our “unpaid intern” is paid $42,000/year, my clients can’t make up their minds, and more

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

1. Our “unpaid intern” is paid $42,000/year

I’m an executive assistant for a small nonprofit agency. I have access to people’s salary information and I’ve never really been concerned about the salaries and fairness before now. Occasionally we take on graduate student interns, very rarely are they paid internships, and if they are paid it’s not very substantial.

Last week I processed the unpaid internship paperwork for an intern we’ve had for almost a year. She’s been there longer than the necessary three months, and has qualified for her class credits so she doesn’t really need the internship anymore. I was fixing something with payroll and became aware that she’s been getting paid through an auxiliary account we use for building repair and maintenance. Her salary is bigger than mine and she’s only at the office two days a week, mostly watching TV or playing on her phone. I brought it to my boss’s attention and he gave me a smile and told me to forget about it.

Another colleague raised concerns about her behavior not reflecting our office values which might impact our place as a positive resource in the community, our boss shot him down and told him to leave the intern alone. She has free reign of the agency, including keys to the petty cash which she’s depleted more than once.

We’re due for an audit by our parent agency in December. I’m really concerned these financial discrepancies are going to fall back on me since I’m responsible for approving the time cards and filing the interns and new-hire paperwork. There have been shady financial things in the past that my boss tried to play up as my fault or an error that I didn’t catch.

That is super sketchy, and it really sounds like something untoward is going on here.

It’s unlikely that you’re going to be held responsible for this; you’re not the one authorizing these payments to her. But to protect yourself, put something in writing. For example, send an email to your boss saying, “I want to make sure you’re aware of my concerns about the payments going to Jane, who is supposed to be in an unpaid internship. I’m not clear on why these payments are going to her or who authorized it, but I wanted to reiterate my concern that we don’t have any documented explanation for the salary she’s receiving, and I’m concerned this will be a issue in our audit in December. I won’t keep pressing this if you’re handling it, just wanted to make sure the concern was flagged.”

You might also consider reporting this to your board of directors or to your parent organization. Your boss is being shady as hell.

2. My clients can’t make up their minds

I work as a freelance designer and recently have had clients who cannot make up their minds. I end up going in circles with designs. It feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole, they ask for X, I give them X, but now they really want Y, so I give them Y, but actually let’s go back to X, no never mind, let’s do Z, so I give them Z. At what point do I say: I’ve given you multiple options and you’re still not satisfied … really don’t know how to even finish that sentence. I read your pieces about breaking up with clients, but I really want these gigs. How do I tell them enough is enough with the redesigns? I feel like they’re violating boundaries. How can I nicely be stern about this? I find when I work with clients, I have been more compliant because I want the job and when I speak up it’s not always received well — perhaps I’m usually frustrated at that point. How can I be nice and assertive?

The easiest way to handle this going forward is to clearly lay out in your contract how many rounds of revisions are included in the scope of the work (for example, three). Then, when you send the first design, you remind them by saying, “Our contract gives us up to three rounds of revisions at this stage.” And then if they get to three rounds and they’re still revising, you let them know how much additional revisions will cost (even better if you laid that out in the contract too). Or if you want to be especially nice, you can say, “I can give you an extra round of revisions for free, but beyond that I’d need to charge you for the additional work.”

It sounds like you don’t have that kind of contract in place now, but you can still set limits — “I can do one more round of revisions after this, but then we’d be outside the scope of the project and I’d need to charge an additional ($X) for further rounds.”

3. I’m being kept in the dark during my notice period

After two years at my current company, I decided to leave. I found a great opportunity and am now in the position of having told my team — who I admire very much — and getting through another three weeks before I move on. I gave my employer and close colleagues six weeks’ notice. I’ve done my best to say my goodbyes in person or through thoughtful email. I’ve created written documentation of what is going on, what I oversee, processes, important contact information, etc.

But now, in attempting to organize and strategize with the leadership team around my exit and how to help support my team, there are conversations going on without me and leaving me completely in the dark. This is a pattern and a large part of the reason that I am leaving to begin with, but what am I supposed to do? I have no knowledge or information for my team, yet they are being pulled into transition conversations. Should I just sit silently and not manage anymore? Do I leave early? Do I just tolerate it for that time? I feel so angry and am afraid of letting my emotions get in the way of a professional and graceful exit. It feels like a total assault on transparent communication and I’m afraid of bringing down my already frustrated and wondering-about-the-future team. Do you have any advice?

This isn’t that uncommon when someone is leaving — the work often starts moving on without you, before you’re actually gone. That’s okay! It’s not personal, and it’s actually useful for them to start moving on while you’re still there, because if they do run into things they need to ask you, you’ll still be there to ask.

That said, it’s a little trickier because you’re a manager and you of course want to be able to fill in your team on what’s going on. If you haven’t already, try saying to your own manager, “My staff are asking questions about what to expect in the transition and I don’t have answers. Can you give me any info I can share with them, or if there isn’t a solid plan yet, can you give me a sense of when they’ll likely hear something?”

If that doesn’t produce much of use, then be straightforward with your team (without being grumpy about it): “I haven’t gotten a solid sense of the plans yet, but once I hear something I’ll fill you in. If that doesn’t happen before I leave, then Jane is the best person for you to talk to once I’m gone.”

But basically, this is just how it sometimes goes when you’re leaving. Don’t leave early over it or get angry over it— look at it as if you’re being paid to still be available if they need you (which they may not).

4. I’m trying to pay my old employer money I owe them, but they won’t respond to me

I left my previous job having taken four more vacation days than I had accrued, and I was told I *might* be responsible for paying back the money for those days. About two weeks after my last day, I received a letter stating I did owe my previous employer money for the four days. The letter gave me a gross amount, with instructions to contact the payroll office for the net amount and repayment details.

While I’m annoyed at this (in particular because the pay there was significantly under market rate), I understand this is the policy. My problem is I’ve now left multiple voicemails for the payroll office over two weeks, and no one has returned my call. I’ve also left voicemails and spoken with HR, who said they would contact payroll on my behalf. Still nothing.

So … how long do I have to keep pursuing them? Is there a point where they’re not going to ever actually ask me for the money? Or is there a statue of limitations on something like this? I don’t want to be sent to collections, and I’ve made multiple efforts to get in touch, but beyond repeated calling I’m not sure what I can do. Are there next steps or do I just wait to maybe hear from them? Do I go old-school and send a letter via registered mail then let it go?

I’d give it another two weeks in case someone is on vacation or snowed under with other things and then call HR again. Say that you’re of course willing to return any money you owe, but it’s been a month (by that point) and you’re concerned that no one has responded to you. Say, “I’d like to get this handled within the next week. Is there someone else there who can get me the information I need so that I can close this out?”

Annoying as this is, it’s in your best interests to try to resolve it so that they don’t suddenly come after the money later. (That said, your state may have a time limit on how long they have to collect it from you, so you could check on that. Any lawyers want to comment in the comment section?)

5. I can’t get time off for a family trip at Christmas

I’ve been working, part-time, for a small retail business for the past three years. This business has a policy of no time off during the holidays, as well as having to work either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. I have had full availability the past two holiday seasons, but this year, my in-laws decided to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary by flying the entire family to Florida at Christmas. Not knowing what to do, I requested time off from work, emphasizing that I would be back in time to work New Year’s Eve, but my request was denied. I love my job and don’t want to quit, but this is a major event for my family and my in-laws have already bought us all tickets. Is there a tactful way to approach this issue with the management?

Well … you can try, but if the policy is no time off around the holidays and it’s retail, it might not be that fruitful. That said, you can give it a shot, and it might turn out that they’re not willing to lose an employee of three years over it. Try stressing that the plans were made without your knowledge and that you know the policy and wouldn’t have made these plans on your own, but now that they’ve been made for you, it’s going to cause a family blow-up if you don’t go. But given that this is retail at the holidays, it’s possible that you may have to choose between the trip and the job.

{ 516 comments… read them below }

    1. Cautionary tail*

      Yes. Print it and hide it at home. Assume anything in the office will be found and destroyed.

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        I would BCC your private not-work email address when you send it, too; or forward it to your personal email immediately after. Then print it, bring it home, keep it in a safe place.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          + 1 This is what I do when I have to CYA something that might be big (as long as there’s no confidential info, of course).

        2. Knuddel Daddeldu*

          Yes, that is good advice.
          Also either switch on delivery receipt (not read receipt) and print the receipt, or BCC your work email and print the BCC. Both give you a clear timestamp so you can show that the mail was actually sent and not just drafted, and when.
          Do not BCC any outside address such as your private email as this is most likely against policy, so it could be held against you (IT can easily find out from the logs).

    2. namelesscommentator*

      OP1, There is serious stuff going down here. Your bosses reaction, independent of his history using you as a scapegoat, is alarming. Given the history, you need to be in CYA mode yesterday. Get it in writing, document it on paper/in email/in writing. Make sure you document that you raised it to your bosses’ attention. Tell the parent agency if you need to.

      Also be polishing your resume and looking for a new position. Prepare to leave this job: make your medical appointments, get a new pair of glasses on the insurance. A boss that does this won’t handle the fallout ethically. This doesn’t end well for anyone.

      1. boo bot*

        Yes, I found this in particular alarming:

        “There have been shady financial things in the past that my boss tried to play up as my fault or an error that I didn’t catch.”

        For that reason alone, I wouldn’t just document, I would reach out to the parent agency, the board of directors, or whoever it is that has the power to look into this. Don’t wait for it to come out on its own, because it sounds like his strategy may be to blame you, and while you might be able to win that fight, it’s a million times better to get out in front and avoid it altogether.

        1. Lance*

          More than that, get co-workers in on it as well with their own brushed-off complaints about the work environment, and the boss effectively making her untouchable.

          1. Bostonian*

            Yeah, I’m guessing the other employee that complained about the “intern” isn’t a part of whatever shady dealings are going on, so that person might be a good ally in documenting concerns/establishing complaints/whatever else to CYA.

          2. AKchic*

            Yep. The other employees who have raised issues about this “intern” should be documenting as well. Everything should be copied for each other’s personal records, just in case.

            1. Annonymouse*

              I’m just trying to figure out the why for my own amusement.

              Likely scenarios:
              1) The intern isn’t actually getting the money, your boss is and using the interns name.

              2) The intern is getting the money. Because they are a family member/ friend of someone important or boss man.

              3) Intern is getting money because they are romantically involved with boss man.

              In any case it is all the same with next steps.

              Send boss an email that you bcc and print out at the office detailing your concerns. Pos cc/bcc someone higher up the chain too.

              Get any written evidence you Can from coworkers and same treatment. Email to an offsite account and print a hardcopy for a file at home.

              Your boss has shown they are willing to throw you under the bus at any opportunity to cover themselves.

              If you have the slightest inkling that the rest of the upper work culture is ok with that behaviour get your was out of there.

        2. Former Retail Manager*

          Yes, 100%. While Alison’s advice is excellent, I don’t agree with the statement that it’s unlikely that OP will be held responsible for this. If OP is in a position of trust related to finances/bookkeeping/accounting and no one really oversees her work on a regular basis, or boss could explain away why he didn’t notice, then it is highly possible that an auditor from the parent company would indeed place the blame squarely on her, at least initially. Furthermore, if there is a paper trail that OP can find to indicate who set up the intern’s salary to come out of the repairs account, that would also be great information to print and take home. I believe a log-in time, date and user ID would go a long way toward supporting your statements and your boss’ likely involvement. And without a doubt, I’d tell the parent company and request they keep it confidential. And you should totally look for another job.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            The OP will totally be held responsible for this if she has any responsibility for money at all, and her boss has tried to scapegoat her before.

