can public support of a fired employee hurt them, my boss talks to me like I’m a baby, and more

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

1. Can public support of a fired employee hurt that employee?

I regularly attend shows at a local theater, and know many of the staff and performers there. Recently, the theater announced that their beloved creative director would be leaving. This appears to be a firing. The news article about it mentioned that said director could not comment on advice of his lawyer.

The local arts community is pretty upset about this. There are planned rallies and boycotts of the theater, claiming he was wrongfully terminated and demanding he get his job back. Obviously, neither party is publicly commenting. My assumption is that it was something routine, like performance on non-artistic parts of his job — there’s nothing to indicate a scandal, and he’s a genuinely kind and good person.

My question is this — could this outpouring of public anger hurt his ability to get another job? My fear is that it will make him seem like a high risk to take on, or make a company think he’ll be vindictive if he ever left. (Or at least not willing to stop friends who are vindictive.) Or, could it potentially impact an employment case? And, is there ever any BENEFIT to this kind of outrage over a firing, at least if there’s no evidence of discrimination or illegal activity?

Oooh, that’s a really good question. I’d think the fact that other people are protesting it is unlikely to impact any legal action he pursues as long as he continues to follow his lawyer’s advice. But whether it could affect his ability to get a future job is murkier. Depending on the tenor of the protests, it’s possible that it could. At a minimum, it will certainly cause attention to his firing, which he might have otherwise been able to be more low-key about. And if a reference-checker learns, for example, that he was fired for legitimate performance issues, they might worry about how he’d handle critical feedback from them if they hired him (because no employer wants to deal with a public boycott over a fairly handled but private personnel issue). So I think it partly depends on what really happened and on whether the cause of his firing warrants the outrage or not (and also on whether the protesters have the full story, which they may not).

Even if it does warrant the public outrage, though, there are certainly employers who will see it as a risk to hire someone who was at the center of something like this, figuring that he’s more likely to rabble-rouse than someone else. He might be happy to screen out those employers though. And that might be canceled out by the employers who get more interested in him as a result of this — because they find his situation sympathetic (although it’s hard to do that when no one will say what happened) or they see it as a PR move to hire him or they just find him interesting and so are more likely to give him an interview.

2. My boss talks to me like I’m a baby

I am wondering how I should address a slight issue I am having with my boss. Because I am quite short and young-looking (I am actually in my early 20s, but probably look like I am in my late teens) my boss always makes pretty patronizing remarks about my appearance. She calls me things such as “cute” and “babyface.” For example, last week I had to give a presentation so I wore boots with a slight heel, and she said “Aww, are you trying to look taller for the important people? You’re so cute!” And if I can’t reach something, she says “Aww, honey, should I get you a stool so you can reach like a big girl?”

The comments make me quite uncomfortable, not because I am embarrassed about being short, but because I feel that any comments about a person’s physical appearance are inappropriate in the workplace, even if intended in good nature.

I’m young and pretty new to the job, so I don’t want to sour my relationship with my boss (who in every other way is a great boss) by calling her out. But I do find it very patronizing and demoralizing. Everyone always thinks that I am younger than I am (I get ID’d all the time still!) but I’m trying to prove myself in my industry and I don’t want to cower down to her comments. How should I address this?

Wow, that’s really inappropriate. Those aren’t minor comments at all; they’re actually pretty insulting. You say she’s in every other way a great boss so she probably doesn’t intend to be insulting — but she is.

I would try this: “Jane, when you talk about my height or call me ‘babyface’ or ‘cute,’ it undermines my ability to be taken seriously. I would really appreciate it if you didn’t refer to my height or my appearance at all.” If you want to soften the language a little, you could change the start of that last sentence to “could I ask you not to refer to…” But really, this an incredibly reasonable request, and if your manager truly is a good boss as she otherwise appears to you to be, she’ll respect it and stop with the comments.

But I’m really struggling with the idea that she could be a good manager and still be saying these things. If it was just “cute” and “babyface,” sure. She could be misguided there but great otherwise. But it’s hard to take remarks like “Aww, are you trying to look taller for the important people?” and “Aww, honey, should I get you a stool so you can reach like a big girl?” as anything other than deliberately infantilizing.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. People ask about my boss’s suicide

A couple of years ago, my boss committed suicide. This was a very painful and difficult situation for me since he and I were incredibly close. It was obviously a huge shock to a lot of people that he committed suicide and had been struggling with depression. The problem is that a lot of times when I meet new people who work in the same field or during interviews and I mention that I worked for him, people bring up his suicide. Usually it is just in passing, saying that they are sorry for my loss, but on occasion people have pried into the situation. I just hate that the only thing he is known and remembered for is the cause of his death, not all of the incredible things that he did. One time I was in an interview with someone who was acquainted with him and the person even asked me why and how he did it.

I have no idea how to respond to people asking me these questions and they aren’t dying down anytime soon. I am starting to consider taking my work with him off my resume and not mentioning that I worked for him in conversation, just to avoid the topic. Usually I will stammer out a response and mumble my way through it, but do you have a better method of responding?

I’m so sorry. Don’t take your work with him off your resume! You shouldn’t lose credit for valuable job experience because some people are horribly insensitive.

When someone pries into what happened, you could say, “We were close and it’s a difficult topic. Thanks for understanding.” That’s polite code for “I’m not going to discuss this.”

Also, with people who aren’t inappropriate and who just say they’re sorry for your loss, if you want to you could say something like, “He was a wonderful person — I loved working with him” and you could even cite one or two of the things you found incredible about him. You don’t have to do this, of course! But if you want to, it would be perfectly appropriate and could be a nice way to steer the conversation back to who he was, not how he died.

4. Nameplate drama

I work for a very large company. My department is small and very specialized. The rest of company either doesn’t know we exist or, if they do, doesn’t understand what we do. My department has been the “stepchild” of the company. There have been growth and leadership changes that affected morale for many years. There’s a lack of role clarity, communication, overstepping of management boundaries, no policies or procedures, reactiveness, finger pointing, etc.

We have one long-term employee, Jan, who is known for being rude and sarcastic and trying to pass it all off as a joke. Many of us avoid her. She has been insubordinate with her prior manager and had threatened to go to the CEO so nothing was done. She had worked with the CEO in the past and has some type of continued relationship. Morale is low and people are leaving. Our turnover has been noticed by upper management — five people have left in last eight months. The most recent was everybody’s favorite manager, Jay.

Jan has been collecting all departed employees’ nameplates for years and proudly displayed them. We all have started taking the nameplates of the coworkers who have quit in past months, and Jan isn’t happy. Some had even instructed us to make sure Jan doesn’t get nameplates to display. Jan is mad that she couldn’t find Jay’s nameplate, so she printed his picture and is displaying at her desk. I walked in this morning and everybody is mad. They’re tired of Jan and all the ugliness and rudeness. The whole team is tired in general and feel, due to all the other issues, this has crossed the line. Unfortunately, the head of the department just came by asking about Jay’s picture and Jan loudly complained about not being able to find his nameplate and the reason for the picture. He laughed. The rest of us cringed. Some on my team want to complain. I decided to speak for team with my director about how this is affecting the team tomorrow. I am somewhat second guessing myself. But I am very aware as team lead of all the issues affecting everybody and the low team morale. This has been an issue for few years. As FYI, a few of us are looking to post out, including me, and are taking additional training courses to leave our department. Your take on this whole mess?

I originally didn’t understand what Jan was doing with the nameplates, but commenters have pointed out that it sounds like she’s using them as “trophies” of people she’s successfully driven out. Given that, I’m rewriting this answer.

If that is indeed what she’s doing, that’s incredibly messed up, and someone in a position of authority needs tell her “these aren’t appropriate to display and I’m collecting them from you today.” That person might be you, as team lead! But if it’s not, you can indeed cite this to whoever is as evidence of Jan’s toxicity.

It sounds like it’s far from the only problem though, and solving this will still leave you mired in serious issues: team morale is low, communication is bad, you have no systems, and the turnover isn’t likely to stop. Absent any signs of real commitment to change that from above you, I’d focus the bulk of your mental energy on getting out.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. I never sent in my post-internship paperwork

I’m a mid-career professional in the midst of a career change, and I’m getting a masters on evenings/weekends while keeping a good job in my first career to pay the bills. My degree requires an internship, and it was tough to find one that could work with my full-time work schedule, but earlier this year I snagged a nice internship in my new field of study that allowed me to come in evenings and weekends to get my required hours. And it worked out great—it was a fascinating internship with a lovely supervisor who I grew close with over the few months I worked for her.

On my last day at the internship, my supervisor told me that she was pleased with my work, gave me a card wishing me well, and told me she would happily fill out any paperwork I needed her to so I could get credit for the work I did. And … I never followed up. I have a million excuses: some family stuff came up, my day job got crazy, etc. etc. But bottom line is that I didn’t close the loop on getting my internship paperwork done, and now I worry that she thinks I’m a flake and that I blew a good reference. Also: I need her to sign off on some papers to complete my degree! It has been four months.

I finally summoned my courage to write her this week. I kept it friendly and a little apologetic (I learned so much and really enjoyed working with you, I’m sorry for the quiet, hope you are doing well, etc.) but I didn’t say anything specific about the paperwork. No response yet. How should I proceed? Can I salvage this professional relationship?

You can salvage it! She might not have responded yet because she’s away or busy or who knows what — but note that you didn’t directly tell her that you need something, and she might prioritize responding faster if she realizes that you do.

Email her again and something like this: “I meant to say initially that I am hoping you are still able to sign off on my internship paperwork so that I’m able to get credit for the work and complete my degree. I’m attaching it here and I’d be so grateful if you’re able to return it by (date).”

She may think you took longer than she expected with it, but it’s not at all serious enough that it would trump the good impression she has from your actual work for her! After all, this is something that only impacts you. It’s not like you delayed for months on something she needed from you. It’s not a huge deal AT ALL. Email her now and you’ll feel much better.

{ 381 comments… read them below }

    1. Darjeeling*

      I agree. It’s like a clear signal of “I am really difficult to work with. Stay away”. I don’t get why any reasonable person would want this stigma attached to themselves.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oooooohh. Reading it again with that framing makes it make a lot more sense. That is incredibly messed up if so. And if that is indeed why she’s doing it, someone with authority (which may actually be the OP, as the team lead) should tell her “these aren’t appropriate to display and I’m collecting them from you today.” But it still shouldn’t be at the top of the priority list (although it can be a piece of evidence on it!).

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah—her behavior is pretty disgusting. I actually think focusing on the nameplates is ok. If nothing else, folks should snatch the nameplates and return them to HR or come up with some way to preempt Jan.

        And more importantly, I think it’s worth escalating complaints about her. She sounds awful.

        1. Lance*

          I’d also be curious about her given reasoning for the picture… and, whatever it may be, why in the hell the head of the department was apparently perfectly fine with this.

          1. LadyPhoenix*

            It is bad enough to collect past nameplates, but to print out an ex employees picture and display is a whole new level of vindictiveness.

            Honestly, Jan needs—absolutely NEEDS—to get her ass kicked out of this place yesterday. She is Muk-levels of toxic.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            All my life I’ve been amazed at how clueless managers can be.
            With that in mind, the dept. head may think it’s something different and harmless, or even good… she may have told him so… and don’t forget destructive people are often good at presenting a completely different personality to managers.

        2. Antilles*

          If nothing else, folks should snatch the nameplates and return them to HR or come up with some way to preempt Jan.
          Frankly, I’m sort of surprised that they haven’t ‘accidentally’ been taken off her desk and returned to HR (or the trash can).

          1. Marion Ravenwood*

            Part of me’s wondering if she’s screwed them to a wall or something. I’m imagining her sitting at a desk with just rows and rows of nameplates all crammed in behind her, like a really creepy version of a doctor’s office with diplomas on the walls.

      2. Emma*

        I have a co-worked who does the same thing. She is older and a lot of her social life is at work. To her, keeping photos/nametags of people signifies “a tribute” to old friends.
        She does to be nice and shown that they are not forgotten.
        I wonder if Jan is not misunderstood and perhaps a bit of an outsider at this workplace and doesn’t understand why people are unfriendly to her.

        1. Actively driving out empliyees and keeping trophies? What?*

          I’d maybe think that, if she hadn’t shown the department head the collecrion and laughed with him. That tilts it firmly into this

          1. Mookie*

            The head sounds like he’s contributing to this dysfunction, consciously or otherwise, because he knows about her nameplate habit and only thought to comment because there was a picture this time.

            Isn’t this wall-of-fame sort of deal something an office manager would sort out, rather than an employee? And if an employee decided unilaterally to take on this task, why would it need to be displayed on her desk? Does this office not have walls and corridors? These are the sorts of questions that ought to occur to a conscientious higher-up, particularly one of a small and insular department. But I guess that’s part and parcel of this workplace.

          1. Wintermute*

            That’s still how I read it but… it’s still grossly inappropriate. Imagine the signal it sends to new employees, they’d be wondering just what in the world they got themselves into that has a turnover rate that warrants a WALL of gone-but-not-forgottens!

          2. Free Meerkats*

            We have a collection of nameplates from the people who have left us, but it’s more “Gone, but not forgotten.” Even with that in mind (I looked over at them when I read this), I definitely saw this as Jan’s Trophy Wall.

          3. smoke tree*

            Obviously I’m not a very nice person, because I immediately assumed they were meant as trophies, just based on the rest of the facts here (Jan’s infamy, departing employees’ desire to keep their names off the wall, etc).

        2. Lance*

          Honestly, one could potentially argue that… if not for her apparent habit of just being insubordinate and rude. And besides, if she is somehow collecting them for such a reason… she needs to use her words and tell people.

          1. Emily K*

            Yes – the idea that she’s lonely and misunderstood is not consistent with the “sarcastic, rude, insubordinate, threatening to go over boss’s head to CEO to avoid discipline” description. I suppose it’s possible everyone in the office is misinterpreting her and she’s somehow not really being sarcastic, rude, or insubordinate, but when it comes to social stuff like this it kind is what it looks and sounds like. Someone who is trying to be friendly but coming off rude and unpleasant to *everyone* in the workplace needs to seriously brush up on their people skills.

            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

              Just a point–plenty of lonely, misunderstood people are sharp tongued or rude or others think they are. It’s easy to develop a defensive shell to avoid being hurt again. And rude is usually only used with women co workers. Sure, men may be call D**kx but a sharp tongued man is usually respected or, at least, allowed to be this way while women are criticized and considered problems if they are sarcastic.

              1. Rat in the Sugar*

                I respectfully disagree–while it’s true that women are often punished more harshly for rudeness or are sometimes seen as rude when a man wouldn’t be, I wouldn’t say that that means rude is only used with female coworkers. Plenty of men get called rude, and experience negative consequences in the workplace from it instead of respect. And even if it were totally true that rude is only used for female coworkers, that still wouldn’t mean that any accusation of rudeness against a woman would be automatically false.

