intervening with a bullying coworker, my colleague runs a snack shop from her desk, and more

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

1. How can I intervene with a bullying coworker?

I work in a small organization where everyone knows each other. Just down the hall from me is a shy, somewhat awkward colleague who works in a different area from me. He is very sweet and does his job well, from what I can tell. Let’s call him “Clark.”

Clark’s boss reminds me of the popular boys in high school — confident, bro-ish, and generally relaxed. Let’s call him “Brad.” Brad frequently makes little jokes at Clark’s expense, sometimes at staff meetings in front of everyone. Clark tries to shrug it off as if it were friendly teasing, but I find it really inappropriate. Yesterday, after a conversation with Clark, Brad poked his head in my office to say something sarcastic about how nice it must be to be situated near Clark, which he certainly would have heard, being in such close proximity. I said (sincerely!), “I love being neighbors with Clark!” Brad then tried to play it off as if he had been sincere, too.

I really want to say something to Brad about his treatment of Clark, but it’s awkward because, while he is not my supervisor, he is certainly higher than me on the office hierarchy. I would go to HR, but we don’t have a dedicated HR department. We have been instructed to bring any HR issues we may have … to Brad. Is there any way I can have a conversation about this? Or perhaps intervene more vehemently when Brad says something unkind?

Brad sounds like an ass. A few options for you:

* Look visibly shocked in the moment — let Brad see on your face that you’re repelled by his comment. “Wow” can work similarly.
* Call it out: “That sounded really mean! I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way.”
* Feign confusion: “What do you mean by that?” (This can be a good way to deal with bigoted “jokes” too; the idea is that you pretend not to get it, so the other person has to spell out exactly what a jerk they’re being.)
* Continue making a point of saying nice things about Clark, like you did last time. Brad is assuming you’ll agree with his take on Clark; make it clear that you don’t.

If you know Brad well and have good rapport with him, you could also say, “What’s up with the way you talk about Clark? It seems so unkind, and that’s not like you.” (You can say that even if it is like him. People often want to live up to other people’s images of them.)

Also, you might help Clark simply by going out of your way to be friendly to him. Say hi to him in the morning, ask how his weekend was, and so forth. Sometimes you can counteract the crappiness of a Brad by directing genuine warmth toward his target.

2. My coworker is running a snack shop from our work area

For two weeks, my employer ran a fundraising challenge where we were split into teams and whatever team raised the most money for a charity won a catered lunch. Most teams raised money via raffles or by selling stuff. The woman who sits near me, with an empty cubicle in between us, bought tons of soda and junk food from Costco and sold it during the challenge, with the proceeds going to the charity. She kept the merchandise in the empty cubicle between us.

It’s been two weeks since the challenge ended. Money was sent to charity, and the winners received their lunch. However, this employee keeps selling soda and junk food on the down-low. The prices are about half of the vending machines so she stays busy. This is lot of traffic in and out of my area. Since the fundraising is over, I am assuming the profits are going straight to her, and my patience for the regular disturbances are wearing thin. My area has become a de facto snack bar. Besides, there’s a “cliquey” factor as the woman selling this stuff and her friends discuss who should be “invited” to buy from the “snack shop.” Their department manager is tasked with running two departments at the moment and totally oblivious at the moment to this. Am I wrong to be annoyed by this and should I report it to management?

No, that sounds annoying.

If she’s at all approachable, can you try saying something to her? It doesn’t have to be a big thing — just something like, “Hey, I know you’re trying to sell off all that Costco stuff. It’s getting pretty disruptive to have people coming over here to buy things so frequently — any chance you can move it somewhere else or otherwise minimize how often it’s drawing people over here?”

But if she’s known to be defensive or your sense it that she won’t be receptive to this, or if you try it and it doesn’t work, then whether to go over her head depends on how distracting the flow of snack buyers is. Is it messing with your ability to focus on work, or is it more just annoying? If it’s affecting your ability to focus, then yes, you could say something discreetly to her manager, framing it in terms of the disruption it’s causing in your space.

(Or you could start a competing snack bar selling higher-quality snacks, and take advantage of the steady flow of customers already in your space. I hope you decide on this option.)

3. Can I mention that this hiring process seems awfully long?

I’ve been in contact with a former employer about a new position they wanted to hire me for. After some HR processes they needed to go through, I was told about a month ago that they were going ahead with their plan to offer me the position and that the “new process” takes longer. I reached out two weeks later to check in on the status and see if there was anything else they needed from me and was told to hold tight as they were still waiting for the offer letter to be approved. Today I got an email from my fomer/soon-to-be grandboss saying it is still in process and as soon as he gets the approved offer letter he will contact me.

I don’t doubt the job offer, and having previously worked there know that this is not reflective of the non-hiring aspects of the organization, but this is a little ridiculous – isn’t it? I am not even sure how to respond to the email because I’m feeling a little frustrated by how long this is taking. Is it appropriate to give feedback on my hiring experience, and if so, when? (The job and pay and benefits are more than I could ever hope to make by applying elsewhere, and I’m currently in a job I can’t wait to quit.)

It’s something you can mention after you’re already working there and some time has gone by, if you see that it’s now typical for them. But you’re not really in a position to push them to move faster now, unless you get another another offer you need to respond to or something else comes up that will create timeline constraints on your side. “I’m really eager to leave my current job” isn’t really enough in this context.

That said, because you used to work there, you have a little more leeway than if you didn’t. It’s possible that you could say something like, “Would it be possible for us to finalize the offer by next week? I’m being asked to commit to some longer-term projects here and am uneasy about saying yes or no while my discussions with you are still up in the air.” (I wouldn’t recommend that if you didn’t have a previous work relationship with them though.)

4. How can you work without a contract?

My question is more of a general one that I keep asking myself when I read your blog: How is it legal/possible to work without a contract?

I am European, so the very idea that you would go to work without things like working hours, pay, overtime compensation, rules for sick leave, paid leave, notice periods, etc. being written down in a contract is baffling (and somewhat anxiety inducing). How can anyone be sure they ever get treated fairly? Couldn’t companies just do a 180 and suddenly cut your benefits, paid leave, change the rules for sick leave, etc.? I am just utterly fascinated by this because it’s so culturally different that I genuinely have trouble computing the concept. Isn’t that an incredibly stressful way to live? Can you ask for a contract even if no one else has one?

It’s actually pretty common for the stuff you named to be written down. It’s just in an offer letter or an employee manual (or in the case of overtime pay, in a law) rather than in a contract. Since it’s not in a binding contract, an employer can change it at some point in the future (but not retroactively), but changing it is normally a very big deal that doesn’t happen often. In theory, yes, a company could suddenly announce that they’re cutting all those things — at which point you would need to decide if you still wanted the job under those new conditions. (And again, this can’t happen retroactively, so you’d have a chance to say “no thanks, I’m out of here” before the changes went into effect; you wouldn’t just suddenly learn that you earned a different wage last week than what you thought you were being paid.) But in practice, employers don’t typically change those things willy-nilly; if they did, they’d lose their good employees and have trouble attracting new ones. That’s not to say it never happens, but it’s not the norm.

And no, you can’t usually ask for a contract in most jobs, unless you’re very senior or seriously in demand. They’re just not a common part of the employment landscape here (at least not in most fields).

5. Talking about a work gap to my new colleagues

After finishing grad school, I had a two-and-a-half-month internship, then had about a six-month gap of applying for jobs before I was finally hired. I really like my job, but am now wondering — how do I talk about that gap with my new colleagues? I’m not ashamed of it — I know that sometimes job searches just take a while, and I worked really hard to send out lots of applications and make sure I was able to pay rent during that period. But now, how do I talk to colleagues about this gap? Is it weird that I don’t have a better answer to “so, what have you been doing since you graduated?” Am I overthinking things? Is this not a big deal?

You’re overthinking it a little! You don’t need to give people a detailed accounting of how you spent your time during that period. It’s fine to just say, “I interned for a PR firm and job searched.” People aren’t likely to demand to know exactly when the internship ended or how long your job search was (although if anyone asks, there’s nothing wrong with your answers to those questions). People know job searches take time, especially right after school. It’s not likely to strike anyone as strange or even especially remarkable!

{ 537 comments… read them below }

  1. ????*

    I feel like their might be some potential legal issues with #2 as well. Definitely let her manager know this is going on.

    1. Sami*

      I can’t really think of any potential legal problems though IANAL. Annoying to the OP, sure. I do love Alison’s suggestion!

      1. Cheddar & Caramel*

        A lot of stuff that you can buy in bulk will often have a “not for individual resale” notice somewhere on the box, which I think could be the legal issue being referred to. (I don’t know if that’s actually illegal or not, it’s just the thing that immediately sprang to mind.)

        1. LouiseM*

          I don’t think anybody would really get in trouble for casually selling a mini bag of cheetos, though. I think every bag of chips I’ve bought from my local dive bar has actually been from Costco and has had a “not for individual resale” stamped on it, but it’s not a huge deal.

        2. Faith in Comments Restored*

          I’m curious how long it will continue. I think she has a little longer to play it off like she’s just trying to make her money back from what she bought.

        3. MK*

          That’s usually an instruction from the manufacturer to the store: they sold a package of 10 snacks at a different price than they would 10 individual snacks and they don’t want the store making an extra profit off their promotion item.

          1. AdAgencyChick*

            It’s an FDA regulation. If the wording on the package is “not LABELED for individual sale,” that means that FDA-required nutrition or ingredient information is on the larger box, but not on the individual packages.

            FDA will allow the sale of individually packaged items without nutrition info only if they come in a securely sealed large package that has that info, and if each individual package is labeled as not for individual sale.

            1. Jesca*

              Yes it is an FDA regulation to have the packaging labeled with nutrition information and ingredient lists. And Yes it is the manufacturers note on the packaging stating it is not labeled for resale. BUT the FDA will never ever go after a person selling this stuff in an office. At a small local store? Possibly. But trust me, this is too small for anyone to care about the legality of it.

        4. Penny Lane*

          No, Cheddar, that’s the manufacturer telling the store that they can’t break apart a bulk item. But plenty of places sell things in bulk that buyers then break down and resell – Costco and Office Max/Office Depot.

          1. JessaB*

            Yes but those items are labelled. In the US items for resale require by law certain nutritional information to be ON the package. Costco does sell items like that, you can buy a giant box of chocolate and each individual bar has the information on it. Or you can buy a giant bag of something where the packages DO NOT have that label. There is a difference between the two. You can sell one by the piece and not the other.

            1. Shop Girl*

              Things like bulk candy, think Hershey minis, don’t have to have a nutritional label on the each item. The package that they come in does.

            2. Penny Lane*

              If I buy a bulk size bag of mini-chocolate bars (the kind that are about an inch long), I could (theoretically) sell them in the waiting room of my car dealership for 5c apiece, though, couldn’t I?

      2. LizM*

        Not sure it’s a legal issue, but I’ve worked in several buildings that had clauses in our lease that prevented competition with the on-site cafeteria and vending machines.

        1. MCL*

          This was what I was wondering. I think our campus has a contract with Pepsi to stock and service our vending machines, and I bet money that there’s a contract with clauses about prohibiting outside vendors that undercut Pepsi’s profits.

          1. MCL*

            However, I’d say that it’s probably not a huge deal if the person is selling off the remainder of her fundraising goods, as long as she’s not re-stocking the “snack shop” and continuing to do operate it.

          2. Anna*

            It also seems like it would violate a company policy about not running a small business using company resources, which this does (the snacks and drinks are in an empty cubicle; the coworker is doing it while she’s being paid to work).

        2. Tuxedo Cat*

          I was thinking that. Depending on how high the volume is, she might also be on the hook for taxes.

      3. Say What, now?*

        She’s not collecting sales tax, presumably. And she’s not declaring the income to the IRS. This won’t be flagged on her small scale operation assuming that it’s just until she runs out of merchandise and doesn’t restock. But it is a big deal with novice entrepreneurs. It’s why Etsy has a whole area dedicated to small business taxes.

          1. Arjay*

            Florida, as an example, doesn’t have a sales tax on general groceries, but they do tax soda, candy, and individually packaged snacks. It sounds like most of the items she’s selling would be taxable here.

        1. Penny Lane*

          If i knit scarves and sell them at $10 apiece to my coworkers, I’m not collecting sales tax either. But this is all way too small potatoes for the govt to go after.

      4. Runner*

        OMG I found the answer 100 percent unhelpful. There is no way most offices would allow an employee to literally set up shop and full time to sell or scalp concert tickets, sell Avon products, lottery tickets, cigarettes, whatever.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yeah, most offices probably wouldn’t let an employee operate a store full time (but that’s not happening here) or sell the items you list (but that’s not happening here). I’ve worked places, however, that would not have a problem with coworkers preferring to buy cokes and snacks at a lower price from a coworker–so long as it’s not disruptive or otherwise causing problems. Alison’s advice addresses the disruptive part.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          She’s not running a full-time shop (!). She’s selling off extras from the earlier purchase. Lots of offices aren’t going to have a problem with someone saying, “I have a bunch of extra sodas. They cost me about $1 each — let me know if you want to buy them off me.” If she restocks after this stuff is gone and it becomes more of an ongoing thing, then yeah, lots of offices would tell her to stop. But this isn’t necessarily there yet.

          1. Persephone Mulberry*

            Actually, I assumed that the coworker went, “hmm, this idea was really successful!” and restocked accordingly. But the letter doesn’t actually say either way. Just that the “shop” has remained open for weeks past the original fundraising window.

            1. a1*

              That’s how I took it, too. I thought she bought more and just kept selling new stuff after the other stuff ran out. I thought I must have missed something. Nowhere in the letter does it say it’s just what was leftover from the fundraiser. That doesn’t exclude that assumption, either, of course. It’s just not clear either way.

          2. AKchic*

            I saw it as her realizing she *could* make profit by undercutting the vending machine prices and continues to restock her “store” in the empty cubicle. She has a steady stream of customers, therefore she should have run out of Costco snacks by now (after at least 4 weeks – trust me, that stuff doesn’t last *that* long!).
            She is running a snack bar on the clock. She is not paying rental space for the use of the cubicle, she does not have a business license to set up shop, she does not have the appropriate health and vendor certificates/licenses to handle or hand out food/drink to consumers, therefore she needs to stop. If police can shut down a child’s lemonade stand, they can rightfully shut this coworker down too.

          1. Seriously?*

            How would the OP be fired? Do you mean the coworker who is selling the snacks? I think it is highly unlikely that anyone will be fired. Told to stop yes, but not fired.

        3. Turquoisecow*

          I’ve worked at a couple of places where people sold Avon products or Girl Scout cookies on the side. I don’t know what the company’s official stance was, but it wasn’t a full time job and didn’t seem to interfere.

          The Girl Scout cookies were obviously temporary. In the case of the Avon lady, she left the catalog in the women’s bathroom with a note telling people to contact her if they were interested. She didn’t offer her services or products to anyone. In fact, I sat across from her during the most of our time working there, and she never even mentioned it to me, so it clearly wasn’t interfering with her full time job to the extent it could have. I definitely would have noticed if she spent a lot of time on it.

          If she had spent a lot of time on it, I’m sure the higher ups would have made more of a deal about it. I don’t know how many, if any, customers she had, but I don’t think her direct bosses ever complained about that aspect of her job.

          1. Naptime Enthusiast*

            That’s the key: Avon seller made the information available but didn’t push anyone to buy. There’s been plenty of letters about coworkers and supervisors (!) pushing MLMs or side businesses in the workplace and making people uncomfortable, but just knowing that she sells it and saying people can let her know if they want to buy anything isn’t an issue. And also, not intentionally excluding people or making a hierarchy of people in the office that are “allowed” to buy products.

            I believe our official office position is that we cannot sell anything on the clock, because even salaried employees have to charge their time to whatever tasks they’re working so we can bill our customers appropriately.

            1. Anna*

              I’m guessing this would violate that policy, even if she’s not making a boatload of money and it’s not indefinitely. She’s doing it on the clock, the money is going back into her pocket, it’s probably a violation of company policy.

              1. Anna*

                Commented to add: But yeah, I’d maybe wait this out since her stock will inevitably dwindle and run out. I wonder, though, if there will be some sort of pressure/incentive for her to continue the Office Fast Stop. At that point I’d def speak up.

      5. Emily Kimberly*

        I had a co-worker do this with her daughter’s school candy drive. Even after the contest was over she continued to sell candy bars for extra cash. Word got around and people from other departments would stop by to buy from her. We shared an office and when she wasn’t there (which was often) I had to take over her candy duties! I didn’t want to, but people would just come in and hand me money or ask for change etc. It became a nuisance. One day, after I handed over her money from candy sales I commented how many people came by, and then asked when her daughter’s contest was over. She got the hint and stopped shortly after that. OP put a stop to this now, its only going to get worse.

        1. DivineMissL*

          My son’s school had a cookie dough fundraiser, and each family was REQUIRED to sell 25 tubs or send in the money to pay the school’s cut ($4 on each $10 tub). My son sold 17 tubs and then I had to send a check for $32 to pay the difference for the remaining 8 tubs.

          My co-worker had to buy all of her granddaughter’s Girl Scout cookie leftovers (about 20 boxes); but she kept them in her office and sold some of the remainder in the office after the technical end of the sale period, so she didn’t have to absorb the entire $80 out of her own pocket. I don’t see anything wrong with this.

          1. Emily Kimberly*

            I agree, there is nothing wrong with selling leftover stock from fundraisers for a short period of time. My co-worker bought additional candy from Costco to sell for profits, much like OP’s. Even then it wouldn’t have bothered me that much, except my workflow was interrupted every time she wasn’t in the office and someone would come by to purchase candy. I even tried telling her “customers” that she was out of the office, but they knew where she kept the candy, would take it from her desk and still give me the money that I had to be responsible for. It turned into a major problem.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I did this w/ my kid’s candy drive (but nobody else was involved).

          The first time I brought in a box and set it off to the side in my office, and put up a sign in the employee kitchen. I sold about 7 boxes over the month it was going on. Once it was over, a colleague said, “Would you go to Costco and get some bulk candy bars, and just keep selling them?” (we didn’t have a vending machine, and it was annoying and expensive to go to the lobby) I thought it was funny, but I didn’t do it.

          However, over the years, I would buy lots of candy boxes from the fund-raising, and then just slowly sell them to get my money back. I just set it off to the side in my office w/ an envelope, and people came and bought them.

          I was on the edge of things, and so it wasn’t really disruptive.
          I used to leave my office unlocked, and I’d come in on Monday morning to an envelope that had been stuffed full of dollar bills by the tech guys working over the weekend.

          Because it was linked to a fund raiser, people sometimes put in extra, and I don’t think anybody stole anything. I ended up about $12 over my expenses, so I dropped that off at the school too.

          Keys: It wasn’t disruptive to other people (when people did come during the day, they were quiet and respectful of my concentration), since they didn’t have to walk past anyone’s office to get to mine.
          I didn’t make a big fuss about it.

          I had so very many people tell me they were really glad I had the candy sale going on. People I’d never even met in the company would stop by and say, “I was in on the weekend, and I’m so glad I could get a candy bar!”

          To me, the big problem is that it’s so disruptive!

      6. MommyMD*

        Definite compliance issues are at play here. In the large organization where I’m employed, running a side business during working hours can get you fired. It’s disruptive to the work space and is a time-stealer from the job duties you are being paid for. It can be termed time card fraud and I’m surprised it was recommended to OP as an option.

    2. JamieS*

      I’m not sure what legal issues there would be. Were you thinking along the lines of her not having a business license or potential liability towards the company if someone is harmed consuming the food she sold?

      1. Not Australian*

        “potential liability towards the company if someone is harmed consuming the food she sold”

        That would be a huge red flag to the employer, IMHO. They’d want to put a stop to it on that basis alone, without taking into account the disruption and the favouritism apparently involved as well.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        It could be an issue of licensing or zoning, depending on your local government.

      3. Forking Great Username*

        Zoning laws and the chance of someone being harmed by consuming the food she’s selling just seems pretty over the top to me – I also don’t really see any legit legal issues. Even if this ended up needing to be brought to HR because of it being disruptive, I don’t see them responding to it as a risky or zoning issue. If so, the Girl Scouts would have a lot of problems at cookie selling time.

