meal trains for coworkers in crisis, I have more experience than my resume indicates, and more

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

1. Meal trains for coworkers in crisis

I’ve appreciated your consistent message that gifts should flow downward, not up, which makes a lot of sense for holidays/birthdays/happy occasions. I’m curious about your thoughts on meal trains (or other forms of support) in times of crisis — is that in a different category than regular gifts? It feels different, but it definitely has all the same problematic potential in terms of lower-level staff feeling pressured to participate and to spend money and their free time on their higher-earning bosses.

I wonder how personal relationships factor in to this question. I work closely with my bosses in a workplace of only 15 people, and would absolutely participate in a meal train and be grateful for the opportunity to show support to any of my coworkers. But I have a friend who is in a big workplace who just participated in a meal train for a very high-ranking coworker. The recipient is in genuine need of support, but it seems troublesome that it’s coming almost entirely from subordinates, many of whom have very little or no personal relationship with the recipient (who is apparently very well-liked, so surely many of the meal train participants really did want to help out, but the invitation to participate went out broadly).

And where do meal trains for new parents fit into workplace gift-giving? That’s not quite a crisis, but still, many new parents really do need that kind of support too.

I do think that helping people in times of crisis is in a different category, and that the normal rules about workplace gifts flowing downward, not upward don’t apply. If someone loses everything in a fire and coworkers who are lower in the work hierarchy want to contribute to helping them, that’s a case where we’re suspending normal workplace etiquette rules and shifting over to just plain old fellow human rules.

That said, as you note, you’ve still got to keep an eye on it to make sure that there’s no pressure for people to contribute. The second there’s pressure to give, it triggers power dynamics, and that puts it back in workplace etiquette territory again. So if you want to keep it squarely in “help a fellow human in crisis” territory, it needs to stay pressure-free.

Meal trains for new parents are a different category. That’s not quite crisis but more normal life. I actually think a full-on meal train would be a bit much for most workplaces … and if the workplace wants to do something, a better choice is to send over pre-made, purchased meals paid for by the employer. Individual coworkers who are close to the new parent also might choose to do something helpful on their own, of course. (But where a bunch of people really want to do a meal train, they really need to ensure people aren’t pressured to participate and that the people signing up aren’t all subordinates. It’s also worth looking at whether they’re helping out new parents while ignoring anyone without kids who goes through a similarly trying time.)

There’s also a whole separate question here about whether the person would want a meal train from their coworkers — not everyone would, so you’d want to confirm that first before piling casseroles outside their door.

2. Boss called employee and pretended to be from Child Protective Services

I am writing this on behalf of a friend, who I’ll call Wendy. Wendy works for a company that provides daycare, a perk for her. By all accounts, she seems to be a decent mom. One day at work, she received a call claiming to be from Child Protective Services accusing her of abuse and neglect. She was on the verge of a breakdown when the caller laughed and revealed herself to be her boss, Winnifred. Winnifred laughed over the “joke.” Wendy was shaken and disturbed, and wound up mentioning it to another coworker. Winnifred later called Wendy to her office and wrote her up for gossiping and taking the incident so seriously. Wendy has been advised to go to HR, but fears to do so due to possible retaliation. Could Wendy be fired for escalating this?

In theory, yes. In practice, it’s very unlikely, especially since HR is highly likely to intervene once they know the situation. The bigger risk is that she’ll face more subtle retaliation from her boss.

But she should go to HR anyway, because this is so egregious. It’s disgusting and outrageous that Winnifred played this “joke” in the first place (although I hesitate to call it a joke because there’s nothing funny about scaring the crap out of someone and making them think their child could be taken away from them). But the fact that Winnifred then took formal action against Wendy for being upset about it takes this from “very bad” to “truly villainous.” If Wendy’s HR people are at all decent, she shouldn’t hesitate to tell them what happened.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. We’re supposed to write our managers’ comments for our performance reviews

We got notified our annual performance reviews were upcoming this week. An interesting addendum to the notification reads: “This year we would like each employee to write up their manager’s comments, in addition to completing their own employee comments for each question. Our aim in doing this is to minimize the amount of administration involved for each of the line managers, who may have multiple employees’ reviews to write up. Each employee will need to take notes during their review, writing them up within the attached Word document, before returning them to their line manager. The line manager will then review and amend their comments, before copying and pasting them into the Manager Comments section of each employee’s review.”

Regardless of company size, this seemed odd to me. If a company employs an HR system, surely managers should expect a certain amount of administrative work — and an increase in that work when annual performance reviews are in progress? And wouldn’t a manager be expected to have the requisite time management skills to factor this extra work into their schedule? Not to mention, having to take notes for your manager while your own review is in progress is surely a questionable practice?

This is messed up. When I first read it, I wondered if they were doing this as a way to ensure that people process the feedback their managers are giving them — since saying “write this up and send it back to me” is a good way to check for alignment on important details. But if that were the case, I assume they’d say so — and besides, if they want to make sure that people get the right takeaways from the meeting, they could easily ask that people come up with 3-5 action steps based on the meeting, or something like that.

Instead they’re making it sound like it’s just a time saver for managers — which sends the message that managers can’t be bothered with something that’s actually quite important. (And yes, writing evaluations is time consuming and can be a pain. It’s still a really important part of the job.)

Either way, it’s a pretty awful idea. You want to be really focused and processing during an evaluation meetings, and while taking notes can definitely be part of that, you don’t want to be so focused on writing down every detail that you can’t engage in a real conversation. There’s also something a little demeaning about it, frankly. This is problematic all around.

4. I have more years of experience in a skill than my resume indicates

I have recently been applying to a lot of places, and I want to make sure I am not messing something up. When applying to jobs on sites like Indeed, often they will have a little questionnaire asking, for instance “How many years experience do you have doing X?” The answer to that may be something like seven years, but my resume shows only four of those years, as three years of that experience was before what would appear on my resume. I feel like they ought to know how a disparity like that would happen, but I worry sometimes that they might see that it doesn’t match and think I was lying. Thoughts?

You should put the full number of years of experience you have — but then you also should give them a version of your resume that reflects that experience as well. If they’re asking about years of experience in X, that means that they really care about experience in X … and so you’d want it on your resume as well as in the application questionnaire. If that older experience is from 2003 and your resume only goes back to 2008 and you really don’t want to have to list your llama wrangling job from 2006 that you got fired from (or most other jobs pre-2008, because you’re trying not to clutter it up with less relevant stuff), you can just add a section toward the end called “Additional Relevant Experience” and list the relevant job there (without the other older jobs).

5. How to reconnect with an old interviewer when looking for a job

During my undergraduate degree, I participated in a co-op program where I had several paid work terms as part of my degree. I was fortunate to attend the largest co-op school in the world, so the volume of job opportunities and subsequent interviews was typically quite high. Even in circumstances where I didn’t get the job, it was great to connect with different interviewers and get a buttload of experience. During my last work term hiring cycle, I had an interview with a person we’ll call Joe, who worked in a local office of a major company that is primarily dedicated to product development and innovation. I didn’t secure the position (lack of experience in that specific role), but he followed up with afterwards to tell me what a stellar candidate he thought I was but they required someone with more technical expertise. He included several resources I could use to strengthen my abilities and offered to introduce me to a recruiter at another major company. He concluded the email with “Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions or if I can be of further assistance.” This all happened in March of 2017.

I am now doing my master’s and, as a part of my program, I have to lock down an internship in May 2019. I’m still really interested in the work that Joe does at his office and I want to reach out to him and see if they’ll have any opportunities available. However, I don’t know if too much time has transpired and he won’t remember who I am. It also feels like I’m already doubting myself if I start an email with “I don’t know if you remember me but….” and I want to appear confident. How would you suggest I approach this?

You absolutely can! It’s possible that he won’t remember you, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be receptive if you refresh his memory and it’s still totally okay to do. You might even send your email as a reply to that helpful email from him last year so that he has the context right in front of him, and open it with something like, “You interviewed me last year for an X position and were kind enough to explain later that while you needed someone with more technical experience for that job, you’d be open to talking in the future. You also generously sent me some really helpful resources (below, to refresh your memory). I’m writing now because…”

{ 492 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, Winnifred needs to be fired. Her behavior is egregious, and her retaliation against Wendy for disclosing why she was shaken up seals the deal. Wendy should definitely go to HR. It’s true that there’s a possibility she could get in trouble, but that’s only if HR is as dysfunctional and cruel as Winnifred. There is nothing funny about what she did, and it’s so inappropriate that I seriously question the integrity and judgment of someone who thinks it’s funny to haze someone by threatening their custody of and relationship with their children.

    1. neverjaunty*

      And Boss has ALREADY retaliated against Wendy, by punishing her at work for reacting to his abuse. She needs to talk to HR and likely Grandboss immediately.

      1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        The fact that Winnifred was willing to put the reprimand in writing places her beyond the norms of reasonable actions.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I don’t know how that reprimand could stand. It wasn’t “gossip” it was a conversation about what Winnifred actually did. Oh wait…it outted Winnifred as the outrageous person that she actually is and she doesn’t like that. Got it.

          1. EPLawyer*

            This is exactly. Winifred knows what she did was wrong. She probably thought it was funny, but then when she realized the reaction, knew she had crossed the line. She hoped Wendy would be too embarassed to talk about it. When she wasn’t — and who wouldn’t talk about this — Winifred had to CYA.

            This needs to go to HR. Also, Wendy needs to at least start a soft job search. Any boss who would do that makes me wonder what else goes on in that place.

            1. samiratou*

              Yes, this. I’m assuming that whoever Wendy told (or perhaps that person’s boss) called Winnifred out on her behavior and Winnifred is taking it out on Wendy.

              Absolutely go to HR. And polish up the resume, because this is definitely a “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” and if the company does nothing, the best option is to GFTO.

            2. idi01*

              LW2: this reminds me of the first episode of “The Office” where Michael “fires” Pam as a joke, and it gets really awkward when Pam starts to sob.

          2. On Fire*

            My money says Winifred didn’t actually put the writeup in Wendy’s personnel file, but that it’s instead either hidden in her desk (for her private amusement) or already shredded to destroy the evidence. She *has* to know a writeup wouldn’t stand. I hope Wendy has a copy she can take to HR. This is sickening.

            1. I'm Not Phyllis*

              I wonder this as well. If my HR people saw this I highly doubt it would end up on someone’s file … more than likely, they would ask Winifred to apologize to her employee.

            2. tangerineRose*

              It probably depends on how specific the reprimand is. If it just says something like “Gossips too much”, it might really be in the official files.

        2. Saurs*

          On the flipside, Wendy is now corroborated by her tormentor if that tormentor decides to lie later on.

          1. Saurs*

            (Blog business: Alison, I’ve accidentally used another username in this post than the one that’s normally associated with my e-mail address. This was accidental, not an attempt at sock-puppeting. I’m sorry!)

            1. Mary Connell*

              As I understand it, a sock puppet is the use of multiple user names in the same discussion in order to argue with yourself, support your own comments, or make it look like multiple commenters are all disagreeing with someone, not accidentally or purposefully using different user names over time. /endthreadjack

    2. sacados*

      Completely agree.
      If Wendy goes to HR and gets in trouble for that, it will be the least of her worries. It would be a sign of the company being so irreparably dysfunctional that she should be focused on getting out of there as fast as humanly possible, regardless of any kind of blowback.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Yup. I can see someone being so traumatized by this that they couldn’t even work which would be a liability for the company that allowed this abuse to happen.

        I mean seriously “I can’t work or have my kid in daycare because now I fear that someone like Winnifred (make sure you spell her name correctly in the law suit papers) might try to screw with me/my child and then retaliate by writing me up for something that’s not even work related when she is responsible for all of it. Oh and HR did nothing, they just allowed it to continue.”

      2. Gigi*

        I’d be willing to bet part if the reason she’s hesitant to go to HR is fear she’ll lose her job which results in losing her childcare. That’s a huge benefit for working parents and I can definitely see a parent putting up with a lot to have that benefit. I feel for OPs friend and I really hope this resolves in her favor.

    3. Jenn*

      I agree. What was done her was so egregious that it would not be an overreaction to fire Winnifred immediately. The fact that she wrote her up is the icing in the terrible cake. Wendy needs to go to HR now. If I was a coworker and I heard about this and HR or management did nothing or a slap in the wrist, I would be applying to other jobs the very same day.

    4. many bells down*

      My ex once played a similar “prank” on a co worker and was *immediately* fired for it. In retrospect, he’s lucky he wasn’t arrested because his “prank” involved a fake bomb threat.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          A prank is putting a Whoopee Cousin on someone’s chair. Threatening to ruin someone’s life is not a prank.

    5. Greg NY*

      Winnifred LAUGHS at the joke? Then writes Wendy up for taking the joke seriously? If anyone did this, termination should be under consideration. But when someone is in charge, it goes double. I always speak to the good example such as person needs to set, and this is as bad as it gets.

        1. Screenwriter Mom*

          Also, the company in question PROVIDES DAY CARE!! Winnifred is even more egregiously out of line considering the actual service she is overseeing!

          1. Anonymous Ampersand*

            No, I think the company providea a daycare service for employees, they’re not working at a daycare service.

            1. Jenn*

              Although the daycare provision means a couple things: 1) this is likely a large organization and 2) they possibly encompass at least a contractor bound by particular child protection/privacy rules. This suggests to me that a visit to HR will likely be effective here.

          2. OP 2*

            It does provide daycare, and if I recall her job right it is a child-oriented field, as in children are the clientale or something like that. Which in a way increased the shock value.

            1. Pogi*

              If that is the case, your friend must report. Her boss should not be involved in child care.

              Friend needs to march to HR immediately.

              Also, if it is a facility which requires licenses, they must be told this bc boss is jeapordizing any licenses she possesses and the facility’s licenses.

              So if boss is licensed, friend should turn her in.

            2. Foreign Octopus*

              This makes it a hundred times worse.

              The very fact that Winnifred is working in a child-oriented field where, I assume, the parents and guardians are relying on her to do an honest job and be trustworthy – honestly, this is even more horrific than before.

              Please, please, please show your friend Alison’s response and let her read through the comments. She needs to go to HR because this isn’t just about her now, it’s about the child under her company’s care.

              1. Tardigrade*

                Yes, it’s way worse knowing this. I would even reach out to any regulatory agencies that oversee the type of work she does, because I bet this is a huge violation.

                1. MattKnifeNinja*

                  In my state, those complaints can be fired up to the licensing board, and that will NOT be pretty for Winnifred.

            3. Nita*

              So basically, Winifred (1) played an extremely cruel joke, (2) retaliated against Wendy for nothing more than telling another coworker how shaken she is, and (3) took advantage of personal information in an inappropriate way – she would not have been able to play this joke if she didn’t know a lot of relevant details, probably due to Wendy having a child in the on-site day care. Oh yeah, HR needs to hear about this.

            4. Eight*

              Uh, if she works in a child-oriented field then most employees there are almost certainly mandated reporters, which means that if the wrong person had overheard the wrong part of that, Wendy could have been reported for real. That would be an absolute worst-case scenario and is maybe a little dramatic, but the possibility exists. Not to mention that Winifred’s actions are totally light of the act of reporting when it may actually be required one day in their workplace. Ugh.

            5. Jenn*

              Yes, this makes this even worse and the employer should be appalled. If this was done to a client of theirs, they would be in a huge amount of trouble, deservedly so. She needs to go.

            6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              OMG, OP#2 she has to talk to HR. Winnifred is seriously behaving like the Wicked Witch of the East. Her “joke” was bad enough, but on top of it Wendy works in a child-centered field where she could lose her ability to remain in that field if CPS were investigating her?

              Is it possible to fire Winnifred twice? Because she needs to be fired yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

          3. TootsNYC*

            I think this is an indicator that HR will take this sort of thing VERY VERY seriously. I know my employer would have, back when I worked at one w/ an onsite daycare.

            Our mom could also tell the day-care director, pronto. Even if HR doesn’t want to act, the day-care director will be apoplectic. Such a prank totally messes with the center’s reputation!

    6. valentine*

      #2: Winnifred is scary. Gaslighting and retaliation. She wants Wendy to suffer silently with the knowledge that Winnifred enjoys being needlessly cruel. I wonder if the write-up details the abuse or if she’s ready to claim it was something else entirely and Wendy misunderstood, overreacted, and exaggerated. (I like the names from The Shining.)

        1. Nita*

          Nevertheless, the write-up may be helpful when going to HR, because it is a record that “something” happened. And because Wendy talked to a coworker before the write-up happened, I really hope the coworker can back up her story. And if HR really wants to look into the details, surely there’s a call log that shows a call to Wendy’s desk (or personal cell???) at the time when the incident happened.

    7. Blue Anne*

      I honestly feel that pretending to be a CPS officer should be a criminal offense like pretending to be a police officer is. It is so sick and traumatic.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        And if, as others have said, Winnifred is a mandated reporter, that makes the “joke” even worse.

      2. GreenDoor*

        Yes! This is sick. I live in a predominantly Latino community so what was uppermost in my mind is that we are living in times where a whole swath of people right now had their children swept up and taken away and still don’t have them back. I don’t want to want to start a political debate here. Rather, my point is children being forcibly removed from their parents is a very real thing that is happening right now. It’s traumatic for all involved. For Winnefred to make like it’s a joke and then to write up Wendy for having the reaction that any good parent would have is straight up evil.