                And maybe Jan is indeed lonely and misunderstood, but that wouldn’t make it okay for her to be rude and sarcastic and threaten to go the CEO when she is called on her behavior.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  Oddly, the loneliness may not be the sole driver of the behavior.

                  There was an employee, Sally, who was known for being abrupt/rude to people. We all figured that Sally was lonely, for Reasons. That was probably true. But at the same time I tried talking to Sally about being pleasant to people and Sally was genuinely surprised. She said, “No that is not true. If I am having a bad day, I do not need to be pleasant with cohorts or the public. If I give them what they are asking for, I have done my job. If I don’t feel like being pleasant then I do not have to be pleasant.”

                  Sally could not wrap her mind around the idea that being pleasant is part of the job. Jan is much further down the road than Sally ever was. Jan has become a vindictive, manipulative and cruel person. I have no idea how she can sleep at night.

                2. Chopsington*

                  I actually agree with that. I don’t expect that there should be any pressure on employees to be all cheery and sunny all the time. Especially when one IS having a bad day/week/year, forcing a fake smile on the outside can be pretty detrimental on the inside. And as a whole as a society we already place way too much emphasis on ‘smile all the time’, especially on women.

                  However, if you replace ‘professional’ instead of ‘pleasant, it’s something else. You are always expected to be professional. And that does mean an expectation of not being difficult to work with.

              2. batman*

                She’s probably lonely, but she’s not misunderstood. If she is, in fact, lonely (she may not be) the problem is her not understanding how she comes across to others. The misunderstanding is on her end, not on the other people’s end. I get that people lash out when they are lonely and trying to connect with others, I’ve done it myself, but that doesn’t mean the other people are misunderstanding them. If I’m mean to people and they don’t like me, it’s on me to understand how I’m being perceived, not on them to try to reach out because I’m lonely.

                1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

                  Good points but one person’s mean is another’s dark humor. Certainly, calling people names is cruel and mean. But a dry, sarcastic humor isn’t necessarily cruel. I brought up the misunderstanding because I had one person who works in my facility who asked me what she had done to offend me because I always glared at her. I was stunned–I didn’t know her name even and I squint as I am very near sighted and I can only assume she saw me squint at her as she passed my door. Long story short, we’re fine now (we greet each by name, say hi, etc.) I just wonder if this worker is sarcastic and therefore people see her as rude or if she is just rude.

        3. Alli525*

          One of my coworkers at my last job kept a “business card graveyard,” which for us was a lighthearted, sentimental thing in an industry and a business that had a lot of churn-and-burn turnover (but a lot of cameraderie among the ranks). But the departing employees would voluntarily donate their biz cards, not a scavenging of a trophy kill.

          1. Sharkie*

            My old coworker does the exact same thing! Some people sign or decorate them especially for him before they leave. I think its a motivator for him to grind out good work even on the hardest days.
            Were you in sales?

          2. AKchic*

            I used to get so many business cards for my various C-suite bosses in a non-profit industry that dealt with politicians and their assistants, government employees, attorneys, and just random folks that I never could keep up with who was coming or going.

            I ended up bringing in a big Tupperware container to hold all of the cards. One boss wanted them organized by industry, but in Alaska, politicians have day jobs too, and a lot of people diversify, so a politician can literally have a main business, a side business, a summer gig, and a winter “hobby” business all on one business card. Plus freelance as a handyman or general contractor on the side. I organized them alphabetically instead.

            That box would frequently have cards from people who would cycle out within 6 months, and you never know if they’d stay in the same line of work (sometimes not – I mean, you could go from pilot to handyman because of a DUI, then get into politics a year later, then get into ministry or rehab work and do a food truck on the side).

            1. TardyTardis*

              This sounds like my town, where a recent candidate for office is a part-time rodeo queen (she’s pretty good, too).

        4. Hello Sweetie*

          If that were the case, I don’t think so many people would be requesting that their nameplates be saved FROM her.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          I love how you’re willing to reflect, and admit when you may have been off-base with an answer. Kudos to you!

        2. Vermonter*

          You probably missed it because you’re an honest person and not the type to collect trophies reminding you of people you’ve chased out of the workplace. It’s hard to get into that mindset.

        3. MK*

          I agree with Vermonter, you missed it because it is a pretty twisted misndset. Like Criminal Minds-level twisted.

      3. Not your coworker*

        TBH, with all the strange stories I’ve seen on this site, I’m surprised this hasn’t come up before. I thought about writing in about the photo-collecting-lady in our community relations department, but she was finally terminated before I had the guts to send the email.

        (She would hang photos of past employees on her wall— X over their face was fired, black border was passed away, and ? was left/gone elsewhere)

        1. Not your coworker*

          Adding: I also thought no one would believe the story and that I’d be seen as a troll, but sadly this seems to be a “thing” in other workplaces. :(

        2. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

          “(She would hang photos of past employees on her wall— X over their face was fired, black border was passed away, and ? was left/gone elsewhere)”

          That’s a whole new dimension of weird!!

        3. SDSmith82*

          My most toxic boss to date had a little urn like jar on his desk. It was labeled “the ashes of former employees” and he’d burn the business cards of each team member he’d forced out. That was one of MANY red flags that I had to get away from that place before it killed me.

          1. General Ginger*

            Wow. Before I read the line “he’d burn the business cards” I was thinking, what a dark sense of humor, jar of random whatever labeled ashes of former employees — but it literally was the ashes of business cards? WOW.

            1. SDSmith82*

              He had issues. He’s the same boss that decided on a whim that he was never going to like me because I was a brunette. The only employees he’s been able to keep around are family at this point- and even the son gets fired/quits at least once every two years.

              Some of the fears from that office still haunt me, and probably always will.

          2. curly sue*

            Our department office has one of those urns on the reception desk labelled “Ashes of Problem Students.” Right now it’s holding pencils. I always thought it was cute, but the business card burning takes things to a whole new level of weird.

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              I kind of want to get one, but for my small business, because the only “employees” are myself and my business partner and we both have day jobs etc outside of it…so it would be a joke for the two of us.

      4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        What was your original advice?

        Because this seems far-fetched to me. It seems just as likely that she collects them as a quirky joke, treats it like a little memorial to the folks who have come and gone, likes the way they look, whatever.

        The coworkers may have reason to dislike Jan (although all the letter shares is that shes rude and sarcastic and had a dispute with a former manager, which, yeah, isn’t great… but it doesn’t make her a cartoon villain).

        But it seems just as likely to me that the coworkers are overreacting to weird thing Jan does as that Jan is displaying her “kill list” for all to see.

        1. Izzy*

          That’s what I was wondering too – not that it definitely COULDN’T be a kill list-type thing, but I could also see it as simply a weird habit or a sort of spiteful memorial wall. “Haha all these guys are gone but I’m still here”, that type of thing – still gross and weird but less actively awful than boasting about people she’s personally driven out. I don’t think it would change the advice much but I would love some clarification from OP!

          1. Rat in the Sugar*

            I agree with you–I think that quite a few employees probably left for reasons that had nothing to do with Jan, but it sounds like she’s collecting all nameplates regardless of reason for leaving.

            To me, however, it doesn’t make any difference. She’s still lording it over departed employees in a weird way, like they’re all the losers who got voted off the island but she’s still “winning”, so to speak. It’s weird and inappropriate, especially since Jan is not respecting the wishes of those who don’t want to be added to the Loser Hall of Fame and even printed someone’s picture to add when they successfully hid the nameplate from her. She’s being very petty and spiteful, and I’m really giving the side-eye to the director who apparently saw the photo and laughed when he heard that she put it up because everyone hid the nameplate.

            1. Izzy*

              This exactly, yeah. Ultimately it’s not an okay thing to do regardless of the reason and is probably contributing to the low morale of the department. Even if she didn’t personally drive these people away, I wouldn’t enjoy working in an atmosphere that allows this sort of thing.

          2. TheRedCoat*

            Yeah- I had a dead wall when I worked in the call center- similar to this department (no one knew what to do with us, we were shunted from management team to management team, if we did get the staffing we needed it was people who could pass a mirror test and would often call out weekly until they quit- rarely fired). But I did not keep it in public place where people could see. It was very much a ‘I’ve outsurvived all these people.’

            Shit gets weird in call centers. I passed the collection back to our facilities person with a ‘Oh hey, we weren’t sure what to do with all these old name plates?’ when I transferred.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          My original advice, when I thought Jan was doing it for less crappy reasons, was basically yours — I had said to leave it alone, that it wasn’t worth caring about and that dysfunctional workplaces have a way of warping your sense of what’s worth getting upset about, and that there were far bigger issues to focus on.

        1. Myrin*

          I honestly read it that way, too, simply because I don’t see any mention of literally every person who’s ever left this department being driven away by Jane; and it would have to be literally everyone because “Jan has been collecting all departed employees’ nameplates for years and proudly displayed them” (emphasis mine).

          And really, now that I’ve re-read the letter, there’s actually no indication that really anyone has left because of Jan specifically? Morale in the whole “stepchild” department is low for the reasons OP details in her first paragraph, and it seems like Jan is just an additional nuisance everyone in the department is fed up with, but not the actual cause for its deeper problems. It seems like a “straw that broke the camel’s back” kind of situation, where all the frustration with low morale, low engagement, incompetent leadership etc. exploded when The Office Nasty printed and displayed a picture of a beloved departed manager and the team now tries to gain back some control by doing something about that, at least.

          I found the letter a bit unclear, though, so I might well be wrong.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            The implication I saw in the letter was that a significant factor in this department’s high turnover is Jan’s treatment of people and management’s unwillingness to address it. I could be wrong, but that’s what I picked up on my first read of the letter.

    3. Elspeth*

      Yeah. I think I’d just take my nameplate with me if I was leaving a place like that – after all, no one else can use it!

      1. Just Employed Here*

        Exactly what I thought!

        Although having your picture displayed instead would also be pretty freaky … but you can laugh about it when you’re at you’re new, fabulous, non-toxic job, OP!

    4. Actively driving out empliyees and keeping trophies? What?*

      That was what I got from this too. The nameplates are trophies and the display says “See how many people I was able to drive away!”
      I can definitely understand how angry the coworkers are over this person bragging that these people left, and the head of department also finding it funny is truly egregious. I don’t think this is nearly as unimportant as Allison does.

        1. Actively driving out empliyees and keeping trophies? What?*

          It just goes to show, Jan is so far into the realms of this makes no sense that even you did not see it

    5. andrea*

      That’s how it seems to me, too—weird trophies of people she’s pushed out of the department. It’s weird and dispiriting. (Is she clamouring for your nameplate next?).

    6. anon today and tomorrow*

      We had someone at my previous company who, every Halloween, would make graves out of construction paper and list all the names of people who had left the company with some snide remark. Example: John Smith, remembered for never submitted ABC reports correctly.

      It was petty and awful, and made the already low morale worse. My coworker got away with it because she was a favorite of one of the managers, and she prided herself on being the best of the bunch. Reading about Jan and then seeing your comment reminded me of this coworker. It’s a gross thing to do.

        1. anon today and tomorrow*

          In the case of my old employer, my coworker had convinced the manager that the graves were “tributes” to former coworkers and meant in good fun, but writing things you didn’t like about coworkers for everyone to see was just mean. That coworker was so toxic, and management never saw it because they had let her get away with her behavior for so long that they just considered it normal.

          1. Mookie*

            You know your own former workplace, but my gut instinct would be that management enjoyed employing a heavy to do their dirty work by way of public shaming: “this is what you deserve for making mistakes and/or leaving.”

    7. Ender*

      I strongly suspect Jan is a sociopath. Thankfully shes not the kind that’s smart enough to hide it, so that’s a small silver lining. At least she’s out in the open and easy to spot.

      1. Concerned Lurker*

        Okay, so I know armchair diagnosing is against the rules and that this is a somewhat petty hill to die on, but Jan doesn’t read as a sociopath to me and we really don’t have the information necessary to claim she has an antisocial personality disorder. This is just a thing that really bugs me and this comment is totally about me and my stuff.

        She’s totally an awful person though. No question about it.

        1. Izzy*

          If it helps, I do agree – that’s an awfully big statement to make about someone, based on a short and quite confusing letter. It’s not really very actionable, either.

    8. This Daydreamer*

      I’m thoroughly creeped out by Jan. It really does sound like those nameplates were trophies from her successful “kills”. How can the department head not know or care how incredibly toxic and disrespectful Jan is being?

    9. H.C.*

      My interpretation is more along the lines of “see all these quitters that I’ve outlasted” – but either way, hope the LW will give us an update about this situation – if they haven’t left that workplace already.

  1. Darjeeling*

    Wow OP4, somehow it seems really appropriate that I just went from reading Cersei Lannister’s wiki page to coming here, because WOW.
    I agree with AAM, get your team to focus your energy on getting out. I suspect if you do try to bring it up, you would have to waste valuable mental energy in having a huge fight with Jan Trophy Collector there.

    1. MLB*

      Agreed. At my last job our team had a toxic manager. 4 of us either left the company or moved to a different department in 6 months. I spoke to the CIO before I left and nothing changed. Until the higher ups are willing to recognize the problems and do something about them, nothing will change.

      1. Cassandra*

        Indeed, things are liable to get worse because the sources of toxicity come to believe themselves safe, not to say invincible.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      And when you do get a new job, OP, request an interview. Tell them that Jan’s rude behavior and management’s refusal to address it in any way was a big factor in your deciding to leave.

  2. Cambridge Comma*

    Someone I worked with was fired for sending written death threats to another colleague (from her work e-mail address). She freely admitted it, and had a weapon in her office.
    To anyone who wasn’t directly involved in the process there is no hint of any scandal surrounding the firing.
    I would therefore strongly caution OP1 in assuming that they have any insight into the reason for the firing. For that reason alone, the public campaign seems a bad idea.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Yes. Some companies take privacy very seriously, even when it comes to people being fired.

      When I think of the three people I know were fired from the company I work for, in each case my employer only told me the minimum they needed to.

      1. Mookie*

        Some companies take privacy very seriously, even when it comes to people being fired.

        Some also make free use of the idea of ‘privacy’ to keep underwrap things an employee did that the company fears they might be fully or partially liable for.

        1. Bilateralrope*


          If the rumor is right about what one of those people I mentioned was fired for, my employer could have been facing a fine of tens of thousands of dollars.

        2. MK*

          Sometimes it’s simply about bad PR. Companies cover-up things like embezzlement, because they don’t want to hurt the public’s trust, e.g. a large supermartket chain where I live has a policy that they always prosecute theft when committed by a customer but never when it’s an employee, they just fire them.

    2. Tash*

      Indeed! Personally I think this whole situation is more likely to damage the people protesting – I would seriously question the judgement of someone who publicly protests a firing they know nothing about.