        1. Anna*

          I mean, yeah, but then again there’s a reason we hear about a kid’s lemonade stand being shut down for failure to have a business license. Some jurisdictions are that petty.

      4. Yorick*

        I doubt potential harm from the food is an issue. It’s legal to share cookies or whatever at the office that someone could choke on.

      5. Genny*

        It likely violates whatever agreement the food services people have with building management. When I was in college, someone got a small grill and was selling food to the students. The administration told him he had to stop partly for fire safety reasons and partly because it violated their contract with the food service company.

    3. KarenT*

      And pests! I would be super pissed if my neighbour opened a snack shop and I ended up with mice or ants.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      Are you worried about sales tax?

      We had a snack cabinet on several of my assignments. Sometimes I got stuck with it. There was very little profit involved – it went right back in to buying replacements items. So I’m going to challenge the OPs assumption that the coworker is making a profit. Unless you know the markup is there, little profit is to be found. Let me assure you, sometimes people forget to pay.

      The snack cabinets were appreciated by most. That was especially true when we worked crazy hours or had to work through lunch. It kept people from getting Hangry.

      1. Marthooh*

        What you’re talking about isn’t intented to be profitable, though. The coworker was using snack sales as a fund-raiser, so presumably there’s money in it.

      2. Naptime Enthusiast*

        Our “coffee club” earns just enough to stay afloat throughout the year, but if there is a surplus the guy that runs it will buy treats for the entire office and leave it by the coffee maker. If there’s any take home money, it’s less than $100 a year.

      3. Runner*

        Oh that’s so NOT how sales taxes work. But that’s so far from the point now anyway.

        1. Bea*

          Yeah it’s also no taking into effect that it’s not only traditional sales tax you pay at the store that you send to the state. There is an excise tax on all retail sales on top of that. So even if you sell $50 the state wants it documented and their cut, you don’t tax just the profit in any money coming in except on the annual level.

          My accounting brain just exploded thinking about how I have had to explain this to many folks over the years. That’s why I have a job tho.

    5. oviraptor*

      What I thought of first was if she is pocketing the money, is it a conflict of interest that her employer is paying her for her time at work but yet she is also not working when she is selling snacks. I am wondering if those who come purchase snacks also stay and chat a bit also. The time spent running the snack bar could add up rather quickly.

    6. Colette*

      This kind of thing is very much the norm where I work, although the proceeds usually go to a social committee instead of an individual. It benefits everyone – employees get snacks at less than they’d otherwise pay, and the committee makes money to fund events.

      I mean, I think that if this is a problem for the OP (I.e. if it’s affecting her ability to work, not if she just thinks it’s unfair that her colleague is making a process), she is entitled to say something, but the colleague is presumably putting in her own time (shopping, carting the stuff to work) to make this happen, and her customers are paying less than they’d pay in a cafeteria.

      If there is a clause in the lease saying they can’t compete with the cafeteria, there might be an issue, but that’s not on the OP to worry about.

    7. Lujessmin*

      When soda prices were raised in the vending machines from 50 cents to 75 cents at my old job, one manager started bringing in coolers of soda to sell for 50 cents. He’d buy it on sale, and made enough money to go on several family vacations.

      1. Shellbell*

        Even if he got the sodas for free and the 50 cents was pure profit, he would have to sell over 150 sodas per month to raise money for even on family vacation that cost 1000$.

        1. Jaydee*

          150 sodas a month is roughly 8 sodas per workday. A lot of people have a habit of drinking a can of soda in the afternoon, and from Lujessmin saying the manager brought in “coolers” of soda, I’m guessing this was a pretty big office and he was selling more than 8 sodas a day.

          1. ShellBell*

            Sorry. This absurd. Maybe he could sell 8 sodas a day. This still didn’t fund multiple vacations. It’s silly.

            1. Colette*

              Maybe he could sell 50 sodas a day. Maybe his family vacations cost less than $1000. Maybe he did it for multiple years.

              I don’t know why you’re challenging this.

              1. paul*

                My wife’s been doing that for years (works at an airport, vending machine cans are something like 2.75). She sells them at 75 cents each.

                I don’t think she’s ever made more than a couple hundred in a month doing it.

                1. ket*

                  A couple hundred a month is pretty good! As Colette notes, one could take a vacation for less than $1000. Plenty of folks say go to the Wisconsin Dells for two days, or go camping for a week. A great vacation to get out of selling some sodas!

              2. Just Jess*

                I just want to highlight the “even if he got the sodas for free” premise. He did not get the sodas for free. The math is pretty wonky for multiple family vacations through selling soda for $0.50.

                Back to the original post, this seems like the type of side hustle at work where someone would be lucky to profit by $50/week and is really more of a social thing. People have a reason to come by your office and interact with you, you’ve got a little club and a reputation kind of thing.

                1. Colette*

                  I suspect this kind of thing often starts with someone who doesn’t want to pay vending machine prices and so brings in a personal stash of goodies. After word gets out and people start asking her to share, she decides to open it to everyone and make a bit of a profit to make up for the extra work she’s doing. It wouldn’t necessarily need to be a social thing, it’s possible to just have the stuff available with a jar for the cash.

                2. paul*

                  That’s exactly why my wife started. The airport vending machine prices got absurd, so she started keeping a stash of different soft drinks handy. Coworkers started asking if they could buy them.

                  I’d have to ask (and she’s at work right now) but IIRC a normal month is about 100-150 bucks in revenue but she spends probably 1/2 that to replenish. I’ve asked her to stop a time or two because it’s actually a pretty big time suck for her (she does all the shopping and replenishing off the clock), and it’s annoying to have the trunk of a car pretty much full of soda nonstop, particularly when she’s only profiting 70 to maybe 100 a month. But we’re moving soon anyway so w/e.

          1. BeautifulVoid*

            If we go by 20-ish work days a month, someone like one of my friends could have easily bought about 40 of those sodas.

      2. Collarbone High*

        My junior year of high school, the guy with the locker below mine lined it with dry ice, filled it with soda and snacks for half the price of the vending machines, and ran a successful business for an entire semester before the school caught on and forced him to stop.

        He gave me free snacks to make up for the congestion at my locker, too.

        1. spinetingler*

          I did something similar – buying candy in bulk from the distributor and reselling it on the bus every day in middle school/jr hi.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          I did something similar, but just dry goods. I have to say, I admire the gumption of getting dry ice to keep the soda cold.

        3. Free Meerkats*

          I did this one WestPac cruise when I was in the Navy and stationed on a carrier. I figured out how much room I needed for minimum uniforms and liberty clothes, then stuffed the rest of my (very limited) locker space with snacks. I restocked when we visited Subic Bay. I didn’t make a lot of money, the big money in the Indian Ocean was in cold soda, one of the air wing squadrons had a compartment with a full blown store going – sodas were (IIRC) $0.25, cold sodas were $0.50.

          My division had access to liquid nitrogen, so we’d buy warm sodas by the case. 30 seconds in LN2 brings a 12 oz can of Coke to right above freezing.

    8. Janey*

      In our office this would be banned because of the sales tax issue. I know it’s just small amounts of money but as an employee of a municipality, we cannot have employees selling items without collecting and remitting sales tax no matter the cost. Our vending machine vendors have to remit so why shouldn’t she?

      1. Yolo*

        Yeah this seems like it could be an issue if happening in the offices of government employers…

    9. Lynca*

      I wouldn’t worry about legality. But the co-worker is apparently doing this unsanctioned while supposed to be working. That’d be a huge issue where I work and could get you fired since it’s during working hours. We have very stringent guidelines on what constitutes a second job.

      The other thing might be it runs afoul of their vendor agreement, since the OP mentions they have vending machines. I’ve worked places that even prohibited charity events that sold packaged foods you could potentially get in the machines. You’d basically be told to cut it out because negotiating the agreement should it be terminated is a hassle.

    10. Natalie*

      I just don’t see why this matters. If it’s bothering you because it’s disruptive, just say so. If she refuses to stop, then you’ll have to decide if you want to just accept it or make a bigger deal out of it.

      This isn’t SCOTUS, where you have one shot to make your case so you have to bring up every possible issue.

  2. Cheddar & Caramel*

    In both my current workplace and my last workplace, we actually had a mobile snack cart that went around the office on Friday afternoons. At the current place, it’s managed by our social committee and all the profits go to the committee so they can organize other types of monthly treats for staff. Having someone operate a convenience store next to your cubicle sounds super annoying, but I gotta say that the mobile snack cart with a defined schedule has definitely been considered a really fun peek at both my workplaces. It’s a bit like being on the Hogwarts Express!

    1. KimberlyR*

      I agree that it sounds really good if:
      1. It wasn’t happening next door to the OP and
      2. It wasn’t being used to further cliquish behavior. “Inviting” only certain people to buy from her means that only a certain crowd will be hanging out next to the OP-a clique. Which sounds miserable…

      1. Jesca*

        People in another department in my cube farm used to use birthdays as a way to perpetuate their cliquishness. Then they all got mad because they felt like not enough people were helping in the participation. They were totally clueless to the fact that everyone else (even those other people within their department) found the whole thing over the top. Think a huge birthday cake and snacks outside the birthday person’s cube all day, huge decorations hanging from the ceiling, loud singing in the middle of the morning right on the office floor, and constant chatter all day long while “snacking”. They could have moved all of this into the break room on our floor, but then how would they rub it in the faces of the people they did not invite? I was always invited, but I am so freaking happy now that they all got into a fight about it and now have stopped. And so is everyone else. They are still totally oblivious to the fact that no one cared about their childish way to exclude people and just really wanted them to stop the whole thing! That is why they weren’t chipping in!

        But I digress. I sympathize with the OP on this because I too have the “exclusion committee” personalities on my floor.

        On the second floor of our building, a guy runs a small “candy shop” but it operates just like a vending machine: drop the money in the box, grab the snack, and move on. That is how you sell candy at work!

        1. sunshyne84*

          I thought we worked together until you got to the candy shop part or maybe I’m just out of the loop (as usual). lol

          People find the weirdest things to be cliquish about. Well I’m not sure that anything is appropriate, but whatever…..

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yeah, it’s the crowd, the disruption and the cliqueishness that are problematic. It wouldn’t be so bad if the coworker was quietly trying to offload the purchases she already made with as little disruption as possible.

    2. SarcasticFringehead*

      We have an “honor bar” – baskets of snacks that are a bit higher-quality than the vending machines, and for each one you take, you put a tick next to your name. Once a month, accounting takes your total out of your paycheck & sends the money to charity. The key thing that makes it different from the LW is, like in your example, it’s not constant disruptions throughout the day (ours is in the employee lunchroom) and nobody is excluded.

    3. DivineMissL*

      Cheddar, I’d be interested to find out how the snack cart works – we’re thinking of starting one here but I don’t know how to begin. Is there a way I can send you my email address?

  3. Espeon*

    OP4 I’m in the UK and the concept of working without a contract weirds me out too. So much that I’ve learned about American working practices on this blog just disturbs me – employees feel so unprotected.

    1. KimberlyR*

      We employees also have some power-we can walk out of a job at anytime without facing any sort of consequences from breaking a contract. If my employer tells me they’re cutting my pay to minimum wage and taking away all my benefits, I can say “No thanks” and walk out of there. And they know that the entire workforce can do that. So they don’t do stuff like that. (I’m sure it has happened and will happen but it is pretty rare.)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It really depends on your sector and local job market, though—employers do engage in exploitative practices, but the exploitation is worse when you’re geographically restricted, low income earning, have dependants, etc. walking out is only really an option if you’re economically secure enough to be able to go jobless for a while.

        1. Espeon*

          Yeah I always view things like this from my perspective as a not-a-career person, not a high earner etc. It’s not all peaches & cream here in the UK (hello Tory and previous New Labour *Tory Light* governments!) but I definitely get the impression that I’d be more vulnerable in the US.

          1. Artemesia*

            And you would be. I know of many people who have had rather horrific experiences with being fired without cause, of working at bare minimum pay with the promise of stock compensation and then being fired a day before their stock would be available to them — i.e. stealing a year of work or of having insurance plans changed dramatically. Americans can be fired without notice in most industries and it happens all the time. American workers have very little protection.

            1. Kyrielle*

              And the ‘fun’ companion game, “My company has been acquired; do I still have a job and, if so, how significantly do my benefits change?”

        2. Engineer Girl*

          They are exploited for a while. Then the economy changes and they are bleeding workers. Or the state steps in when there is enough evidence.

          I grew up in a rural area where people competed for jobs at McDonalds. Thoey treated people badly (wage theft) and got caught.

          Sometimes it takes forever to work out though.

        3. KimberlyR*

          Yes, there are definitely vulnerable populations who have been taken advantage of. And despite my cavalier words, I couldn’t afford to just walk out of my job tomorrow. I’m stating that this is one of the things that prevents some companies from ripping our pay and benefits right out from under us.

        4. Lora*

          This. There was a tremendous difference between working in high-unemployment areas (especially the rural area where I grew up) and low-unemployment areas on the coast. In a high-unemployment area in the Midwest, I was constantly threatened with being fired and constantly harassed by other employees for not being Christian (and other Christians who didn’t go to the boss’ church were constantly harassed by him to join the boss’ church), LGBTQ folks were constantly threatened with termination and verbally abused, the health benefits were pathetically thin and didn’t cover much of anything, there was no disability insurance and minimal life insurance, safety equipment we needed to do our jobs wasn’t paid for by the company (you were supposed to purchase it yourself), the company didn’t provide corporate cards for travel and expected you to pay the money yourself even for expensive trips – maybe you’d get reimbursed, maybe not, but certainly not in a timely fashion. People were kept as temps for many, many years (think 5-7 years wasn’t unusual) and getting a temp hired as a permanent employee typically required an act of god and a few lawsuits threatened. We got a week of paid vacation after a year, and one week of sick time, and about 7-8 federal holidays: Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, a few others. Dumping hazardous waste into waterways and exposing employees to hazardous chemicals was routine and not thought of as a big deal because the likelihood of being caught was basically nil. If they were inspected, they felt it was easy enough to bribe the official – or the official inspector was their cousin/nephew and gave them plenty of warning to hide the evidence. Regulators were not really professional and mostly treated the job as a sinecure, didn’t leave their offices.

          The East Coast in a major city with low unemployment and regulators who viewed environmental protection as critical to maintaining high real estate prices was a VERY different experience, even in the same field: Three weeks paid vacation, unlimited sick time, 10-12 holidays off, people somewhat more respectful (outright abuse isn’t widely tolerated but more subtle stuff with plausible deniability is still common), safety equipment all paid for and special training provided by the company, subsidized commute (either cheap rail passes or parking passes), health insurance covers just about anything you can think of, short term and long term disability is covered so you don’t lose much income from a more serious illness, life insurance is pretty decent and you get the option to buy more than the company-provided kind at cheap company rates, company travel is paid for via corporate card or the company books it for you, and regulators are serious business here. Many jobs also have tuition and training benefits, in that they will pay for your tuition at a university if you’re studying something work related, and they will pay for your membership to professional societies, pay for you to go to conferences and seminars.

          In both cases, I’ve seen people fired with no notice because of re-orgs or because the boss needed a scapegoat or because the boss had some kind of personality conflict with an employee though. The other thing about being in an urban area is that everyone knows everyone else, so if a bad employee upsets a lot of people in, say, Cambridge, they’ll find a hard time getting another job in Boston or Portsmouth due to their reputation, and you guys don’t do that.

          1. Penny Lane*

            Urban Midwest or the rural Midwest? I doubt some company in Chicago or Mpls acted like this. You should really “out” the name of the company.

          2. jo*

            Alison, I think an update to the post may be called for, and the comment above beautifully explains why. Your answer is basically “the market takes care of that,” which is true … in locations and industries where the market is strong. In much of the country, it is not strong.

            I recently moved from NYC to a small town in an isolated area where there are only a few major employers. Those employers do things much as you describe, since they need skilled workers, and our area doesn’t yield a surplus of talent (which is why one of them paid to relocate my family!). But for many residents here, I suspect they’re stuck with whatever work they can get. Or they have to commute more than 80 miles each way to the nearest medium-size city.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Even in areas where the market is strong, many of us get left behind – especially people with disabilities, spotty work histories (often caused by graduating in recessions), no degree, a criminal record, or anything else that might discourage employers from hiring us.

              The idea that only the strongest, most educated, most in-demand workers deserve basic protections and minimal benefits is racist, classist, and every other kind of -ist I can think of.

        1. hbc*

          My European bosses put into my contract that I had to give 4 months notice if I was to leave. I told them it wasn’t enforceable in the US and I don’t even know if it was enforceable in their country, but they seemed to think it offered them some protection from me walking out.

          1. Darren*

            If it’s symmetrical (they have to give you 4 months notice and/or pay on terminating your employment) it’s legal and enforceable. You are legally required to work the notice period and the employer can seek damages if you refuse to work it (although this is mostly theoretical because almost nobody refuses to work their contracted period once they know this is a possibility).

            Note that most employers however don’t want to have an employee that doesn’t want to be there around and if you request your notice period be shortened if they don’t have anything they absolutely need to keep you around for then they will usually let you go.

            Additional and quite subtle note that many people don’t realise if they end your employment and pay you for the 4 months rather than having you work it you cannot get employment anywhere else for the notice period (you are still a full-time employee of the company and cannot work elsewhere without there permission). This is what is known as Gardening Leave (basically basically all you can do is tend your garden at home).

            The rules are pretty similar here in Australia as well (I’ve got a 3 month notice period on my current role and expect that if I were to resign I’d probably have to work out all of it).

          2. Miso*

            Three months notice is pretty normal in my European country, I’m sure you could put in 4 months as well.

            1. Erin*

              3 months! I left 3 weeks at my old job and they desperately needed me. But not enough to give me a raise. I left the beginning of October and the store was out of business by the end of December. If I gave 3 months I would’ve been unemployed. I left for another better job that wouldn’t wait around 3 months for me to give notice.

              1. Stardust*

                I mean, if you’re from a three-months-is-standard country, it’s also not unusual for prospective new employer to factor that into their hiring so that they can indeed wait three months.

            2. Stone Cold Bitch*

              Yep, three months are pretty standard here in Scandinavia too. At least if you are a skilled professional.

          3. MK*

            There is absolutely no way you can be forced to work against your will. I would bet it’s enforceable in US in the same way that it is enforceable in Europe: it’s a valid term of contract and, if your don’t comply, it’s breach of promise and you might (note, might) owe compensation. In my almost 20-year legal EU experience, the only times an employer demands compensation is in pretty extraordinary cases of highly sought-after employees and it’s usually the new employer who pays.

          4. anon scientist*

            I’m in Europe and finishing out my 3 month leave notice next week (yay!). There were conditions in my contract that they could have withheld if I left early (e.g., paying out my unused holiday pay, relocation to my home country, etc.). So there could have been consequences to walking out.

      2. Boy oh boy*

        I’m in the UK and I can do that with a contract as well!

        Unless you are a head-honcho Big Deal going to a competitor or something equally heinous, you are very, very unlikely to get sued for breach of contract. Most people – traders, retail workers, admin, salespeople, engineers, etc etc could just walk off the job tomorrow with a big dent in their professional reputation, but no legal consequences.

      3. Mary*

        You can pretty much do that here too – it’s incredibly rare for a company to pursue an individual for not working out their leave because it’s not really worth it.

      4. Jim*

        Guess what, I’m in the UK too and I not only can walk out of a bad job without consequence, I have.

      5. Adereterial*

        You can pretty much do that in the UK anyway. Notice periods aren’t usually that long and if you choose to walk out without giving notice, very few employers would bother with the hassle of suing you for breach of contract. And they still have to pay you for all the days you’ve worked and for any accrued, but as yet unused annual leave.

    2. Hmm*

      You aren’t that protected in the UK either (though it’s better than in the US), especially if you’ve worked somewhere for under two years or you work for a small business.

      1. Espeon*

        Indeed, but I include things like the basic number of holidays we legally have here under protection, as in, our actual humanity and right to time off is protected and there’s a solid baseline for all from day one.

        1. Ruth (UK)*

          In lot of jobs yes, but when I worked in fast food for 2 years with a zero hour contract and any time I asked for off was denied, and I worked on bank holidays and Christmas day (we opened) having a contract didn’t help much. And if they wanted to get rid of someone but it was awkward to fire then they just kept them officially still employed but never gave them another shift ever again because they had no guaranteed hours.