            1. Kes*

              Yes, given the fact he has tried to scapegoat her before, I’d be concerned he’s planning to throw her under the bus for this as well.

            2. RUKiddingMe*

              I think OP might want to have an info session with a lawyer. This is financial stuff and if the boss is going to try to blame her, which he’s done before there could be legal (i.e. criminal) issues that come into play. OP needs to do CYA stuff immediately.

              1. Quoth the Raven*

                This, I’d approach a lawyer too.

                Not in the US, but my friend’s mum nearly went to jail over something very similar to this, even though she had nothing to do with it.

          2. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

            I agree with much of the comments: CYA, document that you’ve raised the concern, etc. However, unless it is a normal part of your responsibility, do NOT go looking for log-in records or any other kind of ‘detective’ work. The board or auditor’s can have that done discreetly. This concern is definitely valid to share with auditors. While you might not get blamed for whatever is going on with the unpaid intern, you could be reprimanded for unauthorized access of IT records.
            If you can identify who the major funding organizations are, print a copy of their contact information to keep with other documentation AT HOME. If your board does not follow through, or worse, retaliates against you for whistle blowing, you may want to let the funders know.
            Whatever else you do, update your resume. Worth looking into your state’s whistle blower laws as well. Many states have a hotline and they might be able to help you with advice on protecting yourself from improper termination, so you can collect unemployment, if needed. Best of luck! I hope you have better bosses in the future

          3. De-Archivist*

            This is certainly anecdotal evidence, so take this as you will. OP #1’s situation reminded me of my mom running into a very similar situation when working for a local nonprofit.

            About twenty years ago, my mom (GW) – a combo grant writer and counselor coordinator – noticed some irregularities in some of their accounts. Basically, she had secured funding for some facilities updates through a grant, but when it came time to actually complete the work, the funds were missing. My mom is not an accountant, but she realized that the Executive Director was using the company card for personal purchases and paying them off with money from the org. Essentially, the credit cards always showed a zero balance, and the ED had all of their statements deliver to a PO Box to hide it.

            GW approached the board of directors with her suspicions plus copies of the bank and cc statements. A few days later, two of the board members called GW and her peer VC – the other person who knew – into the office. They were handed a generous-ish severance check and an NDA. They were told that they could sign the NDA and leave with the check, or they could both just leave. The justification was that if the org went public with the misappropriation, they would lose the support of National Nonprofit Support Org (since this was the second ED of the org that had been caught stealing in the last couple of years). They “Forgave” the ED because she had “Repented.”

            GW and VC were not in the position to be unemployed for any length of time, so they signed the NDA with no lawyer present. (I can hear you screaming from here, Princess Consuella.)

            While GW and VC weren’t guilty of anything, the insinuation in our small town leaked out there had been some irregularities. Since GW and VC were the ones ousted, they were essentially blacklisted from the small NFP world in our area, so they both changed industries.

            It took a criminal investigation and pretty dramatic newspaper reporting to finally explain what had happened. Basically, the ED got busted for hot checks on the depleted business accounts and her personal ones, which brought to light the previous misappropriation, and the police that eventually questioned GW discovered the existence of the NDA. When the police questioned the board about the NDA, they discovered that only the two board members had been aware of it or the severance check. Their departure was explained away, but how, I don’t know. ED ended up pleading out, the two people on the board were ousted as well, GW and VC’s replacements were investigated and terminated, they lost funding from National Nonprofit Support Org, and the local org went under.

            I tell this story not because they’re similar, per se. But because being held legally responsible and facing the fallout from bad business decisions aren’t the same thing. My mom lost her job and reputation among her colleagues. She was able to show the police all the copies of the records she’d been collecting and the letter that she wrote to the board, which cleared her in their minds as well, from what we can tell. She even had a copy of the check they wrote her. It might have kept her out of jail and definitely exonerated her publically.

            It seems to me that if OP #1 has the choice between reporting the irregularities or willfully ignoring a possible crime, one of those options carries some risk. The other makes her a part of it. Make copies and/or send emails to yourself. Go talk to a lawyer so they can advise you on how to proceed. Report it to your board and parent org. You might save your job or you might not, but eventually, your boss will get caught. You don’t want to be holding the bag when it happens.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I am so sorry your mom went through this. It sounds absolutely awful, and unfortunately, not very surprising. I’m just sorry she was run the ringer for doing the right thing, but I’m glad she was able to exonerate herself. Did her reputation recover after the exoneration?

              1. De-Archivist*

                Not sure if you’ll see this, since it’s been a couple of days, but I think she did end up recovering the reputation, though it didn’t really matter. She’d been burned badly enough that for the three or four years this was going down, there wasn’t really an option in the NFP world in our extremely rural area. She ended up moving, partially due to lack of work and also to get a fresh start, closer to where my brother and I went to college. She had another career afterward and finished her degree, which I think was the real success in this whole story. She’s still a little salty about the whole thing, but, man, she’s proud that she finished college before she turned 60.

          4. Annonymouse*

            I think Alison means OP can’t get blamed for intern getting a salary. She didn’t hire them and it isn’t coming from regular payroll.

            I agree about low-key searching for evidence of interns contract and pay details/set up.

        3. AnonEMoose*

          I do think the OP should get in front of this if she can. Because I do think the boss’s long-term strategy is to blame the OP. And while the OP might win that fight, she may end up jobless and with a blackened reputation.

          So, I would recommend assembling and keeping copies of whatever documentation she can, maybe talking to an employment lawyer about how to proceed, and then considering how to proceed. An employment lawyer could advise the OP on protections for whistleblowers, whether this situation might qualify, and ways to move forward. But I’d do it soon; the end of the year is not that far away.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            I’m really curious whether Boss is embezzling the $42k, or if he’s actually paying the unpaid intern for, ahem, ‘services rendered’. I would LOVe an update on this one!

            1. Pom7ona Sprout*

              My mind immediately jumped to “Omg, that boss is sleeping with that intern!” Looks like I wasn’t the only one!

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                Err, my handle is Pomona, Pom7ona Sprout! Not sure how thst extra character got in there, lol.

        4. samiratou*

          Yes, I’d go straight to the parent company with it immediately. It’s the best way of protecting yourself when the audit comes, as your boss is surely planning to play dumb on this and/or try to blame you. It’s not likely to go well for you either way, sadly, but if your boss tries to retaliate then you’ll have more protection (by law or from the parent agency who have an interest in retaining ethical employees) than if you take the blame for the shady stuff.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Totally agree with this. Boss is obviously going to at least try to throw op under the bus at audit timt. Please don’t give him a chance to do that–head this thing off before it gets to that point.

        1. No imagination*

          Me too. Critical to have this documented on an email server your boss doesn’t control. Paper can be forged, you want an electronic record.

          1. SpiderLadyCEO*

            Agree with all of the above, but also: Screencap it. Save the screencaps. Copy anyone else who might be relevant. The goal here is to have an evidence trail as in-depth as you can. I would also screencap where you found the intern was being paid, in case your boss changes something in that, too, so you don’t look like YOU made it up.

        1. Suzy Q*

          The intern might be related to someone on the Board to be getting such special treatment. I’d be wary of bringing this up to them.

          1. If she does that there’s a risk the boss might fire her. But right now the rest cause she’s going to get the blame and get fired anyway.*

            I was thinking more boas is having an affair with the intern.

            But it really doesn’t matter. She should smaik the entire board.

            If she does that there’s a risk the boss might fire her. But right now the rest cause she’s going to get the blame and get fired anyway.

            1. Lance*

              I definitely agree. If nothing else, this definitely seems like a thing with the boss (key point, smiling while brushing people off and telling people to leave her alone), rather than anyone above him.

              1. RVA Cat*

                This. My mind immediately went to affair with the intern, but also that the boss is a sociopath.

              2. Cactus*

                Yep. If the intern was just coming in and goofing around (and maybe also getting paid when no other intern would) without doing any work, then I would assume she was related to someone important at the company. That she’s getting paid a salary that’s higher than regular workers’ wages, and that it’s done in such a shady way, and that she’s been regularly depleting the petty cash–she has some dirt on someone there. I don’t know that it’s necessarily an affair, but it could be. It’s ultra-creepy, whatever it is.

            2. Jen S. 2.0*

              “Boss is ducking the intern” was absolutely my first thought, too. If she were a relative or special case, Boss likely would have said so.

            3. MCMonkeyBean*

              What if the intern isn’t getting the money at all but rather someone is embezzling by saying “yeah, we’re totally paying our intern” while the intern is obliviously continuing on unpaid…

          2. Kaaaaren*

            The OP should definitely put her concerns in writing (and BCC her personal email, too) but I’d also be cautious about immediately running to the board with this, at least not before OP has more info. Her boss has already blown her off over this, so I don’t think she’d get in trouble for NOT going to the board about it and it might create more problems for her than it’s worth.

            But she should document the $hit out of her concerns, in writing, now. ASAP.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              I would not at all bet she wouldn’t get in trouble for not going to the board if it came out that there were shady dealings. The boss already knows that she’s onto him; he has exactly zero incentive to not pull her down with him by implying she was in on it, if she doesn’t report it.

            2. Observer*

              What additional info does the OP need in order to go to the Board? And why would going to the Board cause her more problems than documenting her concerns in writing to her boss?

              What makes you think she won’t get into trouble? The Boss will deny that he blew her off. And the Board / any auditor will absolutely want to know why she didn’t bring it up with someone else.

          3. Short Girl*

            Many times it’s just known that someone is getting a special perk due to a relationship, whether to a board member or what not. What strikes me as odd is that the payments are being hidden through a weird account, so something more is going on, and most likely it’s the boss since he seems to know about it.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              Actaully, as long as the funds are being spent in line with the funder’s policy (example: no alcohol), they can call the account whatever they want internally. So while it’s called ‘Maintenance’, it could just as easily be called ‘Account C’, as long as the account type and purchases are in line with the funder’s policy. My point? It’s likely not against the funder’s policy that the intern is being paid – – as long as the Boss is including the head count during their annual status reports/renewals. This is where he will screw himself over – as long as OP1 makes sure to screen shot the account page showing withdrawls to the intern’s payroll.

          4. JSPA*

            Related to or in a relationship with or related to someone in a relationship with. I hate to go there, but as passionate as i am about finding other answers, I’m not finding many. The most innocent i can find is that it is a deal with a long time supporter where donor (a parent or grandparent) donated to create the fund, and intern (kid / grandkid) is getting cash and a work history. This is STILL a big problem (starting with likely abetting parent/grandparent evading the tax – free gift limit). But there’s really no limit to the potential skeeviness here.

            I’m guessing if you send the email that connects all the dots, you’re fired, and fast. But frankly, once you’ve stumbled on something this irregular, you’re likely fired, regardless. Better to go down with full documentation. Maybe see when payments come into that account and where from, if that’s transparent to you, and they won’t see you looking.

            Basically, prepare to sing. I’d probably do a deep internet dive not on her name but on your board members (personal and professional), just in case her surname pops up. You’re not cyberstalking. You’re looking for someone you can trust.

            1. Mother of Cats*

              Working in the nonprofit sector, I’m guessing this is what happened. The boss probably feels like it’s more important to maintain a relationship with a donor. Shady as heck but a bit more believable than the boss banging the intern (which is also a possibility).

              1. Observer*

                To me, this is very unlikely. I can see scenarios where something like this would happen. But this doesn’t add up. If a donor wanted to do this for a kid / grandkid / whoever, they could do it so the person was paid, and so would taxes be paid. Also, in a setup like this no one would expect the kid to be given the level of access that she’s being given.