      1. Antilles*

        I think whether it would damage the people protesting really depends on the cause for the firing.
        If the firing was because of something jaw-droppingly horrific (molestation, murder, etc), then maybe – the news media would portray it as “Look at all these people supporting a serial kidnapper” or whatever and that would certainly look bad.
        But if it’s something more run-of-the-mill like ‘poor performance’ or ‘mismanaged finances’ or ‘questioned management’, I don’t think it would blow back on the protesters at all.
        (Of course, as Cambridge correctly noted, the protesters have no way of knowing what the cause is)

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I don’t know. There was a man at one of my recent jobs who was demoted and moved to another location, because he wasn’t doing the work at the level he should have been. People who know the reason behind the demotion and move are split. About two thirds of us say it’s a good thing that he was held accountable and moved to a position where he could be more effective. Everyone else still rants, years later, about how unfair it all was and maybe he didn’t ask “how high” when management said “jump,” but he shouldn’t have had to lose his status over it.

          So, if there’s a big public outcry over a beloved person being fired, that’s usually where my mind goes. Even if the person was fired for a mundane reason like not doing their job well, saying “but we like him!” is beside the point. I agree that it’s not likely to cause an enormous blowback, but it could certainly cause people to give some serious side-eye to the protesters.

    3. Non-sequiturs*

      “Someone I worked with was fired for sending written death threats to another colleague (from her work e-mail address). She freely admitted it, and had a weapon in her office.”

      ….and therefore firing of anyone in a public-facing role MUST be for equally justified reasons? C’mon.

      1. Mookie*

        Unless there’s a contract at work, all reasons are automatically justifiable for ending at-will employment, excluding anything illegal.

      2. Colette*

        Other reasons that may not be made public:
        – embezzlement
        – complete failure to do one task that she doesn’t like to do
        – racist, sexist, etc. behavior and language
        – criminal charges that affect her ability to do her job (i.e. child abuse, assault, theft)
        – being difficult to get along with, and causing other employees to leave

        Just because you don’t know why it happens doesn’t mean there wasn’t a reasonable reason

    4. Ender*

      Yeah I’m actually very surprised that people would hold protests saying this was wrongful termination when they literally don’t know.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This is exactly what I was coming here to say.

        We actually have something similar happening not far from where I live. A beloved principal was suspended and people are protesting to get his job back without knowing why. There have been rumors flying about it, but nothing even remotely substantiated.

        OP#1, do you want to take the risk in this day and age of supporting someone blindly? I would be more concerned about your own reputation.

      2. Kittymommy*

        I’m not. My place is preferably involved in this. One of our departments let go of a volunteer running an agency and some of the other employees are calling non stop, trying to get a social media campaign started, contacting the state overseeing agency, etc. They don’t know why he got fired and assume it’s because some employees hate him (they don’t). The reason? Financial irregularities and lack of filing mandatory paperwork (& stating differently to staff) serious enough there local agency had to be dissolved.

      3. Seriously?*

        Yeah. It isn’t even a case where they only have one side of the story. They have no sides of the story!

        1. Brianna*

          I think the fired director was talking personally with his friends. His now-public story does match what the protesters were claiming, though it’s being refuted by the theater and most of his coworkers and reports.

          1. FaintlyMacabre*

            I believed what my former boyfriend told me about his firing, until I started noticing the way he behaved at his new workplace, plus general observations of his character. Now I am happy he is my ex, and I suspect his version of being fired where he is the victim was a lie.

            It’s a tough situation! The director could have been pushed out due to theatre politics or because he was legitimately not doing a good job for whatever reason. I would look to the director to see if they even want people to protest.

      4. Mike C.*

        I don’t think it’s this simple. People don’t just protest something because they have nothing better to do.

        1. Brianna*

          I mean, he was very beloved, and there were rumors that he was fired without notice or cause as a cover up. But they were not confirmed.

        2. RegrettableProtests*

          Eh, I mean, to echo my other college football comment, people protest something because they have a lot of feelings, not because they have any idea what’s going on.

        3. DaffyDuck*

          Yes, there are people who protest “because they have nothing better to do” (as a hobby) and some people do it for attention. Some people protest because they have a legitimate grievance that is not being attended to thru appropriate channels. That the fired director is not part of the protest suggests some of the former are trying to “help him.”

    5. Lilo*

      I would stay out of it until the facts are clear.

      When I was in youth theater a beloved director was quietly fired and there were similar grumblings and silence from the management, but it turned out what really was going on is that the director was fired for having a technically legal, but extremely inappropriate relationship with one of the teenagers in a youth program. Management was extremely quiet because of concerns about the student’s privacy. Obviously I don’t know what the circumstances are here, but there are sometimes good reasons for a lack of public information.

      I would be very very careful about making public statements and similar when you don’t know the circumstances.

      1. Emily K*

        Gosh, what a nightmare for the theater company (and especially anyone in a comms or customer service type of role who has to answer to the public) having to take that heat while trying to stay on the high professional road and not disclose confidential information–knowing they absolutely did the right thing and that anyone who knew would agree with their judgment, but they can’t defend themselves against the public gossip.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        I have to say that in the era of #metoo my mind went to the idea that something inappropriate happened. The theater is seeing horrible press crash on other places that covered bad things up and tries to quietly get rid of a employee that they know has been inappropriate before they are the next headline in the news. I am not saying this is what happened, this is just where my mind went with the news these days. If you don’t have the theater’s side of events at all you can’t claim it was an unjust firing. If he doesn’t want to say and they don’t want to say then stay out of it.

        1. Lehigh*

          Yep. The silence + the lawyer + the protests because But Dude Is So Beloved sent my mind straight there. Not even to cover their own butts, but because you can fire someone a lot more simply than you can PROVE IT for either a criminal court or the court of public opinion.

          Of course it’s may not be that. Probably isn’t. But why you would jump to protesting a mysterious firing is beyond me.

    6. Jam Today*

      Totally agree, I work at a weekend market and a guy I used to work for was booted out of the market after multiple violent incidents and then finally telling me he was going to start bringing a gun (which he planned to leave under the display table, loaded and unattended) in case he needed to shoot a terrorist (I’m not kidding about that). I told the Board of Directors, and he got tossed out. His “regulars” *FREAKED OUT*. I mean like totally unhinged, stalker-ish behavior attacking the BOD, the director of the program, the program manager (who had nothing to do with it), threatened massive public demonstrations, etc. The thing is, the market didn’t say a word about it because the complaints were so specific (mine was not the only one) that they would have been immediately traced back to individuals, and he would have targeted us for retaliation. Their silence was a deliberate decision to protect us from potential harm.

      The short story is: you are not entitled to know any personnel details, ever, unless it directly impacts you — even if you work for that organization. Wanting to know =/= having a right to know, even you really really like the person.

      1. Birch*

        Totally a red flag in these kinds of situations. That kind of unhinged, violent reaction from supporters is probably a hint that the sacked person wasn’t innocent!

        1. Jam Today*

          It was really amazing, and a huge insight into the neighborhood I live in, which is to say: an extreme belief in their entitlement to whatever they want, whenever they want it and a tantrum-throwing reaction whenever they’re told “no”. Its funny, I moved in here when the neighborhood was pretty grungy (think: drug dealers next door and across the road, the occasional SWAT raid — that one happened while I was coming home from a date! — etc.) and it gentrified within the span of like two years. The oldsters who have been here all along ask why Shooty McViolent is gone and I say “well, he made some poor decisions” and they just nod and say “oh well that’s too bad”. They’re fine with it, they seem to have a good understanding of actions –> consequences. Its the New Money crew that completely lost their mind over it. I guess the lesson is: don’t get between bougie white people and their kale.

        2. Alton*

          I think it can depend. In a case like that, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone who threatens violence might also have some violent-minded friends/supporters. But there are also times when stories go viral and people jump on an outrage bandwagon or where people jump the gun on cases that may involve discrimination or other genuine concerns but that haven’t been investigated yet. Especially with the internet, it can be really easy for people to rally around a cause that they don’t know much about and maybe aren’t even invested in. You don’t know what will set people off. I read a story recently about a restaurant getting death threats because they changed their french fry recipe!

          1. Jam Today*

            This is definitely an “outrage bandwagon” situation, combined with the aforementioned belief that certain types of people are entitled to everything they want, when they want it. Its funny, I mentioned how my neighborhood used to be pretty run-down and a little dangerous but I never felt in any personal danger in the 15 years I’ve lived here until that happened, and the danger I felt was from the gentrifying set. They really scared me.

    7. Exhausted Trope*

      Holy s__t!! I just lost it reading your post, Cambridge Comma! Your coworker made death threats AND had a weapon in her office?!!

    8. Essess*

      Exactly. I am boggled by giant public protests about something when they don’t actually have the confidential facts. You don’t know WHY he was fired so how can you publicly declare it was a wrongful termination??? You are only making assumptions about the reasons for firing based on your own experiences but it is possible that he did something bad to a single person or there was something found in his history that was of concern. I can understand a group giving him emotional/moral support because they feel bad that he’s gone and they had good personal interactions with him, but you lose credibility if you unilaterally declare that that it was wrong to terminate him unless you were there in the room when the reasons for firing were discussed!

    9. Muriel Heslop*

      I’m bound by all kinds of law that I cannot disclose why someone has been fired. In this climate, if we don’t renew a special ed teacher, it’s for a VERY good reason. We often get pushback with very loved teachers, but I can’t and won’t tell you that we caught him smoking weed in his car on school property or looking at porn on his work computer (both happened.) Nice people who loved the kids, but you can’t do those things at work on a public school campus and expect to keep your job.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Ah, special ed–I can talk about the one who sent students down to fetch her meds and then kindly shared them with some of the students, because that was in the newspaper.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I think it’s difficult for a public protest to help the employment status of the person for whom the protest is being held. This is especially true when we don’t know what gave rise to his firing. It could be as simple as a clash of personalities or performance issues, or it could be because of something pretty serious. The worst is when it’s the latter and the public protests for someone who simply cannot be rehired because of their malfeasance.

    A few years ago, a friend who DJ’d a morning show on local public radio was fired. It was mostly a personality issue. He decided it was part of a vast conspiracy, hired an attorney, lodged “whistleblower” complaints to the state Attorney General, and organized a series of public protests and rallies. He remained unemployed in his preferred field (public radio) for over four years while the issue was litigated. He ultimately won his job back, but he was blackballed by all radio stations in the state. Anyone who googled his name would find reams of stories of his fight with his employer, and he couldn’t get traction with out-of-state stations.

    I’m not saying public protests are always bad for the person being fired. But I would be cautious of protesting unless you know that he wasn’t fired for cause.

    1. Mookie*

      I wonder how the former / departing director is privately responding to this protest campaign and if he’s at all involved behind the scenes. These activities under these conditions (which are mysterious) can end up invoking the Streisand Effect, and that may trigger the unwanted airing of misdeeds from all quarters because of the increased and intensifying scrutiny. But I’d have to believe, if he were rational, that he’d have his legal team publicly discouraging the protests if they feared that further attention could expose or harm him in some way.

    2. Brianna*

      I didn’t personally protest. I was concerned about exactly what Alison mentioned.

      I posted more details below, but he is now claiming he was fired in response to voicing his concerns about a relationship between the ED and a contractor, and the theater is claiming it was for a long history of poor performance on n the business end combined with an attempt to fire that contractor for bringing an EEOC complaint against his friend.

      He and his legal team never acknowledged the protests publicly that I know of.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I think it has been a recurring theme on Ask A Manager that it becomes a huge problem whenever anyone is immune from being fired. So many people have written in about problem employees that they can’t get rid of for one reason or another, and Allison always calls it out as a bad idea to work for someplace that won’t get rid of these problems. You want to save this guy’s job because you like him, but admit you have no idea what is going on behind the scenes.

      I feel like the worst case scenario here is for him to get his job back, and then the board feels like they can never fire him again for whatever issue they had with him, and it gets worse and worse, but “we can’t do anything because there was a big protest last time we fired him” and everyone else he works with gets frustrated because no one will do anything about this issue that they all see and interferes with their work, and they leave one by one because they just can’t take it anymore.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, WOW. I physically recoiled when I got to the “like a big girl” line.

    Your boss is way out of line. Like, so far out of line that the line is a tiny speck on the horizon. You can ask her gently to cut that shit out (per Alison’s scripts), but definitely don’t downplay this as a minor issue. She’s undermining you and how others see you, and that’s going to make your advancement and others’ perception of you difficult. Even if she doesn’t realize she’s being inappropriate, don’t let her sabotage you!

      1. your favorite person*

        It’s terrible and not kind, but I would be surprised if it’s intentional. Something similar happened to me. When I first started, my bosses treated me very much like this- not to this extent but similarly. It was an over-correction from someone else who was there that they seemed to be too cold, too non-friendly, etc. So they were trying to be ‘nice’ by doing some slight ribbing but didn’t realize they were coming off super condescending. They were just older guys who were used to working with older guys and didn’t understand how infantizing it was. I called it out a bit or just ribbed them back and it got better.

      2. Chaordic One*

        Yes, I also think it is intentional. If she says it is not, then she is attempting to gaslight you.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      I had a pretty visceral reaction, too. I’ve only ever gotten this at work from a peer, not bosses, but it’s severely undermining. I had *my* reports start assuming I was incapable of doing certain tasks thanks to her, when that was clearly not the case. On behalf of short, young-looking people everywhere, please stop her! It’s not okay. She’s either beyond clueless or straight up sabotaging you – don’t put up with it.

      1. Doug Judy*

        I was going to say as someone who’s in their mid 30’s and is short and much younger looking, its something I always have to address. It’s an issue because people assume I’m the intern, or fresh out of school. Not a mid career professional with a graduate degree. Thankfully I haven’t been talked to as disrespectfully as Op #2, but it seems that I always have to address it in some way. The sooner you do it the better and it does get easier.

        1. many bells down*

          I’m not particularly short, but I have a round baby face and up until a year or two ago this happened to me a lot as well. I was always having to tell my kids’ teachers that I was a decade older than they thought I was *AND* a teacher myself; they did not have to explain things to me like I was 22.

          True story: I once got mistaken for a fifth grader at the age of 33, so I really sympathize with these comments.

          1. JamieG*

            I’m 29. I was out to dinner a few months ago with my husband and preschooler son, and the host asked if we wanted one or two kids’ menus.

            Apparently the look I gave him was harsher than I meant, because he came up to us later to apologize.

    2. Mookie*

      I suspect LW 2’s boss is, on top of being an utter feckhead, also a lost cause. I recommend pushing back, as well, and often, and in public where necessary. I’m rooting for the LW to find another job and leave this place in the dust, but until then, she should commit to ruthlessly standing up for herself wherever possible, but diplomatically*. She still may not get the response she deserves and it may hurt her chances for a good reference (because this boss sounds unreasonable), but you can’t burn a bridge some saboteur** has already destroyed.

      *as you say, this is professional sabotage and emotional abuse to boot. That stool remark feels (figuratively, obv) sociopathic. How the hell do you decide to bully somebody like this? I can’t even fathom why this happened or why this manager speaks with such vitriol over a person’s height.