          I think it probably makes a much bigger difference in office type jobs. The two jobs I’ve had since the one I mention above have been better, and even though my last employer wasn’t very good, they did still have to give me the min amount of leave etc

          1. OP 4*

            Zero-hour-contracts are a disgrace and the very fact that they are legal shows how little the government cares. It’s an easy way to get the unemployment rate down without actually improving anything for anyone.

          2. Discordia Angel Jones*

            Yep yep yep I have been on a zero hours contract because it was a second job (and I had previously been there for 4 years) and because they had to pay me double pay on Sundays (because I joined the company under and I (obviously) always “ticked up” for shifts on Sundays, they basically just stopped giving me shifts until I eventually just got fed up. I was lucky that it was a second job at that point and my first job allowed me to live. Some of my colleagues got phased out in a similar way and they were without earnings until they got new jobs.

            It was annoying, I enjoyed working there and they could call on me to work as a cover supervisor which, funnily enough, was the only time they gave me shifts until I nope-d out of there.

            1. Discordia Angel Jones*

              * (because I joined the company full time and under the previous ownership)


        2. Nacho*

          I get holidays and time off in the US too.

          I suppose the lowest of the low wage earners in the UK are better off than they are in the US, but pretty much everyone who doesn’t work at Starbucks has days off, bank holidays, health care, and job security here just like you do.

          1. Al Lo*

            (Starbucks is actually one of the best places to work part-time and receive health benefits, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. They have always offered full benefits at 20 hours/week. Not disputing your larger point, but your example is a bit of an exception!)

          2. Sam.*

            This doesn’t mean much, since a lot of American companies get away with offering disgracefully low amounts of PTO to employees. I have a decent amount of PTO, by US standards, and it doesn’t feel like nearly enough. Based on this issue alone, I’d move to a European nation in a heartbeat, given the opportunity.

          3. SarahTheEntwife*

            Many, many people work minimum-wage jobs. They deserve health care and time off, too.

          4. Kat Em*

            I don’t get any of those things, and I don’t work in retail or fast food. I’ve only had healthcare at one job in my entire life, not including my one year stint in AmeriCorps when I was fresh out of high school. Plenty of places will keep you to 29 hours a week or whatever to ensure you don’t qualify for any benefits.

          5. WeevilWobble*

            A huge segment of the US working force is people who work low wage service jobs (usually a couple of them) and don’t have these benefits.

          6. rear mech*

            A significant percentage of the USA working population is in “starbucks”-type jobs. Regular low level workers in retail, service industry, hospitality, agriculture, landscaping, daycare, and home health care commonly have zero or minimal benefits. Also, more “professional” types who work at small and very small businesses or nonprofits. Due to size, my employer isn’t even required to have workman’s comp! And there are ample opportunities to get hurt!

          7. MM*

            Oh, god, are you really going to suggest American healthcare is as accessible as the NHS?

            1. LBK*

              I don’t think that was the suggestion at all? As broken and ridiculous as the US healthcare system is, it is still healthcare, in some form.

              1. Perse's Mom*

                I suppose the lowest of the low wage earners in the UK are better off than they are in the US, but pretty much everyone who doesn’t work at Starbucks has days off, bank holidays, health care, and job security here just like you do.

                This basically sounds like Nacho thinks that McDonalds’ employees in the UK are better off than their equivalent in the US but that all other employees are basically equal. Which is just… ridiculous, frankly.

          8. General Ginger*

            “Pretty much everyone who doesn’t work at Starbucks has….” is a gross generalization. I have an office job, I’m not a temp, I’ve been here for quite some time, and I am in the same boat as all the transgender people in my state — job security depends on how our employers feel about trans people.

          9. Penny Lane*

            Nacho, you’ve got to be kidding. Plenty of people don’t ha e healthcare through their jobs bc our system is so backwards.

            1. CMart*

              At least half of my social circle (college educated mid-30-somethings in an affluent suburb) don’t have any of those things–paid days off, bank holidays, healthcare, or job security. Some because they are working low-wage jobs, but most because they work for small businesses.

              My husband makes a great wage–more than I do in my Cushy Corporate Job–but they don’t get holidays (in fact, those are busier for them since they service students), there’s no paid time off, and definitely no healthcare when it’s just the owner, my husband, and 4 others. Not actually a lot of job security, since the owner could close up shop at any moment–and he might! He’s nearing 70 years old and has been talking retirement for the last five years.

            2. LBK*

              90% of the US is insured, whether through their employer or otherwise, so I wouldn’t say it’s as dire as it’s being made to sound. There are tons of problems with how the system works and the disparate ways it affects people based on their socioeconomic class, for sure, but the vast majority of Americans do have insurance.

              1. naanie*

                Okay, but the quality of the insurance that people have, and how much they versus their employers pay for it, varies GREATLY.

    3. JamieS*

      On the flip side the idea that an employee can do something egregious and not be fired somewhat disturbs me.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        Which country are you thinking of there? I can’t think of one that I’ve worked in where people can’t be fired for misconduct. This doesn’t mean that people are always fired, but there are enough examples of employees behaving awfully and keeping their jobs in the stories people write in with here, which are mostly from the US.

        1. Espeon*

          I can only speak for the UK but yes, in every place I’ve worked you can absolutely be fired straight away for misconduct.

        2. JamieS*

          The difference is they weren’t fired because of employer inaction (which supports the unlikelihood employers will just fire people for giggles even if it’s technically legal) not because the employer had their hands tied. The hands tied is where my issue lies (lays??).

          I’m sure there are several other examples of this but the one most vivid to me is the guy who didn’t tell his co-workers his wife was in surgery because he didn’t want to go back on the floor, filed a grievance after being fired, and got his job back as well as an apology. The idea that an employer has that little control over who’s on the payroll isn’t something I’m overly comfortable with. Although to be clear my discomfort is from the perspective of being stuck with a bad coworker even if everyone wants them gone. It’s not coming from a place of sympathy for the plight of corporations.

          Also I know there are some places in America this can happen where an employer can’t fire someone even if they want to (unions) but it’s not the norm.

          1. MK*

            The idea that a contract means the employer can’t fire you and you can’t quit is incorrect (but wierdly common). Not only can they fire you for misconduct, they often can fire you for no reason at all, just like in the US. But they have to offer severance, and not what they want either, it’s a legally mandated sum of money, so the employee has some protection. And the employee can quit any time they like too, they usually simply have to give the legally mandated notice.

            Also, if I remember correctly, the letter you mention was about the company not wanting to get into a lawsuit, not about being unable to fire the offending employee.

            1. Summer*

              That’s correct, at least in my country. A contract doesn’t mean you can’t be fired! There are worker’s protections around being layed off though, and barring misconduct, your employer is obliged to give you some notice (the longer you’ve worked for the company, the longer the notice period). This works both ways. If you’ve worked ten years for your employer, you’re expected to give a notice of 3 months. The notice period can vary by workplace and depends on the work you do.

              Of course, a shorter period of time can also be agreed upon individually. All of the employers I’ve worked for didn’t insist on a long notice period because they didn’t see the sense in trying to keep a employee who wanted to leave. I’m sure there are other examples though.

              1. OP 4*

                This fact actually worked out really well for my mum! When I was finishing school, the company she had worked at for over 15 years was sold and shut down. Because she had an old contract, her notice period was six months (!) so she continued to get her wages while she was at home discovering her inner housewife (cue irritated teenage me who was *not* happy to come home to someone who wanted to immediately know what I had been up to, if I had any homework, etc and who just generally disrupted my after school routine lol) and applying for jobs without the pressure of having to take the first thing that came along.

            2. MM*

              In the US we have a lot of widespread myths about the horrors of sclerotic, paralytic labor markets in other countries to help discourage us from imagining different ways of doing things and getting excited about things like unions. Is my cynical take on things, anyway.

            3. JamieS*

              Re-reading my original comment I see where I wasn’t clear. I know people can be fired for misconduct in non-U.S. countries. What I was trying to say is I don’t like that there are situations, like the one I cited, where an employer wants to fire someone for misconduct but is unable to do so and I think the likelihood those situations will occur increases with more employee protections.

              Basically I know that the extra protections protect decent employees but I’m not a fan that they also afford the same protections to bad employees. Considering in general decent employees aren’t really at risk of the worst case scenarios some people imagine (not to say it never happens but it’s not something people live in fear of) I prefer an employment culture that in general favors more employer freedoms on how they choose to run their company/who to employ as opposed to one that has more outside regulations (laws, unions, etc.) that don’t have to do with things like health, safety, discrimination, etc.

          2. Bagpuss*

            I’m in the UK, and we can absolutely fire people for misconduct.

            For gross misconduct, you can fire someone with immediate effect, and they won’t be entitled to be paid notice (although they would be entitled to be paid for any holiday time they ave accrued but not taken). Gross misconduct does have to be pretty serious.

            For less serious conduct issues, or for poor performance, you can still fire someone, and if you want you can require them to leave immediately, but you would have to pay them for their notice period. (either they work their notice, and you pay them as usual, or you put them on gardening leave, where they don’t work but are paid)

            You do have to have a proper process for firing someone – typically this would mean that you hold a disciplinary meeting and they have the opportunity to be told what they are being accused of and to offer their explanation, however, the decision still rests with the employer what sanction to take.

            An employee who feels they have been treated unfairly does have the option to go to an employment tribunal if they want to challenge the employers decision,and the tribunal can order compensation if they find the employer acted improperly. (they can also order someone to be reinstated but this is very rare, as it would only work where there hasn’t been a breakdown of trust between the employer and employee).

            Most employers have a formal disciplinary process which sets out what steps will be taken (e.g. disciplinary meting to which the employee can bring a colleague or union rep for support, written notification of outcome of that meeting, opportunity for (internal) appeal) and the process would normally be the same for less serious disciplinary issues which result in a formal warning or reprimand, as well as for those serious enough to result in sacking.

            In the UK, full protection only kicks in once someone has been employed for 2 years, before that, they can be dismissed for any non-discriminatory reason at any point, in which case the employer simply gives them notice and they leave at the end of their notice period.

      2. GingerHR*

        They can be fired. You have to go through a formal disciplinary, but you can absolutely fire someone for one action when it is gross misconduct – in the UK at least. It is admittedly a longer process for minor issues.
        Equally people can, and often do, just walk out on the job. Technically, the employer could pursue for breach of contract, but it’s not worth the hassle unless it’s someone very senior or specialised.

        1. JamieS*

          What is gross misconduct though? I’m not doubting it’s possible for someone to be fired but my impression is the threshold is much higher than I’d find reasonable.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            Theft and assault would be the main two reasons but also intoxication, sabotage, serious breaches of health and safety rules, offensive behaviour (such as discrimination, harassment, bullying, abuse and violence)

          2. MK*

            Your impression is incorrect. In most of the EU, it doesn’t even have to be gross misconduct, the protection mostly kicks in about the severance.

          3. Indie*

            Stuff like violence, drunkenness, indecency, gross insubordination usually. Behaviour that makes Alison start her replies with ‘What?!’

            It’s anything that ‘destroys employer and employee relations’, so if there’s a specific type of unforgivable act peculiar to the field (medical receptionist gossiping about patients) it should be stated as gross misconduct in the employee handbook.

            1. GingerHR*

              Yes, those and the items Apollo lists are typical – also things like misuse of IT, porn or dodgy emails being prime examples (unless you are an MP, of course!) . You are right – it is conduct that fundamentally breaches the employment contract by breaking the trust and confidence. Usually, this would end up with summary dismissal, which means employment terminates that day, there is no notice and no accrued benefits past the date of termination.

              JamieS – smaller misdemeanours can still result in dismissal, but it takes a little longer. So you can be fired for persistent lateness, but you’d go through a couple of warnings first. Really, it’s no different to what Alison suggests around actually talking to the individual about what they are doing wrong and what your expectations are, it’s just formalised. In this instance, where you are dimissing on cumulative warnings, the person would be entitled to their notice (usually in lieu) and accrued benefits to the end of the notice period.

        2. SS Express*

          In Australia people have employment contracts, but they don’t stop employees from leaving their jobs on the spot if they’re so inclined. Generally the penalty for not giving notice is that you don’t get paid for the notice period, i.e. if you decide you don’t want to come to work anymore, they stop paying you.

          It’s true that people can only be fired on the spot with no payout for “serious misconduct”, but it’s still not that hard to fire someone for other stuff (e.g. underperformance) – you just have to give them notice, or pay out the notice period if you really don’t want them around. In some cases you need to give warnings/training/a PIP first, but that’s usually pretty fair – people who don’t improve still get fired, and people who do improve after getting the right feedback and direction probably deserve to keep their jobs.

          The thing about a contract is you can put all kinds of different things in it. A contract doesn’t have to say “your job here is guaranteed for life so do whatever you want short of stabbing someone”, it can say “if you suck at your job or you’re such a dick that nobody can work with you we’ll fire you, but you’ll get two weeks notice”.

        3. Summer*

          In Germany, it’s not that difficult to fire people…it depends on the type of work contract, but in general it’s not that big of a deal. However, there are certain job types where you can’t be fired except in the case of gross misconduct (if you work for the state, which includes many teachers, you basically get what amounts to a ‘lifetime appointment’, and there is a lot of resentment about those cushy jobs and their super generous compensations).

            1. Summer*

              I guess it depends on your point of comparison. TV-L doesn’t seem bad to me compared to most other jobs with an academic background. (Of course lawyers, doctors, IT consultants etc. earn more).

          1. OP 4*

            Let’s not bash teachers though. Of all the government jobs in Germany, they have it worst – increasing class sizes, decreasing funds, stagnating wages and often times new teachers actually don’t get ‘verbeamtet’ (at least here in the North) so they’re overworked, underappreciated, and don’t even get the benefits that come from being a Beamter.

            At least that’s the case in Berlin.

            1. Jules the Third*

              Yeah, it’s the case for teachers all over Germany – higher pay than other countries, but harder work (larger classes, more time in class, etc). Article about it in my name’s link.

      3. Mad Baggins*

        In Japan worker protections are veeeery strong and it’s pretty difficult to fire people in many companies. But you got me thinking about the pluses and minuses of having those strong protections.
        + contracts with leave, benefits, etc. spelled out
        + between national and private welfare systems, insurance/retirement/other coverage is spectacular (by US standards. Average copay for a cold is maybe $10 and ambulances are free)
        + workers can’t be fired willy-nilly
        +/- retirement at 60 means skill gaps/organizational changes can often be planned for, downside is skilled workers have to retire (among other effects)
        – despite working hours/leave written in contract, company culture has unwritten rules (average working hours are dystopian and the law has no teeth to fight it)
        – can’t fire workers with low productivity=encourages companies to deal with it by transferring the employee away or other passive-aggressive means
        – because of above salaries are low (this is changing as pay becomes tied to the job, not to age, and changing companies becomes more common)

        **All this is based on my embarrassingly limited experience but I think you bring up a good point that there are benefits and drawbacks to having more freedom/more protection… though I am still working here and not the US for a reason!

        1. Julia*

          But most of those aren’t issues with workers in Japan having contracts. (Which, by the way, are rapidly moving away from life-time employment to limited term contracts for my generation.) Those issues exist due to the culture at work, where butt-in-chair-time is more valued than results, and people are being guilt-tripped for taking time off, harassed for getting pregnant (or being female) and the general cultural ideas that the young have to pay their dues because everyone else had to as well, so older workers bullying younger ones happens. I’ve experienced it, my friends have experienced it – and my husband still works for the government, which doesn’t even have to follow its own labor laws.

          1. Mad Baggins*

            It’s true! The issues you described with culture are a huge problem, but I don’t know if they are mitigated/worsened by specifically having a contract. I tried really hard to separate problems stemming from what was in the contract as opposed to problems due to cultural expectations. Maternity leave being spelled out in the contract means that parents and company can plan accordingly, but problem is maybe it can’t be easily modified for individual circumstances. Being harassed for being pregnant is a culture issue that can occur with or without a written contract.

        2. WellRed*

          Isn’t Japan in the news this week for companies telling women when they may marry and have children? Hopefully its not true or widespread.

          1. dovidbawie*

            Yep! Japan is notorious for their culture of “mandatory overtime”, unpaid. Death by overwork is a problem, as the culture has traditionally bent strongly toward giving one’s all to the company before anything else.

            Given the aging of the workforce and the rising generation being smaller than ever before, Japan’s government is beginning to offer incentives to foreigner workers to mitigate the eventual personnel crisis. But it will take a while to change the overall work culture.

            1. Julia*

              There may be incentives for foreigners to move here now, but as long as the general population doesn’t follow this trend, foreigners living here will always feel just a tad alienated and might leave again.

          2. Mad Baggins*

            Yeah that was really appalling. The article I read was just about one company, but I can imagine a company that hires a lot of young women trying to manage coverage in an industry with a shortage of workers and thinking this policy is the best way to do it… sigh. Sounds like something I’d read on AAM!

      4. Boy oh boy*

        You can 100% be fired on the spot for Gross Misconduct (UK). It’s called a ‘summary dismissal’. In the UK you have very limited protections in the first two years at a new job, too.

        At my husband’s job they fire people all the time – verbal warning, written warning and fired.

        If you hear that someone ‘can’t be fired for legal reasons’ it’s likely the same problems as I hear about all the time on AAN– bad managers who won’t fire people.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      UK employees oftenhave more protections than American workers, but I suspect we’re more protected than our European counterparts realize. Our protections are just organized differently (they often are made and enforced through contractual relationships, but they’re not usually memorialized in an employment contract).

      1. i see london, i see france*

        also note the outrageous youth unemployment rates in some (not all) European countries. flexible labour market has its benefits.

        1. MK*

          Unemployment is overwhelmingly about the economy, not about employee rights (though is is often used to frighten workers against asserting their rights).

          In many European countries, there is youth unemployment because the economy tanked, businesses closed and there is little to no growth, and older workers cannot afford to retire, also many older workers with long experience are unemployed and competing for the same jobs. Ergo, there are few jobs for young people to be hired for, and they are competing with experienced candidates. It’s not as if the jobs are there and the employers are refusing to hire because of labor rights.

          1. Caro in the UK*


            Nobody is not hiring people because of employee protections. It’s because there aren’t enough jobs.

            1. Alice*

              I’ve alwats wondered about that argument – “if job creators know they can fire people whenever they want with no severance, they will go on a hiring spree!” Surely they will only hire new staff if demand for the product or service they offer is higher than they can meet with the existing employees. They are not going to hire people as unneeded capacity just for fun, no matter how easy it will be to lay them off later. And if they do need more capacity, they’re going to hire people because they need to.

              1. Jesca*

                Right. But there is the argument that heavy employment protections do scare away new businesses. It actually happens here in the US all the time. A huge obvious example is that many manufacturing jobs have been phased out to other countries where it is cheaper to operate. And by cheaper to operate, I mean they can pay pennies on the dollar compared to US compensations and have very poor work conditions. Also, another thing that happens is if the taxes are high, or if it is cumbersome to register a business across a country/countries, or if the land restrictions are intense, or the regulations are heavy will actually dissuade businesses from doing business in a country. It is actually why places like Britain have so few massive corporations compared to some place like the US. It is also why many massive US companies put their headquarters in friendly tax free countries, make their products in slave labor countries, and expat themselves as a person to tax free countries (I’m looking at you, Apple). So yes, there is a balance, and no it is not peaches and cream anywhere. And as globalization continues, these are things countries will have deal with more and more. There are tons of jobs in the world, but not all corps are going to move to your country, either.

                1. Scion*

                  The reason why you can pay “pennies on the dollar” in other countries has much more to do with the cost of living than employment protections.

      2. Mary*

        I’m confused about what the US definition of a contract is, actually. What Alison describes as “not a contract” (offer letter, staff handbook) is exactly what happens in lots of UK jobs but we do call it a contract. My offer letter for my current job includes this paragraph, which is pretty normal:

        “Please find enclosed your Terms and Conditions of Employment, which together with this letter form your contract of employment with [Employer].”