        1. Stinky Socks*

          Even without any political overtones, it’s a terrifying situation. For reasons I still don’t fully grasp, someone at my kids’ school filed a neglect claim against me. Everything was cleared up a week later, with an hour’s interview with a social worker. But holy sh**!!!! I cannot begin to tell you the gigantic hand grenade of stress and chaos this threw into my family life. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. What a horrible, horrible “joke.”

    8. Emily K*

      I am so sorry for your friend, OP #2. I don’t have children, but I do have pets, and even getting a phone call in the middle of the day that say, my dog had gotten out when the maid service came by and is nowhere to be found…even if moments later I was told it was a joke and my dog is safely at home, I’m not sure I would be able to concentrate for the rest of the day. Having a strong emotional response changes your brain chemistry in ways that persist for hours.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I have indoor-only cats and if somebody called me to tell me one had escaped, I would be out the door on my way home so fast, and, yeah, even if they admitted immediately it was a joke, it would ruin my day.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Same here. Annd in addition to ruining my day, it would definitely ruin my relationship with the perpetrator, seeing as how it would obliterate any iota of respect I might have had for them ( among other things).

    9. kittymommy*

      Yeap, Winnifred definitely needs firing, both for playing the prank, retaliating against Wendy when she discussed it with a fellow employee and for not taking seriously the purpose and importance of Child Services to the level she thinks it’s funny to call and claim to be an officer and that their investigating a report.

      1. I don’t post often*

        Frankly I read #2 and was terrified. “I played a ‘joke’ on you about your child that you didn’t like and now I’m writing you up.” That person sounds terrifying and I immediately wondered if the boss had access to the children in childcare or the childcare records or ANYTHING. I would march to HR, file a complaint, resign, and seriously consider a lawsuit. Child safety is not something to mess around with.

    10. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Can I nominate Winnifred for Worst Boss of 2018? I feel like she is a contender.

      Also I would love any update on this. Hopefully one with lots of Karma. This is just awful.

      1. MattKnifeNinja*

        Winnifred is a a wing nut from hell.

        I can’t imagine how twisted you have to be thinking that is funny.

        In my neighborhood, calling CPS on each other borders on an Olympic event. CPS never calls like that. If there is an issue to he checked out, two workers are on your porch or visiting the school, hospital, whatever. The workers would never give you a heads up to leave with the kids.

        It would take everything in my power not to beat that boss with a golf club. This almost tops leaving the letter on the grave site, for sh*t boss of thebyear.

    1. Greg NY*

      Illegal retaliation only applies to retaliation against someone for an illegal reason (something that would be against the law, such as discrimination). But impersonation is a crime, and in this case, the boss (yes, I’ll use that word here) committed the crime. HR could be complicit if action isn’t taken against the boss as a result of this.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It might not be a crime in OP’s jurisdiction (it depends on whether their their false personation statute is narrowly defined). But I think there’s a sound management reason to fire Winnifred, because even if her retaliation is not unlawful, it’s still wrong in the ethical/moral sense.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I highly doubt that HR would be legally complicit if they don’t take action against the boss for this, but they certainly should address this from a good management/good person standpoint.

        HR doesn’t generally have power over managers. They can recommend courses of action, but they generally can’t on their own penalize a manager.

        1. Labradoodle Daddy*

          It’s frustrating that there are only so many checks and balances that hold higher ups in a business in check.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah, HR wouldn’t be legally complicit for failing to take action (assuming Winnifred’s behavior is a crime in her state). This is not how the law works.

      3. MommyMD*

        If Crazy Boss retaliated, I’d consult an attorney. Impersonating a government employee and issuing threats has to violate something. When something this egregious happens, it has to be addressed. Sweeping out of control workplace behavior under the rug just makes it works and backfires.

        1. Amelia Pond*

          Absolutely agreed. I very much doubt CPS would be happy with a person that would do such a thing.

        2. irene adler*

          I agree. Attorney time.
          This might not accomplish much, but if this were me, I’d let CPS know that someone from my office was claiming to be from CPS and made accusations. False accusations.

          We don’t know that this is the first- and only -time Winnifred has pulled this CPS prank on someone.
          And yes, I would indicate to CPS that it was my boss who made the crank call.

        3. Wot, no sugar?*

          Hmm, from what I hear, in many municipalities CPS can’t be arsed even to ensure their caseworkers are maintaining regular contact with clients; I can’t imagine they’d do a better job of handling an incident that DOESN’T involve a child in imminent danger. Sounds to me that many of you are giving CPS way too much credit.

      4. MK*

        Impersonation (the crime) is not simply lying about who you are in most jurisdictions; usually there must be more factors at play, like lying with he intent to defraud money, or assume the authority of a public official ( which a CPS agent might or might not be, depending) , etc. And I seriously doubt there is any jurisdiction where not taking action makes you complicit in a crime that has already happened. There are cases were not reporting it to the police might be a separate offence, but these are very narrowly defined.

      5. Julia*

        I guess this isn’t really the case here, but considering this prank only worked because OP has a child, might that be an angle to pursue?

      6. Noah*

        I’d land strongly (though not certainly) on the side that this is illegal retaliation. LW should have a reasonable belief that the prank-call was gender related, e.g., manager would never have done this if she were a man. Because she was punished for complaining about something she reasonably believed was illegal discrimination, she should be protected.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      At the federal level, you’re protected against retaliation for making a good faith report of sexual harassment, discrimination, hostile workplace based on a protected class, or a few other narrowed defined circumstances. Outside of those, retaliation itself is not illegal. If your manager retaliates against you for reporting that she is yelling/making crappy comments about your mom/only talking to you if wear blue, that’s not illegal. Your company might care, but it’s not against the law.

      1. Observer*

        Well, in this case, there could be another issue. Winifred actually wrote her up for talking to a coworker about it. If HR has half a brain, even if they are jerks, they should realize that is could actually go the the NLRB, or that a good lawyer could have a field day with this aspect of it.

        OP, make sure that Wendy makes a copy of the write up. That write up makes it impossible for Winifred to claim that she didn’t do what she did, or to claim that she didn’t punish someone for a legally protected activity.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s true. For people who don’t know what this is in reference to, the NLRA prohibits employers from preventing/punishing you from talking to coworkers about wages and working conditions (if you’re covered by it; managers aren’t always eligible for its protections).

          1. Gaia*

            One of the most misunderstood/absolutely lied about protections that exists, I swear. I am always amazed at how many otherwise decent employers will have actual written policies against discussing employment conditions and/or wages with other employees.

          2. JamieS*

            So basically any retaliation for reporting something to HR would be illegal since it’d fall under NLRB?

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Not always, because not all employees are covered by the NLRA/NLRB.

            2. snowglobe*

              No, in this case the manager wrote up the employee for discussing working conditions (eg, my manager is cruel and nasty) with a co-worker.

            1. Ophelia*

              I think it would also depend on where in the hierarchy of the company she falls, and specifically how the terms of the regulation define management. I’d say in this case, Wendy’s game plan should be to talk to HR, and to consult a lawyer if HR sides with Winnifred.

        2. nonegiven*

          Winnifred surely realizes the write up would be evidence against her. What if she went through all the motions to intimidate Wendy, then destroyed the write up so there would be no evidence?

    3. Former CPS Worker*

      Absolutely go to HR. This is disgusting. I hope Wendy is on her way to HR now and I hope Winnifred is fired or severely reprimanded. The formal write up for “gossip” just says even more what a terrible person she is.

      FYI…we don’t call. We show up. Calling gives the caregiver a chance to harm or hide the victim.

      1. Yorick*

        Not always. I used to work in a daycare and we’d report parents and CPS would make an appointment with them well in advance, so the bruises were gone and they could clean up the house and feed the kid, etc.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Yes, like police who show up with sirens blaring you can hear two blocks away, giving the criminals plenty of time to run and hide – what the f are people thinking?

        2. Brenda Starr*

          Yup, I’ve often heard similar stories, although most were from a while ago. I’m hoping rules may have changed at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t. Otherwise, it’s hard to account for why some parents I know of are allowed to continue torturing their kids with impunity despite many complaints.

        3. VermiciousKnit*

          Whether they call or not depends on the state, county, or city where the agency is run and their applicable laws, as well as the type of abuse/neglect/concern being reported.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, what I see folks who are lower on the rungs do more frequently during times of crisis is donating leave. It’s a little less stressful than donating to a meal train or whatnot, and it still allows people to opt out if they feel uncomfortable donating.

    I’m less in favor of meal trains for people higher up the chain because, as Alison notes, having children is part of life in a way that crisis may not be.

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      I’m afraid I had to google ‘meal train’, but I believe that, while I 100% agree with you on the ‘having children’ part, a different crisis would, as AAM points out, remove the chain entirely. Much as I actively dislike some of the managers at my workplace now (it has been a creeping lack of respect to the point where I genuinely want to push some of them under a bus), should any of them regardless of heirarchy be faced with a genuine, not planned for, totally unseen crisis, I would back providing hot meals because it’s just what people do.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I’ve heard of it but never seen one in action, but realized that a friend of mine basically did a small version of this when I was on maternity leave. She would put a bag of food on my back porch and then text me that it was there (I never heard her deliver it!) and it was better than I imagine a real meal train could be. I never would have wanted to answer the door or put on real clothes or try to take a shower when I was just trying to get through the day w/a newborn, especially not to coworkers. I imagine I’d feel the same way in a crisis, too. But I can see that some people would appreciate the traditional (is it?) meal train.

      1. Engineer Woman*

        I’m yet another who has never heard the term before – learn something new every day!

      2. Lisa Babs*

        OK I thought I was the only one that had to google “meal train” as I read that question. I had a guess (which was right) but never heard the phrase before.

        1. Anonymous Celebrity*

          No, you’re not the only one. I immediately read it as “mule train.” LOL.

          I don’t cook for myself, so I would not agree to cook for others. You can be very well nourished without doing any cooking at all. And cooking for a boss? No way in hell.

    2. MLB*

      I think a meal train from co-workers (regardless of hierarchy) crosses a weird line. Like Alison said, if someone suffers a tragedy like a house fire and everyone wants to donate needed items, that’s a bit different. But I wouldn’t offer a meal to a co-worker unless I had a personal relationship with them. I wouldn’t want a bunch of people I barely knew sending casseroles to my house.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        Yeah I think, as Alison said, make sure the person wants it before you just go dump a bunch of food on their door. I personally wouldn’t want it. I’m a very long time vegetarian with a dairy allergy and intolerance. I wouldn’t want any coworkers to go out of their way to bring me food that I possibly wouldn’t be able to eat anyways.

        1. Someone Else*

          Yeah that’s my problem with coworker meal trains in general. They’re impractical because my coworkers don’t know me well enough to know what I could eat, and I equally lack that knowledge of them.

      2. Judy (since 2010)*

        We’ve done meal trains twice since I’ve been at this company, both times when an employee or spouse was undergoing cancer surgery/recovery/chemo. I’m assuming the admin that set it up talked with them, since the online signup had only Mon-Wed-Fri dates during the surgery recovery for one family and Mon-Tues for the chemo family. Both times there was only one email about it, and it described the family and restrictions. (Both times there were kids involved.) The families placed a cooler on the side porch so that there didn’t need to be interaction.

        We’re in a small city, so meal delivery besides pizza is rare. For one of the two families, I worked with the employee closely, so I offered to bring groceries, and she took me up on the offer.

        1. your favorite person*

          I love how this was set up. If this ever comes up at my workplace, I will be keeping this as a model.

      3. Artemesia*

        I can see it for a tragedy but for just having a child, a meal train from co-workers, as opposed to friends, seems sort of weirdly intrusive to me. And it is burdensome on people expected to provide it. I would be willing to participate for a family with a crisis illness or loss although I have only done so for members of a book club, or friends, but for ordinary life events like having a child, it seems really off to expect co-workers to be cooking and delivering food.

        And since most supermarkets now offer pre-prepared meals, it is easy for families to meet their own needs without expecting others to provide especially when it is a routine life event like childbirth.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yes this is a loving gesture from family and friends, but to me it’s kind of weird from coworkers. A house fire or something feels different.

          1. TootsNYC*

            a health crisis might also feel different to me. Something sudden and devastating, but not planned for and slightly difficult.

            And of course, I’d be influenced by what I knew about the person–how big their family was, whether they seemed to have a robust group of friends, etc.

      4. Eddiesherbert*

        Yeah, as someone with dietary restrictions, I really can’t accept food from near strangers, and figuring out what to *do* with it all would create stress for me.

        I still have to scrutinize food from friends/family half the time! Really, it’s only after several meals/parties with a particular person where I’ve been able to see a consistent pattern of “recognizing/handling Eddie’s dietary restrictions” that I’ll trust someone to make me food.

      5. Decima Dewey*

        At my library system, when an employee suffers a fire or some such, HR will send out an email asking for donations, specifying what is needed, in what sizes, etc. That the way the victim of the fire or some such doesn’t end up with an impromptu thrift shop.

      6. MattKnifeNinja*

        I give restaurant gift cards.

        Would you trust rando coworker, that you don’t know at all to schlep chili/casserole/soup for you to eat? If I was totally broke, beggars can’t be choosers, but people get weird about cleanliness…does the home has pets etc? I have coworkers who will eat NOTHING from homes with cats or dogs. They figure cats jump on counters and dogs lick plates. They would toss everything from those homes.

        Cooking a meal plus fixing it to freeze/transport is a time and money sink. Even disposable food containers, you are looking at $40+ for a meat for four people. Don’t forget food preferences/allergies/intolerances.

        Meal trains are big in small churches/organizations were everyone knows just about everyone pretty personally. If you don’t really know the person, someone else will know them very well and give you a heads up.

        What my place does is either area gift cards to restaurants to cover meals, or the person could pick from area restaurants and get it delivered. The company paid up front for that. We’ve also done grocery store deliveries.

        Unless everything is packaged in disposal containers, the poor person has to clean and keep track of the dishes.

        A meal train for your bestie who had a baby, and all the friends pitch in? Sure! The person at your church going through chemo, who everyones and people follow the person’s suggestions for food? Sure! Higher up who had a new baby that I may not know? I’m not cooking for that, and think it’s a bit excesses. Let the family and friends handle it.

        1. MattKnifeNinja*

          *$40 for a meal that includes meat/cheese in it. Can’t roll in with Kraft Mac n Cheese with sliced hot dogs.

      7. Frizz*

        It’s a bit weird, especially when the staff were asked to participate with a lot of constraints around food and presentation and then we aren’t even told why our co worker needed some help in that way. There hasn’t been anything dramatic, just home life getting a bit out of control. My favourite part was when we were told not to mention it to the co worker, but just leave it in the fridge for her to collect, but a few days later she said thank you for the meal?! So confusing.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      For a lot of workplaces I’d feel much more comfortable with people donating to buy gift cards for meal delivery services. It’s slightly less personal in a way that feels more work-appropriate.

      1. Seriously?*

        It also allows people to participate or not without the recipient knowing, which could remove some of the pressure.

      2. caryatis*

        Especially when you don’t know what kind of food the person eats. I’d hate to get a bunch of unhealthy food that I’d have to throw away.

      3. Persimmons*

        This seems like a better idea. But my opinion may be colored by an old job, where a bunch of WASP-y ladies got snippy about how their “all bacon, all the time” recipes weren’t appreciated by the Muslim new mom.

      4. Le Sigh*

        I generally like this, as long as coworker lives somewhere with decent meal delivery options. My cousin lives in an area where you can’t even really get Dominoes delivered, so I think this goes back to knowing/asking what the person would want and making sure it’s actually useful.

        1. Cardamom*

          Yes, there are exactly zero places that deliver to my house! So that would make a meal-train type thing even more valuable to me.
          Though a combination approach might be if someone wanted to collect money from volunteers and then use that money to buy a few take-outs. Well, actually, if I were stuck at home, I’d be so happy just to have someone drive out meals, even if they were just take-out that I was paying for.

    4. epi*

      I think no matter what you do for someone at work, the bottom line is, you need to ask.

      Food, help in a crisis, what even counts as a crisis– these are culturally determined things that go deep with many of us. As the thread below shows, this stuff even touches on people’s ideas about right and wrong; some would find this a violation of their privacy or even their values around family and self-reliance. That is not something to take lightly!

      My guess is that meal trains (the term and level of organization) are a regional thing that has spread somewhat through churches. So before doing one, I’d want to be sure that is even a thing according to the recipient and the potential helpers, not just a thing in my own family or community. Get someone close to the person to ask, then honor their wishes.

      1. nonegiven*

        Around here people just take food over without the train, at least when someone dies. Half of it looks to be deli trays or desserts.

    5. Pikachu*

      I really really resent the idea of donating leave. Lower paid employees already don’t get much leave in many organizations, and being asked to give up vacation days for people above them (who probably have more generous access to leave anyway) just seems bananas to me.

