 10-consecutive-business-days-off per year might be a federal law. I used to work for a bank, and anyone dealing with accounts had to do this. Also, after the crash in 1929, a law was enacted so that banks cannot be closed more than three days in a row, so someone always had to come in for the day after Thanksgiving.

          1. Former Hoosier*

            It isn’t but used to be very common practice. It is less common now because of electronic transactions and other safeguards in place.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        That’s what occurred to me as well. It’s basic good practice to have the OP take a payroll period off once a year to make sure that there’s no funny stuff going on.

        Not to mention that, as others have said, if the OP fell ill, or was in an accident, or had a family emergency, on payroll week, they’d have to figure out how to pay people. Having the OP go on vacation is a good way of testing the backup system.

        For the OP – maybe she can suggest having her backup do the payroll one time, to make sure that they have a system that works if the OP is unavailable. Then, she can use this to argue that she can be away for two weeks without things falling apart.

      3. Bea*

        It’s only industry standard if she’s working for a bank or a financial company, just working within a financial department at a company doesn’t mean much.

  3. Colette*

    #2 One note: “would you mind doing X” isn’t actually asking them to do X. Most people will understand the implied request, but some people will take the question literally. I’d avoid that phrasing.

    1. T3k*

      Agreed. My first intership, one of the owners came over while I was eating and said something like “are you busy?” and me being me went “yes”. When I told my mom later she informed me he was actually looking for “no, what can I help you with?” I’m definitely one of those who doesn’t like people beating around the bush; just tell me what you need and I’ll see what I can do.

      1. BK*

        Oh how I hate the “are you busy?” questions… Yes I am busy, we are at work after all and not at all overstaffed – but I also have this thing called Ability to Prioritise Tasks, so tell me what you want and we can go from there!

        1. Mabel*

          I hate this, too. I usually don’t answer the question, but I’ll ask them what they need. Then I can decide – or if it’s my manager, decide with her – whether I can do it now or if it needs to wait.

        2. On Fire*

          At a previous job, when I was new, one of the managers would come find me in the break room, while I was eating lunch, and ask me to do non-time-sensitive stuff. So I would abandon my lunch to do her task, and after I finished she would say, “oh, I didn’t mean to interrupt your lunch. It could have waited.” (Really? Is that why you stood over me until I put my lunch away?)

          It got annoying, but I finally earned the capital that I could say, “I’ll be finished eating in about 5 minutes and will get it to you right after that.”

          1. AKchic*

            I had a few people that would seemingly wait until I started eating to come ask me to do things. I got into the routine of eating at a specific time of day and *bam* certain manager would appear to ask me to do tasks that were easy/repetitive/tedious (read: he didn’t want to do them because they were secretarial/girly, such as stapling packets for his meeting, but he didn’t want to walk all the way to the receptionist to ask her). Every day at 11:15, 5 minutes after I’d pulled my lunch out to eat.
            So, I stopped eating lunch at 11:10. I moved my lunch to 1. Oddly, his busy-work needed to be done at 1 too! Tried that for a few weeks. Moved my lunch back to 11ish. Nope. Busy-work needed to be done at 11ish too.
            So, I left the building for lunch. Gee… there goes my phone. “Are you in the building? I have a project that needs to be done”. Gah! Go bug the receptionist who is literally reading a book at the front desk and is begging for work to do.

        3. Kelsi*

          Fortunately my coworkers have evolved to using “are you busy” as shorthand for “I have something relatively small I’d like to hand off to you if you have some extra capacity today, but if that’s not in the cards I’ll rearrange my own stuff and make it work.” It works pretty well, as long as everyone is on the same page!

      2. If it looks like a duck...*

        My go-to for the “are you busy?” question is “Nothing I can’t put on hold for a bit, what’s up?” Or if it’s something really time-sensitive, I’ll say, “could you give me 5 minutes? I just want to finish up this report before I lose my train of thought” and then I’ll go find Boss in 5 min. It helps that I have a good relationship w/ boss and grandboss.

      3. Nico M*

        You were right and your mum was wrong. Perhaps the rightest answer would be “yes – I’m doing X for reasons Y for deadline Z”. But that’s nearer “yes” than “no”

        1. Runner*

          Uh, no, I disagree. When the owner stops by and asks the intern “Are you busy,” even with a sandwich in the mouth the intern makes himself immediately available.

          1. A. Schuyler*

            I think I agree more with Nico M, because my expectation would be that the owner would consider the current task against whatever she was going to request, and respond with either “That’s important so I’ll ask someone else” or “This is more important so please do this instead”.

            1. JamieS*

              That still wouldn’t make answering with just “yes” appropriate though especially since it doesn’t sound like T3K was actually working but taking a break. Assuming the break wasn’t mandated by law I don’t think many bosses would consider the intern taking a snack break to be the intern being busy.

              Regardless even when T3k, or anyone really, is busy working I wouldn’t consider answering with just “yes” to be appropriate especially when you’re bottom of the totem pole and talking to the big boss. A more appropriate response would be to say what you’re doing and the boss can decide from there if what they wanted is more important.

          2. Close Bracket*

            If said owner actually expects this, they are a terrible person and deserve to have interns who say “yes.”

            1. Nico m*

              I’ll bet there are some owners / bosses that want to hear “yes”
              Not busy?! Why aren’t you busy! Etc

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        When my boss would ask this, my response was, “Not too busy for you! What’s up?” It made it ok for him to ask questions but it also made it ok for me to let him know if I was busy or overloaded.

        1. Fishgal*

          I’m lucky because my boss instead of the “are you busy” question, will instead say when you get a chance I have a question or something that needs to get done. Then I can either go okay what’s up but if I’m in a train of thought or project it gives me the time to finish it up and not get sidetracked with out feeling bad.

      5. Jill*

        I once worked for a boss who would always start requests with “do you want to ….”, and because I was 15, I would often respond with “no”. It didn’t go over well.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Asking like that is bullshit though. At ex-job, our manager asked my department “Would some of you like to [take on additional responsibility, with no additional pay, that has additional metrics that will almost certainly curb your ability to get a bonus]?”

          She was pissed when no one volunteered for that sweet assignment and complained about us to all the other managers on the smoke deck instead of just clarifying that she needed [#] of people to do this, figure out who’s going to do it or it will be assigned randomly. (Don’t worry though, it worked out okay: a couple people volunteered, and the people who didn’t volunteer got their metrics knocked down hard enough that no one in my department got a bonus anyway.)

    2. Oilpress*

      When I assign something to my direct reports, I avoid phrasing it as a question. “Please do Task X,” is both polite and effective.

      1. Ainomiaka*

        I think the issue is that the people the lw is talking to aren’t direct reports so it’s not like they can just assign work?