        1. Snowglobe*

          I was going to comment on that. Courts have held that company’s must abide by what is in the employee handbook. The employer can change the terms in the handbook (with proper notice to the employee), but they can’t deny benefits that are spelled out in the current version of the handbook. So it is similar to a contract, other than that it can be amended at any time.

          1. TL -*

            Well, you don’t need a handbook – they’re there for consistency within a company. And the handbook doesn’t have to cover anything in particular – it’s helpful if it covers PTO/benefits/behavioral expectations but if you wanted to have a handbook that covered only hair care benefits and the required length/color/cut of hair – you’d be legally obligated to abide by your $250/month hair care subsidy but nothing else.

            And they don’t cover obligations on the part of the employee like notice periods/legally enforceable fees that go employee-employer. (unless they have deposits for instruments but even those I’m not sure about how enforceable they are…)

          2. fposte*

            I think those court findings tend to be on specific legally controlled policies, though, like vacation and sick time; it’s not that federally employee handbooks have been found to be the equivalent of a contract. (And of course not all states have found that about the employee handbook.)

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              In many states, handbooks are treated as enforceable adhesion contracts (especially if the employee has to sign that they received it). This can extend beyond policies governed by statute to include other issues; e.g., dress code or the disciplinary framework. But you wouldn’t see much federal law about it, anyway, because most contracts are governed exclusively by state law.

      3. SarahKay*

        But I do see a lot of the ‘Is it legal?’ questions where Alison is saying ‘Yes’ and I’m thinking ‘not in the UK it wouldn’t be!’

    5. Used to work in London, not Brexit fan*

      At least you don’t have to do three months of garden leave/notice before beginning a new job.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        I’m confused, wouldn’t it be great to have gardening leave? Who doesn’t like a three month paid holiday?

        1. SS Express*

          And if you have a new job lined up and they’re ready for you sooner, you can generally start that job anyway. You just spend two weeks in your garden then the rest of the time working at your new job while still enjoying the payout from the old one!

          I got 4 weeks gardening leave when I left a job once, but I started my new job the following week, and bought a car with my payout.

          1. Em Too*

            In a lot of cases that’s not allowed. The point of gardening leave is usually to stop people taking up to date info to a competitor or supplier.

            1. Bagpuss*

              Yes, technically you’d often be in breach of contract and could potentially be sued.
              it tends to depend on why you are on gardening leave.
              If it is ‘we don’t want a departing and potentially disgruntled employee to be on the premises, with access to our clients / computer system / contact lists’ then they don’t care where you are, they just don’t want you on the premises, and are paying you because you are entitled to your pay. In those cases, they are unlikely to care if you get a new job, although could potentially sue you if you are not available for work, as you’d be in breach of your contract, they are very unlikely to do so.

              If the reason is to stop you taking up a role with a competitor, or poaching clients/customers then they may be more proactive about stopping you working elsewhere.

        2. Summer*

          I can see why employers wouldn’t like that! As an employee though….

          Just looked up the notice periods in the UK:
          – at least one week’s notice if employed between one month and 2 years
          – one week’s notice for each year if employed between 2 and 12 years
          – 12 weeks’ notice if employed for 12 years or more

          I thought three months was unusually long – seems like it’s mostly shorter, probably around 1-1.5 months.

          1. Bagpuss*

            It varies a lot from job to job. What you’ve quotes are the statutory rules, which apply if there is nothing in the contract.
            You can’t contract out of those, so you can’t employ people and impose shorter notice periods, but it is quite common for a contract to impose longer periods.
            For instance, in my office, standard contractual notice periods are 1 month for admin and support staff, and 3 months for everyone else.
            Those periods are pretty standard across my industry. I think every job I’ve had since I qualified I’ve had a 3 month notice period.
            I think that retail and service industry jobs typically have the statutory periods

          2. GingerHR*

            These are also the figures for employer to employee. We have minimum one month, rising to 12 weeks from the employer side, and one month for employees, it’s not uncommon.

      2. Trig*

        Man, my US-based international company has layoffs all the time. Most of the time it’s just a “today is my last day @Company, it’s been a treat” emails. Recently we got one notifying us of a colleague in the UK on garden leave for a month, during which she’ll be looking for a new job, hopefully an internal transfer.

        It sure would be nice if that was an option for those of us in North America! Or if there was even any will to find internal positions for us instead of laying us off outright. Especially because there are currently at least five postings for my exact job in another area of the company, which I could apply to now, if I wasn’t happy where I am. But if I got laid off tomorrow? That’s it, that’s all, drop your laptop off at reception, and hope they calculated your severance properly. So if I applied, it’d be like any outside applicant, and if I got it, I’d have to pay back my severance.

        So yeah, garden leave sounds GREAT!

        1. Anon Amiss*

          Just think, you’re one of the lucky ones in that your company pays out severance. Many companies do, but there’s no legal obligation to do so. Some companies feel perfectly fine letting someone go with no severance at all, or only two weeks, even after years of service. This happens not only in instances of gross misconduct, but even situations where the employee isn’t really at fault.

          I had this happen after I quit my existing job, moved across the country for a new job. By the time I arrived, they decided they really needed someone two levels up from me. A year later, when they found that person, I was no longer needed, and was let go with a whole two weeks’ pay. I had to use that, my vacation payout, plus state unemployment (a lot less than I made) to survive for several months while looking for a new job. It was awful. But they felt magnanimous about two weeks of pay.

          I really wish it were more difficult, or at least more expensive, for U.S. companies to let people go. Then they’d avoid it if they can, by finding people other jobs within their company, if possible. Or they’d at least be careful when hiring, and not hire someone to keep the bench warm while they look for someone else.

    6. Cambridge Comma*

      I think ‘feel’ is the operative word here. I can’t imagine feeling good about working in the UK again because there’s no statutory sick pay, for example. It’s all relative to your current context. But I don’t get the feeling that most commenters in this blog feel unprotected, although every system in the world always has potential for improvement.

      1. Life in*

        So Americans get SSP then? Wow, that’s awesome! That… was not my impression, I confess.

        1. TL -*

          It’s not legally mandated but it’s very inbred into the working culture. I would not accept a job without sick leave and I would be very surprised to be offered one.

          It’s different if you’re working minimum wage/retail-type jobs; those often don’t come with sick days.

          1. Miso*

            See, I could never accept a job where I only have a certain amount of sick days per year… Especially because the numbers I see here always seem very low.

            1. TL -*

              Well, there’s other avenues if you need a lot of time off for a major illness (mostly. Sometimes not) and some employers offer unlimited sick time. I think all of my jobs have come with some sort of long-term disability insurance thing, though short-term is opt-in.
              Most employers will work with an employee who needs a lot of sick time, as well.

              Also, a few states/cities have mandated sick time – they’re fairly recent policies so I completely forgot about them.

              1. Antilles*

                “some employers offer unlimited sick time”
                I don’t know if this is true for sick time, but researchers have studied companies that allow for unlimited vacation days and consistently conclude that employees actually end up taking LESS time off than companies with a defined benefit of __ vacation days per year.

                1. MM*

                  This is 100% true, because when there’s no defined amount that you’re entitled to, people are afraid to seem like slackers or like they’re taking advantage. I’m a contractor without really any defined vacation policy (I work remotely, so in theory I can do my job even if I decided to go visit my parents for a week), and I get the heebie-jeebies every time I ask for any time off because I have no barometer as to whether I’m being excessive or not.

            2. fposte*

              It hadn’t occurred to me there are different systems! Do you have unlimited sick time, and if not, how do they limit it?

              1. Judy (since 2010)*

                I’ve not worked in a state that required sick leave payout when leaving a job. I’ve worked under 3 different systems:
                * Accrual, you get 4 hours of leave every 2 weeks, you can bank them forever, company policy was to pay out at half rate when you left the company.
                * 10 sick days a year given on Jan 1. After that you take unpaid days (or short term & long term disability)
                * “unlimited” or “undefined” sick days. Take days when you need them, find out you’ve taken too much when your boss tells you.

                1. fposte*

                  Those I know–I meant Miso’s comment about never working in a job with limited sick days. I’m presuming she’s in a country where limited sick days aren’t a thing, but maybe it’s just all like your number three. So what happens with a longer term outage there, I wonder?

                2. The RO-Cat*

                  @fposte: I can only tell about my country. “Unlimited sick days” means, in practical terms:
                  – that you need a doctor’s note for any medical absence, 1 day and upwards (though usually employers and employes will settle for vacation or just a free day in case the workes misses only 1 day, that’s only between them. The law requires a doctor’s note)
                  – depending on the diagnosis, the pay for the medical absences varies between 75% (? – not sure) and 100% of nominal pay. Further allowances (like hazard work, long service allowance a.s.o.) will not be paid.
                  – there are papers to complete, sign and hand out to various places (declaration from the employer with contributions paid and employee’s total sick days in the last ear, IIRC, plus declaration from the employee with their whereabouts in the sick period – both to be handed to the doctor. The official form from the doctor, 3 self-copying pages, with government-issued serial number, to be handed to the copany). In case the worker cannot do it, family or friends have to crosscross the town to complet the process

              2. Oxford Coma*

                My company changed from sick “days” to sick “incidents” and it seems to be working a lot better. Before, you could wipe out your sick time with one bout of the flu. Now, one day off for a migraine is a sick incident, but two weeks off with pneumonia is also one incident. They still require documentation of any sick time past three days in a row, but many people find the new policy more realistic.

                1. Turquoisecow*

                  Oh that does sound pretty awesome.

                  One of my coworkers has been sick on and off the whole winter – she had a sinus infection, and was on antibiotics, but then it didn’t seem to clear up, and she kept coughing and feeling horrible, and then she lost her voice and got some medications for that. We were thinking that it might all be the same illness, so I wonder if your company would see it that way.

          2. GingerHR*

            SSP is a legal minimum in the UK – everyone who is an employee gets it, although it only kicks in at 3 days. Most companies offer more. If I went off sick tomorrow, I’d have up to 3 months full pay and 3 months half. We are relatively generous, but I’ve had better! That doesn’t include holiday and other types of leave (maternity, dependents, etc)

        2. DouDouPaille*

          No, SSP is not a thing in the US. Some companies offer it, some don’t. But it’s not required by law.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Well, some 7 states (out of 50, for those not in the US) and some cities and counties now have some minimum sick leave requirement enacted if not yet in force, as it’s a new but growing movement. (Link to a citation in a reply.)

    7. Cambridge Comma*

      I also hope you realise how much of the protection in the UK is based on EU laws, such as maternity pay. That can all disappear very fast.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Well that will be interesting for Brexit, won’t it?

        I’m in California, which has some of the most protective employees laws in the nation. Several companies are now pulling out of state and going to states with weaker laws.

        I look at China and see what a powerhouse it is for manufacturing. But I also know how badly they exploit the worker.

      2. Amey*

        Yep. It’s my biggest concern with Brexit – I think a lot of people don’t realise how many of our employee protections come from the EU. And a lot of the pro-Brexit politicians are coming at it from a ‘freeing business from over-regulation’ perspective and it seems to me these are definitely some of the regulations they’re talking about. But I digress.

    8. Erin*

      Same here, I always feel so happy to have the protection of contracts and regulations. Reading some of the stuff here and then seeing some trends in Europe that seem to be bringing us closer to the US situation just makes me shudder.

    9. Mike C.*

      Did you know that even sandwich makers can be handed non-competes so that they can’t work at another fast food joint?

      Did you know that it’s perfectly fine for employers to hire private agencies to spy on you in public?

      Seriously, I could go all day on this.

      1. TL -*

        But most non-competes aren’t enforceable (are really not enforceable; it’s not worth the paper they’re printed on) and they’re generally rare, although they do appear sporadically.

        1. Natalie*

          A non-compete doesn’t have to be enforceable to have a chilling effect. Fighting the agreement in court is a lot of work and expense for the employee to take on, and it stays in force until that proceeding concludes.

        2. Erin*

          To be honest legal fees would make it impractical for a subway franchise owner to sue a former employee that went to work at jimmy johns. You’d probably pay more in fees than you paid in wages to that employee. Let’s see minimum wage is approx $8/ hour multiplied by 15 hours a week= $120 week. Besides to skirt around that an employee would just have to keep his or her mouth shut about where they were going when they quit. The former employer would have to constantly keep tabs and do expensive background checks on the former employee and or almost stalk the employee to guarantee they weren’t working at at the competition. Who has the time?

          1. WellRed*

            Agreed. Subway aint’ gonna come after me if I go work at McDonalds. If they even knew.

          2. Mike C.*

            It’s the other way around. JJ was the one handing out the non-competes.

            Those non-competes still have value because they scare people away from trying to find work elsewhere. Even if they do enforce them, you only have to enforce one or two to send the message to everyone else. This isn’t about sending everyone to court, it’s about creating a real chilling effect. You don’t have to be 100% effective to make it work in your favor.

            1. SarcasticFringehead*

              It’s also pretty cheap for corporate to have their lawyer send a scary letter, and a lot of people couldn’t even afford to hire a lawyer to read it, much less defend them in an enforcement action.

          3. Turquoisecow*

            And the companies know they’re not enforceable, because they’ve been struck down in court many times, so I don’t think most companies would bother chasing down a minimum wage sandwich maker over a non compete that’s not going to be enforceable anyway. Can’t get blood from a stone, as they say.

        3. SpaceNovice*

          This is true, but many employees don’t know this, especially if they are in low or minimum wage jobs–and that’s why bad companies put non-compete clauses in there even if they’re not enforceable.

      2. Penny Lane*

        Mike, Subway is not going to waste their money going after a sandwich maker who went to Jimmy John’s. He’s not valuable enough to make the effort.

    10. Shellbell*

      Much of it is semantics. Things are not covered in a contract, but rather an offer letter, employee manual, or employment law (which has much more weight than most contracts). In some ways, we have do have less protections. Getting hung up on the word contract really doesn’t give an accurate comparison. I’ve hired people in Europe (not UK) and it’s not as black as white as the OP makes it sound.

    11. Patricia*

      Remember that the European employment contracts bind the employee, too. So if the employee wants to quit his or her job, he or she has to give sometimes very long notice periods, or work until the end of the contract. In the USA, the employee usually has the legal freedom to walk off the job with no notice, even though two weeks notice is considered a courtesy.

    12. Blue Anne*

      Agreed. I went to uni in the UK and stayed there for years, only worked in the UK. I got jumped on in the comments here, for saying that access to health care pretty much being determined by your employer terrified me.

      Now I’ve been in the US for a few years, and you know what? It’s still terrifying.

      1. Jules the Third*

        Yes, it’s definitely chilling, and limits how people approach job hunting.

        For salaried workers, health care is basically automatic, so there’s a class that feels safe – it was very heartening to see how many of them supported Obamacare. And we’re starting to reward the Costcos that treat their hourly employees decently, and punish the Walmarts that play games to get around the legal requirements. For large or mid-sized companies, full-time workers must be offered health insurance; iirc correctly, Obamacare started defining ‘midsized’ at 150 employees.

        Anecdotally: It is a HUGE deal for a company to cut the benefits they offer when you start. I’ve seen my company change their pension structure, and ten years later, there are still people who are mad about it. Health insurance costs are also watched closely. People know what companies do better on benefits, and most of us are looking for ways to get into the best companies.

        For example: SAS was a case study in school, because of their 4% turnover, in an industry where 16% is normal. Their benefits were cited as a major attraction, and we calculated the cost benefit to the company. So, good benefits, while not contractually enforced, are a competitive advantage that are pretty firmly entrenched in US businesses.

    13. SpaceNovice*

      And then there’s the health insurance. Have a conversation long enough with someone from a country that has universal health care and eventually they will ask if health insurance is really treated like that in the USA.

      Fun times.

    14. Millennial Lawyer*

      Maybe it’s because I’m in the professional world, but I’m pretty sure even jobs like retail, there’s an office manual that outlines everything OP4 is referring to or employee aggreements. So it’s not like people have no idea what their benefits are?

    15. Kate 2*

      It’s true. What Alison said is technically true, but not really true in real life. If you get paid barely a living wage as it is, it is almost impossible to save up enough money to be able to quit. Ask me how I know!

      I used to work as a sales associate, and even though there are laws against the way they treated us, denying breaks and lunches among other things, they could just fire us if we complained. We had no money to sue, we weren’t paid a living wage at all, and it’s incredibly unlikely the govt would have investigated our complaints.

      On top of that there still aren’t enough jobs for people at the “bottom”, so it is incredibly hard still to find a job in retail. When I was applying 4 or 5 years ago there would be 4 to 8 people applying for the same job as you (group interviews and such), in their 40’s and 50’s, looking desperate like you felt.

      Also here in the states even when you get a contract it lists “other duties as required”, a clause that means they can ask you to do anything that isn’t illegal. Right now if my boss demanded it he could send me out in the rain to go shopping for him, or any ridiculous thing he could think of. I

      TL;DR As far as the lived reality of the low-level blue and white collar worker goes, we have no protections.

      1. Kate 2*

        ETA: And I know from friends still in retail that people at the “bottom” are still as desperate as ever. Not to mention there are a few great articles out there about how the stock market and GDP and such reflect the increasing wealth at the top, people at the bottom don’t get any of that money. Walmart doesn’t pay it’s employees a living wage, no matter how the profits of Walmart skyrocket, for example. Same thing with Amazon.

    16. AVP*

      The one thing employers seem willing to change without a ton of warning is health benefits – what the plan covers, how much you’re paying to be on it, etc. That can be maddening (see the teachers’ strike in West Virginia) but since every employer has that power we’ve just gotten used to it.

    17. Tequila Mockingbird*

      Can we please stop using words like “disturbing” when talking about American work practices? Just because we do things differently (including lesser reliance on unions) doesn’t justify the use of such dramatic, pearl-clutching adjectives. It’s also rooted in ignorance – the U.S. system really isn’t difficult to understand:

      * Many U.S. employees DO have written contracts. Self-employed people and independent contractors, for example.
      * As Allison has already pointed out, terms of employment ARE almost always written down in some way, via an offer letter, onboarding paperwork, employee manual, etc, and these documents are just as legally binding as an employment contract.
      * The U.S. is highly litigious, and most companies (particularly large companies with reputations to protect) would think twice before “doing a 180” and cutting pay/benefits/etc without any reason, for fear of a class-action lawsuit from their employees. I’m not saying companies never screw over their employees – obviously that happens – but it is rare. Legal threats and common sense prevent smart companies from doing such a thing.

      The U.S. system is far from perfect – don’t get me started on the lack of accessible, affordable healthcare – but I personally prefer the at-will system over the locked-in contractual system. Americans can quit their jobs anytime they like with just two weeks notice, something that most European contracts don’t allow.

      1. SarahKay*

        But “dramatic” and “pearl-clutching” are entirely non-emotive words? I’m also from the UK, so I’m obviously coming from the same direction as Espeon, and I felt that their comment was really just saying fairly calmly how they felt. And for what it’s worth, I’m perfectly happy to admit that I’m also very disturbed about the direction that *UK* employment law is going in, and the way that protections are likely to be removed from workers after Brexit.

        We’re also really not as locked-in to our contracts as seems to be perceived. Many UK contracts will only require a month’s notice, which I grant is not as fast as two weeks, but it’s not disastrous either. Even where it’s a two-month notice period (like mine), while more onerous, doesn’t feel that locked-in. That said, of course, normal is in the eyes of the beholder and maybe it just feels fine to me because it’s been that way my whole working life.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        1. Actually, the US is NOT the most litigious country. The number of lawsuits per capita is much higher in Germany, for one.
        2. It’s generally entirely legal for companies to cut benefits, pay, etc. There wouldn’t be any grounds for a class-action lawsuit, unless they did it retroactively or in an illegally discriminatory fashion. And even if there were, it’s a hell of a lot of money, time, and effort to mount a class-action suit; most employees aren’t going to be in a place to do this, and companies know this.

  4. HRH The Duke of Coriander and Gomasio*

    Love the idea of starting a competing snack bar!! Do this!

      1. Buckeye*

        I think Alison meant it with a certain level of snark and humor. I took it as hyperbole, not an actual suggestion.

  5. SallyForth*

    I think your advice on Brad v Clark is spot on. One thing… you suggested both “unkind” and “mean” as words to describe the comments. I find that “mean” often gets backs up, whereas “unkind” gets listened to more thoughtfully.