      *I’m trying to think of a funny, job-threatening way to demonstrate that these comments are ridiculous, and the best I can dream up is to just pop a pacifier in your mouth whenever the boss pulls this bullshit while explaining that its going to be hours before your next breast-feeding and also it’s time for your employer-paid nap so you’re leaving now, later tater

      1. Nita*

        I’m thinking lost cause too. I’ve worked with many difficult people, but this one is something else! I just cannot imagine a sane adult talking to a coworker this way. Not even if the coworker looks young. Not even if the coworker is an intern. Not even if the coworker is a couple feet shorter than the boss (incidentally, what kind of person makes fun of their coworker’s height?) Not even if the coworker is new to the workplace and acts a little immature. Not even… well, under any circumstances. I don’t know how boss talks to others, but from LW 2’s letter, it seems boss has a complete lack of social awareness, and doesn’t think before she speaks.

        Frankly, I’d use all the great suggestions others have made to put the breaks on her comments, but I’d also just start looking for a new job, because this is aggravating, and because I can’t see any possibility of career advancement with a boss who thinks you’re a cute little baby.

    3. Yojo*

      I would suggest a slow, slightly baffled “I’m an adult…?”

      And if it continues, “still not a child, Jane.”

      “I’m not a ‘big girl,’ I’m a…slightly short adult?”

      “Do you sometimes regret not going into teaching elementary school?”

      If she does it in front of others: “Haha, did you mean to say that out loud?”

      Call attention to it–not aggressively, but every time. Act confused, because she’s behaving ridiculously.

      1. Me*

        Such a fan of this approach. I find it works very well with people who are out of line. My favorite is an innocent “What do you mean by that?” “I’m sorry I don’t understand what you are trying to get at”. Clueless people will realize they were being offensive, apologize and not do it again. Jerks will usually realize that they can’t explain it without sounding like a jerk and, while rarely apologizing or admitting wrongness, they at least shut up (and in my experience talk to me less).

    4. Kittymommy*

      OP2, your boss is an ass. The “cute” and “Babyface” alone would be ride, but more ignorant rude. Ciupled with the other comments it sounds intentional and inappropriate; as if she’s trying to undermine your validity as an employee and colleague. My sympathies.

    5. Adlib*

      Yeah, this is terrible! I know a manager in my company who sometimes uses a baby talk voice at random times which I can’t fully explain as it really seems to be random, but I’ve also seen her refer to some female employees as being “cute” which was meant as condescendingly as it sounds. I don’t see how this boss is doing anything but undermining her intentionally unless she really is that clueless.

    6. wondrous*

      +1 I think I actually said “what” out loud. This is something that would irk me from my own friends (I’m also short and young looking), and in a professional setting, from a boss no less…it boggles the mind. Seconding what others have said, this is not a minor issue at all. This is incredibly demeaning. Best of luck putting the advice here into action!

    7. Amber T*

      Very ridiculous. I’m also a youngish looking, short woman, and while I do get jokes for my height (and to be honest, I make the most jokes out of it, especially when I’m trying to reach for something), I still expect and get treated with respect by my coworkers and boss.

    8. Dr. Pepper*

      Made me cringe too. The cutesy nick-names are bad enough, but the infantilizing statements she’s making are, well, horrible. Does she do anything like this to anyone else or is it just you? Whether she does it intentionally or not, she needs to stop. Use the scripts and don’t be surprised if you have to speak up multiple times. Be calm, be assertive, and don’t let her pull any “but I’m being friendly/funny/kidding/whatever”. Because she’ll probably try to defend herself somehow. Be ready for it and stay calm. It’s okay to be a broken record about this issue, it’s so beyond inappropriate that she says these things.

    9. Not a Blossom*

      Princess Consuela, with that username, I expected “the line is a dot to you!”

      I completely agree with your comment, though. Even if others realize how inappropriate this is (and they should!), they are still going to look at the OP differently than if they weren’t hearing this. It has to stop.

    10. emmelemm*

      As a short, young-looking (although distinctly less so in my 40s) lady, I’ve never encountered anything *quite* that bad, but close. Sometimes people are doing it unintentionally, sometimes semi-intentionally, but either way it’s got to be nipped in the bud. It does affect others’ perceptions of you, and can start to affect your perception of yourself!

    11. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      A number of breathtakingly rude responses occurred to me, none of which are actually helpful; I finally landed on: Look of Total Incomprehension, then saying, “What do you mean? I AM an adult.” Then keep looking her right in the eye, no matter how long the pause goes.
      What a jerk.

  5. BRR*

    #3 after using Alison’s suggestions, I’d then change the subject. It keeps the conversation going and steers it away from that topic. Most people will follow. Some might not take the hint but if you repeat that you’d prefer to not talk about it that almost always will solve this.

    1. Ginger ale for all*

      You could also beg their pardon as if you couldn’t quite hear what they said and if they miss that social hint and repeat their question, ask them why they need to know the how and why of it. In other questions/comments in AAM, other posters have called this returning the awkwardness to the sender.

      1. SS Express*

        This is my favourite response when someone says something inappropriate. Gives them a chance to reflect AND gives me a moment to get ready in case they ask it again.

      2. I woke up like this*

        Ha, I was going to suggest the same thing. It’s the tactic I use with my preschooler when she’s being demanding (I want it NOW!) or whiny. I say, “I can’t understand what you’re saying right now” with a confused/bemused look, and then she usually takes a breathe and asks politely. I think, “I’m not quite following you…” with a confused look would be the workplace equivalent. I can tell you it works like a charm for little kids, so it would be a fun way to turn the tables. Good luck!

      3. Rebecca in Dallas*

        I like this! I do something similar by saying, “Why do you ask?” It makes it super awkward when it’s clear the only answer is “Because I’m nosy.”

        We lost my FIL to suicide a few years ago and I’m still surprised at how tactless people can be. So sorry for your loss, OP3.

        1. AAA*

          Hi (I am assuming) Rebecca,

          Thank you so much for your comment. I am terribly sorry to hear about your loss as well. On the darker days, I read the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. Not sure if that would be of any help to you, but it definitely helps me when I start to dwell on things.

            1. AAA*

              Absolutely. I keep it as my phone background as a constant reminder of my unconquerable soul, which you clearly have as well.

    2. MLB*

      I feel like Alison’s suggestions still leave the door open for nosy people to pry. I would go with “I’d prefer not to discuss that”, and move on. It’s not rude, but it’s clear that it’s not a subject you want to discuss.

      1. Amber T*

        And to be clear – if someone continues to push on the subject anyway, they’re being the rude ones, so feel free to walk away.

        As a bystander, if I witnessed Person A ask Person B a personal question, B’s response was “I’d prefer not to discuss that,” and A kept nagging? I would think much less of A, but my professional opinion of B would probably increase, especially if they kept their cool and didn’t slap A silly.

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, I’m so sorry—this sounds awful. It’s bad enough that you’re having to cope with your boss’s passing, but it’s doubly awful that people are prying about how he passed. I’m sorry; that shouldn’t happen.

    In addition to Alison’s scripts, I think it’s ok to say “I’m really not comfortable discussing his passing.” For more pushy people, I’d deploy an incredulous tone and say, “Wait, are you *really* asking me for details about his death?” If people are going to push on the issue, I am a firm believer in returning awkward to sender. They’re behaving badly, and this is the kind of situation where it’s entirely appropriate to let them feel the full awkwardness that they’re imposing on you when they put you on the spot.

    1. Mookie*

      “It’s not something I like thinking or talking about” could also work, done in a regretful, but sober and firm tone.

    2. Reba*

      Agreed, I think a Carolyn-Hax-classic “Wow” would be well placed in some of these conversations.

      OP#3, I’d also add that it might be helpful to practice some of these responses with a friend or in front of a mirror before going someplace, like a conference, where you’re likely to need them. So often in the moment, we can just freeze. Practicing getting the words out helps with composure. Sorry you’re dealing with this.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      Agreed. Also, since this issue has cropped up multiple times, I’d be prepared with canned statements for when it inevitably happens again. Don’t shrink away and hope people won’t bring it up, it’s been proven that they will. Write out scripts and practice them so you have them ready next time and aren’t fumbling for words. The smoother you can say your piece, the easier it will be to change the subject. And yes, do return awkward to sender if people won’t take a hint and keep prying.

    4. AAA*

      Thanks. I am the OP in this question. He was a public official which means that his name and story were slapped all over the news for a very long time. That is definitely good advice. I was in an interview a few months ago and they were asking me where I was from originally, and he had represented the area, and the group (like 8 people) were trying to remember who represented the district in the past so I listed back a few of the public officials. When I said his name they all started talking about his suicide and how much of a shock it was and everything. They had clearly not read my resume and knew that I had worked for him and it was painfully uncomfortable. One time I was in an interview for a writing-based job and they had me edit an old letter that was addressed to him (one of my edits was that he wasn’t even in office at that point because of the date on it, so they clearly changed their old letter to be addressed to him)

      It is just difficult when it comes up in interviews because it just completely throws me through a loop every time and I get nervous and shaky for the rest of the interview which obviously doesn’t play out very well.

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        I’ll chime in with the people recommending that you come up with a short script and practice the hell out of it. I would also start going into interviews expecting people to bring it up so that it’s not a shock when it happens, as long as that doesn’t lead to you dwelling on it uncomfortably.

        I would try a script that acknowledges people’s shock (helps the conversation feel “closed” so people feel ready to move on and drop it) and that also puts the emphasis on the life he lived rather than its ending (hopefully helps remind people that focusing on his death too much is rather morbid). Maybe something like…”Yes, it was shocking even to those of who were close to him. It’s very tough the way it’s overshadowed his life, too–I always remember him for [Big Accomplishment he made in our field]. That made a big difference to a lot of people.” Obviously tweak to fit–but a statement like that should hopefully end the conversation, or at the very least change it to a discussion of his accomplishments and career rather than his death. If you’d rather just shut things down, I would probably skip my script and use one of the others suggested that are more along the lines of “I don’t want to talk about it.”

        1. AAA*

          That is definitely a good suggestion, thank you. I always have a hard time coming up with that kind of stuff to say about it so I really do appreciate everyone’s suggestions.

          1. Dr. Pepper*

            Take the time to sit down and write out all the suggestions here and also how conversations on this subject have gone in the past. Then script it out and practice your lines. This may sound stupid, but think of it as any other prepared statement that you’ve ever heard. It also may help the inevitable conversation feel less personal, which will help you move through it calmly.

      2. Key Wester*

        I have also been in this situation and I am sending you all my sympathies. My boss was not a public figure, but she was well-known in our field, so people within our industry definitely remember and comment on it even though it happened some years ago.

        I agree with the advice to practice, practice, practice your script.

        In interview situations, I can’t always be as icy as I would like. Also, sometimes even well-meaning people blurt out something that sounds harsher than they intended, and it helps me to acknowledge (in my head, prior to situations where I suspect it might come up) that people might have shocking or unsettling responses that are more about them being shocked and/or unsettled — hey, I was shocked and unsettled as well when it happened.

        I have a couple of redirects that go along the lines of “Yes, I keenly felt that loss professionally and personally (hard stare if appropriate) … one of the things I remember most about her was the work she dedicated to [a particular professional issue].” I have a few of these professional issues at the ready so that I can pick the one that makes the most sense to raise in the meeting/interview/presentation that relates to the actual topic at hand, in order to get the focus of the conversation back to something work-related. Here is how it goes:
        “Yes, I keenly felt that loss professionally and personally … one of the things I remember most about her was the work she dedicated to establishing standard guidelines for Teapot Spout replacement. At that time, we learned that only about 20% of Spout replacements were done by certified Spouters. Now, certified Spouters are involved about 60% of the time. Are you finding this to be true in Teapot Handle replacement as well? What do you think is driving that change?”

        1. AAA*

          Thank you very much for your comment. I really appreciate your insight, although I wish you didn’t have to go through a similar situation. That is one of the reasons I wrote in, because anytime I ask a colleague how I should handle it obviously no one else has been through the situation before and they have limited suggestions. Your fake conversation about teapot spouts definitely made me laugh on a day that I needed it, thanks!

      3. Kiwi*

        Hi AAA, this could be a place to answer the question people should’ve asked, not the one they did ask. So, no matter how they bring up your boss, you could just say “Yes, he was great to work for. I’ll always remember .”

      4. Not So NewReader*

        “I think you will understand here. I prefer to focus on his life and focus less on how he passed away.”

        “Yes, many people tell me they were shocked. I was shocked. My choice now is to dwell his work in life rather than focus on his moment of passing.”

        Whatever you say, OP, you can restart the conversation by pointing it in a direct that you are comfortable with. “I would be happy to answer any questions about my work while I was employed by him.” Land on a redirect, people will usually grab it and go off in that direction.

  7. Anony Theater*

    Yeah I’ve worked all over in regional theaters and while I have no idea the players in OP1’s sitch (and I’m not pretending to guess), minus the public protesting part, I have seen this scenario before: artistic director, or managing director, or some other Person In Charge suddenly leaves and there isn’t an openly known scandal but it definitely was a firing or a paid-t0-resign-but-pretend-you’re-pursuing-other-unspecified-opportunities. Obviously it’s possible this was some sort of actual unfairness to the person leaving…or even not unfairness but just a bad choice on the part of the org.
    But the mention of advice from the person’s lawyer strongly suggests there is more to this story, and I’m very much disinclined to assume the person is squeaky clean based on my personal experiences that could be described like the one in the letter. Even when the person is beloved by the public.
    OP1 I get it if your mindset is innocent until proven guilty, but directors get away with SO MUCH because they’re geniuses or popular or made the theater a ton of cash with their last big hit. To actually give ’em the sack it’s just so so so likely something bad went down. But also likely that something will be buttoned up and you’ll have no way of knowing what it actually was. By design. The board won’t want it out, whatever it was.

    1. Taryn*

      Yeah, as another theatre professional, this is very much my thought. Theaters don’t just let go of “beloved” creative directors without real reason, and the fact that the director in question is being advised by their lawyer not to comment very strongly indicates something is amiss. (Honestly, with how theaters are slowly dragging their feet to join the cultural push of zero tolerance when it comes to sexual harassment, that’s where my mind went. And if the theatre dragged their feet to deal with it, which so often happens, it’s very likely they’d want to keep matters quiet.)

      And honestly, from the POV of the audience, how are people reasonably going to claim wrongful termination in their protests when the reason is being swept under the rug?

      1. Ender*

        My mind went straight there too. Maybe because Bill Cosby is in the news this week. He is one of many that seemed so nice from an outside perspective but was so evil underneath.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        My first thought was of the Chicago theater a few years back that had a big scandal about someone who was assaulting people on stage during performances.

        1. CanuckCat*

          Makes me think of the recent Soulpepper Theatre scandal, where the theatre in question only did something /after/ four lawsuits were levelled against them, despite the women at the centre of the lawsuits alleging that higher ups at the company knew, if not in detail, then in broad strokes, of the assaults.

