coworker hasn’t touched his work in months, dealing with an obnoxious book club member, and more

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

1. Coworker hasn’t touched his work in months

My coworker is missing. I work with a team of 10 remote employees who are responsible for managing our own work, with minimal supervision. One of our team members is not doing his job — at all.

Our company has been involved in a merger, and the person responsible for our department audits resigned months ago. Meanwhile, a coworker is taking advantage of the lack of oversight. He is never available by phone. He is slow to respond to emails, and he has missed mandatory meetings (although he showed up for the holiday party). I was asked to follow up on a few of his assignments (presumably because he couldn’t be reached) and discovered that his work has been untouched for months. This is horrible — our assignment documentation is subject to federally mandated guidelines, and failure to meet them will jeopardize our contract. We undergo an external federal audit every two years.

I believe he is working another job while he collects his full-time salary from our employer — flying under the radar, presumably — until he gets caught. I confided my concerns with another trusted coworker, and he said he was aware that this person had abandoned his work. He was struggling with reporting this to HR, worried that our (beloved) manager would be in hot water for allowing this to happen under her watch. She is a wonderful manager who has been overwhelmed during the merger. He also revealed that this person was caught working a side gig years ago (before I arrived) during company hours, and was reprimanded. We are both worried that going to our manager directly will stress her out during this company transition.

What to do? I know this negligence needs to be exposed, but what’s the best approach?

At a minimum, you have to tell your manager that this guy’s work hasn’t been touched in months. You were specifically asked to follow up on his assignments, and so it would be really negligent not to report back about that. Beyond that, though, I’d say you should report the rest of what you know as well — that he’s never available by phone and misses mandatory meetings. You don’t necessarily have to say that you think he’s working another job, since you don’t actually know that, but you really should report the parts that you know.

You don’t need to take this to HR — it’s enough to tell your manager, and leave it with her to deal with. You said you’re worried about stressing her out during the transition, but she’s going to be far more stressed out if it comes out later and her own management realizes this was happening right under her nose and she didn’t notice. You’ll be doing her a favor by letting her know about it before someone else does.

2. Dealing with a domineering book club member

I need help! I run a book club at the library and it is about 15 members strong (great for a small rural town). Unfortunately, I have someone coming who is SO off-putting to others in the group, so much so that they are considering not coming to future meetings. This woman is extremely opinionated, controlling of the conversation and domineering to the point of shutting other people down. If what she is trying to say is interrupted, she starts from the very beginning of what she was saying until she gets everything out that she wanted to say.

This woman is not from our town, but comes with a sister who is a resident. How do I curb her behavior (or preferably get rid of her) before I lose my fabulous group? I’m not great on confrontation…would a letter work?

Don’t send a letter. This isn’t letter stuff; it’s direct conversation stuff. One option is to do it during the meetings themselves (saying things like “I want to give others a chance to talk as well, so I’m going to ask you to wrap this up and cede the floor” and “You’ve had the floor a lot today, so let’s hear from others” and so forth). The other is to talk with her privately and say something like, “I need you to share air space with other group members and ensure that you’re not taking up significantly more time than others. When you do X or Y, it shuts other people down. With 15 members who all need time to speak, that means that in an 90-minute meeting you should expect to speak for about five or six minutes total — otherwise other people won’t get their share of time.”

If you’re a public library, you might have limitations on how much, if anything, you can do as far as kicking her out of the group — but if you do have that option, you can tell her that you won’t be able to invite her back if she continues monopolizing the conversation.

Also, while I don’t normally recommend issuing rules to the whole group to address the behavior of one person, this is a situation where it might help to go over ground rules at the start of your next meeting (like “give other people a chance to talk”), so that other group members see that you’re tackling this and not letting it go unchecked.

3. Job searching without a phone number

My partner is unemployed and broke. Really broke. He would be homeless if I had not had him move in with me. 

He is actively looking for a job but recently told me about a new problem I had not anticipated. He can’t afford cell phone service anymore, and his phone has been shut off. I’m not sure how a person can expect to find a job with no phone number.

I can afford all the household bills myself (I lived alone before and paid them all then anyway) but I can’t afford to take on his bills on top of mine, so he isn’t getting cell service anytime soon. Is there some solution here that won’t cost either one of us anything?

For what it’s worth, while my partner is unemployed he’s doing what he can to contribute. He cooks, cleans, handles delivery and repair men, and is training my puppy. He is also looking into volunteer opportunities. Once he has a job I know he will pay rent and utilities. Besides the phone, he has other significant bills that I will not help him with, so I am fairly confident he is not looking for a free ride from me.

Any chance you’re willing to let him take job-related calls on your phone? I’m assuming your house doesn’t have a land line or that would solve it, but maybe you could treat your cell phone the way people used to treat land lines — as a “house” phone rather than just yours (meaning that you’d answer it but pass it to him if it’s a call for him and you’re together, or pass on a message to him if you’re not). You’re certainly not obligated to do that, but since it sounds like you do want to help him, that might be the easiest way of doing it.

He could also look into setting up a Google Voice number and just having it go straight to voicemail. He’d presumably need to borrow you phone to return those calls, but that would be another option too.

4. A fired employee showed up to our holiday party

Remember last month’s letter about the fired employee who was going to attend the company party as his colleague’s plus-one? Welp, that sort of happened to us!

I had to fire someone two weeks ago for serious time and attendance issues. (It’s shift work, so punctuality is really necessary, and this person was routinely 30+minutes late, even after multiple warnings and chances to improve.) In a fit of generosity, I agreed that we wouldn’t contest unemployment, and I even coached the employee as to how to discuss their firing in future interviews. I gave them my personal contact info and told them that I would be willing to give a neutral reference, as my goal is definitely not to prevent them from getting work.

Cut to our holiday party, and our HR manager pulls me aside to tell me this former employee is here! Just grabbed a drink, sat down with their former coworkers, and decided to join the fun. Ultimately we realized that it could be more of an ordeal if we asked them to leave, so we didn’t say anything, but kept an eye on them. At one point (which I only found out after the fact), they pulled the CEO aside and asked them to reconsider the firing decision, which wasn’t the CEO’s decision in the least. Luckily we had given the CEO a heads-up, and she was able to extricate herself from the situation gracefully, although I’m sure I’ll hear about it later. Other than that, the fired employee didn’t cause a big scene, but did go around to others on staff “to say goodbye,” which of course came with a mention that they had been fired. Awkward.

I feel like we handled it fairly well, considering, but I guess I’d like to know what you or the AAM readership would have done in the same situation. It definitely had the potential to be fraught, and I’m mostly just glad it wasn’t worse. I’m not really comfortable giving even a neutral reference anymore, as it just seems so far outside professional norms. Is that just petty? Should I reach out to them and ask what they were thinking, or just let it go?

I think you were right to figure that it would cause more drama if you asked the person to leave, and right to just keep an eye on them to make sure they didn’t do anything disruptive. If they had started making any kind of scene, at that point you would have had to intervene, but it sounds like it was weird but not horribly disruptive.

I can understand why you feel uncomfortable giving a reference now — you’ve just seen the person do something that displayed pretty bad judgment. That said, this isn’t a situation where you were prepared to give a positive reference and now don’t feel that you can — you were already planning to give a neutral reference, and I don’t think this needs to change that.

5. Applying for a job after already meeting with the CEO

I recently left an immensely toxic company, and have been job searching for about a month now. I had the pleasure of meeting a board president of a local nonprofit, who referred me to their CEO, as they are planning to create new fundraising positions for their institution — my specialty.

I met with the CEO about a month ago, at which time she gave me an overview of their expansion plans and need for new fundraisers. At that time, she was unsure of what specific roles would be needed, but thanked me for a productive meeting and said that she should stay in touch. A couple of weeks after the meeting, I passed along a quick touch-base note with a brief fundraising tip that I stumbled upon, but she did not answer.

Today, I noticed that they posted a fundraising position on their site, and I am now not sure how to go about applying. Since the CEO did not answer my last correspondence, I feel funny asking her about the job, but with an interview already under my belt, I feel funny applying from the website. Am I being too cautious here? This job is a dream role!

Go ahead and apply using the directions from their website, and then once you’ve done that, send the CEO a quick email thanking her for meeting with you last month and letting her know that you applied for the position on their site and that you hope it might be a good match. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t receive an answer to that email — she’s probably busy, but if she thought you were a strong candidate, she’s likely to pass that on to whoever is coordinating this stage of the hiring.

Also, I wouldn’t think of that meeting with her as an interview; it sounds like it was more of a get-to-know-you thing. But if she does think of it as a first interview, she can always have you skip forward in their process if she wants to.

{ 257 comments… read them below }

  1. kas*

    1. Regardless of my manager’s stress, this is one situation I would have no issue reporting to her. There’s no way he should be getting away with this.

    1. Lars the Real Girl*

      Yea, in my mind, “managing my manager’s stress” means things like “don’t bring up that Annie has been bringing in tuna for lunch everyday and Jack is humming and driving everyone nuts”. It’s inappropriate NOT to bring this up. And it should go to your manager first, not HR, since they will go to her first, and wonder why her employees didn’t.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I would be more stressed if my staff were hiding stuff from me, but maybe that’s just me. The main thing is it’s just not the letter writer’s job to protect the manager’s feelings – this is above your pay grade.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Definitely. I’d be so much more stressed to know someone knew something for a long time and didn’t tell me. It happened to me once and it was an awful feeling. Had the person just come to me right away I could have dealt with the situation and been done with it. Instead it turned into an ugly mess and took a lot of time and resources to fix.

          OP, go to your manager today.

        2. tigerStripes*

          Yeah, the manager needs to know about this – not telling her will eventually make the stress much, much worse.

      2. Snark*

        Right. And you can deal with those other situations yourself – nobody will miss Annie if you push her down the stairs, and a few hits with a cattle prod sorts hummers right out. “Fergus isn’t doing his work” is manager territory.