    This might be just me? I am curious as to what others think.

    1. LouiseM*

      Agreed, I think “mean” works best for someone you have a closer relationship with but “unkind” or even “mean-spirited” might be better for this situation.

        1. Seriously?*

          Especially if you phrase it as “comes across as mean-spirited” which allows you to make it about perception instead of intent. Of course they didn’t actually INTEND it that way. It cuts down a lot on the defensiveness.

  6. LouiseM*

    OP#1, you really have my sympathy here. Workplace bullies of the Brad variety are the worst because they’re really good at gaslighting. At ToxicOldJob there was a Brad, let’s call him Chad, who would periodically pick a few colleagues as his targets. Whenever they said something he didn’t like or disagreed with him even mildly, Chad would get really heated up and upset with them, often in front of others. But he was really obsequious to almost everyone else, including the boss, so they often cut him a lot of slack they wouldn’t cut other people. What eventually ended up helping was naming the behavior. A few coworkers and I discussed it among ourselves and made a point of saying “Wait, Chad, why are you talking like that to Anya? Aren’t you coming on a bit strong?” That’s when the gaslighting would start (“Actually, Anya was the one who was coming on strong!”) but when multiple people pointed out his behavior it got a lot harder to pull off.
    Do you have any coworkers you could discreetly discuss this with? It doesn’t need to be a big thing, just a casual “Hey, have you noticed…” could be enough to get the ball rolling. It really helped us with our Chad situation to have a bunch of us (I hate to say it, but especially a man in addition to the mostly women in our group) showing this guy that it wasn’t okay to walk all over people.

    1. JamieS*

      I agree on potentially seeing about getting some support from others (especially men see nce guys like Brad tend to listen to men over women) but I’m not sure what Brad’s behavior has to do with gaslighting. Maybe I’m just misunderstanding what gaslighting is but my understanding is that it’s basically making a person question their sanity (such as convincing them something didn’t happen when it did). It didn’t sound like Brad was doing that at all but is instead acting like a run of the mill ass.

      1. Lance*

        Louise isn’t saying that Brad is gaslighting now, just that there’s very much the potential for it, as in their own experience with a similar manager.

      2. Midlife Job Crisis*

        It can happen. At Old Job, I had a colleague that turned on me and badmouthed me to just about everyone. Mean colleague would say that I did nothing, my communication skills sucked, and I was unprofessional. We had to share an office space for about a year, and she told tell me things to my face that I was this and that (annoying, getting on her nerves). In one instance, I was talking to her friend/another colleague about a new pair of shoes I bought. Later that day, mean colleague came to me and said that no one gave a shit about my shoes.

        Part of me wishes I sought legal counsel.

        1. jo*

          I read Brad’s faux sincerity as trying to save face when he realized the OP didn’t agree with him.

          As Alison said, pretending not to understand someone or deliberately ignoring their sarcasm can be a great way to make them back down. That backing down often manifests as phoniness!

          Brad is probably acting like this to make himself look cool and hilarious in comparison to the awkward Clark, so if coworkers refuse to be in on the joke, it could help defang him over time.

      3. Indoor Cat*

        I also am pretty uncomfortable with how, colloquially, the term gaslighting has become any act of lying or backtracking to cover up doing something wrong, or any time someone contradicts someone else’s version of events.

        Lying to cover up doing something wrong once you get caught is immature. Five year olds do it: “Why did you eat the cookie when I said not to?” “I didn’t eat the cookie, what cookie?” *crumbs flying all over the place*. It’s a less-than-stellar addition to the jerky thing the person already did. But it’s definitely not gaslighting.

        Neither is two people remembering the same events or same childhood vividly differently. Maybe one is a pessimist and one had rose colored glasses. Maybe one accurately remembers abuse and one has repressed the memories. Maybe one is delusional. Maybe one is lying because they feel guilt over complicity. This is a tragic thing, and I’ve seen it ruin adult sibling relationships, but this isn’t gaslighting either.

        Gaslighting is when a person has control over so much of another person’s life and environment, and they are able to lie so convincely, so often, that the abused person begins to take the abuser’s word regarding what is real or not real over their own perception. It is an intentional, premeditated form of psychological torture. People who have been subject to gaslighting often have comorbid PTSD or Stockholm Syndrome.

        Gaslighting is a specific, serious thing, and the reason the colloquial use of the term bothers me is because it waters it down. Pretty much everyone has been in a conflict with someone who lies and backtracks about what they just said. It’s aggravating. But if I am trying to engender empathy for an abuse victim by talking about gaslighting, I really don’t want people thinking, “Oh, that’s like when I had that argument with my lying boss.”

        It’s akin to why I dislike referring to mainstream religions that have oppressive beliefs as cults. Being a cult survivor comes with serious baggage that I’d hope people can empathize with, and equating a cult with a less serious thing gets in the way of that. I know I can’t control linguistic drift, and a term gaining additional colloquial definitions is normal, but it still bothers me.

    2. GG Two shoes*

      I just read the book, “The No A**hole Rule” (ten years behind everyone else!) and the part of everyone ganging up against the A-hole is a really good way to demonstrate what is acceptable in the workplace. He actually says that in some ways, having just one A-hole is good because it means everyone can agree not to be like Brad/Chad and those who are can be called out.

    3. BaT*

      Thanks, gathering allies is a good idea, especially since Brad has clear favourites (and non-favourites) in the office.

    4. TootsNYC*

      If you decide to tackle this, try to use the exact same phrases as often as possible. It’ll help people (even Chad) see the commonality among all the incidents.

  7. LouiseM*

    OP#5, I think you’re overthinking this! Especially if you now work in a field related to your graduate study, they probably all have been there. I also doubt it will come up very much since you’re still quite a recent grad.

    1. JamieS*

      Agreed. OP, remember when people ask you questions like ‘what have you done since graduation’ they’re mostly just trying to engage in chit chat. Outside of maybe job interviews nobody (sane) is asking that as part of an inquisition or is judging your answer assuming your answer isn’t morally, ethically, or legally dubious.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        “I did an internship in llama haberdashery, and then was job-hunting and pursuing my hobby of alpaca agility training.” If you did any travel in that time, that works. They just want a hook to say “llama haberdashery, how interesting, my niece is thinking about trying that.”

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Agree totally. “I was job searching” is a perfectly reasonable answer. It’s even the obvious answer when you just had a big life change and transition like finishing school.

      Employment gaps are generally a problem when it looks like you might have been fired suddenly for cause, and then struggled to find a new job, and are covering up that information. Or that you wandered away from a job with nothing lined up because you’re unreliable. Et cetera (obviously not an exhaustive list). It’s not being unemployed for a few months that is the problem; it’s looking like a flake, or looking like you were unhireable during that period because of some terrible black mark on your record, that is the problem.

      Within reason (and with pros and cons), you are allowed to not be on someone’s regular payroll for months or even years at a time, as long as you can explain it in an interview with something that’s not, like, “Eh, I got bored and quit. I mean, who on earth can really show up to work for, like, MONTHS at a time?” or “My asshole ex-boss fired me for stealing and badmouthed me all over town … although kind of for good reason.” You can raise a family, take care of ill parents, travel, write a book, leave a toxic job and live on savings while you work through the PTSD, win the lottery, be resolving a health problem, take your time finding the right fit in your new job, and on and on.

      1. OP #5*

        Thanks all! I’ve been generally not making too big a deal of this, but I appreciate the reality check!

    3. MLB*

      Definitely. It took me 6 months to find a job after I graduated, and I’ve been laid off twice. When I’m on interviews and they ask about the gaps I just tell them the truth – it’s nothing to worry about.

    4. Green Goose*

      My current job is the first job I had out of graduate school and I was applying like crazy to jobs while I was finishing my thesis and it still took me about five months afterwards to get a job. I was applying to colleges, universities and community colleges and heard nothing back and about four months in I started applying to smaller organizations and nonprofits and all of a sudden things started moving quickly. It was not a fun time. I’m not sure if I mentioned it in my first six months at my job but I’ve definitely brought it up over the years. It was hard, and a lot of other people I work with had phases like that too.

    5. SpaceNovice*

      Agreeing! It took me about five months to find something after I graduated. And I got laid off once due to a merger with a month gap on my resume. Stuff happens!

  8. Cobol*

    OP #1 are you sure Clark feels the way you do? It doesn’t really change anything, and obviously a lot of what you’re feeling comes through because of your constant exposure to what is happening compared to a short example in a letter, but nothing you relayed of what Brad said would hurt me even the slightest if it had been said about me. I’ve had absolutely phenomenal relationships with a manager who became a great grand boss that was filled with friendly teasing.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      This is so personality dependent. It also has an effect on bystanders. So Clark may not mind but Suzies relationship with Brad is affected. Maybe she’ll leave the company that doesn’t respect its workers.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        +1 This. How is OP to know that Clark is actually cool with it and he and Brad have an understanding? It would hurt me to know that my manager thought that was an appropriate way to treat people.

    2. Jaguar*

      Yeah. This was my question, too. All that is said about Clark’s reaction is that he “tries to shrug it off,” but do you know that’s how Clark is taking it or are you projecting your own feelings into Clark? Because you’ve painted a picture of two stereotypes: the meek victim and the bullying jock. Before you go trying to stand up to the villain, I would suggest finding out if Clark actually is bothered by it. Something like, “that’s really obnoxious. Doesn’t it bother you?” Because teasing is often a bonding mechanism, not bullying. If two adults are consentually engaging with one another, you’re way out of your lane to start fighting on one of their behalf. Do your due diligence before starting battles.

      You can still ask for Brad to stop, of course, even if Clark has no problem with it, but you need to frame it as making you uncomfortable in that case and leave aside the whole idea of standing up for someone that doesn’t need standing up for, which is pretty patronizing.

      1. MissGirl*

        Patronizing is what I felt reading this letter. There might be a problem or not. Clark is an adult and, unless you know for sure, trust him to handle Brad. You might make things worse and more awkward between the two. They might have a good relationship that you from the outside don’t get.

        If you’re concerned, talk to Clark and see if he shares your feelings before jumping in to save him.

        1. jo*

          Clark may not want to admit that the teasing bothers him even if it does. Teasing can be part of a bonding process, and it’s one men especially are socialized to use, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the recipient will always enjoy it even if the instigator means no harm. Yet admitting it’s unwanted could make the unwilling recipient feel vulnerable, like they’re losing face by having hurt feelings.

          Regardless, I think the advice stands. Since the behavior makes OP uncomfortable and is distracting, she can try to get Brad to tone it down, at least around her. If Clark and Brad really want to carry on a pseudo-mean friendly banter, they can do so privately, or they can make it abundantly clear to everyone watching that it’s mutually consensual. Otherwise it’s not something their coworkers should have to be a captive audience to. It’s not work appropriate.

      2. Anon Today*

        Granted I’m projecting based on a situation where I see a senior staff member mercilessly “tease” a more junior staff member, but isn’t the fact that the teasing makes other people uncomfortable also an issue?

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yeah, this is my thought. That may even be an “in” to talk to Brad about it — “Hey, I’m sure you don’t intend this at all, and that you and Clark have a really cordial two-way jokey relationship, but I’ve noticed some shocked faces/discomfort from other folks when you tease him and I knew you’d want to know! I’m certain you don’t intend to come across as being unkind to Clark but sometimes it seems from the outside that he’s not reciprocating your jokes and I know you want to keep your reputation as an approachable boss.”

          1. CMart*

            I’ve had this happen in my personal life. I guess when my husband and I playfully debate/argue about any given topic we can get intense/animated, which appears to be “angry” to outsiders and makes people uncomfortable.

            So we’ve learned not to squabble about semantics when around others, or at least keep it way more lighthearted. I don’t think it’s on our friends and family to get over feeling uncomfortable about the way we communicate when we can just, you know, not do it.

            1. jo*

              Exactly. If two people are partners or friends, they have or can create ample opportunities to indulge in whatever communication style they prefer. At work and in public, it’s polite to dial it back.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, a lot of the description here kind of sounds like my husband and one of his coworkers, who he actually considers to be a good friend. I didn’t care for him much on meeting him, largely because of this behavior–I felt he came across as mean even if he was just teasing. But it didn’t bother my husband, so it wasn’t really my place to do anything about it.

        Honestly the comment about having to be neighbors stuck out to me, because that’s something that would be really unusual to say NOT in a joking/teasing way. Like when I had an internship once almost everyone I met joked something along the lines of “Oh no, you have to work for Bob, that must be awful!” but it was clear that they all actually really liked Bob.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          I wondered about that, too. The OP makes it sound as though Clark is a very quiet person, and almost everybody is in favor of a quiet neighbor. If the boss’s other jokes/jibes/jabs/whatevers are all about Clark’s supposed failings, this doesn’t seem to fit into the same category.

          But if the other jokes/jabs are more obviously negative, it’s understandable that the OP might perceive this as negative, too. It’s difficult to tell how this all actually affects Clark.

      4. LBK*

        I dunno, the fact that it’s one-sided from the manager to the employee seems like a problem. Clark’s probably going to put up with it whether he likes it or not because he’s not going to tell his boss to cut the shit.

        1. Jaguar*

          I’m reminded of the (public) relationship Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington has. It’s not enough to say that it seems one-way abusive – it outright is. But both are willing participants and both of them have achieved the kind of success that if either one of them didn’t want to associate with the other they wouldn’t have to. But, as far as can be seen, they remain close friends. Who has the right to tell them they’re being friends wrong?

          Certainly people can object to abusive behaviours even if they aren’t the target of them, but should you is also an important question. Tolerance isn’t about eradicating all forms of abuse and bigotry. It’s about expanding the scope of things consenting adults can do around one another. The former requires no work by a third party but the latter does. You can still be unsettled by two men showing affection for one another, but you can’t ask for it not to happen. That’s tolerance. If two people have a combative relationship and you just don’t like it (as opposed to it triggering something with you, which it doesn’t sound like is the case in OP’s situation), should you really ask for it to stop?

          1. Delphine*

            Consent or perceived consent doesn’t immediately make every possible behavior acceptable in the workplace. (This is why “tolerance” is such a weak concept. Of course the goal is to eradicate abuse and bigotry, not just to tolerate everything.)

              1. jo*

                It can be okay, but the people doing it should make it clear to others that it is in fact joking and teasing.

          2. LBK*

            It’s not about intervening between consenting adults because you don’t like it, it’s about assuming that Clark is consenting. Also, in your gay relationship analogy, the only person being hurt is the homophobe who intervenes. It’s not comparable because there’s no “victim” of a gay relationship, but there is one in an abusive relationship. I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a consensual abusive relationship, especially one where a power dynamic exists like it does here.

            1. Jaguar*

              You might not think it exists, but I’m telling you it does.

              My advice it to check with Clark before doing anything. You don’t have to assume anything.

              1. LBK*

                And I’m saying that by definition if you’re truly consenting to it, it’s not abusive. I mean, I wouldn’t consider a BDSM relationship abusive, but that definitely includes behaviors that would be abusive if consent to that dynamic didn’t exist.

                I just think it’s too complicated when you’re talking about someone’s boss; even if you ask him directly, he may not want to tell you if he’s uncomfortable because again, he doesn’t want to be the one saying his boss is a jerk. I don’t see what there is to lose by just chiming in – worst comes to worst, Clark himself interjects and says “Oh, we just joke with each other like that, it’s fine.”

                1. jo*

                  Yes. If everything is fine, then it’s on the participants (Brad, and especially Clark) to make that crystal clear.

              2. jo*

                If you’re saying that an abuse victim “consents” to be abused by staying in the relationship, then you are oversimplifying how abuse works. Breaking the victim down psychologically so that they stay is part of the abuse. And abuse victims who tell outsiders that they’re staying because they choose to … well, I won’t get into the reasons someone might not want to acknowledge that they’ve been disempowered, but suffice it to say: Abuse is designed to leave a person disempowered, and without equal power, there is no true consent.

                The OP can check with Clark, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to rid her office of overtly mean behavior regardless of the intent behind it.

    3. Marthooh*

      It’s a really bad look for the company, though, when your HR proxy acts like the middle-school mean kid. I’m not surprised the LW is bothered by it.

      1. Contracts Killer*

        This was my thought. Brad is the face of HR and at least *appears* to be a bully. I would consider talking to your supervisor about it from that angle. I wonder how many people in the office avoid going to Brad with true HR matters because of the way he is presenting himself. Maybe that role should go to someone a little nicer.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Exactly. I’m side-eyeing whoever decided to put Brad in charge of HR. The OP may want to think about moving on, unfortunately.

          1. jo*

            Right. The other people at the company shouldn’t have to guess at their HR person’s intentions or wonder how he’ll treat them.

      2. General Ginger*

        Agreed. Even if Clark has no problem with this, it presents a crappy picture of company culture. As a new employee, or a prospective employee, I would be really put off by this.

      3. Lissa*

        Yeah, I think the LW should talk about the behaviour itself without assuming Clark’s reaction. He could be fine with it, crying at night, or just rolling his eyes and finding it annoying – or any where in between. So I’d just focus on the fact that that type of behaviour looks *bad*, and unless I was sure Clark was bothered would leave his potential reaction out of it.

    4. LouiseM*

      I wish we had a better example of Brad’s behavior. If it’s all things like sarcastically saying it’s nice to work with Clark, then Allison’s examples don’t really work at all and would come off oddly. I mentioned elsewhere that had a coworker who would behave very rudely to colleagues and then play it off like he hadn’t–this is even easier to do when it’s sarcastic comments.

    5. Yorick*

      I think you can usually tell when someone’s teasing is friendly and comes from a kind place. You also tend to see joking back from the person being teased, or at least genuine laughter. Decent witnesses (those who aren’t bullies themselves) feel like they’re at a roast, not like they’re witnessing bullying.

    6. BaT*

      I am mostly basing my impression on the way that Brad seems to be laughing and Clark tends to quietly ignore him. It seems from the outside to be very one-way. I see other commenters saying that it’s more to do with how it makes our company look and how it makes me feel to see this going on, and I guess I should keep my focus there.

      1. Kate 2*

        OP I think you are exactly right about Brad and Clark. There’s a saying, “It’s not a joke if the other person isn’t laughing.” I had an office bully too, who was my boss, and I reacted as Clark did, just froze and hoped he’d go away. If I tried to defend myself he’d explode at me and it would be much worse.

        Some coworkers on my level tried to defend me but he ignored them, and the others on his level were his buddies and wouldn’t help me. We had no HR department, my boss and his buddies *were* the HR dept basically. It took a really bad incident in which my bully let slip in front of someone that his buddies made him stop. Before then he’d always hidden it better.

        OP, please, please ignore the commenters who are saying they might be friends. It’s extremely unlikely since Clark is neither laughing nor making such remarks about Brad. What is almost certain is that Brad is bullying Clark and making his life he11. It would be an immense act of kindness and humanity if you could intervene for Clark and get Brad to stop. Brad is his boss. He’s not in any position to fight back without getting punished for it. I really hope you help him as Allison suggests.

      2. jo*

        From what you describe, I doubt your impression is wrong. But even if it is, and Clark is fine, being nice to him yourself won’t do any harm. Let’s say he does have a particular kind of rapport with Brad. He can have a different kind of rapport with you–one that’s based on sincerity and basic kindness. That wouldn’t cost anybody anything.

  9. Hard Boiled*

    #4 As an American living in Germany, I’ve actually found contracts can make things feel LESS stable for employees. Out of grad school I had tons of friends report that they’d gotten 1-year contracts that “might” be extended. Lots of them were, but this blew my mind. In my experience in the US, the assumption was always that once you got a job, it was yours until you quit — unless you were pretty bad at it or the company had layoffs (circumstances under which most German contracts I know let companies get rid of employees anyway). This “we’ll see if you still have a job in a year” mentality is pretty unsettling.

    The employer of one friend who relied on a part-time job to make rent while she was studying wouldn’t give her contracts longer than 3 months and wouldn’t renew them until the last day of the pervious contract (she worked there for 1.5 years), leading her to constantly wonder if they were actually just planning to “fire” her by not renewing her contract.

    I’ve since landed a job where everybody has open-ended contracts, and I love many of the employee protections I have here in Germany (especially vacation and sick-leave). But I’ve also seen that with or without contracts, if your employer wants you gone or demoted, they will find a way. And I know from working in the US, if you do your job well (or even adequately), your employer will do what they can to keep you happy and retain you.