    3. Liane*

      Alison covered that in her answer: ” (The exception to this, of course, is if you’re dealing with someone obstructionist, but if that’s the case your wording isn’t likely to change that anyway.)”
      In which case, you–or a boss, if the person is equal to, not below, you in the hierarchy–gets to have A Conversation with the co-irker: “Donald, ‘Please do X’ or ‘Can you handle Y?’ DON’T mean you have a choice about whether or not you do X and Y. They are simple nice ways of phrasing, ‘You must do X or Y,’ because being polite is part of everyone’s jobs at OurCo.”

      1. Colette*

        Not everyone who answers the question that is being asked is being obstructionist, though. In fact, most people probably aren’t deliberately misunderstanding – but I can see someone answering “no, I wouldn’t mind” and expecting a follow-up conversation with the details of what they are actually being asked to do.

    4. Triplestep*

      Yes, I think Alison may have missed the actual question here. The LW is using phrases that sound like favor-asking, and it seems to me the question was not “is it OK to say it this way?” but “How can I make this seem less like a favor and/or optional”? There are times we need to say to peers “I need you to do this thing that’s under your purview so I can keep this going on this thing that’s under MY purview.”

      I may be projecting here because I am also an individual contributor who – as a PM – depend on people to do things that are not favors, but are their actual jobs. In fact, I depend on quite a few people to do this during the course of a project. I wish I had more ways to politely tell them “Time to do your job now!” without it sounding optional. Most of my job stress is born out of having to schedule the work of other people – none of whom report to me – in a way that gets things done in a specific order.

        1. Triplestep*

          I work in the building trades and the projects I PM are design and/or construction projects. “Purview” and “scope” are used routinely.

        2. sin nombre*

          Don’t nitpick other people’s word choices. What value is that adding to the conversation?

    5. gladfe*

      I often phrase this sort of request as, “I need (Thing) for (Reason). Would you have time to get that to me by (Deadline)?” The timing part really is a question, since I don’t know what their other priorities are, but ending with it also makes the entire message sound less like an order.

      1. Ainomiaka*

        This is also a good point. Depending on the deadline and level of notice, there is a bit of favor -will peers prioritize what the lw wants over what everyone else wants – being asked here.

      2. MsFitz*

        I do this too. I work with people in a bunch of different countries that I’ve never met, and often I’m not sure who’s actually supposed to do the job so I will add 2-5 people to the email.

        I think the deadline helps indicate a few things – I am relying on their work to complete something that needs to be delivered by X date, and I’ve also thought about the schedule and implications so it’s not a poorly thought out request so I’m respecting their time. And if it’s a short turnaround I apologize profusely. And I always genuinely thank them in a non-form-letter way.

        I generally thank people more than I say “please.” I don’t mecessarily think that’s a good thing, but I really love acknowledgment of my work, and I think a lot of social niceties (like asking how someone’s weekend wasn’t when you don’t care) are annoying.

        1. ClownBaby*

          The last three exit interviews I conducted all included some statement by the exiting employees saying they wished their work would’ve been acknowledged more. None of the three were exactly superstar employees, but they all did their jobs and completed tasks. Their managers told me that they only “thank” workers who go above and beyond and that these workers weren’t doing that, so they didn’t get really any acknowledgement…which I think definitely may have been a factor in their looking elsewhere.

          Ever since then, I try to thank my own direct reports at least once or twice per week…even if they are just doing their essential job functions. I hope (and so far I think it’s working) that these no-cost, no-effort pieces of positive reinforcement encourage them to start going above and beyond.

          So I, like you, am now using “thank you” so much more than “please”. I don’t like feeling like I have to ask people to do their jobs, but I certainly think thanking them is useful!

          1. BurnOutCandidate*

            My department is what I’ve called a “feedback free zone.” We only get feedback when something goes wrong, not when something goes right. When I have to work with someone in the graphics team on a project, I make sure that, even though I’m not their manager (but they have to do what I send them), that I give them feedback and let their supervisor know that I liked their work.

      1. Safetykats*

        You can absolutely phrase something as a polite request without making it sound optional. I really like gladfe’s wording, which is pretty standard to what I see in my job.

        If you’re asking someone to do something that is part of their job, you should really just be able to say politely that you need it done. Remember to say Thank You, of course.

    6. MarsJenkar*

      Agreed. I tend to be rather literal with my interpretations. The last wording (“I’m sending you [X]… can you handle it from here?”) is the one I would personally use, since it’s the one I would most likely interpret as a more-than-just-a-request “request”, since it puts the ball in my court in a way the other phrasings don’t.

    7. Rocketship*

      My office works pretty closely with our sister office in Australia; one thing we’ve picked up from them is phrasing these types of requests as “May you please XYZ?”

      Polite, but definitely a directive and less easy to take literally than “Can you” (“Sure, I can.” “Ok but WILL you”) without being obviously obstinate. It felt a little weirdly formal at first, but it’s quickly become a matter of habit. Highly recommend.

      1. Colette*

        I read “may” as asking for permission, so that is a very clunkly wording, IMO. (You’re asking me whether I will give myself permission to do this for you?)

      2. Hodie-hi*

        I agree with Colette. To me, it sounds like something written by someone whose first language is not English. It’s awkward and not appropriate usage.

        I say May to ask permission for something I want to do. May I have the last slice of pie? May I nibble on your ear?

        I don’t say May to ask someone else to do something, with or without saying Please. May you mow the lawn? May you give me a back rub? Awkward.

      3. Karli*

        Kiwi with Aussie connections here – I’ve never heard that phrasing at all before. It sounds like it could be from a non-native English speaker?

    8. Nacho*

      Counter-note: Anyone who responds to “would you mind doing X” with “no” and doesn’t do it is an asshole.

    9. Close Bracket*

      Yes, I am very literal, especially if I am in the middle of something and can only devote a small portion of my brain to decoding indirect communication. Direct communication doesn’t have to mean brusque or rude. Learning to be direct without being dictatoral is worthwhile for anyone who has to give direction.

  4. Narise*

    OP1 You should start looking for another job, but in the meantime you need to shed a light on how ridiculous this entire situation is for the company and for you. You need to go back to your boss and have a conversation regarding your plans for a trip and that it’s not feasible to only plan them on a specific week and only for one week at a time. Then follow that up with an email. In that email you need to specifically ask how would boss ensure that everyone in the company is paid on time if you was suddenly out of office for an extended period of time due to illness or an accident? If he still doesn’t budge escalate to grand boss. Finally your only other option is to have an emergency and simply be unavailable for a few days or even a full week during payroll or some other important week.
    I have seen this exact situation in other jobs and no ones dealt with it until they were forced to and it did cause problems for others but it was the impact that resulted in change.

    1. Paquita*

      Not exactly the same situation. At a former job there was an employee who did NOT want to share her knowledge (IT stuff). She died unexpectedly :( and there was a huge scramble to figure out what she actually did. It was both MORE important and MUCH LESS difficult than the bosses realized. I think that brought about some much needed changes. Sorry it took someone dying to do it. (Side note: She actually got sick at work in the break room, EMS was called, she was pronounced DOA at the hospital.)

