my coworker keeps cooking for me, colleague tried to steal from a bereavement fund, and more

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

1. My office gave out thank-you gifts … with strings and deadlines

I work for a private firm in a very deadline-driven business. We are extremely busy now and are having a stressful year because we are short on staff. A few days ago the professionals in the department received a $50 Visa gift card with a note. My first thought was gratitude — how nice to have the extra difficulties we are facing this year acknowledged! But the note asked us to use the funds to do something for someone else — family, team members, community. And to document our good works, preferably via social media, by a deadline that’s just two days after our filing deadline.

A number of guys are taking their wives to dinner or getting them flowers. Great idea, but I don’t have kids, and my husband would prefer my presence to anything I might buy for him (love that guy!) We have food everywhere, so no need to buy a treat for the team. No time to take folks to lunch. The only thing folks want now is time off and/or sleep. I have an idea for some equipment that might help our admin team (they work outrageous hours), but it’s expensive. I’d need to pool funds with many others and work with the admins to get the right thing, and no one has time for that. The firm has a charitable foundation we could donate to.

Any thoughts? We’re tired and stressed and pretty annoyed by this request.

“You’re swamped, so here’s a gift that requires more work and thought from you right now, and it must happen in the timeframe we say!” … is not really a great gift. I don’t blame you for being a little annoyed.

How about donating it to a charity you support? That’s fast and easy. And then you could pass along feedback to whoever organized this that while you appreciated the intent, it ended up feeling like an additional thing to do at a time when you needed less.

2. My coworker keeps cooking for me, and my own food is going to waste

This seems like it shouldn’t be a problem, but I have a coworker who overwhelms me with homecooked meals. I am looking for a way to decline food that he has prepared, or to ask him to cut way back on how often he brings me food. We have different cultural backgrounds and I don’t want to offend him — I understand that he enjoys cooking and there are challenges to cooking for one person. But I also spend a lot of time planning and preparing meals for myself as part of my mental health self-care and I hate wasting food. so it really bothers me to have a fridge full of groceries that I have planned for the week and then find three (or more) full meals from him waiting on my desk.

I have tried offering it to other people in my office, but it feels awkward that he only cooks for two of us. The food is usually delicious, and the thought is appreciated, but it’s causing me stress and I don’t know how to slow this down. Any suggestions of scripts or how to handle this situation would be appreciated.

“Thanks so much for all the amazing food you’ve shared with me! I’ve started doing a lot of cooking and meal planning myself and don’t want to waste food, so I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve shared with me and tell you that I’m covered for the foreseeable future.” If you’re up for it, you could add, “Maybe, though, we could do a swap one day a month where we each share something we’ve cooked?”

If that doesn’t get the message across and meals keep showing up, you can say, “You’re so kind to think of me! I’m doing so much cooking these days, though, that I’ve got a fridge full of food that I don’t want to waste — but maybe there’s someone else here who would enjoy these?”

3. My coworker tried to steal from a bereavement fund

My job’s government contract is ending in a week. My coworker and her two children died in a car crash a few weeks ago and we set up a donation jar in one of the manager’s offices. One of the new trainees (who has an interim security clearance because they are new) tried to steal from it and got caught. My manager performed absolutely zero punishment — not firing the individual and not even writing them up. We are short-handed and I guess they are desperate for any employee to stay until the contract ends.

The coworker who died was a friend, and I feel like this is completely unethical and unprofessional. I feel like I need to quit and let the manager know that the reason I am quitting is because of these events. Any thoughts or advice? If I quit now. I’d only lose a week’s pay, but I’d be making a statement.

I’m so sorry about your friend. That’s terrible.

If you’re serious about quitting, make sure you’re thinking through all the potential ramifications of doing that, such as any potential impact on references that you’ll want in the future. But if you if you decide to stay for the final week, you’re not condoning your manager’s lack of action or in any way letting down your friend.

There might be other ways to protest the decision, though, and probably more effective ones. Is there anyone else you can report the theft to? That should be a huge issue in any office, but especially for this person’s security clearance.

4. Writing a LinkedIn recommendation for an employee who quit during our busiest time of year

I run a small nonprofit, and one of our employees recently quit during the busiest time of year by giving two weeks notice. I know that’s professional convention, but given what a specific niche the position is (making it hard to fill) and the timing of the announcement, it still put me off. Some of her coworkers were upset by the timing as well.

Now the ex-employee has asked me to write a review on her LinkedIn profile. If she asked me to be a reference for future employers to call, I would, and would give her a positive review. But it irks me to be asked to take time to write a LinkedIn review when she’s already found a new job, and now I’m busy trying to find her replacement. Is it wrong or rude of me to not write one?

Eh, it’s pretty petty. The exception to that is if her job is one where it’s very much understood that you you don’t quit at this time of year or without more notice (the way it is for, say, public accountants during tax season, an event planner right before your biggest annual event, or campaign managers the month before Election Day) — but that would need to truly be a norm for the field, not just your own preference. If it’s just that it’s a busy time for the organization and it was inconvenient … well, that’s just how these things go sometimes. In that case, if her work was good and you’d have been willing to write her a LinkedIn recommendation otherwise, you shouldn’t withhold it now. (That said, LinkedIn recommendations don’t carry a ton of weight, and you really don’t need to write something extensive.)

5. Asking an employer how long they’ll take to contact candidates for interviews

I know you have answered a lot of questions about following up after a job application, but I don’t think I’ve seen that particular one. I’ve applied for an internship and they don’t send an automated reply to your email address to confirm they have indeed received your application. Added to that, they say they don’t contact candidates unless they want to set up an interview. Considering the blurred circumstances, would it be incredibly rude or annoying to contact them just to ask how long an applicant should wait before considering they won’t be contacted or is it better to just play the waiting game, not contact them at all and just hope for the best?

Asking them how long you should wait wouldn’t be outrageously rude, but “we won’t contact you unless we want to interview you” is a signal that they’re not super up for inquiries about their process. And really, the answer shouldn’t change anything about what you do on your end anyway — you should keep applying to other positions regardless and not slow down your search, because there’s never any guarantee that you’ll get an interview (or that an interview will turn into an offer, or that an offer will end up being one you decide to accept).

The best thing to do with any job you apply for it is to apply and then put it out of your head and move on rather than waiting and wondering when or if they’ll contact you. Let it be a pleasant surprise if they end up contacting you.

{ 494 comments… read them below }

  1. Greg M.*

    I would honestly just spend the gift card on whatever you want and not even do the followup. Any questions about it are responded to with “It was a gift, I prefer to keep it private” or something like that.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This sounds like the kind of company that would try to demand that OP pay them back for the $50.

      1. chi type*

        Throw it in your desk drawer and forget about it. If they demand it back because you didn’t follow the rules, it’s right there (also, start job search immediately).
        Most likely you won’t hear anymore about it and when you run across it again in six months, enjoy!

        1. Nico m*

          Good idea, I was going to fling it back at them with a nope but this is easier and you might keep the money.

        2. pleaset*

          THIS. Don’t spend any energy on it.

          If someone was handing it to me with these constraints up front, I’d say “No, thank you. ” But if it’s already given, just throw it in the desk forever.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          “Start job searching immediately” is a really extreme reaction to this! Sometimes employers get something wrong. It doesn’t always warrant leaving if they’re otherwise decent.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            I agree. This is…well, kind of silly, really, but it’s not awful. In fact, it’s a nice idea, it’s just that it’s a nice idea with very bad timing.

            I’d probably just donate it to a charity. That’s easy, it fulfills the requirements, and it would even make me feel good, at least during those brief intervals I had time to feel good. :-)

            1. paul*

              I’d push back on the “it’s a nice idea” thing. It isn’t nice to dump a PR move off onto your entire staff when they’re already swamped. It doesn’t rise to the level of “job hunt right now” to me but I think you’re being a bit too charitable to the company.

              1. Scarlet*

                Yes, and I think it’s also more than a bit crappy to basically tell your overworked employees: here’s a gift card, but don’t spend it on yourselves!
                I don’t understand why so many people interpret it as “a nice gesture”.

              2. LBK*

                Exactly what I was going to say – by no stretch of the imagination does this feel like a thank you gift to me, it’s completely a PR move. Especially since they’re encouraging people to share it via social media (presumably so the company FB/Twitter page can reshare it).

            2. Kathleen_A*

              All I can say is that you guys just view it a lot more harshly than I do. Yes, it is apparently a PR move, but all I can say is, they could have come up with a far less beneficent PR move available, after all.

              Of course the timing is lousy. That just makes the company myopic, though, not evil.

              1. LBK*

                Oh yeah, that I still agree with – I don’t think this is worth quitting over. But it doesn’t come across as “flawed attempt to do something nice” to me but rather “intentional PR move made without much consideration for how it would come across to employees,” which is certainly worse.

                I’d be curious to know who came up with it, since that would probably give you better confirmation of the intent. If it was marketing, well, I doubt they’re really sitting around thinking up ways to improve morale.

                1. Greg M.*

                  I actually really dislike how flippantly some people treat quitting a job. maybe they’re in a state where they can upend their entire life over the tiniest offence but most of us aren’t.

            3. myswtghst*

              Agreeing with Kathleen_A (and Alison). I’m guessing someone in management read a book/article about the power of paying it forward and how much more rewarding it is to do things for others and just made a miscalculation. OP should definitely give feedback, but I think cluelessness is much more likely than maliciousness in this situation.

              1. Lance*

                Agreed. It’s a nice gesture in theory… but the timing is poor, the deadline placed on it is a really bad idea regardless, and all in all, it’s just very ill thought out. If you’re going to give people a bonus during a busy period, great… just take away the strings attached to it.

            4. Stranger than fiction*

              Remimds me of this “blue ocean” thing they’re doing at my friend’s employer. They’re supposed to spend ten hours a week (on top of their normal hours) dreaming up new product ideas. Repeat, not during normal work hours. Sure they’re exempt, but just want they want to do is think about work stuff during they’re time off.

          2. chi type*

            Oh, the job searching thing was only if they demand that you give it back. Which I don’t think is likely to happen, hence the phrase “Most likely you won’t hear anymore about it…”.

        4. nnn*

          Agreed. I’m thinking it would be useful if a large portion of the employees just didn’t do anything with it before the deadline, on the excuse that they don’t have nearly enough time. I don’t think it would be out of line to respond to any inquiries with “I haven’t even had time to think about that yet – I’ll figure it out after I’ve handled [work deadlines]” And maybe, in all the fuss, some of the cards get casually forgotten in the back of a drawer somewhere

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            Yep. Even if it WERE for me, I probably wouldn’t even think about what to do with it until crunch time was over. If anyone asked, I’d just say that I won’t have time to do anything with it until after Work Projects are done.

            And since it is clearly a company PR move instead of an actual gift, I would also feel no qualms using work time (after the priority projects are done) to do whatever with the gift card. It’s another work project.

        5. epi*

          I agree. IME when directives show this lack of thought, you can often count on a corresponding lack of follow up. That goes double in this situation where the office is already swamped and someone would have to check up individual compliance.

          Keep the gift card for a while so you can return it or use it later if someone really does care. They probably won’t.

        6. SpaceySteph*

          This is what I’ve done with pretty much every gift card I’ve been given in any context. When I moved a couple years ago I found a stash of Borders gift cards. And one from Circuit City. Oops.

      2. Anonymoose*

        Well and I don’t think this is even intended as a gift. It sounds like a marketing campaign to shore up some positive PR (yay we give! look at us on social media! #giving), and someone just forgot to tell the staff that they were invited to participate. I’d roll my eyes and give it back.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      If taking your wife out for dinner counts as “doing something for others” I’d just tell them you did something for your husband and keep the gift card. And really, something nice for yourself that makes you less stressed, and nicer to be around, could qualify as doing something for your family.

      Other than that – I’d be very, very tempted to hand it back, telling them that I was so swamped with work that I didn’t have time to manage anything before the deadline.

      1. LaurenB*

        OP is really overthinking this! Their co-workers are not taking their wives out to dinner because it’s the most benevolent thing they can think of, it’s just a way to use the money themselves and have something to post on social media.

      2. INTP*

        This. Go out to dinner or buy something you need and post that you took your husband out or bought the item for him. Or make a quick online donation to a charity and post the screenshot. You’ll get credit at work for cooperating with their silly plan without having to spend more than 5 minutes going out of your way.

        1. JeanLouiseFinch*

          I had the sneaky thought that the OP should tell her company that she spent the money on gifts for her husband, but tell them that these weren’t the kind of gifts you would want to post about online! (Wink, wink!)

        2. Anonymoose*

          Oh look what I did! I bought my husband a basket full of groceries and extra bulk cat litter. He really needed it.

      3. Linda A Albertson*

        I agree. A nice facial and/or massage would make you a happier person to be around.

        1. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

          It doesn’t sound like has time for either of these. If she did, she’d have time to do something nice for someone else or donate to charity.

      4. Bea*

        My partner would be happy with having an extra $50, period end of story. So if taking someone out to dinner or flowers count, we’ll use it next time for groceries. Boom. Happy days are here again.

        1. Arjay*

          Yes, they have to eat. And it’s not like $50 will buy a fancy 4-hour, 7-course meal. Get Outback to go, or UberEats delivered when they don’t have time to cook, or groceries for meals at home.

      5. LBK*

        I went through a hellish few months towards the end of last year and honestly I didn’t want to do a damn thing after work except lay on the couch. The idea of leaving the house was exhausting, even to do something fun – I actually skipped out on fun things I had planned in advance because it was more effort than I wanted to expend at that point. Sometimes “doing something nice for yourself” means doing nothing.

      6. Specialk9*

        “I’m very sorry, but due to the high demands of the pending deadline, I am unable to take on management of your corporate giving campaign. But perhaps if you advertise the position on LinkedIn, and actually pay someone, you might have better luck filling this position.”

        /The sarcastic email you should not actually send.

      7. Chameleon*

        I’m kind of confused why the “guys taking their wives to dinner” is an okay thing, but the OP doesn’t seem to consider taking her husband out to dinner–wouldn’t that be more time together?

          1. LBK*

            The condescension in all your comments today is really annoying. This is an advice website – if the solution were so simple and obvious to the LW, they wouldn’t have written in asking for help. Apologies if some people lack your apparently pragmatic decisiveness, but if you’re going to treat anyone with a question that’s not life or death like they’re a blithering idiot, maybe a workplace advice blog isn’t the site for you. Try r/legaladvice or something.

            1. NaoNao*

              I too am “over” the condescending, barely controlled anger and sarcasm in every single one of Penny Lane’s comments on every single letter.
              It’s confusing to me why they would come to a community with clearly outlined and happily followed “please be kind and follow basic cultural courtesy” rules and spend time denigrating the letter writers, pointing out perceived hypocrisy in comments in the meanest, most annoyed and flippant tone possible, and generally stir up ish.

              There are literally *thousands* of internet communities full of snark, sarcasm, condescension, dominance fights, all-caps screaming, insults, nit picking over words and usage, “language dickery”, and what have you.

              I really dislike when one rogue commenter comes up in here and decides every well meaning, long standing commenter is a “snowflake”, the community is “clique” that needs shaking up and cleaning out, and letter writers are dum-dums who just need Common Sense TM.


              1. SarahJ*

                On the contrary, Penny is an active, long-time commentator. We can all agree she’s not in a great mood today, but we don’t need to vote her off the island. She’s been chastised plenty today.
                I would be very sad if she stops commenting due to this.

                1. NaoNao*

                  Today? The last week + Penny Lane, a commenter’s name/moniker I have not seen before this last month, has been nothing but harsh, sarcastic, and borderline mean.
                  I have been reading this blog for over 3 years and I’ve never reacted this way to a commenter, including “Snark” who is known for their very sassy, salty takes on things.
                  If you stick your neck out to make snarky, harsh, sarcastic, condescending remarks, you pay the social price, which in this case is commenter blow back.

    3. JamieS*

      Same here. If OP wants to give to charity that’s great but I wouldn’t go out of my way if I were her. No reason not to just keep the gift card and use it for whatever. My suggestion would be to eventually use it towards whatever pastimes she shares with her husband but putting it towards something else would be just as acceptable.

    4. Safetykats*

      I’m wondering how they will even know? I mean, unless you have really loose privacy settings on your social media, or you’ve friended your management or whoever is responsible for the gift card. I also think that once the gift card is given, as with any gift, the giver can’t mandate anything about its use. I would put this totally out of your mind until after your deadline, and then decide what you would like to do with it.

      1. Gorgo*

        I’m guessing they’re asking employees to post it to the business’ social media. And the likely response to “I don’t do social media” would be “email it to us, we’ll post it for you!”

        People who constantly think in terms of publicity have huge blinders about this kind of thing.

        1. Life is Good*

          This is how I see it, too. This kind of thing reminds me of stuff my old dysfunctional company did – “gave” us the opportunity to brag up our charitable work in the name of the company (but using our own money and time). Maybe they really did think that it would help your stress levels by allowing you to do something for someone else on their dime, but this sure looks like it’s a marketing ploy since they are asking you to post it on social media.

      2. MillersSpring*

        It sounds like they want OP to post a photo of the expenditure or even hashtag a thank you to the organization. Grrr. Maybe OP could buy tickets to a baseball game or concert “for” her husband that they both could enjoy after the deadline?