      1. Artemesia*

        I agree. Just one of many ‘wonderful ideas’ that really are bandaids for terrible health care systems, terrible workplace benefits, terrible safety nets for us all. Charity in place of decent social benefits is perverse.

      2. Judy (since 2010)*

        The only times I’ve seen donated leave has been in (long ago) companies with accrued leave rather than use it or lose it. I was earning 10 days of sick leave a year and not using more than 1-3 days. I would not get the sick time paid out when I left the company.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          We have a catastrophic leave pool, and people donate to it when they’ve accrued too much leave that they’re about to lose some of it. I think we can only accrue 220 hours at year-end, and any amount above that is lost in the new year. Anyway, no employee may donate directly to another particular employee. All donated leave is pooled in the leave bank, and there are policies and a committee governing who is eligible to apply for and receive donated leave.

        2. Cardamom*

          Yes, I once had to leave behind 25 days of sick leave. That made me really sad! Wish I could have donated it, or anything.

      3. Lili*

        Not to mention that companies can afford to give more leave if it’s really necessary. Asking subordinates to donate their minimal leave is just really messed up to me.

    6. Normally a Lurker*

      So, it’s interesting that this meal train question emphasized having kids. Mostly because the two times I’ve seen it used in my life have *not* been that.

      One was a friend with two small children whose wife was in final stages of cancer. The other was for a family with small children during a transplant (kidney I think?).

      Honestly, I’m not even sure I realized that doing them for having children was a thing, bc both times I’ve been exposed to them, it’s been broader than that.

      Having said that, in a heart beat, I would donate a meal in either direction to the above medical things – or a fire, or a major car accident or life events you don’t plan for as a way to let the person focus on the life event on hand and NOT what was being put on the dinner table.

      I’m not sure I would donate up to a maternity though. Only because babies are generally more planned for than the ones I mentioned.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, that sounds like a bad system. It’s one thing to ask employees to do a self-eval and submit that in writing to their manager—that’s normal. But you have to take notes during your performance review and then send those notes, pre-formatted, to the managers? Bogus. Part of being a manager is doing performance evals, and being a line manager doesn’t change that function or expectation. If line managers have too many reports, the company needs to hire more line managers, not outsource a key management function to non-managers.

    1. wherewolf*

      Next year they’ll save even more time by having employees complete their manager’s portion of the evaluation too. After the employment singularity employees will just hire, evaluate, promote, and fire themselves.

      1. alienor*

        I’ve been asked to do that on more than one occasion. Manager then reviewed what I wrote, added a couple of comments, and that was my review for the year.

        1. JellyBean*

          Me too. I have to fill out a detailed self-review, which my manager then copy/pastes and very slightly edits for their review. Seems pointless to have to bother with the review at all.

        2. 2 years til Retirement*

          This is what I came to say. I have in two different positions in two companies done this. I write my review before the meeting and send it to the manager and then we discuss in the meeting. All BEFORE the meeting.

      2. Anonymous Ampersand*

        And you know the competent people will be harsh on themselves and the terrible employees will give themselves praise!

      3. Someone Else*

        This: save even more time by having employees complete their manager’s portion of the evaluation too sounds like it’s what they are already doing. The manager’s just review the part the employees complete for them in case they happen to disagree and want to tweak it.

    2. Alldogsarepuppies*

      Also, i’m unclear how much time it will save, i presume the managers will take notes for the meeting…

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        That was my thought. If the manager didn’t want the meeting to be a complete waste of time, she’d have at least a bullet list of points about each review line item.

    3. lyonite*

      I wonder if the managers complained about how onerous the particular performance review system was and this was the (dumb, terrible) solution their HR came up with–push the responsibility off on the people too low on the totem pole to effectively complain.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      It’s a complete abdication of duty. For many reasons:
      • writing things down ahead of time gives more complete and accurate info than talking off the top of their head.
      • If manager has made notes ahead of time then it just as easily could have been put in the system ahead of time.
      • if the manager is just talking they can miss several points of information. Again, written is better
      • the employee can’t absorb what the manager is saying if they are trying to write it down. That prevents meaningful discussion.

      HR is also abdicating their duty if they allow this.

    5. 02020202*

      OP2: In a dream world:
      Get a friend to prank call your boss telling her that they are HR and she’s fired for misconduct. Effective immediately.

      Then laugh at the great ‘joke’

    6. RoadsLady*

      I recall having taken a few quick notes during evaluations for my own purpose, but I find it ridiculous the idea of having to do so.

    7. No witty name*

      For 7 years my VP boss would have me write my own review- including the scoring. He would review it, usually increase my score, tell me I was too hard on myself and send it in for compensation adjustments. I really liked that boss, but I definitely didn’t grow professionally during that time.

    8. MassMatt*

      It is a terrible practice. I have been a first line manager and yes doing reviews can be a lot of work, but it is important, this company is really sending a strong message that they and their managers just can’t be bothered. This sounds like something a lazy manager might do, but to have it be official for a company speaks volumes about the company.

      I have gotten some lazy reviews in my day but never had to write up my manager’s notes for them. This doesn’t even sound as though it will save any time, with all the back and forth between the managers and employees.

    9. pagooey*

      This year, I wrote the self-eval portion of my review and sent it to my manager, who checked it into the system with his half blank. No feedback or evaluation at all; he just selected the “at expectations” check box (I…rated myself a bit higher) and signed off.

      I very gingerly raised the topic with HR–how can I be sure I’m evaluated fairly, or AT ALL?–and Boss submitted his resignation that very afternoon, before HR even had a chance to contact him.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s a system for ensuring that people’s meals are taken care of during periods when it may be difficult for them to cook for themselves. Sometimes that can mean signing up to cook dinner or send over a casserole, and sometimes it means ordering delivery for that family. It’s been a verb for awhile, but it’s now the name of a company that has software that makes the process of coordinating meals and signing up a little easier.

    2. Alldogsarepuppies*

      The concept is that there is a train of people bringing you food, a different one each day (or meal) for a set period of time. Common occurrences are after a baby is born (tired new parents don’t have enough waking hours to cook) or when someone is in the hospital/just got back (energy and/or mobility limited – and other family is busy taking care on first party as well)

    3. AcademiaNut*

      A schedule to provide meals for someone, usually after something like surgery, or childbirth, or a death in the family. So each day a different person would drop off a ready-to-eat meal.

    4. wherewolf*

      Oh I see, thanks everyone. Sounds like something I’d expect from community ties outside of work. Something about the organized nature of it makes me suspect there would be pressure involved if it were done at work.

      1. marmalade*

        Same here, I’d consider this out of the purview of a job/workplace. Cultural differences I suppose.

      2. Kitty*

        I thought that also – not really a workplace thing, more something friends/family/religious or community connections might do.

      3. Ender Wiggin*

        Yeah I’ve participated in this for a friend who was having chemo but I think it would be really really out of order to ask people to do it for colleagues who they aren’t friends with outside of work.

        Also don’t people cook and freeze when they have a baby due? For both my babies I had 2 full weeks of meals cooked and frozen in advance.

        1. Legalchef*

          Uh, no, not everyone does. I’d venture to guess that most people don’t. Or sometimes babies come early or with other unexpected complications.

        2. RoadsLady*

          I also froze meals. Still had the neighborhood meal train call me up to ask what days we needed meals.

        3. Baby Fishmouth*

          I agree that being new parents doesn’t quite merit a work-organized meal train in the way that a sudden crisis does – while it’s definitely a huge life change, parents have 9 months to prepare for it!

        4. NewMom*

          I planned to do that. I got three meals frozen before complications at the end of pregnancy set it. I was basically fully disabled before the baby came.
          That’s not all that uncommon. Or to have a late preterm baby (36-37 weeks or so) that’s late enough to be fine health wise but early enough to really muck up your plans.
          We had A LOT of delivery in the early weeks, but not everyone can afford that.

        5. straws*

          Many people have wonderful intentions to cook & freeze, but then fail to follow through. I may know from experience… I barely had anything with my first kid, but I’ve managed maaaybe a week’s worth so far for #2? I’m hoping to get to 2 weeks by the time he shows up, but we’ll see!

        6. Ophelia*

          I thought about making/freezing meals, but babies don’t always wait for their due date, so when we got surprised a month early, the one lasagna in the freezer didn’t last too long! (Also I live in NYC, and there is only so much freezer space in most apartment-sized refrigerators, sadly!)

          That said, the most lovely and unexpected thing was when we were exhausted, and finally home from a few days in the jaundice tank, the doorbell rang, and the restaurant downstairs had sent us up dinner! They had been keeping an eye out, and sent up our usual order. It still makes me kind of teary, TBH.

          1. Ruth (UK)*

            Same. My freezer is a small section in my fridge. I could freeze a couple of portions but not if I was also trying to keep much other stuff (I usually have frozen peas and maybe some ice cream in my freezer).

        7. kristinyc*

          I’m pregnant and have no plans for doing that. We don’t have a microwave, and almost never eat frozen food. We already do Blue Apron…. that should be enough to keep us fed.

            1. kristinyc*

              No, I don’t! I recognize that for some people, they’d be really helpful and lovely, but I think even if our friends/family offered one, we’d probably decline it because it just wouldn’t make sense with our lifestyle.

                1. kristinyc*

                  I think it would depend on the person (like, if they’re already using Blue Apron/like cooking, then yes). Since I live in NYC where food is expensive and grocery shopping is inconvenient, Blue Apron’s pretty much the only way that we’re getting home cooked meals in my household. Here, it works out to being cheaper than takeout, and sometimes even cheaper than it would be to buy groceries and cook the same meal.

                  But if it’s someone who really just wants to be able to put a frozen casserole in the over for 45 minutes and not have to deal with cutting up veggies/preparing a meal, a meal train might be better for them.

                  I think with any gift/kind gesture, it really depends on what the recipient would enjoy/find useful. :)

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I have to make my own food because of allergies. I make 4-5 meals at a time and freeze them in glass containers. They’re reheated in a microwave and they’re pretty good. Homemade food that’s frozen right away is much better than a storebought frozen dinner. :)
            You’d have to get a microwave if you wanted to do this, or take the meals out long enough ahead to loosen them in the container, then heat them on the stove.

        8. Dragoning*

          I’ve never heard of anyone cooking and freezing meals before having a baby. And given that not all due dates are expected, it would be hard to do that for a huge number of people.

        9. Nita*

          No… it’s a great idea, but I’ve never heard of anyone doing it here. Partly because I’m in a neighborhood with lots of prepared food options. Partly because if you don’t normally freeze food, it’s hard to learn when you’re already scrambling with last-minute things (I’ve actually worked longer hours right before, so I can wrap up everything before leaving). I’ve heard that not everything freezes well, so I’m a bit nervous about trying to freeze something without experimenting first – it would be so disappointing to defrost what’s supposed to be a nice meal, and find a mushy mess!

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I’ve found most foods freeze well. I was hesitant to freeze pasta and finally tried it, it worked fine.
            The only thing is when I tried it with a salmon and rice dish, the salmon still got old in the freezer. Other meats work fine.

        10. Bea*

          I’ve heard of this concept. I’m just not invested in homecooking to care. Thankfully they have grocery delivery options because that’s more helpful for us, every meal I make is a matter of tossing things in the slow cooker.

        11. Artemesia*

          I didn’t do this because I am married to a competent human who is perfectly capable of getting a meal on without Mommy doing all the work in advance to make sure he does’t have to cook.

          1. Who the eff is Hank?*

            I’m currently pregnant with my first and my husband has been experimenting with various quick, easy meals he can make large portions of for leftovers throughout the week. The veggie lasagna he made this week was great!

          2. Ender Wiggin*

            My husband does most of the cooking. We both participated in the cooking and freezing. And we were both too exhausted to cook in the early weeks because we both participated in the night time wakeups (I fed the top half and he cleaned the bottom half).

            1. TootsNYC*

              That’s actually why I insisted on nighttime duty; I figured if I was up to breastfeed, I could do the bottom half too, and he’d be awake and competent to cook. It was very calculated.

          3. CMart*

            I (“we” actually) didn’t do it because of limited freezer space and limited time as we wrapped things up at our various workplaces etc…

            But I too am married to a competent human who was incredibly sleep deprived and had nearly as little energy as “mommy” in the first couple weeks and neither of us had the energy to do cooking. We ordered a lot of delivery instead.

            I only say this because your snarky comment rubbed me the wrong way and I took it personally. Meal trains/freezer meals etc… are lovely if they make sense for families, even and perhaps especially when the non-birth partner is as equally as engaged as they can be.

            1. Nita*

              Yeah. That can happen. I distinctly remember, when my oldest was born, that we not only had no time/energy to cook, but I literally had trouble getting food from the plate to my mouth. The kid spent a LOT of time eating, and I wasn’t very good at holding a baby with one hand yet, so my husband had to eat his dinner, and spoon-feed me :) It really didn’t help that my recovery was much worse than normal (not that we knew what “normal” was!), and I made a stupid rookie mistake that had me spending all my spare time on laundry. Things went much better the second time around though.

            2. NLMC*

              I usually just ignore comments like this but this one irritated me too.
              My husband is completely competent but with my first no one was getting any sleep because of colic and with our 2nd he did all the night time feedings because we had complications and I was having to pump every 2-3 hours throughout the night.
              He usually does most of the cooking in our house because of the way our schedules work out but he was just as exhausted as I was early on with both children.
              And most of the meal trains I have seen have been set up by others, not the person receiving the meals. They were always very thankful for the meals but didn’t “rely” or “expect” them.
              With that being said would not have wanted co-workers to set up a meal train for me but I was very appreciative of the couple who sent meals and treats anyway.
              I recently lost my mother and my direct reports sent me some food that fed my family for a few days. I did not expect it but I was very thankful that I didn’t have to figure out food those days.

            3. TootsNYC*

              also, you know what? Meal trains can be a nice gesture of welcome and caring. They can be community builders, both between the recipients and the community, but also within the community itself.

              What a great thing to know–that the community with reach out to help when it’s useful and needed! Even if you never need it, it might make you feel safe to know that such things are happening for other people.

              (that’s how I feel about paying for food stamps, etc.)

        12. Ender Wiggin*

          Replying here to all – if the baby is early or extremely sick or the mother has severe complications then I would consider that a family crisis that’s quite different from the normal expected full term birth of a healthy child. I completely understand the idea of helping out someone in that situation.

          However in my experience its very unusual that someone would be so unprepared for a (full term no complications) baby that they would be relying on random coworkers to bring them meals. Even if they haven’t had the foresight to cook and freeze, they would be planning to order in or have family or friends help out or whatever.

          I know the culture is quite different in America to here in Europe, but I do have American friends and have visited America quite a few times. I find it extremely hard to believe that most Americans are so unprepared for the birth of a child that they are relying on random coworkers they aren’t even friends with to bring them meals.

          I just don’t think it’s appropriate to expect random coworkers to help out in that way. Friends, family, even neighbours or church congregations I can see helping out, but if someone tried to organise this for a normal full term birth in any workplace I’ve been in people would look at them like they had two heads.

          1. CMart*

            I don’t think many/most/any people “rely” on coworkers, or even friends/religious community etc… for meals after the birth of a child. Everyone assumes they’ll just have to figure it out.

            But it’s a really nice gesture though. I certainly didn’t expect anyone to bring us food, but the couple of friends who came by to see the baby and “just so happened” to have made “extra” dinner that they brought over were very deeply appreciated. If my coworkers decided to do something like this I would have been completely blown away with their generosity.

            1. Ender Wiggin*

              I would be pretty offended actually. If friends (including coworker-friends) or family (or even neighbours or congregation if your part of one) did it, I think that would be fine and a nice gesture. But organising a load of coworkers you aren’t even friendly with to show up at your house with food just because you’ve had a baby – no way. I don’t even want Mark from maintenance knowing my address, let alone seeing me in my pj’s when I haven’t slept for 2 days! It’s really intrusive and patronising. Having a baby is not a crisis its a normal life event and doesn’t justify your coworkers inserting themselves into your private life like that.

              1. ket*

                Since you’ve made your feelings quite known, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about any random coworkers trying to drop off a casserole!

              2. TootsNYC*

                even if you hadn’t, i really don’t think you’d have to worry about random coworkers showing up at your house with food.

                People won’t volunteer for that; it’s too much work for Mark from maintenance; he doesn’t really know you.

            2. Stone Cold Bitch*

              I’ve done this while visiting family. We brought a big dinner, they made a side dish. They had food for the next day and didn’t have to cook.

          2. ket*

            A lot of people have a lot of friends at work, especially if they’re in industry that has required a lot of moves. In academia, for instance, if you’re living in state number 3 in 5 years, work people are probably your closest acquaintances/friends.

            I understand your feelings, but some workplaces are closer than others, and some people have less of a community safety net. There’s no need to be judgy about it (“don’t think it’s appropriate…”).

        13. NotAnotherManager!*

          We didn’t cook and freeze food in preparation for our children. Both were born when we lived in a condo with limited storage space. I doubt we could have gotten even a full week’s worth of meals into the freezer we had at the time. I also assume this has fallen out of favor as family-sized frozen entrees are now readily available in stores, and meal delivery services are prevalent (and, in my experience, far more convenient for people who work full time).