      1. Rainy*

        I’ve mentioned this before but my late husband, who did on-site support for a major software company, was once called out because the owner of a company’s brother was hit and killed by a bus and he happened to be the person who had kludged together and was maintaining their inventory and sales system on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. He also didn’t comment any of his code, in an almost Dilbertian job security type situation.

      2. AFineSpringDay*

        Sounds like much my former boss – a micromanaging control freak who wanted to be the only one who had all the information. When she died (cancer) the finance people were shocked we had no idea about our budget or where to find information about it, because she kept all that to herself.

      3. Magenta Sky*

        The ultimate example of IT people never, ever being irreplaceable is Terry Childs, who was a network admin for the city of San Francisco. Among the things handled by the network he’d built was the 911 system, and if it went down (and it had not too long before it all came to a head), he was the *only* person who could bring it back. He thought that made him irreplaceable, and he refused to give the administrative passwords to his boss.

        He was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution. There was a certain risk in prosecuting him, but he’s very lucky 911 didn’t go down while he was in jail, or he’d have been facing far more serious charges.

        1. Beaded Librarian*

          I read about that and found it fascinating, I also read some commentary on it from some IT professionals who said that while yes he should have handed over the passwords they didn’t blame him for not doing it during the conference call meeting in which they were formally asking for them due to there being people who probably shouldn’t have access to them being there. But they also acknowledged that he shouldn’t have had the set up the way it was in the first place.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            He had weeks of opportunities to hand over the passwords. Including with a police detective in the room with him and his manager (and, I believe, no on else), after being told if he didn’t hand over the password, he’d be arrested.

            (During the investigation, it turned out he’d lied to get the job in the first place, about a felony conviction that would have kept him from being hired, and broke numerous other laws along the way, including an undocumented remote access terminal hidden in his office inside a file cabinet, so he could go on vacation himself without having to give up the passwords.)

            Childs brought *all* his problems on himself. As an IT professional, my belief is that he deserved a lot more prison time than he got. Given that his antics threatened the 911 system, he endangered lives.

      4. TheBeetsMotel*

        We had someone “You’re fired”; “You can’t fire m, I quit!” once who never wrote anything down. It was a scramble here and there, but obviously we pulled through. Never quite understood the “if no one knows my job, I’m unfireable!” tactic. I’ve yet to see it work, haha.

        That being said, my condolences about your co-worker. That’s a pretty big shock to the system.

    2. OP#1*

      OP #1 here – the only reason I got a backup for payroll was because I was sick during a payroll week and they realized how terrible it is. Note that it still hasn’t encouraged them to do any more than the bare minimum of training one other person.

    3. paul*

      The combination of being limited to one week, and only in one part of the month, would kill me. We have a practice (not formal policy) of not allowing vacations over 2 working weeks on a regular basis because we’re a small group and distributing client loads for a month plus wears everyone else down (not to mention other PTOO request, sick calls, etc) and even *that* causes understandable issues. What you’re describing is a lot crappier than that, and for an even worse reason. Yuck

      1. BurnOutCandidate*

        I work in publishing, on a monthly publication, and this is the exact scenario I and several of my coworkers face. It’s a small team, and we’re limited both in budget and in space. On the graphics side, vacations are scheduled around the deadlines, whether that’s convenient for the person or not. On the word side, I haven’t taken more than two days off in a row since 2010 because of the deadlines I face, and I think I’ve finally hit the wall. I’ve asked for a sabbatical for two years, because I knew even then that I was at my limit, but there’s no one trained on any of my work and no one available to train because higher ups won’t hire anyone. It’s brutal.

  5. Mananana*

    LW4, it sounds like enough people leave earlier than you that there may be parking spots closer to the door available.
    Can you take a few minutes and move your car closer to the door while it’s still light?

    1. Amy*

      Alternatively, could you ask for a reserved spot near the door, since you’re accommodating this special request to adjust your hours? Being close to the building when you need to get to your car alone after dark is a pretty reasonable safety measure. And even if your company doesn’t usually do reserved spots, they’ve already acknowledged that your situation is somewhat outside the norm, which I think gives you room to ask for somewhat unusual accommodations to make it work.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      It sounds like she is arriving later than everyone so all the close spots are already taken.
      She’d have to go back out a 5 pm and move her car closer.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        Yes exactly. Seems like the best plan to me though. Take a quick break right around 530 to move your car closer. This was very common at the call center I worked at.

        1. Mabel*

          It gets dark here around 4 or 4:30 lately, so that’s tricky because the people working until 5 or 5:30 haven’t vacated their parking spaces yet. But I guess going out to the parking lot at dusk or a little later to move the car would be better then going into the lot at 7:00 when a lot more cars are gone.

          1. TootsNYC*

            or going out when others are leaving means you’re not the only person in the parking lot.

            (That said–I’m actually more comfortable in a totally deserted lot, because I can SEE if anybody is around; they can’t be hiding between cars or anything. If I had to leave at the same time every day, I might worry that someone would observe me one day and hang around on the edge the second day, though.)

            1. Rebecca in Dallas*

              That’s pretty common in my office when people are working later. They go out to the parking lot around the time other people are leaving and move their cars closer.

              Also, if the building has a security officer, you might ask them to walk you to your car or at least watch from the front door.

        2. Brandy in TN*

          Or maybe around lunch time if others are running out for a bite to eat, can you try to aim for one of their spots. Our later people do this here.

          1. teclatrans*

            Her previous shift was until 4pm, so it’s a pretty good bet there are people leaving at that time. Seems to me that having some assigned spots set aside for people with later shifts would be a really good security policy.

            1. Brandy*

              We have a flex schedule here and when I leave at 4 there are people that stay later that run out and take our spots.

      2. Peter the Bubblehead*

        Not sure where you work, but here in the Northeast it gets dark between 4 and 4:30pm. Whether you go out to move your car at 5:30 or wait until the end of the work day at7, the OP would still be facing the same problem.
        A parking space reserved by the employers seems like it would be the best and safest choice.

      3. RB*

        I work approx 10-7 so I’m going home in the dark for a few months out of the year. I love my shift and wouldn’t trade it for an earlier shift. Usually there are still a couple cars in the lot (we share our lot with a couple other offices) and I just carry my keys in my hand. If I was truly worried I’d get a can of mace, but I’ve just learned to deal with it. There is no way to have a reserved spot, but I do have the option of moving my car to a closer spot mid-afternoon. Sometimes I take a late lunch so I can do that but other times I don’t bother with that.

        1. Topazzcat*

          I work the same shift 10-7. I have been thinking about this as well. We have security in our building. I see the security guards around the parking lot all the time. I have spoken to one of them he told they are more than willing to walk us to our vehicles. Today everyone was leaving early because of the colder weather ( I was able to work from home) and the security guard asked me where I parked, He asked because the roads are slippery on the top open floor. He told me to be careful!