        1. Penny Lane*

          Except the employer isn’t really going to get any social media traction bc they have out gift cards and now employees are taking their spouses out to dinner. I mean, big deal. Not impressed.

      3. Pomona Sprout*

        “I also think that once the gift card is given, as with any gift, the giver can’t mandate anything about its use.”

        Seriously! I’d love to know what Miss Manners would say out this. She’d probably have a cow!

    5. Triplestep*

      My response to this employer would be that my cultural tradition dictates that I not advertise my acts of charity. (And really anybody could say this, although I do follow this cultural prescription). Any push-back could be met with a suggestion that they do a ‘net search on “Maimonides’ Ladder”. And I don’t care if this would come off as Holier-than-Thou. What they are doing is more than just an ill-timed “gift” … It’s actually pretty gross.

      1. Triplestep*

        In case anyone looks this up and thinks I’m suggesting people follow it literally, please know that I am not. I was just taught and believe that the highest form of giving is giving anonymously, and the lowest form is giving grudgingly. This employer’s “gift” pushes my giving buttons on a few levels!

        1. Specialk9*

          I also follow Maimonides (and really love the breakdown for how to do better with charity, but also recognizing that people may be exactly where they are on the continuum).

          But for Christians there is Jesus’ admonition not to do charity in a way that gets lots of attention and praise (clearly applicable to social media):

          Matthew 6:2 Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward.
          6:3 But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does,
          6:4 so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

      2. selena81*

        Right there with you on ‘it is not really a gift if you only do it for bragging-rights’
        Real charity is anonymous, and most definitely NOT a string of mandatory #whatididwithmy50dollar messages on the company twitter.

        I am always slightly annoyed when a pr-team has so little understanding of widely-followed social norms, and lives in that social media echo-chamber filled with puppies and young cancer patients.

    6. Half-Caf Latte*

      That works in a social context, like with a pushy Aunt.

      This is OPs employer though, so there are potentially significant ramifications for her at work if she doesn’t follow the instructions.

    7. Penny Lane*

      Good lord, just buy a gift certificate to a restaurant and say you’re taking your spouse there after your crunch season is over. This doesn’t need to be difficult.

      1. Myrin*

        I agree with the principle, but there’s really no need to take such an exasperated tone with the OP.

      2. Amy S*

        Wholeheartedly agree with this. Don’t overthink it. Keep it simple. Or just do nothing. Are they going to confiscate the unused gift cards after the deadline? Probably not.

  2. Jane McG*

    For letter writer #1 – one quick solution: use the card on and make a sustainable loan, or to support a teacher’s classroom needs – easy to share out your loan or donation via social media and it feels good :) My guess is your employer is thinking that doing an act of kindness actually relieves stress and increases positive emotions more than receiving a gift — which is actually true, according to all the scientific research on what actually makes people happy and resilient. They went about it in an awkward way, but if you look at it as: “Doing an act of kindness is a huge stress reliever/positive emotion boost and I’m going to enjoy it!” this could be much better. Good luck with your huge deadline!

    1. Drew*

      I don’t think the LW is unaware of the benefits of charitable giving, but I have also been very annoyed to receive a gift and THEN find out strings were attached. At a time when the LW is already swamped, adding one more responsibility and framing it as a “gift” seems a bit jarring.

      1. Gorgo*

        I think she just needs to see it as a minor, annoying work assignment. I would probably buy a cheap meal or gift and keep what’s left for whatever I wanted, just to feel like I’d gotten something out of it–but the expectations are pretty clear and totally ignoring them is probably not going to win any points for her.

      2. boo bot*

        Yeah, I’d be happy if an employer said, “We’re giving you each $50 to use for an act of charity or kindness!”

        I’d be slightly annoyed if they said “Here’s $50! … BTW here are the stipulations on how to use it and also hurry up! Have fun, and don’t forget to document your joy!”

        (This would also go beyond annoying if this were an employer that didn’t pay a living wage, also. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case, but the times I’ve gotten a $50 gift-card bonus from a company, it’s been when I was making very little and that extra was a Big Deal. It would suck a lot to think “Hooray! The Electric Bill Fairy has come!” and then find out you couldn’t use it for your own necessities. But I digress…)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Your last paragraph especially. I once received a $25 gift card from an employer–to Bass Pro. (For those who don’t know, it’s a very large and expensive outdoor / hunting /camping store.) I don’t shop at Bass Pro and $25 would maybe buy some socks, if I did. I could have used the card for groceries or to help pay a bill if it were just a Visa gift card. But it was a wasted gesture to give me a card to a store I don’t patronize based on their interests.

          If the company wants to cultivate a charitable reputation, fine, but instead of giving employees a gift with strings attached, why not just make the equivalent donation itself? Charitable activities should always be opt-in.

          1. TootsNYC*

            speaking of wasted gestures

            I still have the $100 gift card to Bergdorf Goodman that I was given after the world’ toughest deadline, for which I sacrificed a great deal and did a phenomenal job.

            You know what I could buy in BG for that?
            a) six pieces of stationery
            b) a small pottery dish w/ an initial on it
            c) a pair of socks
            OR (not “and”)
            d) a pair of tights

            I was mad about that gift card for a LONG time. I did eventually realize that I can spend it at Neiman Marcus, where I could buy stuff on sale, but I don’t like to buy stuff like that mail-order.

            And I am still sort of mad about it, because that’s part of why I haven’t spent it.

            1. Former Employee*

              You might get $85 for it or even more if you sold it online. Since it’s not worth much to you, it wouldn’t be a loss of $X, but a gain of $Y.

              I’ve sold gift cards online and it’s worked out well for me.

              Good luck.

      3. TardyTardis*

        I’ve had gifts like that–one year the boss gave us all lovely flower bulbs and seemed to be unhappy if we didn’t immediately plant them in a pot at work and then grow them. I dragged my feet because I am a Great Killer of Plants and I have stuff to do at work, thank you. But eventually we all caved, and yup, mine died…

    2. TL -*

      An act of kindness done because you have to isn’t really an act of kindness – it’s just a job.
      I’m sure that grocery store workers don’t get a kindness glow from pointing someone to Aisle 5, even though I get a small one from doing it.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, I can see this starting as “The opportunity to give would relieve more stress” and then seguing to “Oh and hey, they could share what they were doing, building team spirit!” “And tag the company!” and soon they are down in “… and to get the most bang it should be in a reasonable time frame, but we’ve got that big deadline… let’s say two days later.”

      And the people who initially said “We should give out gift cards” and “You know what relieves stress? Charitable giving” weren’t willing to try and derail as it charged down this path of One More Assignment, This One In Corporate Image Management.

      1. myswtghst*

        This is pretty much exactly what I thought – something that started with good intentions, then quickly spiraled by committee to an “improved” version that lost the spirit of the original.

      2. selena81*

        makes sense, i can totally imagine this thing spiraling downward as everyone in the room felt pressured to add a ‘good’ idea to the pile.
        especially as it comes of as a company that values quantity of work over quality of work

    4. Temperance*

      It would have been a better morale boost to give people an afternoon off, buy lunch for the team, or give them a gift card for personal use. I do charitable stuff regularly, and it is great, but when I’m overworked, I want a personal reward or break.

    5. INTP*

      It’s a social media marketing plan. That’s the reason for the requirement to post on social media and the deadline (they want it posted while the general public is still thinking about their industry near the filing deadline and keep them in mind for next year). You’re right about the mental health benefits of doing things for others but this wasn’t a benevolent plan to support employee wellbeing. They’re using employees’ personal networks for marketing.

      1. paul*

        That’s how I read it too FWIW. I’d be pretty annoyed to made into part of a viral campaign when I was already swamped.

      2. Whoa*

        This is exactly what I came here to say. It’s some good PR to capitalize on the employee’s charitable giving and put it in the public spotlight – it screams “Look at how caring we are!”

        1. Penny Lane*

          But it isn’t really about charity if taking your spouse to dinner qualifies as an “acceptable” use. Bc no one with any brains thinks using a gift card to take your spouse to dinner is either noteworthy or charitable.

          1. LBK*

            I doubt they’re going to frame it as being charitable, but rather just “look at the nice things our employees are doing”.

          2. Whoa*

            This conversation thread isn’t about what OP should do with the gift card, it’s about why the company is requiring them to jump through hoops to use it.

            We aren’t saying that taking your spouse to dinner is “charity,” we’re saying that the company is trying to position this sort of action in a light that shows that by giving their employees money to do something for someone else it can be seen as a “caring act” and makes them look good in turn. That’s why they want them to post it on social media. If the employees from a company used their social platform to say “Thanks for the gift card, Company! I was able to take my wife on a surprise date!” or “Company gave the department $50 gift cards- I restocked the animal shelter with dog food for the week!” it would make the company look like they have a caring culture.

            But saying that “no one with any brains will think this is noteworthy” is rude and unnecessary.

            1. Penny Lane*

              It’s not “jumping through hoops” to a) take a spouse to dinner or b) figure out something you wanted to do for something else that costs money and now you have the money for.

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                Au contraire. In this context, it’s the definition of jumping hrough hoops, because of the mandate, the deadline, and the social media requirement.

              2. biobottt*

                The hoops are the deadline and requiring proof that the employees used the gift card for someone else. Stipulations like that are hoops to jump through.

          3. INTP*

            I’m guessing that they did not at all intend for most of the employees to use the cards to go out to dinner with their wives, that’s just what people are doing because it’s low-effort, lets them enjoy the money, and they know they can get away with it because other people already have. I think it was conceived as a feel-good random-acts-of-kindness campaign, not to give the money to charity but just to do nice things with it. They were probably hoping for more creativity, but they made a lot of mistakes in how they presented it (the absurd deadline, not telling people before distributing the cards so people got excited and then felt let down) and the employees are not cooperating.

            1. myswtghst*

              “they made a lot of mistakes in how they presented it”

              Exactly. If they announced it as a giving campaign once they got through the upcoming filing deadline, and gave out gift cards after they made the announcement, I could see this being a generally positive way to encourage employees to pay it forward. As it stands, it just reads as tone-deaf and bothersome, and is unlikely to give them the results they wanted.

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        Came here to say the same exact thing.

        My org once “gave”* us an afternoon off to go volunteer at a charity and then wanted us to post about it on social. There was a whole marketing and PR campaign involved. Some of our employees loved it, but there was enough grumbling that it wasn’t repeated.

        * “Gave” is in quotations because we’re salaried and the workload didn’t change.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          I worked somewhere that wanted to credit my volunteer time as like company volunteering, even though I volunteered 100% on my own time and the opportunity was not something the employer helped with.

    6. LBK*

      I don’t think it’s going to relieve any stress if you have to convince yourself to see it that way. I’m pretty sure it’s only psychologically beneficial when you do it of your own free will in a way that makes you happy, not on the timeline and in the way that someone else is forcing you to.

    7. OP #1*

      Thanks for a great idea! I’ve donated on Kiva before but hadn’t thought of them. I think Jane is reading the intent correctly, but I was instantly annoyed and didn’t see it. Overall it’s a great company, but they misfired on this one. I’ll let some folks know when the crunch is over. I do appreciate all of the posts and am so grateful to for your comments and support. But now, back to work …

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #3 – Talk to your security coordinator. Theft is considered adverse information and must be reported. If the employee is stealing they may also be open to bribery.

    The employee just pulled a career limiting move. The inability to get and keep a security clearance can limit your projects.

    Work the extra week. Don’t harm yourself to make a point. Especially since the boss may be too clueless to see it.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      BTW, the boss is required to report this theft to the security coordinator. If he doesn’t then he gets in trouble too.

      It’s possible there was punishment you didn’t see. But there is no harm in giving a heads up to your coordinator. They are in a different chain of command (or should be) so your boss shouldn’t influence things.

      1. Naptime Enthusiast*

        I was going to say, boss may have reported it without letting everyone else know. I think that’s misguided and when something happens this publicly, a boss should let people know that the consequences are severe. Otherwise, it alienates good employees that follow the rules like OP.

        I agree to report it anyway because boss didn’t tell you all it was reported. Better to have multiple reports of the same wrongdoing than nobody reporting it.

    2. Observer*

      This is what I was coming to say. And, as Engineer Girl says, it will come back to your supervisor, too. Because this stuff MATTERS for security clearances, and she most definitely should have reported it.

      1. Super Secret Squirre*

        This is incredibly serious, and you have a duty, and ethical obligation, to report.

        Contact the govt Security Officer/SSO – if you have a clearance too you should know who it is – or drop by the Office of the Inspector General (each D/A has one – they’re the watchdogs of the government).

        1. Helena*

          If your company does DOD work, you almost certainly have a DOD IG poster posted somewhere (it’s with the EEO and OSHA posters, usually in the breakroom.) It will have the number for the IG hotline. If the company is doing something, IG will determine that. If they’re not, well, IG will do much more than just make a determination. Furthermore, a call to DOD IG will trigger some whistleblower protections for you, which could be useful if your company tries to retaliate.

    3. Close Bracket*

      ” If the employee is stealing they may also be open to bribery.”

      Or blackmail (for confidential information, not money).

      The kind of things that DON’T inhibit a security clearance can be surprising, but any whiff of financial problems can shut things down. People who need money can be tempted to sell secrets.

    4. OperaArt*

      Security clearance rules are very strict. Your boss must report this to your security office. If you have any doubt whatsoever that such a notification has happened, you must report the incident.
      Normal office conventions don’t apply when we get into the realm of security clearances.

    5. Drop Bear*

      LW#3 are you absolutely sure management is taking no action? They may be investigating or the like but may not be informing you (and they probably shouldn’t unless you are part of it).

      Even if you’re sure they aren’t, I agree with Engineer Girl though – work out your week.

      1. Susan K*

        That’s a good point. Someone in my department was suspected of stealing from coworkers, but nobody could prove it until one time when he left some evidence. At first, it didn’t look like management was doing anything about it, but a couple of weeks later, his security clearance was pulled. There was a long investigation and he was eventually fired, but it was all very hush-hush. I would think it’s quite possible that there’s an investigation going on behind the scenes.

        Does your job have some kind of ethics hotline? If so, maybe you could report it there just to make sure it is being investigated.

        1. Super Secret Squirre*

          Interesting. My ex was on a classified contract. His boneheaded co-worker just impulse married a Chinese national (who he had just met, and without clearing it with Security first) and lost his clearance and job immediately. But he pretty much came in and told everyone so no investigation needed.

    6. Liane*

      I wonder if OP’s boss might have decided that if nothing Official happens–writing Sapphira up, firing her, and/or calling the cops–then the theft didn’t happen, so there wasn’t anything he had to report? I am pretty sure that would be the wrong way to go about it, and spectacular bad judgement, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

      (Disclaimer: I cannot, of course, know what OP’s boss did or didn’t do to deal with Sapphira and the clearance issue.)

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, some places cover up theft or other wrongdoing (hello #MeToo) to avoid bad PR. And individual supervisors often do that so they, personally, don’t look bad.

  4. Stellaaaaa*

    OP3: Are you sure that there weren’t any consequences for the employee’s actions? How are you sure that she didn’t get written up? You’re not going to be privy to a disciplinary conversation between a manager and a staffer, and I’d think less of a manager who broadcast this sort of thing to her entire staff. And, I hate to go this route, but are you sure that this was really a thwarted theft attempt? Who told you? How does that person know? There’s nothing in your letter to indicate that you witnessed the incident or that you’re in a position to weigh in on the employee’s punishment. I’m not saying you’re wrong about any of this. I only think that there’s a very good chance that you don’t know the whole story and/or aren’t supposed to know. Just because people seem to get away with bad things at work doesn’t mean they actually do. You have no idea what conversations occurred between the staffer and management.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        Then my answer is shortened to, “You have no idea if your manager did or didn’t punish this employee appropriately for an incident that you do not appear to have witnessed with your own eyes.”

        1. neverjaunty*

          Which is exactly the problem. Manager doesn’t need to give everyone the blow-by-blow, but what the employees are seeing is “greedy jerk stole and there were no apparent consequences”. That’s not an impression one wants employees to have about the company.

          1. Super Secret Squirre*

            “Mind Your Own Business” does not apply to security clearance, at all. The rules are really well communicated, and reinforced when you fill out the longest and most invasive forms of your life.

        2. Gorgo*

          If manager did do something, then it still won’t hurt to check in with the security coordinator about it. “This seems pretty major, and I just want to double check with you.” (She can absolutely make it seem like a CYA, not tattling.)

        3. Liane*

          Quoting Engineer Girl, “BTW, the boss is required to report this theft to the security coordinator. If he doesn’t then he gets in trouble too.”
          Quoting Observer, “This is what I was coming to say. And, as Engineer Girl says, it will come back to your supervisor, too. Because this stuff MATTERS for security clearances, and she most definitely should have reported it.”

          So this ISN’T an “OP, this is SO not your business, leave it alone” situation. The rules about security clearances MAKE it OP’s business
          PS: My husband has a security clearance
          PPS: OP, I am so sorry about your friend

        4. Temperance*

          If a dear friend of mine died, and some jerk tried to steal from her memorial fund, and people who knew my friend did nothing, I would quit, too. It’s an insult to everyone who knew the deceased to let this go, especially considering that it was their donations this person was trying to take.

      2. MM*

        It is a breach of privacy and other legislation to tell other workers what disciplinary action in relation to another colleague in my jurisdiction. Employers can (and have) had to pay out a great deal of money when they breach these laws (civil).