      4. RoadsLady*

        Yeah. I’ve been the recipient of meal trains and I happily participate in, but it’s a church/community thing for me. Never heard of work doing it.

      5. CheeryO*

        We do this at my workplace for new mothers. I can’t stand it, honestly, because it turns into a low-key contest over who can cook the most tasty, elaborate, yet somehow healthy meal. I can’t cook, so I usually offer to make a side salad or dessert. I wish I didn’t even have to do that, though. Maybe this is cold, but I think everyone at my workplace makes enough money to be able to figure out post-baby meals without coworker intervention.

        1. Ender Wiggin*

          OMG that sounds hideous. It’s pretty patronising to the mothers too. And why do it for mothers and not fathers? Do they think fathers never cook or something?

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Also, what’s healthy for a new mother? I had twins and was nursing/pumping to feed them both, which meant I was producing something like 1,000 calories/day of breast milk. I’m also a vegetarian. I had a number of very kind and well-meaning friends and family members make dinner during those early weeks, and had a delightful array of vegetable soups and things to eat. And after politely eating what they’d made I’d find myself eating spoonfuls of peanut butter and slices of cheese and protein bars in secret afterwards. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, but the “healthy” recipes they were making just didn’t work for me, and they didn’t really know how to cook balanced higher-calorie vegetarian food.

    5. Meal train writer*

      Ha, sorry, I thought that was a common term! It seems like a lot of people object to the idea of providing or accepting a meal train at all, and especially so in the workplace, which makes total sense to me. My question was really more about hierarchy and support in a crisis — Alison’s examples of donating needed items after a fire or pre-made meals to someone after surgery are good examples that don’t have the potential interpersonal weirdness of a meal train.

      1. Mrs. Psmith*

        I just wanted to mention that I’m surprised at how many people are opposed to a meal train idea. It must rely heavily not only on your own workplace culture but your local culture. I’m from South Texas and it’s super normal down here to show you care by stuffing people full of homemade food (whether you are close to each other or not). But I can get that it might not fly in some places.

        1. anon today and tomorrow*

          It could be cultural / regional! I’m in the Northeast and honestly would feel imposed on if I had people stopping by my apartment to drop off food, and if it was homecooked, I’d be wary to eat it if I didn’t know them that well. But I know the culture here tends to be more of the “leave someone alone unless they ask for help” variety.

          1. Ender Wiggin*

            Yeah maybe it’s a cultural thing. I’d actually be pretty offended if random coworkers started showing up with meals as if I was incapable of feeding myself just because I had a baby.

            1. TootsNYC*

              is that really the only message you think they would be trying to send?
              You don’t think they might be trying to say, “I’d like to make life easy for you”?
              Or “I’m pleased for you and want to do something nice, so here’s some food”?

              What a nasty opinion of other people you have!

          2. Jen S. 2.0*

            I agree with you that it’s not necessary for a new parent, AND really not necessary for an office (it would be more of a friends / church thing to me).

            But I personally wouldn’t go as far as being offended, because I also really understand that even in an office, people want to do something to acknowledge your life event, and people want to help. Food has become a default acknowledgement in a lot of ways. We eat to acknowledge so many events that I can see how “let’s take them food” has become a Thing You Feel Like You Can Do To Be Helpful.

            I don’t have kids, but I can see how when I’m exhausted and busy and overwhelmed with a new baby, just because I CAN make myself a meal and was expecting to have to, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be thrilled to see a lasagna at the door.

            I try not to be offended by people who are trying to do something nice for me. I wouldn’t assume it meant the person thought I was too incapacitated or disorganized or unprepared to have planned for meals after a baby; I’d assume it meant they were trying to give me a gift, even if I am the most capable, organized, prepared mama ever.

            (Although I also agree with those who note that I’m iffy about eating coworkers’ food. These are the same people who are messy in the office kitchen and don’t always wash after the toilet.)

        2. Det. Charles Boyle*

          Same here. When the spouse of a co-worker with several young children died, we did online signups to take meals to them for weeks. I didn’t really know either of them, but it just seemed like a compassionate thing to do.

        3. laughingrachel*

          I agree that it could be regional/cultural. I grew up in the heart of the Midwest and anytime you hear about anything happening to anyone in the neighborhood, you bring them a casserole (or something casserole-adjacent). It’s just What Is Done. It wouldn’t bother me at all, and I’m not much of a people person, just something I’ve grown up with. It’s a well-worn script so there’s not much room for awkwardness.

          As a kid, whenever my mom starting freezing casseroles in bulk, I knew something was up with someone. And now that’s the knee jerk reaction to anyone I know in crisis. I make them some freezer friendly food, and if I’m particularly close to them, I do their laundry. Since the idea is to help take care of menial household tasks that can fall by the wayside in crisis, usually if you don’t feel close enough or comfortable enough to help with any other more intimate household chore, making meals is the most appropriate one.

          I can see how someone who didn’t grow up with that, or has dietary restrictions, might be made uncomfortable by it though.

            1. MattKnifeNinja*

              I grew up in Metro Detroit. I never heard of meal trains until coworkers from Texas, Florida and Georgia brought it up.

              They all went to small Evangelical churches, so maybe that’s why. My parents went to a 5,000 family Roman Catholic church. I know that never happened there.

            2. TootsNYC*

              I’m midwestern (rural) born and raised, and this definitely was a thing for us. When my grandmother passed away, people brought food. However, it may have faded with time.

              1. TootsNYC*

                we didn’t call them “meal trains”; all the food showed up at once. And it wasn’t everybody; just the people in the neighborhood or church who thought of it. Sometimes it was the people who didn’t know you as well, actually. But it was often the people who would also volunteer at the polls, or show up to man the Scholastic Book Fair, etc.

                Not having as many adults (usually wives) at home w/ time to cook may have killed it off.

        4. NotAnotherManager!*

          It’s entirely cultural. It’s very common in the rural community my husband is from, it’s not a thing where we live now. We live in an urban area where people are time-crunched and more likely to give you gift cards for delivery than have the time to cook for someone other than their own family.

          I am southern and have all the love-people-with-food genes, but I save it for my family. If I invite you over, I will feed you and try to send you home with a plate, but I have zero desire/time to cook and deliver for my coworkers. I’ll kick in some cash.

        5. ThursdaysGeek*

          I’m in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve done meal trains though our church for years, although in the past they have been often rather haphazard and barely organized. The web page option is very helpful. When my spouse broke his hip in a freak pogo-stick accident, my church didn’t provide meals (nor did I ask). But when a co-worker of his showed up at the door with a pot of soup, I realized how overwhelmed I was caring for him, and was truly grateful. Co-workers can be friends, so this doesn’t seem like anything odd to me.

        6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes—this is super cultural. Meal trains in the workplace were super common when I was in the south and parts of the midwest.

        7. Clisby Williams*

          Maybe … but I’m from SC, and never heard of this being done at work. Friends in the neighborhood, people from church, members of your book club, sure. (Always checking whether the potential recipients want it or not.)

        8. MassMatt*

          I am somewhat surprised by how many people are saying they would be offended also. But put it together with people who have dietary restrictions and others who just have different ideas of privacy and boundaries, and it seems to support the idea of asking the intended recipient first. Sometimes people want to help but their “help” can wind up being burdensome to the recipient.

        9. MattKnifeNinja*

          I never heard of meal trains until a couple of RN East Texas transplants were MORTIFIED we weren’t firing up a meal train for our pregnant head nurse. We looked at them like they had two heads.

          The head nurse was uber picky, and unless you were a chef, nothing that would be made woukd probably be eating.

          It’s definitely a regional thing.

      2. Sami*

        I’d like to add that a workplace is organizing a meal train to please not forget about your coworkers who are off work for mental health issues. They need good food too. And can have just as much of a hard time cooking as someone with a physical ailment.

      3. wherewolf*

        For what it’s worth, I think the ideal of bringing meals to people in need is a lovely idea in principle. Whether for new parents, victims of a crisis, a grieving family–I think this is wonderful for a community, a religious group, a friend group, or a family to organize.

        I would feel wary at work though, because of the hierarchy and peer pressure that goes into all these extracurricular duties. It would be Weird in my workplace (not US), and I would feel uncomfortable cooking for my boss even if his house burned down, honestly. It sucks but he can afford takeout. If he was my neighbor though, I’d feel very differently.

    6. Blinx*

      Count me as another who’s never heard that term before. I’m aware of the concept, but didn’t know it had a name.

    7. Silicon Valley Girl*

      Others have described it, I’ll only point out that there is a website called Meal Train which is just one of many tools & apps that ppl can use to organize meal delivery among small groups for someone in need. This was very helpful when I had chemo, & I found out about it thru a cancer support group (not church affiliated, not a regional thing, just from other ppl who had an emergency situation). The Meal Train site & similar apps let ppl sign up & let the meal recipient put in food preferences, delivery time & place, & it sends out reminders to the ppl delivering food. Super helpful.

  4. Stormfeather*

    Marking #2 as one I’d really like to see an update on. >_>

    Also: first police officers, now child protective services. What goes through some of these people’s heads that they think scaring the pants off someone by impersonating an official person with power over them is funny? At all?

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Nothing goes through their heads.

      Well, that or they are trying to hide something by making actual calls from people in authority look suspicious.

      1. Saurs*

        It could speak to some kind of semi-conscious resentment on the part of Winnifred towards Wendy as a working mother. I don’t mean in a legal discrimination sense, but that that part of Wendy’s life (a perfectly normal thing, to be a parent) seems aberrant or unusual enough that Winnifred regards it as a core part of Wendy’s identity, something to pick on because, for Winnifred, it defines her.

        It’s… weird. And cruel.

        1. OP 2*

          When Wendy spoke of the matter, apparently when she talked to her coworker, Cowoker had a story about receiving a Winnifred prank herself (I didn’t mention that as it didn’t seem relevant to the question). But now it does make me wonder if Winnifred has a warped view of humor for whatever reason.

          1. Lance*

            Oof. Yeah, if this is a thing Winnifred does, that’s even more reason for HR to know about it, immediately. There’s no way that sort of thing should be allowed, nor especially for people to be punished for being hurt by the ‘joke’.

            1. Observer*

              It doesn’t really matter. It’s clear that this is someone with a history or REALLY bad judgement, to make a HUGE effort to judge as kindly as humanly possible.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                I think it does. If it was something like “she put a piece of tape over my mouse tracker” that’s fairly harmless and probably not relevant. If it was something closer to what she did to Wendy, that establishes a pattern of behavior.

                1. Observer*

                  It’s kind of hard to believe that someone would have come back with something at that level as a response to what happened to Wendy. So, the prank would have had to be fairly serious, even if not THIS egregious.

                2. Totally Minnie*

                  I think a person whose mind goes to this extreme level when thinking up pranks is probably likely to be thinking at that level a lot of the time. It may not have had anything to do with the coworker’s family like this “prank” did, but I think it’s likely that a person like Winnifred wouldn’t find a lower level prank to be funny or exciting or worth her time to carry out.

                3. RVA Cat*

                  Winnifred’s idead of a prank is even crueler than the scissors in the chair that made the person need stitches.

              2. Annie Moose*

                True, but if it was on the same level, then Coworker may want to consider talking to HR as well, even if it’s something that happened in the past.

          2. Observer*

            This is actually important information. There is no way you could say that she had a momentary lapse and then doubled down on it. She’s done this before which means that it’s likely to be an ongoing issue.

            HR really needs to know about this NOW.

          3. Totally Minnie*

            OP2, suggest that Wendy go back to her coworker and say she intends to talk with HR about the situation, and that she’ll be naming coworker as a witness. She can also offer to bring coworker along to talk about the previous Winnifred prank to establish a pattern of behavior.

            I don’t think pranks belong in the workplace at all, but a manager pranking her employees like this feels especially egregious given the power dynamics at play. Winnifred is a bad boss, and she shouldn’t be the boss of people anymore.

            1. MassMatt*

              I’m not sure this is a good idea. The manager already knows her friend spoke to her coworker, she said she was writing her up for “gossiping”. Unless she spoke to the coworker in a really public place and was overheard, it seems likely that the coworker went and told the manager. Somewhere along the line, the info got back to the toxic manager. I wouldn’t want to give her any further warning or opportunity to retaliate or concoct a story, I would go straight to HR or the manager’s boss.

          4. LJay*

            These remind me of pranks that a local radio station does called the “Mad Minute”.

            I really dislike them and they’re all of the same ilk – things that would make any normal person mad or upset or both. I could see this being one of the pranks. They’ve done one where a mom (in on the call) told her mother that their kid pulled a cup of hot coffee onto himself at day care. They’ve done ones where they pretended to be repo people or debt collectors. They’ve done ones where a girlfriend (in on the call) told her boyfriend that she totaled his car. There’s always a friend or family member in on the call that introduces the fake situation to the victim, then they hand off the phone to the dj who acts really over the top and belligerent. Then when the victim of the prank call gets really worked up they tell them that it’s a joke.

            Apparently enough people find these things humorous that they continue to air them.

            Maybe Winnifred is taking their cues on sense of humor from there?

            1. RVA Cat*

              We had a local DJ who used to do those too, and some were really cringe-worthy. (Husband in on the call had DJ call masseuse wife and request something NSFW/illegal.)
              Then he got fired after harassing a woman on Facebook.

        2. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

          This strikes me as overthinking it, honestly. I strongly suspect Winnifred didn’t have any greater motive than to prank Wendy, and that was an effective tactic to do it.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, she sounds like a garbage person who wanted to do a garbage thing. (She wanted to behave garbagely, so to speak.)

    2. Former CPS Worker*

      They are vindictive, awful people. A few days ago, we saw a list of notes to a general email box. I’m surprised there wasn’t an example of “so-and-so is a child molester” because we’d get a lot of these sent to us from HR departments.

      The part that burns me I used to have ACTUAL REAL CASES and I would have to take on one of these bogus claims on the off chance it wasn’t bogus to conduct an investigation. Everything that is reported, gets investigated.
      Even if its clearly BS.

      …and I don’t do that work any more because I retired. I did 35 years in the system and I’ve seen humanity at it’s pure worst.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I think one of the most frustrating parts of this ‘prank’ is that CPS is usually overworked and there are so many kids actually being abused who slip through the cracks. I just read a longform article on The Atlantic yesterday about a case in CA where 4 social workers are actually facing criminal charges for failure to protect a child.

        The fact that OP#2’s friend thought there was a chance she’d lose her child when that sort egregious abuse goes unchecked somehow makes this worse.

          1. Thursday Next*

            I haven’t been able to make it through—I started crying on the subway.

            There can be no such thing as a “joke” about CPS. The work is so hard and the stakes are so high; I can’t imagine anyone using that as fodder for a prank.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          The Gabriel Fernandez case is particularly egregious. It’s difficult to prosecute CPS employees in California, and although I generally agree that CPS is overworked, the Fernandez case is rare.

          But the fact that anyone would impersonate CPS as a “joke” is disgusting and contemptible.

      2. LizB*

        I’ve spent 90% of my career either working closely with CPS case managers or working in childcare. Question #2 makes me see red like few other things on this site have. If someone at my organization did that to one of our employees who uses my childcare center (which I manage), I would go straight to HR and raise hell as possible. Disgusting and unacceptable on every level.

    3. Mandy*

      Back when I was a law clerk, one of the attorneys called a paralegal and impersonated a police officer. He said there was a warrant out for her arrest because she missed court. She immediately burst into tears and the attorney came out of his office to apologize and say it was a prank. The paralegal was extremely upset and she may have gone home early that day. It did not go any further and just became a story that was shared as a prank gone wrong.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        Geez. Making your employee think their status under the law is in jeopardy is MOST EMPHATICALLY NOT HILARIOUS.

        Why are people?

      2. nonegiven*

        That reminds me of the letter where someone told a coworker that they were suspected of embezzlement or something and that the police were outside, on their way to arrest her. I think that made her throw up or something

    4. Michaela Westen*

      It seems like it’s just hostility. The times I’ve seen cruel “jokes” like this the people seemed to have a lot of latent hostility and jealousy – and no ethics about maybe managing themselves and their feelings instead of lashing out at innocent bystanders.

      1. SavannahMiranda*

        It’s an enduringly curious phenomenon that we continue to call them “jokes.”
        Is there not a better work for these cruelties? We’re a creative society and invent new terms all the time.
        I mean we have “frienemy” and “noob.” “Muffin top” and “BFF.”
        Has anyone come up with a sharp and accurate little term for these acts of malice that perpetrators try to brush off as “jokes”?

    5. chi type*

      Yeah, I’ve always wondered how just saying some totally plausible thing that doesn’t happen to be true right now can even be considered a joke. It’s just a random senseless lie.

  5. Bilateralrope*

    Pretending to be CPS for a “joke” makes it possible that a real call from CPS will be ignored because Wendy thinks the “joke” is being repeated. The boss doesn’t want Wendy talking to anyone about this.

    My first thought is that the boss is trying to hide something happening at the daycare. Might it be time to see how unhappy CPS are about this “joke” ?

    Also, go to HR now.