      3. Well...*

        I do want to point out that sometimes theaters do let go of “beloved” creative directors for reasons that are not related to their behavior. Without going into details, I know of a case where a creative director was let go because they put on a play that was not in line with the politics of the board (think: the board was very against drugs, and the creative director staged a play that showed the toll of the War on Drugs). There were also lawyers involved and it was a big mess. In the LW’s case, while the reason for this guy’s firing absolutely could be something legally and morally bad that he did, it’s also possible that the reason for his firing was not because of his behavior or anything bad that he did, and that the anger and sadness surrounding his departure is justified.

        1. WS*

          +1, I was only involved with the technical side of theatre but the politics can be absolutely mindblowing from the outside. It’s entirely possible the director has done nothing wrong but a misstep with the board (or someone else important like a major donor) but without knowing the details protesting is untargeted and likely to backfire.

          1. many bells down*

            Oh gosh yes. My experience of community theater groups is that there’s usually “factions” that all want to be in charge, and when a new faction rises to power they dump as much of the old faction as they can get away with. The politicking is HARDCORE.

        2. Anony Theater*

          That’s true. My point was moreso “the public hasn’t seen any indication something bad went down” is insufficient reason to assume it didn’t in this type of situation. I didn’t mean to say it definitely did, but the de facto position of the theater (unless something were already public and they didn’t have a chance to stop it) is pretty much always going to be “keep it private”. He could’ve had a screaming match with another Leadership Role and one of them had to go. He could’ve had multiple sexual harassment settlements. Or worse. Or anything in between. But it’s absolutely normal that to the public, in most cases, all they’d know is there was a separation between the director and the theater. Whether it’s internal politics from the board or a real horrible thing, the board’s job is generally to make sure the public doesn’t know, to keep the reputation of the theater. That the public has never heard a bad thing about the person is not evidence one way or the other.

        3. Anonymous for this*

          I know of a theater where an AD was let go in our local community. He claimed it was because of the politics of the work he put on (similar to Well . . .’s example). What wasn’t publicly known was that the AD had been planning on leaving to start a new theater for several months and was fundraising for that new theater company to the current theater company’s donors. The AD also had been getting in screaming matches with leadership (and the previous person in that position) for years. People who were outside the situation had no idea that what looked like a “censorship” firing was actually vastly more complicated. The organization that fired the AD also didn’t go into details as to why they fired them with the public.

          OP, I would not stage public protests. You don’t actually know what was happening.

      4. McWhadden*

        “Theaters don’t just let go of “beloved” creative directors without real reason, ”

        Of course they do. Theaters can be some of the most unprofessional and shoot yourself in your foot environments around. Personal conflicts, wanting to hire a friend, outright discrimination happens.

        “and the fact that the director in question is being advised by their lawyer not to comment very strongly indicates something is amiss.”

        It is a stretch to say this “very strongly” suggests the director did something wrong. If he is suing the organization over their dismissal it doesn’t suggest he has done anything wrong.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          What McWhadden said. My musical org is involved in the same situation, where the board fired our music director based on bogus evidence from the new exec dir. Turns out the exec dir and the president of the board just didn’t like the MD and since the board was largely friends of the president, they voted the MD out. So now the former MD is suing the org and of course his lawyer tells him he absolutely cannot talk about the situation at all, not because of any shady dealings whatsoever but because it’s smart not to talk about a pending lawsuit with anyone other than your lawyer.

        2. arts chicka*

          Also in the #metoo age, a number of “beloved” artistic directors are being let go because of past sexual assaults of actors, opera singers, dancers, musicians. Peter Martins and James Levine while not in the theater world are two prominent examples of this.

          You have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.

      5. katherine*

        I’m not a theater professional, but I have reported for local papers and have seen these kind of “creative director leaves” kind of stories (I don’t remember whether I reported one myself ever — I don’t think I have). Including a “I can’t comment because of advice from my lawyer” statement in a story about a mundane firing over performance issues would be unusual. Even major firings of CEOs and the like usually come with some kind of benign PR “I wanted to pursue different opportunities/spend time with my family and friends” quote. It also seems unusual that the lawyer detail was included at all rather than a generic “did not provide a comment,” which suggests that maybe the reporters/editors have an inkling of more to the story and/or are trying to get all their ducks in a row legally.

        1. katherine*

          To clarify, “more to the story” doesn’t necessarily mean harassment (though that is super common in the creative fields). It could mean, as above, that the director is suing the organization, or that there is some kind of financial mismanagement going on, or any number of things. But in all cases, what it does mean is that there are probably bigger variables at work behind the scenes that can help/hurt the director’s job prospects than people protesting.

    2. RegrettableProtests*

      +1. OP, you’re wrong to think you know what someone is capable of because of knowing them professionally. People who cheat on their spouses, beat them, etc all are often very charming to other people. You can’t really know what happened – and honestly, the fact that it involves lawyers and he isn’t saying anything seems like a pretty bad sign that he was innocent, but perhaps that’s common in theater?

      Though luckily I haven’t dealt with it professionally, as someone who follows college football, people who are beloved (college coaches, players, etc…) are often actually doing or tolerating terrible things, despite gaining adoration. Fans have protested firings and so on that turned out to be VERY justified.

      1. Taryn*

        Note that they don’t actually know the creative director in question professionally: the OP indicates that they’re a regular patron instead, which is even further removed in terms of being able to have a real idea of the details of this, even if they also know some of the staff and performers personally. It’s more similar to the situation you indicated in the college football arena.

        1. Brianna*

          My impressions of him were based on his public persona, I admit. I guess the theater did a good job of maintaining discretion because now many of my friends are confirming the theater’s story of poor performance.

        2. RegrettableProtests*

          Oh, I somehow missed that! Downsides of reading AAM as I’m falling asleep at night, for some reason I thought she was a volunteer. But yeah, I think that makes it even worse…

    3. BRR*

      I used to work in the arts and I can think of so many reasons why a creative director might be let go. The lawyer could have asked the director to not comment becuae he’s going to file a lawsuit or becuae he was fired and there is a clause in his severance agreement. I think vocal support of the director could possibly help because a popular director would bring in money but if the support is too much I think organizations just won’t want to deal with all of this.

        1. neverjaunty*

          You think? I don’t mean to sound sarcastic here, but this isn’t about protesting a wrong anymore – this is about a cult of personality, where people are supporting this guy irrationally and to the point of terrible behavior. “Will this hurt his job prospects” seems less of a critical question than “my god, what are you people doing?”

  8. MM*

    @LW1: I am also short and young-looking. I’m now 30 and I still get carded. People only stopped telling me they thought I was 16 about two years ago. And I have never, ever, in my entire professional life (or my personal life, for that matter), been spoken to the way you’re describing. Even when I genuinely was super young and acting really immature on top of it! I mean, I was spoken to like more of an adult in my first internship at age 18 when I [redacted dumb intern behavior]!

    I very much doubt there is anything you’re doing, or anything about your appearance, that could warrant this. The sheer fact of your being paid to be in the building is evidence that you are not a child. (Honestly, a lot of children’s hackles would go up at this kind of thing too, and rightly so–it’s simply minimizing and dismissive, and children are people too). This is incredibly abnormal and out of line on your boss’s part.

    1. Lisa*

      OP#2 – People will comment freely when we look younger than we are, although usually less awfully than your boss’ methods. Because of youth warship, it’s seen as a compliment to say you look young, but rude to say you look old. As you know, it can be pretty bothersome to hear either way. And, if you are getting the impression that people think you look young, you’re probably right.

      However, please don’t read so much into getting your ID checked. You say you are in your early 20’s. People in their early 20’s SHOULD get their ID’s checked – many states and/or alcohol-selling employers have guidelines about checking anyone who appears to be under 35. If you have friends your age not getting carded when you are, either the bartender (etc.) is being super lax, or your friend looks pretty old.

      It happens less frequently as I get older but I have always been asked for my ID. It literally happened this evening when I bought a bottle of wine. I’m 46 years old.

      So, while you’re navigating the challenges of dealing with people being ridiculous about your being short and looking young, don’t worry about being asked for ID. That’s actually totally normal, and is probably going to continue for a very long time.

    2. Diamond*

      Absolutely. I look young too and my (female) boss sometimes calls me ‘darling’ or ‘sweetheart’, which isn’t great but is nowhere near the comments OP is getting! I almost physically recoiled as I was reading them.

      She’s not even talking to you like you’re a teenager, she’s literally talking to you like you’re 2 years old. Ick.

    3. Mookie*

      Can concur. This is not something that happens regularly in functional professional settings. Usually, it’s the opposite (effusive gushing over how efficient someone [who looks or is] So Young can be), which is far less irritating but not entirely un-irritating. Or, every understandable mistake you make or deficiency you possess is chalked up to Being One of Those Kids. Rarely do people mock you like this for the grievous sin of being short of stature and young of face. This seems very personal by contrast, whereas age-ism directed at the young is generally executed by citing generalizations and stereotypes.

    4. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      My first impulse would be to start treating Boss like she’s ancient. “Let me know if I need to go slower – I walk too fast for a lot of seniors!” “Careful! A fall could be really catastrophic for someone in your age group!” “Can you read the document, or do you need a larger text size?”

      Don’t do that. But do that. Actually really don’t, but report back if you do.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Nor, when someone comments on your height, should you respond like I sometimes do (in a friendly setting, not professional setting): “Some people used their energy to grow tall. I used my energy to grow smart.”

    5. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Yea – LW – give up on not being carded. I was carded for R rated movies until I was 30 – if you have a certain kind of face it will never stop. Honestly I feel like the media really contributes to this, when 25-30 years olds regularly play 16 year olds on TV and movies I feel like it leads to most people not really knowing what a 16 year old really looks like. We are conditioned to think good looking 20 somthings could be in High School. None of which excuses how she treated you – we just had an intern that looked younger than my coworker’s middle schooler, but everyone still treated her with respect, and we would have been horrified if anyone talked to her like this. Everyone in the business world should be treated like they are in the business world.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        OP2, if you feel comfortable in the moment, you could say something like “that was a really unkind way to say that.”

        If she sees you struggling to reach something, it would be reasonable for her to say “do you need to borrow the step ladder?” Or “can I help you with that?” It is extremely NOT reasonable for her to phrase things the way she is now.

    6. Cate*

      I’m in this camp, too. I was visiting my mum in America a couple years ago and while we were out running errands one of the cashiers asked me if I’d started thinking what colleges I wanted to apply to and what my favourite subject in high school was. I just kinda blinked at her and went ‘I’m 34.’ She thought I was 16.

      My current grandboss, when I was interviewing, commented on both my youthful appearance and my lack of height, but definitely not in a condescending way! We were a good way through the experience in my CV and he said, ‘I’m sorry but, how old are you? You just don’t look old enough to have done all this!’ And when I told him he was like, okay, I was starting to wonder if you’d graduated uni at 18 or something. I also did change ringing at the time (in church belltowers) and I had it listed as a hobby, because it’s unusual enough to be interesting, and he asked me if I needed to stand on a box to do it. For that I could explain that needing boxes also depends on the size of the bell and some bells are big enough to require permanent boxes, but there were also plenty I could ring without one.

  9. Kerr*

    OP #2: Wow, those comments are not cool. IME with people who said things like “kiddo”, it was usually very clear that they didn’t actually think I was immature or incompetent, and they weren’t trying to take me down a peg. Your boss’s comments, on the other hand, are downright insulting and seem designed to undercut your confidence.

    OP 3: I’m so sorry for your loss. This may be too soft, but for those who start to pry: “I prefer to think about the many wonderful things he did with his life. Thanks for understanding” in a tone that says “not discussing this.”

  10. Observer*

    OP #2, I agree with the people who are saying that your boss is being rude and undermining, even if she doesn’t mean it that way. It would be rude even if you WERE a child. As for condescending to you because of your height?!?!?

    One thing, though, that might help a LITTLE. Dress with as much polish and sophistication as you can get away with in your office. You want your physical persona to be “Adult” and “Mature”. The way you dress and how you carry yourself makes a very big difference in how well you can carry that off.

    You should not need to do this. But as long as your boss talks this way to you and about you, you need to put in some extra effort to counteract this.

  11. Observer*

    #1 How do you know that he’s a “genuinely kind and good person”? And even if he is, how do you know that he didn’t do something that put the organization in a really, really bad spot?

    I admit that my first thought was, like others, along the lines of #MeToo. But then I realized that it’s at least (if not more) likely that the issue could be financial. A lot of good people convince themselves that it’s ok to “borrow” funds from their employer. The excuses are legion. But, ultimately, it’s a “fire on the spot” offense. And it’s an offense that most organizations will NOT want to talk about.

    Sometimes it’s not even about theft, but still financial shenanigans that could create immense problems for the organization. I’ve seen more than one such case over time, some of which even hit the papers. One example was someone who was falsifying service records. They didn’t put a dime in their pocket from this, but they were trying to get around a policy that was hurting some lower level staff the lazy way instead of the way that would have meant more work for them. But the org had to fire them the second they found out and do major damage control. You can be sure that the organization didn’t publicize the reason for the firing.

    1. Birch*

      This was my first reaction too. Of course people are entitled to privacy, but it can’t be just dismissed that no one knows what’s going on, and you’d think the person at the centre of the mess would offer some kind of explanation if 1. they didn’t want the attention or 2. it was an injustice they thought they could fight with the help of friends. I think those people on his side are well meaning, but you really never know what’s going on behind your back until some details come out and I would absolutely not just assume that he’s not at fault. Don’t tank your own reputation on the assumption that this guy isn’t at fault for being fired. Stay out of it.

    2. Brianna*

      I tried to stay out of it publicly. I wrote to Alison because I wanted to know if I should tell friends not to protest.

      Ultimately i’m glad I did. I posted more details below that came out later.

    3. LadyPhoenix*

      My first reaction was the dude sexually harassed or raped someone. It inmediately went there, ESPECIALLY since the job had to do with theater/acting…. you know, after Hollywood’s many, MANY cases of child grooming, rape, etc etc.

      1. Brianna*

        That was a lot of people’s first reaction– part of why I was concerned about protests drawing attention to it. Now that more details came to light it appears that he is accused of harassing the ED and her ex girlfriend. Sexual harassment, but not because he was trying to sleep with one of them or anything.

  12. Alianora*

    “The important people” Holy shit. She sounds awful.

    I gotta say, though, being ID’d when you’re in your early 20s is totally normal and doesn’t mean you’re babyfaced. Just means that you look younger than 35.

      1. Hallowflame*

        When I was working at the red bulls-eye store in college, the register system wouldn’t ring up alcohol unless you entered the customer’s DOB. I was carding 70 year olds and most of them were delighted.

        1. Bea*

          Most cashiers now just bypass the screen with a random DOB. I still get carded in my 30s about 50 percent of the time.

          They also get birthdate prompts for nighttime cold medicine.