              2. Cactus*

                Yeah, that would make sense to me if she was just getting the $42,000 salary, paid as a normal salary. But the way it’s happening now, where the salary is paid out of some side account? That’s shady. So’s the petty cash depletion thing.

          5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I would blow the whistle. OP has nothing to lose from doing so, and they have a lot more risk if they don’t blow the whistle and this all comes out later.

            This arrangement sounds unlawful under IRS rules for charitable organizations, and it jeopardizes the parent’s 501(c)(3) status (nevermind the fines). Any credible Board will not allow one member to break the law and place the entire organization at risk.

            I have no doubt OP’s boss will try to throw OP under the bus, and if OP’s position has a trust relationship or access to financials (which seems to be the case), OP can be at significant legal risk. Either way, it’s possible that OP’s job will be in jeopardy, but I’d prefer to take the option that leaves some possibility of things working out ok (YMMV).

            1. TardyTardis*

              Ditto this. I had a friend who worked at an auto shop, where customers were routinely billed at the same time as the insurance. I told her to RUN, because she was the bookkeeper and she would be the first to go to jail when this scam eventually came to light.

        2. RabbitRabbit*

          If you get someone who doesn’t understand BCC, you can have that blow up in your face when they reply to the e-mail. And if that board member doesn’t understand or doesn’t care, you’re really screwed.

          1. Red 5*

            Yes, and I wouldn’t BCC anybody on anything without giving them a clear heads up that you’re about to do that. I never look at the actual chain on my emails that says if I’m BCC’d or CC’d, and if she doesn’t have a relationship with the board member already it could very easily end up with a “why the hell am I on this email, who is bothering me with this?” situation.

            When she’s got documentation and is ready to go to the board/parent company with the issue, then after that they could ask they be BCC’d or whatever they want to do, but it’s just a bad way to introduce the issue to them.

      1. Amber T*

        Definitely. There’s certainly a good chance those emails will “mysteriously disappear” from your (and his) work inbox.

        1. Knuddel Daddeldu*

          Yes, that is possible. However, the boss would need to involve IT.
          Also, IT has logs that show for each mail the from, to (including CC and BCC) and timestamp, often also the size. Subject and content *may* be archived for Sarbanes-Oxley act (SOX) compliance, but this is less likely at a nonprofit.
          So I would rather print everything and initial/date the printout. You may want to have the whole bunch witnessed/notarized (i.e. have someone unrelated vouch for the timestamp and that it was not altered afterwards).
          I do cyber security as part of my job,and we take evidence pretty seriously.

          1. Cryptographer*

            I’d love to know how you got into cybersecurity! I’m looking to move into that area myself but aside from certifications am unsure of how to go about getting my foot in the door. I’m working towards a Security + certification and found that while the field is fascinating it seems the job posts leave a lot to be desired as titles don’t seem to match job requirements.

      2. janzed*

        Yes, I was going to say this. I worked somewhere where an employee accidentally sent out an email to multiple people with some shady stuff in it. He had checked the spellings of employees’ names in the To: box and forgot to erase them.

        The head of HR went to the head of IT, and it got removed from the server and it went poof in everyone’s inbox. Only a couple of people saw it before it was destroyed.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, because unfortunately, OP’s boss sounds shady as all get. The behavior you’re describing is financially suspicious, and what you’ve described would likely violate nonprofit rules regarding conflicts of interest and private inurement.

      Here’s what I would do:
      1. Keep physical copies of all your correspondence with your boss, including anything you may have sent expressing confusion re: the building reserve fund.
      2. Start keeping a daily journal with notes from your conversations as close to contemporaneously as you can. Do it for all your conversations with him—not just the ones related to the intern.
      3. If you’re willing/able, consult a plaintiff-side employment lawyer.
      4. Sarbanes-Oxley’s whistleblower protections apply to nonprofits. Although it’s scary, given your boss’s prior efforts to throw you under the bus, I think you should blow the whistle and report these problems directly to the parent organization’s CEO/CFO and its Board of Directors. This should also trigger SOx’s protections against retaliation.
      5. Throughout this process, get your resume in order and actively begin job searching. When the ish hits the fan, it’s going to splatter far and wide.

      1. neela*

        For what reason does the letter writer need her own lawyer? Yes to alerting the board but it’s unlikely the letter writer, an executive assistant, will be legally implicated. Let’s not fear monger here.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m not fear mongering—I’m an attorney, and my most common comments on AAM are about how a thing is (1) not actionable/illegal, or (2) doesn’t merit hiring an attorney. Generally, if I advise someone to speak to an attorney, it’s because it’s likely to be more helpful than the expense of the consultation.

          This is one of those cases where talking to a lawyer for advice—not for litigation—can be helpful. If OP decides to blow the whistle, or even if they don’t, it’s helpful to know what their legal options are. For example, it’s really empowering to know you cannot be fired for making a good-faith whistleblowing complaint, and that’s information that an attorney can help OP navigate in a way that an online comment forum cannot.

          1. Jenn*

            I am an attorney and am seconding this. The huge amount of money involved combined with boss’s history is extremely troubling.

            1. Anita*

              Having gone through something similar, I would like to ask commenters to consider refraining from stating that you “can’t be fired” for whistleblowing. Firing a whistleblower is illegal – just like retaliating against people for EEO complaints and many other things are illegal – but absent a collective bargaining agreement, employers can do whatever they want. You can pursue legal action against them afterwards, but unless someone can afford to pay an attorney without income (they’re not exactly in the business of doing work on contingency except in very rare cases) that doesn’t really help.

              If your boss is doing shady stuff, chances are your boss is shady enough to illegally terminate you.

              1. Jenn*

                I am also speaking from personal experience. My Dad once had a practice manager emezzle money and then try to pin it on the doctors. The doctors did their best, but even with no sign they had done anything wrong, the whole thing dragged on and was financially a HUGE mess. This history bothers the he’ll out of my and OP needs to Cya as much as possible.

              2. fposte*

                That’s true of just about any legal employment protection, in fact; it can discourage wrongdoing and gives you recourse when it’s happened, but it doesn’t preclude firing.

                It’s also worth noting that “whistleblowing” has a specific legal meaning, and not all reports of wrongdoing would even get that legal protection.

              3. Observer*

                This is true. But if you know that it’s illegal before it happens, it can sometimes give you leverage.

                I would hope that a competent employment lawyer would tell someone that “It’s illegal to fire you but it sometimes happens and these are your options” rather than “There is no way for your boss to fire you.”

                In any case, still useful information – especially if you have reason to believe that the people above your boss care about the legalities.

              4. whistleblower protections*

                If you’re fired or retaliated against for whistleblowing on protected matters, that’s the time to file a complaint with OSHA. Of course their primary role is workplace safety, but OSHA is also responsible for enforcing whistleblower protection laws for over 20 different statutes, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. When OSHA receives a complaint of illegal retaliation for whistleblowing or other protected activity, it will conduct an investigation, and if it’s found that the employer did retaliate illegally, OSHA will issue an order requiring the employer to put the employee back to work, pay lost wages, and provide other relief as appropriate. There’s info about the process, what qualifies, time limits, etc., at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

              5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                OP can still be fired, but whistleblowing will at least trigger a legal protection that won’t be there if OP doesn’t blow the whistle. It’s true that legal action can be difficult, but these types of employment cases are typically taken on contingency. While they’re emotionally taxing, if an attorney thinks OP’s case is meritorious, they won’t require up-front payment.

                1. federal whistleblower*

                  PCBH, if you know labor attorneys who will take cases on contingency, kindly share them. This is simply not the case in the DC area. I have heard this truism repeated again and again (including from attorneys who do not work in this area) and yet I remain unaware of any reputable firm will take on these kinds of cases on a contingency basis. The best you can hope for is an installment payment agreement, and for them to go contingent if you lose your employment after retaining them.

                  And people, don’t get your hopes up about OSHA. I lodged an OSC complaint against my agency in May and nothing has been done yet due to their backlog. Ditto GAO. Every government agency I have dealt with is backlogged (heck, it’s taken 4 months to even get an answer from an internal federal EEO process on whether they’ll allow me to file a claim), so I can’t imagine OSHA is any faster.

                  Getting justice through these processes takes YEARS, which is, again, why the majority of reputable attorneys won’t take them on contingency unless it is some kind of high-profile case. I’m sorry, but this is a genre of idealistic advice that I believed in part because of this comments section – the reality is nothing like what you are describing here. I spent $13,000 (and counting) just getting my proposed removal for whistleblowing mitigated to a two-week suspension. My case is a slam-dunk, but…you know, I still have a ton of credit card debt from trying to do the right thing.

                  Please, unless you can provide links to actual attorneys who help people in these situations for free, you really should consider not spreading these misconceptions any further.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  federal whistleblower, your case may have been more complex because you’re a government employee. I have about 45 friends/colleagues who are plaintiff-side employment attorneys, and their firms and they (as individuals) all take cases on contingency. They all work for reputable firms. This has been the case in the three jurisdictions where I’ve practiced, but unfortunately I do not have experience in D.C. and cannot refer you (or others) to attorneys in that jurisdiction.

                  The general exception to contingency arrangements are cases involving government workers or workers covered by CBAs because of the unique legal issues that apply in those cases. There are also disreputable attorneys who will write any kind of complaint for an up-front lump sum payment, but reputable attorneys who believe a case is meritorious will usually be candid about their view of a case and their fee arrangements. Annual firm-level studies from national legal journals also indicate that contingency is the most common fee arrangement for non-unionized, private workers with wage-and-hour claims, whistleblower claims, and employment discrimination claims. So I stand by my statement because it’s based on concrete data, not idealism.

                  I’m sorry that you went through a difficult, expensive, and exhausting experience. The truth is that even when folks take cases on contingency, the experience is often lengthy and exhausting for the plaintiff (especially if one of the parties is unreasonable).

                3. AnonDC*

                  Federal Whistleblower,

                  I know I’m late to the party here, but wanted to add my experience on DC area whistleblowing in case any fed employees here are in the DMV considering their options. You’re right. Employee-side employment lawyers cannot afford to take contingent fees in our area and the system is absolutely backlogged. The only “cheap” way to have attorney representation in a whistleblowing complaint, that I know of, is if your union provides it.

                  I’m on anon to add specifics– AFGE has an attorneys trained in federal whistleblowing protections and you can request representation from their national general counsels office, based in DC. They’re the largest union for federal workers, but I would imagine that other unions might have similar options. Now, there’s still a ridiculous backup so it won’t solve every whistleblowing issue and the union’s attorneys are busy enough that you’ll likely get more one-on-one time with a private attorney. But, union attorney representation only costs your union dues and they’ve got a their own publicist office if things go really far south (google the 2011ish Dover AFB soldier burial whistleblower for an ex). I know that doesn’t solve your issue specifically, but hopefully if anyone here is either on the fence about whistleblowing, or on the fence about joining/starting a union, this might help with the decision.

            2. Troutwaxer*

              Note that the key combination will take a picture of what’s currently on the screen of your Windows computer. You can then paste it into MS Paint (or any other photo/art program) and have a picture of your screen. Then you can save the file and email it to your personal account. (There are probably videos on You Tube which show you exactly what to do if my description doesn’t work.)

              Using this ability of a Windows computer, you can take pictures of the accounting program as it shows the payments being made to the “intern.” This may also be useful for pictures of your email (showing that you’re using the company computer) as you send it to the board of directors, your boss, etc. You might send the initial “ass-covering” email while your boss is out or otherwise busy, so you have a few minutes to also send screenshots to your personal account or to anyone else you might want to send it to (like your lawyer) before the boss can call IT and have it stricken from the server.