        Also there could be an ongoing police / criminal investigation and the employer may have been directed by the police etc not to divulge (and in these cases criminal charges can follow if you jeopardise a police investigation) (think obstruction of justice). These things take time and OP while you won’t necessarily know what’s going on, it doesn’t necessarily follow that nothing is.

        Bottom line, you will probably find out in due course and in the mean time you probably *have* no right to know.

        If you want justice then there is nothing stopping you referring this to the police or whatever you want to do but no-one is under any obligation to keep you informed as to where any investigation is at.

        1. Observer*

          Is it also a breach of privacy to tell staff how they are being protected from thievery?

        2. Super Secret Squirre*

          That’s not applicable here. This is security clearance land, not regular workplace land. Big difference. Failing to report a security violation could get OP’s own clearance yanked.

          You give up your privacy when you get a clearance (though it confers a lot of job security and better pay). The investigators ask intrusive questions of friends, neighbors, family, coworkers. You have to report everything – file a form if you go to another country on vacation, go to an embassy party, are friends with a foreigner, have people asking weird questions, get a DUI, have a marital separation, financial troubles, etc.

        3. Totally Minnie*

          You don’t have to make any sort of breech of privacy to say “I know you’re all aware of the incident that took place. We take these things seriously here and we’re following all our internal policies to ensure that this incident is properly addressed.”

          If people see the wrongdoing, they need to at least know that management is aware and that steps are being taken. I agree that a manager should absolutely not share which steps, or in any way violate the privacy of the employee discipline process, but it’s important to inform witnesses that the incident is being addressed.

        4. Luke*

          When someone’s access to classified is suspended, the coworkers must be informed so that they will know they can’t discuss classified info, hold classified briefings or meetings, have the security container open or any classified data systems up or classified documents out when the no-longer-cleared person is around. Otherwise there can be a security incident.

    1. MommyMD*

      That a thief still has a job pretty much indicates nothing much was done. Anything less than termination is a slap on the hand.

      1. Irene Adler*

        Maybe management has decided to enact punishment (.e.g. termination) after the gov’t contract has ended?

          1. Former Retail Manager*

            There is a HUGE issue with an employee where I work. We all have security clearances. A lengthy investigation remains ongoing. However, in the meantime, the employee’s duties have drastically changed. They no longer have access to any computer and are essentially just doing low level admin tasks that require access to no computer and no sensitive information. It’s been going on for months now. The employee is fighting the allegations and will remain with the assigned duties until a final resolution is reached. So my question…….has OP noticed any change in the thief’s duties? If so, maybe management is quietly dealing with it?

      2. Irene Adler*

        Maybe management has decided to enact punishment (i.e. termination) after the gov’t contract has ended?

      3. Lara*

        And how they can continue to employ someone so low that they *tried to steal from a bereavement fund* is beyond me.

        1. Temperance*

          Especially considering that the person’s co-workers likely donated to the fund. It’s doubly horrible.

      4. WellRed*

        Yes, the thief isn’t fully cleared and is new. Getting caught with your hand in rhe collection jar ( literally or figuratively) means you lose your job.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      That are designed to make the company look good. Hence the request to post on social media.

      1. Gorgo*

        Quite possibly management thinks they’re doing something kind, just with a kind of two-birds-one-stone mentality about good optics on top of “generosity.” People have all kinds of dumb ideas about what other people will like. And likely many of the coworkers donating to charity or treating their spouses are cool with the whole thing.

        Obnoxious? Absolutely. As well-meaning as it is manipulative? I’d say it’s possible.

        1. Scarlet*

          Reading it as well-meaning is a really big stretch. If they’re already overworking their employees and their “gift” is an additional assignment which is ultimately designed to make the employer look good, I fail to see any good intention there. And how are they supposed to take the time to treat their spouse when they don’t have time for anything? The deadline they put on it makes it especially egregious.
          (Also, I don’t understand how something can be simultaneously well-meaning and manipulative. By definition, if you intention is to manipulate, it’s not “good”).

          1. The Wall of Creativity*

            Well meaning and thoughtless aren’t mutually exclusive.

            Giving out vouchers with instructions is like buying people pets as presents.

            1. Scarlet*

              I don’t think it can be called thoughtless when it seems designed to prop up the employer’s image.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Eh, the OP says that other people are taking their spouses to dinner. In her case, though, “my husband would prefer my presence to anything I might buy for him.”

            I do think it’s well-meaning at the same time that it’s thoughtless. It’s certainly not an outrage if the company is otherwise decent — just a relatively minor misstep that hopefully won’t happen again if the OP points out the problems with it.

            1. Casuan*

              I do think it’s well-meaning at the same time that it’s thoughtless.

              This was my initial thought, however the conditions make me question this. The time limit is odd— especially for an already stressed staff— & the social media requests are too humblebrag.
              Although it’s a stretch for me, I can accept the social media request. The time-limit makes me think someone wanted the infos out there for some reason [eg: donors, a big client, or executives]. Even so, I’d be skeptical if there were several posts within two or three days about something like that.

              That said, sans knowing the reasons for the conditions, I’ll take it as a good intent done wrong.

              1. Casuan*

                *I’d be skeptical if I were an outsider evaluating the company, not unlike how a product might have too many “Awesome product!” reviews, especially within a short time-frame.

                1. TardyTardis*

                  This reminds me of all the positive reviews of AP BIO on IMDB, which somehow showed up en masse after the first few OMG It Sucks reviews first showed up.

      2. GreatLakesGal*

        Oh, I would definitely post to social media!#employername#mandatory charity#givewithonehandtakewiththeother

        No-one could say I wasn’t following the directive.

        Yes, I’m being tongue-in-cheek.

        You probably shouldn’t do that.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          I would be explaining to them my blanket policy of never mentioning my employer by name or in an otherwise identifiable manner on my social media. It’s better for everyone that way.

    2. Casuan*

      Although I’d want to keep it & use it for myself, such as to take a friend to dinner, I wouldn’t feel right doing that if the card came with conditions [ie: work assignment].
      Probably I’d return the gift respectfully refuse the assignment because by accepting it I would have tacitly agreed to the conditions.

      Hopefully someone would realise that such not-really-gifts-more-like-assignments are a bad idea. The intent is good in theory, although not in practicality.
      As for intent, I can’t help but wonder if this is a PR stunt for the company to claim how engaged its employees are. I definitely wouldn’t want to feed into that from a forced situation.

      1. Gorgo*

        When everybody is at their most overwhelmed and stressed out is a really bad time to rock the boat, though.

      2. nonegiven*

        This assignment makes me feel like strangling someone, so I’m buying myself a spa day to make the feeling go away.

        You’re Welcome, World

      3. Sparky*

        Instead of returning it, there is bound to be a local food pantry, or women’s resource center, or animal shelter that would happily take the funds – and a 30 second email to the employer with a link to their website should meet the criteria. I agree It’s no ‘gift’ – I would be miffed too – but at least pass it on to someone who can use it if nothing else comes to mind.

        1. Penny Lane*

          “Assignment”? Next time you’re st the grocery store, buy one of the gift cards they sell. Total time added to busy schedule: 5 seconds.

          Or go on Amazon and buy something you or spouse have wanted. Or an early birthday present for your mother.

          The drama over this “assignment” is over the top. Only here could fifty extra dollars be a problem.

          1. Colette*

            Did you miss that it ’s purposely set up to not be a gift you can spend on anything you want?

            Some people won’t care, and will just spend it on whatever they want anyway. But for people who take the request seriously, it’s more work. Buying a gift card doesn’t help unless they know who they’re giving it to.

            1. Penny Lane*

              Sure it is. If I can take my spouse to dinner, then there is no REAL requirement that it’s “charitable.” Why the OP just doesn’t do the same … who doesn’t like a free restaurant meal.

          2. Thlayli*

            I agree with Penny Lane here. It would take less time to donate the money to a charity, than to write a letter to AAM and read the response, even if OP doesn’t bother reading the comments. In fact, it would probably take less time to donate the money than it would to write some of the comments.

            1. Tardigrade*

              I think the issue is more about how tone-deaf this “gift” is rather than how long it would take to fulfill the terms of use that come with it.

            2. oranges & lemons*

              I think when you’re really overextended and stressed out, like the LW is, any extra burden can feel a lot worse than it normally would. And I suspect part of the reason they wrote in was to get a sense of whether their annoyance is justified–and I think it is. The LW thought they were getting some appreciation during a tough time, and instead just got extra work to do. I don’t think it’s the most egregious issue, and probably just a badly thought out PR stunt, but I think a lot of people would be annoyed due to the timing.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, this is rude. Penny Lane, you can’t be rude or dismissive to commenters here. This is going to be my final warning on the subject (there’s a first one below).

          3. Tardigrade*

            It wouldn’t be upsetting if the situation had been, “here’s $50, enjoy.” Instead, the employer decided to reward their overworked employees with, “here’s $50 but you have to spend it the way we tell you to and also post on social media” which is an obligation, not a gift.

          4. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

            Have to say I agree with the spirit on this comment (though I do have to agree with some others that the tone comes across a bit harsh)…

            It’s $50 – don’t stress about it. Just go buy something you want/need and make up the charitable component (because, as mentioned – taking a spouse to dinner counts, and those doing so don’t seem to be penalized, so it doesn’t sound like it’s getting all that much scrutiny). Ex: I need slippers. I’d go buy slippers and if asked for my reasoning/documentation I’d say I was contributing to my downstairs neighbors well being.

            Or if morally/ethically you’re not comfortable with that route –

            Just buy something, anything kind of nice and say its for the well being of the office. Ideas off the top of my head (in like 10seconds): flowers, chocolates/snacks (just because the office provides food, you can still order something not typically stocked), pink paper, preferred brand/fancy pens, pretty office supplies, a stash of spare umbrellas that can be free to take, extra phone chargers, tide pens, nice tissues, fancy hand sanitizer.

            I get that this is annoying – giving a “gift” but with strings, but it just seems like a lot of hand wringing for… free money. My guess is that there is something else going on or there are other issues with the company because this alone just seems so easily solvable.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              I agree with you totally. Like, donate it to some charity. Buy flowers for the office is a great idea. Give it to the company’s charitable fund (so easy!) And they ask you to document it preferably social media but what are they going to do if you don’t have facebook? Just document it by emailing your managers and/or coworkers what you did with it, or putting a card with it if you get flowers, or something.
              If the office doesn’t need treats, buy a bunch of fancy sparkling water or something. Yes, it’s more of an assignment than a gift, but it’s not the end of the world.

              1. myswtghst*

                Many of those are things you can do online in 10 minutes or less. I understand time is in short supply, but it feels a bit overdramatic to act as though going on Amazon and ordering fun office supplies to be delivered directly to the office, or donating via one of the websites mentioned above, is a massive investment of time. Especially because OP should feel no guilt about doing this at work, while on the clock, since it was requested by the employer.

                1. Totally Minnie*

                  It’s not only time, though. There’s mental energy that goes into deciding what to buy and where to buy it from, and when I’m swamped at work I don’t tend to have an abundant supply of spare mental energy, even in my off hours.

                2. Casuan*

                  Totally Minnie has a good point.

                  Just the thought of “Oh, merde, now I have yet another task” takes mental energy & there are many in situations to whom this would be a Really Big Deal. Multi-tasking isn’t feasible for everyone; one would need to stop one activity, do the other, then the follow-up, then get back to the original task at hand. Remembering to purchase a gift-card at the grocery is really just a hassle because it’s something-else-on-my-list-I-just-want-to-pay-and-get-home-do-I-have-everything-on-my-list-oh-yeah-the-bloody-gift-card-that-I-need-to-post-on-my-social-media-account-that-I’m-never-on-so-I’ll-have-to-figure-that-out.

                  for those who might not easily understand the concept of mental energy:
                  Think of your worst stressful day at work. Imagine that you have the flu & a borderline migraine, which makes work more stressful because your muscles ache & it’s hard to concentrate. Tonight you need to go to your kid’s final chanpoinship game & you don’t know how you’ll make it although you will, hmmm… maybe you can skip? You tell your kid you might not be able to go & his reaction stresses you further so you make it through the day knowing you upset your child & even though you know that you’ll make it to the game just the thought makes you wan to crawl under your desk & sleep there until this all passes.
                  Now remember that you need to finish this client account before the end of the day because if you don’t then the client is history.
                  Don’t forget to go online & spend the gift/assignment money & then post it on social media.

                  /sorry to rant; I feel better, thanks/

                3. LBK*

                  Agreed with Totally Minnie – the fact that she’s going to be judged by her company for what she spends it on is what makes it harder than if she were truly just spending it on something nice for someone. And we don’t need to go fishing for something deeper that may be going on since the OP put it right there in the letter:

                  We are extremely busy now and are having a stressful year because we are short on staff.

                  When you’re already exhausted by your work, the anxiety of being presented with this kind of nebulous task for which there seem to be some unclear ulterior motive can really stop you in your tracks. We had two options for when to go to our company holiday party last year and I nearly drove myself insane just trying to pick which day to go on because my decision-making energy had been completely expended doing actual work. When you’re that stressed, you basically reach BEC stage with your entire company, and you just want to get done what absolutely has to be done and then shut your brain off.

                  Doing it on the clock doesn’t really help either because you’re probably already on the clock a hell of a lot more than you want to be, and you have other things that actually impact your deliverables to get done during that time.

                4. myswtghst*

                  Totally Minnie & Casuan – Trust me, I do get it. Anxiety+working more than full time+being 6 months pregnant+trying to get our house ready for the baby+all my normal commitments = mental energy is not something I have a lot of to spare at the moment. :) I just think acknowledging there are relatively simple ways OP could abide the spirit of the request without putting in a lot of time or energy is more helpful than encouraging OP to spend even more time and energy on being frustrated about this (although OP is totally justified in being annoyed by this short-sighted “reward” attempt).

                  Chances are, OP will get better traction by bringing this up after the big deadline, when everyone is less stressed and thinking more clearly. And if OP is concerned it will be held against them if they don’t participate, giving some simple ideas that OP can choose if they work for their situation seems like it might be helpful.

                5. Casuan*

                  …being 6 months pregnant…

                  Myswtghst, congratulations!

                  …is more helpful than encouraging OP to spend even more time and energy on being frustrated about this.

                  To clarify, this wasn’t my intent. My last post was meant to show how it isn’t always simple to just do the gift/assignment & to be done with it.
                  I don’t quite know how to explain other than that, so I’ll just leave it at this.

                  My take from all comments is that we all agree that the gift with conditions is out of line & we’ve given OP1 various options as to how to respond to the scenario. I’m glad we disagree because my life would be very boring & unfulfilled if everyone always agreed with me!

                  OP2, please update us.

      4. Casuan*

        If the company offered the cards with conditions [eg: “You can take this if you’re willing to do this in return”] as opposed to framing it as a gift then we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. Except the company didn’t do this.

        My interpretation of OP2’s question was about the situation in general because gifts really shouldn’t have conditions, someone should have realised that it was a bad idea with the current office culture, & it’s interesting to put it out there to see if others might chime in with “Yeah, my office did this, too” or “They did what…?!?”

        It’s the precedent that irks me: by accepting this gift/assignment & fulfilling its conditions, one is setting a precedent of “I’m okay with this; let’s do it again.”

        Many people would be glad to have $x if all that’s required is to do a charitable thing* & to post it on social media. I’m quite private so I’ll respectfully opt out because, as I said above, I wouldn’t be comfortable accepting the gift with no intention of fulfilling its conditions.

        *Like taking a loved one out? The only way I could think of this as charity is if I took my loved one out [no spouse; I’m single] from his nursing home. And that’s not charity to me, nor would I want to post it as a sponsored outing on social media.
        Everyone is different & I wouldn’t negatively judge someone for doing that.

    3. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

      …you said this far more concisely than I would have.

      I mean, I can see a way that this would work (if LW1’s employer explained what they wanted in advance and made it optional, maybe?). But this was definitely not it.

  5. Artemesia*

    Re the co-worker bringing meals. This read as courtship to me. I envisioned a man bringing meals for a female co-worker. We know the cook is a man — we don’t know the OP’s specifics. But if this is a single woman (or perhaps a single man) then the possibility that this is a romantic overture complicates things. He only brings food for the OP. I’d be disentangling myself asap.

    1. LS*

      Well, not necessarily. I had a male coworker bring me meals because we were the only two people in the office that liked really spicy Sichuan-style food. But he just brought me some extra when he was already making it and it wasn’t every day or even every week.

      1. Specialk9*

        I had a female co-worker bring my female self meals. I thought her cooking was amazing, but it was an ethnic food style not to everyone’s taste. I think she just liked having such an appreciative food audience.

    2. Gorgo*

      Even if it’s not romantic, there’s a risk of social debt: is LW going to feel more obligated to hang out more often than they’d want to with this coworker? Feel guilty about declining to do favors? Letting someone you’re not close to get really generous with you when you’re not sure why is risky.

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        That was my first thought, too. Why does he only bring extra food for the OP? Why not for everyone in the office? He’s singling the OP out for special treatment, and that’s a red flag to me.

        If it were me, the next time three meals appeared on my desk, I’d start sharing them with the rest of my co-workers, because it would be A Shame to deprive them of such excellent cooking. And continue sharing for as long as he kept it up.