          1. Memily*

            I did that when I was a cashier–maybe it wasn’t entirely allowed, but for every person above 65 that is delighted to be carded, there are at least two that will be offended you even ask. (Same thing happened when I worked fast food–we weren’t allowed to give the senior discount unless they asked, and we had a few customers get downright snippy when they didn’t get it because they hadn’t asked! You’re damned if you do, etc.)

    1. McWhadden*

      I am 35. Not particularly young looking (sadly) and slightly above average height. And I still get carded all of the time.

    2. Turquoisecow*

      When I worked retail we were told to card anyone under 40. They had signs up saying we did this. It wasn’t really followed to the letter, but it might explain why 30 year olds were carded.

      One day a girl who looked like she was 12 asked me for cigarettes. I asked for ID, she had none, I refused to serve her, and she left. A few minutes later someone came in from the state and congratulated me for not falling for the sting operation. My boss was ecstatic I had done the right thing. I felt that I’d they wanted to catch people, they should use teenagers who looked older. I knew a guy who was underage but looked like he was in college or older and he was rarely carded, even at bars. He would have been great to use for that operation.

      1. Close Bracket*

        Yep. I perform restaurant mystery shops where I am required to purchase alcohol and asked whether anyone in the group under 35 was asked for ID.

        As someone who has worked doors and checked IDs, I just offer mine up without comment. They are just doing their job.

  13. Kir Royale*

    #2 I see two possibilities with the baby comments. The first is she is a bully and deliberately undermining you. The second is that she is very insecure about her age and age related changes to her appearance and is taking it out on you without being fully aware how hurtful that is. If you call her out in the moment and she is a good person, the awareness would likely get her to stop. If she doesn’t stop or escalates, then you have a bully on your hands.

    1. Alton*

      I agree. Regardless of her intentions, she’s zeroing in on something that she perceives as a weakness of the OP’s and is calling attention to it and putting the OP down. Maybe she’s not thinking of it that way, and would stop if she realized how it comes across. But I don’t think those types of “jokes” come from a nice place.

    2. Elbe*

      Agreed. I also think it’s possible that the boss thinks that they have this hilarious in-joke and she doesn’t realize that she’s taking it too far.

      But, honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the boss just ended up being very mean. If the LW is new to her job, I suspect that she’ll eventually find out that some kindness sprinkled with passive aggressive bullying is this boss’s style. The comments are over the line enough that I think it’s more likely that the boss knows that she’s being insulting.

      But, like you said, the best way to know for sure is to just ask her to stop. Any truly kind person would understand the reasonableness of the request.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      Yes, her response to being asked to knock it off will tell you loads about her true personality. She may get defensive, she may be apologetic, or she may simply double down. If she’s insecure, you’ll probably get a defensive or even angry response. Anger often hides pain. Doesn’t make it right, but there it is. If she’s a bully, you’ll probably get the double down or the laugh off. And if so… well, she’s not a good manager and you should distance yourself, at least emotionally, until you can find something better. Ideally, she would be apologetic and would never say such things again, but be prepared for that not to be the case. Remain firm, remain calm.

  14. London Calling*

    LW3 *One time I was in an interview with someone who was acquainted with him and the person even asked me why and how he did it.*

    What is WRONG with some people?

    1. AAA*

      That was definitely… uncomfortable to say the least. At least I was more okay responding to that since it was so outrageous. It was something to the effect of “out of respect for his family and two young kids, I will not discuss his death” and we continued on with the interview (don’t worry, didn’t get the job). I usually have more of an issue responding to people who talk about what a shock it was to them and just kind of elaborating on to it.

  15. Anna*

    I heard that somewhat passive aggressive way to deal with the baby-talk, if a polite request to cut it out doesn’t work, is to respond in kind; “why, thank you princess / sweetheart” – yes, using princess when speaking to a man! If they ask to stop, you can explain that you asked them to cut out the baby talk and they haven’t, so they obviously don’t mind not sticking to professional language.

    1. Mookie*

      (I desperately want someone to reply with “good to know, zaddy” because I’m a disgusting creep and it’d make me laugh.)

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      Yes, I have called grown (usually much older) men “bubbles” or “cupcake” or “princess” when they’ve gotten overly familiar with me. Pair it with a huge smile, no matter how inappropriate that would be in the context. It throws them off their game more often than not. Sometimes it makes them mad. However, none of these people have been my boss with any direct power over me.

    3. many bells down*

      I have totally done this to men who call me “dear” or “hon.” Sometimes they’re confused why I’m calling them princess but sadly most of the time they don’t even seem to notice. I have better luck if I call them by a random name like Alfred or Janet.

  16. Fish Microwaver*

    OP #4, it’s probably not helpful but I would be looking for ways to move Jan out. She sounds toxic. Failing that, is there any way “the fairies” might remove the name plates from her wall overnight?

  17. Queen Anne of Cleves*

    Sometimes there are situations here that get me so riled up I want to go to the letter writer’s location and deal with it myself. OP#2 is one of those. I am short and looked much younger than I am for most of my life so I have often gotten comments but nothing to the extreme the OP is getting. I agree with the passive aggressive approach that some have mentioned. Acting confused as to why the boss would say such a thing and turning the awkwardness back onto to her. BUT it probably isn’t the best approach until you’ve tried just telling her straight up to stop it in a way the OP is comfortable doing.
    It reminds me of a former coworker I had who had a very high pitched voice that sounded like a little girl. Our boss sent her to therapy to make her voice deeper. She went once and was humiliated by the experience and decided not to go back. She eventually quit.
    The nameplate thing…my first thought was that this was similar to serial murderers who keep trophies. That’s extreme I know but it’s what immediately came to mind! This is sick. And the fact she is a brat about not finding Jay’s name plate….If this were me, I would quietly take them all, throw them away and never admit to doing it. Not the best approach but good grief!

  18. Rebecca*

    OP #2, ugh I sympathize with you. I’ve had to deal with the same thing since my early 20s…and still occasionally do in my early 30s (still look like a teenager, not complaining since aging slowly is a great thing!) I learned to ignore it after a while and made attempts to show that I was a mature professional and it tapered off. Entering more managerial roles help, but I still deal with it sometimes…even when I serve as the administrator of a school. It’s somewhat environmental as I noticed…

  19. Brianna*

    Hi all, letter writer #1 here.

    So since I submitted this, a lot happened. First, the protests and boycotts quickly turned to harrassment, threats, and smear campaigns against the board and the management staff of the theater. This appears to have been run by some disgruntled former actors and people with personal vendettas independent of the fired director.

    Then, someone leaked a demand letter to the press from the fired director where he alleged wrongful dismissal. His story is that he was asked to investigate the hiring of an ex girlfriend of the executive director. The ED gave him instructions on how to conduct a fraternization investigation. He was not comfortable with her instruction and her response to the investigation and went to the board, who fired him. This letter was published (outing the female ED, though thankfully not mentioning the ex by name). The ED is married and this was a 3 way relationship with her husband.

    Because this was now public, in response the theater issued statements stating that it was for well documented performance reasons. The ED followed up with personal statements in which she alleges that he was fired both because of those reasons and, in the course of his investigation, he told every employee he could that the ED and this contractor were in a relationship. Then, when the woman later brought an independent claim of sexual assault against a close friend of his, tried to have her fired for a “false complaint” and refused to accept that the theater was unable to do so for legal reasons. The ED claims to have documentation from lawyers on that issue.

    Meanwhile a couple employees and a board member resigned in solidarity, and dozens of current and former employees and contractors have confirmed that he rarely attended meetings, never completed projects, and routinely smoked in the historic theater. He also opened a competing kids program, which the board stated was against the terms of his contract.

    The theater only revealed any of this in response to the pressure from the media and the threats. So I guess my concerns were right.

      1. Brianna*

        I could see that if his story is correct, but if the theater’s is correct, why would she be in the wrong? She claims she didn’t know the contractor would be hired and when she found out she immediately informed the board of the past relationship, recused herself from any issues related to that contractor, and assigned the creative director responsibility for the investigation, and that the board cleared her of wrongdoing after they reviewed the facts.

        1. Observer*

          I have to agree. Whatever anyone thinks about the relationship, it’s not like the one from earlier in the week where someone started an affair while in a reporting relationship.

          Maybe hiring processes need to be changed, but it’s hard to say that every single hiring process needs the ED’s input from the start.

    1. Marthooh*

      Publicity Hurts (drama) *****
      OP#1’s letter lived up to the thrilling headline, generating plenty of speculation in the comments. I’m delighted to say that the update is even more dramatic, with unexpected professional and romantic twists. This tautly-constructed backstage story will delight theater fans and soap-opera addicts of all ages.

      1. Brianna*

        Funnily enough, pretty much no one seems to care outside the people involved, their friends, and their enemies. We live in an area where the idea of a married couple having a threesome isn’t particularly scandalous, especially among the theater crowd. The publicity certainly isn’t hurting the theater, sales are actually up.

        1. Working Mom Having It All*

          Not to mention… people date within circles like this all the time. A theatre company isn’t the same thing as a government contractor or international accounting firm where stuff like this is concerned. It probably should be closer to that, but, yeah, in that world this is all on the level of soap opera and not especially meaningful to how the theater does business.

        2. Chalupa Batman*

          Yeah, the addition that it was a 3 way relationship made it less scandalous to me. Married ED called out by fired employee for cheating with a female contractor=whoa! ED had past consensual-by-all-involved-parties relationship that was properly disclosed to the board when discovered to be relevant=the most boring part of this whole nutty story. Glad you decided to stay out of this one anyway.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I know if I read this in the news I would not care, I’d just figure, “Sort yourselves out, folks.”

          Well, I am glad you got more background info so you can decide better how you want to go forward.
          I think more and more that we need to use “the emotions of others running high” as visual reminder to our own self-check. You handled this well, before getting up-in-arms you checked in here and it seems you checked with others rather than letting others’ emotions be your guide. Checking with reliable people and fact checking are habits that will serve any of us well now and well into the future.

    2. Izzy*

      Somehow this is both far crazier than I expected but also exactly what I expected from a theatre drama question. I’ve seen protests like this before about various beloved theatre figures and I stay far the hell away from it, because there’s always some insane backstory like this that comes out and everyone feels very silly.

      1. Brianna*

        “Dear Alison, my former employer turned the circumstances of my firing into a stage play” would be a WAY better letter than I wrote.

      2. curly sue*

        “You’d never get away with all this in a play / but if it’s loudly sung and in a foreign tongue / it’s just the sort of story audiences adore / in fact a perfect opera!”

        I love theatre people. I really do.

    3. Brianna*

      Additional detail– The board offered the fired director a non-managerial creative role, which he refused. He is demanding that the ED be fired, the board president step down, and that he have full access to a new board instead of reporting to an ED.

      It appears the board gave the ED the go-ahead to release her statements– this wasn’t her going rogue or anything. She is claiming she, her husband, the now former contractor, and other employees who expressed public support for her have all faced significant sexual harassment and hostility because discretion meant she was unable to defend herself against slander and libel.

      1. SarahKay*

        Wow! Fired director really doesn’t know when to let it go. ‘I behaved badly, and now everyone who said I did must be fired in my place’ is… not really applying a good reality filter to one’s perceptions.

        And as for the poor ED – that’s really dreadful that this guy has brought so much trouble down on her. I’m glad the board approved her releasing a statement of the truth.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m not surprised he was fired. He sounds like he thinks rules don’t apply to him, and his alleged behavior before and after the firing is appalling.

        In addition to trying to retaliate against the contractor (which could make the Board think it opens the theater up to liability), he has the chutzpah to demand the ED be fired, that he be removed from the chain of command, and that a new Board be installed? If I were ED, I would fire him on that basis, alone. This would be hilarious on Broadway if it weren’t people’s real lives.

        It’s really unfortunate that people are threatening the staff and the board. It sounds like a cult of personality at full cult-ness, and it’s really awful.

      3. Secretary*

        OMG so I read this question and I was like, “THE OP LIVES IN MY HOMETOWN!!”

        We had the same thing happen at our local theatre, although based on the update I doubt it’s the same person, as there’s not much press out there on this one and this happened last year. It was an Artistic Director that it’s rumored had some kind of argument with a board member.
        They basically sent out an email in their newsletter saying he was no longer the artistic director. Last rumor I heard was that he apparently was suing for wrongful termination. It was kind of in the stars because he had a history of not getting along with others at the theatre, though was much beloved at the same time and there was a lot of drama around it.

        1. Brianna*

          To be fair, he is claiming he never had a bad performance review and that all these claims of cause are made up by the ED and board to cover up the sexual relationship. I’m kind of more inclined to believe the theater because I can’t imagine that they’d claim they had documentation, including legal correspondence, if they didn’t. But who knows, maybe the truth is somewhere in between.

      1. Youth Services Librarian*

        This reminds me, on a smaller scale, of when my sister was in high school theater. She was telling me all about the endless drama, break-ups, etc. between the students and I said, well, that will get you all in the mood for your production right? And she says “not really, we’re doing Charlotte’s Web.”

    4. hlaohyzenthlay*

      I thought it might be this person and historic theater when I read this post: I am friends (acquaintances?) with the ED on Facebook and saw her post an open letter about this situation just the other day. Just absolute craziness.

      1. Brianna*

        Yeah, I figured that people may be able to tell, but since I’m just sharing the public information I figured it wasn’t a big deal.

        But, since people have been so harassed over this, I should probably state that Brianna is not my real name. I don’t want some random Brianna to get blowback.

        1. Close Bracket*

          If you are posting this on a personal device, renew your IP address immediately. That stuff is traceable. Then stop posting about this so the new IP address isn’t associated with your comments.

          1. Brianna*

            1. Alison can trace it, but some random person couldn’t.

            2. If someone bothered to hack this site to get my IP address, it would only say I live in X general area, which they’d already know if they knew what theater I’m talking about. More information would require a court order.

            3. Literally everything I’ve posted is public information, which is how I know it. It’s in the papers.

            4. I’m just a patron and don’t anticipate personal blowback. They certainly can’t impact my employment or anything. Maybe some friends would stop talking to me but then they’d have to be pretty bad friends. I am more concerned that if there’s some woman named Brianna working in the theater community she might be blamed for my thoughts on the matter.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              My IP address shows a place miles away from where I actually am. I wonder how accurate IP addresses are.

            2. hlaohyzenthlay*

              I would just like to reassure you that I have no clue who you might be! And to confirm that everything you mentioned in your OP and follow up is very much in the papers- the Facebook post the ED posted is also pubic to everyone, not just the ED’s friends. I do hope my post didn’t come across negatively in any way to you- I was more remarking about what a crazy, small, dramatic world we live in! :-)

    5. e271828*

      Much drama! Personal vendettas, personal relationships, accusations, fog, sketchiness… Very theater, yes.

    6. This Daydreamer*

      Good gravy. That’s more drama than most theaters have on the stage, let alone behind it.