        1. Former Employee*

          This reminded me of The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey.

          A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
          B is for Basil assaulted by bears

    2. Runner*

      This was happening when I came into my current job more than five years ago. I was here for more than a year and had no clue that one coworker was basically in my same role but senior because this person produced NOTHING in my area — I took it the person was just in another area of the company or something, I didn’t really think about it, the coworker had never been introduced as part of my direct team. In fact, a manager several levels up was friends with and protected this employee — who in fact was working a second full-time job! For YEARS! — and both wound up being fired when new top management came in and a whistleblower pointed out the scenario (there had been enough turnover that few people on the team seemed to have any sense that the coworker not only was supposed to be part of it but a senior person producing on it). It was astonishing to me that this could happen under any circumstances, it still doesn’t seem real.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      Yes, it’s the manager’s job to deal with these things and OP shouldn’t worry that she’s stressing out the manager. As a manager myself, I’d be way more stressed to learn that people knew about this and didn’t tell me. I would want to know this is going on. Especially with federally mandated deadlines involved, as I’m guessing that could affect funding, the company’s reputation, plans for expansion, etc. (I have no idea what industry this is, so one or all could apply to OP’s company.)

    4. a Gen X manager*

      Yes, kas! and don’t delay – talk to her ASAP! It could literally save not only her job, but it sounds like all of your jobs (based on the contract potentially being in jeopardy for violations)!

      It’s being responsible, not being a snitch –

    5. Artemesia*

      And she may herself get fired if she doesn’t deal with this. The guy should be terminated and by her taking the initiative to do it now higher ups may not even be fully aware of her incompetence as a manager. If it rides and someone takes it to HR, I would assume she would be fired or demoted as manager. This one is a pretty dramatic sign that the manager is not up to her job.

  2. Mike C.*

    OP1: Let me be black and white here: what good is your concern for your manager if the next federal audit results in the cancellation of your contract? What if your company gets barred from doing similar work in the future, or faces other sanctions?

    At the very least being able to tell an auditor “we discovered X, Y and Z and are doing A, B and C to fix and prevent the problem in the future” goes a long way to smoothing this over. Telling your manager allows that process to start.

    1. Emmie*

      Precisely. This person’s inattentiveness will be exposed eventually. You don’t want that exposure during an outside audit. You also do not want to be one of the people who knew and did nothing. That will not end well. I highly recommend going to your manager asap.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Not having discovered it over a couple of months is not good. But it’s much better to find it internally, even after a couple of months, and address it before it’s discovered by an external audit.

    2. bridget*

      And depending on whether the slacker’s salary is somehow rolled into bills to the government, that sort of thing can and does turn into fraud charges (including criminal prosecution). Often that’s just limited to the person who directly submitted fraudulent time cards, etc. But occasionally supervisors who knew or should have known work wasn’t being done but was billed to the government get charged too.

      You are not doing her any favors in the long term by keeping this from her.

      1. Else*

        Yes! Grant-funded or contract work can have all kinds of rules about what to do with money when a mistake happens, let alone when someone included in it turns out to be behaving fraudulently. Much better for your manager to have this reported to her, as it SHOULD be – it’s hers to deal with, not yours, and for her to report and deal with this. If it turns out to be reportable and require money to go back to the funder – if you report it and manage it properly right away, no harm, but if the auditors find it! Well.

    3. Thornus67*

      There’s also some CYA there too. If OP1’s company finds out she knew about the non-working employee but didn’t tell anyone, then she’d get into hot water too for not alerting the company.

    4. Ramona Flowers*

      Does the fact there are federal regs involved mean OP effectively is obliged to whistle blow?

      1. Phyllis*

        There has been an increased push regarding this. We receive federal funds & are required to notify staff they have the right and obligation to report perceived misuse of federal funds. We even have required flyers posted with an 800# to call.

    5. Carol*

      OP here. Thanks for making this real. Losing this contract is a real concern. The stress this news will bring my manager pales in comparison to the stress of losing our contract. For the record, out manager has been outstanding up until this merger. We have a solid history of timely, excellent work under her watch- until several months ago. It’s clear now that the desire to protect her from another headache is counter productive. I appreciate the feedback.

      1. Snark*

        For better or worse, part of being promoted and paid as a manager is the expecation that you’ll deal with headaches. She can handle it. This is such a Big Deal that I’d wager nothing else she will deal with this week is comparably important.

      2. Myrin*

        It’s great that you’re being so receptive to all of the advice and feedback, OP. And don’t beat yourself up for not reacting sooner – sometimes it’s kinda hard to see the forest for the trees, especially in what sounds like an already unusual, new, and stressful situation. I wish you all the best!

        1. Carol*

          OP here. I have contacted my manager, asking to speak with her. Just waiting to hear back from her. It may take a while, so soon after the holiday weekend. I feel pretty right about this now! I will definitely update.

      3. hbc*

        Sometimes there are times where delaying pain can be a kindness–when the problem won’t get worse, when there’s nothing the recipient can do about it, when there’s a small defined window where there are other things to deal with. This is not one of these times.

      4. Sara without an H*

        Carol, I tell my staff, “I can’t fix it if you don’t tell me about it.” It sounds as though you have a good manager who has been spread thin by your recent merger. She is, I’m sure, relying on trusted staff to alert her to things that need her attention. This is definitely one of those things.

    6. Snark*

      And not to put too fine a point on it, being aware of negligence and not passing it on to HR because you’re worried about stressing your manager out is itself also negligence. When it comes out, and it will, if you haven’t said anything, the chances are high that you’d be fired too.

        1. eplawyer*

          I understand your position. Your manager has a full plate and you don’t want to add to it. But as others have noted this is definitely something the manager needs to know. So don’t feel too bad you were trying to be nice to your manager.

          Please send us an update.

          1. Observer*

            Agreed, especially since the MIA coworker was probably betting on people’s hesitation to “snitch” and rock the boat.

        2. Else*

          For sure – but if you report it to her with all of the information (not speculation, but information) that you have, you have behaved responsibly and given her a chance to live up to her own best management self. It’s really unfortunate that this chaos allowed this scum to take advantage, but if you report it to the people who can impact it, it can be remediated and you won’t have to feel anxious about what to do. Who knows; maybe it will help your manager recover her confidence and impress her new peers if she deals with it well.

      1. Leenie*

        I’d actually get the ball rolling with the manager instead of HR. Unless there’s reason to believe that the manager won’t act on it.

    7. The Other Dawn*

      Agreed. I’m in banking and we have lots of federally mandated deadlines. If we started missing those, that puts us at risk of not being able to open additional branches, being fined, having enforcement actions taken against us, etc. OP should absolutely not worry about stressing out her manager; it’s part of the manager’s job to deal with these things. And depending on the situation, I’d probably look askance at someone who knew something like this and didn’t say anything.

    8. Anony*

      Yep. The problem exists whether the manager knows about it or not. At least if she is told she has a chance to fix it instead of being blindsided later when it is too late.

    9. Peter the Bubblehead*

      I work for a government contractor. Several years ago we had an employee who would come into the office in the morning, log into his computer, then go home. Since part of his job required (occasionally) going to our customer site, it took weeks before other members of his work group noticed his assignments were not being completed. It was weeks more (with management investigating in the background) before they determined he was working zero hours per week and charging his time card for 40.
      Besides being fired (for obvious reasons), as a government contractor management had to inform our customer, reimburse the government for the salary paid to the employee, plus additional government-imposed fines and the risk of losing the contract!
      Your management needs to nip this in the bud ASAP or you all may be out of jobs!

  3. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: Your manager might be kind to you, but she’s not actually “wonderful” if she has completely lost track of a remote employee for months on end. There’s no need to protect her from the consequences of her oversight in management; she hasn’t done her job. This is how nice people get promoted over talented ones, and then everyone wonders why the work isn’t getting done.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      This. Your manager may be nice, OP, but she’s also either overwhelmed with the amount of direct reports she has and the location differences or she’s poorly trained (and maybe it’s a combination of both). Either way, she needs to be notified of what’s going on before this audit blindsides her and your company. Losing a contract can put all of your jobs at risk, not just the slacker’s.

      On another note, this letter sounds so much like what happened with a guy I used to work with at my former company. It was insurance work, and the guy had files he hadn’t touched in over a year – we were supposed to be touching our particular files at least every 30 days (I touched mine every two weeks). Our job was to get the money back our division spent on claim payments from liable third parties, in addition to recovering our insured’s deductibles on their behalf as a courtesy, so these outstanding files were not only effing up our division’s balance sheet, but was also pissing off the insureds.

      My thing was, how in the world did no one notice he wasn’t actually working during the day? He wasn’t remote, and his recovery sheet clearly wasn’t reflecting a substantial amount of processed checks. Well, he too had a “nice” manager who was friendly with him over the years, so he thought he could get over. That is, until another coworker got stuck handling his files and brought it to her attention. They got outside auditors in there to comb through all of his work, then about six months later, he was fired. After two years of doing little to nothing. It was insane. But nice manager realized that if other people noticed and brought this to upper management’s attention, she would be blamed, so she worked like hell to get him out once she was alerted to the mess.

      So say something, OP #1. Your manager can’t fix a problem she knows nothing about.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yes, the manager is not doing their job very well. I work remotely, and my manager does a daily check-in call to see what I’m working on, when it’s expected to be done, and what the I have free on my schedule for additional project work. It’s part of managing remote employees.

        Also, if things are missed they need to be communicated to everyone. In your place, I might email the the mystery employee and copy the manager with setting like: “where are the updates on the Skywalker account? The most recent one I see is from September? I’m also missing updates on the Solo, Kenobi, and Calriassian accounts. Are they somewhere else?”

        This doesn’t focus on their perceived work ethic but does highlight the problem and gives your manager visibility to it.