        But yeah, I’d definitely be keeping an eye on maintaining a nice, professional distance from this guy.

    3. Kalkin*

      Yep, I’d be curious to hear from OP #2, because I read it as: She’s a woman and her co-worker is interested in sharing more than food. If he just liked cooking that much, he’d be cooking for more colleagues than just the OP, right?

      If this is the case, I think OP would be wise to brace for an uncomfortable or even unpleasant reaction, no matter what script she uses. Three-plus home-cooked meals a week, just for a single colleague, would be considered overbearing in many cultures. My gut is saying he feels pretty invested in her, could see her response as a big rejection, and might feel angry and betrayed that she doesn’t appreciate what a Nice Guy he is.

      I hope that isn’t the case. He could also just be, like, a nice, warm family man who makes extras to share with his co-worker who lives alone. But again, in a case like that, it would be odd that he isn’t sharing his delicious culinary creations with the office more broadly.

    4. Daisy*

      Yeah, it reminds me of a lodger I had who was obsessed with taking me out for dinner and cooking for me at home. I found it clingy but he always got offended and was like ‘I just want to be friends!’ Then he asked me to marry him. Friends, suuuuuure

      1. Hera Syndulla*

        “‘I just want to be friends!’ Then he asked me to marry him. ”

        That escalated quickly… Ö

    5. KayEss*

      I got the sense from the letter that the cooking co-worker and the OP may be the only people in the office or on the same team who don’t have families or partners. Many recipes are much easier to make for two than for one, but making them for three or more would be excessive. I can see getting excited about cooking things you otherwise would have to throw out half of, particularly if they are family or culture-specific dishes that you also enjoy sharing.

      Romantic overtures are definitely a possibility, but I think the OP can trust their own sense of how other interactions with this co-worker go as an indication of whether or not that subtext is in play.

      1. Thlayli*

        Many many meals can be frozen after cooking. When I was single I used to cook one day a month and freeze individual portions. It is not difficult to cook for one with a little planning. I don’t think this is the real reason.

        Also, I don’t pretend to know every culture on the planet. But I don’t know of any culture where this would be considered normal. OP if you know other people from your coworkers culture you could ask them.

        But honestly, just have a polite conversation with him to say you don’t want or need them.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I was going to comment this. Well, I was going to say that if OP would prefer to cook his/her (I’m betting her) own food, s/he could cook and freeze a lot of it for later. I do that and it’s great because Future Me is usually a lot more excited about leftovers than Current Me.

          But now I’m reading the other comments and thinking that commenters are right and that the coworker is being a bit odd here. Maybe OP can shed some light on the vibes here because obviously a lot of us are curious.

          1. pdxs*

            yes, I was initially warned that some people in the office get creepy vibes from this co-worker, so I definitely should have shut it down earlier. I just think we’re socialized to be nice, when someone gives you a gift the usual response is thank you and I did not initially realize that it would encourage the behavior or that it would escalate. -op2

            1. myswtghst*

              With that added context, it’s definitely worth taking a polite stand and letting him know that while you appreciate the food, you aren’t able to continue taking it. Make whatever excuse works best for you (don’t have room in the fridge/freezer, working on meal planning and budgeting) but make sure you’re focused on why you can’t take the food – don’t give him easy outs where he can say “oh, it’s no trouble” or “I enjoy cooking for you!” Best of luck!

            2. Teclatrans*

              Record-scratch moment. OP2, whether this is creepy romantic or creepy platonic, the fact that others find him creepy leads me to make the leap to “grooming behavior.” At a minimum, he is doing something very intrusive and expecting you to normalize it socially. He should be pushed far back across his boundary line. And you should feel free to stop eating his food entirely, unless you look forward to it, and then you are totally justified to ask him to cut waaaay back. If he gets offended and doesn’t make any more food, well, that’s not because you are a bad, mean person for setting boundaries.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          Yes. Because I have a lot of allergies I have to make my food. I cook 4 or 5 meals at a time and freeze them. Almost everything can be frozen and reaheated.

    6. Rebecca*

      I think this is weird, too. I’ve seen coworkers bring in leftovers from family meals to share, like once we were treated to a bunch of sides and desserts left over from the day before, but nothing like this.

    7. Yellow Bird Blue*

      Seconded. This seems like an unusual investment, I’m, not buying the cultural aspect. Bringing a meal now and then, fine. But only for ONE coworker and with that frequency and consistency? Off the top of my head I can’t think of any culture where that would be the norm.

      Seems like the guy is interested in the OP and that’s his way of showing it.

      1. Natasha*

        Sharing food is a big part of many cultures. It’s probably universal, though other cultures may place even more weight on meals together. In Russian culture, we take breaking bread together literally and stuff our friends full of food. In many other cultures, gift giving is far more nuanced than the U.S. Still, this could be a romantic gesture too. Why not both?

        1. Yellow Bird Blue*

          It seems so unusual to single out one coworker, and the OP states they feel awkward about it. But perhaps this is co-worker’s way of showing affection (whether in a friendly or romantic way) or there’s a reason why the OP is singled out like that (maybe because of a prolonged illness, a case of bereavement in the family, a break-up, or something in that vein).

        2. KarenK*

          It is a part of a few cultures, or at least one that I know of for certain, but it does not manifest itself like in the OP.

          I work in medical education as manager of two subspecialty training programs. It is the culture of one of my fellows that when something good happens to you, you do something good for others, usually food-related. Last year, when his wife had a baby, he bought us all lunch. It took us a bit by surprise, and caused a bit of an ethical discussion at the time, but we allowed it.

          Something great happened to him this year, too, and he did it again. This time, we went with it. He was very insistent.

          But, he bought food for everyone – all the doctors, nurses, NP/PAs, support staff, and anyone else who happened to be at that particular conference.

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        He gives food to two coworkers so that’s someone else besides just LW. LW said that she feels awkward offering to others because he only does it for two of them, which does make sense to me. Like “Hey, John brought in this chickpea tagine for me [and not for you], but do you want it [even though apparently John didn’t want to give it to you]?” It is kind of awkward.

        1. Kalkin*

          Hmm, I had read it as “only cooks for [the] two of us,” meaning the OP and himself. If there’s another co-worker he’s cooking for too, that would help allay my suspicions.

        2. Perse's Mom*

          I took “he only cooks for two of us” as meaning he’s cooking for himself and LW, not LW and another random coworker.

        3. NDC*

          I would just say “John brought in this food to share – do you want some?” Leave out any mention that he brought it “for me” or “to share with me”, then play dumb if John objects to the sharing.

    8. Irene Adler*

      Yeah-something’s up. Why not bring food to the other employees as well? Share the wealth!
      Geez, this is why they make deep freezers.
      (yes, I know not everything freezes well. But dang, no one should be causing a co-worker stress like this)

      1. kb*

        It’s not clear from the letter if the coworker making the meals knows he’s causing OP stress. There’s certainly the possibility the coworker is doing this all as an unwanted romantic gesture, but I could see a scenario where a conversation between OP and the cooking coworker led him to believe the food was needed or would be appreciated. If OP has been accepting the meals super graciously, I could see how the coworker could interpret that as the coworker liking and appreciating the food even though OP is just being polite.

    9. Susan K*

      I’m really curious to know what the situation is and what is prompting the coworker to bring so many meals, and only for the OP. It’s possible that it’s a romantic overture, but not necessarily so. There’s a young man in my department who likes to cook, and he often brings food for an older guy who is a widower and doesn’t cook much. The older guy will often get his lunch from vending machines if the coworker doesn’t bring food for him. There is no romantic interest in either direction; the coworker just wants to help and the recipient really appreciates it. I wonder if the OP has ever given the food-bringer an indication that she doesn’t like to cook or doesn’t know how to cook?

      1. Bea*

        Yeah my mom has brought extra for a couple work friends over the years. She knew they weren’t eating much for various reasons, financial/health wtc. She’s given her lunch more than once as well because she can afford to just go grab a sandwich from the store if she wanted to. They’ve always been younger women who have forged friendships in some way.

        I’ll bring treats for people that I know like them often enough. I’m demisexual though so it takes a lot to ring a romantic bell to me unless I’m super involved.

    10. Elizabeth H.*

      I don’t see this at all. It sounds like the letter writer otherwise likes his or her coworker and likes the food, so why should we assume that he’s being creepy.
      I DO think the cultural thing is relevant and it seems kind of ethnocentrist that so many people are being dismissive of that aspect.

      1. mediumofballpoint*

        Agreed. At my last job, a fellow POC coworker and I would often cook for each other or trade meals, without any forethought or prior arrangement. We’re both from cultures where food = caring, and we were in a predominantly White area where finding ingredients for our native food was difficult. When we got lucky and could find the things we needed, we often cooked a large batch and shared it with each other to celebrate. It didn’t have a creepy or romantic overtone to it, and we shared with each other because there’s a whole different nuance to sharing food with a lot of White folks. While it’s possible that cooking coworker has an ulterior motive, I do think the cultural piece is being too quickly dismissed.

      2. Hey Nonnie*

        Absent other information, it’s the singling-out that’s weird, not the bringing of food.

        Yes, if OP and co-worker share a culture between them that none of the other co-workers share, that might explain the singling-out, but there was no indication that that was the case in the letter.

        And if the food-sharing came from them being really good friends, I doubt OP would feel so awkward about how to ask him to stop bringing her so much food. They’d already have that mutual understanding / rapport.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          I went back and re-read the letter, and OP explicitly states that the coworker is of a different culture than they are. So that’s not it.

      3. Kalkin*

        I don’t think that’s fair — we’re all acknowledging that lots of cultures are bigger on food-sharing than America’s. But the letter reads on its face like a male co-worker is devoting all this cooking energy to one woman, and I’d be real surprised to find out there was a culture where that didn’t have romantic connotations. It’s markedly different from sharing food with the whole group or with a fellow POC where there’s a common background.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Why can’t a man be friendly toward a woman (a female coworker, no less) without it having sexual or romantic connotations???? I find this incredibly depressing. We also don’t even know the OP is female (unless OP posted in comments and I missed it). I realize that a letter writer of unknown gender is typically thought of as female but in this case it’s relevant to the speculations.

          Based on the facts as stated in the letter, I don’t get the impression that the coworker is “devoting all this cooking energy” to letter writer or that it’s a huge production or labor of love. Coworker likes to cook, sharing food is part of his culture that’s meaningful to him, coworker and letter writer are friendly, coworker knows letter writer is also a single person and many single people tend to do the full cooked meal thing less often, letter writer is known to actually appreciate the food he cooks (except now he or she really prefers to plan/cook all own food) and has indicated such in the past, so coworker has absolutely no reason to think it’s unwelcome, etc. I like to cook but don’t like leftovers and I often wish someone else would eat and appreciate it if I end up with leftovers. I only mildly like to cook, but if coworker REALLY likes to cook and really appreciates feeding other people, it doesn’t seem weird to me.

          I feel like commenters are proposing such negative spins on what is honestly not a bad problem to have. The letter writer wants a polite way to say that even though he or she appreciates coworker’s sharing of food, letter writer also likes to cook/meal plan and is hoping that coworker can share food with someone else instead. Also, I think that your speculation that there’s no culture where cooking food for someone doesn’t have romantic connotations is just plain wrong. People who are into food do this all the time.

          1. Kalkin*

            If there’s a culture where it’s normal for a single man to cook this much food for a single woman with whom he only has a work-based relationship, and no one else in their office, I’d love to hear about it! Absent evidence that such a culture exists and that he belongs to it, though, I’ll stick with Occam’s razor: It’s dismayingly common for men to lavish unsolicited, unwanted, and disproportionate attention and gifts on single women in the hope of forming a romantic connection. It is depressing that this is the case, yes, but the answer isn’t to optimistically assume that it couldn’t be going on in this scenario; the OP needs to assess the situation realistically. Her gut instinct was that this is odd enough behavior that she felt compelled to write AAM about it, and she should abide by that. And indeed, she’s already responded that she was warned about this co-worker.

            It’s pretty simple: She doesn’t appreciate getting this much food from him, and she can politely ask him to stop without accusing him of being creepy or overly intimate. If he listens and stops, great! No more issue. But if he gets weird about it, at least it shouldn’t take her by surprise now.

    11. The Person from the Resume*

      I agree. Even if not romantic, the co-worker clearly is setting up some sort of special attention/relationship with the LW that others in the office have most likely noticed. LW, trust your gut and don’t make excuses.

      It’s not that hard to cook for one person. From your letter I understand he cooks the night before he brings it to you and that you are expected to take the food home and eat it there since you speak of food going to waste in your fridge. Clearly the food your co-worker makes could be eaten as leftovers by him. Also I don’t think this fits a different cultures eating/food/workplace norms, but it may well be cultural dating/romantic norms.

      Follow Alison’s script, but if he refuses to abide by your request that he stop, you will have to refuse to accept the “gift.” It seems that your are reluctant to speak up and ask for what you want (him to stop), but you need to. Something is not right here. It’s making you uncomfortable, and it is also something your co-workers are noticing.

  6. Nina*

    Honestly I’d lie about the use of the gift card. Buy whatever you want or need, then make something up to post on social media. It’s incredibly annoying that they would give you a “gift” that is really work for you to make the company look good.

    1. MLB*

      I wouldn’t lie. If they’re putting this many restrictions on a gift card, she may get caught. I’d throw it in my desk drawer and not do anything. If they asked me about it, I’d be honest and give it back. Gifts shouldn’t come with restrictions, regardless of who they came from.

    2. INTP*

      Or just do the same thing the men are apparently doing, spend it on what she wants (like takeout dinner or whatever) and post that it was a gesture for her spouse. That way she gets credit for participating to the same extent that most of her coworkers participated without having to go out of her way, if it would stress her out to lie outright.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I wouldn’t lie in the sense that I’d actively tell them I did something with the card that I didn’t, but I’d probably spend it on myself and then, if they did ask (which I bet they won’t), I’d say, “Oh, I completely forgot about that! I was so swamped!”

  7. MommyMD*

    Just spend the gift card any way you see fit and never discuss it again. If they bring it up just state it went to good use and you’d rather not be specific. What petty bosses you have.

  8. MommyMD*

    I’m sorry about your friend. That’s horrible. Don’t quit your job over some I diot. For me, I would quietly approach this sleaz bag and say “I’m disgusted with you as a human being for stealing from a death fund” with a glare. But that’s me. It may not fly where you work. I’d also lock my stuff up and alert whoever does your security clearances.

    1. Robin Sparkles*

      I agree in sentiment with you (the guy IS a sleaze bag) but the stealing is so egregious that just quietly approaching him isn’t the right call here. I’d agree with that if he did something rude but this is stealing. I would absolutely find someone above the boss and make a statement – quitting seems extreme unless the OP has the money and means – even though I would save that as my last straw.

  9. SandrineSmiles (France)*

    For the $50 gift… if you give it to me and tell me of the strings attached, in OP’s circumstances I’ll give it back with a “Have at it then, I have a deadline to work on” and would get right back to work.

      1. Penny Lane*

        The fact that taking your spouse to dinner “qualifies” as charitable tells you they don’t REALLY care what you do with it. They aren’t insisting you really use it for a charity.

  10. N*

    Thank you for the answer! I figured it was better not to ask even if I’m usually really good at playing the waiting game and keep applying this one got into my head and made me doubt since usually when a company tells you they’ll only contact successful applicants they give you a bit of a time frame. Plus I know it’s silly but not getting an automated answer to confirm they got my application, and psychologically I felt the need to be less passive and more active than usual. Made me feel antsy. So thanks again for reminding me that no matter what it’s better to just wait and see and keep going!

    1. Stephanie*

      Given the way the internet eats things, not even getting a “We have retrieved your application. If we feel you are a strong candidate, we will contact you.” would drive me bonkers.

      1. N*

        That’s exactly it. It’s harder to just put it away from your mind and forget about it because there is literally no way to know the application was received.

  11. Kiwi*

    OP1: How about posting “I bought my husband a lovely meal” and then putting the gift card onto your normal grocery bill. Easy and true.

  12. Robin Gottlieb*

    OP1: A former company I worked for had the same strings attached to gift cards. When asked, we’d reply with “I donated it to a spa in exchange for a massage” or “I traded it to a housekeeper to clean my house”. Management got the hint.

    1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

      I used it on a massage – which contributed to my co-workers happiness by making me more pleasant to work with. Done.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Oooh! “I used it to buy extra coffee. Normally I just have the 2 cups each morning, but I got myself coffee on the hour every hour all of the final week of our deadline work. It was great!”

  13. Birch*

    The meal-bringing coworker situation strikes me as so strange! I wouldn’t accept meals from a colleague at work! How do i know what they’ve put in it or how clean their kitchen is? Somehow baked goods to share with everyone seems normal but takeaway meals seems really odd unless you’re unable to cook for yourself or buy food. How did it even get started? Do other people do this?

    1. Boy oh boy*

      I feel the same way, I’m uncomfortable eating other people’s homecooked food especially dishes with meat (higher chance of food poisoning).

      I have never known anyone to do this anywhere in the workplace. But I am in the UK which doesn’t have the same ‘potluck’ culture as the US.

      The OP mentions a different cultural background, which possibly explains it? But she doesn’t want it and should feel free to politely refuse further food.