  6. Falling Diphthong*

    OP1, as insane as it is to make the entire 500 person company reliant on The Only Person Who Can Do Payroll or The Only Person Who Knows Where The Shipping Forms Are, it seems to be a common way of operating for some firms. (Seriously, if you’re hit by a bus tomorrow their plan is that no one every gets paid again?) It’s a policy that should be changed or generate its own consequence–i.e. good people will leave.

    1. Natalie*

      The same happened in the accounts payable departement I used to work for. Though it was both the fault of my boss and the employee. I studied Business Administration with a focus on financial subjects because I knew I would end up in that departement after I was done. I was going to learn what that employee did, so I could, quote “take over for the case that she falls of a tree, for example”. I did a bachelor of arts programm with a combinied training of 3 years so I knew the company really well (basically 10 weeks of study per semester and the rest working for the company). I was qualified, eager to learn and very interested. What basically happened was that she showed me only the most neccessary thinks to cover 4 hours of work per day (I was a full time employee) and she never showed me anything beyond that. Our boss was too afraid to say something because she really wasn’t a manager and avoided conflict at any cost. I ended up leaving the company after 1 year. Nobody in the departement could understand why she refused to teach me. It was insane. End of the story, nobody I started the training with works for the company anymore :)

      1. Peter the Bubblehead*

        Some people believe it is ‘job security’ if they have no one that can do their job in their place.
        In my line of work we prefer to call it ‘single-point failure.’

    2. Bea*

      Right?! This blows my entire mind. This is the setup I’m used to but I’ve always worked for companies of less than thirty people and payroll takes a day at most, it’s easy to train someone to step in for that or my boss would just run draw checks if an emergency came up.

      Even as a person who doesn’t foresee myself being a “vacation” person, I always work my days off around my essential duties and am a workaholic too much to relax outside of business, I cannot believe that a company so huge would be so deaf to an employees desire to use their vacation benefits and to put such a lock on them.

      My bosses have always gone on extended vacations, I’d like to know if the executives at the company get to take longer than a week off at a time. What a bunch of BS!

      I am in the process of working up procedure documents because I didn’t come into a bad situation by any means but I am an expert at finding jobs where I have little to no training extended. They can call in a temp who can be trained for the two weeks that the OP is on vacation even!

  7. Elkay*

    Our leave policy says we should take two consecutive weeks of leave each year (although I don’t think it’s enforced). These policies are favourable to the business because two weeks is normally long enough for someone covering a job to notice irregularities. I don’t work in a finance/HR position but I’d think that it would be hugely beneficial to the company to have someone covering payroll at least once a year because otherwise who knows what the OP1 could be doing (I’m not saying there is wrongdoing just that it protects the company to not have it solely run by one person). I wonder if OP could spin that argument somehow that it’s good practice to have two people who can run payroll?

    1. JanetM*

      Many years ago, a friend who worked for a bank noted that all employees were required to take a two-week vacation once a year; the theory was that any fiddling they’d set up might be missed in one week, but would likely be caught in two. I vaguely recall him saying that was USA federal banking law or policy, but I could be wrong about that.

      1. Amelia*

        All the big investment banks require 2 consecutive weeks vacation as an internal safeguard. I don’t believe it’s required but it’s strongly encouraged by the FDIC.

      2. OP#1*

        I should imply that I might be stealing, lol. But also we have people who reconcile the payroll after I submit it and someone else who checks that against the bank accounts, so it’d be pretty difficult. Because of our industry, we actually have a pretty robust Accounting department…I’m not sure why it’s my job to do payroll actually.

        1. nico m*

          Doh! Of course! What does the head of Finance think? They might want to take payroll off you, for their own empire building.

          1. OP#1*

            Our CFO is honestly completely checked out and only works part-time, and the two controllers under him are willing to take payroll on once they get a few more things automated, but my boss (VP of Operations) doesn’t want to give up control, I think.

    2. Bea*

      Yes. An unexpected day off by someone was how my former boss found out he was being stolen from. Someone pocketing cash from cash sales.

      I think the most important part of the thing is that someone needs to be taking over for the person. I have been in places where things just stay on your desk and wait until you get back from vacation, doh.

      1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

        My friend ran a business and one employee took 3 weeks off to travel to Europe. While she was gone he noticed that the cash flow was significantly higher. That was how she financed a vacation.

        1. Bea*

          OMG was your friend able to prove theft :( My experience is always the sticky fingers getting away with it, it’s why I trust nobody ever.

          1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

            He wasn’t able to prove it even though when she returned to work, her cash flow was still lower than the other cashiers. It was the 70s, there was no automation or good checks and balances in place, they didn’t even give out receipts. All he could do was change her hours so she didn’t close at night alone anymore. It was in a tourist destination area and they got lots of cash.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      When our payroll person is on vacation (hers are often 2-4 weeks long), we just contract out. Because we weren’t her only client (nonprofit), this seemed pretty sustainable once we set up the processes. She was in charge of the hand off, but otherwise everything ran smoothly so she could take off.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        That’s how it was when I was an office administrator for a small design firm. I normally ran the payroll, but there was an accountant on contract, and they had people at her firm who could run the payroll if I was out.

  8. Pete*

    I think that management allows LW1 only 12 weeks (60 days) opportunities to use vacation days to be far more unreasonable than the 1 week max.

      1. Caledonia*

        The OP can only take leave on weeks when payroll isn’t due/processed so that is 1 suitable week a month.

      2. BK*

        I think he means that LW can only take time off during one specific week each month, so she only has 12 weeks per year where she can spend her vacation days. This doesn’t give her a lot of freedom… and it’s probably very different than what other people at her company are allowed.

    1. Elsajeni*

      My impression is that the “only on the one non-payroll week” restriction only applies if she’s taking the entire week, since it doesn’t seem to have come up before and she says she’s been able to take smaller chunks of vacation. Still super unreasonable, but not quite as unreasonable.

      1. Beatrice*

        But they’re apparently having her train someone to cover payroll, and then balking at the opportunity to actually test out that arrangement by having that person…you know…cover payroll…while she’s on vacation.

        I wonder if the balking is at the idea of having the new payroll trainee’s first real test be potentially two payrolls in a row, where the OP may be unreachable to help. I admit that feels pretty risky. If that were the main reason for hesitation, I’d just test the new person out, either by seeing if the OP is interested in a staycation during a payroll cycle before she goes on her European vacation, or by reassigning her to something else that would render her much less available, but not unreachable.

        1. eplawyer*

          Or just have the new person run payroll one week while LW is there. That way if the test fails, payroll gets run. If it goes right, LW is not the only person to run payroll and can take vacations in the future.

            1. JessaB*

              Exactly I do not get why the test cannot be, okay OP you’re here if they blow it, but take your hands off the wheel and sit back and watch. don’t step in unless they’re really about to screw it up.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This! Train a backup. Then run the test while OP is alive, not-comatose, not hopped-up on pain meds…

    2. Oilpress*

      Yes, this is where a good boss can make all the difference. A good boss would recognize how this employee is making a special concession in terms of vacation flexibility and return the favour by accommodating the odd special request (i.e. two consecutive vacation weeks) from them.