    1. JamieS*

      I’m not sure what you expect CPS to do about a boss being a jerk to her employee but I don’t think that’s really under their control. This is a management/HR problem not something CPS should be involved in.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        CPS might get angry at someone pretending to be a CPS agent. It might be illegal in that jurisdiction.
        Or they might find it suspicious enough to start an investigation.

        1. JamieS*

          CPS isn’t going to investigate a prank phone call. It’s a poor use of resources (assuming they even have the resources to do it) and the call is in no way indicative of child abuse/neglect which is what CPS cares about.

        2. GradStudent*

          I think this falls under “let the people who’s job it is to decided, decided”. There were a lot of comments on the letter where a creepy coworker tried to trick a woman into letting him take nude photos of her that we should let the police decide what is illegal or worth investigating because that’s their job not ours. So, let CPS and the police know because they’ll know if it’s illegal or not and act accordingly.

    2. MommyMD*

      Do not go to CPS. They barely have enough manpower to come out for real abuse cases and are struggling as is. This is not a CPS case here.

      1. EPLawyer*

        not very I’ll bet. She should knew that Wendy had a kid in the daycare so thought it would be funny.

        I doubt this is anything more than a boss with extremely poor judgment going on here. She’s not covering up. She’s not resentful that Wendy has a kid. She’s just a cruel person.

        1. Annonymouse*

          Except she tried to cover up by giving Wendy a write up when Wendy talked about it.

          She is threatening her job to silence her about what a terrible person she is.

      2. I don’t post often*

        I posted this above accidentally. It should have been here:

        Frankly I read #2 and was terrified. “I played a ‘joke’ on you about your child that you didn’t like and now I’m writing you up.” That person sounds terrifying and I immediately wondered if the boss had access to the children in childcare or the childcare records or ANYTHING. If I were Wendy I would now be terrified for the safety of my child. I would march to HR, file a complaint, resign, and seriously consider a lawsuit. Child safety is not something to mess around with.

    3. TootsNYC*

      actually, one person who might be very unhappy is the Day Care Director.

      I’d be livid–as a mandated reporter, I can’t be having random pranksters messing with the issues of trust between me and the parents.

      I might have to call CPS one day, and I don’t want this kind of bullshit floating around.

  6. anon today and tomorrow*

    #1: Admittedly I find meal trains weird and almost invasive, and I’d probably be hesitant to eat anything someone else cooked for me in such a situation.

    That said, I’d be willing to donate food for someone who lost their home in a fire or natural disaster, but would most definitely chafe if asked, even optionally, to contribute to one for a new parent. The same goes for asking for other types of donations. I’d donate upwards or to a coworker I’ve never talked to in the case of a major crisis, but not in the case of them having a child.

    Experiencing a crisis where you lose everything is very, very different from something like having a child. They may need support, but a child is usually an expected life change. Losing your house or all your possessions is not.

    I feel like donating to new parents should just be close friends at work, and never something that’s gifted from subordinates.

    1. Screenwriter Mom*

      I agree, and I really like Alison’s suggestion that the company should simply provide this. If the company wants to support their workers, new parents or those in need, they should make it an actual benefit–i.e., provide meals from a meal service for a certain number of days, rather than offloading it to their other workers.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      If someone has lost their home in a fire, or been displaced due to flood, I’d pitch in for something to help them get on their feet regardless of status – even if insurance covers everything, the short term can be difficult.

      Participating in a meal train after an accident or surgery would depend on circumstances – do I know the person well enough to cook for them? How inconvenient is it (ie, will I need to spend three hours on a bus to drop off a casserole)? But dropping off meals because someone had a baby is something I’ll do for close friends and family, not random coworkers.

      I also think that stuff like this needs to be *very* opt in. Send around a single email with instructions on how to participate, but don’t physically pass around a sign up sheet or personally approach people. And make sure the person on the other end actually wants this before starting the process! Also, pay attention to participation – if the lower level employees are cooking for their coworkers but the managers and C-suite aren’t involved, it’s time to rethink things.

      1. anon today and tomorrow*

        Yes, exactly. Sometimes people don’t want to see coworkers when they’re dealing with a crisis, and I think there are times where people get so obsessed about helping that they forget that it could be an inconvenience for the person you’re trying to help. In such a situation, I know my coworkers would be well-meaning, but the last thing I’d want to do is see any of them or make sure I was home and presentable for them to drop of food.

        But I think the opt-in functionality is going to be tricky regardless. Think of all the times someone has had an “opt-in” baby shower or whatnot that wasn’t really optional, or where they were guilted into donating.

      2. tra la la*

        When I had major surgery, a colleague who I find unpleasant decided to organize a complicated electronic schedule for helping me during recuperation. I did need some help bc my mobility was limited and I live alone with no family nearby, but I just wanted the people I was closer to to help when I needed it, not ALL of my coworkers trooping through my place on a schedule. I was in a lot of pain prior to the surgery and was so grateful to a colleague I *was* friendly with who stepped in and called off the elaborate planning.

      3. Allison*

        I absolutely agree! I’ve actually never cooked anything for someone in need, because I just haven’t really been in that position where someone I knew was in need of food like that, so I don’t have a go-to recipe, and I can’t guarantee that I could figure out how to make something that would be any good, and I don’t have a lot of free time on my hands, so I’m not saying I can’t or won’t help, but I’d have to really like the person or be significantly moved to make the time and figure things out. Pressuring me to participate would just stress me out and probably make me dislike you.

        And, if you’re trying to organize something like this, make sure you don’t have any gendered expectations. Not that you’d consciously think “the men don’t have to do this, but the women should,” but pay attention to your reactions when men don’t help versus when women don’t help, it’s very easy to subconsciously give men a free pass but side-eye women who don’t help out. Remember that, as I alluded to above, we ladyfolks weren’t born with innate knowledge or skills pertaining to this sort of thing.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        To be fair, a lot of meal trains include the ability to order food for someone at their favorite restaurants. When a colleague had terminal cancer, many of us used the guidance on her meal train website to order food that met her dietary restrictions from her list of pre-approved restaurants.

        1. Formerly Arlington*

          Agree. I’ve used Uber Eats or restaurant delivery for meal trains. Would only actually cook if it was for family or a close friend–otherwise, that feels too personal. I never was the recipient of a work meal train (fortunately never in that situation) and can’t imagine eating a meal made by someone I didn’t know well…it just seems too intimate for some reason.

    3. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I agree with this. The recipients may be already part of a meal train through neighbours, family or church. It sounds like something that needs to be run past the recipients to ensure that coverage is actually needed or wanted.

      1. Saurs*

        Yes. Also, people don’t like eating Resentful Casseroles. Unless the train’s inhabitants really like and know the recipient well or are motivated by extreme philanthropy, the food can be sub-the worst potlock you’ve ever had, a bunch of pre-made supermarket filler paid for by people who don’t want to be buying it in the first place. That food is not fun and this is going to be a waste of resources, time, and good will if it becomes mandatory.

        1. Allison*

          I don’t like eating any kind of casserole, really, even if it was made with love. The only thing I think I would want baked for me in one of those glass dishes is mac and cheese. I’m pretty sure I’d rather people bring me Taco Bell and frozen pizzas if I was in a crisis, or just do super market runs and bring food staples and stuff I can prepare without much effort.

          1. Artemesia*

            Maybe it is because I live in a big city, but all of my local supermarkets devote a huge amount of their space to pre-prepared meals. This is a big shift over the last 10 years. It is easy to go get a pot roast dinner, or a variety of interesting pastas, or a pork loin, or stew or a vegetarian casserole etc etc as well as the usual roast chickens, pizzas, mac and cheeses, and sushis. And there are lots of restaurant delivery services.

            1. anon today and tomorrow*

              Yes, I was about to say this as well. Most of my local stores will also deliver pre-prepared meals for a fee, or you can use an app to get them delivered. I’ve used Postmates to get prepared food from Whole Foods before.

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      Also with having a child that’s a family thing. It’s not a work thing.

      I admit I’m a little biased (and it’s been over 30 years) but no one, not even family gave me one single meal, not one after my son was born. I was on my own (with Husband) to worry about feeding ourselves.

      People choose to have a child then they can take care of their issue themselves (maybe prepare before giving birth?) and/or family/close friends can help out.

      1. Em*

        I guess the closest that anyone ever came to bringing me a meal was the day that I got home from the hospital with my first child, my idiot husband invited his family to come and visit (!!!!!), and they bought pizza. Pizza which I had to order for them, and which I ordered exactly what they wanted, and then they complained that I didn’t order enough. And they left the dirty dishes for me.

      2. Agnes*

        You had a bad time when it would have been nice to be helped, so no one else should ever help someone in the same situation?

        1. Foreign Octopus*

          I don’t think that’s what RUKiddingMe is saying at all.

          They’re not saying that people shouldn’t be helped out but rather that you can’t expect your work colleagues to help out when you have a baby as a child is personal choice whereas your house burning down/serious illnesses are not personal choices.

          If the latter happened to a work colleague, I would do what I could to help them if they needed it but the first one, having a baby, well – you’ve generally got advanced notice that the baby is coming and should (in most cases) be able to adequately prepare. It’s also a personal thing, as stated, and not really appropriate for the work place – just as baby showers aren’t appropriate.

          1. Ice and Indigo*

            How the birth goes, whether you recover from it (both physically and psychologically) quickly or slowly, your baby’s health, your baby’s sleeping patters and their consequent effects on your own …. these are not personal choices.

            I’m not saying a compulsory meal train is a good idea at work, but please be aware that ‘personal choice’ can really belittle those of us who find ourselves knocked sideways far harder than we could have prepared for.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I won’t even dtart on how everything went sideways for me including the birth, his health, his sleeping, etc. because it *was* over 30 years ago and I’ve been able to sleep an entire night for about 27 years now.

              Nevertheless regardless of anything going sideways not being my choice, procreating *was* a choice. The stuff resulting from that choice was my stuff to deal with.

              I had no right to *expect* others to help, particulary coworkers.

        2. Anonana*

          The idea that new parents can’t possibly feed themselves without help is a pretty new notion, so anyone who had a child 20+ years ago may well be surprised to hear that it’s become more of an expectation today. And yes, meal trains have been around a long time, but in most cases they were reserved for emergencies, not parenthood.

          1. Addie Bundren*

            Sorry, but this is blatantly false. The outlier here is mid-century Western society, not our current time. It is extremely unusual over the course of human history for a nuclear family to shoulder the load of childbearing without aid. Is a workplace-run meal train the way to solve this? No, not for everyone. But the swing back around to “how dare anyone expect help? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” here is quite odd.

            1. Allison*

              “But the swing back around to “how dare anyone expect help? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” here is quite odd.”


              1. Anonana*

                Not really a mid-20th century phenomenon. In the US women on the frontier (no matter when and where that frontier existed) often had little to no help. Until the well into the 20th century, with the invention of modern conveniences, women spent many more hours cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and had little time to help out neighbors, upper class women excepted.

                Middle class women often had help, but still spent much of their day on household chores. By 1900 20% of women in the US had jobs, and most were from the poorer class, so not a lot of spare time there either.

                We love the fantasy that families were so much closer and that family and community life was so much better in the distant past, but not really.

          2. neverjaunty*

            I had a child 20+ years ago and “help out new parents with food and household things” was a thing people commonly did.

            And yes, RUKidding me literally said they may be biased because nobody helped THEM.

    5. kittymommy*

      I’ve been asked to participate in a meal train for co-workers and higher-ups but never for the reason of new kids. I don’t think I’ve heard of people doing them for new parents. Typically it was because of a close death in the family (spouse, children), major illness or surgery (especially if there is not any family around to help), or disasters. Like others I would balk and/or not participate if the reason was due to kids.

    6. Collarbone High*

      I worked with a woman who formally requested leave donations from the rest of the staff when she had a baby. There were no medical complications for her or the baby, she just wanted to extend her maternity leave.

      Our vacation and sick time were in separate banks, and you could only donate vacation time. Not surprisingly, nobody was willing to give up vacation so that one new parent – out of the many people who became parents in any given year – could take extra time off for a voluntary and planned life change. She complained for months after about how selfish everyone was.

      1. Bea*

        Ew ew ew asking for gifts of anything, time or meals or baby blankets is so unbelievably tacky enough. I wouldn’t do a darn thing for that woman, ever.

      2. anon today and tomorrow*

        As soon as someone whips out the word “selfish” in relation to people not doing something for parents or their kids, my hackles go up. I’ve been called selfish because I don’t want to put in money for a baby shower for a coworker I’ve never interacted with before. I’m happy for my friends and family who have kids, and I will gladly pay my taxes for public schools and playgrounds or donate to charities, but I am not giving my hard-earned money to someone else’s kid just because they expect to be rewarded for choosing to have a child.

        1. Lili*

          Yeah, whenever someone uses the word “selfish” in relation to people not doing things they aren’t obligated to do anyway, it’s a surefire indicator that they’re projecting. I’ve never met anyone who weaponed the term selfish who wasn’t extremely selfish themselves.

    7. aebhel*

      Yep. I feel like the meal thing should be coming from community outside of work.

      My coworkers threw me a little baby shower for my second kid where they all brought in a book for the baby (we work in a library), which was really thoughtful. But I would have found a meal train weird and invasive.

      1. Thursday Next*

        I think book baby showers are great! I threw one for my SIL and brother. They’re low-cost gifts that age well, unlike baby clothes that will be outgrown quickly.

      2. Old Biddy*

        The idea of a meal train is ok, but people forget about the optics when they overshare it on social media. One of my friends had major surgery and shared her meal train link on Facebook. She’s a stay at home mom with two able bodied teenagers and a husband with a high income. All three of them are perfectly able to do grocery shopping/cook/order food delivery. She also has parents and in laws fairly local.
        The meal train and analogous things should be shared on an opt in rather than opt out basis.

    8. nonegiven*

      I’ve been to a lot of those funeral meals at the church where the church ladies bring potluck type things for the family gathering after the funeral. I only eat identifiable things like sliced meat, pizza, mac and cheese without additions, regular vegetables, etc. Those casseroles that I have no idea what is in it, I bypass those.

    9. ket*

      It’s interesting to me that there are so many comments bringing up the straw man of forced meal train service by coworkers. How did this even get to be the topic? And why all the chafing at helping out new parents in particular?

      The original letter was about a broad invitations (a) to help out a coworker in crisis (b). By (a), it was an invitation, rather than some requirement of continued employment or even something that Brenda from accounting pressured you into. By (b), it was a coworker in crisis. Then there was the broader question of subordinates and other circumstances.

      The OP here is mostly answering the question, but much of the rest of the commentariat is getting obsessed with how upset they’d be to have to see their coworker at 8 pm on a Sunday as co-worker delivers a nasty, low-quality casserole filled with ferret hair and then monologues at them for 20 minutes, just because somebody gave birth which is a normal occurrence not something to be condescended about and they should have planned for by freezing their own damn meals ahead of time!

      Way to catastrophize, people! If you’re in a place that does meal trains, you know what to expect (people drop things off without talking to you, because they don’t want to talk to you either) & how to fend it off if you don’t want it (suggest restaurants or lie and says your church or coven is doing one for you already). If you’re in a place that doesn’t do meal trains, no one’s going to do one for you, so don’t worry about it. If your boss had a kid, you don’t make ’em food unless you’re close; if they are homeless after a fire, you consider it. Fire or cancer mean relax but don’t drop the “gifts don’t flow up” rule.

  7. Observer*

    #2 – Winifred has no business having any shred of authority over a snail, much less a human being. The only good thing is that she’s also an idiot and has made her misbehavior incredibly easy to prove.

    If Wendy’s HR is horrible and incompetent enough to not deal with the immediately and effectively, Wendy really needs to start looking for another job. Because any place that finds this kind of behavior in any way acceptable is a terrible place to spend your days.

    1. OP 2*

      When Wendy brought this up with our social circle, she did admit she was already job-hunting. Yay there.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Yes, in case she doesn’t find another job right away.
          Also if Winifred is fired, Wendy might not have to leave!

      1. Persimmons*

        I wonder if “My boss pranked me by threatening to take away my child” is an exception to the Don’t Trash Your Old Job rule of interviews.

        1. Observer*

          Yes and no, I think. Yes, in the sense that any reasonable human being will understand that this is a legitimate reason to leave. No, because it is SOOO bizarre that people will be wondering if there is more to the story.

  8. Phil*

    #3 I’m sure they’ll realised how terrible an idea it is when suddenly every employee has an amazing manager’s review…

    1. Naomi*

      Yeah, I was wondering when someone was going to make this point–how are they going to make sure that employees are putting down what their manager really said? Even if no one outright lies, the temptation to soft-pedal any critical feedback will be strong.

      1. Airy*

        I hope someone looks ’em right dead in the eye and says “That’s exactly what I heard you say and you have no evidence to the contrary.”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I mean, they probably have their own notes. And either way, it’s not a court of law where it has to be provable. (I realize you’re probably joking but I feel compelled to say it anyway.)

          1. Mockingjay*

            Most managers I’ve had don’t take notes. If they do, they rarely retain or review them.

            If I had to provide notes or a prefilled form for my eval, I would probably have selective amnesia and only ‘remember’ the good things…

            1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

              Most managers don’t need to take notes, because they’ve already written them down in the review form :)

              On the one hand, this is kind of brilliant if you are a manager. Let’s be real honest here. “Woohoo I get document my entire team’s performance. I can’t wait to dedicate those hours to the task” – Said no manager ever.