      Then again, I’ve never worked at a theater.

  20. Booknerdier*

    I work in a public, non-profit business. I had an employee who quit just ahead of being fired for cause, but she managed to convince most of her employees and volunteers (about 6 people) to all quit at the same time. They made a big noisy fuss in the newspaper and news media, which meant that all of their drama was now out on the internet and easy to find. This drama risked the funding of the public entity and has created a lot of negativity and hostility, mostly because I have refused to comment on what is essentially a private personnel matter. Fast forward one year: the drama is mostly forgotten in the community and the public entity did not close; in fact services have increased and things are much more positive now that we have replaced the negative employees with people who understand public service and have worked hard to come back from this drama. But my former employee has not been able to secure a new professional position. No one wants to hire someone that could have just given notice and walked away with dignity, but instead chose to light a huge dumpster fire on her way out. This employee has six years of college and works at a retail shop now. So yeah, when you choose to make a huge drama out of the fact that you are just a bad employee, other employers in this industry are not going to be very excited about giving you a job.

  21. Jenna Maroney*

    OP2- I physically recoiled.

    I’ve found that a mildly confused “excuse me?” can work wonders.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      Or simply stop what you’re doing, turn to face her slowly, and proceed to stare at her. Don’t react in any other way. Don’t say anything. Let that moment stretch. Let it be awkward. I’ve done that in situations where people have said something weirdly stupid and just staring at them can make them stop and think. People are used to getting a reaction when they say something to another person, like you’ll say something back, or cringe, or ignore them completely when clearly you heard them. Hardly anyone expects to encounter a “wall”.

  22. The Doctor*

    OP 2…

    The fact that Boss is making “patronizing and demoralizing” comments tells me that she INTENDS those comments to be patronizing and demoralizing.

    Start the job search immediately. Once you have a written offer, give the minimum notice and mention in your exit interview that the comments were the prime motivating factor in tour decision to leave.

  23. CupcakeCounter*

    If you can remember this in the moment, I would go with a simple “Wow, that is incredibly insulting” then walk away. Boss will be stunned and then will either realize how horrible those comments are (if she is as good of a manager as you say) or she will double down on it being a joke. Either it resolves it or you know to expect these comments and start polishing the resume.
    Personally I would go with the nuclear option and make a similarly insulting comment about something she can’t control but I have the asshole gene and a large cushion if I get fired.

  24. SigneL*

    Regarding #3, I worked for a well-known doctor at a famous hospital. Dr. K was a GREAT boss. Then he had a heart attack and died, right in the hospital. People STILL want to talk about it – the irony! Why couldn’t they save him?! But those of us who worked with him always start talking immediately about how he was such a great boss and wonderful person. And man, I still miss you, Dr. K.

    1. Kittyfish 76*

      It’s a shame this happens to the great bosses in the world, yet trophy-nameplate displayers still have jobs….

      1. Not So NewReader*

        The trophy people have to stay here until they get life right. Kind of the adult version of “Go sit in the corner until your attitude changes.”/snark

        That said. I am still here. So this may not hold for everyone, even the trophy people.

    2. AAA*

      I am really sorry to hear about your loss as well. I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to lose a boss. I am glad that you and your colleagues focus on the positives of his life, that is how everyone should be remembered.

      1. SigneL*

        His legacy is that many of us who worked for him think “What would Dr K do?” when we have a difficult problem at work. And we still talk about how smart, kind and funny he was.

        1. AAA*

          That is fantastic. The former staff and I try to do the same (privately) since we all still work in the same building. He definitely taught me a lot, always reminded me to not take life to seriously and that sometimes you just have to bring your grill to work and have an office tailgate on the roof (of a building on the national register of historic places)

  25. workingforaliving*

    I’m an HR person working in a political environment. We terminated someone that the larger community got all upset about. Of course we could not comment on why he was fired, and I was shocked at how many people were willing to believe whatever he said about his termination. He was actually terminated for sexual harassment of a gross and disgusting kind and was fairly investigated by a professional outside investigative service. Yet the community accused us of all kinds of stuff that wasn’t true and he stoked the fires a lot of course.
    My point is that you do not know the whole story. Before you string up the theater and its management, consider that there might be a good reason why somebody gets fired. If there wasn’t good cause, it will come out in litigation. Then you can decide what you want to do.

  26. SigneL*

    #2, when your boss comments about your appearance, I would immediately ask about my work: “Oh, are you unhappy with my work/the report I compiled/the XYZ database?” Keep the focus on the job, not appearance. But I would find it very hard to say anything. And you might practice The Look.

  27. Not your coworker*

    Nameplate theft:
    We had one of these people in my building, but with photos.

    She had a wall of photos (she worked in community relations) of people who had left, been terminated, and died. She would put “X” over those who were fired, black borders around the deceased, and question marks over the ones that moved on. She kept this on a wall in her office. One day one of the C-Suite ended up going in her office and seeing it. It was removed immediately and she was terminated.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Oh good lord… that’s umm bizarre! Did this person not have a boss? How does one go about collecting all of those pictures. For some reason I’m picturing Deloris Umbridge’s office and instead of cat pictures hanging, head shots.

      I think I’d be the smart ass that posted her picture with a big black x (anonymously of course!)

      My office has a foam football that everyone signs on their last day, and we’ve added ‘in memoriam’ signatures for people who have passed away. One person holds the football and if they are the one who leaves they hand it off to someone else. But that’s like a memorial/tradition thing.

    2. AnonNurse*

      Wow! Glad to hear someone with some sense took care of that. Hope the manager/supervisor that let it go on was also disciplined. That’s just crazy.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, indeed. Especially since this person was in a public facing role! How on earth did any supervisor think this is ok?

  28. Bea*

    #3 I’m sorry you’re being re-traumatized by these people and their nosy BS. It reminds me of the people who would ask about my old bosses degenerative cognitive illness. “How is he?” “Every day is one step deeper into the darkness.” they were always so shocked like I’m supposed to say “oh he’s great!”

    I think if anything they are showing you who they are and that’s great. Don’t ever work for some jerkwad who ever asks you details of anyone’s suicide. You’re a stranger to them and their boundaries are non-existent. My response to “how did he…??” is “I don’t think about his manner of death, I think about all the things he taught me while he was with us.”

    Then I never speak to those gross people again if I can help it.

    1. AAA*

      Thanks. I had really hoped that people would just stop talking about it at some point but since he was a public official his name was slapped across the news for months and it was an oddity for a public official to die while in office, nonetheless in the manner that it happened. Luckily very few people ask me the why’s and how’s of the thing anymore, which is good since the whole office made a pact to never speak about it. It’s more just people talking about what a shock it was and things of that nature mostly. That is a great response that I will definitely be using in the future, and is definitely true of his life as well. He was the first public official to hire me, took a total chance on me and I was the youngest staffer for a long time.

      1. Bea*

        I’m relieved that it’s not as gross as I had conjured up with your letter but my heart hurts that it’s a wound people still open so innocently. One thing I take with me personally is to remember that the fact his departure still shakes you and burns is a testament for how wonderful he was and the impact he had on your life and career.

        Honestly my boss is constantly a reminder to me when I’m struggling. He gave me my chance and I feel like by continuing to succeed, I’m honoring him.

        1. AAA*

          Yeah, I kind of realize now saying that we were incredibly close probably conjures up some less than positive ideas. I had known him since I was 16 years old and worked on his first campaign to get him elected. He was always like a dad to me when my own wasn’t in my life.

      1. Bea*

        Thank you. He finally got to a comfortable place for him, the first five years were hell. He’s safe and well cared for and that’s all I can ask for. Xxo I’m incredibly close to his wife and kids as well. I get updates because I’m considered a family friend, they all know I protect him and his legacy with all I’ve got.

        1. AAA*

          That’s good to hear. I definitely still keep tabs on my boss’ family to make sure that they are all doing well, or as well as can be expected I suppose.

  29. Hallowflame*

    OP#2, your boss’s comments and attitude are incredibly inappropriate. She is speaking to you as one would speak to a 3-year-old, and it needs to stop before it significantly impacts your professional standing in your company at large. What you’ve heard so far is just what she’s said to your face. I would be concerned about how she speaks about you to other people, too. The next time she makes one of these comments, call her out. “These comments are really inappropriate and, frankly, offensive. Can you please not comment on my age or appearance?” If she continues, respond to every age/height remark with “Wow, that was really inappropriate,” and keep a slightly perturbed look on your face so she knows you’re not kidding.
    And update your resume. Its probably time to move on to less infantilizing pastures.

    1. SigneL*

      It’s always a mystery to me what people think is an appropriate comment or even a compliment. But a boss who doesn’t understand that these comments are infantilizing is not a good boss.

  30. T*

    Is it just me or did anyone else get reminded of shows about serial killers for letter #4? Jan’s behavior is really disturbing to me and reminded me of Dexter, specifically how “trophies” or articles from the victim were collected. Ewwwwwwww

  31. Elbe*

    I’m not sure how anyone can protest someone being let go without even knowing the cause. Given what’s been in the news lately, it should be pretty apparent that some people with a good reputation can be awful behind the scenes.
    Additionally, this theater is not obligated to employ this person. They’re allowed to make their own business decisions.

    Support should look like, “I enjoy this person’s work, and my ticket money will follow him wherever he is employed next.”

    It shouldn’t look like, “I will make this theater pay for (potentially reasonably) firing him, because my being entertained is more important than everything else.”

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      And given what’s in the news lately, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that many, many people will cling to “but they are a good person!” long after it’s been demonstrated that the person in question is not. We don’t want to believe that horrible behavior can go on behind the scenes, we don’t want to find out that someone we like (even if we have never met them personally) has committed terrible acts. No, we love Bob even though we’ve never met him and how DARE anyone accuse Bob of being less than wonderful! If people weren’t so personally invested in how other people conduct their lives, the world would be a better place.

  32. Essess*

    To the boss making the infantilizing comments… the next time she says that you should stop and look at her and say “Wow that was really unkind. Why would you say something like that to another adult?” and let her actually think about what she said.

    1. Morticia*

      I really like this one. There is no acceptable reason for her to talk to you like this. Everywhere I’ve worded, that would be an HR-able offense.

  33. Anon for this...*

    LW5- I just wanted to say make sure you get documentation for everything!!! I completed my internship work in 2004, but then my life imploded. I lost several grand in personal cash, which caused my bank to bounce all over the place. I ended up being evicted and arrested . In the middle of all that it never occurred to me to check up on my degree paperwork, and I trusted that my internship advisor had done the paperwork.
    Fast forward a couple years ago and I am up for a major career move. It would have doubled my salary! I pulled my transcripts to forward as requested and learned I did not have a degree because my internship paperwork was never submitted by my advisor. I’ve had to put myself back through college as an adult because of changes in the degree requirements.
    keep copies and document everything, just in case!

    1. flaky intern*

      OP here — thanks so much for the smart advice. I’m feeling energized and I plan to contact my lovely supervisor and complete the paperwork asap, after Alison’s empathetic guidance. I’ll report back when I do!

  34. Gumption*

    I tend to take my name plates home with me when I leave jobs, if I had a name plate. I’ve got a collection at home.

    1. Chaordic One*

      I try to encourage employees to take their nameplates when they leave as a souvenir.

      When I worked for a state agency, though, employees were forbidden from taking their nameplates when they left. There was a mandatory procedure that all name plates were physically sawed in half, and then thrown away.

  35. Kenneth*

    LW#1 this brings to mind several stories of … employment disputes that went viral. One in particular was a woman who requested leave because her son had just been admitted to the hospital. Only she said to her manager via *text message* “hey just letting you know that I’m not going to be able to come to work until further notice at least until he’s off life support”. Granted, extenuating circumstance. But… text message for what amounts to a leave of absence? There are procedures for that for a reason!

    The story went viral because the employee had the audacity to post the text exchange to Facebook, not checking her privacy settings before doing so, and the story went viral. The manager was fired. And the company said she could take as much time as she needed. But I kind of wonder what has happened to her. Whether she ultimately walked away or was let go.

    And how difficult that’ll make it for her to find employment again. Perhaps the fleeting attention span of the Internet will mean this story ultimately won’t affect her… much. So long as she doesn’t try to work for anyone who actually does Google searches in prospects.

    1. Anonymouse*

      I think most employers wouldn’t object to that. Yeah, she should have gone through proper channels, but she was in distress, and presumably that’s not going to happen a lot. If I saw that I might, at worst, make sure she understood our social media policy and who to go to with complaints.

    2. Observer*

      So, the boss actually knew about the problem – the text was in the context of prior information. More importantly was how the manager replied. For one thing, the law pretty explicitly allows for emergency type situations – and anyone with sense needs to understand that as well. It’s also not as though the manager said “I need you to fill out the paperwork.” Rather the response was “Stop acting like a baby. If you don’t show up to work immediately, you’re fired.” Not decent and not legal.

      1. Kenneth*

        True, but it made me wonder as well whether there were also deeper issues at play. Possible the manager was just being a bi***, but I’m hesitant to erase any benefit of doubt from the manager in that instance. Doesn’t erase the illegality of how the manager responded, though, and it certainly would’ve warranted escalation, but that the manager responded in that fashion implies heavily there was more than was revealed in what went viral.

        1. Observer*

          I honestly cannot think of any “deeper issues” that warrant the response this supervisor gave. Not legally, not morally.

          When someone texts you that their kid is on life support(!) you do NOT threaten to fire them if they don’t come in to work, no matter HOW poor of an employee that are. You just do NOT. Do. That.

          What makes it even worse is that the employee actually did make some effort to follow procedure – she let her boss know 48 hours in advance to allow for scheduling.

    3. Close Bracket*

      Functional workplace story time:

      My father died over a federal holiday weekend. I called my manager (this was before cell phones were ubiquitous) and left a message his voicemail that I was having a family emergency and wouldn’t be in. I didn’t give a date range bc I didn’t know it at the time. When I returned to work, my manager asked me if everything was alright.

      My brother was in a serious accident right before a different holiday weekend. I did the same thing. My boss did the same thing.

      I find your language problematic. Sure, there are procedures. But when catastrophe strikes and people are distraught, procedures can kiss both sides of my butt. I don’t think that employee was audacious at all. Companies who don’t want that kind of negative press should keep better track of the managers.

      1. Kenneth*

        “I find your language problematic. Sure, there are procedures. But when catastrophe strikes and people are distraught, procedures can kiss both sides of my butt.”

        We’ve all had our share of “last minute” events that mean we need to take time off from work. But in the example I mentioned, it seemed as if the text message was going to be all she would give her employer about not being in “until further notice”, hence why I said “there are procedures”. The text message would have been initial notice, but nothing more, just as you can also give your employer a verbal heads-up of upcoming emergency time off. she would have eventually needed to make it to her place of work to file the needed paperwork, which at minimum would protect her against allegations of “no-call, no-show”.

        1. Observer*

          If the problem was that she needed provide more information, then that is what the boss should have said. “Come in or you’re fired” means that the boss doesn’t care about the circumstances.