  9. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 I think it can sometimes help if you don’t actually ask them to do the thing. Instead, say what the thing is and then ask if it’s possible.

    For example:

    I’m emailing about the January teapot orders. We’ll need to get the glazing done by the 19th. Will that be possible?

    We’ve started planning the llama dance display. The llamas will have to learn the tango by the 26th. Will that be possible as I’d like to get it booked in?

  10. CAA*

    For #5, you mentioned needing FMLA “within a year or so”. I just want to make sure you know you have to work there a full year before you are entitled to FMLA benefits.

      1. fposte*

        It’s both. You have to have worked there for twelve months *and* worked 1250 hours. 1250 hours is actually just 24+ hours a week, so full-time you hit that well before a year.

        1. Amelia*

          She’s probably thinking more than a year in the future. A full-term pregnancy is almost 10 months.

          1. fposte*

            Sure, but it’s worth making the point just in case “a year or so” turns out to be 11 months and 29 days.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Yes. Sometimes you start trying and BAM you are immediately pregnant, when you had figured it would take 3-12 months.

              1. Half-Caf Latte*

                *raises hand*

                And then once it happened, all of these people came out of the woodwork saying that they also got immediately pregnant upon starting to try.

                Although I believe that pregnancy is covered under the ADA, so if you aren’t yet eligible for FMLA there might be some (reduced?) leave available.

                Anyone smarter than me know about this?

                1. Natalie*

                  Pregnancy alone is not considered a disability. Complications from pregnancy can trigger the need for accommodations though.

                2. Ally*

                  You’re thinking of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Prevents sex discrimination based on pregnancy.

              2. Cercis*

                Happened to me twice. First baby was born exactly 38 weeks after our first attempt (full term pregnancy is ~40 weeks from last menstrual period, or 38 weeks from conception, which in my case was 41 weeks from LMP). 2nd baby was in the same time frame (didn’t pay attention to the date for him, but I know it would have been close). 1st baby was born 1 year, 4 days after I started working at that company – so I qualified for FMLA, but not for maternity leave (and to be fair, I wouldn’t have qualified if it had taken a few months, the requirement was 2 years at the company and I knew that). I’m still amazed that I never had any pregnancies but those two.

              3. teclatrans*

                OMG, add me to the “pregnant first time we tried,” train when what I really wanted for timing was a few months down the road. My dearest friends and family had all taken ages, so I was taken aback. (Then again, I had just spent 2 weeks with an overdue best friend, then cuddled her newborn all night long in the NICU, so…hormones, maybe?)

    1. Bea*

      Also this is a start up company, do they have more than 50 employees even? So many small companies mention FLMA and it doesn’t even pertain to them. I know I had to explain it to each of my former employers at this rate when it’s been brought up.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This sounds like another good reason for OP to argue for parental leave :) Presumably the start up is going up against FMLA-covered employers, so if it’s not large enough to fall under FMLA, it will need a separate policy recreating that benefit for its employees.

  11. Natalie*

    #1 I live in Germany and here it is required that companies give an employee at least 2 weeks off at a time at least once a year. It is also pretty bad organization for a company to rely solely on the work of one employee (I know it states that there is going to be another one who can replace LW1, but it still doesn’t seem like the departement can work without LW1).
    I am saying this since it doesn’t seem to be that small of a company. Of course the situation would be different for a start-up, but I am always wondering how managers think when they rely on one person for any role, especially relatively important roles, such as payrolls. It makes me wonder how the rest of the job feels to LW1. KInd of gives me the impression that there is not a lot of respect for the private live of them (and maybe their work as well?).

    1. KiwiLib*

      Likewise, in NZ employees are entitled by law to have two consecutive weeks (we get 4 weeks total per year). I know US employment law and practices are very different, but I’m still surprised at how different the US is compared to Europe/NZ/Australia in this regard.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is the sorest point of contention between my bff and me (in a jokey way—I’m mostly just envious of her). Her leave is AMAZING in NZ, both for parental leave and vacation.

        1. KiwiLib*

          You’d better not get a friend from Europe, esp Scandinavia, then – their leave is truly amazing!

      2. Wannabikkit*

        I’m surprised at US employment law too. It really makes me appreciate my own country.

        In NZ, we have 5 sick leave days a year as mandated by legislation.
        I should mention that the 5 days sick leave and 4 weeks annual leave are the MINIMUM required of employers by NZ legislation. Many employers offer more leave than this. My own employer gives 5 weeks annual leave to staff who have been with the organisation 4 years or more, and 10 days sick leave a year which can accrue (I’ve got 37 days up my sleeve at present).

      3. Lena*

        Ooh good to know about the 2 weeks off in NZ! I’ve only ever had a week at a time, but I’m planning a longer trip and was worried about asking for that.

  12. Underemployed Erin*

    LW5: If it is a private employer, the employer has to have 50 employees for FMLA to apply. With an employer with fewer employees, check to see if they have short-term disability. I worked for a small company where the owner kept saying he would see to that next year, and the time never came. It was very demoralizing.

      1. Amelia*

        New York State’s new Family Leave Act starts today.
        50% pay up to 8 weeks, phasing into 12 weeks over the next 4 years.
        I don’t think there are restrictions based on business size. You just have to work more than 24 hours a week for 26 weeks. 2018/2019 is going to be a much better year to have a baby than when I had my last little New Yorker!

  13. Cadbury Cream Egg*

    My company only allows 1 week vacation during the month of December. But this is so other staff have the opportunity to take time at the holidays as well instead of 1 or 2 people taking 2-3 weeks and no one else.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes—I’m more used to this restriction. When I worked for the feds, we would only be allowed one week of vacation during the second half of December. But otherwise, there were no standing restrictions (just manager-discretion restrictions) on how many weeks we could take at a time.

  14. NYC Weez*

    Re #4: I’ve worked in some genuinely threatening areas—had friends and colleagues brutally attacked, mugged etc. Yet, I never felt scared until recently when I started noticing that I’ve been ending my day after almost everyone else has left the building. The office is truly in the middle of no where—fields surround it, and the nearest civilization is a half mile away There’s a security guard that I’ve known for 5 years and genuinely don’t get bad vibes from, but my brain has started down the “what if” rabbit hole. What if X happens? What if (guard) decides to do Y? I’m quite sure it’s more anxiety on my part than any actual danger. The conditions have been the same for 6 years, so if the guard truly has bad intentions, he’s certainly taking his sweet time to make them known, lol.