      1. Media Monkey*

        agreed. also in the UK and the only non packaged food anyone would bring in would be cakes/ biscuits they had made. it’s just not a thing.

      2. LBK*

        A potluck is a planned event. Someone randomly bringing in food unannounced and leaving it on your desk is definitely not normal in the US.

      3. Chameleon*

        Just to clarify–meat is not actually more likely to cause food poisoning. In fact, the number one cause of food poisoning (in the US, at least) is rice. A bacterium called Bacillus cereus really likes to live on rice, and it makes a toxin that can’t be destroyed by heat. The other common food poisoning foods are fruits and salads, because they aren’t usually cooked. A dish of cooked meat that you microwave is actually one of the safer meals out there.

        1. Boy oh boy*

          Fair point. I did hear that about meat a long time ago. I’ll forget that little bit of misinformation!

            1. Chameleon*

              I agree with most of those (although I still eat them! I love medium-rare hamburgers, steak tartare, and raw oysters) but I’m pretty surprised rice isn’t on there. Then again, maybe lawyers are too fancy to eat grocery store Chinese fried rice!

        2. Specialk9*

          I did not know that about rice! So interesting. I read once that rice is one of the rarest foods allergies, so that would be a tidy counterpoint.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      Bringing homemade food for the “group” (however you define that) is a totally normal thing in many parts of the U.S. But baked goods are by far the more common manifestation of this (a couple members of my team are dedicated bakers, and to that I say “yay!”) – and in any case, it’s almost always done for a group, such as one’s department. Frequently bringing food for just one person is pretty odd, and while there might be times when it would be perfectly fine, it doesn’t sound as though this was one of them.

      So I’m pretty baffled, too. The only thing I can think is that somehow or other, the OP has accidentally given this person the idea – goodness knows how – that this gesture would be welcome, and the coworker has *really* run with it.

      1. K.*

        Bringing food for just one person seems really intimate to me. I’d never do it for a colleague. Home-baked goods at holiday time for a group of people that I leave in the kitchen? Cool. Contribution to a potluck? Fine. But bringing a home-cooked anything for just one person connotes a level of intimacy that I’d want to keep out of the workplace.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          I don’t know that I feel comfortable classifying this as “intimate” – not without knowing the colleague in question. Inappropriate, sure. But I don’t want to read too much into it because I have known people who would do this sort of thing without their intending any ickiness. The OP would of course be well within his/her rights to find it icky since they know this person and we don’t.

          1. Sam.*

            One of our admins brings a coworker leftovers for lunch once a week. I definitely found it weird at first, but it makes more sense now that I know them both. The food gifter is an older, very maternal type and makes a ton of food for her extended family every weekend, so when the giftee expressed appreciation for cuisine from this woman’s country of origin, she was excited to share some authentic home cooking. I do worry about the power dynamic – the gifter is far lower on the company ladder – but the giftee is pretty conscientious of that.

            1. Teclatrans*

              This falls within the realm of “unexpected but doesn’t man me say hmmmm.” (I mean, maybe the recipient doesn’t want leftovers every week and should say something. We could see that letter eventually.) But *three* servings on a regular basis seems excessive — that is not “I cooked for me (and my family), put away enough for leftovers, and still have a serving or so left. This is more like “I am cooking for you and for me.”

              It doesn’t have to be romantic in any way, but it does signify some level of intimacy or friendship that the OP2 does not feel.

    3. Karo*

      One of my former co-workers brought me her leftovers at least once a week (typically more frequently), and I adored it. I’m still a little salty that she left for a different job more than a year ago; I’ve had to start buying my own lunches. She never brought food for other people, but then it’s known in the office that I am Not A Cook and would just snack on some vending machine food if she didn’t bring it in.

      As for knowing what they put in or how clean their kitchen was…I literally never worried about that. She knew I don’t like fish and am allergic to blueberries, so she didn’t bring me those dishes (and the first few times she asked if I wanted fish I said no), and she’s not the type of person to tolerate a dirty kitchen.

    4. Becky*

      I love baking and cooking and will occasionally bring in baked goods to share (such as, this weekend I made a mango cheesecake with a raspberry swirl on top and shared a slice with one of my coworkers who is also a big baker and will often bring something in for me). Once a month my department has an informal potluck game night and I will bring home cooked meals or dishes to that, but bringing a home cooked meal for someone else is a bit odd.

    5. Hey Nonnie*

      And unless you are already close enough to have had these discussions in detail, cooking food for someone is inherently risky:

      * some food allergies can literally kill you
      * other allergies and intolerances can make you really, unpleasantly sick
      * allergies are not always obvious (I know someone who is allergic to nutmeg. No one thinks to ask about nutmeg allergies, nor would think to leave it out of a recipe just in case.)
      * cross-contamination can also be an issue
      * people can have food restrictions for other reasons, from religious to health to environmental to ethical reasons, and those personal choices should by default be respected

      Even if you ask for a list of ingredients, it’s very easy to forget about that minor ingredient like nutmeg. There needs to be a higher level of trust than just “I work with him” when eating food you didn’t see made and/or didn’t have any input in the recipe. There are some people who are really callous / cavalier about other people’s dietary needs. If I don’t know you that well, I’m not accepting your blithe assurances at face value, because there’s too many people who don’t think it’s a big deal, when it very much is — or worse, think it’s “funny” to sneak that ingredient into a recipe and watch them eat it without telling them.

      I’ve had actual restaurants swap a meat-based item for the vegetarian version I actually ordered, and then lied to my face when I brought it up to point out that the filling looks like meat. I gave it to my lunch companion (and we’re never going there again), but if I’d been there on my own my only recourse would have been to throw it in the trash. If you’re a coworker of mine and want to bring me food — especially JUST me — have the courtesy to ask first so we can discuss what I can and cannot eat. Without that due diligence, I have no sense that this is something that you are concerned with at a high enough level for me to be comfortable eating what you put in front of me.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        Cooking food for someone is not inherently risky on the face of it. All your points about food allergies and restrictions are valid but they apply to a really small section of the population. I’m just not going to see offering some food to a colleague who has expressed interest in your cooking, as a hostile act, this seems like an unreasonable attitude to take. The letter writer clearly has no concerns related to dietary restrictions of any kind so none of this is relevant at all.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Hey, if you’re willing to risk accidentally killing someone with anaphylaxis, you do you; but for me, I’d make sure to ask first before spending all that time in the kitchen.

          And also, you know, graciously accept a “no” from someone who can’t or won’t take that risk.

          I’m not saying this interaction has to be fraught; certainly I’ll ask about food before eating it, and have no qualms about saying no if I can’t (or I’m not certain enough to be willing to take the risk). But cooking entire meals is a lot of effort to go through, when you haven’t even asked if it would be welcome. A conversation would be simpler than assuming; and you might even learn that it’s fairly simple to adjust your recipe, rather than have it turned down after you’ve already made it. As a bonus it would also come across as more respectful and genuinely concerned with the other’s well-being, rather than as an overbearing imposition. I’m not seeing the downside, here.

          Dietary differences are also not nearly as rare as you seem to think. In my community, we do a lot of potluck, AND it is always explicit in invitations that all food will need to be labeled so everyone can make informed choices about which dishes they eat. It’s just considered common courtesy here. Just in my immediate circle, there are allergies to peanuts, squash, apples, nutmeg, and I’m sure other things; gluten intolerance in degrees varying from “it makes me bloated” to “it triggers my auto-immune disorder and debilitates me for the next week”; vegetarians and vegans; lactose intolerance; and various combinations thereof. I’ve probably forgotten a few; and it’s just WAY easier to ask first.

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            And on this note, this is the main reason I despise office potlucks. NO ONE thinks to ask about dietary restrictions first, and just assumes that Standard American Diet is fine for everyone. Since I can’t rock the boat, I bring something that I know I can eat and is shareable, and pretty much expect that there will be little else I’m partaking of that day. So I’m basically bringing my own lunch as always, and contributing to everyone else’s lunches too, with little to no recipr0city. There’s a reason “I’ll just have the fruit plate” is a running joke in certain circles.

            Funny story: I was once asked to make arrangements for a client dinner near the office after work. When I spoke to the visiting client in question, we discussed options and I mentioned that “anywhere but a steakhouse” would likely be fine for me. He cracked a joke that he was really looking forward to trying out a local steakhouse — but it was definitely a joke that was not really a joke. (He was nice about it though, and did not object to my other suggestions.)

            And on the flip side, I’ve had several experiences where I was invited to a restaurant with several people, and I explicitly asked if the chosen restaurant had menu options I could eat, and discovered upon arriving that I’d been lied to. It really sucks to watch other people eat while poking at your tiny flavorless iceburg-and-tomato “salad.” It’s definitely something I kept in mind for future interactions with those folks. (Seriously, it doesn’t offend me if you want to go someplace I won’t go to — I’ll just not go. It DOES offend me to be bait-and-switched like that, since it tells me you really don’t have a lot of respect for me. Just be honest, for pete’s sake. The world doesn’t end if I go home for dinner instead of to the chophouse with you.)

          2. Hey Nonnie*

            In other words, a little courtesy goes a long way, especially since you can’t possibly know without asking if this particular co-worker is or is not a part of that “really small section of the population.”

          3. Elizabeth H.*

            Yeah, I am happy to risk accidentally killing someone with anaphylaxis if I go by your definition which seems to mean “offering some food to another person I feel friendly towards.”

            People bring GF stuff at our office potlucks and it is mostly labeled with what is in it or people ask or announce what’s in it. It just kind of happens without anyone making a big deal about it. I actually don’t eat wheat myself (for IBS not allergy so it’s not a big deal for me personally) and bring GF stuff if I bring something. I’m not saying that I think it is a good idea to make a meal for someone that you are fully expecting him or her individually to eat, without finding out if he or she is a vegan or allergic to peanuts or something. Like, if you have people over for dinner, or if you’re making a meal for someone whose family member is sick or had a new baby or whatever in an attempt to be helpful, then yes ask them if there’s anything they don’t eat. But about 90% of the time when you bring something in to work the people who can eat it, will eat it and will be happy about it. Without the need for drama or trauma.

      2. Specialk9*

        Nonnie this seems overly worried. The coworker is not a literal baby or toddler, if she has food allergies or strong sensitivities she would mention it rather than eating food she didn’t prepare or inspect the panel. I get where you’re coming from – I have a very young family member with multiple deadly allergies and it’s hugely worrisome. But that’s a very different situation from the one at hand.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Yes, I know that adults can and will say no to food. I am speaking to how to be courteous to your co-workers, rather than being overbearing with a side of wasting your own time cooking food that won’t be eaten. Especially in the context of making food for a specific individual, and not a general “cookies in the break room” offer to a group… one of the main reasons why the singling-out of the OP is weird. Having an actual conversation with someone — something I said in my very first sentence — solves all of these problems, and is actually a nicer and more respectful thing to do, to boot. Asking first takes almost zero additional effort, so why get all tied in knots that I suggested it? All this push-back against a basic courtesy is just mind-boggling to me.

          I could rephrase the same things forever, but if you don’t understand by now, you probably won’t later.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            Nobody is suggesting that you not ask someone if they have any dietary restrictions! In LW’s situation maybe her coworker DID ask, and letter writer obviously can eat, and in fact likes, the food he makes in and of itself (just not the frequency/amount/she wants to make her own food). What’s not clear is why you are hammering so hard on the idea of making other people food being inherently overbearing because of the potential they have dietary restrictions. It is clear from the letter that the problem the letter writer is having does NOT have anything to do with allergies, so it just seems weird and irrelevant you are putting such a strong emphasis on this.

  14. Knitting Cat Lady*


    The cooking coworker’s behaviour is thoroughly creeping me out.

    If he simply liked cooking that much he’d include his other coworkers.

    I’d be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    I don’t eat stuff I don’t know every ingredient of. I don’t want the lower flood gates to open…

    1. Bea*

      It depends on the office.

      I’ve worked with picky eaters and those who didn’t share my preferences. I would bring donuts or specialty coffee to everyone and take them at the end of the night because they weren’t touched. Then suddenly I had an admin who loved the coffee. I would drop her off some when I did a morning run and the others didn’t care because they didn’t have any interest.

      My mom has had friends at work who love her fried chicken but others turned their nose because meat or fried or just not interesting. So she would drop a few pieces for Missy and Sissy and Loulou, why waste effort on anyone else.

      So co-worker probably just needs the conversation of “thank you but this is overwhelming!” instead of an assumption he’s trying something funny.

      There’s way too many variables out there and whereas I’m suspicious frequently enough this isn’t one of them unless he was asking her to come over to let him cook for her in a different environment.

      My mom also never learned to cook for anything less than a 4 person family. With a teen boy and teen boy’s friends and a laborer husband. So some people simply can’t grasp small portions. It’s not a foreign concept if you think about it. Perhaps he took care of his family growing up so it’s just normal. Shrug

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        It’s very different if you make an offer to everyone and it’s only accepted by one, vs. only making the offer to one person. I didn’t get the impression from the letter that this coworker had attempted to offer food to anyone else.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        Yes to all of that. If I have leftovers of a certain meal that no one at home wants, I’ll bring it in. Sometimes for a certain person and sometimes for whoever gets to the fridge first. For me, it’s both being friendly and trying not to waste food. But I do know who wants it and who doesn’t.

  15. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    Maybe I’m in a charitable frame of mind today but I just can’t help wondering if the stealing intern was in a untenable financial situation and that that caused her to steal?
    I mean, still not OK by any means, but I guess I figure you’d have to be pretty desperate to do such a thing.

    1. Twilight Fancy*

      I’m not seeing why it matters, though. And there are plenty of people who steal without being in dire financial straits – some people just do not care!

    2. Millennial Lawyer*

      I understand the impulse to want to understand why someone would do that, but especially if a job requires a security clearance, it doesn’t matter! An employee can’t be a corruption risk.

      1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

        I know, you’re right.
        I don’t mean it should matter or that the consequences should be different, more that… I could easily see that this might be someone in financial (or other) trouble and it makes me sad.

          1. Super Secret Squirre*

            Jobs that require security clearances generally pay better than the average job, and have more job security. (They have to, to make up for the invasion of privacy and restriction of freedom.) This applies for interim clearances too.

        1. Hellanon*

          Financial desperation can make you sad (it should!) and rules like “don’t steal from other people” still be good ones. What doesn’t help, I suspect, is weaving narratives that make it difficult to hold people accountable – that impulse tends to have knock-on effects on people who don’t bring their problems into the office in this way, or who just want to do a day’s work and have it fairly recognized.

          1. Temperance*

            Yep. I understand the impulse to find a reason why someone would do this, but the truth of the matter is that some people, and most criminal types, don’t care about other people. That’s how antisocial behavior happens.

          2. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

            I’m not disagreeing with you, I swear.
            I understand all the reasons and I still can’t help but wonder at the thief’s motives.
            I can do that and still be sad in general about the state of the world.

            1. neverjaunty*

              It sounds less like trying to understand the thief’s motives than trying to find reasons the thief isn’t an awful person?

        2. soon 2be former fed*

          There are so many other avenues a person in dire straits could go down other than this one. No sympathy or sadness from me.

      2. President Porpoise*

        Furthermore – if the employee is in such financial straights that this is a serious temptation and he couldn’t resist – well, that’s pretty much the definition of a security risk. “Hi Interim Security Clearance Jack, I hear that you have access to Super Secret Gov. Project. That sounds soo cool! We never had any cool projects like that where I grew up in Venezuela. Hey, can you give me some pictures of it? I’ll pay you $500…”

        I bet they’d pay more, though. And before you laugh something like this off – I grew up in Los Alamos, and I delivered Wen Ho Lee’s newspaper. I can think of half a dozen known incidents of espionage in that town alone over the last twenty years – and those are the ones caught, publicized, and convicted. Money isn’t the only motivator – but it is a huge one.

    3. Temperance*

      It sounds more like a crime of opportunity to me. Like hey, a ton of unattended cash.

    4. CMart*

      I had the same thought but also ultimately figured it doesn’t matter. It does make me wonder if “extenuating circumstances” might be the reason OP hasn’t seen or heard of any consequence, though.

      We had a similar situation at a restaurant I worked at years ago. The thief was never caught, but we all tried to make ourselves feel better about it by repeating “whoever took it must have been in a really, really terrible spot and didn’t know how to ask for help.” It was easier than thinking one of our coworkers was a cruel scumbag.

      However, given the security clearance detail, I still have to think that a “dire straits” defense still wouldn’t matter. The Fraud Triangle of risk factors includes “pressure” as one of the factors, and an intern (likely not paid well) facing some sort of hardship is a huge, blinking warning that an act of fraud/theft/etc… is at risk of happening. So even if the manager and higher ups felt sorry for the thief, there’s no way they’d be able to keep them on. It’s too risky.

  16. Mr Cholmondley-Warner*

    #1 I would throw the gift card in my desk drawer and forget about it.
    #2 This is a bit creepy.
    #3 This is disgusting. A few years ago we had a charity thing at work where people were asked to donate clothes. There was a big box for the donations. Of course someone decided to help themselves. People suck

  17. Morag*

    Just to say I’ve experienced the food-bringing co-worker too. I finally had to straight out say no thank you, I’m eating my own food, gee it’s too bad the meal you just brought is going to waste, better not bring me any more.