      2. Carol*

        OP Here. Thanks for your comments. I was shocked to discover my coworker has flown under the radar for so long. Even though our internal auditor resigned after the merger was initiated, I assumed someone was filling in, at least randomly. It’s clear now that no one is looking at our work. Our manager had excessive new demands placed on her when the new company took over. Prior to this, she ran a tight and happy team. That said, I see the need to tell her what’s happening before someone higher up finds out about it.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yeah, I suspected she was overwhelmed and that’s how your manager missed what was happening. The nice manager who ultimately fired my former coworker inherited my old team not even two years ago after our previous manager was demoted and moved to a new team as a result of her own bad behavior – nice manager hadn’t worked in our area of the division in nearly 10 years when she took back over this team, and then she had double the amount of direct reports that she previously had (because they combined my old team and her current team). She had too many people reporting to her and was essentially relearning a job, so in hindsight, it makes sense how she didn’t catch on right away that no work was being done.

          Maybe you can approach your manager from that angle when telling her about Mr. MIA? Say that you weren’t sure you should say anything because a) you’re not his manager and b) you didn’t want to cause any problems since you know she’s been going through it with this merger, but you decided you had to say something about your coworker not doing any work for months because you’re afraid it’s going to come up in your next audit, and you don’t want anyone coming down on her thinking she knew and didn’t address it if that isn’t the case and you were concerned the contract could be pulled because of it. That way makes it clear you’re not blaming her for Mr. MIA’s problem, and you’re looking out for everyone’s best interest in this situation.

  4. Scotty Smalls*

    LW2, are you guys in the US? If so see about home getting a free phone from the lifeline program.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I was going to recommend this, as well. The lifeline program exists for people in the same position as OP#3’s partner.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yup. Initially 911 service, then recognizing that today no one can apply for a job with “I don’t have a phone, but I’ll check in in person every few days to see if you have anything for me,” even if that might have flown in the 60s.

      2. RB*

        I am in Oregon and my friend got a phone for free. I don’t know the name of the program that provided this. It’s not a smartphone, and it also doesn’t have texting capability, but it does all the regular phone stuff (voice mail, etc.). I asked him if it was an Obama phone and he said it wasn’t. I think the minutes are also free, maybe up to a certain threshhold.

      1. Natalie*

        The only immediate changes were to the broadband part of the program, although more changes could certainly be coming.

    2. Clorinda*

      I have a stupidphone because I have a tendency to lose it. The phone cost $20 at Dollar General, and the service is $20 for three months. I can call, text, and take pictures. Just get the guy a phone. He can upgrade to something better when he’s employed.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. Until my husband needed an Iphone to run his hearing aid, we just had cheap flip phones and bought minute. It was quite cheap.

      2. Catarina*

        How’s the service coverage? I have a PAYG dumbphone* and I can never get any bars.

        * Really hate that there isn’t a non-rude antonym for smartphone.

        1. Glenn*

          The non-rude antonym for smartphone that I usually hear is “feature phone” — that is, a mobile phone with features other than just making phone calls (but not fancy enough to be a smartphone.)

        2. starsaphire*

          The phone store at which I bought my niece’s called it a “candy bar phone.” Doesn’t do anything but calls and texts; no screen. It was super cheap.

    3. Delphine*

      If you can get a dinky flip phone for ~20 bucks, you can also sign up for prepaid service from AT&T. One of their plans is something like $2 per day when you make a call or receive a voice call. If you don’t use the phone, you don’t get charged. If you do use the phone, it’s only $2 for unlimited talk and text that day. It may not work for everyone, but I used this plan when I was struggling.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      I will add that I have seen times where people don’t even want a landline, but their cable plan is actually cheaper with a bundle that includes it! So I would check what your cable company offers and whether you can add a landline for little or no money.

      1. AKJ*

        This is true! I still have my landline only because if I unbundled my service, I’d end up paying a few dollars more per month.

  5. namelesscommentator*

    OP3 – There at least used to be a program where low income individuals could get a smart phone. I think Assurance Wireless offers it, if he could look into that. They’re called Obamaphones (in reference to Obamacare, but I’m not sure what the ACA equivalent would be here). I hope it’s still funded – I know many people for whom it was a life saver.

    If you can’t get an Obamaphone would a friend have an old phone you could put on a pay-as-you-go plan for voice minimums? (Or on a VoIP app?).

    1. Searching*

      Obamaphones is such a misnomer – this Lifeline program was started under Reagan’s administration and expanded under subsequent administrations. Link with more info re: eligibility in reply.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, “Obamaphones” was an attempt to pretend it was a New Evil Giveaway Obama created, rather than a program that went back to that paragon of liberal wackiness Richard Nixon. (With landline phones, then.)

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I thought they were called Obamaphones because the Obama administration improved outreach and increased public knowledge of the program.

          1. Natalie*

            IIRC, broadband and data access was either added or significantly expanded under Obama’s administration, which made smartphones through the program more of a thing.

          2. Else*

            They were just called Obamaphones by angry conservatives at first, but then people started adding it as a search term hoping that people actually in need of them would find them. The program actually doesn’t give free phones – although some providers offer them to these customers – it just subsidizes a certain number of minutes per month to people with income something like 130% of the poverty line or participating in various social welfare programs (food stamps, etc).

            1. Christmas Carol*

              Yes, the Lifeline (Landline) program was started in 1985 under Ronald Reagan’s administration. Cell phones were added to the program in 2005 during the presidency of the 2nd George Bush, both well known targets of the angry conservatives. Current income limit is 135% of federal poverty line.

      2. Artemesia*

        It only became an ‘Obamaphone’ when people needed to disparage Obama and all those leeches who might say need a phone to look for work.

    2. Don't Blame Me*

      Yes, this program is still happening! You can get a no-frills cell phone for free. Contact your local Health and Human Services – in my state you can get the info by calling 211 – and you should be able to find out how to apply for it.

      1. paul*

        In Texas, they run through the Public Utilities Commission; income is eligibility based and they’ll check applications against people receiving SNAPS or Medicaid (which is option 2 on 2-1-1 here). And if the addresses don’t match between the two applications, prepare for a pain the butt to get it sorted out.

        But the application actually through PUC and only online because we like to make it hard for poor people (go to the PUC’s website, then the consumer section, then the assistance paying your bill section and it’ll be on a menu).

        There’s another program for people on tribal lands but I’ve never worked with that one at all.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          In my experience, the one on tribal lands is mediated by the tribe, so the accessibility of the application really turns on whether the tribe has the funds and has made an effort to get people signed up. (Hard to do if most of your members qualify.)

  6. dragonzflame*

    Can you buy cheap dumbphones in the US? Here (NZ) you can get a really basic phone from the supermarket for about $20 and then just put some credit on it. Or you could put a call out on Freecycle to see if someone has an old phone they don’t want anymore and then get a new sim card (here, about $5)for it.

    1. Not Australian*

      Same thing here (UK) – I got one on eBay, an older model but unused, very cheaply, and just put in a sim card. Lasted more than five years, but then I’m not a big user.

    2. TL -*

      If he already owns a cell phone, all he needs is a pay as you go plan – Wal-Mart sells them – he can pre-pay for minutes and then only use it for job hunting.

      1. Dan*

        For several years, I used a service called Ting, which is a hybrid between pay-as-you-go and full service. I went that route because I don’t talk much on the phone. Basically, if you don’t use any data and talk under 100 minutes a month, your bill will be $10. I kept my data usage low, and routinely had $13 bills.

        1. Jess*

          Yeah, ting would work, and if he happens to have a Sprint phone, start up costs would be basically zero.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        If he hasn’t paid the bill on an existing number, this won’t work.

        But a cheap burner phone with pay as you go minutes should be cheap. It doesn’t need to be smart, just take phone calls.

        1. Natalie*

          Not necessarily true as long as he owns the phone itself free and clear. You have a legal right to port your phone number to a new service provider even if you owe your old service provider money. They can pursue you through debt collection and legal channels but they can’t hold your phone number hostage.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I was going to suggest this. I used Net10 when I first got a cell before I found T-Mobile was doing no contract, and it worked just fine and was super cheap.

    4. Thlayli*

      I was also going to suggest a cheap pay as you go phone. I know they used to exist in America because I bought two when travelling with my family (back before affordable roaming charges and whatsapp). Just buy a cheap model and you have to put a minimum of $10 credit on it each month and make at least one phone call a month to keep the number active – which is $140 a year obviously which is not zero but hopefully it won’t take him a year to find a job.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        On some pay as you go carriers, you don’t even need to pay monthly to keep it active. As long as your account balance is positive, you can keep the phone active.

    5. blackcat*

      Yes, very cheap pay as you go phones are indeed a thing. If I were the LW, I would consider this to be some money worth fronting. Should be less than $30 for a phone + enough minutes to do phone interviews.

      1. Anony*

        I agree. If OP can afford it, getting a cheap phone with a minimal balance on it might be worthwhile.

    6. Kelly L.*

      Heck, I got my smartphone for $30. I went to replace my last dumbphone and the most basic smartphone didn’t really even cost more anymore. It’s not a solution if he doesn’t have the $30 and the money to put some minutes on it, but if he does, they’re fairly cheap these days.

    7. Else*

      Yep! That’s what I’d suggest, too. He should even be able to use his old number and transfer it to a pre-paid account. I used to have one of these back when I was pretending to be a Luddite and didn’t yet have a proper cell phone for desert and backwoods driving, for safety reasons. I still see the cards in the grocery store, so presumably you can get a phone. OP 3, maybe you can afford to get him a cheap flip phone as a present if he doesn’t outright own his current one, and let him pay the actual minutes? I wouldn’t do that if you weren’t sure he was actually trying to get a job, but it sounds like he is.