    In my case, I *choose* to remain late bc I prefer working at the office. So if I continue to feel anxious, I can always adjust and do some extra work at home. What are your options? Is the later schedule truly beneficial for your clients? Can you finish up your shift remotely? (Doesn’t seem to be any benefit to being in the office since you are almost always alone. Whether your feelings are based in actual threats or anxiety like mine is, there may be ways to adjust the situation to solve the business concerns without feeling unsafe.

    1. TardyTardis*

      I ran into this when I had my dream schedule (not a morning person) of 9-6–in winter it was always dark, and I parked where I was next to a light and no shrubbery around. I also carried a flashlight (one of those Harbor Freight Lumens of the Gods kind), and checked my path from the door to the car before I left. Fortunately, the door locking schedule was posted, and the doorway to the bathrooms rearranged so people didn’t get locked out visiting them.

    2. AmyT*

      I’m confused because the LW says that it’s in a good neighborhood and I’m assuming that it’s a private, company lot. I don’t know what exactly she wants her employer to do, her company specifically asked her to work this schedule so they could have coverage and I don’t think her saying she’s afraid to walk in the parking lot at night is going to come off very adult like. Lots of people work second shift or evening hours and have to commute in the city via bus or train that I imagine aren’t in the best of neighborhoods all the time but such is life. Especially as she said she’s the youngest in the office, I don’t see how she avoids looking immature and not business savvy. Unless there is a legitimate case of anxiety, which it doesn’t sound like, her best case is to be aware of her surroundings and have her keys and phone out as she walks to her car.

      1. Changeling*

        I regularly get off of work between 7 and at night, and unfortunately cannot park in a good area. It is actually a pretty sketchy area. For a while we were allowed to move our cars closer on a break, but recently we were told we can’t anymore. We can wait for building security to give us a ride if we are willing to wait until they have time.

        I wish I was walking in a nice neighborhood at 7ish.

      2. Someone else*

        Most people who work second shift aren’t literally the only employee in the office at the time. It sounds like in the LW’s case she often is. That makes it much sketchier. Even if a decent neighborhood, dark+alone+parking lot is often considered easy pickins for someone who wants to mug/carjack someone.

      3. caryatis*

        +1. Occasionally having to be alone after dark is just part of adult life. I mean, is LW really planning to refuse to go out after 6 for several months of the year? I guess it wouldn’t be terrible to ask for a reserved parking space, but really, LW just needs to accept that a normal adult life comes with some risk. If it’s too dark, get a flashlight. Plenty of people would be overjoyed to have a 10-7 schedule.

      4. Luna*

        If the company is expecting employees to stay late, they should make sure the parking lot is well lit- not just for scenarios such as muggings or carjackings, but also so people can see where they are walking, make sure they don’t slip on ice, etc.

  15. Samata*

    #4 – I would definitely speak up, at the very least about being locked out. A good employer wants to know these things and might not be aware of them. Especially the door locking and especially if it’s recent. They may change the timecode on the locks when the time changes and your boss might not know, especially if it’s a rented building. When I ran liaison between our office and the managing company I was gob smacked sometimes at the changes they’d make without alerting tenants. (including requiring keycard entry on a back door that was the entrance from the main employee parking lot.

    As Alison pointed out, this is not you being a scared little girl, it’s a legitimate safety concern. At the very least they may offer to provide you the number of a security guard if your building has one or be sure that there is at least one other person on the same shift as you or move you back to your initial shift and work something out with your clients.

    Even if you get none of these accommodations I think it’s something essential to bring up and make management aware of.

    1. Mallory*

      Yep. But also, since you mentioned you are young and presumably new to the workforce, if you have keys/a badge that you are supposed to carry around, make sure you remember to always have them on you. It took me years to get used to it.

      1. JessaB*

        Even if they don’t like it during the day, at night I’d go with a lanyard with the keys/key card on it and just keep it on whether I was getting up or not. I’d also take my phone just in case and make sure I have the number of an emergency key holder on my dial list.

        As for a rented building, I can’t think of anything more dangerous than not letting tenants know about changes in building security. Someone could get seriously hurt not knowing. Disabled persons might not be able to enter the building. I can’t walk around a building. I would seriously have whoever is your facilities person raise holy heck with whoever in the rental office had the nerve to not let the tenants know.

  16. Antilles*

    #4: You should also let him know you’ve been getting locked out — but the solution to that one might just be that you need to bring your keys with you after a certain time.
    Honestly, if you’re working anything outside of the regular 9-5 business (or equivalent), you should probably assume that you always need to have your keys with you any time you’re leaving the building, since it’s just impossible to predict. Even if your manager can give you an estimated time (“we usually let the last manager lock the doors, which typically is Bob at 5:30”), there’s so much variability with when people decide to leave/lock up that you probably wouldn’t want to rely on that.
    Maybe the normal manager is out of office and another manager locks up earlier. Maybe someone sees something outside the window and locks up the door early. Maybe someone in the office read an article earlier in the day, got paranoid, and really wanted to lock up as soon as it started to get dark. Maybe one of your co-workers just happened to walk by the door on their way to somewhere else in the office and casually decided to go ahead and lock up so that nobody forgot.

    1. Jill*

      Yeah, I’m not understanding why she thinks it’s such a hardship to take her keys with her when she leaves.

      1. Wannabikkit*

        My office requires swipe cards to get into, everyone knows this, and yet I’m still frequently having to let co-workers in because they’ve forgotten their swipe card!!

      2. Momofpeanut*

        I don’t get that she said it was a hardship; merely that she was caught off guard by needing them at unpredictable times.
        It’s not unreasonable to wonder how the building security processes are handled – who is responsible for securing things, and at approximately what time that happens.

        1. Luna*

          Exactly, every office I’ve ever worked in has specific times when the doors are locked. If the doors are supposed to lock at 5pm and it’s only 4:30pm, I wouldn’t think I need to bring my keys with me. The OP isn’t leaving the building, it sounds like the hallway doors lock and the bathrooms are in the hallway.

      3. MsMorlowe*

        Personally, a lot of my work clothes don’t have pockets, so bringing a medium-sized bunch of keys with me wherever I go means bringing my handbag and everything else in my handbag. It’s not onerous, exactly, but it can be quite annoying especially if it’s only on the off-chance that you’ll actually need something in it.

        1. Jessica*

          But most clothes have belt loops, and it would be pretty easy to pick up a small carabiner and put the keys on it, then attach the carabiner to the belt loop. Or to a lanyard that you wear around your neck.

        2. Starbuck*

          All my keys are on a lanyard & carabiner that stays around my neck all day- but this is mostly because I would lose them otherwise. I also find it more convenient than digging around in my bag or pockets, because those are usually filled with other clutter already.

  17. MommyMD*

    I’m getting the feeling LW is having some trouble in having her requested tasks completed, therefore asking for ideas on how to come across more direct in her emails.

    1. KWu*

      Oh, I thought it was maybe trying to find the difference between making requests of friends and making requests of colleagues.