    1. WonderingHowIGotHere*

      It’s the concept of “at will” employment that baffles me (UK worker bee). I might be interpreting incorrectly, but it seems like a boss can wake up, decide he no longer likes you because you have red hair and, bam! you’re gone. At least with short term contracts (we have them in the UK, but it’s clear that it’s a fixed term in the advert, usually – six of the people I’ve been working with recently were on fixed term appointments between 3 months and 18 months – one of them was deliberately short to cover maternity leave) you know that your boss can’t just decide to walk you off site because they’re an arse.

      1. Agent Diane*

        We use fixed term contracts for things like parental leave cover too. Also, in the UK, if someone has been on a FTA for 24 months you have to make the role permenant or release the person.

        This is in the professional/office world. It’s different if you are in zero hours or casual employment.

        1. Julia*

          The law is the same in most of Europe, I think, but I’ve still worked somewhere that just endlessly extended contracts for only two years at a time, and I have also heard of other places that just fired and replaced people shortly before the date when they’d have to make them permanent.

      2. Nacho*

        In the UK, they can’t fire you because you have red hair. In the US, they just don’t fire you because you have red hair (because doing so would be stupid and a waste of money to train somebody new and everybody else would start looking for new jobs). There’s no real practical difference between the two.

        1. TL -*

          I’m sure somewhere, someone has been fired because they have red hair – but yea, this. I know people who work in all sectors of the USA and I’ve never known anyone who was fired just because the boss woke up in a bad mood. Or anyone who was fired/let go without a (more or less reasonable) cause.

          Most large employers have a procedure they follow for simplicity’s sake and most small employers acutely feel the hassle of hiring and training and going without.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Plus, firing people “for no reason” can get you in trouble when it does look like you’re potentially firing people for protected reasons.

            It’s much easier, and better, to give people a clear, reasonable reason for their termination, than it is to just fire them for no reason, or dumb reason, and leave them wondering if it was really because they had red hair, or if it was because they were pregnant, or because they didn’t go to the boss’s church, or because they were born in Brazil, or some other reason that is legally actionable, and likely to have the employee headed for a lawyer.

            And mostly, none of us have time for hiring and training to begin with. I know tons of people with coworkers and direct reports who should have been fired a long time ago but are still employed because their bosses are either too lazy to pull the trigger, HR is afraid of getting sued if anyone is fired ever, or because having a person in the role is better than going through the hiring and training process all over again only to wind up with someone similarly flawed, or because their bosses don’t want to feel responsible for ruining their careers or lives or they honestly like the person despite not being a good employee. I don’t know anyone who has been fired on a whim.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              I think it depends on the industry. When I was young and working in fast food/restaurant, people would get fired on a whim. In my first job I had a colleague who was good at her job and very nice too. One day we came in and she had been fired, apparently because the boss was in a bad mood.
              That’s how it was for most of my young working life. The restaurant industry didn’t value its employees, we were seen as so many replaceable parts. I don’t have as much experience in retail but everything I know of it indicates it’s just as bad, if not worse.
              Remembering what that was like, it made me not value my job… if I didn’t get fired, I would go out and get a different job looking for a little more money or a nicer boss. I didn’t have the concept of stability or long-term employment because I wasn’t seeing examples of that.

        2. curly sue*

          But people certainly do get fired in the US because they’re LBGT. It’s my understanding that protections based on gender and sexual identity are state-based in the US, not federal. /not American

        3. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          Yeah, ok, so I picked an egregious/hyperbolic example, but it certainly comes across that people are fired for dubious causes, because “reasonable” is subjective.

          1. Jules the Third*

            It happens. But I bet it happens under contracts as well, probably through using stereotypes to limit the kind of contract that’s offered.

            It is totally A Thing that an employer can fire someone for being, for example, LBGTQx, in most states in the US (this is not ok to me, and many people are trying to get this changed). BUT: a lot of other employees would be leaving that company, especially in low-unemployment times like now. A lot of companies are using ‘we support diversity’ as the next wave of quality employee retention, since benefits are now fairly standard. I know mine is – and we’ve got the female / PoC execs to prove it.

            A European bigot would probably limit job offers to people who seem to fit any of the LBGTQx stereotypes, or offer shorter contracts, then choose not to renew them.

            If someone wants to be a jerk, they will find a way.

        4. LBK*

          Yeah, I think the fact that it’s legal gives people who aren’t in the US a mistaken impression that it’s common. I’m sure it does happen (and it definitely happens for more bigoted ways that aren’t protected by law, like people being fired for being gay or trans) but it’s not so regular that most US citizens are living in fear of the whims of their boss. Bosses are humans too and most of them aren’t that cruel and unreasonable.

        5. Kate 2*

          Um, actually there have been cases just like that in the US. One was handled by the EOC, unsuccessfully, others we have seen here on AAM. Does the “curly hair is unprofessional” letter come to anyone else’s mind?

      3. drpuma*

        Don’t forget that at will employment in the US works both ways. You can wake up one morning, decide you’re sick of your boss’s red hair, and bam! be gone. That’s why Alison always gives the caveat that 2 weeks’ notice is a convention, not a requirement.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Eh, it’s not entirely parallel. You should only leave without notice if things are so bad that you’re ok completely burning that bridge reference-wise. Two weeks notice isn’t required but it’s absolutely expected in most professional positions. Whereas getting laid off or fired without notice is normal procedure (getting fired *randomly* isn’t, but layoffs aren’t necessarily at all predictable from the employee’s viewpoint).

      4. Millennial Lawyer*

        Well, you can’t be fired for certain protected reasons by law. And why would a boss want to fire a perfectly good employee for no reason, just for fun?

    2. OP 4*

      Well at least in Germany (where I currently work, after stints in the UK and US – on a European contract though) they cannot actually give you a temporary contract unless you can make a business case for it (e.g. at my company they’ve hired a bunch of year long temps because we started offering a service that the customer only paid for for a year in advance, so unless the customer renews their contract for that particular service, we will likely let most of them go once the year is over) but a similar rule to the one Agent Diane mentioned below also goes for Germany: you can only be renewed 3ish times (regardless of how long the contracts are) before they have to let you go or make you permanent.

      I do enjoy all the protections German labour law provides to employees but goodness it comes with so much paperwork whenever you change jobs. Case in point, a friend of mine is currently changing jobs. Her last day is the 31st, her first day is the 1st. And yet, even though she is literally not unemployed for a single minute, she has to go through all the hassle of signing up with the job centre, filling out ridiculous amounts of forms and the like because otherwise, should she not pass probation in her new job or get fired/laid off a year or a decade from now, she would not be immediately eligible for benefits.

      I know Germans like bureaucracy but honestly…

      1. Julia*

        Theoretically, they’re not allowed to do that. In practice, they do, though.

        I’ve also never heard about the requirement to report to the job center, but that might be an oversight on my part.

      2. jo*

        In my job, I deal with bureaucracies the world over (tax authorities to be exact), and I will say the Germans require the most paperwork by far! The UK is a distant second.

    3. Bagpuss*

      That’s true in the UK as well – it’s in the interests of employers to retain good staff, and keep them happy. I think the difference is that it is harder for employers to get rid of people based on personal dislike or prejudice. I would imagine that with a good employer, it doesn’t make a huge difference but that with a bad or unreasonable employer, workers in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are generally better protected. And the fact that it is normal to have longer notice periods mean that in most cases, people will have slightly more breathing space if they are dismissed.

    4. hbc*

      Yeah, my understanding is that essentially the Netherlands allows you to only have two contracts (of limited length) before your next contract is forever, or have a significant lapse of time between the contracts. The purpose is to prevent companies from essentially having permanent temp workers. In practice, employers look at an employee nearing the two year mark and decide whether she’s strong enough that they want to keep her forever.

      If she’s good but not great and they’re not 100% sure this is a role they’ll need in 10 years? She’s gone.

    5. Sabine the Very Mean*

      American teachers are on contracts in most public schools (which are not private schools like in parts are of Europe). I felt even more vulnerable than now as a salaried at-will employee. I always wondered if it would be extended. Or if they kept me around just because of the contract.

    6. saby*

      I mean… I’m in Canada and while most jobs are “permanent”/indefinite length, limited term contracts that “might” be extended are also a thing here. It will specify in the job posting if so. I don’t think the existence of these kinds of jobs means anything about the contract/no contract structure of employment as a whole. When the job market is bad, they can be overused, leading to precarious employment, but the job market being bad is always going to have negative consequences for job seekers.

      My field is overwhelmingly female and it’s pretty common for your first professional job (or two) to be a one-year contract, either working on a shorter-term project or covering a maternity leave, which builds up your experience and your professional network so that you’re in a good place to be applying to permanent jobs when your contract is up.

    7. Yorick*

      We have limited-term contracts that might or might not be extended in the US, especially in academia but also in other fields.

    8. Former American Expat*

      Came into the comments looking for this perspective, as it’s mine as well. I’ve had essentially the same job in both the US and Netherlands (am American), and found the NL fixed term contract situation to be far more anxiety producing than the US “keep doing good work and we’ll keep you here as long as we can” version. Knowing that your (professional, very high educational qualifications required) job has an expiration date like a container of milk is extremely stressful if it’s not the system you were brought up expecting. I’ve definitely seen these “checkpoints” of renew or not renew used to dump an average employee that would otherwise have stayed with the employer. In locations where there aren’t several employers looking for the same expertise, this ends up meaning that you cannot realistically plan for a future in that location past the end of your current work contract. It was awful, and 80% of the reason we moved back to the US.

  10. A Nonny Mouse*

    OP #4, this is why I am very grateful to work for a union job in the U.S.

    I get things like things like: “working hours, pay, overtime compensation, rules for sick leave, paid leave, notice periods” entirely written out and it’s very much like a contract.

    1. Susan K*

      Yep, exactly — all of this is one of the reasons there are unions. Of course, there are drawbacks to unions as well, starting with union dues. Everywhere I’ve worked that has both union and non-union employees, there are written policies on these things for non-union employees that are similar if not identical to the union contracts. It does give some peace of mind, though, to have a union contract and know that the company can’t just unilaterally change it. I was really grateful for this the time the company said times are tough and they weren’t going to give cost-of-living raises that year, but since those raises were written into the union contract, union employees still got raises.

      1. o.b.*

        Eh, I don’t mind union dues at all. They’re about $16/mo for me, which I think is negligible and wouldn’t count as a drawback. YMMV

        1. Natalie*

          Yeah, when my spouse was in a union, we got our ROI on his dues after about one month of medical care. The plan they had covered all kinds of stuff that isn’t normally covered.

        2. Susan K*

          Wow, that’s low! Last place I worked, dues were over $65/month. They still paid for themselves, though.

      2. Kate 2*

        Yeah but it’s only because of unions that the contracts are so close. The history of unions and workers rights is fascinating, especially because right now a lot of people are trying to roll them back. Miners’ safety protections for example, and arguing that it costs too much to do business that way.

        Another horrifying example is some liberals arguing that sweatshop labor and child labor overseas is okay because they would be worse off otherwise, which is how people in the U.S. used to argue against child labor protections.

        As well, people (the robber barons) used to say they would have to fire a ton of people if they had to raise wages. That didn’t prove to be true either. You need as many people as you need to get the work done.

    2. McWhadden*

      Unions almost always do have a literal contract. But it’s an umbrella contract negotiated between the union and the employer. Not just an individual one.

    3. logicbutton*

      I hope that “we don’t need unions anymore, we have THE LAW” commenter from yesterday sees this thread.

  11. The one with raccoon shirt*

    I agree with OP 4# – working without a contract is something that is actively combated and frowned upon in my side of Europe. Mostly it is due to taxes – as employment tax and social tax are deducted automatically, someone working illegally would not be paying it which could lead them to big trouble with our version of IRS who are at best pedantic penny-pinchers.
    Granted, these days when starting a new work an employee is technically “at-will” during their probation period, but getting fired after that is much more complicated unless the employee screws up majorly.

  12. American in Ireland*

    Due to success of charitable fundraiser, there is bake sale to continue tradition of generosity. All money goes directly to Good Cause. Sweet treats available at OP2’s cubicle.

  13. Irishgal*

    OP 4
    Re: contracts of employment
    In a lot of European countries contracts of employment are getting significantly reduced in size to just pay, annual/holiday leave. All the other stuff is then in the employee handbook/terms and conditions/policies and procedures for exactly the reasons Alison says; they are easier to change as they are not contracts of law.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I’m not sure about other countries, but in England & Wales (can’t speak for Scotland or Ireland as some laws are different) , those sorts of thing do generally form part of the contract – normally, if they are changed, as an employee you are considered in law to have accepted the change if you continue to work, once you have been made aware of the change, unless you make a formal objection, although there are requirements to consult for some types of change. Contracts don’t have to be signed (or even written down, in most cases) to be legally binding

  14. Indie*

    OP4, I’ve always had a contract and yet employers can and will change terms whenever they want. Usually there’s a get out clause such as ‘terms can change according to the needs of the business’ and they go ahead and do so. Unless you quit, or make formal written objections, you’ve accepted the new practice and terms (which is usually sent out in writing). It’s not hard to make employees sign new contracts either.

  15. Monroe*

    OP4, the US labour system vs European might make more sense if you think of them as codified vs uncodified systems?

    I mean the US has a constitution, a single document with some appendages, which sets out the government will run, which it does more or less. The UK doesn’t have anything like but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have laws or a government – it’s just that the constitution is derived from the Westminster tradition, convention, certain documents approved by Parliament/the monarch; it’s a system rather than a single document.

    Then you’ve got countries like Australia, where we have a written constitution but by itself it doesn’t tell you a lot about how the government works. The role of the Governor-General is a good example – 48 years and counting since the last constitutional crisis! (If you don’t count the dual citizenship cases.)

    From what I know of the EU labour system it’s fairly heavily codified with a lot of conditions set in legislation whereas the US has more of mishmash of federal legislation, state legislation and convention (and conventions vary a lot between economic sectors).

    There’s a lot to be said about the practical effects of the underlying frameworks of the US and European labour systems, but being relatively uncodified isn’t an impossible concept in itself.

    1. TL -*

      Oh, that’s a good way of putting it! I was just talking with a Kiwi about American Political Issue and whether or not it would go to the Supreme Court and I was explaining the whole process of getting to the court and the Kiwi went, “Oh, I’m sure they’ll just make an exemption for Big Political Issue.” And I was mind-boggled at even the thought. Of course we would not. What on earth would make anyone entertain the idea?

      But their government system is a lot less codified and a lot more nimble/flexible, so of course to him it was very much in the realm of possibility. Even so, both of our systems work relatively well for our countries and serve the same practical purposes.

    2. grace*

      I love this way of explaining it. It always baffled me in school how the UK could go on without a codified gov’t system the way I was used to it, so I can understand the confusion the other way ’round here. But just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, and I personally like it. :)

    3. Libervermis*

      This is such a good way to frame it! I would prefer better and more consistent employee protections here in the States, but we have a system. It just tends to rely on market competition and the threat of bad PR to make sure employers don’t exploit their workers. Often that’s enough, but sometimes it’s really not.

      I would like us to immediately adopt European vacation time and nationalized healthcare, those are areas where the USian system really needs tuning up.

  16. Bagpuss*

    For OP1, I think I would add to Alison’s suggestions that you could speak directly to Clark, and let him know that you would be willing to back him up if he wants to speak to the boss or to HR about Brad’s behaviour.

    If you speak to him, you can get a better feel for how much it bothers him (it’s possible that he does genuinely shrug it off because it isn’t a major issue for him) and can also let him know you are supportive and are willing to speak up if asked.

    I think you are fine to do the other things such as commenting on how it comes over, directly to Brad, because that’s as much bout how it affects you as it is about how it affects Clark.

    1. Emmie*

      That’s a really good idea. It also gives him some control, and lots of support. Naming it to the person is also critical validation that some need when one person is so abrasive.

  17. Indie*

    OP4, that isn’t the part that’s been weirding me out about the American system. It’s having to assess your employer as a healthcare provider! I would not want my employer anywhere near my medical stuff. As someone who benefits from the NHS it sounds really frustrating to combine such different things. What if the job has great hours and commute etc but the ‘benefits’ are ropey? Or is this not as hard as I’m imagining?

    1. Lynca*

      It’s not as much ‘assess your employer as a healthcare provider’ as it is ‘do they provide a healthcare plan that I feel is adequate.’ It’s not as common to have a company or organization run their own healthcare plan (though I do know of at least one). Most healthcare plans are with a third party like Anthem, Aetna, etc.

      I find it very frustrating because a lot can change with providers over the year, between plan years, etc. So what you agree to when you first take the job is often not what you have 5 years later. Providers (both the plan and the hospital systems) for example could just fail to reach payment agreements and end up becoming financially unavailable to the patients.

    2. TL -*

      Most employers aren’t anywhere near your medical stuff – they just sign the paperwork and pay (some of and/or all) the bill.

      It’s generally not that hard, unless you have extremely specific medical care needs – the ACA helped a lot by standardizing what can has to be offered. Most healthcare offered is on the lines of “good enough” both in terms of coverage and price. It’s also one of those things that’s easier to navigate if you grew up in the system.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Pretty much. There are a few large health care conglomerates in the US, and putting aside the matter of their quality or the issues of privatization vs. universal care, the plans you can get at one employer are not necessarily going to be that different than what you can get at another employer of the same size, and who is willing to put in the same amount of money and effort. It is very much like the way companies provide varying levels of leave and HR support; a company can skimp on those, too, but will find that people who are in high demand either do not accept jobs there or leave as soon as they get a better offer. While I don’t prefer it to mandated minimums, the competition for good workers forces better companies to provide better benefits. There will always be both management and workers who are below average, and those are where IMO the US fails, because we provide much less of a safety net or minimum required benefits than EU countries.

        1. Lora*

          “who is willing to put in the same amount of money and effort”

          This. As a result, there are many fields which have particular geographic areas with a high concentration of jobs in that field, and employers for that field try to have a site there. In my field, I have a choice of living in the Boston area or San Francisco, more or less; there are a handful of other employers in the greater metro areas of Philadelphia, RTP and parts of Maryland, but there’s nothing much for me in other parts of the country.

          Other states (for example North Carolina) look at my field and think, wow it brings in tons of corporate taxes and revenue and jobs! Let’s try to create a (whatever) Corridor and attract employers here! And they run into the issues of 1) most people from areas with great public schools, mass transit, very fancy grocery stores, excellent health care and lots of entertainment do not wish to move to areas that have none of those things 2) nobody wants to take a major pay cut even though it’s a lower cost of living 3) the university tech transfer offices, intellectual property lawyers, entrepreneurship incubators, SBIR grant writing assistance, specialty contractors, logistical support and transit that are provided by the tax dollars of Massachusetts and California, are not available in East Cowtail, Nowhere for love or money. And it costs a small fortune to bring those things to another location. 4) the voters of, say, Oklahoma, are not even financially able, much less willing, to raise their taxes sufficiently to bring the school systems, transit services, insurance regulatory requirements, state universities, business support offices, roads / rail / airports / shipping to Massachusetts levels. Employers like to complain about tax rates in Massachusetts and California, but those taxes were invested in things that facilitated business creation and expansion and now generate a huge amount of revenue for the high-tax states.

          In the EU, you guys have invested lots in all those things, so it’s a bit easier for you to go any old where with a new business. At CurrentJob, they have a huge facility in what would otherwise be the middle of nowhere, because there’s rail and logistics support and the quality of life is fairly consistent across the entire country.

    3. LBK*

      That’s not quite how it works – your employer isn’t your healthcare provider or your insurance provider, they just have a contract with an insurance provider and subsidize the premiums.

      The baseline for most insurance is pretty decent (thanks largely to Obamacare) so you’re rarely going to get bad insurance. It’s really only if you have specific needs like good coverage for a particular chronic condition that you have to be more selective with your employer based on their plan; for most people, if you even do weigh a company’s insurance as part of a job offer, it’s weighing how much of the premium they cover for you.

    4. Millennial Lawyer*

      That’s not how it works. An employer offers health care plans – an employer is certainly not a health care provider, nor are they allowed to be receiving medical information from your actual health care provider without consent. That is federal law.