              I doubt that such a screenshot is “forensic,” but it’s probably worth something in creating “reasonable doubt” should that be necessary. Note that I Am Not A Lawyer.

              1. Troutwaxer*

                Note this comment from a poster below: “I would not advise this. Just because there is something shady in the paperwork does not make it legal for LW to take photos (or make photocopies, or save electronic versions) of the organization’s financial records to bring home. The shenanigans will out in the audit. As Glomarization notes below, this kind of move can make LW fireable for cause and take her out of any whistleblower protection.” I hadn’t considered this issue.

                So you should only use the CONTRL/PRNT SCRN buttons on the keyboard to take pictures of your emails (to show that they were actually sent from your work email) and not take pictures of the shady accounting. As always, consult a lawyer and I Am Not A Lawyer.

              2. Oaktree*

                I agree with Troutwaxer. If there is an investigation, a competent audit will find any relevant files anyway. (And if they’ve been deleted, they can still be retrieved using e-discovery tools.) IANAL, but I do work in law and part of my job is monitoring developments in legal tech. It would be very difficult for OP’s employer to hide everything, or to hide anything permanently. OP should familiarize themselves with any relevant privacy legislation in their jurisdiction, and what their rights and responsibilities are as an employee, as a private citizen, and as a whistleblower (they should also check if they actually count as a whistleblower in this circumstance in their jurisdiction).

                1. Oaktree*

                  That said, I would still recommend that OP save any and all information they can legally can- save it in multiple places digitally, and in hard copy.

        2. Wintermute*

          I wouldn’t call it fear-mongering. The boss has a history of throwing her under the bus. Talking to a lawyer might be helpful in terms of making sure you have the evidence you need. I also don’t think it’s outrageous given the boss’ history and an impending audit that implications may be made that the missing money is her fault or for her to be accused of theft. A lawyer can tell you what is legal for your state regarding recording conversations, how to preserve e-mail in a format that will make it admissible in court (for instance the advice here to print it off and take it home might be enough for an HR investigation, but that would not be legally admissible), and other matters of proactive defense.

        3. Delta Delta*

          It’s always good to talk to a lawyer if you don’t know the law. This could potentially be a 1 hour consultation so OP can get enough information to protect herself, at least in the short run. I’m a lawyer, and I frequently get calls that start off “I probably should have called sooner but I thought I could handle this…” and then I find out a deadline has been missed or a harmful statement has been made or something else. Had they called sooner I might’ve been able to help.

        4. Nita*

          She doesn’t need her own lawyer because she’s going to be legally implicated – if she takes this issue over the boss’s head before the audit, he may not have a chance to make it look like her fault. She needs a lawyer because there’s a high chance that if she blows the whistle, the boss will either fire her or make her life miserable at work – illegal, but this type of person often relies on the employees not knowing their legal rights/not having the money or emotional energy to deal with a lawyer when things hit the fan.

          1. Jenn*

            I wouldn’t bet on the boss not trying to pin it on her, even if she reports. It can easily turn into a mess. She needs a lawyer for that too.

      2. CFE Here*

        I’m a forensic accounting investigator and I agree with all this.

        Would add

        Speak up sooner than later, but make sure your ducks are in a row (physical evidence, etc.)

        Facts are best. Draining of petty cash – what was involved there?

        With keys that access everywhere, presume they can access and change anything. If anything is commingled or shared (even accounting accesss/activity), be cautious and take excellent notes.

        Consider that taking information offsite or to personal email could be a confidentiality issue.

        1. Graff*

          CFE – very interested in your line of work if you ever feel like chatting!

          I agree – keep everything and writing and the sooner you speak up, the better you will feel!

          1. CFE Here*

            Ha ha, Thank you? I promise that it’s really not like the movie “The Accountant”. Okay maybe some themes, like with asking for 15 years of information. :)

            1. Graff*

              I’ve never seen that movie! lol! I’m in the accounting field myself in a corporation and going back to school to get my CPA, but very interested in forensic accounting and how to get into it :)

      3. Boredatwork*

        +1 best advice, do all of these things. Depending on how egregious this stuff is you can blow your 501(c)(3) status, and then no one has a job.

        #4 will likely trigger an IRS audit as well as the parent audit.

      4. kittymommy*

        This is excellent advice!! Do all of this like yesterday. There is some seriously shady stuff going down here and I would bet you’re being set up as the fall guy.

      5. Parenthetically*

        What about recording conversations? Everything I know about 1-party-consent states vs 2-party-consent states comes from The Good Wife, but, might it be helpful to have recordings of conversations where Boss Man is clearly being shady even if they aren’t admissible?

        1. Psyche*

          I think that is definitely something to hold off on until talking to a lawyer. Although in this case it sounds like e-mail should be sufficient.

        2. CaitlinM*

          It’s not just that it’s not admissible in 2-party states, but it’s actually illegal to record without consent in those states. LW #1 could be committing a crime if s/he lives in one of them and does that.

        3. Amber T*

          Email is definitely the best approach here. It sounds like boss’s only comment would be “I told you to drop it,” which wouldn’t be useful.

        4. Anon From Here*

          No. LW is not the FBI doing an investigation into some kind of RICO scheme or international money laundering enterprise. It’s simply mishandling of a non-profit’s money, and $42K is really not a lot of money as far as these things go. The audit will uncover what’s going on. Putting together some kind of evidence file for the IRS or state AG or even the auditors is way above LW’s pay grade.

          1. Observer*

            Actually, $42K in 2 years is a significant amount of money for most organizations, and plenty of organizations and people have faced major repercussions over this. There are also multiple issues as well.

            In many cases, non-profits have significant constraints on how they spend money, and spending money on the “wrong” budget line, even when it IS a legitimate expense, can be a violation of various regulations and / or contract provisions. For a significant proportion of government funders, for instance, moving money between personnel (ie salary) and non-personnel (eg repairs) without express permission from the funding agency can get your contract terminated. If you get a grant to fix your roof, and you use it to pay for this month’s lunches for your students, you can be facing all sorts of problems. etc.

            This is almost certainly the tip of a much larger ice-berg. Consider that someone is being called an “unpaid intern” while being paid a generous salary – which salary is actually not being paid through normal salary accounts. Consider also that the boss is clearly skating past reasonable and common (often required) fiscal procedures and safeguards. That the intern has unfettered access to the petty cash box and can empty it at will is hair raising. And again, that’s almost always the sign of bigger fish swimming around.

            1. Anon From Here*

              I’m not saying there’s nothing going on. I’m saying it’s not up to the LW to figure out how big the iceberg is. LW needs to take care of herself, not uncover the biggest nonprofit scandal this state has ever seen. She’s skating very close to being fired — illegally or not, fired is still fired.

            2. LeighTX*

              Add in that if they’re not paying the intern through payroll, they’re not withholding/paying taxes on that salary and the organization could face major fines for that. Definitely alert the board today.

          2. CFE Here*

            Agreed 1000%
            I know people generally mean well when they think they should take on investigative things by themselves. However, that’s not always a good choice. Investigation needs to be handled in a certain matter in order for the outcome to be favorable.

            First of all, the letter writer needs to do things to protect herself from misunderstandings. CYA as a person and to the extent her role allows, be part of the investigation.

            Beyond that, the organization is the victim. This is huge and often misunderstood. I would not advise the LW to go digging and any places, especially electronically. Yes, mindful of notes and carefully keeping documentation can be helpful……but it can also go terribly wrong.
            Even the most well meaning CPA, external auditor, or internet sleuth, can seriously harm things. We had a multi million dollar embezzlement get reduced to under $300k in restitution, mostly because someone couldn’t keep their mouth shut.

            The investigation needs to be done properly and by the proper people. It may be turn out this is a whole lot of misunderstandings or crappy business practices. It might be a major fraud. No one knows until an investigation is performed. Any speculation on behaviors, etc. could be true, but is NOT something LW should poke into. Why? That’s up the organization.

            This is why I would encourage LW to report as soon as possible and agree for letter writer personal attorney regarding their rights and duties as an employee and any personal items to consider.

            Depending on funding, federal investigators might get involved and lead the investigation. Or it might be organization attorneys who don’t want to prosecute. The IRS might decide it’s not enough issues. IT can be so situational.

            LW, also know this process might take a long time. You might be asked to be silent about things while the investigation occurs. This can be emotionally taxing.

            $42K is below the average $130K or so that is experienced for asset misappropriation. Generally it’s run around the $150k mark for the last decade.

          3. snuck*


            Letter writer is not the lead investigator.

            She should do what her boss says and ‘leave it alone’ in his view anyway. Don’t go fishing for more where he can see, don’t create documents and files that could create information security nightmares.

            Seek legal advice, or whistleblower advice from your local … something (I’m in Australia, so… we have other options here depending what state you are in)
            Work out what you need to screen shot… not acocunting files, the tech is sufficient these days he can’t get around that… just your email to him (coming to that), and any replies.
            Send an email to him (and plan this carefully. I’d send it on an evening, where he can not come out barrelling at you about it) and just say something VERY simple such as “Hi Bossman, I’ve finished the payroll reconciliation and accounting review, as discussed there’s an anomaly in the maintenance budget, but you’ll sort that out. Cheers Suzie” Even better if you can bury it amongst a few items “Completed the 2019 start of year checklists, confirmed the start date for new staff, finished the payroll reconciliation, leaving you with the maintenance budget confusion for payroll, the VIP guest list for the Christmas Party and please let me know if you want a different diary for next year or the same”

            And… that’s enough. To show you’ve raised it with him. You don’t need to document in massive detail the exact things, just show there was a conversation between you, about an anomaly in the the maintenance budget. That’s all…. if it goes down the path of proof you can then say “Well… I wasn’t going to put in an email to my boss AFTER HE SAID TO FORGET IT that he was illegally paying the intern… so I just referenced it in this email here, to show it had happened. He never referenced it with me again and I know if he had no idea what I was talking about he’d have raised it with me… so he did know.”

            But yeah… OP don’t go snooping around super spy like wired up and trying to create poorly acted out casual conversations to see if you can get him to drop himself in the shit. He knows you know. You know he knows you know. Expect to be in the poop sometime soon over it all… or not. Who knows. He might get away with it somehow and consider it a win and you a good team player *rolls eyes*

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Don’t know if this would be good legally, but I would probably put a little more detail like “the anomaly in the maintenance budget where it appears to be paying our intern”.
              Then he can’t say he didn’t know/didn’t remember the details, that LW should have done more, etc.
              But check with your lawyer first.

        5. Knuddel Daddeldu*

          Recording is likely illegal without (provable) consent.
          Keep a diary of notes, with dates and times. Witnesses would be excellent. They should make their own notes.

          1. Clisby Williams*

            Most states are 1-party consent states, so I wouldn’t say recording is “likely illegal.” A lawyer could tell you for sure.

      6. Anon today*

        I work for an organization that provides legal support for whistleblowers.

        An attorney for any whistleblower is a good idea. Retaliation is real–and complex–and an attorney can help navigate the system and advise a whistleblower on how to protect herself with documentation.

        1. Artemesia*

          The very fact of seeing a lawyer right now also establishes that she spotted and was trying to do something about the problem when the boss tries to throw her under the bus. She needs to document her early concern and the steps she took as everyone is noting. Seeing a lawyer NOW is a concrete step that helps establish that timeline.

      7. CFE Here*

        I think it might be helpful if you expanded on, as an attorney, can why you recommended physical copies of the documents vs. BCC to the email account.

        Let me insert in the my thoughts here-does the letter writer open themselves up to discovery risks on their personal email accounts if they are blind copying emails that are truly organizational information?

        1. snuck*

          Oh good point.

          OP might want to create a separate ‘private’ email account.