  18. KWu*

    #5: I might start the discussion with a more general “do you have plans to expand the parental leave benefits?” If they respond enthusiastically about different options they’ve been discussing and show they’ve already been giving this some thought, you might end up with something that’s more generous than what you might have specifically asked for. It would also be a reassuring sign that they’re oriented towards this benefit in a way that makes it a little less likely that they’d try to claw it back or arbitrarily change it in the future. Very likely they’ll just say, “well, we’re a new startup so it’s hard, but what are you thinking?” and you can just state what you want then anyway.

    1. Reba*

      I think that’s a great way to open the conversation.

      I might even ask, “What are your plans to expand parental leave benefits?” — what rather than whether — indicating your assumption that of course a good, competitive company would want to have these things. :)

    2. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, it struck me as a bit odd to ask for a hypothetical maternity leave to be included in the written job offer. This is something that should be incorporated into the company policy, not negotiated on an individual basis for someone who may end up never using it, for whatever reason. (I also agree with the first commenter that this should be framed as parental leave, not maternity.) FWIW, though, the size/longevity of the company isn’t necessarily going to determine what their policy is – it’s more about their ethos. I work for a huge university with thousands of employees and there is no paid parental leave beyond using up vacation/sick time and FMLA.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        That’s not a huge surprise. Parental leave is really valuable to parents… but the reason folks want it is also the reason employers don’t want to give it: leave costs a lot of money.

        Flexibility is valuable to employers. Leave policies prevent employers from hiring and firing people to replace others; they require more training (expensive!) and temps (expensive!) and they sometimes also require them to pay more paid vacation (expensive!) or to give salary hikes for time not spent at work (expensive!) and so on.

        In a tight job market where folks are competing for a limited pool of qualified employees, additional leave (or salary) can produce additional profit. In a market where there are many more employees than jobs (university positions are often in that category) or where your employees and shorter term / more fungible (lots of lower-level jobs) leave is less likely to be profitable.

        **Parental leave makes economic sense for top execs and other highly trained employees who are really hard to replace, but they make up a fairly small %age of the total workforce. Most lower-level employees are a cost to the employer.

  19. Randy*

    1) on the issue of the HR person, do yourself a favor and find a new job. Start TODAY. Anyplace that is as disfunctional as you described will result in real HR problems. Good luck!

    2) on the issue of being locked out of your office. I truly do not understand why this would happen more than once. It’s the employees responsibility to carry items like keys, employee badge, key card, ect., for workplace entrance. We all get it may happen while getting used to a new location, but if it’s a regular thing then there is an issue that needs to be dealt with.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      It’s very possible that the employee doesn’t have keys to the work area. Security could come around and lock the doors. You can get out but not in.

    2. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      It’s also possible, from the way it’s worded, that they’re locked out of a specific area, not the workplace entrance.

    3. Elizabeth H.*

      We have a door between our office suite and the rest of the building that locks after 7pm (unless door is propped open). The door is propped open and unlocked
      during the day so I never take my key card when I go to the bathroom or something. It’s not unreasonable to have to carry it around with you if everyone does, but if they randomly sometimes lock it at 5pm and sometimes not until 7pm it’d be annoying. I think the idea here is that it’s part of a general pattern of the office not really being structured for someone working regularly until 7pm which is alienating.

  20. Bea*

    #2 I have never thought of any request from a colleague as a favor. I’m not sure that you’re not getting responses or if you’re just worried that the wording isn’t direct enough and think maybe someone won’t understand it’s not optional.

    My bosses have always word requests in the way you describe and I never think of it as a favor. You know something is a favor by the content. “Would you also pick up Julia from band practice while you go pick up supplies?” now that’s a favor (that has happened because I work in that kind of world where my life can appear to be a personal assistant, I signed up for it, I’m not mad.) Whereas “Would you mind looking at this expense report and cutting a check?” doesn’t read as “Only if you want to though!”, that’s just part of my job and it’s a nice way to tell me to do it. Instead of “Process this.” because we have a better relationship than any of that!

  21. Mrs Vakarian*

    As a Swede, this is confusing. I’m a hourly retail worker and I get 4 weeks of paid vacation per year. I usually take them all during the summer.

    1. Specialk9*

      What’s confusing you? You live in a country that believes all people are human. America is not that.

    2. Bea*

      Keep in mind that in America vacation is a benefit rarely ever allotted to anyone in retail or service industries. How much does that suck?

      They also don’t get paid a living wage and are frequently impoverished and a paycheck away from homelessness.

      1. CubicleShroom#1004*

        Working retail, I didn’t qualify for anything.

        No sick days, call in no pay.
        Vacations? BWHAHAHAHA! Paid vacations? double BWAHAHAHAHA!
        No health insurance.

        All this worker’s paradise for a dollar above minimum wage.

        I can’t believe retail gets 4 weeks vacation. The “I got a degree to get a job” begrudgingly gets two weeks off. My RN friends starting out only gets (these are paid) 5 vacation days, 2 PD and 3 sick days.

        *weeps into coffee mug*

    3. ScarlettNZ*

      I’m in NZ and I get five weeks of annual leave annually, plus 11 public holidays (the law is four weeks but my employer gives an extra week). I can take them all at once if I want to.

    4. caryatis*

      So how do people afford more than a week of vacation? Are you spending most of that vacation time at home?

    5. chomps84*

      Why is this confusing? The lack of paid leave in the US compared to in Europe and Australia and New Zealand has been discussed extensively in these comment sections. We don’t need to keep bringing it up all the time.

  22. Mary*

    Do US employers tend to have Lone Working Policies? That would be best practice in the UK. These would cover the safety and responsibilities of anyone working outside core hours where they might be the only person in their team/office/part of the building. It would include things like the need to inform security you’re there and what time you leave (either on a regular basis or a one-off basis); who to contact if you have any emergencies or security concerns and how (eg. requirement to carry your phone or a personal alarm; requirement/option to call security to get an escort to your car; fire safety and first aid; whose responsible for locking up when you leave etc. All of these are totally reasonable and responsible things to think about at work and UK employers would be negligent if they weren’t addressing them.

      1. Paquita*

        At one old job we had such a policy. Female employees must be escorted to their car after hours. Except— three of worked a rotating shift, every third week one of us stayed until everything was balanced from all the branches, at least until 7pm or until done. The catch? We were the last person in the building! When we asked about the policy: It doesn’t apply to y’all, no one is here to walk you out then. What!! Our building was situated with a storage trailer in the back parking lot that frequently had homeless staying in it, the far (unused) end of a (trouble-prone)shopping mall parking lot, a bar next-door, and no other open business around. My husband used to come pick me up with our large, very protective GSD/Akita mix because he didn’t even feel real safe there after dark.

      2. Mary*

        Yeah, but if there’s a policy or the expectation of a policy, it’s a starting point for discussion. And may also help LW4 start the conversation without feeling like she’s being cowardly or weak or whatever.