      1. McWhadden*

        But companies, like the Hobby Lobby case, have fought to not have to pay for healthcare for birth control or abortion.

        That’s your employer having a HUGE say in your healthcare.

        1. Genny*

          The Hobby Lobby case only challenged the ACA’s requirement that birth control be covered as a standard part of a healthcare package. They weren’t challenging whether or not to provide healthcare plans at all.

      2. Cobol*

        I work for a relatively small employer who does a lot of things poorly, one of which is healthcare. We have some bills that go to the coverage, but others that are paid by the company. The executive team somebody in HR and probably somebody in accounting definitely see some of the bills.

    5. Yorick*

      You’re totally right that we have to consider health care when we take a job, and that’s stressful. Like the job could be perfect but you have a condition that requires lots of visits or medicine so you can’t take it, instead you have to take a crappier job that will result in less out-of-pocket health costs.

    6. Nacho*

      Employers don’t really provide healthcare so much as they heavily subsidize it from a healthcare company, of which there’s only really a few in each state. If I quit my job right now and found a new one by throwing darts at the classified adds, I’d give 9 to 10 odds they’d have the same health care plans with the same health care company, with the only difference being how much it’s subsidized.

    7. logicbutton*

      While the other people replying are right that the employer is generally more of an intermediary than a direct participant in employees’ health care, your concern is legit! A few years ago a friend of mine was prepared to turn down an offer she’d been really looking forward to because the new employer was dragging their feet on giving her information on their company-sponsored health plans and she had had some recent health problems that she knew she’d need to maintain a certain standard of care for. (It all worked out in the end, luckily.)

    8. Indie*

      Thanks so much for bearing with my ignorance everyone. It’s fascinating to compare systems.

    9. naanie*

      I’m American and wish that health care here wasn’t tied to employment. Some workplaces, like mine, give employees incentives to take online health assessments; we get money off of our office visit copays if we fill out a survey about our health habits and essentially get graded on how healthy we are. We can always choose not to do it, but then we pay more per office visit.

  18. Alice*

    At least in the US, having a contract isn’t 100% protection against the terms of employment changing retroactively. I’m thinking in particular of union contracts where the business or government employer decides that it can’t or won’t pay the agreed-upon pensions. Friendly’s is just one example.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yuuup. A vast number of people’s pensions were outright stolen. And, unsurprisingly, the money often went to executive bonuses instead.

      Which should be considered embezzlement, but unfortunately here in the US the sacred Job Creators can do pretty much whatever they want with impunity.

      1. Canadian Teapots*

        I had someone in all earnestness tell me that switching pensions from defined benefit to defined contribution was ~ILLEGAL~ and I just had to roll my eyes because since when has that stopped bad CEOs from figuring out an easy way to set themselves up with a golden parachute at the expense of workers who’ve put in 25, 30, 35 years with the same company?

      2. Eye of Sauron*

        How do you explain the ‘sacred Job Creators’ when they are in fact the government itself?

        Private pensions are typically self funded and quite healthy. It’s states like Illinois where the gov’t is broke and who have spent the pension funds on general spending who are the biggest offenders.

        1. Natalie*

          You might look at the Hostess pension case, or the related Peeps case that is currently being litigated, for examples in private industry.

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            Yes, there are issues and not all private pensions are super duper great… which is why I used the word ‘typical’.

  19. StellaBella*

    On the Brad/Clark issue:
    As always, your advice is spot on, Alison. Brad is an ass (insecure ass), and Clark does not deserve this (nor does anyone), and it is unkind. Having worked in a very toxic environment where the bullying by the big boss lead to 8 of 18 of us leaving the organisation….and eventually the big boss being fired by the Board for eeeeeee-gregious behaviour (way beyond bullying)….it is hard to be in Clark’s shoes. Going out of the way to be kind to him, inviting him for lunch, etc will all help as will the shocked looks to Brad, etc and possibly going to Brad directly to address this (in hope you cannot be fired by him, OP).
    Best of luck!

  20. Anononon*

    I always roll my eyes a bit when I see questions/comments like #4. It’s just super annoying for the long threads of non-Americans going on and on about how awful it must be in the US. And there’s often lots of weirdly placed pity. Like, yes, we get our issues/many of us are working on trying to make things better. But it just seems super patronizing when a bunch of non-Americans talk about how awful and terrible we must have it, etc.

    1. Caledonia*

      As with everything in life – there is a good and bad element to each system. Nobody nor one country has the “perfect” system.

    2. Trekphile*

      I see it just the opposite of patronizing. OP 4 is saying, “I’m an outsider. I see it this way, but I realize that I might well be missing some things. Therefore I’m asking an expert on the inside to explain it to me, and I’m open to changing my opinion.” That seems to me exactly how conversations ought to go more often.

      1. a1*

        I took Anononon to be saying the long threads by the commenters were patronizing, not that the LW was. But Anononon knew that kind of question would lead to the patronizing remarks so does not like seeing thm.

    3. Bagpuss*

      I can see your point when there is a specific question and the comments are ‘well this wouldn’t happen in other countries’, but I don’t see it as out of place where it’s one of the specific queries Alison is addressing. And it is interesting to see how things differ and are similar.

      (You can also look at it the other way round, that it can feel that there’s some really weird defensiveness around the issues from some commenters in the US!)

    4. Katniss*

      I mean, I’m American and the employment system here seems objectively awful to me. I don’t feel personally insulted by other people pointing it out and feeling horrified by it because it is horrifying. I find it validating.

      1. Leslie knope*

        Yeah, people are way too quick to justify the conpany’s behavior imo. That’s a pattern on here though.

    5. fposte*

      I’m not always interested in the long threads on it, but this was a specific question about American policy and Alison chose to answer it, so extended discussion in the comments is appropriate.

    6. Competent Commenter*

      I don’t find it at all patronizing. It’s interesting to me to compare systems. Also, I think American workers have fewer protections and benefits (family leave, health insurance not tied to jobs) and less vacation time than many of our European counterparts. It’s good for American workers to get out of our bubble and hear what it’s like elsewhere.

    7. Elena*

      Indeed, and there are positive – if less visible – aspects to American economic culture.
      In particular, it seems like starting and running a business in the US is easier, more socially esteemed, and less taxed relative to salaried work than it is in Western Europe.
      It is an actual and non obvious debate which approach benefits people at the margin more or less, in terms of ability to make a living.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        …because people at the margins are so very, very likely to have the capital, in-demand expertise, and networks to set up successful businesses, and it’s so rare for new businesses to crash and burn and wipe people out financially!

        (Sarcasm, in case you can’t tell.)

    8. Cheryl Blossom*

      Yeah, I don’t mind the question but a lot of European readers don’t seem to understand that working in the US isn’t like working in a lawless wasteland. Sure, I’d like more vacation time, but that’s not actually a crisis for me.

      I do like the comment upthread saying that it’s a codified system vs an uncodified system. We have rules; they just aren’t all written down in one place.

      1. Katniss*

        I’m glad it’s not a crisis for you, but it is for a huge number of people, and for many people working lower income jobs, it IS a lawless wasteland, where any laws existing serve to benefit the employer and keep the employee down.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU and I am SO glad to see people push back against the privileged high-demand, high-salary, permanent, benefited, white-collar viewpoint so dominant on this site.

      2. General Ginger*

        Except for many people — those working retail and other lower income jobs, or LGTBQ folks living in states without explicit protections, or those working for small businesses — it is working in a lawless wasteland.

        1. LBK*

          I mean, I don’t want to downplay the extreme importance of implementing federal protections for things like LGBTQ discrimination, but I also think “lawless wasteland” doesn’t paint the right picture. I’ve never personally felt like my job was at risk because I’m gay – and again, that’s an anecdote, and it’s not true for a lot of people especially depending on where you are in the country. But it also feels wrong to me to basically make it sound like if you’re an LGBTQ person anywhere in the US, you live your life in constant fear of being fired.

          1. General Ginger*

            LBK, this might not be the reality for you, but it is for me, and other trans people I know.

              1. General Ginger*

                LBK, you literally said, you’ve never felt like your job was at risk because of being gay, so I’m answering you saying that’s not the case for everyone, because some states do not have equal protections for LGBTQ people. Anecdotal evidence vs anecdotal evidence, maybe, yeah.

                1. LBK*

                  …that’s literally exactly what I said, did you just stop reading my comment as soon as you got to the part you disagreed with? I’ll repeat it:

                  and again, that’s an anecdote, and it’s not true for a lot of people especially depending on where you are in the country. But it also feels wrong to me to basically make it sound like if you’re an LGBTQ person anywhere in the US, you live your life in constant fear of being fired.

      3. McWhadden*

        I’m really glad you aren’t in crisis. But the fact that there is no guarantee of paid time off for expecting parents. No guarantee of paid time off for medical crisis (FMLA is unpaid). No health care or basic benefits for the huge percent of people who work in low wage jobs. Does mean many people are in crisis when they get sick or pregnant or break an ankle or whatever.

    9. Jubilance*

      Agreed and I was trying to figure out a way to say it.

      Does the US employment system have room for improvement? Absolutely. But it’s not the dire situation that some people make it out to be.

      1. LBK*

        Right – the legal possibility of many of these things happening doesn’t mean they’re as sweeping as it’s sometimes made out to sound.

        1. Genny*

          And the European system is dire for some people. And the Chinese system is dire for some people. And the Brazilian model is dire for some people. No system is perfect. That doesn’t mean you don’t work to improve the system you have, but all the pearl clutching over the assumed-Dickensian working conditions in the U.S. is a over the top.

    10. Eye of Sauron*

      Agreed, but I like to take these opportunities to describe my experience, which I feel is pretty typical for an American white collar private sector worker.

      I’ve never been fired. If I’ve had to fire someone there’s been a defined process which includes a chance for the employee to fix the undesired issue and extensive documentation.
      I get 5 weeks of vacation+Sick (PTO) a year. 2 floating holidays and 7 holiday
      I have job protection for certain conditions (FMLA)
      I have both short term (12 weeks) and long term disability through my employer
      I have received yearly salary increases and bonuses (even during the economic recession. All level of employees in my company received them as well)
      I have excellent health insurance that I pay ~2000/year my employer pays ~12,000/year (I’ve always had employer offered insurance)
      I have 401K where I can save up to $18k per year with a 4% match from my employer

      I have personally witnessed people with terminal illnesses (different employers) being allowed to ‘work from home’ meaning they can ‘work a modified schedule’ which is code for don’t bother logging or do what you can but we (the employer) really don’t care what you do and we aren’t going to ask.

      These are just some of the things that I can think of off the top of my head. My company is probably one that you’ve never heard of, privately held until IPO last year.

      1. McWhadden*

        The benefit of the system Europeans describe is those perks aren’t reserved for white collar workers.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          Psstttt… my employer offers the same benefits to our blue collar workers as well ;)

          I also forgot about tuition reimbursement for employees and scholarships for the children of employees.

            1. Eye of Sauron*

              Really? I think it might me less common in the service industry but manufacturing usually pretty high benefits.

              link to come…

              1. LBK*

                Yeah, my understanding is that a lot of non-service industry blue collar work actually does have pretty decent benefits and pay. A lot of those are highly unionized industries, which is probably why.

        2. LBK*

          FWIW, I’ve worked two service industry jobs in the US where similar conditions were applicable for full-time employees. It’s when you’re part-time that the disparity really becomes evident – and there are plenty of companies that take advantage of that by stocking up on part-time employees rather than having a smaller workforce of full-time employees who would ultimately cost them more.

          1. fposte*

            I think that’s a big work-world change over the last few decades, too–the vastly different economics, including for the ACA, on full time over part time means that more employers are building on part-time workers.

      2. Lindsay J*

        I’ve been fired twice.

        Once in a sales position where the entire unit was underperforming and they let us all go. (We were a kiosk in an outlet mall selling discounted vacation packages for people willing to see a timeshare pitch. I sold one vacation the entire 3 months I worked there. We were supposed to sell several a week. The other girl sold zero during that time.

        Once as a supervisor at an amusement park. They coded it as gross misconduct and insubordiation because “I was told not to fuck up but did it again anyway,” so they did not have to go through the whole progressive discipline process.

        At my current job (where I’ve worked for about 1 year) I get 10 vacation days, 3 sick days, and 7 paid holidays. Some of my jobs have had more.

        When I worked retail I had no paid sick or vacation days because I was classed as part time, even though I worked 35 hours weekly. There were no full-time cashiers or any other position on the retail floor.

        I have job protection for certain conditions.

        I have long term disability through my employer for free (they pay about $228 a year it looks like) . Short term is offered, but it is prohibitively expensive so I opted out, as most do.

        I also have life insurance and D&D insurance through my employer at no cost to me (employer pays $36 and $72 per year), and I pay for additional life insurance for $8 a month for $40,000 worth of coverage.

        I am well compensated for my position, and will receive small annual cost of living increases every year, plus merit raises when appropriate. We also receive bonuses every year paid directly into our 401Ks that vary based on your department, your level, your individual performance, and the company’s profits for the year.

        I have excellent health insurance. I pay $3600 per year, my employer pays $4300 per year. They also reimburse $500 of my $750 deductible once it has been met.

        I had a choice of 3 plans, and after calculations chose the most expensive one. They offered another full-coverage plan with a lower premium but higher copays and a higher deductible, and an HDLP with HSA option. But with my medical conditions, this was the most cost-effective option for me. The others would have been about $2400 a year and $1200 a year in premiums out of my pocket.

        I also have an FSA that I contribute to each paycheck.

        This is the third job where I have had a legitimate health plan offering. Most of my jobs, including retail, etc, have offered the ability to buy some sort of health plan, but they were so costly and or covered so little that they were not worth opting in-to. The assumption seemed to be that most people would be covered by their spouse’s or parent’s plans. I wasn’t so I signed up for Obamacare or did without.

        I also have dental insurance at a cost of $165 a year where my employer also pays $165 a year. And Vision where I pay $81 a year and my employer pays $4.80 a year.

        I have a 401K with 30% match on contributions up to 5% of my salary. Match is fully vested after 6 years. This is the 5 position where I have had the option for a 401k, and the second that offers and employee match. The previous match was 50% of the first 3%.

        FWIW, the amount of vacation time you get sounds like a lot in my experience unless you are relatively senior (worked there for like 15 years or more). And your 401k match sounds better than I’ve experienced – the 50% of 3% seems typical in my industry and that of my friends.

        My current company is privately held and one that nobody has ever heard of. My position immediately previous to this was a company probably most people in America have heard of and is publicly traded on the NYSE, and the benefits were similar.

        My job current job is supervising blue collar workers (who get the same benefit plans I do, and who make more than me per year when overtime is considered).

        Previous job was more white collar I guess (data entry).

      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        You are very lucky, and I hope you realize that.

        I’ve been temping for most of the last 8 years. For most of that time I have had no paid time off whatsoever; a few years ago my state instituted 5 days mandatory sick leave per year after the first 90 days of employment, and a couple of my placements lasted long enough to hit that threshold – though one didn’t let us actually use any sick leave until well after that date. I had to let a chronic condition go incompletely treated for several months because my employer at the time prohibited anyone in my department from scheduling any medical appointments that would interfere with work hours. At another job, they ended my assignment as soon as I told them I needed to schedule several appointments to check out my heart palpitations. I usually have not been offered medical insurance through my employers. One place I worked required that we clock out and keep working off the clock if we didn’t meet our daily productivity quotas; they also were notorious for stringing temps along for years. And at this point I have little hope of anything better than temp work, because my resume is so erratic and full of gaps. When you’ve been temping around this long, you’re disposable trash as far as employers are concerned.

        But the temping has been better than some of the jobs I had before temping. Illegal subminimum wage offers, a job where the boss had a habit of sitting on paychecks till you’d nagged him for weeks, another job where my boss made me cry every day and groped my coworker… I could go on much longer.

        And I’m a college-educated white person in a coastal state with a low unemployment rate.

    11. McWhadden*

      As an American I find the umbridge and annoyance that someone DARE point out flaws in our system far more annoying.

      AAM tends to be heavily skewed toward white collar middle-class workers. And the “things aren’t that bad” narrative leaves out a whole lot of people.

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        I don’t really see annoyance or outrage in any responses so far. I’ve seen alternate descriptions to the doom and gloom assumptions.

        No system is perfect, I’m pretty confident that very few people would stand up and say “THIS IS THE BEST SYSTEM EVER!!” when talking about either model.

        1. McWhadden*

          The comment I am responding to literally said she rolls her eyes and finds it super annoying.

          And the alternatives descriptions are all coming from people who are conveniently pretending huge sectors of the US employment sector just don’t exist. “Things are totally fine as long as you work a desk job!”

          1. LBK*

            But it seems the perception from outside the US is that *only* those sectors where things aren’t good exist – I think that’s why people are pointing out that most white collar employees do okay throughout their career and aren’t constantly getting screwed just because it’s legal. It’s not to suggest that there aren’t problems, because duh. The point is just that something being legal in the US doesn’t mean it’s happening to everyone all the time.

            1. McWhadden*

              I don’t think it’s that they think those are the only sectors that exist. It’s just that they think those sectors really matter and any system that leaves them out is straight up bad. Where as American commenters here are acting as though retail and food service industries barely count. When they make up a large percent of our economy and count for millions of employees.

              Any system that leaves out millions of people from basic benefits is not OK. That’s their point. The counter-point is “but it’s great for those of us who aren’t in x industry” and that’s pretty hollow and dismissive.

              1. LBK*

                Agree to disagree, I guess – the way a lot of non-American commenters seem aghast any time US labor laws are described has always suggested to me that they think this is happening much more frequently than it is. No, we shouldn’t discount the people who are still in extremely bad situations, but we shouldn’t discount the people who aren’t in bad situations either.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yeah, I do think perceptions are skewed. As just one example of it, I remember a couple of times when non-American commenters were surprised (and relieved!) to discover that when we talk about typical PTO here, we’re not including the 10 additional holidays most (but not all) people get off from work — and so there’s an additional two weeks of time off that they weren’t accounting for. So there’s details like that that just aren’t widely known outside the U.S.

                2. LBK*

                  Sure, but it doesn’t seem to me like a lot of the comments (in general when this comes up on the site, not only on this post) are specifically aghast at the possibility rather than the reality.

                3. Perse's Mom*

                  But reading through all these comments feels a bit like a conversation about cars where A talks about all the fancy features of their new cadillac or whatever and B is worried about a new clunking sound on their 15 yr old junker.

                  There are a lot of commenters here in the job equivalent of A – whole laundry lists of benefits including job security. And a lot of those commenters are ignoring or failing to consider that millions of their fellow Americans are in the job equivalent of B, wherein they HAVE a car and it currently gets them from work to job and back, but that’s on pretty shaky ground.

              2. Eye of Sauron*

                But isn’t it equally dismissive not to look at the industries, jobs, and workers who are doing well?

                1. Katniss*

                  If you go to the doctor and they discover you have a malignant tumor, they don’t make sure to then say “but your iron levels and cardiac health are fantastic, good for you!” and then spend all their time applauding your good health in other ways. They focus on the tumor.

                  That is exactly what we’re trying to do in this discussion, and it feels like we’ve got a bunch of people going “but my pores are great, right?!”

                2. LBK*

                  But sometimes it feels to me like someone will say “Americans can have cancer” and non-Americans will respond “I can’t believe that, everyone in America has cancer???” and it’s like…well, no, that’s not what I said.

                3. McWhadden*

                  No. When a system doesn’t protect everyone it doesn’t make it better to just say “but some of us are privileged enough to be protected by our employers.”

                4. LBK*

                  How does it not? At no point have I denied that there are a lot of problems. I honestly don’t understand what your point is.

                5. Gazebo Slayer*

                  @McWhadden: Yes. It comes off as “I’ve got mine, screw you.” Which is a sadly prevalent attitude in the US, and one that causes an awful lot of pur problems.

          2. Anononon*

            Of course there are major issues with the US system. But there are major issues everywhere! Just different kinds! Europe is not some utopia compared the US. There are a ton of things here in the US that I think are vastly better.