          If you look at the articles about this, you’ll see that the rest of the conversation confirmed that.

  36. JerryLarryTerryGary*

    For #3, people are wanting to gossip, but I think emphasizing the relationship can deter a lot of it. “We were quite close, and I find it difficult to talk about.” Answer a follow up question like they expressed consolances, change subject.
    For the really rude, “Wow. You know, I’m not the person to talk to about this.”

  37. cara*

    LW #2:
    I can’t see responding to her comments with anything but a silent, wide-eyed stare that says, “Either you or I have gone insane, because if I am not hallucinating, you actually said that.”

    My natural response to mean-spirited comments or inappropriate “teasing” is usually one of bafflement, because, in the moment, I just don’t “get” it (thanks, Asperger’s). So I assume I am missing something that would explain the bizarre behavior, and take them at face value, with an air of polite confusion. Luckily, this is pretty effective — it’s no fun teasing someone who is oblivious to it, and bonus points if you give the impression that, to you, *they* are the ridiculous one (because…they *are being objectively ridiculous*).

    For instance, in response to her remark about “looking tall for the important people” *shudder*:

    “The ‘important people’….? Oh, you mean the people I’m presenting to? Well, I don’t know about “looking taller,” but wearing heels does dress up an outfit for occasions like this.”

    – This calls attention to the weirdness of how she’s speaking (which should make her uncomfortable and less inclined to speak that way in the future), negates her (patronizing/weird) assumption, and is a reasonable, polite response to her ridiculous, juvenile remark.

    If every time she says something that makes you uncomfortable, she ends up feeling even *more* uncomfortable in return, I imagine she’ll stop.

    My gosh, though, this is just… *shakes head in wryly amused disgust*

    Good luck!

  38. Jenn*

    Re: Question #1

    I see the OP updated and it was all crazier than originally thought. I wanted to share though that I was laid off in a perfectly boring round of layoffs (25% reduction of staff at my work site, 45 people let go on one day) and someone wrote a column naming me specifically as someone the company was short sighted to let go. I did get a lawyer and negotiate a much better severance package, and we did keep a copy of the column in case the negotiations didn’t go well, so there’s that. But it didn’t really make me feel all that much better (I was resigned to the situation since it was in a contracting industry) and actually made it awkward a few times. I would recommend always asking the person involved.

    P.S. I made a career switch to a brand new career and it all worked out great.

  39. Elizabeth*

    #1. OP, I’d be really careful about assuming that there was no scandal surrounding this guy’s firing. I get that you say he’s a genuinely good person and all but, unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean anything. It’s very possible that you just don’t know the extent of what’s going on.

    Look at what just happened to Bill Cosby. Once, he was the most beloved man in America. Now, he’s going to prison for rape.

  40. Tata -- OP#4*

    Op #4 here….wow! thank you all for your comments and especially to Alison for posting my question. I was typing my question at work and on my cell phone so I was in a hurry so I apologize for some missed details. Jan is an older lady & I think at one time 1 or 2 name plates were collected for sentimental value but 90% of them are trophies & we all know she didn’t care for these ex-coworkers. Jan has a display set up for all her name plates which includes the picture of Jay. I also found out after I submitted my question that a previous VP from 9 years ago saw her display of name plates as inappropriate and had her take them down. Once we were assigned a new VP she put them back up. I know a few are commenting wondering if Jan is just misunderstood. No she is not. Instead of going into all toxic things, I’ll just say Jan is very smart and capable but she is for unknown reasons an ugly person and no one wants to work with her. Her role now is different than it was when I first started and she is in a more back office role so less contact with her. I had already emailed my director before my question was printed and he too felt it was inappropriate and will now be speaking to head of our department. I am a team lead but I don’t have the authority to say something and even if I had some authority, I already know I would end up in HR if I approached her on this subject. We all know this already from the last time when she was insubordinate to her prior manager in front of the whole team. The team also knows she was not written up or anything.

    1. Rat in the Sugar*

      Oof. I’m glad that the director is going to take some action to address this, although unfortunately it sounds like very little will happen to Jan besides being made to take down the trophy wall.

      Also, when you say she put it back up after the VP left, do you mean that she put up new nameplates, or that she kept the old ones somewhere and those are the ones that went back up? Because if she actually saved the old ones…wow. I don’t blame you for not approaching her directly, she sounds like she holds on to grudges for a looong time and would try to retaliate.

    2. Bea*

      I’m grouchy and would have trashed them when she’s not there. Prove who did it, Jan. They’re not her property. It’s not like a calendar she bought herself or something. She took company property.

      The thing is to instate a new rule. The Jan Rule. All nameplates are turned into management and they’re destroyed upon release.

    3. Close Bracket*

      When I read your letter, I immediately thought of a Far Side cartoon that has a tanker bearing down on a sailboat, and the tanker has a bunch of sailboat icons on its bow.

      I love the tendency of people to bad people are just misunderstood or really insecure of deeply unhappy or whatever. It’s like they never heard of the dark triad of personality traits. Jan is a glassbowl. I think I understand her pretty well.

    4. LGC*

      To paraphrase a certain US senator I used to respect referring to another US senator: If you told Jan she was fired in full view of your entire office, and they had to decide whether to send you to HR, no one would take you to HR. (Or at least, in my opinion, that would happen in a just world.)

      Anyway, to be serious – it sounds like your Jan problem is the least of your issues. Your HR department w/r/t Jan sounds like a disaster – they threw her manager under the bus when she was the cause of an issue! Upper management (in this case, the CEO) is actively encouraging her terrible behavior! You’re bringing valid concerns up about a hugely toxic employee who is actively harmful to your project and everyone is protecting her for unknown reasons. And I can’t imagine that this is just confined to Jan – it makes less sense that your HR functions are great in all regards except being absolutely horrible with Jan.

      While I would really like someone to fire Jan and display her nameplate, the real solution for you is to get out. Management is actively undermining your team and sowing chaos. Don’t put yourself through that any longer. There are workplaces that have managers that will love and respect you (despite all evidence on AAM to the contrary).

      Also, I can tell you at least part of why she’s an ugly person (and…like, look, I don’t know this lady, but from your account she sounds like The Worst): she knows she can abuse people and get away with it. Because that’s what’s going on right now.

  41. Wintermute*

    #1– I would hope that employers are intelligent enough to know that a public figure can’t control the reaction of the public to their departure, and if he is honest about the fact that he didn’t discuss the matter and he certainly never asked for them to do that, I think it won’t hurt him too badly. In other fields it’s also a little different, as well, that would be alarming if he were a bank loan officer, but creative roles are supposed to have fans of their work, and passionate fans are a credential of their own type.

    #2–This HAS to be a deliberate tactic, I’d confront it but keep my expectations low. As Allison said, the comments have gone past “clueless but innocent” into “deliberately undermining” and working any position where your boss is actively undermining you is not productive.

    #3– I wouldn’t be afraid to add just what you said, that it bothers you that his death is overshadowing his life, if people don’t get the hint when you say you don’t want to talk about it. Frame it as your way of not perpetuating a problem and no one can really fault you.

    #4- I’m going to be charitable and assume that these are not “hunting trophies” but tributes to the departed. It’s still inappropriate. When there have been contentious firings or painful layoffs it’s not abnormal for employees (especially in a dysfunctional workplace) to stage small, deniable acts of rebellion as a way of refusing to go quietly. But she’s gone WAY past that. She can’t even see that in her rear-view mirror. And imagine what it looks like to someone you DO manage to hire!! A tribute wall to the many employees that have quit or been forced out would be a flag so giant and red it belongs in the North Korean People’s Games, it is so giant and red it can be seen from low earth orbit. So she can’t be doing it, and any good manager would, rightly, be horrified.

  42. arts chicka*

    Also, “My assumption is that it was something routine, like performance on non-artistic parts of his job — there’s nothing to indicate a scandal, and he’s a genuinely kind and good person.”

    “Non-artistic parts of the job” are actually still really important aspects of the job. It could be that he wouldn’t fundraise so the organization is facing a huge deficit. It could mean that he is a bully to his staff but has a great public face. It could mean that he constantly goes over budget. Again, you have no idea what is really going on.

    1. Brianna*

      Yeah, so at the time I wrote, I wasn’t intending to protest myself; I wanted to know if well-meaning friends were actually going to hurt him. I assumed that the firing was routine and not worth making a huge fuss over. That comment was because if it WAS something to do with the artistic parts of his job, it would be much more noticeable from the outside, so that was more to say “I’m assuming it had to do with parts of his performance that patrons couldn’t see.”

  43. John*

    #1 — you never know the full story. I’m on the board of a nonprofit that faced community outrage related to a departure and we couldn’t address it because of confidentiality, but rest assured, anyone would have made the same call.

    Before escalating things I beg you to try to meet with someone involved with the decision to learn more.

    1. Anonymouse*

      While more has since come out, at the time neither side was publicly commenting. I was never intending to protest personally; I was more concerned that well-meaning friends would protest and unwittingly hurt the very person they were trying to help.

  44. LGC*

    LW2, you yourself may be slight, but your issues certainly aren’t! To only slightly dramatize your situation, your boss is actively undermining your competence on a regular basis!

    I think if she’s really that good in most regards, you can just speak with her privately about it. If I were you (and okay, my appearance is the POLAR opposite of yours), I’d say:

    1) you think she’s trying to be friendly, but
    2) her comments make you feel uncomfortable because
    3) they make you feel a little childish.

    And because of that, could she avoid making those comments?

    Granted, this isn’t the most direct phrasing and avoids saying the real issue (that she’s the problem and infantilizing you and that’s completely unprofessional). But it also allows her to save face – and assuming she is decently conscientious, she most likely will respect your request.

  45. RVA Cat*

    I commented upthread but Jan’s nameplate collection reminds me of Miss Fritter from Cars 3 collecting license plates at the demolition derby.
    So yeah, we literally have a working adult acting like a cartoon villain. (Which is kind of an insult to Fritter – her trophies were from a legit competition after all.)

  46. H.C.*

    On a tangent: Try to avoid “commit suicide” when possible, “died by suicide” is generally a more neutral & better term to use. Rationale below:

    “People in the suicide prevention field discourage the use of the term “committed suicide.” The verb “commit” (when followed by an act) is generally reserved for actions that many people view as sinful or immoral. Someone commits burglary, or murder, or rape, or perjury, or adultery, or crime – or something else bad. Suicide is bad, yes, but the person who dies by suicide is not committing a crime or sin. ”

    1. H.C.*

      Also, this is not to nitpick on LW3 (though maybe AAM can edit future letters to use the more neutral term?) – just thought it was worth mentioning, esp since September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

  47. J.*

    OP #2, if you do use Alison’s script and your boss tries to tell you that you’ll appreciate looking young when you’re older (which is something I get A LOT, people think it’s some kind of compliment even though you’ve just explicitly told them that you don’t take it that way), I’d recommend, “That may very well be the case, but I don’t appreciate it now, and I’d ask that you not call me babyface.”

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I’m 35. I can still successfully camouflage as a teenager. My parents were the same*.

      I don’t mind being mistaken for a lot younger than I am most of the time**.

      And I always enjoy the faces of various sales people when they see my date of birth on my ID.

      Then again, I have made ‘I don’t give a fuck’ into an art form. My mental health is much better for it.

      *These days they’re both grey haired and my mum walks with crutches. At least my mum has moved to the category of ‘young people offer me their seat on public transport’

      **I’ve had men in their 50ies hit on me thinking I was 18 at most. Creepy as fuck.

    2. Jan*

      Yes. My brother’s ex-wife gets this a lot, being 5’2 and pale with long ginger hair. She’s 35 and has two children, the eldest being 13. Anyway, about six years ago, she was on a work night out and the bouncer refused to believe she was 29 after she had shown her ID. He told her she had a baby face. She asked him “Why, how old did you think I was?” His guess was 22 (in the UK we have a challenge 25 policy). She replied “Then I haven’t got a BABY face, have I? I have an ADULT’S face, even if I don’t look my chronological age.” She’s a social worker and knows how to speak politely but firmly to people, and he let her in. But yeah, I can’t understand why it’s considered a compliment to tell an adult she looks like a baby! That’s really insulting.

  48. Imaginary Number*

    #2: As a short person, I’ve been on the receiving end of short jokes many times. There’s a huge difference between an occasional jab about height between coworkers who know each other well “Haha, we should leave a stool with your name on it in here so you can reach the projector” and things like “Does itty-bitty Sansa need a wittle stool?”

  49. Working Mom Having It All*

    With #1, I think a main factor to consider here is how common public outrage about these things is within the local theatre scene. If the vast majority of times that a person leaves a position like this, it goes unnoticed and there isn’t all kinds of public drama about it (meaning this is an aberration in the community), that could indicate a big problem. But the reality is that a lot of scenes like this are full of drama. I’m part of a similar creative community (improv and sketch comedy), and it seems like every time the AD of a theater in my city steps down, the whole scene goes into overdrive about how that’s bullshit, and Jimbob was the best AD any theater in this town ever had, and every decision he ever made was perfect, and HOW DARE THEY, etc. when the reality is that Artistic Directors come and go all the time for any reason or no reason at all. Half of those people probably hated that guy two weeks ago because he didn’t greenlight their show idea or cast them in the thing they wanted.

    So my guess is that within the local theatre community, it will be known whether this is just noise or whether this is worth factoring into a future hiring decision.

  50. medium of ballpoint*

    OP5, I’d tread more carefully than Alison advised because I think this really depends on your field. Your supervisor likely won’t look so kindly on the situation if she has to go back and confirm the hours you worked there, the types of work you did, etc. as well as how she has to document and report that information. That might take a fair bit of time and work from her, and it’s a major piece of your internship you shouldn’t have delayed. If you work with time-sensitive information or tasks, she may have a hard time providing a good reference for you and you might be better off getting another reference. Think about the norms in your field and how far outside those norms this delay was. Best of luck!

    1. Observer*

      The issue is not being a reference, but about being able to confirm an internship to finish their degree.

  51. SusanIvanova*

    “Aww, honey, should I get you a stool so you can reach like a big girl?”

    Y’know, if she said that to someone who couldn’t reach something due to physical limits that fall into ADA territory, she’d be in major trouble.

  52. Student*

    #2 – I’d advise approaching this as a “you made a joke, but it has misfired” situation. Mainly because it gives your boss a way to save face.

    Go with something like, “Jane – I know you like ribbing me about my height! This joke is having unintended consequences though, so I need you to come up with something else to tease me about. The height and kid jokes are actually starting to undermine my authority to do my job, because people are starting to regard me as “the kid” on the team. I’m sure that was not what you intended with these jokes – of course you want people to take me seriously so I can do good work for you. So, can I count on you to find a different joke? Thanks!”

    If she protests, remind her that people who like joking are aware that not every joke works every time in every audience. This is just one of those times; the joke didn’t land right, so try a new one.

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