    1. LT*

      I thought about security and the possibility of an escort, too. Not only are they there to ensure visitors have legitimate purposes for being there, they also could help escort people to their vehicles in situations like this. However, depending on the workplace, there might not be a security guard around.
      My company participates in this program called LiveSafe where employees can download an app on their smartphones that, among other purposes, includes a feature where you can request a virtual escort, where you enable a trusted contact to watch you walk on a map to your destination.
      Short of that, though, what about asking someone you’re close with to be available if you’re leaving after dark, for a phone call while you’re walking to ensure you’re alright?

  23. cheluzal*

    5: I’m in education and maternity leave is 12 weeks unpaid. Nothing paid unless you use any banked sick time you have. I’d love a job that actually paid something for leave. I’m taking a year off (without pay; have to pay insurance monthly) with only the guarantee they’ll hold my position.

    1. Amelia*

      The ability to bank sick days is benefit, though. I’ve definitely known teachers who banked 6-8 weeks, by saving their 10 annual days over several years. Many jobs are “use it or lose it” at the end of the year.

  24. Julia the Survivor*

    OP#4, I’ve seen in some places that security can walk people to their cars if requested. I think you’re right to be concerned about this and having someone walk you out would be the best solution. Tell your boss you don’t wait till something bad happens before taking precautions.
    Also take your keys with you all the time, just make it a habit.
    Good luck! :)

  25. Pollygrammer*

    I’m going to be a sourpuss: I don’t find “wow, things are legally required to be so much better in my [country/continent/industry] than they are for you!” comments particularly constructive.

    Believe me, folks in the states know our laws aren’t particularly favorable to the employee. We know.

    1. Specialk9*

      I find them simultaneously frustrating, and a reminder to keep fighting. It’s easy to think that the way you’ve seen it is the only possible way.

      1. Junebug*

        Actually, I’ve known a lot of people who didn’t know their rights, much less what things are like in other countries. I just doubt there are many people commenting *here* that don’t.

    2. Jill*

      I agree. It just comes off as “We have it better here, nyah nyah nyah” and adds nothing to the discussion.

      1. caledonia*

        Some people truly have no idea though. I mean, from reading AAM for years, I know this now and would therefore not comment on it but not everyone will know this and sometimes, its nice to give the benefit of the doubt?

        1. Jill*

          Even if someone doesn’t know the differences, how is it helping an OP or adding anything to a discussion?

          For example:

          OP: “My boss won’t let me take two consecutive weeks of vacation.”
          Comment: “We get 6 weeks of vacation standard in my country and they are required to let us take two weeks at a time.”


          OP: “How can I negotiation an extended maternity leave?”
          Comment: “We are legally entitled to 9 months of maternity leave at full pay in my country.”

          How are comments like this helpful to anyone?

          1. Kewlmom*

            Comments like this can be helpful in that they show another way of doing things can and in fact does work in other places.

            1. Blank*


              It’s easy to think a situation is normal, in the absence of other information. As Specialk9 said above, these foreign numbers could be a goal to fight for. Regular readers might already know this, but not everyone is a regular reader.

    3. A. Schuyler*

      I can definitely see where you’re coming from, but this OP did ask whether the policy was a common practice. I think there’s value in pointing out that it would be unacceptable in some industries and countries, as well as that it’s not unusual in others.

    4. Wannabikkit*

      The main reason things are good in my country is that our unions have fought tooth and nail for what we have!

    5. Stellaaaaa*

      They also miss the fact that, at some point, Americans decided that small businesses and entrepreneurship were important to our cultural identity. Many of our weird laws and weirder exceptions to those laws are concessions to small business owners. I don’t get the sense that other countries have small businesses quite so built into their national character.

    6. Nacho*

      I know, right? Like I don’t go onto Iranian websites and brag about my right to protest/access social media apps, because that’s not really helpful at the moment.

    7. chomps84*

      Yes. We’ve discussed this a lot on this blog. Americans know that our legal protections and paid leave policies are lacking or non-existent compared to in many other countries. We don’t need constant reminders, thanks. Especially in this political climate.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        I don’t know- this political climate is one in which lots of things we thought we could never change are being re-examined, and people who never were involved before have gotten involved. So pointing out something that could be better isn’t nonconstructive, and to many it might be inspiring. What works and is normal elsewhere is important to know. I get that it might get old, but a few comments on a post specifically asking about what is normal practice make a lot of sense- different countries have different ideas of normal, and that’s very much on-topic here.

  26. nnn*

    Another option for #2 (depending, as usual, on context, workflow, and personalities) is not to request it, simply to say “Here is a task that needs to be done.” I find this useful in contexts where the person I’m asking absolutely must be the person who does the task and I have an externally-imposed timeline.

    For example, if Wakeen is the Teapot Glazer and has to glaze all the teapots before they’re shipped out, I’d say “Hi Wakeen, here’s a teapot ready for glazing. The client requested it for tomorrow close of business. Thanks!”

    This removes the potential minefields of over-mitigating your request and of giving orders when you don’t have the authority to do so, and if he gets a dozen teapot requests a day, he’s not even likely to notice that you didn’t actually ask.

  27. Elizabeth H.*

    Hi coworker,
    Could you please do X when you have a chance? (optional contextualizing sentence) (optional: “I need it by Y date bc of Z.”)

    You can also leave out the “when you have a chance” if you don’t feel the need to soften so much. I think the “could you please” is the key part.

  28. Dani*

    OP4, I don’t know whether or not this is an option for you at all, but when I worked retail we had a very similar situation. What we ended up doing was after 5, when it was still light outside but not too busy, those of us working to the later shift would take turns to get our car from where it was and move it to what was, any other time customer parking and therefore in a very well lit area. I know you’re working alone, but would a coworker be able to cover for you in the 5 min before they left for the day?

  29. Anonymeuse*

    OP #2: My manager often uses something like “Jane, I’d like you to handle X. Please let me know if you have any questions!” — polite, but also clear that it’s not optional.

  30. Manager-at-Large*

    OP2 – I presume these folks are not your own direct reports and they are not members of a project team where you are the PM or have some other dotted line reporting relationship. Getting something done in order to get your own dependent tasks done is a different type of question. Presumably in those cases they would already have the heads up on the project itself, and just need reminding from you or the PjMgr that you are waiting on their deliverable.

    For the other cases, ask them how to “get something into their queue” when it comes up again in the future. It may be that they need to have a ticket opened in order to inspect a teapot for cracks – even though that is one of their usual duties. Or – if you are not the originator of the request – tell them something came to your notice today that seems more like something they would handle and offer to send it over. You can do this in IM or in a call before you forward the email with the request and the details. This makes it easier to word the email because you have already talked about it.

  31. Steve*

    “There’s tons of evidence that two-week vacations are better than shorter ones in helping people really disconnect, relax, and return to work refreshed (and often more creative and productive).” Citation needed. I tried to google it for myself but only found articles saying you should take (more frequent) shorter vacations, with only a few saying you should take 8 to 10 day vacations.

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