    8. Blue Eagle*

      My daughter’s tracfone is $85/year for 800 minutes, which carry over year to year. Not a smart phone, per se, but you can connect to the internet if needed (but it is costly in terms of minutes to do so)

      1. Candi*

        A Tracphone was my first phone at $100 for the first year (phone + minutes) and $80 for the following three years until my phone started to bork and I replaced it with my first smartphone.

        I have my kids on Tracphones, and found that you can not only buy the reload cards (each card has 90 days service + whatever minutes), but go online to their website to reload, where they have way more options. Sometimes the phones come with deals where any minutes you buy are automatically doubled for the life of the phone.

        I do have to say with my kids specifically, part of the appeal was not running up huge bills on my plan. Justified by the fact my daughter ran through her first set of minutes in a week. (I told her that was her one freebie.)

    9. Newt*

      I was going to say exactly this.

      I have a phone contract now, but I only got it 2 years ago, and for the previous 15 years of phone-owning-life I was using a £10 PAYG phone. It wasn’t a smart phone, didn’t have a colour screen, and all it could do was text or make/take calls, but it was still a lifeline when I was applying for jobs.

      I don’t know how mobile phones work in the USA, but you shouldn’t need credit on a phone to receive calls or texts , only to make calls, send texts and use data (which isn’t an issue if you have a phone as basic as the one I had as they don’t have any internet functionality anyway).

      FWIW you may be able to unlock the old contract phone you had and insert a PAYG sim – getting the sim only can be very cheap, and you’d retain all the fancy aspects of the mobile you had (at least when in a WIFI area) without the expense of the contract. I don’t know how easy it is to unlock a phone in the USA though.

      1. nonegiven*

        No, you get charged for incoming minutes in the US. Unless you have a regular contract phone with US Cellular, they do free incoming calls and texts, sometimes free mobile to mobile (same company,) and nights and weekends. They do not do this on PAYG and I don’t know of any other company that does free incoming without an unlimited post paid contract.

        1. nonegiven*

          Well, that’s my plan, it may be grandfathered by now. We both have flip phones, 1000 minutes/month we never use up and no text plan, except for the free incoming.

  7. Bea*

    #1 I’ve been dedicated to protecting all my bosses from undue stress. I understand you’re desire to not stress her out but she has to know. It’s best coming from a team member than her own boss after the audit. There’s time now to still hopefully fix it because otherwise she’s going to be blindsided and the pileup will be even worse after another month or however long it takes to come to the surface.

    #3 I’m not sure his field but I’ve never received phone calls except from recruiters. Having access to his email is the most important thing. But that’s not saying it doesn’t seem I’d if you can’t reach an applicant by phone so I hope up can share yours. I hope he finds something soon so this will be behind him.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I think people expect to see a phone number on applications even if they aren’t likely to use it?

      1. Miss Betty*

        Yes, it’s been a mandatory field on almost every application I’ve filled out recently and I think most people still expect to see it on a resume as well.

    2. Optimistic Prime*

      I’ve received a few phone calls from jobs I’d applied to and I also had to do phone screens. I also received the offer for my current job via phone. I’d say he needs a phone, although he may not use it as much as email.

      1. michelenyc*

        In my industry (fashion) recruiters will e-mail first to set up a time to speak on the phone. They won’t do everything through e-mail only.

    3. Carol*

      OP #1 here. Thanks for your feedback. Perhaps I’ve been selfish here. I think highly of my manager, but I see that I’m causing more harm than good by trying to protect her. I guess part of me worries she’ll quit if her load gets much heavier. Telling her now, rather than letting external auditors find out, is clearly less damaging.

      1. MommyMD*

        This is going to blow up. It’s a ticking time bomb. And it can take both you and your manager down if you sit on it. It’s up to you but someone in a high place is going to find out and be extremely unhappy.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        It’s not your job to protect her, it’s to do your job to the best of your ability and alert her to issues as they come up. This definitely qualifies as an issue that needs to be brought up, yesterday.

        (I get the instinct, as I sometimes feel the same way about my boss, but ultimately I’m paid to do a job and so is he.)

        1. Else*

          It is the opposite of protecting her to fail to alert her to a problem she can/must deal with, too. This roadblock of an absent coworker is stealing from the company by not doing work, but is also slowing the completion of projects by not doing work. Either way, your manager is relying on you and your peers to inform her of problems stopping the projects from progressing if you find out about them first.

      3. Observer*

        I hope she doesn’t quit. But that’s still less damaging than if it gets found by the outside auditors or your department gets shut down.

      4. Bea*

        But if she gets slammed in the audit she may not quit, she could get fired. If they find out the team knew but failed to report it, I would fire the entire team due to that negligence as well if I were the one cleaning up the mess. If the contract is lost, many heads will roll.

  8. TeacherNerd*

    OP #3: One can also get a Skype number and make calls using Skype, although there might be a small charge with that, but it may be another option.

    1. Optimistic Prime*

      Making calls to other Skype members is free on Skype, but calling landlines and mobile phones is 2 cents a minute. There’s also a monthly plan – $13.99 for unlimited calling.

    2. Thlayli*

      It is the cheapest option for making calls, but i don’t know what it’s like for listening to messages. My husband and I used this when he was in Lebanon and calls from a Lebanese mobile were expensive.

      1. OhNo*

        I did the same thing with a friend of mine while he was in Ghana for a couple months. It would certainly work well for phone interviews and other conversations, but I never noticed a voicemail option in it.

    3. Plantasia*

      I think internet access (for email and for interviews on hangout or skype) is also essential. Assuming your partner has access to the internet, like Alison said, you can get a free number from google voice and put that number as your contact and receive calls/messages there. To make calls, I have a monthly subscription with skype to make phone calls to any US number and it costs $2.99/month unlimited. I use Red Pocket (AT&T network reseller) for my celular voice and data with a
      plan that is $15/month for 1000 min; 1000 texts; 100MB. You’re helping
      your partner a lot with your support. I wish you both a successful job search.

      1. Kateshellybo19*

        If you have google voice it will transcript voicemail to a setup that works like gmail but is for google voice. You can also use google hangouts to text/make phone calls/etc and all you need it an internet connection.
        I have not had a phone plan for 3ish years now and just use WiFi to make all my calls. And yes you can set up a smartphone to do this.
        So if her boyfriend still has his phone from his cancelled cell service he can use it just like a regular phone as long as he is in WiFi range.

        One note, you do have to have an existing number to attach your google voice number to but can have it auto-forward so that number never gets the calls.

  9. HannahS*

    Op 2 please say something using Alison’s scripts! So many wonderful seminars, study groups, and bookclubs have been ruined by a Needs-to-be-heard Nelly. It doesn’t need to be confrontational. Think of how a teacher might guide a student discussion. I know it’s uncomfortable to moderate more heavily if you’re not used to it, but you can practice saying those phrases pleasantly and with a smile, the way a good teacher would. Some other phrases you can use:
    Yes, thank you Nelly, but back to what Jane was saying…
    Oh, actually, Nelly, Susan was just going to say something. Susan?
    (Nelly is shutting someone down, interrupt with) Now Nelly, I realize that you don’t agree with Jack but I’d like us to hear the rest of his thoughts.
    (If Nelly keeps jumping in first in every topic, interrupt with) Oh, THANK YOU Nelly, but you’ve shared a lot with us today, and I’d like to hear if anyone else has any thoughts on this topic.

    The best case scenario is that she’s over enthusiastic and oblivious to her effect on people and responds to guidance. The worst case scenario is that she thinks she’s more important than anyone else, gets publicly into an argument with you which, yes, would be uncomfortable and upsetting, but it would be over in a few minutes and she’d likely be so offended that she wouldn’t come back. What a great pity. ;)

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      And since you said you don’t like confrontation, LW 2, try to stop thinking of it as confronting Nelly and start thinking of it as advocating for your other 14 members. And I’m guessing the more you stick up for them, the more they’ll feel like pushing back against Nelly, too.

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        Brilliant insight: to re-frame “confronting X” as “advocating for A, B, and C” + modeling advocacy behavior for them. This two-pronged strategy silences any inner angst about being “the bad guy” and encourages others to become allies.

      2. Mookie*

        Yep. Speaking up isn’t a bad thing you need to dread; it’s part of your duties as the organizer of this club and executing this particular duty is going to have a positive effect, one way or the other. Look forward to that end-result, and try not to think of this as a confrontation but as a non-negotiable request a reasonable person needs to abide by. (This person doesn’t sound reasonable, but it also doesn’t sound like anyone has asked her to shut up in polite terms. She may or may not take this well, but that’s not your problem, LW. You can’t magically make her have good manners, but you can help her to stop imposing her bad manners on you and your members. The less you reward her and the less you passively accept her disruptions, the less likely she will continue them. Don’t let her profit further off your collective silence.)

      3. Mabel*

        Yes, this! I am not afraid to have a potentially difficult conversation with someone I’m close to, but I generally mind my own business in public. I’m not saying this is great, but for now, it’s how I am, and I often find myself wishing the person in a position to do something about an obnoxious person would DO it. This is how I force myself to shut down obnoxiousness when I’m the person in charge. I remind myself that it’s not fair to the other participants for me to keep quiet. I hope that’s helpful.

        1. irritable vowel*

          I totally agree regarding the other people in the group and how they’re viewing this. OP, they are looking to you to fix this problem, and as the leader you must show them that you are willing to at least try. They will be forgiving if you make a good faith effort to curb this person’s behavior and it doesn’t go the way you want it to, but they need to see you at least trying. That’s why it’s important to make it obvious that you’re aware of the problem in front of them, not just by speaking to the person privately (which you can also do, but that shouldn’t be the only thing you do). Otherwise, you can be sure that the other folks are coming away thinking, “there is a problem person in our group and OP doesn’t seem to care/know how to handle it.”

    2. Helpful*

      Agreed. Think of this like group management, like you’re a teacher in a classroom. You want to facilitate a conversation, and part of facilitating is smoothly redirecting tangents and bringing them back to the topic at hand. This woman is a walking tangent.