              On the other hand, most managers do understand how important they are for their employees and teams and think this is a stupid idea.

      2. Edith*

        No need to assume– it’s in the letter: “The line manager will then review and amend their comments, before copying and pasting them into the Manager Comments section of each employee’s review.”

      3. EPLawyer*

        If the managers are too “busy” to write their own comments, they are going to be too “busy” to review them properly. I can totally see them just copying and pasting the comments over without really paying attention.

        1. Artemesia*

          Works for me. The key then is to write yourself a strong review and not cringe and be all self critical.

    2. Marthooh*

      Fabricating a good review wouldn’t work, but employees who are clever enough to spin the manager’s language in their own favor are going to end up with better reviews. Weasels,

    3. I'm Not Phyllis*

      An old manager of mine used to have me write her notes. I hated it – I felt I would either be giving myself too much credit or not enough … it’s hard enough writing my own self-assessment! But she always used to edit/add, etc. before submitting it. I guess it just made her life easier to have a template to start from?

  9. mark132*

    #2 – From a quick internet search, it would seem to me that impersonating a public official is potentially a crime. Perhaps Wendy should not report this to HR and skip straight to making a complaint to the DA/police. Of course since Winifred has perhaps documented this with the write up I would think getting a copy of this to present to the authorities would be in order.

    My wife and I have had a CPS complaint lodged against us before, and it was clearly malicious. This sort of thing is truly evil.

    1. Akgal*

      I am so sorry about that. People who do that are evil. That happened to my husband and I as well. Two years later and I am still getting nightmares about it, not all the time but still not fun. I wish that I knew who did it but that’s not allowed. It had to be somebody that I know because they knew I was American Indian and I pass for white so that freaked me out. All the allegations were bogus but that was the most frightening four months of my life

      1. Julia*

        I’m so sorry. Especially because it seems not just malicious, but also racially motivated. Some people are absolute garbage.

      2. MassMatt*

        I am curious how your racial/cultural background came up, or was relevant? It’s not as though you have to be in a particular group to abuse or neglect your kids, unfortunately.

    2. Observer*

      I doubt the police would do anything with this. Technically it;s impersonation, but no one is really going to consider it a good use of police resources.

      I’m sorry you had that experience. That’s just sick. I’m not sure which is worse. Both are just so sick.

    3. Tin Cormorant*

      As a parent of a 2-year-old, reading #2’s letter makes me physically ill thinking about how she must have felt to get that call.

      My sister had a CPS complaint filed against her once by a vindictive extended family member, and it took months to clear up and destroyed the relationship between her and that whole side of the family. Anyone who thinks something like this would make a good prank can’t be trusted to act like a decent human being.

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      Is someone working at CPS actually defined as a “public official?” Does that differ from location to location?

      1. Saurs*

        They’re public employees, but, no, strictly speaking, they’re not voted or appointed into office. I don’t know that the word is that narrowly defined anymore.

      2. Liane*

        Princess CBH commented above that it would depend on how the laws are written, so would vary by location.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It differs by location. Some states define the crime of impersonation by whether someone impersonates a police officer or first responder, while others define it broadly to include all government employees.

        I’m not sure the focus on whether it’s a crime is helpful to Wendy (especially because, in busy jurisdictions, it’s unlikely to warrant investigation or police resources). Regardless, Winnifred is awful and Wendy must report her.

    5. Amelia Pond*

      My brother had a false accusations (actually two in one call) by my ex-sister-in-laws own sisters. I was nine at the time (big age gap between us) and still feel horrible all these years later because I was actually there when my niece split her lip. I wasn’t told why they’d been taken away so I didn’t know enough to tell an adult. The second allegation was obvious crap and quickly disproved. They did eventually get them back but it was obviously traumatic for all involved.

      “Joking” about being CPS is not a joke and that person damn well knows it.

    6. blackcat*

      Yes, it happened to a friend of mine, too. Her mom was pissed at her for some reason and decided to try to get CPS to take the kids away and give them to her. It didn’t work, but it was INCREDIBLY STRESSFUL since CPS followed up about every. little. thing. in their house. They made a big deal out of unfolded laundry (?!) and the fact that they had a (very well trained and well behaved) pit bull mix. They ended up having to give up the dog (fortunately a friend took it in).
      Obviously my friend no longer speaks to her mom.
      The moral of these stories is that even people who are really good parents have a right to be worried over CPS complaints. CPS needs to investigate ALL complaints, and what happens at that point is up to the discretion of the CPS worker. And malicious complaints to CPS aren’t all that uncommon, unfortunately.

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        That’s just crazy. And incredibly sad after reading that Atlantic article from a couple of days ago- there are real cases that need help, and they’re concerned about as-yet-unfolded laundry and the breed of dog?

        1. blackcat*

          Part of my friends theory for why she got hassled so much was that she was in a relatively conservative area, had short hair, tattoos, and a variety of things marking her/her husband as liberal around the house. And she had her lawyer and other moms in the system said that CPS in her area was much more aggressive about removing white infants out of homes than any other demographic. Obviously that will vary jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some places are a lot harder on POC.

          1. Akgal*

            The kids most likely to be removed in my area are kids who pass for white and children of disabled people. My kids fall under both categories. They are considered the most adoptable. Then they get bonuses. If I knew who called Cps on us I think would cut them out of my life.

    7. kittymommy*

      Most jurisdictions also require intent with the impersonation. That’s going to be the rub.

    8. neverjaunty*

      And in addition to the burden it places on the people reported, it wastes time and resources CPS could be using to protect genuinely abused children.

    9. Elspeth*

      It’s awful that people pull this crap all the time. My now-ex husband and I had a neighbor call the CPS about us. My daughter was sick all the time and had, in fact, been hospitalized several times – the point is, we were taking care of her health. The neighbor was a loon who had reported multiple families in our neighborhood. I guess CPS were fed up with her calling them, because we never got a phone call or a visit. The only reason I found out – several years after the fact – was when a friend told me.

      There are some nasty people out there, and I’m sorry for those who have had to go through an actual investigation based on lies.

  10. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    LW#2 Wendy needs to escalate this to HR and the next level of management if need be. She has proof in her personnel file with the letter of reprimand for taking a false accusation seriously. Anyone who writes up a subordinate for not taking a “joke” like this doesn’t deserve their job. I can understand her fears but this behavior is beyond any reasonable norm anywhere.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Winnifred is awful, but she’s definitely not in super-genius territory, is she? I’m picturing the writeup going something like this:

      Documentation: “Wendy is being written up because I played a joke on her and she took it too seriously.”

      HR: “Really? That’s interesting. What was the joke, and how did Wendy react?”

      Winnifred: “I pretended to be from CPS and told her that her children would be taken away! I mean, that is just objectively HILARIOUS, right? I can’t believe she got so MAD!”

      I honestly can’t think of a way that Winnifred could have worded this writeup. If she tells the truth about what happened, then she’s just documented the exact way in which she herself effed up. The only other option would be to fabricate the whole thing, which I wouldn’t put past her – but I still can’t see how she could write someone up for taking a joke too seriously without revealing what the joke was. The mind, it boggles.

  11. Akcipitrokulo*

    Please report Winifred to HR. The fact she’s already retaliated when you spoke to someone means she is afraid of its getting out, and she’s ALREADY taken action against you, so it’s in your interests to have it on the record what actually happened.

    Also if you’re in a union, call your rep.

    I’m not totally opposed to calling the police either… if it may be a crime, that’s worth letting her know.

    Bearing in mind I’m in UK so much more protection for workers… she’d be fired for gross misconduct in virtually any place I’ve worked.

    Please tell HR.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      “…she’d be fired for gross misconduct …”

      How long would it take in the UK? Is this a “fired on the spot” thing or a typical many months to get someone out of their job thing?

      1. Anonymous Ampersand*

        Depends on the company, the policies in place and how competent everyone is. But I’d still think in most places it’d be within a week, at the most.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Pretty much that I’d expect, maybe sooner depending, maybe a couple of days more?

          It takes time to fire someone for not-gross-misconduct – like if someone were chronically late, then typical disciplinary process would be along lines of they’d have to have been spoken to informally, had formal verbal warning, written warning and final written warning (with union representation available at all stages after the informal). Which I’m happy with :) but if you’ve got anything like sexual harassment, stealing, punching your boss or pretending to be social services going to take your wean (still boggling at that one…) … yeah, it’s a very quick process and in many cases (particulary any kind of assault or harassment) you’d be suspended and not allowed back to office in meantime.

      2. Em too*

        In ours there would be an HR investigation (‘who is lying? Ah, Winifred’) and presumably union representation at the interviews, but no other delay. I’m guessing a few days.

      3. Apollo Warbucks*

        Most likely they would be suspended pending an investigation, and fired within a week or so. They would then have the right to appeal if they wanted to, which might increase the length of the process.

  12. RUKiddingMe*

    OP #1: “There’s also a whole separate question here about whether the person would want a meal train from their coworkers — not everyone would…”

    This is very important. While I appreciate the thought behind this I wouldn’t want it for a couple of reasons. First, I would feel embarrassed. Maybe I shouldn’t feel that way, but I would. Just generally and also because I’m “the boss.”

    Second, I am a super picky eater and more than a little bit of a germaphobe. That’s a big reason that I don’t do potlucks, at all. I don’t know about the conditions of other peoples’ food prep (kitchen, cooking implements, pots and pans etc., do they wash their hands, cats on the counter…etc.).

    I will of course be happy to provide stuff, and for the sake of others like me it is always store bought and unopened, but I would throw out food prepared by others if it were given to me. Likewise with a food train.

    That’s a massive waste of food, money, time, effort, etc. I wouldn’t want to do that to anyone, and of course would never tell them I did it if I did (because…feelings) but I would toss it.

    So you know, put some thought into it before doing something like this with home made food.

    1. stump*

      I can imagine being on the recipient end of something like that and every day of that train: “Ohhhh how nice. Another meat casserole. Just. So much meat. For a vegetarian. Not a single vegetable in sight. No fiber. And I know how gross you are in the kitchen at work. Thanks buddy. ”

    2. Dove*

      I’d be hesitant about participating in a food train because of the risk for dietary restrictions that might not have had reason to come up. What if the co-worker has gluten allergies, or can’t eat meat, or keeps strict kosher? What if they’ve got a serious allergy to dairy?

      Bad enough to bring food that a person might not feel safe eating – it’d make me feel even worse to bring food that they *couldn’t* eat.

      1. Overeducated*

        A well organized meal train would generally state dietary restrictions up front so people can cook for them. We had one at my church a couple years ago that was vegan and gluten free. But if i had serious allergies or intolerances that could make me sick, I’d be wary of food cooked by people I didnt know well, which i guess is an argument for limiting meal trains to smaller circles.

        1. straws*

          Yup. My coworkers know that I have a dairy allergy, but so many people don’t know what is and isn’t included in the dairy category. I can think of possibly 2 people here that I would trust enough to get it right (and only because they have their own restrictions). Good intentions doesn’t equal being correct, and I don’t need to be sick on top of a crisis and/or childbirth recovery!

        2. Roja*

          Yeah, the last few meal train sites I’ve seen have places for that kind of detailed list. It’s all very organized and catered to what the receiver wants, not just a bunch of random people showing up. It was probably created to *stop* that sort of thing happening, actually.

          Which doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea for all workplaces or anything, but I see a lot of people worried about meals they can’t eat, and there’s a system to prevent that happening.

        3. Eddiesherbert*

          Yeah, this my thought. I 100% appreciate the effort and definitely appreciate being asked what I can eat… but I wouldn’t eat it. I don’t trust homemade food from most people, even if they were told beforehand what I can eat simply because I *regularly* have conversations with people that misunderstand my dietary restrictions or even try to insist I can eat something I can’t eat.

          For example: “Chicken broth is not chicken! There’s no meat in it, it’s just liquid!” (and you’d be shocked how often I have had that exact conversation!)

        4. Artemesia*

          I would never cook for someone with a gluten allergy because my kitchen is not sterile for gluten. I do have a book club member who is allergic to gluten and I do prepare food for her when I host the club, but she takes her chances knowing that gluten filled food is also being prepared. A co-worker is more of a stranger and the risks of liability preparing something that would make them sick seem higher.

      2. curly sue*

        Yup. I keep kosher at home and none of my co-workers are Jewish. I’m relatively lax as far as the rules go in that I’ll eat food prepared by non-Jews outside my house, but even so there is no way they’d know the rules well enough to make food I could eat at home. Or even know there were rules to look up in the first place. (‘but EVERYONE eats bacon’ / ‘can’t you scrape the cheese off the top’ … etc etc.) Gift cards to a grocery store would be nice, but other than that, my synagogue community would be the ones I’d need to look to for cooked-food support in a crisis.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          This too. Husband is Halal. Fourteen years on I am pretty good at it and only rarely have to ask. Our food/kitchen is halal because it’s easier that way and I don’t care one way or the other. I can get my bacon fix at Wendys

    3. RoadsLady*

      My church loves to put together meal trains. It always begins with a call to check for allergies, food preferences, etc.

      Then most people acting in it order food for the recipient.

      Last time I received one, it was sushi from a local sushi bar.

    4. JellyBean*

      I definitely don’t trust people outside of a few specific friends and family members to cook in totally sanitary conditions, so I’d throw out home cooked food too. I worked in a restaurant for a while that had low cleanliness standards, so I wouldn’t want any takeout from random places either.

    5. Meal train writer*

      This is actually making me wonder about the meal train my friend just participated in — I don’t even know how willing the recipient was to be on the receiving end, and the participants definitely wouldn’t know her family’s meal preferences. In my own office, there aren’t that many of us and potlucks/regular lunches together are part of the office culture, so eating food that others have cooked and familiarity with each others’ eating patterns is the norm. There might be other issues with that for some people, it sounds like! It would be hard for someone to totally opt out.

    6. Allison*

      Yeah, I’m a picky eater as well, and texture is a big issue for me, so I think that rules out most casseroles. I feel self-conscious listing off all the things I don’t like to eat, and all the things I do like, to someone who wants to prepare a meal for me, so I’d feel really weird about a bunch of people I barely know trying to accommodate my pickiness, especially if they were guilted into it, that would just cause a ton of resentment.

    7. Becky*

      Last year when the team lead of a team I work with went through something rough (his wife gave birth to their first child who only lived two hours) we didn’t do a meal train–we contributed money not food. One coworker who was in charge of the collection did purchase some easy-heat meals from the grocery store and then gave them the rest of the money. There were some of his team members who did gift up.

    8. Anonymous Celebrity*

      I would refuse a meal train in very blunt terms. I do not know your cleanliness standards at home, and I do not know if the food you use is fresh or spoiled. I don’t do potlucks either, for that reason alone.

      I will never forget a potluck held in an office I worked in. As usual, I hadn’t taken part in it.

      I was sitting on the can in the restroom when people started rushing in, followed by the sounds of vomiting all around me. It was later established that a sweet potato pie someone had brought to the potluck was the culprit.

      I’ve never had a reason to regret not participating in potlucks. And I sure wouldn’t want to be on either the receiving or giving end of a meal donation program.

  13. RUKiddingMe*

    Am I the only one that feels like beating the living shit out of Winnifred? In what world is this a “joke?”

    1. wherewolf*

      Woah, Winnifred is a cruel and terrible person but can we please not make threats, even joking/exaggerated statements of physical violence like that.

        1. wherewolf*

          This feels condescending and nitpicky. Either way I think the comment is unnecessarily violent and cruel. I thought this was the sort of place where when someone says “my boss is a jerk,” people respond not “wow your boss should be maimed” but “wow that sucks, here’s some suggestions for how to deal.”

    2. The Wall Of Creativity*

      You’re not the only one.

      If you don’t want the shit beaten out of you then don’t write up direct reports when you’re the one that should be sacked.

        1. soon 2be former fed*

          Whoa, it was just a bit of hyperbole. RU said “feels like”, not that they would actually do such a thing. Pearl clutching is unwarranted.

            1. Alli525*

              They did not directly threaten Winnifred. We do not know who Winnifred is, so it’s impossible to make a direct threat to her. Also, it was posed as a hypothetical “if you don’t want…” with an unknown assailant, so, again, not a direct threat – “I will beat the s— out of Winnifred if she does X” is a direct threat.

              I get where you’re coming from – comments supporting violence are not great – but you are rhetorically incorrect that this was a direct threat.

    3. 653-CXK*

      I had something similar happen to me when I was in high school in the ’80s…someone decided it would be a lovely idea to call my home as my principal and tell my parents I was in detention for smoking in the men’s bathroom. I vigorously denied it – my mother smoked, and I hated the habit with a passion. Nothing ever came of it, though – we treated it as a idiotic prank. (Side note: My mother quit the habit in 1991.)

      This is not an idiotic prank. It’s cruel, it’s nasty, and Winifred must be terminated immediately, and escorted from the building with several members of security in tow. HR should then nullify the write-up immediately once she’s gone.

    4. Nita*

      No, actually – but unlike Winifred, we’re mature adults. There are more appropriate ways to deal with her.