          In a legal process she might be asked to hand over the password to the account it was sent to…. unless she wants the world to know she orders her undies from Victorias Secret online and wears x cup size…. she might be better having a disposable account….

          And … OP … assume anything you’ve sent home, or to this other account, will be visible on the server at work. Now is NOT the time to send grumpy cat memes about cruddy bosses to your mates, even if they are ‘work safe’. (Not saying you will… but just be aware. Your email is going ot be read. Even what you’ve deleted.)

    4. Wrench Turner*

      These are all good. Document everything you know and keep copies secured elsewhere. Also start putting things together to find new work. Even if you 100% don’t deserve to get any on you, when it hits the fan, you probably will and your job may not survive. Good bloody luck from someone fired in retaliation for whistle blowing.

    5. Lexi Kate*

      Yes and quit asking these questions in person you need a paper trail. And like said above bcc your home email and print it out.

      OP this is bad, seriously time to start the job search.

    6. bluephone*

      Boss is definitely [redacting] the intern and is definitely going to throw OP 1 under the bus at the audit, if not before then. The time to leave was yesterday.

  1. Greg NY*

    #5: Does anyone at the business take off any days around the holidays? If no one does, then you need to accept that you can’t as long as you’re working there because those are the true needs of the business and there isn’t any unfairness going on. Because the economy is currently strong and it’s an employee’s market, it probably wouldn’t be that terrible an idea to just quit if the trip means that much to you. You will have earned a good reference by now and there is plenty of time to give proper notice (if it’s even required in retail). Things change if anyone takes off time, and given your full availability the past two years, you deserve some leeway this year.

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      Whether she’ll be able to get another job easily depends on the area of the world she’s in and what she’s looking for in an employer. Also, if she quits over this, it’s possible that her employer will not give her a reference.

      That said, I still think OP should go. You can break it to them easily by having a conversation. I ended up taking a two week “holiday” to visit a sick relative three months after starting a job. They let me take the time unpaid because I made sure I approached it knowing that it was an inconvenience for them and they would be doing a massive favour. like “This is really important to me, and while I know the business needs an employee at that time, I will be going on this trip instead. If that means that you’d need me to finish my work before then, I’m prepared to do that. If there are other arrangements that could be made instead, I would really, really appreciate it, and I’ll be back by X date.”

      1. soupmonger*

        Unpaid time off is still time off, and ultimately it doesn’t really matter to the employer whether time off is paid or unpaid – they still have to find cover for the staff member who is out. So that bit is irrelevant.

        Alison’s answer is good – you can ask, but if the policy is to say no, they would be setting a precedent to say yes to you, and understandably, they may not want to do that.

      2. Jojo*

        It is a part time job. Wither she student or she has more than one job. She can safely leave this one off her resume if she wants too.

      3. CRM*

        I think in your situation, it was a little different. Employers tend to be a little more forgiving when there is an illness, emergency, or some other adversity involved. It doesn’t sound like that is the case with OP.

    2. FD*

      I generally agree with this statement, in the context of retail especially and depending on her local job market. That said, the LW should probably be aware that there is a chance that her manager might sour the reference if she quits near the holidays (this isn’t reasonable but retail mangers are often young, inexperienced, and petty).

      And of course, she does need to be aware that even in retail, it takes time to get re-hired somewhere else so she should know whether she has the financial wherewithal to deal with it if it ends up being longer than expected.

      Definitely do give a full two weeks’ notice though!

      1. Mia*

        Quitting because of a family obligation sounds pretty normal, and people need to prioritize family all the time. Fir the rest of my life I will regret not quitting a retail job when I was young and our family booked a holiday cruise for my great-grandma’s 95th birthday. She died a few weeks later. Don’t make the same mistake!

        1. Jenn*

          Yeah, if you’re getting paid a low wage in retail and don’t get any leeway for the holidays after years of full availability, I would consider quitting. This isn’t a job worth missing out on family for (to be clear, I don”t judge retail, I have just weirdly found that the worst and most easily replaced jobs commonly offer the least leeway to employees).

            1. Zillah*

              I think that Jenn was saying the job was easily replaced, not the employee. (Though I supposed both can be true at once.)

              1. Less Bread More Taxes*

                Slartibartfast is correct though too. They don’t need to treat people as though they’re valuable because they’re not. If your position can be hired and trained in a week, then you’re not as valued as those in positions that took years to get.

              2. Jenn*

                I was saying a retail job can be replaced. The irony is I was lectured about loyalty by my hourly minimum wage job. All my better jobs would never pull a stunt like that.

                1. all the candycorn*

                  Ugh, yes. I’ve managed that level job, and I had a boss once who wanted to make college kids who lived in closed dorms rent hotel rooms and miss the holiday to cover their shifts “because this is the job and if they don’t like it they can quit” and would also make people work partial shifts during holiday hours, so if on holiday hours we closed 30 minutes into their normal shift, he’d make them come in to work 30 minutes rather than redivide the day into special shifts.

                  His department had the worst employee retention of any in the building. I got yelled at for accommodating people and told I was a bad boss who was doing it wrong. I’d rather accommodate people on a few holidays than have no staff the rest of the year.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          This is a one-time event, though, not an ongoing obligation. If she needs this job and there aren’t a lot of alternatives in her area, quitting is a permanent solution to a short-term problem.

          (My parents would never ask me to jeopardize my employment for them, especially for a one-off occasion, either.)

          1. JustMyOpinion*

            Depends on the employment. Having one family member in a job who can NEVER take holidays or time-off near the holidays changes the schedule for every other family member (and this could be a big family). Some events are once in a lifetime, this sounds like one of them. Don’t miss this OP–you can find another job like this. In the meantime, keep searching for something better!

          1. Artemesia*

            Because those 50th anniversaries roll around often for Grandma and Grandpa? She can catch their next one?

          2. SteamedBuns*

            In my experience most jobs don’t ask for detail once they hear something like “family obligation.” When talking with prospective employees I’d rather not know about their terminally ill child or that their spouse is disabled or their complicated pregnancy, which are usually the types of things I think about when I hear family obligation. While OP’s situation isn’t at all like these examples, I wouldn’t know that unless I ask, and I wouldn’t ask. Now if OP volunteered the information while job hunting, “Oh I left my last position because they wouldn’t let me take a vacation at the holidays” that may sour me to them.

            OP seems to love this job and can probably play up to that. “I love this job, but I am going on this trip. I can assure you I’ll be back to work by New Year’s Eve, but if that is not able to be accommodated, I’ll have to put my notice in.”

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              I’ve never *managed* retail, but I’ve worked retail. SteamedBuns, seriously, retail managers will let you go in a heartbeat for any reason or no reason at all. If it would sour you on hiring a person because they left their last job for that reason, that says more about you than it would about the prospective employee. Retail jobs demand loyalty that they will never give, and it looks to me like an abusive relationship.

    3. Retail Manager*

      Yes giving notice is required in retail. They are real honest to goodness jobs. Many of us take our jobs seriously.
      That being said I would encourage you to go. Family trips like these trump any job. I am a FE manager in a small co op and I am already preparing for people who are going away for the holidays. Your store is short sighted if they loose a good employee over a vacation.
      Talk to them and explain this is a memory trip for your family that you need to attend. You will be sad to resign but if that is nnecessary you will. If they are smart they will give you the time off with the understanding that you will be back for New Years Eve.

      1. De-Archivist*

        Thanks for saying this, Retail Manager.

        I’ve moved on from retail, but I *despise* how people look down at people in retail/service/hospitality as if any fool can do your job and if you were smart you wouldn’t be working here and you don’t deserve the same respect as any other gainfully employed adult. Like, if you worked in an office, of course you could expect to go to 50th anniversary bash, but since you don’t and it’s the holidays, how dare you even ask?

        Let them know now about your needs. They may be able to hire seasonal help to cover the hours that you normally work. One or two of your coworkers might be grateful for the extra hours that week. You’re not asking for a favor. You’re explaining your needs as an employee and letting your employer decide if the business can accommodate the request. If they can’t, then you can decide to move on. If they can, then great.

        Don’t miss out on something like this if you truly want to go. Five years from now, you’re not going to look back on this time and think, ‘oh, if only I had worked that one week during Christmas in 2018.’ I guarantee you’ll remember that you prioritized work over family. How you phrase the request depends on how you did your original request. If you just wrote it down in the request off book or asked manager if you could be off, and it was unilaterally denied, you can approach them again.

        Say: “Boss, I wanted to talk about the week of Christmas. I know it’s not really convenient, but I want to go to my in-laws’ 50th anniversary party over the week of Christmas. This was denied before, but I was hoping we could work something out so that I could attend and not lose my job. Could we talk about ways this might be possible?”

        Figure out ahead of time if you’re willing to make concessions – cover other holidays or work longer shifts before and after the trip, etc. Also decide if you’re willing to quit to go, which if you’re in the financial position to do so, then I would advise. If no, then you can say, “Okay, I’m disappointed, but I understand the needs of the business come first.” Then, “I’ll be here. Thank you for listening” or “Let’s figure out a last day to work. I’m thinking Day-X.” If yes, then, “Thank you so much. This really means a lot to me. I’ll let my family know and book my tickets. I’ll definitely be available through Day-Y and will be back to work on Day-Z.”

        If they hear you out, they may still refuse. But you definitely can’t go if you don’t ask. Good luck!

    4. Lexi Kate*

      No one in retail gets time off during the holidays, in retail your lucky if your not working every day. I worked in retail in high school and college and moved up to be a store manager right after college, one of the reasons I moved on was that I was never going to get any time off around Christmas to spend with our baby. That said even though I would have wanted to give you a week off to spend with your family, I couldn’t have done that to the rest of the staff, during the holidays I depended on part time staff to be there so my full time staff is able to take lunches, and breaks and leave early to go to Christmas programs for their kids. A week off in retail during the holiday rush would never of happened, during the season if a part timer quit I could replace them that afternoon and have them trained in 2 days to be on the floor. For my store the holiday season brought in 60% of our yearly sales.

      I would personally go on the vacation, but I would go with the knowledge that I would be job hunting when I got back.

      1. De-Archivist*

        I really think this depends on your store manager, DM, and company. It’s not impossible, and even when I was working 60+ hours a week, I still had day(s) off. For someone part-time, it might actually be easier to accommodate the schedule request since they’ll be trying to cover fewer hours, but some (if not many) retail managers are not willing to make exceptions because they can’t do situational leadership well or because corporate won’t allow it. As a store manager, you can say “we’ve allowed OP#5 to be off because of special circumstances. We’ve hired additional seasonal help and arranged her to cover certain hours around her departure and return.” Also, some managers are jerks, and some businesses really couldn’t accommodate such a request. We just can’t know which one OP#5’s workplace is.

        Where OP may get lucky is that if it’s a small, local shop, there’s no corporate office making blanket policies about requiring all employees to work Christmas Eve or whatever just to be fairly unfair to everyone.

    5. Tardigrade*

      Things change if anyone takes off time, and given your full availability the past two years, you deserve some leeway this year.

      I think OP said three years, which should translate to more leeway to me, especially if she’s available to work another holiday. I wonder if speaking to her coworkers who might have to cover her shifts would help: if they could set it up where OP works Thanksgiving and New Year and they work Christmas or whatever might work out in everyone’s favor.

      1. Slartibartfast*

        Except that sets a precedent which can quickly lead to chaos. If you make allowances for one employee, you’re going to have to make them for all employees. That’s just not possible for retail at the holidays.