    3. ContentWrangler*

      Yes, please OP advocate for the rest of your group. Your letter definitely gave me flashbacks to some of my worst classmates in English classes. I always loved the professors most who just dealt directly with the time-wasters and made sure everyone got to speak.

    4. OhNo*

      Speaking of classroom techniques, sometimes this behavior is a sign of just wanting to feel important, and giving her a small amount of responsibility might satisfy her. For example, “In order to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, we’re going to limit it to five minutes per person. Nelly, can you be the timekeeper for everyone?”

      Of course, if she just likes to talk, that probably won’t help at all. But there’s plenty of other good advice here for someone who just like to talk.

    5. Pollygrammer*

      I recomend making a brief announcement to everyone at the beginning of the meeting: “this is just a reminder that everyone wants to contribute, so please try to keep your comments brief. With 15 members, it’s very important for everyone to be considerate and courteous.”

      Now, oblivious domineering member may not register this at all—but you’ll be letting everyone else know that you’re aware of the issue and willing to address it.

      1. Grace*

        “If what she is trying to say is interrupted, she starts from the very beginning of what she was saying ”
        So maybe if she wasn’t interrupted, she could be encouraged to wrap up her statement faster? I don’t understand the point of a book club where people have to issue only very short statements. Isn’t having a discussion the important part?

    6. BookTalk*

      First of all, those are awesome plans and phrases from Alison and HannahS!

      Secondly, OP2 might consider instituting behavior guidelines that are very quickly reviewed at the beginning of each meeting. Get guidance and support from your necessary department heads/director/boards/etc. If Ms. Center of the Universe starts to break the rules, OP2 now has grounds to have a polite and firm discussion with real repercussions. Libraries are big on following procedure, so she could be asked to take a break if she breaks the rules.

      And remember, there will probably be some sort of extinction burst before it gets settled.

      To OP2 – your group wants you to fix this! So, it might be difficult, but it’s worth the energy to get everyone on the same page for participation. I’ve run a book group for about 5 years now and managing the individuals is the main part of the job. The book is almost entirely secondary. Telling people “no” in a public setting can be terrifying, but it gets easier with practice. Good luck!

      1. The Luidaeg*

        I used to work at a library that had multiple book groups, and all of the facilitators (myself included) had an issue with a person who would come to all of the groups and then be, well, kind of awful. As a book group facilitator, it’s my responsibility to advocate on behalf of the group and make sure that one person doesn’t dominate/ruin/etc a discussion — and I agree that this kind of thing is uncomfortable, but does get easier with practice. I had a one-on-one with this person, mostly about making sure other people got a chance to talk, etc — and then another facilitator spoke to her. Then, all of us decided on some basic “rules” for book group discussions, which we went over at the beginning of each group (which was especially helpful if someone was new to the group). I completely agree with BookTalk’s comment about having a polite and firm discussion with repercussions —- and really, if you keep things neutral and polite, it does help (both you and the person you’re speaking to).

        Unfortunately, with this particular person, the bad behavior continued. The woman wound up alienating people in more than one book group and antagonizing both book group members and staff. The library wound up sending the woman a letter asking her not to attend any book groups or programs (because she would do this when we had speakers and presenters at programs, too) for a year. Talk about uncomfortable! But, it was a last-resort kind of solution, after everything else had been tried.

        I’m sure there are loads of librarians here who could share their book group horror stories. Last comment: one of my book group friends said, “There’s always That Person in a book group. If you don’t think you have anyone like that, you’re probably That Person.” Not sure if that’s true in all cases, but it makes me smile to remember that.

    7. chi type*

      Yeah, as a Librarian, I’m side-eyeing the OP just a bit here.
      This is a major part of being a Librarian! It’s one of, like, half a dozen of the Actual Duties of Libraianship (as opposed to all the extra stuff that gets lumped in)!
      I am also non-confrontational to a fault but this is part of the job and you need to prepare yourself to do it. Find a book on moderating book discussions or check the ALA for workshops and other resources. You owe it to your patrons!

    8. Indie*

      Love *NeedstobeheardNelly*! I’m a teacher and when I have a Nelly in the classroom, I tend to say; “I want to hear from Patient Pam, then Restrained Rob…and Exasperated Ella before I come back to that point Nelly, and remember everyone to keep it under a minute”. Or make a more structured format like questions about the book in one jar, names in another, whoever gets picked is the person who speaks. You could even give her the timer to make sure no one over speaks and remind her not to forget to ‘set an example’ herself.

      1. Youth Services Librarian*

        I’m always telling book club attendees to be quiet and let somebody else talk. But it is easier with 1st graders…

    1. Mirabel*

      And use Google Voice on any smartphone using wi-fi at home or any other place (if he can’t afford the service; the phone doesn’t have to be connected to any paid service to do that.)

      1. Sarianna*

        What Mirabel said! A several-years-old smartphone connected to wifi will work. Or honestly, even a computer with a headset with a microphone (laptop mic quality is generally pretty low, and using speakers generally causes call echo)–sign up for Google Voice and go to Hangouts (dot google dot com) and you can make free calls in the US and Canada. If you can snag the smartphone or headset for free/cheap, this is an inexpensive option.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Caution on buying used phones–make sure they are free and clear. (You have to get a VIN-like number from the phone you can check.) I remember when we were getting used smart phones a few years ago, there were several times my husband discovered someone trying to palm off their half-paid-for phone in the hopes the buyer would take over the contract or some otherhow not realize that hundreds of dollars were still owed on the phone.

          1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels (formerly ancolie)*

            The number to look for is called an IMEI* or an MEID**.

            You can find the IMEI/MEID on almost any phone by dialing *#06# . You probably won’t need to hit send. I just tried it on mine and as soon as I tapped the second #, a screen popped up with a long number.

            * for GSM networks like AT&T and T Mobile.
            ** for CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint.

            1. Mabel*

              I tried *#06# on my Verizon phone, and I got a recording saying that number doesn’t accept calls. OK, in case this is helpful, I just checked, and here’s how it works on my (Samsung S8 on Verizon) phone:
              1. Open the Settings app.
              2. Scroll down and tap ABOUT PHONE.
              3. Tap Status.
              4. Scroll down for IMEI number.

            2. Mirabel*

              I think if you just get the phone unlocked, that should remove that issue. You aren’t responsible for paying off another person’s contract, THEY are. They can keep their phone, sell it, throw it in the river, etc. The contractual obligation to the company remains theirs regardless.

              1. Mirabel*

                But most Americans anyway have a drawer in their home with an old cellphone or 2, sitting unused. If you just ask family and friends, surely someone has an old-but-good one they would pass on to you. (My family had 4 in a drawer now, that we send to my husbands family overseas when we visit them every couple of years.)

  10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, any chance you’re group would consider using a moderator (or “discussion leader”)? Some items having designated roles, especially for groups of 7-15, can help. For example, one person is the moderator, another the timekeeper, another the “peacemaker” (whose job it is is t9 point out if someine’s dominating, if folks need a break, etc.), and those roles rotate at each meeting.

    Although I prefer direct conversations, I know that’s not as culturally normal in the Midwest. A letter wouldn’t be “less confrontational” though—it would be more formal than an in-person chat.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Also is group facilitator training an option for you? I did a workshop that really helped me with this.

    2. Mookie*

      Provided having that kind of structured moderation and time-keeping wouldn’t detract from the natural flow of this particular book club — even the best of which sometimes host pontificators and can otherwise tend to be slapdash at times, but sometimes those features are part of the fun in a group that gets along well — this sounds like it could work, especially if it’s kept informal and done with a light hand, only intervening when absolutely necessary.

      The alternative to assigning or rotating specific duties is to recruit, behind the scenes, one or two chatty, friendly, well-liked members (who appear to understand the problem at hand) to step in as needed and to help guide discussions and make them more fruitful and collaborative. Or you could announce the intention of creating a few new ground rules and asking the group as a whole for feedback and, later, to help collectively enforce them. I find that when tacit rules become standardized, people feel more comfortable speaking up in defense of them and abiding by them with less protest. It makes for a more relaxed atmosphere, rather than one that is filled with tension and trepidation as everyone waits, in an abstract mood, for the trouble-makers to, inevitably, brew up their own brand of trouble.

      1. Artemesia*

        A friend and I belong to a book club that often strays from discussing the book; drives us crazy. The two of us and then a third person we recruited have been able to subtly manage this better by simply coming with questions for focus and then directing the group back to the book. But a really overbearing member is unlikely to be dealt with subtly. Our wandering conversationalists are not narciscistic attention hogs and can be gently herded. And in previous groups I have been in a ‘let’s let someone else have the floor’ was all it took with dominators. With someone like the OP’s problem member, it is worth trying the ‘let’s create some discussion rules so everyone gets to participate’ approach and then enforcing that BUT you will almost certainly end up having to talk with this person privately. It must be done in person, one on one and be fairly blunt; this may cause her to leave — good– but at the least it is likely to make her more amenable to the ‘rules’ that have been established. Good luck. It is hell when a great group gets derailed by someone like this. Some people can be guided by strong hints and leadership — but some can’t.

  11. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 You don’t protect someone from stress by hiding information about a situation they should be dealing with – and even if it does stress her out she is the manager and is presumably paid more than you precisely because this kind of thing is her responsibility.

    1. Amy*

      Agreed. Even from a perspective of trying to minimize your manager’s stress, keeping this quiet won’t do that–it will set her up for even more stress when it inevitably comes out. If you bring it to her (as opposed to, say, an auditor noticing it), at least she gets as much time/warning as possible to handle it. Tell her what’s going on ASAP; that’s the best thing you can do here.

    2. Carol*

      OP here. Thanks for your point. She’s the manager- she’s paid to handle precisely these issues. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget something so basic after settling into a comfy work environment in which we all truly care about each other (minus one, obviously). It was easy to lose sight of the fact this is what my manager is paid for! Thank you.