    12. bb-great*

      Yeah, it annoys me too. We know! We knoooooooooooooooooooow. I don’t actually think it’s knowledge sharing or productive conversation for there to be 1000 comments about how ghastly it must be here, and it always attracts a lot of comments. Unless there are US Senators reading AAM most of us aren’t in a position to do anything about it.

    13. Penny Lane*

      I find it useful to hear non-Americans’ take on our systems. I used to travel to W Europe and Japan frequently for work and I was (rightly) embarrassed by certain aspects of American life (gun culture, lack of universal health care, the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave). Well, we SHOULD be embarrassed by these things. Doubling down and pretending that bc we are American, we are perfect is the wrong approach.

      1. Katniss*

        Yes, this. True patriotism is not defensively acting as if we are perfect. True patriotism is seeing where we are hugely in the wrong and working to fix it.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think I’ve seen anyone here pretending that Americans are perfect; that would be really weird! But in the past, I and others have pointed out that while there are legitimate and serious issues with employment practices here, it’s exhausting to hear it constantly here, when it’s not a constructive or useful contribution to the advice.

        This post is different because the letter specifically asked about it, so the discussion makes perfect sense on this post — but that’s why it’s come up in the past.

      3. Indie*

        I’m genuinely intrigued by the differences in the American system. When I hear about about how many bosses offer things they don’t legally *have* to, just out of a business sense ethic, it’s quite wonderful and something of a thinker.

    14. OP 4*

      I agree that it’s sometimes easy to go ‘urgh USA doom terror how do they live’ because – like with all things in life – people tend to go on more about the negative rather than the positive stuff. In addition, there is a massive cultural difference between the US and most of Western Europe in terms of how labour laws developed (after all, communism and socialism were hugely popular across western parts of the continent before they backed away from it when the Iron Curtain came down. But the legacy of it is still part of our laws.)

      What my rambling is trying to say: I didn’t ask the question to be condescending or patronising. I asked because I was genuinely curious (and because I was on sick leave and had just finished a massive AAM binge).

      Last but not least, if Alison wouldn’t write such a good blog, her readership wouldn’t hail from outwith the US and these questions would never come up – so it’s really all her fault :D

      1. Reba*

        And I think this post’s comments (and perhaps some of the past ones, too) are much more nuanced than the characterization at the start of this thread. I’ve learned a lot!

      2. Anononon*

        :) Ultimately, I think the question can lead to super interesting responses. I love reading about cultural differences that are 180 from what you’re used to. I just don’t like the inevitable spiral that basically leads to the conclusion that there are no employment woes outside the US.

  21. Naptime Enthusiast*

    OP #2: My biggest issue with this is that it started as a charity fundraiser and this coworker is continuing it long after the fundraiser is over. If she’s continuing to donate the funds to various charities throughout the year then she should let people know that, and which ones. If she’s pocketing it and not telling people then that’s not okay in my book, and from what OP describes it’s definitely not clear which it is.

    Rather than trying to shut it down I would want there to be more transparency about where the money is going.

    1. Steph*

      Yes yes yes!
      I love that you brought in the word “transparency”!
      If Tuck Shop Lady is going to be running her little biz on work premises there there absolutely needs to be transparency to all staff about where the moolah is going and that EVERYONE should be invited (not just the clique). Having this conversation, of course, then opens the door for discussion of where it happens as the increased traffic flow should be quite obviously disruptive to other employees.
      Having said that, I do like Alison’s suggestion of starting your own competing store. Maybe if OP is a crafter you could make a series of upcycled garbage earrings, potholders or ash trays?)

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I’m unclear on whether she is just sill selling off the items she originally purchased for the charity drive (in which case I think I wouldn’t really care, and I think it would be obvious to people that it’s no longer going to charity since the charity drive is over), or if she was so successful during the charity drive that she is continuing to buy more things to sell (in which case I think she definitely needs to stop).

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Me too. I thought it was very likely that she was continuing to buy new stock, and that Alison’s suggestion to say “I know you’re selling off the stuff you bought from Costco” was a way to let her save face. It didn’t occur to me until I read a different comment that Alison was assuming it really was the case.

      2. Naptime Enthusiast*

        We do similar charity drives in my office, and unless the coworker bought a ridiculous amount of stuff initially then I have a hard time believing there’s enough left over to sell for 2 weeks unless she’s continuing to restock. The big Costco boxes of Nature’s Valley and Famous Amos cookies are usually sold out within a week in an office of 100 people.

  22. Delta Delta*

    OP4 – I once had a job (in the US) where the Big Boss thought he could motivate his workers by saying things like, “remember, you’re all at-will employees, and I could fire you at any time.” This had the…. opposite effect of being motivational.

  23. Cordoba*

    Does the European contract system prevent the employee from changing jobs while under contract?

    If so, is there a way for employees to pursue new/better opportunities that they find out about while they are under contract, and what is the typical contract duration?

    1. Bagpuss*

      No. In the UK, contracts have a notice period so if you find a better job, you hand in your notice and leave.
      Because notice periods tend to be broadly consistent within an industry, the new employer will know that you won’t be able to start immediately. In my field, standard notice periods are 3 months so if you offer someone a job you know that they won’t, normally, be able to start sooner than that, and if they can, it’s a bonus.
      Most contracts are open ended, not for a set term.
      Even with fixed-term contracts it’s usually possible to give notice and leave, the fixed term element is more about the employer being able to stop employing you without having to fire you, at the end of the period.

      1. Cordoba*

        Thanks. Are employment contracts required by law, or are they part of the employment culture?

        If they’re not required by law, are there any employers that don’t use them?

        How do US-based companies do this with European employees?

        1. Lea*

          I’ve never heard of anyone ever (in Germany) that they don’t have a contract. I guess it’s not required, but since you wouldn’t be protected at all, I don’t think anyone would do it.

          Only one exception comes to my mind though – when people want to work without paying taxes, being paid in cash, then they wouldn’t want any paperwork to document the illegal activity.

    2. anon scientist*

      I’m in Europe and leaving before my contract is up. My contract just stated that I had to give 3 months notice if/when I wanted to leave, which is the norm in the country that I’m in. Most new employers know this is the norm and are totally understanding if you say you can’t start for 3 months because you have to serve out your notice period.

  24. BusyBee*

    #2: We actually had something like this at my old job and it was universally loved! A coworker ran a snackbar type thing, with the proceeds going to a different charity every month. I can see how it would be highly annoying if it was right in your workspace, though- in my case it was in a closet that was out of the way. Maybe suggest something like that? Both the charity part and the closet part.

  25. Sleeping or maybe dead*

    Op1, Just be cautious not to earn yourself a stalker.
    I’m not telling you to stay silent in front of injustice, but I got some die hard stalkers like that. I know it sounds terrible and I hate it, but before reaching out, try doing a background check of sorts.

  26. OP4*

    I agree that wanting to leave my current job is not reason enough to push the hiring process along…I wasn’t sure if that was clouding my judgment on the situation and sort of fueling additional anxiety about it.

    I know they have had at least one person drop out of/withdraw their application from another hiring process because of the length of it, and once didn’t contact applicants for 4 months after a posting closed! Somehow they’ve managed to mostly hire pretty great people, but I bet they are missing out on other people who won’t or can’t wait so long.

      1. Reba*

        If you ever find out the reason for it, or you have a productive conversation about with them after you eventually start (hopefully soon), give us an update, would ya?

        1. OP3*

          Oh definitely! I am very curious…particularly considering I worked there before and they had no reservations about wanting me back (they almost designed the job description for me). But maybe it’s just the way they do things these days.

  27. Ella*

    Questions like #2 make me with that Ask A Manager fanfic was a thing. “Competing office snack bars” could be a really good story.

      1. General Ginger*

        And that’s what finally makes them get together!

        (this is a shipping fanfic, right? not gen?)

    1. McWhadden*

      Eventually they start their own snack company called Dueling Cubicles. When it is bought out by Nabisco they retire to neighboring mansion in the Hamptons and compete over who has the most elaborate lawn.

    2. periwinkle*

      Did you know there is a forum on Reddit called Writing Prompts? My husband sent me a link yesterday and I had no idea it existed…

      This would be a great writing prompt to submit: The annoying person in the adjacent cubicle buys snacks in bulk to sell to other employees. There’s a steady stream of customers. Your own entrepreneurial instincts kick in.

      1. Ella*

        I did! I’ve actually tried to submit a couple but the automod always rejects them because I format them wrong or tag them wrong or something. It’s probably actually very simple, but I didn’t feel super invested in it to begin with, so I gave up. :)

  28. MommyMD*

    Do not start your own snack shop. What your coworker is doing is akin to running a side business during the hours she is supposed to be working on her JOB duties. She is being paid to complete company tasks, not run a side business during work hours. This is time card fraud and would be a fireable offense in many offices. If it is bothering you, or it continues beyond a few more days, report it. But under no circumstances engage in the same behavior.

          1. LBK*

            I’d think you’ve been reading the site long enough to identify Alison’s dry humor, although you’re not usually prone to levity yourself so maybe that’s why it didn’t read right.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Oh, wow, seriously? Alison often “hopes” people do the crazy, inappropriate thing. It’s funny.

  29. JessaB*

    I would tell management about the snack shop. It’s one thing for charity but there is a HIGH possibility that their agreement with the vending company prohibits this kind of behaviour. She is literally taking money out of a person’s pocket and depending on where this is happening the vending company can be a small business franchise. When my old boss at the answering service decided to get a pop and candy machine the company was two people with a franchise and it was made clear that he couldn’t also be providing things in competition with what the machines held. This may subject the company to at minimum a small claims suit for the losses suffered because they’re letting her sell in contravention of an existing agreement.

  30. nnn*

    For #5, if you do, for whatever reason, end up talking about your gap between jobs, it would be from the point of view of commiserating about how long job searches take.

    Your colleagues are workers too. They go through job searches too.

  31. Snark*

    How can anyone be sure they ever get treated fairly? Couldn’t companies just do a 180 and suddenly cut your benefits, paid leave, change the rules for sick leave, etc.? I am just utterly fascinated by this because it’s so culturally different that I genuinely have trouble computing the concept. Isn’t that an incredibly stressful way to live? Can you ask for a contract even if no one else has one?

    – By resorting to legal recourse or quitting, basically. Thankfully most employers don’t abuse their employees too badly.
    – Theoretically, they absolutely can do that.
    – Yes, it is an incredibly stressful way to live, which is why Americans are unhappy, insecure, angry reactionary, and indulging themselves in class, race, and cultural resentments so very much these days.
    – HAHAHAHAH nope. Welcome to American late-stage capitalism.

    1. Eye of Sauron*

      – Yes, it is an incredibly stressful way to live, which is why Americans are unhappy, insecure, angry reactionary, and indulging themselves in class, race, and cultural resentments so very much these days.

      This is not every American’s experience. Oddly enough there are people who work for good to great employers who don’t think there is an ax looming over them every day. The vast majority of employers are respectful, thoughtful, encourage their employees, and work damn hard to make themselves a good place to work.

      The only time I’ve ever been close to being let go from a job was due to the company bankruptcy… something a contract couldn’t protect me from.

      1. McWhadden*

        “The vast majority of employers are respectful, thoughtful, encourage their employees, and work damn hard to make themselves a good place to work. ”


            1. Eye of Sauron*

              It’s at least a little more recent than 2014, which was still a pretty dismal economic picture.

              Look,we can play dueling studies all day. But if it makes it easier on both of us I’ll just go ahead and bow out of this threaded discussion in the spirit of ‘respectfully agree to disagree’

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Considering what you said about your own employer upthread, you obviously live in a privileged little bubble. We’re trying to show you the world outside it, but you’re closing your eyes and sticking your fingers in your ears and singing “la la la.”

            2. Perse's Mom*

              +1 Well, you don’t poll the people who might skew your results in a direction you don’t want, after all!

      2. bb-great*

        “The vast majority of employers are respectful, thoughtful, encourage their employees, and work damn hard to make themselves a good place to work.”

        I mean…I think this is overstated. I think most employers are pretty average and neither amazing nor terrible. And I think your job satisfaction varies a LOT with industry and position.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          I would argue that even the average, neither amazing nor terrible companies still respect their employees and work to make themselves a good place to work.

          1. Snark*

            Still doesn’t mean American workers, as a group, feel like their employment and economic situation are secure, reliable, or protected by anything but the vague good will of their employer.

            1. fposte*

              Here’s some recent research about Americans’ views on their jobs:

              Here’s an interesting overview of global rankings of worker satisfaction:

              Here’s the start of an interesting overview:

              It looks like there are a lot of people doing measurements of job satisfaction by country, and it was interesting to see the variation and also that countries you wouldn’t expect, like several Latin American countries, performed strongly.

          2. Perse's Mom*

            I would argue that many of them tell themselves that but really only care about the bottom line and the happiness of key figures in their organization.

        2. Lindsay J*


          I see a bunch of people on both sides here, but I’m pretty much in the middle.

          Employers are pretty much out for their own interests. It’s generally in their own interest to treat their employees okay, and not fire them on a whim.

          I don’t live in fear of being fired every day. But I also hold no illusions that most employers wouldn’t fire me or lay me off in a second if they needed to.

          I wouldn’t really like being contractually required to work three more months at a job when I had already given notice and was mentally out the door, but a month of vacation time and a year of maternity leave sure sound nice.

      3. Snark*

        “This is not every American’s experience.”

        I know. It’s not my experience, personally. But you can’t look around at American culture these days and conclude that we enjoy income security and legal protections to the same degree other countries do.

        And, “Facility Executive” very much notwithstanding, the US does not top rigrous metrics of economic and income security, and we don’t enjoy many of the protections and rights that other workers do.

      4. J.B.*

        The lack of protections puts you at the mercy of your employer. And in demand ish white collar workers tend to be treated better (sometimes much better) than lower wage workers. Only about half the population qualifies for oh so generous FMLA, and no employer of mine or my husbands has offered more leave than FMLA requires.

        Not to say that other models are perfect, but I disagree with your “vast majority of employers” framing.

        1. fposte*

          Right. The advantages of the at-will system correlate to how much employees make, because it’s tied in to market value. More regulated systems often mean the advantage is more evenly distributed.

          And a lot of America doesn’t really like the idea that they’d give up more under regulation, even if they currently would be advantaged–it’s the individual version of exceptionalism that runs through a lot of people’s views on public policy.

      5. Nacho*

        Right. Unless you’re working fast food, things like being fired on a whim can theoretically happen, but never actually do.

        1. McWhadden*

          Being fired on a whim happens all of the time. How many stories do we have about lay offs here?

          And “working fast food” is a large group of people.

          1. General Ginger*

            And frankly, why should “working fast food” merit being fired on a whim? Surely people who work in food service, which is far from an easy job, deserve job security as much as workers in other industries?

          2. Nacho*

            Layoffs aren’t “on a whim”. If a company doesn’t need or cannot afford half of its staff, I’d rather they fire half of us than be forced to keep us all on and go bankrupt.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*


      (Though I would like to make a small counterpoint to your third point: a lot of the reactionary rage and racial/cultural resentment comes from people who are actually quite well off. Most of the “alt-right” scum of the internet are middle class or above – a distressing number are successful software developers or the like. Trump voters actually have a *higher* median income than Clinton voters, not lower. But “affluent dentist in a midwestern suburb who’s a vocally racist Breitbart fanboy” or “wealthy Florida real estate agent endlessly clogging his relatives’ Facebook feeds with conspiracy theories” doesn’t fit the “poor poor forgotten white working class who can’t help but hate all the brown people because they stole their jobs, let’s feel sorry for them, they’re the real victims” narrative that way too many journalists love to push.)

  32. Genny*

    Oh goodie. We get an entire post of people expressing their shock, SHOCK!!!!, at working conditions in the U.S. I predict this will get tiresome about three comments in…

  33. GreenDoor*

    #4 In many industries we also have the concept of a labor union – where entire groups of employees work as a collective to ensure something similar to a contract called a “collective bargaining agreement” whereby the employer agrees to provide that entire union of employees the same working conditions, salary structure, benefits, etc. While it’s not a contract, it’s a legal agreement and if the unionized employees feel the employer has violated it, they could strike (refuse to work) or even pursue legal action. Unions are more common in blue-collar jobs and in the government sector, not really in white collar jobs.

    Many jobs in the government sector are also subject to civil service rules. One of which is a set salary schedule based on title, not the whim of the hiring manager. We cannot negotiate salary. Another is that employees must be given “due process” when the employer is contemplating discipline or termination. Where I work, for discipline we are first investigated by our supervisor, than if just cause is found, the labor investigator determines the discipline. If we are terminated, we have the opportunity to appeal to our Board of Directors and to be represented by legal counsel during the appeal hearing. If we still disagree we can appeal to the courts. So, I have no contract, but my employer has to be able to justify any discipline or termination they give me.

  34. RB*

    The most hurtful thing about being bullied — even more than the actual bullying, I would contend — is when other seemingly caring people regularly witness it and do and say nothing.

    1. Jenny*

      +1 Especially adults. Especially people you like and want to like you. “Do they even respect me? See me as human? Is this behaviour okay?”

  35. Student*

    OP #4: You ask, “How can anyone be sure they ever get treated fairly?” It’s the wrong question.

    I answer – we are Americans. We don’t want to be treated fairly. We want to be treated better than everyone else around us. We actively hope for, and often seek, preferential treatment above what our fellow co-workers get. We also, as a nation, are 100% positive that we are better than all our fellow co-workers at this job and the whole company would be better off if we were personally in charge of the place.

    There’s a reason y’all kicked many of our ancestors out of Europe to begin with.

    1. McWhadden*

      Which is why we so casually exempt so many employment sectors. I’m BETTER than someone who works fast food or retail so I DESERVE parental leave/health insurance/PTO and they don’t!

      1. Student*

        Every single person who works in fast food or retail in America fervently believes that, if they play their cards right, they too might end up CEO of Retail Giant: able to stick it to their employees, get health insurance for themselves, and take a golden parachute retirement if they fail.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Uhhh. While I generally agree with your post above, and think that, yes, there are unfortunately far too many people with precisely that delusion, it is very, very far from “every single person who works in fast food or retail in America.” When I worked retail I sure as hell didn’t think that. My friends who’ve worked fast food or retail don’t think that. Some of my coworkers were dimbulbs who did think that, but certainly not all. And that kind of gross overgeneralization leads to serious victim-blaming.

    2. Phoenix Programmer*

      Yes if I can chalk up America’s problems to one word it’s “greed”.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*


      And lots of deluded people support grossly regressive, punitive policies because they believe that someday *they’ll* be the ones at the top of the heap. Some of those people are in pretty crappy circumstances with little real hope of anything better and are voting against their own interests. It’s sad.

  36. Phoenix Programmer*

    Fun fact: my current company took away a ton of benefits the week I started. Lesson learned salary isall I care about. Said company just doubled our health insurance premiums too.

  37. TootsNYC*

    In NY State, the stuff in the owner’s manual can be legally binding. Of course, the manual often has stuff like, “We may give you three warnings before being fired, but we don’t have to.”

    But time-off policies, retirement matching, etc.–if that’s written down anywhere, that’s binding.

  38. Just me*

    Changing rules retroactively is supposedly legal in my state. Last Fall, in the middle of the month, my employer announced they were changing our travel compensation, retroactive to the start of that month. I called my state Dept of Labor. They said the company is allowed to do that. I lost about $100 in travel compensation, after I had already done the travel. Workers rights are garbage.

    1. Nacho*

      Some things can be changed retroactively, but compensation and a few others are hardset. You cannot pay somebody less than they were promised for work they’ve already done.

  39. Bella*

    As another European I have related questions. There have been quite a few stories of US employers changing salaries/benefits or job specs on the day the new employee starts and people just accepting that.
    Is it common for employers to do that ?
    Is it common for new employees to just accept the new salary/benefits and push for a raise later on?
    Is it common for people to relocate for a job without any written confirmation? And if the job changes or is withdrawn do they have any recourse?
    I don’t want to create more arguments, I’m just genuinely curious as this is a completely different culture to the one I know.

  40. Spike*

    I job searched for a year before landing my current gig (which is AmeriCorps, so… not actually a job..) and I am super honest and open with everyone about it. Because honestly? That sucked a lot, and I don’t think my employers (er, my service organization) or my older peers understand what the job market looks like right now. Also, it’s nice to complain.

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