        1. nonymous*

          What I’ve seen happen in retail is that the vacationing employee will do all the stuff to get her ducks in a row – advanced convos with management, preemptively work a holiday so that coworkers won’t have to cover Thanksgiving/Xmas/New Years, etc – and still have to quit in order to be policy compliant. Then, after they return, come back to the store and apply for the vacancy. If management and rest of staff likes the person, and the spot is still vacant, OP would be the “most qualified applicant” – at the very least no one will need to process new payroll or train them up on company policies. I’ve seen people get hired back at minimum wage, their old rate and even get their COL raise under these circumstances, as well as not be allowed to return. It really depends on the personalities involved.

        2. Mona Lisa*

          That’s not necessarily true. Retail workers and managers understand that everyone’s schedule needs are different and are variable year to year.

          I worked a retail job for several years, and after a couple of years, I was able to set up my own schedule regarding holidays and shift choices because I was considered valuable and experienced by my managers. I never worked a Black Friday all of my years in retail (across multiple employers) because I made it explicit that I was travelling during that time and could not be flexible about it. No one ever asked where I was or why I wasn’t working because it was understood “Mona Lisa doesn’t work holidays.”

          There’s a reason most retailers hire holiday help. It provides more coverage during a busy time, but those extra hands also provide allow for more flexibility for the regular employees and allow management to retain otherwise good workers for one-off situations. I’d encourage the LW to push back a bit against the denial and see if she can come to a compromise. If not, then I’d probably quit for this trip and look for other retail employment elsewhere after the holidays.

        3. Nita*

          It doesn’t have to lead to chaos. That’s what the boss is for. I assume no one will be just running off without getting the boss’s approval, and pretty sure that with enough advance planning, it’s possible to set up a system where everyone gets some time off for *one* holiday. Maybe with some kind of seniority system. Maybe not a whole day, but at least a shorter shift, or time off the following day. Seriously, I can imagine being thankful for having to work instead of sitting through a holiday dinner, but would still appreciate being able to come in late or go home early the next day.

      2. SophieChotek*

        Like many, having worked retail I agree with lots of the comments

        First, OP needs to decide – is OP willing to consider quitting and being without work for a while to take this trip? If it’s worth it, then…

        1. If OP thinks they can get another similar job easily, it might be worth asking manager to reconsider (citing long history, etc.). If manager cannot reconsider, put 2 weeks notice in immediately. (So that OP can legitimately give 2+ weeks.) The look for different PT job after Xmas (with the knowledge it might take a litle while, depending on geographic area and retail area – since there can be such a slowdown after initial holiday sales & returns, etc.).

        – I have also seen people quit and be re-hired a few months later
        – I also had to quit a job when there was no time off around the holidays; once again, I was away at college and when I was hired I asked and was told by HR that if time off for holidays was important to me, I would need to quit, put in my 2 weeks, then re-apply after holidays. I was planning on staying for the holidays, but somwhat by chance, I was offered another job and I got yet another part time job lined up to start after the holidays, and put in my 2 weeks right around Thanksgiving. (I probably ruined that managers holiday, but…)

        2. Like others said, if it’s just 1 major holiday, volunteer to work other major holidays no one else wants, etc., that might take offset other issues

        3. I have gotten 5 days off at Xmas before, but I was young and naive (my first job) and my manager at the time was gracious enough to understand that as a teenager, to a large degree, I was at the whim of my parents, etc.

        Whatever you decide, OP, hope it works out!

    6. AKchic*

      Retail is retail and follows their own rules.

      Retail businesses generally are open during the holidays, except for Christmas Day. The bigger box stores are even open Thanksgiving Day. Most gas stations and some liquor stores are open Thanksgiving and Christmas as well.

      Food service? Fast food will depend on location and franchise owner. Most restaurants will also depend on the owner.

      My husband works retail. He will be working Thanksgiving Day in the evening because the basis of Buy More now opens Thanksgiving night. He’ll close the store, come home, and then have to be at work in the morning to open it back up.
      He will work Commercialmas Eve and the day after Commercialmas. If he has a doctor appointment at all during December, he has to schedule them on his days off, and if he *wants* a day off, he needs to submit a leave request with a good reason (hey, look, convenient doctor appointment), otherwise they may switch his days around short notice (oh, gee, that day off tomorrow is cancelled, looks like it will be 3 days from now instead… if nobody calls in sick).

      1. Sanctimonious*

        He will work Commercialmas Eve and the day after Commercialmas.

        Ha, ha, aren’t you clever.

      2. I’m actually a squid*

        As a retail manager (job #1) and worker (job #2) I will now refer to December 25th only as commercialmas. My husband and I are Christian and have shifted our big celebration to twelfth night because a decade in retail really does a number on the sacredness of Christmas.

        1. Mugaro*

          I mean, Easter and Holy Week are by far the most “sacred” Christian holidays. If that were the criteria you shouldn’t really be celebrating twelfth night much either. I agree this comment is coming off as holier-than-thou.

  2. Greg NY*

    #1: If it was me, I’d also be concerned about where the money is coming from. Building repair and maintenance is a pretty big deal, and there could eventually be safety issues that come into play if necessary work is being put off due to funds being siphoned from that account. You work in that building and should speak up about that as well.

    1. TheNotoriousMCG*

      I mean – I don’t think the main reason to be concerned is building maintenance, I think it is because this person is being paid a full time salary from a non-salary-affiliated budget line and with no real cause.

          1. Rebecca*

            That’s exactly what I was thinking, based on the OP’s description of the boss’s reaction “I brought it to my boss’s attention and he gave me a smile and told me to forget about it.”

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I actually started with intern being set up as the fall guy for the boss’s much-more elaborate embezzlement scheme. The sort of person who hears “Hey we’re going to give you a pile of money, isn’t that great? Just play on your phone and don’t worry” and thinks “Awesome!”

            1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              This just made my day. I know there are people out there who are indeed this gullible, but the fact that this was your first thought is amazing.

            2. LurkieLoo*

              The original vendor on the check is “boss” and then is changed to “intern” after printing. Cursory glance by anyone looks like intern is making bank. Intern may even be getting a couple of the checks to make her more likely to unintentionally play along when asked about being paid.

              1. cchrissyy*

                that’s a good point! OP unless you saw who signed the back of the check, you don’t really know if the payee shown in the accounting program is the same payee that was there when the check printed. What if the boss prints them to himself and then changes it to intern name after the fact?

                I’m not saying this to change any of the great advice you are receiving. just… whoa! whatever the scam is here, it’s not going to turn out as simple as it seems.

        1. Parenthetically*

          My immediate thought was money laundering for, like, bribery or drugs or something! I watch too many crime shows.

          1. Liz T*

            I thought affair but I also thought some kind of money laundering. Like the intern’s the daughter of some shady associate of boss’s.

        2. Psyche*

          Even so they should be able to go though normal payroll. Nepotism happens and generally isn’t illegal. Taking money from another fund and hiding it is not at all normal.

          1. Yikes Dude*

            Right. Further, there’s probably a reason it’s an auxiliary account, meaning they might be capital improvement funds which in the np/government world you full stop do not want to mess around with.

          2. aebhel*

            My thoughts exactly. Paying an intern a (high!) salary due to reasons of nepotism is kinda shady, but it’s not illegal and it happens all the time. Taking it out of a totally unrelated budget line implies to me that there’s something more going on here.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think bringing up the building issues would be effective if OP’s boss were not shady. The fact that he told her “not to worry” about him misappropriating funds to someone who is doing little work and is not supposed to be paid, plus his prior shady dealings with finances, suggest he’s not trustworthy or honest. Unfortunately, someone who’s willing to embezzle or siphon funds in this manner isn’t likely to be persuaded by a building safety argument.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Seconded. This guy already knows the money isn’t going towards what it’s supposed, can figure out the likely consequences of that (the building isn’t being maintained), and he doesn’t care.

    3. LQ*

      I wouldn’t worry about the building only because the house of cards will come down first. In reasonable land this would be a worry, but a $42K discrepancy and unknown others…that’s going to collapse around OP first.

    4. Jojo*

      An unpaid intern is getting 42 thousand from a third party plus has access to unlimited petty cash. Hmmm. Sounds more like she is getting around 50 or 60 thousand to me. And a’s another listed, this could jepordise. The non profit status, leave everyone unemployed, and leave the clients without services. Blow the whistle. After you gather what evidence you can. And yes, a legal consult is a good idea.

    5. Dr. Pepper*

      This seems tad bit…… naive. If your first concern upon learning the boss is apparently embezzling funds from the building maintenance account to pay the intern a ridiculous salary, it looks like you lack a sense of proportion. This is a crime, and your main concern is about future repairs to the building? And not how wildly illegal and unethical this is? Or how the company may lose its non-profit status and be shut down? Or how you might be collateral damage in the fallout?

      1. Greg NY*

        I did say “also”. I agree with Alison on this one and do think the shady nature of what’s going on is the worst part. I think this is a little nitpicky.

        1. Dr. Pepper*

          Except you’re advocating coming to the boss (who is apparently committing a crime) with essentially “but what if the roof needs repairs?” That response to the level of shadiness apparent here is………. underwhelming to say the least. If he’s willing to steal from the company to pay for this intern, I don’t think he’s going to be moved by the building maintenance argument. Exactly where he’s getting the money isn’t the important part here, it’s the fact that he’s taking funds not earmarked for personnel to pay a large salary to a supposedly unpaid intern. He could be taking the money from anywhere in the company, the important part here is that he’s taking it. He probably chose the building maintenance account because it’s one not rigorously checked and it’s easy to say “oh yeah we had to fix X,Y,Z, I’ll totally go find the receipts….oops my dumb assistant lost them” when asked where the money has gone. He’s not going to care that now there isn’t enough money to call a roofer should the roof start leaking.

          1. bonkerballs*

            I agree with Greg, this seems like a weird response to his comment. He didn’t say OP shouldn’t care about the boss’s shadiness, it’s maintenance that’s the most important thing. He said, here’s one other thing to think about if you need more things to convince you to whitleblow on your boss: that not only is he being shady with money, the fact that that money is coming from the maintenance line is potentially physically dangerous to everyone in the building if that means he’s holding off on actual building maintenance.

    6. Nita*

      Yeah, I can see this being discovered when a pipe bursts or the boiler goes down, and it suddenly turns out the maintenance fund is gone. I suspect it’s not that rare for these funds to be used as someone’s personal slush fund, since they’re supposed to just sit around waiting to be used. I used to live in a large building, and there were constant rumors about why our maintenance reserve fund is barely enough to cover one or two emergency repairs. It was pretty scary, if only because everyone knew that if something happens, there won’t be time to try and trace what the board has done with the cash – the residents will have to pony up big $$$ to keep the building livable, and then hope for the best as far as figuring out if the maintenance fund was stolen.

  3. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #1: Is there a tip line or whistle blower line you could contact? Maybe within your parent organization?

    Because I can’t think of any benign reason your boss is doing this.

    They probably don’t pay taxes on that salary either.

    1. VictorianCowgirl*

      Yes, the IRS would certainly love to hear about this.

      I work in non profit accounting and this has raised every red flag and hackle I have. I
      I would strongly caution OP to document privately and start looking for another job.

      With such glaring deficiencies I doubt they’ll retain their NFP status for long.

      1. fposte*

        I was thinking of who the manager might actually be afraid of, and the IRS came to mind. Looks like the IRS has Form 13909 available online for reporting if you “suspect misconduct or wrongdoing by an exempt organization or employee plan.” Link in followup.

        1. Red 5*

          Yes, the IRS definitely likes to know about these things. I just would point out that they can require specific types of documentation if you’re reporting, so the OP should make sure they see what documents they’d need before they go that route if they choose to. The IRS will want the case to be at least partially made already, rather than investigating just because they got a tip.