  12. Drago Cucina*

    In the US there is a free app called TextNow that can be installed on an old smartphone. The app can be used to make and receive phone calls on WiFi. A phone number is assigned. Using WiFi will allow for checking for voicemail, returning calls, etc.

  13. Ruth (UK)*

    For number 3, would you be willing to pay for him to get a basic phone that has no services but the ability to text and call, and runs on credit (pay as you go calls and no data at all) rather than being on contract? If he already has a useable phone (eg. If he had one before he lost the money to pay for the contract) or if anyone else you know has an old phone they’re not using, you can use that. If not, a new one is often only around £10 (so one off, not a monthly payment) or so. Then, if people call him, it will cost nothing. And then he could either use it a bit of credit to return the call if he has to, or use yours (if you’re on contract) if you’re about.

    I did pay as you go calls (no data or anything) as late as 2014. Eventually, it became more worth it etc to get a contract but if he uses it only to take or return job offer calls, the cost will be next to nothing (especially if he manages to answer when they call and doesn’t have to use credit to call back).

    1. Thlayli*

      I was entirely pay as you go until 2014 too! That’s when the contract cost got cheaper than buying the phone outright for me as well.

      1. blackcat*

        2014 was the year I bid farewell to the latest iteration of the nokia brick phone ($30 online) and finally got a smart phone. The guy at the phone store was super confused when he pulled a Cingular Wireless sim card out of that old phone (I had transferred it from one old brick to the new one ~6 years prior, the sim card itself dated to the early 2000s, I think).

        I have still used that old phone for international travel, picking up local SIM cards. It’s cheaper than the temporary international plans offered by my phone company.

    2. Natalie*

      Then, if people call him, it will cost nothing.

      One note of caution that this is not the case if he’s in the US. Incoming calls here cost minutes just like outgoing calls.

        1. DumbQuestion*

          My first cellphones were in Germany. I was unpleasantly surprised when I got back to the states and had to pay for outgoing AND incoming messages and calls.

          1. Artemesia*

            It is especially miserable when they are junk calls. We were unable to turn off the reminder calls from our pharmacy when we traveled abroad. We did everything we were supposed to but after a couple weeks they started again — and they would come in at 3 am which meant we had to turn off the phone at night and even when we didn’t pick up they got billed when they went to voicemail and on one occasion we ended up with a $9 call that hung up slowly. Very aggravating.

          1. Natalie*

            Although with the ease of number spoofing from a foreign VOIP, it doesn’t much matter to most junk callers that it’s illegal, since they’re outside the reach of US law anyway. :/

  14. Close Bracket*


    When your partner had a phone plan, did they have a smart phone? If your partner still has that smartphone w sim card, they can install the Google Hangouts (Voice is no longer being maintained) app and use it over wifi. I do this myself. It does require an internet connection and a wireless router (and a gmail address).

    1. Sarianna*

      Voice still exists, and works with Hangouts to allow incoming calls/texts and voicemails which can be retrieved through the app or through the voice dot google site, AFAIK. At least, that’s how I use it!

  15. Tyche*

    OP2, when I helped to run my library book club, I found it was very helpful to start every encounter with some basic rules and a little presentation.
    Something like: “Today we are talking about the XYZ book (say 2/3 basic things about the book). Before starting the discussion I’d like to remind you the rules (insert here your rules be kind, don’t overtalk etc)”
    I found helpful to prepare some questions or citations or reviews and used them to change the discussion if it started to become too heated or one-sided.
    “Good point Nancy, Fergus what do you think?” “Nancy, I understand you hate this book, but critic X wrote that’s the best book of 2017, Mary what do you think?”
    I hope she’ll be bored if you don’t let her monopolize the discussion anymore.

    1. Jessica*

      The super awesome organizer of my library book club does it like this: we go around the circle and speak in turn to ensure that everyone has a turn. In practice it’s not as rigid as that might sound; freestyle discussion does break out, but ultimately she brings it back to moving around the circle. Some people participate more than others, but everyone gets a moment when They Officially Have The Floor. And because everyone can see that book club ends at X time and there are Y people left to get a turn, there’s a natural momentum toward keeping things moving.

    2. FD*

      That’s a great way of doing it. Reminding everybody about the rules at the outset can be surprisingly helpful.

    3. Bejeweled Librarian*

      We are upfront about the behavior expected by everyone in the book group I coordinate. There is a handout for each meeting the handout listing parameters for participation as the first item. We review these parameters at the start of each meeting, which includes one about not interrupting the person who is speaking, and limiting the number of comments anyone can make at a time. Meaning, if you have made three comments, you need to give someone else a turn before you offer another comment. This allows folks who are excited about the book a chance to be heard, and gives a few of the more reserved people a chance to participate. Still, we have a few folks who like to lecture at the group for extended periods. We give these folks an opportunity to be heard for about two minutes, but then curtail their remarks by saying, “Thank you. Would anyone like to add anything or respond?” No one has objected to this approach.

  16. Jean (just Jean)*

    My hunch (based on skimming various self-improvement books, blogs, and articles, especially those in the New York Times) that people find it easier to change their behavior when they view it as moving towards a positive goal rather than suppressing the urge to continue doing something negative. This could be a great catch-phrase for work and/or life in general, but

    a) is my hunch correct?
    b) is this a reasonable question to pose here, or should I re-post on the next open thread (either work- or life-related), or should I be doing my own Google search(es)?

    1. Thlayli*

      This sort of thing is best for the open threads. Comments on posts are supposed to be about the post.

        1. Mookie*

          Hmm, I read your comment as responding to the situation in the second letter. Is that not right? Otherwise, I think this is pretty on-topic, actually.

  17. Sled dog mama*

    #2 you mentioned that this person is not a resident. If the rest of the group is made up of residents could you restrict the group to residents (ie those whose taxes pay for the library)?
    Many places restrict groups to those in the population they are created to serve (residents) or (and I’m assuming here that being a library book club it’s free) charge a fee to those who are not residents. To me this seems totally fair since a public library is supported by resident’s taxes and charging nonresidents for the services they use recognizes that fact. Also if it’s free and suddenly she has to pay as a non-resident she may be deterred from coming.

    1. Helpful*

      But a resident can be annoying too. I think OP still needs an arrow in her quiver to deal with problem participants in a calm, clear manner, ideally in the moment.

    2. strawberries and raspberries*

      Well, that could be part of the messaging to tell her to back off- “Listen, since you’re not even a resident of this county, I’m technically not even supposed to let you participate, but I’m doing it because I know your sister and she vouched for you. The least you can do while you’re here is show better consideration for the group members and treat everyone with a little more respect.”

      1. Mrs B*

        I think this can be said without bringing the residency issue up at all. Our libraries residency requirements only apply to borrowing materials, otherwise the library as a public space is open to everyone. Perhaps trying to recruit this person to help moderate might work. Something like “It’s great that you have such energy during our discussions, perhaps you can help me get some of the more reserved members to speak up, my goal is to get everyone involved during our talks”. Kind of gets the point across diplomatically by making it sound like you are asking for their assistance.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Our libraries residency requirements only apply to borrowing materials, otherwise the library as a public space is open to everyone.

          Yup. This has been the case at every library I’ve been to/worked at. And I like your idea that OP should use the guest’s loquaciousness as a positive by putting her to work in getting other members more actively involved in the meetings if they aren’t already.

        2. Colette*

          I’d caution against giving someone who likes a platform more power in the group. She could easily start hassling people to participate more (instead of encouraging them) or just see it as “her” group and take as much time as she wants.

          1. Khlovia*

            Agree. This woman belongs to the Crabgrass Tribe: give them an inch and they’ll take over the whole yard.

  18. Widgeon*

    #1 – This happened to my remote team once too! It took 6 weeks until somebody finally reported it (sadly, it was clients – not another employee, because none of us were aware).

    I had to spend several weeks on OT fixing/correct/*doing* that work! Ugh! You need to report this because you are putting your own work or even job at risk (people will be concerned the longer you are aware this is happening). Alison’s advice is good – this info needs to be told to your manager ASAP.

  19. Bibliovore*

    #1 This happened to me. I was the new supervisor who came into the department. The report was assigning her work to other people, not doing her work, blaming others for work not completed. No one who was impacted by her behavior let me know. No one. It took me about a month to figure out that something was wrong and another three to document and work with HR, and then a year and half on PIP. (that’s right, union position, due process, yada yada) Post firing as I was cleaning up and meeting with all the people on the team was when I found out the true depth of the issues like non responsiveness to emails, security issues, missing payroll deadlines, and deposits.

    1. Carol*

      OP #1 here. Thanks for the perspective as a supervisor. Sounds like you got stuck with a mess!

      1. Bibliovore*

        We are still uncovering stuff from back then. I had a lot of resentment towards previous managers and co-workers. I had never had to deal with anything like this and was questioning my management abilities. (despite having 20 years under my belt) This website and Evil HR Lady saved my sanity during this very fraught time. Please let your manager know what you have uncovered and help figure out a solution to deal with it. I was alone and not permitted to discuss the situation with anyone except my supervisor and hr. It was truly a miserable time.

  20. strawberries and raspberries*

    #3, the only problem with Google Voice is that in order to set it up you need an existing phone number so they’ll know where to patch it through. I would look into getting a pay-as-you-go phone for him, and use that number to set up Google Voice, which you can then use from a computer as much as you need to. TextNow is also a good option and doesn’t seem to require any pre-existing line.

    1. Natalie*

      Although you only need the other phone number for initial setup – after that you can use it exclusively online. So the LW could let partner use her phone number for the setup part.

    2. Aglaia761*

      That’s not true any longer. You can set up a google voice account without having a phone number. They will bug you to add one, but it’s not mandatory.