    5. irene adler*

      I’d sure like her to get punished for her actions.

      A long time ago, a boss of mine concocted a scheme to mess with a coworker. She had her husband pose as a police officer and contact this coworker (Joe) at work. Told Joe he’d seen him take a pair of salt& pepper shakers from a restaurant the night before.

      Joe had done this. He thought they were unique. So he took them. A dumb thing to do.

      So Joe spends the entire shift fretting over his impending legal problem. The boss told everyone to leave Joe alone. And she threatened anyone who wanted to tell him it was a joke. Said she would write them up for insubordination.

      Boss got away with this.

      Joe received a phone call at the end of the shift- from the ‘police officer’ and was told that it was all a joke.

      1. uranus wars*

        My jaw is permanently on the floor. Taking the salt & pepper shakers was not a great idea but whaaaaaaaaaaa?????????????????????????????????

  14. Ms Cappuccino*

    2 She should not only speak to HR but alcohol speak to the police as it is possibly a crime. I would start looking for a job unless Winnifred gets fired.

    1. Dove*

      My first instinct wouldn’t be to talk to the police, but to a lawyer with experience with labour laws. If it is a crime to impersonate CPS, the lawyer will be able to find out and can handle reporting it. If it isn’t a crime, they can work on getting a potential suit ready if HR does nothing or Winnifred escalates her retaliation further.

      1. Juli G.*

        If it hasn’t even been reported to HR, why incur the legal fees right out of the gate? If the company handles it properly, it’ll be a waste of a couple hundred bucks.

      2. aebhel*

        Same. I’m skeptical that this is a crime that the police could/would do anything about, but it may be worth speaking to a lawyer about it.

      3. CM*

        Involving a lawyer would cause Wendy a LOT of hassle, expense, and energy. I would only suggest that route if this has a measurable negative impact on her (for example, she loses her job and can’t find a new one).

  15. Em too*

    Our review system involves a discussion between manager and employee which the employee writes up and manager can edit. It is weird but does mean employee doesn’t get offended by manager not including that thing they’re really proud of. And there’s no expectation of employee taking extra notes, just summarising the discussion.

    Mostly my edits are to add adjectives, like ‘good’ or ‘effective’. (Hmm, I think they’re adjectives.)

    1. Agnes*

      It sounds to me a bit like writing your own letter of recommendation, which happens at some academic levels. I don’t think it’s ideal, and the usual advice if you’re asked to do it is to give a bulleted list of what you’d like included so it’s not too obvious, but it’s not unheard-of, either.

      1. Julia*

        I actually wrote my own employment reference letter (if that’s the word) giving myself a document stating what an excellent document I had been at my previous job, handed it in, they stamped it, done. It was weird.

  16. Amelia Pond*

    I literally stopped breathing for a few seconds reading #2. That is so unimaginably cruel. HR definitely needs to be involved. While talking with them, it might be a good idea to address fear of being retaliated against, I think. Winnifred absolutely should be fired.

  17. Rebecca*

    #1 Instead of a meal train, perhaps gift cards to the supermarket or an offer to pick up groceries and bring them to the house? I live in a rural area, so going to the grocery store can be time consuming, and now some stores are starting to accept online orders that can be picked up. Unless this was a close friend or relative, and I knew what types of foods they’d eat or not eat, I’d be leery of just making random food items and delivering them.

    When my Dad died, I had to put the word out “no food please” as people just started arriving with crock pots of soup, desserts, etc. and we quickly ran out of room in both the fridge and deep freeze. My Mom is really picky, me not so much, but it was too much. We did appreciate the outpouring of concern! That wasn’t it, there was just too much food.

    1. Overeducated*

      This is a nice idea, though maybe less good for gifts up the chain due to clear financial value. When i had a baby we didn’t have a meal train and had a pretty small fridge and freezer anyway, but one couple treated us to takeout when they came to meet the baby and another sent us a grocery delivery gift certificate, and that was very thoughtful.

    2. swingbattabatta*

      When our daughter was born six weeks early and we had nothing prepared (my plan to pre-make and freeze meals was for that upcoming weekend) we had some dear friends who lived out of town send us gift cards to a meal delivery service. It saved us, we were really really struggling, and I had some complications that made it impossible for me to drive/walk to the grocery store.

  18. Lilly*

    #4: would it not be more appropriate to include an explanation on your resume for any additional relevant experience you have that isn’t listed?

  19. Foreign Octopus*

    There are very few letters where I feel that I actually want to intervene personally and letter #2 is definitely one of those.

    Winnifred is so far beyond the pale that she needs to be fired for her behaviour. I don’t think this is a warning situation at all. This should be a case for immediate dismissal, although I know it depends on local laws.

    I would advise Wendy to go straight to HR as stop number one, and I hope that HR is competent and will be horrified by this; let them take the next steps but keep informed about it. Depending on the outcome of that will determine her next steps – hopefully Winnifred will be fired, in which case great; if not and she remains at the job, I wonder if this would fall under harassment laws.

    Also, if she stays, OP2, I would advise your friend to start looking for another job as soon as possible. Winnifred has shown her true colours by the call and then by writing her up for it afterwards. She’s clearly not a person to work for and if the company doesn’t do anything to reprimand/fire her, then the company is implicit in her behaviour.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      I have a peanut “addiction.” There is only one certain type I prefer. It has a specific label and even if the same brand name can sitting right next to it that says exactly the same info *seems* like the same thing, it’s not.

      There is a subtle but distinct difference in the labels and the way that they taste. This has been tested multiple times.

      I am willing to sort through to get what I prefer but not to ask others…not even husband to do it.

      Asking people to accommodate my uber picky food preferences? Pass.

  20. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #1: I have IBS. Expect to be grilled about the ingredients when you give me food.

    #2: That is Disney villain, mustache twirling level of evil. My sense of humor is darker than black. And I don’t think this was in any shape or form funny. At all.

    1. Liane*

      My reaction was “9 out of 10 Cartoon Villains wouldn’t pull this. Well, they’d at least think twice.” Winnifred is a perfect (s—) storm of evil, bad judgement, and stupid. It’s a “fire her out of a cannon, into a very hot sun” situation.
      Even the Evil Overlord’s Lists don’t include “I will not put faked, false, ludicrous PIPs and write ups in Hero’s files to distract and discredit them because there are more effective methods that don’t have my name and legal signature attached.”

  21. Delta Delta*

    #2 – It might be worth it to mention this incident to the on-site daycare team, as well. In most places daycare workers are mandated reporters of abuse and neglect. If Winnifred gets her kicks by faking child safety complaints, and it gets out these kinds of shenanigans are tolerated at this business, the daycare workers may find themselves under scrutiny by the state for actual complaints getting made (or not). The ripple effects could be quite significant. Hopefully HR or someone in power can see that.

    Now, if Winnifred gets fired, I suppose she can make actual CPS reports against various people as retaliatory means. And if she says something just horrible enough, it could lead to long, horrible, invasive investigations. I really hope that doesn’t happen.

    1. aebhel*

      Yeah, I would mention it to the daycare workers. My money’s on this being a poorly thought-out and very cruel joke, but Winnifred’s behavior is so far beyond the pale that it might be worth giving them a heads’ up.

    2. Eddiesherbert*

      +1 good thought. I actually used to work in an onsite daycare at a large company, and we 100% would have wanted to know something like this. Even if Wendy’s HR isn’t great and won’t do much about Wendy complaining… they likely will (have to care) if the company in charge of their daycare does.

    1. Temperance*

      Whenever we start this contest, people like Liver Boss and “Crashed Your Chemo” Boss come out of the woodwork. This was a jerk move, to be sure, but the bar is now set so high that I’m like “well, she sucks, but at least she didn’t try and bully her report into giving up a body part”.

      1. voyager1*

        I don’t know… this is just down right cruel. Some of those crazy situations can be rationalized to “desperate people do desperate things” but this is just plain cruel.

        1. Eddiesherbert*

          Yeah, as dumb as it sounds on my part (and I’m NOT excusing their actions!), I can understand liver boss more than Winnifred…

          1. McWhadden*

            Agreed. It’s obviously not OK to do what he did. But he was terrified his brother was going to die. Winnifred was just getting off on this power move and then wrote up Wendy for daring to tell someone else about it.

            1. Temperance*

              He was threatening people’s jobs and forcing everyone to get tested, with the strong implication that he was going to force them to donate, too.

              Winifred is a jerk, it was a mean-spirited and stupid thing to do, and the writeup was doubling down on her stupidity, but I still don’t think it was as bad as threatening to fire people if they didn’t give his brother one of their major organs.

              1. nonegiven*

                In the liver testing all you had to do is tell the health care people that you would never donate to this person and did not give consent to be tested and the paperwork would have to say that you were not a candidate for being a donor.

    2. Anonymous Celebrity*

      Absolutely. The boss in that letter is a sadist and a bully. This was a pointless, needless, intentional act which the skanky boss then doubled down on. Horrible boss, horrible human being. Would get my vote (of course, the year’s not over yet).

  22. Trek*

    OP 2 Wendy needs to report what happened immediately. Not sure what the prank was played on the other coworker but sounds like a pattern of horrible behavior. Wendy should request a new supervisor immediately and add ‘until the legal case is resolved.’ Yes see an attorney or at least imply that is the next step. It would be great to have a letter sent to the boss at work from an attorney stating that they are being sued for their actions. And I think everyone at work should be warned in case she plays another ‘prank’.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      “It would be great to have a letter sent to the boss at work from an attorney stating that they are being sued for their actions.”
      As a prank, right?

  23. Labradoodle Daddy*

    OP2- Winnifred sounds like an absolute ass. I think Wendy’s HR will immediately realized how badly Winn screwed up and will act accordingly. What an *awful* prank to pull on a parent.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I would need a ‘come to Jesus’ moment before dealing with Winnifred and I’m not even remotely religious.

  24. Labradoodle Daddy*

    OP4- I can relate, a consistent bit of feedback I’ve been getting from recruiters is that my job titles don’t indicate the scope of my responsibility in my work history (kids– don’t desperately jump ship from a bad job before making sure the new job isn’t just a different flavor of bad). Try to be as thorough as you can in detailing your responsibilities, I guess?

    1. Liane*

      Also, if your job title/s are unusual for the industry, Alison has suggested including the more common title as well.
      (1/2015-present) Teapot Time, Spout Herder III (Spout Manager)

    2. uranus wars*

      I struggle with this too, even now, as a non-job seeker. I need to keep my skills and experience updated in my resume due to some workshop and presenting events but the CV/resume seems to sell me short. However, as someone who did an abrupt career change, most of my skills were transferable & come from my old industry. Its odd to list an irrelevant job that they usually don’t even ask about, so I’ve done what Alison suggested and have an “other relevant experience” section instead.

  25. McWhadden*

    Ha, I love pranks. Wendy just needs to get her back in kind. She should collude with Winifred’s boss and have them call Winifred into their office and tell her she’s being terminated immediately. And then just when she’s really really upset and on the verge of tears give her her severance material and have her escorted from the building.

    (I don’t really love pranks.)

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I know you’re joking but I wonder if she would even be eligible for severance due to this.

      Also, do people get severance when they’re fired?

      (I don’t work in jobs where severance is a thing.)

      1. McWhadden*

        That’s just what we call the paperwork here not actually a severance package with $$. But that might not be common elsewhere.

  26. cataloger*

    #3 This also seems to suggest that managers are not expected to spend much time preparing their comments (which is probably the time-consuming part, not the writing them down) and are just giving each person some feedback off the cuff. Not great.

    1. Liane*

      I agree with earlier comments that managers who don’t have time to write the comments won’t have time to look at what their reports write and compare it to their own notes. Also, bets on how long it is before there is a drop in productivity because *you can’t paint teapots or brush llamas while doing your manager’s report writing*?

  27. Schnapps*

    #1 When we did a “meal train” for a friend of mine who has bad and multiple allergies to common ingredients (corn, soy, wheat, legumes – yes, she’s fun), we did grocery cards from a grocery store that offered online selection and local delivery. Yes, she had to do the order herself, but could order online and not have to walk around the store after heart surgery.

    #2 What a terrible human being. Your friend needs to go to HR and report this and ask for a different supervisor (like Winnifred’s boss).

    #3 That’s ridiculous. Part of a manager’s job is giving feedback. They’re sloughing off employees (people) as “administrative work.” It’s not.

    1. EmmaBird*

      A girl I knew from high school had a baby and someone tried to organize a meal train for her that failed pretty spectacularly partially because they tried to solicit people from her extended family’s workplaces (and social media, the only reason I knew) and also because their list of food preferences was about 30 bullet points deep.

      1. Temperance*

        My neighborhood tried to organize one for an single person without a lot of local family/friends, which was a really nice thought, but her food requirements were so specific that I would have spent twice as much time and money on it. Sorry that you’re a grain-free, gluten-free, organic meat, no nightshades eater, but I literally have no idea how to cook for you.

        1. straws*

          Nor should you have to! Anything-free diets are never easy to follow, because they always seem to be based around really common ingredients that no one expects. My only restriction is dairy, but it shocks people when I show up to a BBQ and can’t eat any of the bread they provided, or the hot dogs are off limits, or whatever (I’m happy to pass and just enjoy myself, but it always ends up being a shocked discussion). I would never want to impose the level of ingredient reading and “not the word milk but still means dairy” list consulting I go through on someone else. Plus I wouldn’t trust them to get it right, if they decided to try anyway.

          1. Temperance*

            That’s exactly it – if you need a meal train, you are presumably laid up, so eating food that will cause a bad reaction or make you sick isn’t going to help things, and you really can’t trust someone with different needs.

      2. Bea*

        If I can’t just buy it at Costco in the pre-fab section, I’m not signing up for any meal train that’s for sure.

  28. Jaybeetee*

    LW2: That’s… I read that letter hoping it wasn’t real.

    I haven’t seen it mentioned in the comments so far, but one thing Wendy might want to look into in your area are the EI rules around “constructive dismissal” (assuming Winnifred doesn’t get immediately fired after reporting this incident to HR, or that Wendy at minimum no longer has to work with her). Constructive dismissal is when someone quits their job, but under such circumstances as it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect them to stay in it, and thus are still qualified for EI. Cutting hours way back is a common example of this, as is dramatically changing the job duties, as is harassment – which this incident would seem to me, with the write-up afterwards. Even in the worst-case scenario where Wendy somehow gets fired for cause after reporting, I imagine she’d still qualify for EI given the circumstances, though she might get stuck going through a process in that scenario. In any case, her having a colleague that can corroborate her story, plus (presumably) having her own copy of the write-up, will work in her favour.

    Bottom line is that it isn’t reasonable to expect Wendy to continue working under Winnifred, even for the time it takes her to find a new job. If HR doesn’t act, this is a potential avenue she might be able to pursue.

    1. Observer*

      Getting fired for reporting is a far simpler case in terms in UEI than quitting. No one is going to consider reporting something like this a failure to do your job properly or something so egregious as to warrant firing.

  29. Guy Incognito*

    Hey, I bubble wrapped your chair while you were on vacation – Prank.
    Hey, I mixed in skittles with the trail mix on my desk – Prank.
    Hey, I replaced your family picture with a cast picture from the Avengers, but your real family picture is safe at my desk – Prank.
    Hey, I’m calling from [insert the name of law enforcement agency] – Felony.

    Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

  30. kristinyc*

    For #3- that’s insane.

    I manage two people and just had to go through the process of writing their evaluations after reading what they wrote for self evaluations. One of them wrote a lot, including some things he hadn’t actually completed, and gave himself perfect scores on our 3-point rating system (which is supposed to be extremely rare and only 10% of the company). The other… just copy and pasted the goals and changed the tense. (Goal was “Create X document” and he changed it to “Created X document.” – when really, I created the document and wrote 12 of the 13 pages, and he contributed one page). He also gave himself much higher scores than he actually deserved.

    So, because of how my team filled out their self evals, it took me FOREVER to actually write out their evaluations, because in both cases, I had to spend a lot of time figuring out what they had actually accomplished. Being a manager is a lot of work and kinda sucks sometimes, especially at performance review time. But… that’s part of the job. And if the managers aren’t looking at it closely, it would be SO EASY for people to slip by and get away with things on their review. Our senior management made us block out time to work on performance review documents (including a 6 hour “no meetings” day for everyone to do their self evaluations).

    1. voyager1*

      Totally understand your point, but self evaluations are kinda pointless in all the jobs I have had. I can understand the changing the sense of the goals, I kinda like that idea.

    2. CBE*

      What is up with companies dictating that “no more than X% of the company” can get good ratings? All that does is discourage people from trying to excel! Why bother trying hard? Company won’t allow managers to give good ratings anyway, so no matter how hard I work I’m going to get rated mediocre.
      I work in a company like this and it just angers me every time I have evaluations. I’ve had four different managers in sixteen years and have heard some variation of “You’re a great employee but I can’t give you the highest rating because administration says no one can get top ratings.” from ALL of them. Evals are technically on a 1-5 scale here but managers are not allowed to give 5s and only two 4s per employee (there are 20+ rated items on the eval, too). So I work my butt off and never get more than a mediocre rating. It’s mathematically impossible to average more than 3. (They “don’t do decimals” either) Very demotivating to know you’ll never be recognized for doing well. And if/when I leave, I don’t have a track history of stellar evals, either.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Mostly because if they don’t put some guidelines around it, some managers will turn into Oprah “You get Superduper Exceeds All Expectations AND You get Superduper Exceeds All Expectations AND You get Superduper Exceeds All Expectations EVERYONE gets Superduper Exceeds All Expectations” It’s a way to treat the symptom of lazy managers and unrealistic employees.