          Which is the entire reason why I didn’t report my shady ex-employers who were absolutely cheating on their taxes, because I couldn’t get the proof together well enough since they knew what they were doing just enough not to leave a paper trail I could gather. I still cross my fingers sometimes and wish that they’d get audited repeatedly until somebody found it, but I think their shady accountant probably had it figured it out to keep them out of trouble.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, and as Glomarization notes, the State AG, too! Most State AG offices have confidential reporting lines for suspected misappropriation in nonprofits because the AG is responsible for overseeing charitable trusts.

          So in the event OP is nervous about reporting to the Board for the parent organization (and the parent’s CEO/CFO), they should consider submitting an anonymous report to the IRS and their State AG.

    2. P*

      I, too, was wondering about whistleblowing. Maybe to the parent organization as well as IRS (or equivalent tax organization)? Without knowing more about the nature of the work it’s hard to know what overseers there are;
      I’d be really worried this is something super sketchy that could impact the OP1 if it comes to light, and it’s revealed they knew about it.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes—nearly all nonprofits are required to have a whistleblower policy. If I were OP, I’d report this to the CEO of the parent organization, or alternately, directly to the Board of Directors.

      And I’d keep physical copies of everything at home.

      1. Observer*

        That was my first thought as well. There must be someone or even just an email address you can use.

        Do it from your personal account, not your work account.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah. Even if they don’t have their own (c)(3) status, if they’re fiscally sponsored by the parent, then they’re subject to SOx and whistleblower protections apply if OP decides to report this up the chain.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I’m adding a note to the response about reporting to the board or to the parent organization. I originally read “small nonprofit” and didn’t think about the parent org. And yes to job searching.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Hooray! In my experience, lots of nonprofits (especially small ones, or ones with parents) don’t realize that SOx’s whistleblower provisions apply. I’m glad that readers will hear about ways that that protection can be invoked..

        2. Wintermute*

          I think calling the parent org or board is VITAL. First of all from a moral perspective and because it’s the right thing to do. And secondly because it firmly places the LW in opposition to this, and removes suspicion that they are complicit.

          Because of the boss’ history I think there’s a nonzero chance he’s going to try to implicate them in this, possibly in illegal activity. Their boss can try to eliminate a paper trail that ends with him but won’t have the power to do that with other people. In addition it’s their best chance of preserving the working relationship between the parent org and her organization, and with it their job.

          In a similar vein if they think she is covering this up for her boss, she’s likely to be fired immediately, but whistleblowers get protection. If they blow the whistle on serious wrongdoing they are automatically granted a great deal of legal protection.

        3. Glomarization, Esq.*

          Lawyer for non-profit organizations here. There is also very likely a mechanism for the org to be reported to the state attorney general. When non-profits go down for malfeasance and shady use of funds, it’s often a problem with a state law that they’re breaking, not a federal taxes issue.

          The LW should check on the state attorney general’s website, or maybe the state authority that deals with corporations (often the state secretary of state) for an anonymous tip line or mailbox for reporting.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yup. The IRS audits are awful, but it’s the state fines and investigations that close nonprofits with these kind of shady dealings in CA.

        4. Aveline*

          Also, if she has a smartphone, take photos of the evidence. To protect herself if boss blames her.

          1. Anon From Here*

            I would not advise this. Just because there is something shady in the paperwork does not make it legal for LW to take photos (or make photocopies, or save electronic versions) of the organization’s financial records to bring home. The shenanigans will out in the audit. As Glomarization notes below, this kind of move can make LW fireable for cause and take her out of any whistleblower protection.

            1. Holly*

              I don’t think this is true. I would want advice from a lawyer either way (I’m a lawyer but no experience with nonprofit laws) but I can’t imagine that taking a photo for whistleblower purposes, especially if you’re worried evidence would be destroyed, would be illegal.

              1. Anon From Here*

                I am a lawyer who works with nonprofits, and nonprofit or not, LW should not be taking photos of financial records.

                Destruction of evidence is not, really, LW’s problem or concern (unless LW does the destroying!). It’s a problem for the non-profit, the boss, and whoever it is who does the destroying. But taking home financial information — in the form of copies, originals, photographs, whatever — is risky. It’s probably a fireable offense, even if it’s done for the noble purpose of whistleblowing. LW can blow the whistle without sharing the actual documents with anyone.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Also a lawyer who works with nonprofits, and OP should not take photos of financial records. In most states, financial statements are confidential business records. Possibly illegal conduct does not invalidate the prohibition against unauthorized reproduction of those records.

                If OP’s boss later destroys the records, he’s going to be in worse shape than he already is. He’d end up having to explain and provide documentation for why $42K+ is missing from accounts, and if he can’t, it will be much worse for the organization and parent.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @Holly, no worries! Your advice was well-intentioned. It’s so difficult to be in a position like the one OP#1 faces, so I’m sure it’s helpful for them (and anyone else in this position) to know what kind of record-saving is helpful and what kind of record-saving is unhelpful for them.

    4. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Now that I think about it this is something I’d go to my union rep for. Because my union provides employment lawyers.

      Seriously. Every time I read this it gets more levels of nope.

    5. Jenn*

      I am going to add: job search, OP. This history of the boss trying to pin things on you is troubling.

      I know someone who is cooperating with prosecutors over illegal actions (he fortunately also documented his objections and was a whistleblower) at his old job and he is very happy he got out before all hell broke loose.

  4. NK*

    For 1, aside from formally raising it to your boss in writing as suggested, I would also look to explore whether your parent agency has a whistleblower channel to report suspected integrity issues. Most whistleblowing offers an option for the reporting to be done anonymously (or for your identity to be protected even if you provide such details).

    1. Wintermute*

      I wouldn’t WANT the report to be anonymous. I want to invoke whistleblower protection and make it clear to home office that I’m not on board with this malarky.

      A reasonable employer would not be wrong if they fired everyone that knew and said nothing on the grounds that they were condoning unethical conduct AND failing to act in the org’s interest.

  5. BRR*

    #1 I never thought I’d say this but I disagree with Alison’s advice. There is something shady going on and I don’t think you should be that direct with your boss in order to create a paper trail. I can see your boss retaliating becuae he is likely up to something unethical. I’d try and notify someone like someone above your boss (if that exists), a board member, or someone at your parent agency.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree on not bringing this up directly via email. I think OP should start keeping a journal with notes from every convo with their boss, and that journal should always be on OP’s person or kept safely at home. Nothing about this situation sounds ok.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        What is the purpose of keeping a journal? I always hear that mentioned, like every time someone is involved in something questionable and not of their own making, but I don’t understand why it would be considered any more valid than anything else that person says about the situation. Basically, I don’t understand how a one-sided paper trail saves someone.

        (Admittedly, this could be a holdover from Call Center Hell, where I was told a series of notes I took about illegal banking processes that we were trained to do wasn’t something where I had any recourse re: the fallout from refusing to break the law, because “That’s not proof of anything, that’s just some stuff you wrote down.”)

        1. BRR*

          I think keeping a journal at least can help you remember things later on. It won’t serve as the document that takes someone down, but later on you can reference it for dates and events since as time goes on, it can be more difficult to remember those things.

          1. Washi*

            And especially if the other person is insisting on their own version events, it can be really easy to start to doubt yourself and start to think maybe you are misremembering exactly what was said or when it happened.

          2. MissDisplaced*

            I’ve kept a journal, and while it is likely not legal documentation, it helps keeps a record of dates, times and places and conversations. When bosses or companies are doing shady things, they often try to gaslight or scapegoat the whistleblower and say those things never happened, you didn’t report something, etc.

          3. Jadelyn*

            I’ve done something similar – I used a specific tag on my personal blog (over on tumblr) for posts about a shady workplace situation I was dealing with. Fake names and everything, of course. But it was actually really helpful later on, when stuff reached a tipping point and suddenly I was being asked for examples of the bad behavior under review – I have a terrible memory (thanks ADHD!) and the ability to go back and read my own words on what had happened was invaluable. It also helped me to stand my ground when the person being investigated started claiming that we were all lying about her; otherwise, I might have been sucked into doubting myself and wondering if I really had blown things out of proportion. So even if it’s not an admissible piece of evidence, it can help you remember and confirm your own memories of what happened.

            1. employed*

              I started documenting interactions with a coworker based on an entirely different concern. It serves a few purposes:

              – as noted above, details of events and when they happened (remember Comey did this?) to support later discussions with whomever. I think it tends to be more credible than bare memory recall.

              – as a check on one’s own perceptions of interactions (mine is based on concern about disrespect, so having a record of how often events occur and their nature can either validate the concern or show it’s relatively infrequent/minor)

            2. many bells down*

              I was keeping a record of stuff my ex did while we were divorcing. About 10 years later I found it and … WOW I did not remember so much of that stuff. I wouldn’t probably believe it if someone told me it had happened to them.

              My husband kept a journal about bizarre things one of his previous bosses said for the same reason. Whenever he thinks he’s exaggerating how bad it was, he goes back and looks at it. Like, this was the boss that told him that black people “make great athletes and gladiators.” THAT bad.

          4. batman*

            When James Comey was fired, there was a lot of talk about a memo he wrote about Trump asking for his loyalty (or something along those lines). I also didn’t understand how him writing something down was helpful.

            A few months later I was talking to my mom, who works for the federal government, and she mentioned someone writing a memo about something and she explained that all you need to do, at least for the federal government, is type up what happened or what was said, print it out, sign it and date and then hang onto it. You can do the same thing with the pen/paper journal or whatever.

            The idea is you write it down immediately after it happened so it’s still fresh in your memory and then you have evidence that you didn’t make it up when you talk about it later. Also, you don’t forget anything.

        2. Birch*

          I wonder about this too. I’d try to make it something that it would at least be really hard to tamper with, like archiving the email, printing it out, or taking a photo/screenshot of it with a timestamp on the shot. I wouldn’t think much about handwritten or typed notes with no timestamp as it takes 30 seconds to make something up and try to pass it off with a different date.

          1. EddieSherbert*

            This is also my thought. If I was the boss or CEO or parent company, I wouldn’t take an employee’s journal worth a grain of salt in this crazy situation.

            Unfortunately, while I get the concern about emailing the boss about this, I think it’s a risk worth taking (while job hunting like crazy, OP!) :/

        3. Lynca*

          As someone who deals with this regularly, it’s essentially just documentation of what you are doing. We’re required to keep our own journals for projects and repeatedly reminded they may need to be used during litigation.

          The biggest thing with them is making sure you do it consistently and being as detailed as you can. The boss could claim they never had this issue raised but having your own documentation about the dates/times/content of the discussions throws doubt on that. It just shows your intent to make them aware of the problem. It’s mainly a CYA move. Whether it succeeds often depends on other evidence.

          1. Slartibartfast*

            This is true of jobs where documentation is a routine part of the job, that document becomes a legal record. Medical records are the most well known example, it’s generated automatically as part of the job. Personal journals, someone who keeps a diary, I am not as clear about but I think they can be used as part of testifying or giving a statement if you end up involved in legal action.

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          I do this with medical stuff–just to the extent of noting some change on the last column of my calendar (paper variety) because if the problem worsens I’ve learned it’s going to become “The elbow pain has been going on for…. um… I think like eight weeks now? After I visited my parents, so not the first week of September… umm…” and with the note it’s “The pain started 9/27 when I tried to lift a pot of pasta and clam sauce.”

          It’s a memory aid if you’re later trying to establish whether A or B happened first.

        5. Dr. Pepper*

          Documentation and memory aid. Yes, of course a journal could be faked, but clear, written documentation of whatever is happening over time carries a lot more weight than “um, so Bob told me ‘not to worry’ about that account, um…. a month ago? yeah, let’s say a month ago”. When I was keeping lab notebooks for research with federal oversight, we had to sign and date each and every entry. It was tedious but that was the official documentation policy. You could adopt something like that.