  21. Bookworm*

    #3: It is possible to job search without a phone number. I’ve had a few interview/job situations where everything was conducted entirely via the internet (initial resume submission, invitation to interview, any follow-up contacts, job offer, etc.). I’d say it’d be more detrimental if he had no access to a computer and internet but it sounds like that isn’t the issue.

    If it is at all possible to fit in the budget there are things like “pay as you go” phones where there’s no contract but you have to buy minutes and/or use the phone periodically to keep the minutes “active”. They can be very basic (phone/text only) to plans that support smartphones.

    Good luck! I was once on the other side (where my colleagues and I were enormously frustrated by the number of disconnects, no voicemails and/or people who’d answer the phone and refuse to take the message or even pass on that we had called, etc.) of this and know it can be really tough for the unemployed but hopefully you/your partner can find a solution that is affordable and/or something appears on the horizon.

  22. val*

    OP#3 — is a land line a possibility? I know a lot of folks don’t have an actual hooked-up land line any more, but my internet provider actually does offer a phone number as part of my bundle. I just tested this by plugging an old landline phone into my router, and I’ve got a dial tone. All I’d need to use it for a job search would be an answering machine, which I imagine you can find if you just ask everyone you know if they have an old one sitting around somewhere.

    1. Struck by Lightning*

      They are required to let existing landlines function enough to call 911, but nearly all require a fee to use it for anything else. Just the taxes & local/state/federal fees are $7 or more a month everywhere I’ve lived.

      (We haven’t bothered with a landline for a decade except where the bundle was cheaper than just internet but price it every time we move, which is every couple years)

      1. Natalie*

        I think val is suggesting that the phone service might already be included in whatever internet/TV package the LW has. I know a lot of cable bundles include a phone line, and the customer might not even be aware that they have it.

  23. CM*

    OP #5:
    What you seem to be thinking: The CEO didn’t get back to me, does that mean she’s not interested? But we had a productive interview, so we already have an established relationship and it would feel weird to just send a resume.
    What I bet the CEO is thinking: I talked to this fundraising person who was pretty good, and then they sent me a helpful followup. Seems like a good candidate; I hope they apply for our open position.

    1. Frustrated Optimist*

      I think Alison’s advice is perfect – apply per the usual channels, then e-mail the CEO with an update that you did so.

      With regard to what CM is saying, I hope it’s the latter scenario!

      Speaking from personal experience though, having been snubbed after making some seemingly good networking inroads, I can see why you’re a bit wary. I have found networking and informational interviews to be less productive than I would have imagined, but I continue to try.

      I hope you will have a positive update for us!

  24. boop the first*

    2) Oh I know someone who is That Person. I agree that you should just call her out when she’s being unreasonable. It’s pretty clear that she hates that. That happened to That Person I Know – a regular club member lost their cool and told her off, and it wasn’t as polite as Alison’s wording! Anyway, she was so indignant about it that she never went back to that group again and thus probably left them in peace. It would probably be the best outcome for your group, to be honest. She may complain to her family/neighbours, but it’s not like they don’t know her personally. Make Jerks Uncomfortable Again!

  25. val*

    OP#3 — I don’t know if this is feasible, but in many places you can literally walk into any restaurant in the area and get hired today as a server or bartender, even with no restaurant experience, if you’re willing to work evenings and weekends. Which coincidentally aren’t times that interfere much with being able to interview for other jobs. My 23-yo is working more than she prefers because the restaurant she’s at is always understaffed, and she’s bringing home $200+ a night in tips. She got hired on the spot with zero experience. Important: Some places feel it looks downscale to have a “Hiring all shifts/all positions” sign up 24/7/365, but many mid-scale restaurants are chronically understaffed and always hiring.

  26. Goya de la Mancha*

    #3 – Googlevoice for the win. I have one (on top of my cell service) as I have to give a phone number out for work purposes and HATE giving out my personal cell number (School staff….I’m looking at you!) Tracfone would work too, no need to pay for extra services, basic flip phone that will allow a voicemail and return calls.

  27. JD*

    Uh just buy a prepaid phone for $20. Since he would only be using it to field job related calls he wouldn’t be flying through the minutes. Fairly obvious answer.

    1. Natalie*

      Come on, man, “Be kind” and “follow the commenting rules” is literally written right above the commenting box.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      It wasn’t fairly obvious since the letter writer pointed out her partner is unemployed, thus not bringing in any income, and she has no intention of assisting him with paying for any of his expenses. $20 may seem like nothing, but if the letter writer has a ton of her own bills (which she seemed to indicate is the case), she may not have an extra $20+ to buy him an all new phone and then either keep buying new ones when he runs out of minutes or reloads the one she bought.

        1. OhNo*

          Look, if the OP says something is unworkable, then we should believe them. There’s no point or use in second-guessing or what-ifing every single thing they lay out in their letter.

    3. Todd Chrisley Knows Best*

      To some, sure, perhaps. However, I think the OP was obviously pretty stressed, and in those situations the most obvious situations disappear. Have a little compassion.

    4. OP3*

      Buying a prepaid phone was the first thing I considered (and I appreciate all the kind suggestions to do that!)

      However it is an option I would prefer not to take. A prepaid phone may not cost a lot of money but it would be taxing to our relationship. I already pay for a lot- rent, internet, utilities, groceries, etc. Money is already major stressor in our relationship and I do not want to add to that stress any further, even if it’s just $20 here and there.

      My partner does have a smartphone with wifi, so Google Voice should be a viable option. I am also going to suggest using my phone as a house phone, though there may be some delay for him responding since I have to take my phone to work with me during the day.

      1. SallytooShort*

        But wouldn’t money be less of a stressor if he had a job? Which he won’t be able to get without a way for them to contact him?

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          I think we can trust the OP to know what would be more of a stressor to the relationship than we do. It sounds like a prepaid is an option she has looked at and rejected as unworkable in their circumstances

      2. Artemesia*

        The other obvious answer is that he picks up crappy part time job so he can pay for some of this e.g. a night restaurant or bar shift, a temp job, ANYTHING. Tough situation for you as the one thing worse on a relationship than paying for everything is mothering the partner. Hope he finds something soon or figures out how to put enough bucks in his pocket to manage things like a phone.

    5. SallytooShort*

      Yeah, I think the LW is drawing a strange line in the sand here. She won’t pay for any of his expenses (hence he isn’t sponging off of her) but not helping out by paying a very small sum for a burner phone will just keep him unemployed longer.

      It helps neither of them.

      1. Laura*

        I *am* confused by $20 being a bridge too far. Also, I totally agree with the poster above who suggested working evenings and weekends as a server. I too always got jobs in that industry very easily as long as I was prepared to put a little legwork in dropping into local restaurants/bar with a nice smile and a good appearance.

      2. tigerStripes*

        Should we really be second guessing the OP here? This has got to be an awkward situation, and we don’t know all of the details.

        I do agree that it would be smart for the OP’s partner to look for some part time job.

  28. Julia*

    #3 – Can I suggest Consumer Cellular? VERY cheap plans and they use the AT&T network. You can bring your own phone without any issues. They also have free/cheap phones.

  29. Sualah*

    #2 – Please try Alison’s scripts! There’s a book club I’m considering dropping because a new member has to dominate and, worse, has to be off topic. It’s a chill book club where sometimes we read the same book and sometimes we just share what we’ve read recently, and I enjoy natural flows of conversations even when it moves off the book(s) we’re discussing. Having said that, during the last meeting, it was 90 minutes of her personal struggles with a learning disability and no one got to share their reviews of the books they’d read. The previous meeting was a lot of her personal opinions about how parents should let their kids read anything they want, ever, and any parent who disagrees is pretty much the same as people who want books banned from libraries. It’s been fun. :|

    1. Artemesia*

      It is so sad to see a good group destroyed by this. Sometimes ‘chill’ works and sometimes it doesn’t. I hope your group can come together with a strategy for rules of the road that allow you to shut this down. That, or you need a member to say ‘Fergie, last meeting we spent the whole time on your personal life and the meeting before that the whole time on your opinions about what kids read. None of us got to share our views of the book or participate; this can’t go on; it is ruining the group.’ Someone could say this to her before the meeting or blurt it out during — but it is better than having the group shut down by this.

  30. cobweb collector*

    LW#3 – Do you have internet access and a decent webcam/microphone? If so, try using something like google voice for phone calls. It’s free.

    If not, try looking into pay as you go cellphone service from one of the discount providers. I’ve used plenty of then in the past for short term coverage and they’re fine. Most of them are virtual providers – they lease network access from one of the big 4 (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile) so you’re using a good network but paying a reduced price.

    A third option is voip providers like freedompop. They have a plan for $0.01 that may work. All the calls are routed over the internet if you’re connected to wifi so if he’s home most of the day job hunting he won’t even use up any minutes. I actually use this plan for my work number and since I only do calls when I’m in my office and ocnnected to wifi, my total bill doesn’t exceed the 0.01 per month.

    1. cobweb collector*

      Another option is whatsapp – just install the app on your phone and then you can use it to make free phone calls via wifi.

  31. MidwestRoads*

    What is it with ex-employees showing up to holiday parties?! We didn’t make it to my SO’s holiday party but an ex-employee showed up out of the blue and asked for her job back! The awkward, it burns.

    1. SallytooShort*

      At my old job there were several previous employees who would come to Holiday Parties.

      They hadn’t left on bad terms so it was fine. But I still thought it was kind of weird.

      1. Artemesia*

        Retired people were invited to ours and it was great to see them, but I don’t recall any fired people or people who moved on being invited or coming.

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      Depending on the circumstances of the ex-employee, particularly why she is no longer an employee, I feel a bit sorry for her. It sounds like a desperate move. A little bit Hallmark movie-ish to work in real life, though.

      1. MidwestRoads*

        She quit and got another job elsewhere (in another city) and that was about 10 months ago. But I agree, it is sad and desperate. From what SO told me, she’s got issues.