        I’ve gone into so many teams and had to re calibrate expectations when it comes to what performance levels actually mean. Here’s a hint, most people are average! And no, I don’t really count “Printing less paper” as a cost saving measure. I mean sure if you lead a project to reduce paper consumption that had a large impact across multiple departments, that you can demonstrate a significant cost savings. Then yes, I’ll give you that one. But rating yourself a 5 (highest) because you printed less paper, when printing things is not technically necessary for your job and the savings would realistically be less than $5/year. Yeah, no, welcome to average my friend, you’ll find yourself with a lot of company :)

      2. RedPsycho*

        Wtf?!? That’s insane! Why even have a top score if it’s impossible to attain? Shouldn’t companies WANT their employees performing as well as possible?

        1. kristinyc*

          Oh, I agree it’s problematic, and confusing for most people. (And I say that as someone who’s usually in the 10% getting top scores). I think they’re doing it to try to calibrate across teams, because people will have different ideas of what a “top achiever” is. We consider 1s – Inconsistent Performer, 2s – Achiever, and 3s – Top Achiever. We’re allowed to give decimals in it, so I could give someone a 2.6 if I thought they were above average. HR just wants their overall averages to fall in the 1.75-2.5 range for 80% of the org.

  31. Fuzzy Pickles*

    I wish #2 surprised me. But I’ve seen similar things. In a very previous a boss once screamed at and degraded a fellow employee in front of everyone, telling him he was fired… then laughed and announced April Fools.

    Not immediately walking out of that place with my held high but rather slithering by later to ask coworker if he was okay is in my top three most shameful moments in my life. I get it. We were painfully conditioned and a designer has no power. But I should have told him off and walked.

  32. Nita*

    #1 – I think it should absolutely be a thing to help co-workers in crisis. A voluntary thing. The problem I’ve seen is that it can very easily happen in uneven ways – if the person has a friend/direct report organizing help for them, they get a meal train/gift card/etc. If they aren’t that close to anyone, or their work friends don’t feel they need organized help, nothing happens. I’ve been in rather awkward situations because of this. There have been several coworkers in crisis in recent years, but it was kind of random who had someone pushing others to go the extra mile for them, and who didn’t. Maybe it’s best if the organizing (and deciding when to do it) comes from HR.

    1. Anon Daughter*

      I agree. I have just been in this situations, but couldn’t figure out how to post without sounding like I was whining. First, let’s establish that I absolutely do not want the attention or the food. However, it was very illuminating to me when a newer co-worker in my primary department had a meal train created, cards signed, gift cards, announcements of when the funeral was and flowers sent to the funeral when their parent died two weeks after mine did. I was offered nothing.

      Fortunately, I have a secondary department that did the signed card thing, so I don’t feel like I am totally alone in my grief at work. However, it does mean that I will take into account my level of extra effort for my primary department and future careers moves. I generally try to avoid using events as a shibboleth, but there are times that give you a clear view of who cares for you…and who doesn’t.

  33. Amber Rose*

    I’d like to nominate the boss in #2 for the shortlist of worst bosses of 2018. That is BS, and I am livid just reading about it.

    That is someone who does not deserve their job.

  34. Farrah Sahara*

    #1. What is a meal train? I’ve never heard of this expression before.

    #2. Winifred is a horrible and unbelievable human being. Report her to HR asap.

  35. Bea*

    Meal trains remind me of community outreach and church ladies, which immediately give me anxiety if you stir that into a work environment.

    Crisis donations at least put a lot more ability to stay anonymous. Drop a donation in a bin and walk away instead of creating a dish and delivering it. People then notice Who Doesn’t Join and Feels Are Had.

  36. Lucille2*

    #2 – Wendy should absolutely contact HR and do everything in her power to find a new job. No matter how this shakes out, it speaks volumes about what a horrible human Winifred is. Wendy was likely consulting a peer to check if this is normal prank behavior for Winifred. I wouldn’t consider venting to a colleague gossip. I’m pretty blown away by this behavior.

    #3 – Any manager who takes performance reviews seriously will not save much time by this policy. I would have my own assessment written up regardless, at least in the form of talking points. Managers should put a lot of thought and spend the time needed to do employee performance reviews. This policy, and the reasoning behind it, is giving managers an excuse to avoid doing a difficult, but incredibly important part of their job. I would take this as a red flag.

    1. Al*

      I love all the alumni popping up in this thread. It’s fun to see how many of us went to the same school… although I’m not surprised. Reading AAM should be a requirement in every co-op class.

  37. TheWonderGinger*

    Re: #2

    What. The. Actual. Fudge.

    I think my jaw is still on the floor.

    Run, do not walk, to HR with a hot copy of your write up and any other paper trail in your hands.

    Depending on the nature of your work, are their any boards or agencies that oversee licensing and/or credentials that Winifred holds? If so, I would consider reporting this incident to them.

    Depending on your state, I would also report to governing agencies.
    Childwelfare . gov states:
    Penalties for False Reporting:
    Approximately 29 States carry penalties in their civil child
    protection laws for any person who willfully or intentionally
    makes a report of child abuse or neglect that the reporter
    knows to be false.11
    11 Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois,
    Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan,
    Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode
    Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
    In New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
    and the Virgin Islands, making false reports of child
    maltreatment is made illegal in criminal sections of State Code.

    1. Temperance*

      This isn’t false reporting, though. False reporting is when you maliciously call CPS, not when you pretend to be CPS and call someone.

      1. TheWonderGinger*

        I understand that part, but it’s a starting point for potential legal action. Maybe not with CPS but other governing bodies.

        1. Temperance*

          I really disagree here. I’m a lawyer, she has no actual damages, and the stupid and mean prank ended quickly.

          1. TheWonderGinger*


            But I disagree that it has truly “ended” because she was written up for her reaction and on her file.

            I still stand on my idea to consider reporting to any agencies Winifred herself falls under, for example if she holds licensing for a technical skill. Some agencies may not give it much thought, but I could see public serving/facing agencies having issue with the ethics of this “prank”.

            1. Ms Cappuccino*

              Agree she should report it. In the worst case scenario they will tell her they can’t take her report into account.

          2. Student*

            Lost promotion opportunities and potential raises from having the work disciplinary action on file.

  38. Phoenix Programmer*

    This “prank” and especially the write-up afterward would be grounds for immediate dismissal at my org. We have clear anti-bullying policies that, while often dismissed as elementary school-like, have nonetheless resulted in several terminations.

  39. Matilda Jefferies*

    You know, I’ve been reading AAM for years, and my jaw still drops sometimes at how absolutely awful some people can be.

    OP2, Winnifred is an evil human being, and she 100% should be fired for this little stunt. Not only for the “joke,” which was mean spirited and awful on its own, but for the fact that she wrote your friend up for believing her! Of *course* you’re going to take it seriously when you think CPS is calling – it’s a serious thing to get a phone call like that. And then of *course* you’re going to be upset to hear that someone you know faked the call because they thought it would be funny. WTAF is *wrong* with this person???

    I haven’t read all the comments because I’m too busy fuming with rage, so I don’t know if this has already been said. But I also want to point out that the write up was a deliberate strategy on Winnifred’s part – she wants to make Wendy think *she* was in the wrong, and therefore prevent her from going to HR and getting Winnifred in trouble. If Wendy’s HR is any kind of reasonable, they will absolutely want to know about this, and hopefully they will come down VERY hard on Winnifred.

    Also, I hope Wendy is okay after all this. There are so many levels of awful here, and I can imagine the whole thing would be pretty hard to process. Please send her some love from this internet stranger if you think it will help.

  40. LadyPhoenix*

    I feel like the Devil needs to make a new layer of hell just for these “pranksters” and “jokesters”. You know, the people that think injuring others is the highest “comedy”.

    THeir eternal punjshnent can be reliving all the pranks they made—except they are the ones being pranked on. Seems adequete, no?

    Also, pretty sure inpersonating a government agency is a big no-no.

  41. Garland not Andrews*

    OP#1: It really depends on the situation. About a year ago when my boss’s spouse was dying, the department collected funds (totally voluntarily) to provide a meal for the family. The Grandboss was the one who then collected and delivered the meal to the family. I know it was very much appreciated. It was just a way we showed how much we respect and care about our boss.

  42. FormerHoosier*

    When my father died, my husband’s large company sent us a prepared meal which was very thoughtful and kind. And needed as he died unexpectedly and we were overwhelmed.

    A direct report of my husband who is just in her 40s had breast cancer and a meal train was organized for her. The department is large so it was mostly done by people who were equal to her and people higher than her. I think it was appreciated by her especially because of her specific circumstances. It might not be by someone else which would be ok.

    I do think a crisis or similar situation does suspend usual rules but of course no one should ever feel obligated. But sometimes you do want to do something to help. I report directly to CEO of a smaller company. If she had a crisis I would honestly want to help and think others would too because of our culture. But that is unique to each company. I have worked places where that wouldn’t happen and that is ok too.

  43. Alli525*

    OP#3: This is a terrible system, but if management is unwilling to budge, you could try asking your boss if it’s ok to record the review session “so I can focus on what you’re saying in the moment, and go back later to do the write-up and reflect further.”

  44. Database Developer Dude*

    I worked on a contract with a government agency. Two government supervisors (female) convinced a contract worker (female) that she was pregnant. AS A JOKE. Nothing happened to them.

    Winnifred needs to be fired, time now. OP and OP’s friend need to get the hell out of that company. This is a huge red flag.

    1. RedPsycho*

      How exactly does one convince someone that they’re pregnant? Wouldn’t the person know? Or at least know that they don’t have the symptoms?

    2. Ender Wiggin*

      I gotta know – how do you convince someone that they are pregnant? Was this in Antarctica with no access to pregnancy tests or something?

      1. uranus wars*

        I want to know too, or did they somehow figure out a way to manipulate the test so it showed positive when it wasn’t? I would never do this to someone but really want to know how this went down.

        1. Nita*

          I’m thinking they convinced her that something she’s dealing with (a hearty appetite? weight gain? pimple breakouts?) is actually a very, very early pregnancy symptom. So this could have kept going for a week, because early tests can be inconclusive.

    3. Database Developer Dude*

      This department had three different sections: Developer Row (they called us ‘the Library’ because it was always so quiet (of course! We were working!)), the Facilities Management folks, and then the Business Office…which they called ‘Crazytown’.

      Crazytown was filled with people with no boundaries, and one of the two women got a fake pregnancy test off Amazon and convinced the prankee to go take it. She did, and started freaking out.

      1. Observer*

        It sounds like “crazytown” was a well deserved name.

        Why on earth would someone go to such lengths to scare someone like this? To be honest, I hope to never understand this.

  45. Higher Ed Anonymous*

    The thought of a meal train for new parents gives me an immediate visceral negative reaction because I worked at a place where meal trains and other things for parents were not optional. I resented having to spend hundreds of dollars on the parents of “innocent miracles” and “precious angels” who either made more money than I did singly or more money combined as a couple. I resented being told that only home-cooked meals were acceptable, when I didn’t drive and lived in an extremely rural area away from grocery stores, so fresh ingredients were hard to get. I resented being told that a gift I bought from a registry was “not enough” because it was the wrong color; it was the color listed on the registers, but the mom of the “miracle” had changed her mind about the color since she listed it. I resented being pressured to give more and more no matter how much I gave because “But otherwise it looks like you hate miracles and angels!”

    One woman who made 1.5 times what I did and had benefits I didn’t and whose husband was making six figures told me she wanted me to come clean her house because she was pregnant with the fourth miracle and needed to rest. I couldn’t do that due to my disability, and she got all upset about it. “But I’m tired from the miracle!” Well, that’s your problem.

    I would not contribute to anything now for a parent who was not a personal friend or not in the midst of some crisis that had nothing to do with a baby they chose to have.

    1. Ender Wiggin*

      I gotta ask – is this for real or are you being sarcastic? That sounds like such a weird and toxic workplace that I’m assuning (hoping) you’re just joking.

      1. Higher Ed Anonymous*

        No, it was real. It was an extremely small, private Christian college where most faculty lived on-campus. So it got to be very hive-mindy and “You’d better do things the right way,” more like a tiny town than a campus. Everyone was up in everyone’s business, people were always asking about your spiritual status and your “walk with Jesus,” and people who did things differently- like me, who didn’t attend church and never wanted children and didn’t get married- got looked at extremely suspiciously. One person could start a trend that would build and build on itself, so someone referred to her kids as “miracles” after a difficult pregnancy, others picked it up, and then sooner or later it got hard to know whether people were talking about kids or actual divine intervention.

        It was year-to-year employment contracts and I was upset the year mine wasn’t renewed, but at least I could spend the last few months refusing to pay for people’s kids without consequences because I wasn’t coming back anyway.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Christian fascists – do things our way or you’re hated/condemned/agent of Satan…

  46. Way Anon*

    OP#5: From a fellow alum, way to name check our alma mater without actually naming it :p Absolutely don’t hesitate to contact your former interviewer – your situation is pretty commonplace for employers who hire co-ops.

    1. CM*

      Yes, and 2017 wasn’t that long ago. Generally when somebody like this invites you to stay in touch, they mean it and are the type of person who likes to help out others. So even if he doesn’t remember you, once you remind him, it’s likely that he’ll be happy to hear from you. (And if you don’t hear back, don’t take it personally –I know I’ve gotten emails like this and thought, “Oh, I remember this person! They were great,” and then a month later I’m like, “Oh no, I never responded to their email.”)

  47. Al*

    Oh hey LW5, I went to Northeastern too! I’m also in the same position as you now, weirdly, so I’m glad you wrote in with this question.

  48. LurkieLoo*

    Re #1 – I agree that crisis is very different than regular gifts. I think if your recipients would be on board the meal train, that’s great. I personally am so weirdly picky that I would hate to receive a meal from a random co-worker who doesn’t really know me. Not so much for the thought, but I don’t want to appear ungrateful by refusing someone or be wasteful by tossing it.

    There are meal train sites that you can set up where the recipient can enter allergies, likes/dislikes/etc. and I’ve seen a couple that you can order meals through their website if you want to participate, but don’t want to actually cook. Googling meal registry brings up several examples.

    I think it’s really just a matter of knowing your audience . . . and really well. Food can be overly weird for people.

  49. Lulu*

    I have participated in a meal train for a supervisor without second thoughts. It didn’t seem strange or a crossing of boundaries at all. It was completely voluntary, and I know he and his wife hugely appreciated the support.

    By the way, I think there are many people for whom a meal train would be an enormous help after the birth of a baby. I have gone through a major, serious illness, as well as the birth of a baby. I could have used a meal train WAY more for the birth of the baby than for the illness. Probably because I didn’t have a kid when I was ill. I mean, everyone’s experience is different, but for me the first few weeks home with a new baby were more incapacitating, stressful, and difficult to get through than almost any point in my illness, which could have killed me. I would absolutely rank new baby up there with things like major surgery or cancer treatment when it comes to how much a person could use some TLC and pre-made meals.

    1. Lulu*

      As an addendum to the meal train for birth of a baby thing, there are so many things that could cause it to be a difficult time for the parents. Medical complications (for parent and/or baby) during birth, PPD, etc. And these are things they may or may not share with others. I am obviously all in for treating birth of a baby as an experience worthy of a meal train, without hesitation.

  50. Jamie Hegge*

    #3 makes me chuckle, because this is what happens in the US Navy (can’t speak towards other services). Every annual evaluation, the sailor is expected to write up all the “glorious” things they did that year and then push it up the chain of command. Your Department Head (manager/first boss) is not expected to write up your evaluation. Essentially, they edit your submission…that you wrote about yourself…and may change the wording based on how you were ranked amongst your peers. No one is a fan of writing their own evaluation and definitely makes you feel underappreciated, because your boss isn’t expected to know what your contributions to the command were in the last year.

  51. Laurelma__01!*

    Ref: 2. Boss called employee and pretended to be from Child Protective Services

    I’ve heard story of people pretending to be with Child Protective Services in order to kidnap children. There could be some legal ramifications for the boss’s actions. Dear LW, your friend could report this to HR on behalf of their co-worker if they witnessed this. I think the write up is a threat over the victim because they went overboard and are terrified. The additional bullying is the only way they can think of to protect themselves. It was cruel.

  52. TootsNYC*

    3. We’re supposed to write our managers’ comments for our performance reviews

    They probably would have you address the envelopes for a thank-you note as well.

  53. Woodswoman*

    #2, the situation you describe is outrageous. This is egregious enough that I think it’s is worth a conversation with an employment attorney to protect yourself. Many attorneys offer a free consultation. And by all means, document everything with exactly what Winnifred said, dates, times, etc.

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