    With food pushers of all varieties, I think it’s useless to go into explanations about why you don’t want to eat their food. Whatever psychological condition makes them push their food onto you also seems to make them unable to fathom you may not want their food.

    1. Irene Adler*

      Yeah, no one should be forcing food on others.
      I had co-workers -yes, multiple- who would insist I consume their leftover lunches. I’d been dieting awhile and had dropped significant weight. Hmm, passive-aggressive anyone? So they would put the food down in front of me and insist I eat it. Can’t let the food go to waste, they would say. So I would make a big production of walking the food to the trash and tossing it in. Behavior ceased.

    2. MLB*

      I didn’t take the co-worker as being forceful. Sounds to me like they have good intentions, and the LW just isn’t pushing back. I wouldn’t give them a long winded explanation, but I would follow Alison’s script. And after telling them once doesn’t work, a simple “No thank you” is all that’s needed.

      1. Penny Lane*

        Yes, another AAM reader who doesn’t use her words. “Thank you, but I brought my own food.”

        1. NaoNao*

          AAM readers are generally aware of the most basic, ordinary communication that could be used. They are writing in to tease out social cues and intricacies and hear the view points of others in making a decision on how to word things without hurting someone else, and hurting the friendship.

          Most readers enjoy the lively back and forth and different points of view. This blog may not seem urgent or important enough for you, or every single letter seems to be answered with a one liner. In that case, I suggest you check out other blogs with life or death, extremely nuanced situations.

          In all sincerity, if you enjoy arguments or debate, please check out r/changemymind. It’s a community dedicated to civil discussion of nuanced, complex current events. It may satisfy your desire for “deeper” topics.

        2. chi type*

          Maybe you shouldn’t read advice columns for a hobby. This is about 90% of what they are.

          1. Specialk9*

            “Use your words” – the most useful advice possible.

            Except when it’s not.

            And so, AAM and a whole host of advice columns, trying to tease out when to speak up vs hush.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        See I took it as the male coworker being creepy to the female coworker. Like he’s trying to come across as a nice guy when in reality he is really just another Nice Guy™… trying to show how much of a ‘friend’ he is.

        He’s waiting for the sexy time she now “owes” him according to the ledger in his brain. After he did all of that cooking so now he’s entitled to her.

        Seriously I got major “she needs to say, ‘get away from me…and take your food I didn’t ask for with you'” vibes reading it.

  18. Estelle Rapaport*


    Could you write back and say that your’re swamped right now due to being understaffed during busy season and having to hire her replacement but want to do her justice so you’ll write the LinkedIn recommendation after busy season?

    This accomplishes two things:
    1) Hopefully, you’ll have cooled off by the time you write the recommendation, and also actually have the time to do it.
    2) You get to tell her her quitting put a strain on the org. Get it out of your system and put it behind you.

    1. Legalchef*

      I’m sure the former employee is aware that leaving during busy season was a hardship on the org, so telling her this as a way of making a point probably won’t do anything. If the LW truly doesn’t have a few minutes to write something, then she can say that, but otherwise it just seems petty to wait. Alison and commenters have told LWs over and over again that employers won’t hesitate to let someone go at any time, regardless of whether it is a good time for the employee – so why begrudge this employee for taking an opportunity that came up?

      1. Estelle Rapaport*

        I thought it would be better for the ex-employee to get a good and throrough reference that reflects her good work later rather than a short and less enthusiastic one now.

        1. Penny Lane*

          It would be silly to spend 3 minutes composing an email to tell someone that you’ll do their LinkedIn reco later when you could take that same 3 minutes and do the reco and get it done with. Seriously – these are 3 sentences long. They take no time to dash off.

          1. Thlayli*

            Yeah, I get the feeling that the LW thinks a linked in reference is a long letter. It’s really not.

          2. K.*

            I had the same thought – if OP has a couple of minutes to write a “sorry, can’t do it now” email, she has a couple of minutes to write a LinkedIn rec. Writing a “sorry, can’t do it now” email reeks of passive aggression.

        2. Temperance*

          Linked In references are pretty useless. Both and I still laugh at the weirdo who submitted five pages of those with his (terrible) resume.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        I’m not in an industry where Linked In is a very big deal, so in never occurred to me that getting a review from a previous employer could be this important. Is it seriously the kind of thing where waiting three weeks for the busy season to end would be a disaster?

      1. MuseumChick*

        I agree. I made a comment below that I think the OP is taking this far to personally. People’s lives don’t stop just because its your company’s busy season. This employee happen to find a job that is likely a good career move for her. She gave standard notice and there is nothing in the OPs letter to suggest she was anything other than a good employee.

        I do agree that the OP shouldn’t write anything while feeling annoyed or upset about the employee leaving.

        1. essEss*

          I agree. An employee should be able to leave without repercussions when they followed the good faith principle of giving a full 2 weeks notice. And if the busy time is an industry-wide busy time (such as tax season for accountants), that is probably the only times that other companies are doing the majority of their hiring so the timing is not the fault of the employee. The employee is going to leave when they finally get a job offer, so it’s mostly out of their hands when that will occur. As seen on this column, interviewing and hiring can take months so they may have even started this before your busy season. Does your company refuse to do hiring during the busy season because it would be ‘unfair’ for their future employees to leave their current companies during busy seasons?

          1. zora*

            Right, but leaving without repercussions is one thing, but then asking for another favor on top of that when you know it’s their busy season??? That seems a little inconsiderate on the part of the former employee, in my opinion.

            If I was the employee who left, I would definitely wait until I knew the busy season was over before asking for a personal favor. Find other people to ask, or just wait.

        2. Luna*


          Finding a new job is hard. The employee only has so much control over the timing. A person can apply for months, or longer, and still not get an offer, while other times it only takes a few weeks. Maybe the employee wasn’t expecting to get an offer at that moment, but if she does and it’s a good job why should she have to turn it down? If the LW wanted to keep this employee she should have been proactive about it and given her opportunities to advance; otherwise she has no right to be upset when the employee finds advancement elsewhere.

      2. LBK*

        I wouldn’t be as specific about why you’re too busy since I agree that’s passive aggressive, but I think the OP could say “I’m a little swamped currently (as I’m sure you understand!) so I can do this when things quiet down in a few weeks.” That doesn’t pin the blame on the person asking for the recommendation but it does still give the OP a chance to cool off before she writes it, which I agree is a good idea.

        1. NonProfQ*

          Thank you for the responses! OP here. Maybe I should have phrased my question differently, I was more wondering about the request to write a LinkedIn review, since I’ve never been asked to do that before. As I mentioned in the letter, if she had asked me to be a reference for future employers to interview I would have immediately agreed, but since she already has a new job I found it a bit strange to be asked to write on LinkedIn, and the timing of it compounded things. But given the overwhelming responses, I will write a positive review!

          1. Totally Minnie*

            I will fully confess that I do not understand LinkedIn. It’s not used heavily in my industry, and I would have no idea what a positive review on LinkedIn would entail. I can absolutely understand not wanting to take on the task when you’re already busy and don’t really even know what’s being asked of you.

    2. zora*

      This was my first thought, too. Not necessarily going into detail, but just saying, I don’t have time right now, I’ll get to this after the busy season is over.

      I actually think it’s a little inconsiderate of the former employee to ask for this right now, knowing what they do of the organization’s schedule. I personally wouldn’t ask for a LinkedIn recommendation at all, since they are pretty useless. But if I had anything to ask of my former boss in this situation, knowing that I left them right in the middle of the busy season, I would wait until after that was over to ask for anything. I don’t think the employee has an obligation not to leave necessarily during this time, but it’s definitely annoying to then ask for another favor on top of that.

  19. Cordoba*

    OP4: Have you ever involuntarily ended a person’s employment?

    If so, did you check with the employee first to make sure that the timing worked out for them? Did you confirm that their firing/layoff did not come at an inconvenient time before you took their livelihood away?

    If not, then why are you surprised when an employee gives 2 weeks notice and then leaves without making sure you will not be “put off” by their timing?

    1. MLB*

      HA, good point. I’ve been laid off twice and it really wasn’t all that convenient for me.

      Seriously…there are many reasons someone leaves a job, and making sure they work out when it’s convenient for their current employer shouldn’t be a priority. Stuff happens, and that’s part of the fun of being a manager.

    2. K.*

      Yeah, when I was part of a round of layoffs in 2015, they didn’t check to make sure any of us, particularly my coworker on maternity leave with her first child, was cool with it. This employee didn’t do anything wrong; punishing her is petty.

    3. NonProfQ*

      Just posted this above… OP here. Maybe I should have phrased my question differently, I was more wondering about the request to write a LinkedIn review, since I’ve never been asked to do that before. As I mentioned in the letter, if she had asked me to be a reference for future employers to interview I would have immediately agreed, but since she already has a new job I found it a bit strange to be asked to write on LinkedIn, and the timing of it compounded things. But given the overwhelming responses, I will write a positive review!

      1. AllIDoIsWin*

        OP#4 – I totally understand your irritation with the notice. I’ve had 100% turnover in my small department within a couple of months and every single one of them gave me two weeks (the last one almost broke me, I’ve been carrying other work loads for so long). I would and did give positive references and was supportive with their departures. If one of them asked for a LinkIn review but already had a job then I would follow through but it wouldn’t be top priority for me like a reference would be.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        I’d stop worrying about the timeline. Your former employee was searching for a job for who knows how long. The job offer came up at a busy time. That timing wasn’t under her control. And she accepted the offer.
        It’s a LinkedIn recommendation. It will take you minutes to write it.
        Doing anything less would be unprofessional for you.

      3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

        OP, I think many of the comments were trying to get the point across that the departure timing shouldn’t impact the LinkedIn request, as you seemed a bit miffed about the timing of her departure. If you are willing to write the LinkedIn recommendation, then do so at a time that is convenient. The timing of her request may have been as simple as wanting her performance and acquaintance to be fresh on your mind.

  20. Sled dog mama*

    # 2 Something i’ve tried that has worked for me with the food pushers in my office is saying that my doctor has put me on a new strict diet so unfortunately I can’t accept food from others. I just don’t mention that my new strict diet (which is doctor approved) is no food prepared by others, you can make up your own diet and just not tell anyone else the rules.

    1. Millennial Lawyer*

      That seems unprofessional and also TMI to lie about something medical… OP is entitled to just decline the food.

      1. Reba*

        They are certainly entitled to just decline the food! That is how it should work!

        But I have also found that sometimes an appeal to authority (the doctor) was effective at getting somebody pushy to stop, where stating my own actual desires had not been.

        1. Millennial Lawyer*

          That’s really unfortunate that people do not take no for an answer like that! In that situation, I would just again, be adamant. Also, I can forsee a situation where I wouldn’t want these homecook meals, but maybe someone brought cupcakes into the office… I would hate to feel like I had to keep up some big lie or act unnaturally around people.

    2. MLB*

      No thank you is a complete sentence. No need to make up excuses. When you make up excuses, you’re just giving them ammunition to keep pushing. If they won’t accept no for an answer, that’s when you walk away or just start working on something and ignoring them.

      1. Penny Lane*

        You perpetuate the weirdness by making up a story about medical issues or a doctor-prescribed diet. Just use your words. No thank you.

    3. kb*

      This may be an okay option if the coworker weren’t taking no for an answer, but from the letter it seems like the OP needs to try saying “no thanks” first. And an abridged version of her own reason (“I’m trying to cook for myself these days”) should be perfectly workable.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        I agree. The OP has to say “no” clearly first. If that doesn’t work, he or she might have to try something else. But when in doubt, try “polite but direct” first.

    4. Former Retail Manager*

      Food pusher! Food pusher I am….rolling my eyes at you. But I jest….truly, most people who bring food consider themselves to be doing something kind that brightens most people’s day. I really don’t want to cause anyone anxiety or force them to make up BS excuses about why they don’t want what I brought. A simple “no thanks” is indeed good enough. And I employ a 3 strikes rule. If I’ve offered you something 3 times and you’ve never taken it, you are off my roster. I will never offer you anything again because I assume you either don’t like my cooking/baking or are on a diet of some sort. Really….no thanks is good enough.

  21. sssssssssss*

    My dad once gave me Visa gift cards…and the small print with the card was staggering. There’s fees on them and the eventually, no money left on them. Some retailers don’t like to use them and one place told me they only like to accept them if the total purchase was more than the card as leaving a balance on the card was tricky. (I’m in Canada). I told my dad, next time, give me cash (or books!).

    A gift card that doesn’t expire or have fees would be much preferable.

    The deadline of two days after a previous crunch deadline is very tone-deaf of the employer.

    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      AFAIK, the US government has closed those loopholes so that cards may have at most one nominal yearly fee, and cannot expire.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I thought that was the case, but I recently realized a Visa gift card I received as a rebate had dwindled to nothing because of monthly fees that kicked in after six months. So either the law isn’t as cut and dried as we think, or the people who make my dog’s heartworm preventative are blatantly ignoring it.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          There are some that were grandfathered in (not sure that’s the right term…), and those might still have the fees. My SIL always gives us VISA gift cards for Christmas, and we often save them up for 2-4 years and use them for something sizable, so when we needed an new couch and loveseat last year, we went to our Stash O’ Gift Cards drawer and used them to pay for part of the bill. One of them had lost some of it’s value (I assume it was one of the older ones?), but the others had not.

    2. KRM*

      When I get a Visa GC, I use it to buy a gift card of equal value to Target, or Amazon, or wherever I feel like. That just makes it easier-uses the whole value, and you don’t have to worry about fees or weird ways the retailer needs to enter it in the system. I would advise the OP to either buy herself a gift card, or just use the whole thing to donate to a charity of her choice. I would also tell my boss that it felt like an imposition to get a gift card with such strings attached at such a busy time.

    3. Steph*

      It’s these reasons and more that I have decided never again to buy into the “gift card” giving culture. It’s just more commercialism.
      From now on, if someone wants a monetary gift, I will give them cold hard cash.

      1. DivineMissL*

        Cash is great, but some folks think that a gift card is better than cash for positive reinforcement; if you receive a cash gift, you are happy/grateful, and then that cash gets mixed in with other cash in your wallet. If you receive a gift card, you are happy/grateful when you receive it, and then you think positively of the giver again when you spend it; you’re thinking of the giver twice instead of once.

      2. Chameleon*

        I think gift cards to somewhere you know a person enjoys shopping is a little more personal than plain cash. Cash is nice, but if someone gets me an IKEA gift card I know they truly understand me. ^_^

        1. Kathleen_A*

          The problem with cash is that it’s so easy to mix that gift into the regular money in your wallet and spend it all on boring but necessary things like gas or milk. This is great if you’re short of money and the gift will allow you to buy some things that you need and couldn’t otherwise afford, but if you’re not, what happens (at least to me) is that after a couple of weeks, the gift has dissolved into the mundane.

          To me, at least, a gift card seems to say “Oooh, spend me on something fun or pretty or rather than an everyday need.” So that’s why I tend to give them and also why I like receiving them. (Also, they’re easier to mail, and in many cases, you can even email them.) But as you say, nobody’s ever complained about cash, and anyway, YMMV.

    4. McWhadden*

      I’m a little surprised all of that is still allowed in Canada. It’s not in the US any longer. And Canada is usually more consumer friendly.

      1. Anonygoose*

        It’s not – they introduced regulations around gift cards at least 5 years ago, if not more than that. Gift cards can’t expire unless they are for a service (like a haircut or massage or something), and the only ones that can charge dormancy fees are shopping mall gift cards, I think.

    5. KarenK*

      I may be wrong, but I believe that the gradual reduction in the amount of gift cards over time is now illegal in my state (Maine, USA).

  22. MicroManagered*

    OP2: If he continues to bring you food after you say something, throw it away. (Like, don’t be mean. Say you’re taking it for home for dinner and throw it away discreetly or something.)

    I know that a lot of people would say “Oh but I hate to waste food!” To that, I say: First, you’re not going to single-handedly end world hunger by avoiding wasting food. I get we should try not to, but it’s not something to get neurotic over. (Not saying OP is–just a general statement.) Second, he is the one wasting food by cooking more than he needs.

    1. MLB*

      I disagree. If she accepts it, he will keep bringing it. First time she can provide a reasonable explanation as Alison suggested. Second time, all she needs to say is no thank you and give it back.

      1. E.*

        +1 The goal here is to get this to stop. If he keeps bringing food, OP needs to refuse it instead of pretending to accept.

    2. essEss*

      If you really hate to waste food, if you live in a bigger city then there are usually panhandlers that will appreciate a meal.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Yup. There was a point in time that I rarely made it back to my house or workplace with restaurant leftovers.

    3. pdxs*

      yes, I am OP@ and I admit that I am overly invested in reducing food waste – thank you for your perspective

  23. sunshyne84*

    #1 Take it to the grocery store. Anyone would love to have it. Take a quick pic of the hand exchange, done!

    1. Brunch with Sylvia*

      Seriously! Or a gas station. Fill up a couple of tanks. Or go to a coffee shop and pay for as many orders as the card will buy. But I don’t think the issue for the OP is finding some way to be charitable as much as it is being told to be charitable and to do it on a deadline and then give the glory to the employer who is oblivious to how busy the team is with the actual work of the org.