    3. periwinkle*

      I used to work for a small agency which invited former employees to attend the holiday dinner. Not all former employees, I would assume, but there were people attending who had left 5-8 years prior. It was lovely! I attended once after leaving and haven’t returned only because I moved to the other side of the country.

      That’s a bit different from a fired employee coming back to plead with the CEO, of course…

  32. Nita*

    OP #3 – you’re getting a lot of good suggestions above, but one question – if nothing else works, would you be able to pay for his cell phone service, on the most basic plan, for a few months? Just the phone. Not his other bills. The phone seems pretty vital to getting, and keeping, a job – depending on his field, the job postings might require calling by phone to inquire, recruiters will often call to schedule an interview, and if the work is anything that’s not 9-to-5 and has a changeable schedule, last-minute schedule changes are often set up by phone or text.

  33. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    OP1, your manager may have asked you to look into it because she suspects something (or she knows your coworkers habits). She picked you for a reason–maybe because you’re known to be honest or through. She’s relying on you, so be up-front with her. It’ll stress her out way worse if she finds this out later. She may even have a plan to mitigate this if what she suspects is true.

    Also, with all the stuff with the merger, I’d bet this is still pants-on-fire important. It’ll only get worse the longer you wait.

    1. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      Arg, so many typos this morning…. just pretend they aren’t there.

      I’d blame it on needing coffee, but I never drink it…. *sigh*

  34. KJDubreuil*

    Re job searching partner. Many places have Temp agencies for clerical and manual labor. In our area we have Labor Ready for unskilled laborers. The workers show up early and jobs are assigned based on their place in line and a little bit on their skills/ability/physical strength. The pay is minimum but there is a comfortable place to wait and coffee is provided. The person could earn enough in a couple of days to pay for a phone. There are Job Centers in many areas that provide a phone number for messages. Also, as an employer if someone told me they did not currently have a phone I would contact them by email, no problem.

    Just don’t do what our most recent applicant did- provided two phone numbers (her sister and brother-in-law) and when we called the numbers neither person expected calls for ‘Davina’ so they acted very confused, kept telling us this was not her phone number, refused to take a message and in general did not instill confidence in us that the applicant would be reliable or legitimate. Bad first impression.

  35. clow*

    OP 3 – You may want to make sure your internet provider isn’t already providing you a landline as part of your package, mine does and I had no idea.

  36. DevAssist*

    Re: OP #3

    Walmart and Target sell “burner” phones that are inexpensive, and you can purchase “minutes” as needed. This could be a good option, if your partner only really needs the phone for potential job-related business.

  37. Risha*

    OP#1 – I totally agree with everything everyone has said about bringing this to your manager immediately yadda yadda. I do want to say, though, that there are other possible explanations other than a second job, so you should limit your commentary to the actual issue – that the work isn’t getting done.

    This email could have been written about me in my late 20s, just before I got my diagnosis for Bipolar Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and went on a leave to attend a partial hospitalization program for several weeks. When I get depressed, I don’t get sad (which is why I hate that they call it ‘depression’), I shut down. I had become so overwhelmingly anxious that the thought of being behind at work that I was sitting in front of my computer several hours a day, trying and failing to make myself work, for MONTHS, just barely managing to eek out a few tiny things to give the impression that I was accomplishing something, and dodging every IM and phone call I could lest the entire house of cards collapse. Which of course it eventually did, but I to this day have no idea how, because I can barely remember that month other than going to the hospital in a (successful) attempt to get seen by a psychiatrist because I couldn’t navigate the system well enough in my state to get an appointment any other way.

    That’s not to say this guy isn’t just collecting a paycheck for no work because he realized he could. I’m just saying you should concentrate on the effect on you and the company when you talk to your manager instead of speculating, because you in actually don’t know.

    1. Nervous Accountant*

      That’s a pretty huge leap though, that work isn’t getting done = diagnosis of mental illness.

      1. Risha*

        I… explicitly said that we don’t know why he’s doing this so it could be that he’s just a jerk? I’m not internet diagnosing, I’m saying she shouldn’t speculate on why he’s doing this, and especially not to her manager. The co-worker might be a spy and has spent the last several months trapped on a volcanic island while a computer program pretends to be him at work. We don’t know, she doesn’t know, “why” doesn’t actually have anything to do with the problem that needs to be fixed.

  38. Kristine*

    #2 – Use a “talking stick” or some attractive paperweight, etc. Everyone passes it around and only the person holding it can speak. (And don’t let her grab for it out of turn.) After a couple rounds of this, she may quit instead. ;-)

    1. periwinkle*

      And if she ignores the talking stick and continues to lecture at will, someone in the book club is now armed. Thwack!

    2. This definitely works*

      Seconding using a talking stick/stone/whatever. I teach literature at a college and I use this approach for all seminar discussions. It works really well: curtails the pontificators and makes it easier for people who have trouble asserting themselves to jump in to a discussion.

  39. DumbQuestion*

    If #3’s partner still has their physical phone they can set up a hushed (it’s an app) # and use it over wifi.

    1. DumbQuestion*

      My other browser wasn’t working out. The second part to that should have said, “It will ring your phone from the app like a regular phone, so you can answer calls as they come in without the calls being routed through your number or going to a VM.”

  40. Massmatt*

    IMO many problems fester because people are afraid of coming out and saying what they are thinking and know should be said.

    #1–This person has been doing no work and collecting pay, and for some reason no supervisor has either noticed or done anything about it–and you are worried about stressing the boss? The boss SHOULD be stressed, she has been blind to a blatant problem! This is the stereotype of government employees–people doing nothing, and suffering no consequence.

    #2–Everyone seems afraid of being thought impolite in telling the book club boor that she is being a boor. Boors are too self-absorbed to notice body language and other signs of audience exasperation. Someone needs to explain clearly to her what she is doing is wrong and needs to stop.

    #4–What is a “neutral reference” and why would you want to give one? Either you are comfortable with recommending someone (acting as a reference) or you’re not. Some of the prior suggestions for vague or clever language seem to reek of trying to cover yourself to avoid saying “no, I would not hire this person, because ____”. Would you like someone you call as a reference to avoid mentioning any problems with the employee and instead saying “I’d hire him again if I had work he could do” or something similar?

    1. Natalie*

      I could imagine a neutral reference for #4 – say whatever positive things are genuinely true about the employee, but also be clear that lateness was a recurring problem. Some places without strict start times might not care about the lateness.

      1. Mints*

        Yeah, I can imagine my retail boss from way back when not wanting to re-hire me because I wasn’t salesy enough but I’ve also never applied to a sales job so all of his “Mints was really smart and good with customers and a team player” would mean a lot

        I think it’s actually really important for reference checkers to ask more detailed questions than good/bad

  41. Noah*

    “go over ground rules at the start of your next meeting (like “give other people a chance to talk”)”

    Nooooooooo!!!! This will cause the problem member to further believe she’s the one being cutoff and not allowed to talk.

  42. Dzhymm*

    #3: As we’ve seen there are a myriad of dirt-cheap mobile phone options available out there. A small part of me suspects that “I can’t job-hunt because I don’t have a cellphone” is more of an excuse not to *try* than anything else….

    1. Observer*

      Not if he’s not aware of these options. Not everyone realizes that these things can be done, even “digital natives”.

  43. Jade*

    LW #3, if his phone is currently locked by the cell phone carrier, he should still be able to connect to WiFi. So he could get a Google Voice number or use an app like Freetone to make/receive calls on his own phone when he is in WiFi range. Just a temp fix that won’t cost any extra. And good luck to him in the future; job searching under those circumstances are particularly non-fun.

  44. Angela*

    OP #3 has gotten a few good recommendations already but I wanted to add to this. A google voice number is a great option because it will ring your computer through the hangouts website if you get an incoming call. I use this all the time instead of my phone since I don’t get great service where I live.

    Secondarily if a recruiter wants to set up a time to call you directly there are lots of web conferencing websites that will let you set up a dial-in number and do those calls through the computer as well. In addition to Google, I’ve used Zoom and for this.

  45. Thanks Obama*


    If you partner has no income, he likely qualifies for food assistance (if you are in the US) so he should apply for that or medicaid, even temporarily until things improve. With qualifying for these things, he would also qualify for a free phone (often referred to as an “Obama phone”) with a limited amount of texting and minutes per month, but enough to keep him available for a job response and to make quick calls to you or be safe during an emergency. I think you can google it and do it online (put in free government cell phone etc) or go to a local phone store (like a cell store that sells prepaid phones and accessories) and they can get the info for you. He might also qualify without getting assstance just based on his income right now. When he no longer needs it, he can have it turned off. It will be a basic phone, but it will get the job done.

  46. Thanks Obama*

    Another option for cell service is to use his current phone and get Ting, ( you pay by usage, so if he doesn’t text or use it for any calls outside of the jobs returning his calls, the bill can be as low as $5-10 a month. He would just have to be judicious and not use it more than the money he has, because any data or texts or minutes adds up. It can still be a cheap alternative though.

  47. Carol*

    OP#1 here:
    Well, I spoke with my manager following the advice from you all, and I’m happy I did. I framed the conversation around the basic facts (coworker is unavailable by phone and email; I’ve noticed that his cases haven’t been touched in months) and left out any speculation on my part. She was very caught off guard by this news. She acknowledged that she hasn’t had time to audit our work or hire someone to do it, and said that we have been operating under a system of trust during this merger. She expressed gratitude for bringing this to her attention, and said she was also grateful for the way I approached her. And I am grateful to Allison and YOU ALL for your words of wisdom. I feel unburdened. And I am satisfied my manager will handle this appropriately. Thank you!

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Excellent! It’s good to hear your manager is going to look into it, and that she was receptive to your comments. I hope everything works out for both of you. Thank you for updating us. This is inspiring for people who have trouble approaching their bosses. Hearing a success story can be a big confidence boost.

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