    2. Emmie*

      I am really disgusted by the employer’s condition that employees take a picture and post it on social media. The intent isn’t to be charitable. The intent is to get good will and positive publicity during a high volume crunch time. That’s really gross to me.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        One way to subvert this is to go ahead and do the good deed and post it on social media, without mentioning the company at all…

  24. MuseumChick*

    OP4, I think you (and your other employees) are taking this way to personally. I understand that it’s annoying when an employee leaves doing your busy season but objectively, from the information you’ve provided, this employee didn’t do anything wrong. Is your expectation that everyone’s life just gets put on hold during the busy season? Was she supposed to turn down a good move in her career just because of the time of year the offer come in?

    Cordoba above made a really good point her post.

  25. LouiseM*

    OP1, I would be majorly annoyed at this too, seems like your company just wants free PR fast. That said…really, you can’t spend any money on your husband because he prefers your company? I think most of us prefer our loved ones’ company to things that can be bought, but that doesn’t mean we’d say no to dinner. Maybe your annoyance with the request is causing you to make any excuse not to do it (fair! it’s annoying!). But just buy your husband some dinner or something else that costs $50 and move on with your life.

    1. Penny Lane*

      Right. It’s weird to say you can’t take your husband to dinner bc he prefers your presence over presents. Uh, well, you’re not sending him to dinner alone.

      Massive overthinking going on here. In the time it took to write to Alison, OP could have ordered a gift card to their favorite restaurant.

      1. neverjaunty*

        You’re spending a lot of time here griping that the LW wrote in and that other people are commenting. Why?

      2. Samata*

        Why are you being repeatedly so mean to this letter writer? Your tone in general is usually pretty harsh but you seem OTT on this one.

        1. LouiseM*

          The tone is a little harsh, but I agree with Penny Lane that the OP is probably making this into a bigger deal than it needs to be (again, I too would be annoyed, but it’s really not a big deal). The comment about the spouse preferring OP’s presence to any gift felt to me like it needed a few logical leaps, so I think that’s what Penny Lane is referring to re: overthinking.

          1. Marthooh*

            No. The OP doesn’t have time right now, not for eating out with her husband and not for humblebragging about the company on social media. That’s the problem, and $50 doesn’t solve it. The point of the letter is that this stuff sucks and the company is bad and they should feel bad.

    2. McWhadden*

      Right, if most of the guys in the office are just taking their wives to dinner why can’t she do that with her husband?

    3. Emilie*

      There might be a bit more to this, like her husband having social anxiety or dietary restictions that would make going out to dinner very difficult.
      I think we can all agree that the problem is with the whole “here’s 50$ BUT…” situation, and not as much with how LW1 and her husband chooses to do nice things for each other.

      1. Penny Lane*

        Yes, not everyone can eat sandwiches.

        Well, no one said going out to dinner is the only thing that could be done. Really, I’ve never run across people who are so befuddled and perplexed as to what to do with fifty extra dollars.

        1. Reba*

          I wonder why you hang out here, since you seem to think everyone is dumb as a box.

          I mean, the OP isn’t really asking for advice about what exactly to do with the money. She is asking for Alison’s and our thoughts on the situation, which most seem to agree is annoying. The thing about her spouse is illustrating why the gift card is more annoyance than gift to her.

          1. NaoNao*


            “everyone here is a huge overthinking dum-dum”

            Okay then BYE. Don’t let the door hit you.

    4. Bridgette*

      Order pizza (or whatever takeout you & your husband prefer) take picture of you hanging out on the couch in your pj’s eating takeout and enjoying a movie. Simple, easy and it’s done.

      I do agree that it’s really irritating to be given a gift with strings and deadlines attached. Maybe someone (or a group of people) can tell the person in charge of these things that gift cards with strings and deadlines during the busy season (or any season!) is not the best idea.

    5. Ainomiaka*

      Yeah. For all that I totally understand the annoyance, I didn’t understand why buying her husband dinner wasn’t her company. Eat together and you have the best of both worlds

    6. fposte*

      For me it’s the taxable income thing. If I have to report and pay tax on money from my employer, I’m spending it on what I damn well please.

      1. aNon*

        That’s what I’m concerned about with this. I have no issues doing something nice for someone but if my company gives me $50, I’m going to be taxed on it. I don’t need extra income added to be taxed. I would rather just get nothing or be told I can take a couple hours to go donate my time somewhere.

        1. LBK*

          I’m so confused by this attitude – it’s not like you get taxed more than the amount of the money you’re being given. Do you also turn down raises and bonuses because that’s just extra income you have to pay taxes on?

            1. LBK*

              That makes sense – I was reading aNon’s comment more broadly rather than just specific to this situation.

          1. fposte*

            I am definitely happy to accept taxable income! Here’s what I don’t like: being tasked with promotional labor for my employer and having it framed as a gift to me. I would be a lot more accepting if the company had said, “Folks, we’re seeking to boost our social media profile, and we’d like you all to take one of the following actions: donate to charity, take somebody to dinner, or give a gift. We’ll provide a $50 gift card to cover your action, and we ask you to provide us with photos to use as a result. Non-exempt employees should add the time to their timesheet.” I’d still be annoyed at the blatant astroturfiness, but at least it would be clear this was a job assignment, not a present to me.

            1. LBK*

              I think we crossed comments there, but I wasn’t reading aNon’s comment in the context of this specific letter. It certainly makes sense in this case where they’re basically *only* being given a tax liability without fully reaping the benefit of the extra income. Although I have sometimes noted frustration from people about being given gift cards because of the tax liability, as if that doesn’t exist any time your employer gives you something (I thought I sensed that in some comments further down).

              1. aNon*

                I’ll be honest, I get annoyed with the added taxable income on gift cards given to me by my company that I’m not told to donate I either. But I get over it because it is a little something extra and I get to keep most of the money. My company recently gave everyone gift cards and they didn’t handle the tax part well which is why I get irrationally annoyed about it. I know it’s silly which is why I suppress it normally.

                But for this instance where I have to give the money away, it’s just going to cost me something and not in the way that I prefer my charity to cost me. Maybe that’s uncharitable of me but it’s how I feel about it.

              2. fposte*

                Ah, I see. And I know what you mean–the finance site I like often says “Don’t let the tax tail wag the income dog.” (They’re folksy like that.)

            2. Elizabeth H.*

              I feel like the company DID signal that it was a job assignment, just in different words. It seems like a minor thing to get upset about. If it bothered me to use “taxable income” on one of three pre-chosen options, I’d select something I was going to do with my money anyway like donate to a charity I like or pay for the next time I eat a meal with a friend or buy my mom a gift. Or go to a bar and cover the tabs for the people on either side of me. I think the latter scenario would make for a good social media photo :)

  26. Roscoe*

    #3 I feel very bad for you, and I understand why you would be upset. However, quitting seems a bit extreme and short sighted. Its not up to you how your manager handles punishing others. For all you know there was some kind of punishment, just not public (which is how it should be in my opinion). Hell, maybe your manager if fully planning to get rid of them after your busy season. But quitting out of spite just doesn’t seem like the way to go here. Did you like your manager before? Because if you are going to quit, just to screw him over, all over one decision that you didn’t like and doesn’t REALLY affect you, then it says more about you.

    #4 Yes, that is petty. No, you never HAVE to write a recommendation for anyone. However, they did give 2 weeks notice. Also, you are at a non-profit, so chances are you aren’t paying this person all that much. So because they got a better job at a time that wasn’t convenient for you, you want to be spiteful? Thats not cool at all

  27. KR*

    Hi OP #1, one potential way to donate could be an Amazon delivery to your nearest food bank or homeless shelter. I just did with pads and tampons and it was as easy as ordering them and entering the shelters address as the ship to.

    1. Jayn*

      Or give them $50 in cash and spend the gift card yourself on regular purchases. I’d call first, they may be able to get better mileage out of cash.

    2. Allison*

      This is a good idea in theory, but always check with the shelter before sending or donating anything! Check the website to see what their ongoing needs are, email to confirm. I know it may ruin the surprise, or seem unnecessary if the item seems like something everyone needs, but it’s best to make sure a) you’re not creating or contributing to a backlog and b) you’re sending the kind they prefer, if they have a preference. Also c) they’re not alarmed when an unexpected package shows up.

      1. Elsajeni*

        A lot of shelters and similar charities now use Amazon wishlists to make this kind of donation easier, so you might not even need to check directly with them!

        1. myswtghst*

          Ooh, great point! The rescue we adopted our dog from does this, as do a number of other animal shelters and rescues in our area. It would be really easy to just order some supplies to be delivered to them, and to take a quick screen cap of the confirmation.

  28. Nox*

    3. No offense but protest resignations generally don’t generate a “ah darn we lost so and so cause of this” response. It’s looked at more of a ok gonna see need to start the replacement sooner type of response followed up with a burnt bridge and bad reference from flaking out early. I assume there’s stuff in the background being done to discipline the employee that you aren’t privy to.

    Source: how my last few jobs operated with protest resignations.

    1. Roscoe*

      Totally agree. Its like, you aren’t getting a reference from that person later. And as you said, OP doesn’t and shouldn’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Hell, if the contract ends in a week, it may not be worth it on the boss’ side to do everything to fire someone when the project is so close to being over.

    2. myswtghst*

      Agreed. Unfortunately, OP3 quitting a week early is only likely to hurt OP3, and is unlikely to change anyone’s mind or make a potentially bad manager see reason. As others have mentioned upthread, this is a time when being in a regulated, background-check-required industry means there should be a by-the-book way for OP3 to report this to someone other than the manger (an ethics line? a regulatory body? someone who manages the background checks and hiring?), to ensure the right people are aware of the situation, then focus on moving on.

  29. boo bot*

    OP 3, I am so sorry for your loss. Please take to heart Alison’s comment that you won’t be letting your friend down if you don’t quit. What the intern did was egregious, but you aren’t condoning it by staying on for the final week. Since they are apparently not firing people, you could probably even speak up to your manager without quitting, but regardless, please don’t let this intern’s act damage your future career – that’s giving her far too much power.

  30. Gaming Teapot*

    OP 1: Use it to buy your groceries, then make a post saying that you used it to arrange a lovely dinner for you and your husband. Once busy season is over, get in contact with whoever had this insane idea and politely tell them that it was a complete backfire.

    OP 2: Next time he tries giving you food: “That’s very kind of you, John, but I brought my own.” And the next time after that. And the next time after that. Don’t let up.

    OP 3: Quitting over this one week before the end of the contract is not going to have the effect you want. It’s just going to make your employer resent you. What your co-worker did was awful and you should report it to whoever is in charge of the security clearances, because getting one of those usually comes with signing off on a code of conduct. This is a breach. Chances are someone else has already reported it (potentially even your boss!), but it won’t hurt if you do it too. I’m sorry for your loss.

    OP 4: I would contact her and say “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to write a full recommendation. You may, of course, use me as a reference if you want and I will be sure to tell them of the good work you did, but keep in mind that I will also have to inform them that you left at the busiest time of year/in the middle of project X.” That way, you make your displeasure known without being a total jerk about it.

    OP 5: As Alison said, best practice for any job application is yo apply and then move on. Be pleasantly surprised if they contact you.

    1. Roscoe*

      I think your wording for #4 is a bit harsh. Leaving at the busiest time of year shouldn’t be some mark you are holding against someone, except in very specific circumstances, like tax season for an accountant. Your wording just comes off as “use me if you like, but I’ll be sure to sprinkle some bad stuff in this reference”. I think its fair to hold someone accountable for how they leave a job, but not for when. You can’t expect someone to not take a great opportunity because it’s not convenient for their current job.

      1. Colette*

        Agreed. If the employee had written in saying she had a job offer but it was the busy time of year, we’d be telling her that she should take it and the business would survive. There’s never a good time to leave.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, Alison/commenters have given that exact advice many times. There’s plenty of jobs where the work is so constant that there’s really no good time to leave – are you just supposed to stay trapped at those employers forever?

        2. myswtghst*

          Absolutely. OP4 should be more concerned about whether the departing employee did all she could to tie up loose ends and prep for the next person before leaving, not the specific time they left. Job hunting isn’t a quick or easy process for many of us, and it’s highly unlikely the departing employee chose the timing on purpose, so it’s better to focus on how, not when.

    2. McWhadden*

      Your script still would definitely make LW4 come off like a huge jerk. I would definitely write back to that and say “At no point in my employment with you was I guaranteed two weeks notice before a lay off even if it was inconvenient. I did provide you with notice and abided by every professional norm. I don’t know why you expect an employer to hold this against me but I will not be using you for a reference.”

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      For OP4, I would just ignore the request. I bet that the former coworker wrote to a lot of people asking for a LinkedIn recommendation and not just to OP. CW probably wouldn’t notice whether OP had written the rec or not. And as far as I know, LinkedIn recs aren’t really all that useful anyway. I’ll say it again: just ignore the request, OP, guilt-free.

      1. myswtghst*

        I’m curious if OP4’s former employee actually sent an email / LinkedIn mail message to OP4 asking for the reference, or if it was more of the automated LinkedIn nonsense where LI encourages you to ping your network for references. It may not be something the former employee put any time or thought into – and if that’s the case, ignoring it is a totally appropriate response.

  31. Temperance*

    LW1: spend the $50 on a GrubHub gift card. Done.

    I worked at a place that cut raises and changed the bonus structure so we basically would never be able to hit it. They then offered us $50 gift cards as a holiday gift, and then “asked” us to consider donating them back to charity, through their initiative. (Nope.)

  32. S Stout*

    A thought for LW2: the food your coworker brings sounds like “love offerings” to me. He doesn’t do this for anyone else, you said. Unless he thinks you are unable to feed yourself, he thinks he is doing something nice for you. Whether this is pseudo-parental or quasi-romantic, tell him (Alison’s script is fine). The longer it goes on, the more awkward it becomes.

  33. Cait*

    OP 2: The food thing is really weird but I wonder if you’ve thought about how it looks to your coworkers too. If I saw another employee constantly bringing in food for a peer, I would think the person may be food insecure (as in, needing food) or there was some sort of relationship. One or two times, whatever. Full meals every week? So odd.

    Be polite but firm. I know it’s hard, especially when it has become routine and you don’t want to hurt feelings.

  34. Observer*

    #4 You’ve gotten some good responses.

    Why did you expect your former employee to give you more than 2 weeks notice? Even if it didn’t endanger a good move for her, it’s a burden to ask for. What have you done to engender such loyalty? Are you providing some benefit in return for this notice period?

    Do or don’t write that LinkedIn recommendation. But you can be sure that your staff will see your overall general reaction – and it WILL affect how they handle resignations etc in the future.

    1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      OP, why did you expect the employee to longer notice, when that’s not how things generally are done?

      1. Someone else*

        I didn’t get the impression that OP expected longer notice. I thought the point was just the employee left at the most inconvenient time and OP resented it, but clarified the employee did give normal notice (ie it was JUST about the timing, not that the employee bailed and left immediately or something unprofessional).

        1. Observer*

          Well, that’s just it. The OP is clear that the former employee did what is standard in the profession, but they are “put off” by the timing and wants to engage in this petty retaliation. But the question is why are they “put off” – why did they expect anything else?

          1. Someone else*

            Because people are human and for some reason expect others to inconvenience them at only convenient times? I’m not saying it’s good, but it’s not shocking for the OP to feel like “yeah she gave 2 weeks but we were really screwed because of exactly when those 2 weeks were”. It’s not reasonable to hold a grudge about it forever, but it’s also not shocking that OP got annoyed in the first place. It wouldn’t have made sense for the departing employee to try to time her exit perfectly; that’s impossible, so there’s nothing wrong with leaving whenever your chance to leave happens, but that doesn’t mean the people left behind aren’t sometimes irritated anyway.

  35. McWhadden*

    LW3 I totally understand why you are upset and I would feel the same way. I would point out that the security coordinator may have actually requested the person not be let go. In government, there is usually an investigation before firing. And that can take some time. And those things sometimes spill over into contractors if there is clearance involved.

    Whether waiting is sound logic or not, it is what is done quite often. I totally get the logic in waiting most of the time. YOu want a thorough investigation before you tip someone off. You also might want to catch them in the act. Here, it makes less sense since everyone knows and the thief probably knows everyone knows. But government can be very one size fits all.

    Orrr with a week left your boss doesn’t want to report this security issue at all because it might seem more of a hassle than it’s worth to him. Which is a serious breach and he could be in big trouble over.

    1. neverjaunty*

      And that’s the problem – there’s nothing to tell OP and her co-workers that this is “something is being done and we can’t give you details” instead of, we’re going to play ostrich.

      1. Canadian Teapots*

        As I noted below, it’s entirely possible a sting operation could be in the works. If so, then I’d counsel in favor of documenting everything, but waiting an appreciable amount of time. If no action is taken, -then- blow the whistle (but not before talking to a good lawyer who knows if whistleblower laws will apply).

  36. Matt*

    OP2: bringing in food for me was how my sexual harasser started out. She was from a foreign country as well, and acted like constantly offering me gourmet coffee or a meal was just part of her cultute. But then she would use it as a way to manipulate me or as an excuse to flirt with me. Just make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.

    1. epi*

      I was stalked at work and leaving unwanted gifts on my desk was a huge part of it. It made it hard to refuse them since they were left there when my desk was empty. My stalker would bring in food for everyone but use it as an excuse to come by my desk repeatedly and ask if I’d tried the food.

      My stalker was also from a different culture so I just accepted him for a while. I learned all I needed to know when I started to push back on being constantly interrupted. The reaction told me he knew he was bothering me but didn’t plan to back off on his own. It made me see all the attention very differently. That’s when I reported it. I think if the OP starts to decline the food, they will also find out if this was just a nice gesture or not.

  37. JR*

    OP #3: You could make so much more of a statement if you used your last week there to escalate this matter instead of quitting. I feel like quitting as a protest should be a last-ditch option, when you’ve tried everything and nothing has changed. Furthermore, it is far less effective for someone to quit who only has a week left anyways as opposed to someone with lots of longevity potential suddenly leaving.

    Also, I’m so sorry for your loss.

  38. Eye of Sauron*

    Am I the only one who is wondering about the GC and potential for taxes? Personally I would either return it or donate it to offset the taxes. Of course we’re not talking high value here either way, but aren’t GCs considered cash from the company and taxed as salary (or even worse bonus)?

    The above is the reason my company won’t give out gift cards anymore.

    1. JeanB in NC*

      You’re not going to be audited by the IRS for a $50 gift card. It’s on the employer to make sure the proper taxes (if any) are paid.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        That’s the point though… the employer will withhold taxes on the gift card. So very likely the employee will realize about $33 after taxes on that $50 gift card.

        1. Penny Lane*

          No they won’t. They’ll get to the store, hand over the card and get $50 worth of merchandise. I think you’re not understanding taxes very well if you think the employee is going to only get $33 on a $50 gift card.

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            That’s not quite right. The employer with withhold the taxes on the amount of the gift card. The gift card’s value in and of itself won’t be affected. It will still be $50. But the extra taxes will make the value of that $50 dollars less overall to the employee because of the extra taxes.

            In other words. Yes a $50 GC will have a $50 value and the employee will be able to exchange for $50 in goods. At the same time the employee’s overall period taxes withheld will increase by that same ~$22.

    2. Nikki Fury*

      ooh, that’s right. Gift cards from your employer are considered taxable income that needs to be reported.

      1. Canadian Teapots*

        This sounds like one of those de minimis situations which, in theory, should lead to self-reporting it as income, but in practice, probably will never actually trigger an audit if left off the 1040.

        1. Former Retail Manager*

          You are 100% correct. I assure you, no one will ever know that OP got the giftcard. If anyone is concerned about taxes, they could ask if the value of the giftcard is being included in their W-2. Highly unlikely. They’re just writing it off as “employee engagement” or some other BS. Even if the firm itself were audited, not likely to result in an adjustment.

      1. Gavina*

        Wells from the comments here it is obvious that Eye of Sauron is not the only one to wonder about this.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        It’s come up multiple times in the comments today, so it’s clearly not “no one.”

    3. Interviewer*

      We tax the gift cards at my company. If you give the $50 to charity and keep the receipts, you might get to take a tax deduction, if you have enough deductions to itemize. But either way, you come out behind, while the company gets to deduct the full $50 as a business expense, plus their share of the employment tax, and also gain intangible amounts of goodwill from the social media posts about charitable giving.

      The whole scheme is patently ridiculous. I get that the company wants to create this charitable image online (someone probably saw a presentation on what millennials look for in an employer), but they stumbled, badly. There are much better ways for employees to direct charitable giving: matching donations, targeted campaigns, community service days, etc. – all of which the marketing dept and the recruiting team can still promote without souring the morale of the current employees.

      I’m with the “toss it in a drawer and forget it” crowd.

      1. CMart*

        I mean, if the LW is going to be taxed on it they might as well spend it! Tossing it in a drawer is a cutting off one’s nose to spite the face situation.

      2. Arjay*

        My company, and others I’ve heard of, will “gross up” the gift card amount so that they pay the taxes and you realize the full intended amount of the gift card.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, one of my old teams offered a special incentive $500 bonus on top of our regular monthly bonus if we hit our year-end target and they grossed it up so that our take home was actually $500 as advertised instead of the $300 or whatever that we would’ve gotten if they’d paid us a gross $500.

      3. LBK*

        I mean, any income you get from your employer at all gets taxes on it. Are you going to turn down a raise or bonus because that also increases your tax liability beyond your regular salary? The only difference there is that the extra tax is withheld on the front end instead of owed on the back end, so it’s out of sight, out of mind. But the net difference is the same; by no means do you “come out behind” by only netting $40 in extra income instead of $50.

        1. Marthooh*

          You do come out behind, though, if you’re required to spend the money on someone else. Having to praise the company’s generosity on FaceBook is another negative bonus. This sucks, and the closer I look, the suckier it gets.

    4. Betty (the other Betty)*

      If the company reports the $50 as income to the employee (as they are probably required to), the employee will be paying a bit more in taxes out of their paycheck. With only $50, the taxes won’t be super high, but if someone is very close to the edge of living paycheck-to-paycheck, it could an issue.

      My old company (a food market) once gave everyone a bonus in the form of a high value gift card to the market. It was significant enough that some people had real problems because their paychecks were reduced by the taxes from the gift cards, so things like their rent payments were bouncing due to insufficient funds. You can’t pay your rent with a market gift card. To make it worse, most people figured that one reason for the bonus was to inflate the market’s sales numbers for the period.

      After that debacle, the employer gave smaller gift card bonuses accompanied by cash bonuses that offset the amount of taxes owed, so paychecks stayed the same.

  39. CrystalMama*

    OP, a gift is a Gift! I agree with the people who propose an easy route. Give it to a mom in line behind you at the grocery store. Buy your husband dinner with you. Try to let the annoyance go.

  40. The Other Dawn*

    OP1: Just tell them you took a friend or relative to dinner and be done with it. Then save the card for when you want to/have time to use it. If they check to see if it was used, use that opportunity to pass along the feedback Alison mentioned.

  41. Liz T*

    #1. How do we feel about…kind of lying? Post some old photo of something you gave to someone, or some dinner with your husband, imply you’d spent the card on that, and worry about it later? I don’t normally recommend deception but it seems that the company is more concerned with how this appears to outsiders. (I’d say take your husband to dinner as a celebration of the deadline being met, but is $50 even enough for that?)

    #5. They probably don’t *know* how long it’ll take. Any date they give you will just be an opportunity for you to torment yourself when it inevitably passes, whether or not they wind up calling you.

    1. Marthooh*

      We has $50!

      But we has to post a big fat lie on social media if we wants to spend it.

      I think we feels pretty bad about that.

  42. yup*

    #4 – There is never going to be a good time for someone to leave a job…. On top of that, no one really plans to get a job at the time that they do… It could take a couple weeks, a few months or more from the time that someone starts job searching. I highly doubt that she planned to leave at the busiest time of the year – it just happened to work out that way. Please don’t hold it against her. I highly doubt her timing was designed to inconvenience you.

  43. Scattol*

    #1: Since it’s a gift from the company, is it considered revenue for tax purposes? So you will have to pay income taxes on it or have they already been paied by the employer already. A bonus that is taxed is ok but if you must spend the whole thing on someone else AND pay the taxes on that on top of it!

  44. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#1: How annoying. I say, do whatever you want with the gift card, and do not post on social media. If anyone asks, say that the recipient prefers to remain private.

    My employer does an annoying “spot bonus” thing too, but not as bad: You are gifted a theoretical amount of reward dollars and asked to spend it on a “special experience”, then submit a receipt from said Special Experience to get reimbursed. So your experience can’t remain private, because you have to submit a receipt. I thought this was the dumbest reward ever until I heard your story. But yours isn’t even a reward for you, but instead is some publicity move by your employer. Sheesh. It would have been better if you and co-workers could have voluntarily signed up for this “give a gift to another” campaign, if interested.

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      You are gifted a theoretical amount of reward dollars and asked to spend it on a “special experience”, then submit a receipt from said Special Experience to get reimbursed. So your experience can’t remain private, because you have to submit a receipt.

      I would be so tempted to spend it on hookers and blow, and then submit receipts. SO TEMPTED.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        I was thinking the same thing. Truth is the employer probably doesn’t give two shakes what an employee chooses, but needs the receipts for accounting. I’m sure the hookers and blow would raise some eyebrows though :)

        I can sort of understand why they do it this way. It’s like ‘make a wish’ for employees (sorry if this is an awkward way to phrase it). In that some of the experiences may be inexpensive but some others may be more closer to the top of the theoretical reward amount.

        I’m also wondering if this is a way to lesson the tax burden on the employee. (hmm… I must have taxes on the brain today)

        1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

          I accumulated several of these rewards, and it was never made very clear how to use them, what was eligible, or how to get reimbursed. Nothing is in writing. You are verbally told what the dollar amount is, and you receive a generic thank you note card. Sketchy.

        2. oranges & lemons*

          It’s annoyingly patronizing of them to police their employees’ spending that way, though. I’m sure for some employees being able to make rent that month would be pretty special.

  45. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#4: I disagree with AAM to some extent. With at-will employment, an employee can give notice anytime, and there shouldn’t be any ill will about an employee leaving with 2 weeks notice at a busy time. Stuff happens. A juicy job offer comes along. Personal circumstances require someone to move. Etc and so forth. In some jobs, there is no good time to leave. If one person leaves, and everything goes to hell, then there is probably insufficient succession planning, contingency planning and/or staffing.

    1. fposte*

      That’s pretty much what Alison says too, so I don’t think you’re disagreeing. She’s just noting that in some industries there are times it’s a breach of convention, not just employer convenience, to leave.

      1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

        I was just disagreeing with the industry-specific exceptions. With at will employment, I don’t believe it *should* create ill will, regardless of the job.

        1. Former Retail Manager*

          I agree with you. I work in accounting (not public accounting…no busy season for me) and firms love to threaten employee with bad references/”blacklisting” if you quit during busy season. It’s all BS, especially when some firms, usually smaller/mid-size firms, will deliberately wait until busy season is over and lay people off. It isn’t as prevalent now that the economy has improved, but from 2008-2011, I knew several folks that were let go within weeks of 4-15. No warning and no apology. If the loss of one person disrupts the work flow that badly, I agree that there are bigger issues in most cases.

    2. biobottt*

      But in jobs where losing one person means everything goes to hell, that’s the fault of the employer for structuring their business that way, not the employee’s fault.

  46. Guitar Hero*

    I had a previous employer that gave out gift cards as prizes for various things. They always ended up as taxable income on my pay stub. If that’s the case, it seems wrong for the employer to dictate how an employee can spend their income.

  47. Episkey*

    Send that cooking co-worker my way! I have a 5 month old and would take any & all meals someone else cooked for me lolol.

  48. MollyG*

    OP #4 I disagree with the other commentators. I have worked in classified places before. Don’t get involved. You have much to lose and nothing to gain. If your manager handled the situation correctly, then you will come across as nosy, disloyal and someone who goes around people’s back. If your manager did not handle this correctly, then there are likely are worse problems behind the scenes. In that case you really don’t want to be involved. It could open you up to retaliation, you manager could spread rumors about you, and your future jobs could be in jeopardy. You know that your manager is aware of the stealing and thus your a** is covered and leave it at that.

    1. security question*

      Is there any chance of the OP’s clearance being in jeopardy if she knew of this and didn’t tell anyone, though?

      1. Canadian Teapots*

        Sounds like a damned if you do and damned if you don’t thing.

        That said, the ostentatious lack of a reprimand, etc makes me wonder if a sting operation isn’t in the works to see if they can find a way to lay criminal charges rather than simply terminate the security clearance and fire the employee.

      2. SpaceNovice*


        You’re required to report stuff like this. REQUIRED. A security officer would much rather have it reported twice to them than not at all. By not reporting the adverse information, you could put your own clearance in jeopardy if there’s so much as an appearance of you covering it up.

        MollyG: the policies of the places you worked for before are crappy. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. What the other commenters are saying are current guidelines for how things should be reported provided by the federal government itself. They’ve really started emphasizing protecting from insider threats in more recent years due to a number of high-profile breaches. Not reporting this sort of thing, if found out, could jeopardize the company’s ability to be eligible for other government contracts, period.

        1. MollyG*

          SpaceNovice: I see what you are saying, but I would still keep silent. In the event that the OP is ever questioned about this, they can honestly say that it was reported to management, hence no coverup at their level at least. While it is possible that security people could make a big deal about this, I would weigh that against the much greater probability that the manager would retaliate against the OP. The OP would get zero protection. Formal policies are one thing, reality is quite different.

  49. theletter*

    #2, If he really just loves to cook, that may be all there is to it. There are some cultures where food and recipe exchanges are big way that communities come together (Southeast Asia and Minnesota come to mind). If the food really is delicious and you don’t mind one or two meals, maybe you could ask him if he’d rather exchange meals instead of having it be one way, or stear him toward other home chefs who’d be willing to trade meals. It could be that he’s bringing it for you because he doesn’t know anyone else in the office who’s interested.

    Does your workplace ever have potlucks? If so, that might be a good way for him to connect with more people to share with.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      Yes I agree completely! It does sound like the OP appreciates the types of things he cooks once in a while so I would suggest exchanging meals once a month or something.

    1. Canadian Teapots*

      Sorry, this was a misfire. I mixed this up with another post in which a person bounced a check on OP when it was intended as a gift for the OP.

  50. Phoenix Programmer*

    #5 Ahh the mansplainer of the office. Total pain to deal with. I work at the intersection of IT and finance so I get this a lot from even junior men in the office. Think “hit start – thats the round button at the bottom left corner of your screen” type “help” when I am a system administrator!

    It’s really hard not to turn to them and say “no s*** Sherlock”.

    What I have found useful in person is humour. Things like “wow aren’t you a total genius” and other ribbing comments. I have found that in general the mansplainer eacta better to “jokes” then being called on their bullshit. Also in general male managers will get on your case if you call it out for what it is and stress the need for you to tone down the abrasiveness.

    It’s a bit harder via email though. I recommend a direct approach. Something like “Was this meant for me? Looks like great advice for entry level folks so I figure you meant to send to someone else named ‘my name’s you are mentoring.

    1. Jess*

      I recently left a job with a male colleague who did this, with an extra helping of work stealing and undermining me. Over a couple of years I tried joking to him about it, talking to him directly and being very blunt, ignoring his emails trying to mentor me…he always had a good excuse in the moment, would acknowledge he didn’t need to, then go and do it all over again. Talked to my male manager about it and he didn’t see a problem and would make excuses for him. Eventually colleague backed off a bit and moved onto another (also female) coworker, but he was a key part of why I moved on from that job. Still get angry at the thought of him!

  51. Anonymeece*

    OP #1: You said that the admins are really overworked and you want to buy them some equipment to help, but it may be out of the price range… I agree that’s a really nice thought, but why not just do something else for the admins if you don’t want to go the “Donate to charity option”?

    Some muffins one morning or coffee or just something nice and a nice card. I bought all of my employees some pizzas and had them delivered after our rush time and it wasn’t much, but they appreciated the gesture.

    That’s something that would be paying it forward, something you personally want to do, something that makes your colleagues happy, and doesn’t require all that much effort.

    (I do think it’s kind of icky what they’re doing. It seems awkward to give someone a nice gift, then immediately follow it up with, “Oh, can I take a picture to brag about how nice I am?” but you can take a picture of the card, send it to the higher-ups, and voila).

  52. Melamoo*

    OP #1: use it to do something nice for yourself then say you did x to manage your stress, which is nice for your coworkers since you are now more relaxed and less ragey.

  53. GreenDoor*

    I’m going to disagree with the “donate it to charity” idea. OP has mentioned co-workers using it to take their spouses out to dinner or buy them flowers. So, these coworkers, while doing something nice for someone else, also get the benefit of a meal out, or building some goodwill with a spouse. Why shouldn’t OP get to benefit from her card?

    I’d be more inclined to go to whoever organized this and have a verbal conversation about how tone deaf this “gift” is and see what they say.

  54. TokenArchaeologist*

    OP#5 – I feel like your question could have been written about the internship program I currently run, so I figure I’ll throw my two cents in, and echo Alison: Do not call or e-mail and ask for an update. I’m currently the person who fields all of those phone calls and e-mails, despite the fact that we have a timeline on our website, have whether positions have been filled marked on our website, and remove positions from the website all together once they have been filled for a week. I do all of those things, in addition to answering the phone calls and e-mails asking for updates. And we get upwards of 250 applicants for one internship position on a pretty consistent basis. In addition the way our program works the person who is directly supervising the interns does the interview and final selection. So often I don’t have any information beyond “we will let you know when the position has been filled.” Take pity, please, and do not call or e-mail. There are already 20 people who have… I’m so tired.

  55. oranges & lemons*

    Just because this has come up a few times in this thread, I wonder if it would be worth adding a note to the commenting guidelines about implying that a question is really petty/obvious, and essentially implying that they shouldn’t have bothered writing in? I feel like this is one of the most unhelpful sentiments that seems to come up fairly often in advice columns–I assume the letter writers are aware that their questions are not always of life-or-death importance, but just wanted to get an outside opinion.

  56. motherofdragons*

    OP #3, I’m so sorry for your loss. A good piece of advice I received recently is, when you are grieving, don’t make any big decisions right away (if you can help it). It can be hard to think things all the way through when you are mourning. I co-sign all the advice here not to quit early. You are certainly not letting your coworker and her family down by seeing your contract through for this last week. Nor is that any indication you support the actions of your management! I hope you can find other ways to express your outrage. My heart goes out to you.

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