        6. pleaset*

          Journals are helpful both as records of fact to help the writer, and also if the matter ends up in the legal system, a record you made of something right as it happened often can make later testimony more credible. Yes it it’s not “proof” – but it’s supporting evidence.

          1. employed*

            Evidence is how your prove (or disprove) a claim. A single piece of evidence, by itself, might not provide definitive proof, but the collection of evidence might.

        7. NotAnotherManager!*

          When my parents were going through the divorce from hell, it’s one of the first thing my mother’s lawyer recommended to her because her soon-to-be-ex basically decided not to cooperate with ANYTHING. (And, the legal system is generally set up to deal with reasonable people. When you simply refuse to participate, it takes a few gos at it to get the court to get mad enough to issue orders that will inflict damage, particularly when you have no reported wages to garnish, own your house outright, and your spouse still co-owns things you have to pay property taxes on.)

          It provided a contemporaneous record of his behavior, which, when combined with voicemails, letters, and other documentation, created a lovely timeline for the arbitrator who heard the case. It also helped my mother to be exact about, for example, how many times he’d skipped visitation in the reporting period. It’s a lot more compelling to say, “He missed 9 of 12 scheduled visitations and asked me to change dates for two of the three he made.” than to say, “He rarely picks the kid up for visitation.” Or that he refused to take her to 4/5 of the activities that had fallen on his visitation in a given month.

        8. fposte*

          I’m generally against “document” as a knee-jerk suggestion, but in this case there’s considerable likelihood the OP is going to want to provide a report of what happened to somebody outside the situation. Notes are to make sure she gets it right and specific.

        9. Holly*

          Because notes are contemporaneous. You’re writing down what happened exactly after seeing it with your own eyes. That helps later if you’re asked “well, how long ago was it? how accurate is your memory?” It is way more reliable, and stronger evidence, than simply just remembering.

        10. WonderHR*

          You could also email yourself daily journal entries – that way, they have a date/time stamp on them, and you’re able to prove when the entries were made.

        11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          They can help as a memory aid, and if you keep them contemporaneously and regularly, they can be admissible in litigation. They often help bolster the credibility of the journal-keeping-party’s testimony.

          OP should do this in addition to keeping screenshots, etc. I suspect things like the boss saying, “Don’t worry about it” won’t be in email, and it helps to have a contemporaneous record of statements that are only made verbally.

        12. Red 5*

          First IANAL at all.

          But I think for a paper journal, that can be really true. And maybe the OP takes notes in a paper journal during the day (because you don’t want to use work computers for it) but there are ways to then go home and create digital records that at least will put time stamps and other important information with it.

          There’s been a lot of news stories lately where somebody sent a memo or an email an hour after a meeting saying “here’s my notes from the meeting” and that ends up bolstering their testimony because it’s not “this is what I remember from a meeting six months ago” but “this is what I wrote about a meeting right after it happened.” I can see how that would be valuable.

        13. Wintermute*

          In addition to the “it helps you remember the order and provides a defense from being gaslit out of accusations” that other people are saying, it does serve one important purpose for legal reasons– aiding discovery/investigation if it comes to it. It’s one thing for the police or a lawyer to try to sift through huge archives of emails, lists of every bank transaction made by the company, etc (often made intentionally as unhelpful as possible in a policy of “discovery burial” where you dump so much data on them you hope the incriminating stuff is lost in the flood). It’s another if you can point them to dates and times “a check was written on this day” “I e-mailed so-and-so at this time on this day about this part of the issue”.

          It helps you point them to exactly which closets have the skeletons.

      2. Short Girl*

        My only thought, was that by emailing just the boss and not the Board, you are giving the manager a chance to act as if he’s not the one causing the problem. And if he is, give him time to figure out who to blame. I guess it would come out eventually, but by going directly to the Board you’d be avoiding that.

    2. Stuff*

      Totally agree, you have mentioned it once and was shot down. It is obviously sketchy and should either be reported above your bosses head or to the proper authority whatever that may be.

    3. Anon Asst*

      I also agree the letter is a bad idea and Boss can take it as sort of a threat. I’d be looking for another job, leave this situation for the company to deal with, and move on. I also think anyone higher up probably already knows about it.

      1. Short Girl*

        I believe that along with whistle blower protection that the whistle blower will receive some of the recovered funds. Hopefully you’ll write back in a year or so with a nice Christmas bonus – although it won’t make up for all the stress you are going through now!

    4. Arjumand*

      Yes to all of this. I can see the boss reading this email and OP being let go a week later – something fishy is going on here.
      I also agree that she needs to go over the boss’s head – she already tried to raise it with him.

      OTOH maybe the rot goes all the way to the top – I don’t know, it’s a tricky situation.

    5. LagomPursuit*

      I also agree. I worked as part of an internal compliance team that handled investigations into stuff like this… including one situation where a senior director’s kid was making more money than his manager, coming straight out of school.

      Sending your boss an email like this will scream of paper trail, putting your job at risk before someone has a chance to put up barriers to protect you. Moreover, it’s not necessary. If you alert the right people, they will look into this and they won’t go after the person who tipped them off. And if can point them to the paper trail you found, they will see the same thing you see.

      Who you should tell depends on your company. Hopefully you have a whistle blower line, if not then look at going to the board member responsible for compliance or your company’s legal council. These are the people that have a strong fiduciary duty to your organization.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        If OP has someone she trusts to deal with this correctly while protecting her…. then go that route (maybe going straight to the parent company is the best bet?). But I wonder if she even has someone like that to go to – especially being in a small organization where they may not have HR or anyone really above her boss (she never says his position?).

        Anyways, I think that if she’s not confident in that, some kind of a paper trail showing she wasn’t compliant is still the best option (while BCC’ing personal email address or something so you have the records no matter what).

        But I have zero experience with anything like this and am not a lawyer or anything! So I may be way off base.

    6. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I agree – DO NOT CONFRONT YOUR BOSS ABOUT THIS. You already have, your coworker did too (not about the money but about intern’s behavior), and both of you were shot down. That screams that something illegal is definitely going on (as if that weren’t already obvious) and that the boss definitely knows about it, and any further confrontation of the boss will put you and your job in jeopardy. At this point I would go above his head to the Board or to whomever in the org has authority over him. If you can get your coworker to do the same or do it with you, you might get more attention. Good luck and please let us know how this turns out!

    7. Dr. Pepper*

      If the OP leaves the boss out of it, the OP *must* somehow still document their concerns in writing with some kind of time stamp attached to it. Especially since the boss has proved in the past that he will use the OP as a scapegoat. There’s no reason to think he won’t try the same thing again. Send an email to your own personal account, or to a trusted person and BCC your personal email. Something that can be brought up later as “here is the problem that I recognized on X date and this is what Bob said when I brought it to his attention”. An email time stamped well before the fallout will back you up when Bob decides to invent a reason why this is all your fault.

    8. Lucille2*

      Totally agree. This one has my hackles up. I would report it up the chain of command and keep documentation of the report. I’m skeptical about taking this to the boss again. His behavior is already indicating something is shady about the arrangement. I don’t think there will be any resolution in going to him again about concerns for an audit. I hope OP can update us on how this turns out.

      1. Nicky in Scotland*

        I’m going to also agree strongly with NOT confronting the boss. In the UK, people who work in any financially regulated company are legally obliged to do anti-money laundering (AML) training every year. The training makes very clear that the minute you suspect something dodgy is happening, you don’t tip off the perpetrator, as it gives them a chance to hide their trail. Even something benign such as innocently asking the culprit about the irregularities could be construed as a tip-off. Now obviously the OP had no idea the boss was going to give them the brush off about the intern salary before they asked, but I think now its clear the boss a) already knew and b) does not care, the OP can escalate it higher. Big companies in the UK have AML officers to report to, I don’t know what the equivalent is for the US, or if it applies to OP’s workplace.

        Similarly, I don’t know if the US has similar AML regulations to the UK – if so, maybe find out if there’s any similar guidance about avoiding tip-offs, which the OP can quote to senior staff if they’re worried that reporting up the chain will be seen as over-reacting. That way OP avoids incurring wrath of boss/tipping him off. And if the board turns out to be as sketchy about it, the OP is realistically no worse off – it would be time to jump ship either way.

        1. Lucille2*

          Yes, the US does also have AML reporting obligations similar to the UK. Even under the suspicion of money laundering, there is an obligation to file a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR). This is relevant to financial institutions, and I’m not sure this reaches the OP’s current position.

          I hadn’t even thought of this possibility initially. My first reaction was that the boss had his own personal unethical arrangement with the intern, but it’s possible this goes deeper than that. And, yes, questionable payroll arrangements could fall under risk of money laundering.

  6. Engineer Girl*

    #3 – The info lockout is incredibly common. It’s actually good that they are trying to do things without you. Think of it as a test drive. If it goes smoothly, great! Your documentation is wonderful. If not, you’re still around for questions.

      1. Quackeen*

        I can understand wanting to make the transition as seamless for his or her direct reports as possible and feeling as though this hampers that.

        On the other hand, I left one job where I was needlessly required to go to meetings during my notice period that were a complete waste of time for me, so I’d probably appreciate the extra time to wind down.

      2. EddieSherbert*

        It sounds like being locked out (especially as a manager) is part of why she is leaving the company – so I’d guess this is something that has already been bothering her for a long time.

        But at this point in time, it is fairly normal! Before this… your company was just being bad at communicating. Sorry OP. Good luck with your new job!

      3. Yojo*

        She gave six weeks notice! And it sounds like she did so with really good intentions. If I went above and beyond to help my colleagues transition, and they weren’t interested in taking advantage of that but also hadn’t told me that it wasn’t necessary…it would absolutely feel like a slap in the face.

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      It’s a problem for the employees, not for OP directly. I’ve been in that position as an employee, and it really sucks when no one will give you answers, and then you realise that not even your own manager has been clued in.

      1. Sarah*

        But the letter says the employees ARE being pulled into the conversations, so they are getting answers, just the LW is not.

        1. Delphine*

          Doesn’t seem like they’re getting the answers they’re looking for, because she also mentions that they’re frustrated and wondering about the future.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I’m actually wondering if LW#3 is running out of work and wondering why she is there, if not to help with the transition.

      In a former position I had, the company’s rules required a minimum 4 week notice period, exclusive of any (planned or unplanned) absences, to be considered a separation in good standing (eligible for rehire and, more importantly, my unused vacation payout). This means if one didn’t build in a few extra days into the notice period (to account for sickness or emergency, for example), one would have to make up those days.

      So, I did this. New Job wanted me to start as soon as possible, and New Job also paid better. But they understood my situation and were happy to accommodate the later start. less than 2 weeks into my notice period I had no more work to do, and since we were already through most of my “busy” season, they weren’t in a huge hurry to replace me. I volunteered to help with a filing project my coworker started and didn’t have the bandwidth to finish because I was going stir crazy.

      Anyway, TL;dr, I had an unnecessarily long notice period and was pretty frustrated that I couldn’t just do 2 weeks and start my new gig instead of sitting around and being bored.

  7. neverjaunty*

    LW #1, you may want to talk to a lawyer and you definitely want to talk to your parent agency as soon as possible – AFTER you make copies of all the documentation in question. You already know the boss is shady and has tried to throw you under the bus before.

    Going to the boss and being serene that he can’t blame you if you email him sounds way too much (to steal from a great AAM comment) like that scene in the movie where someone doesn’t contact the authorities but instead confronts the bad guy alone with “I know all your plans”. That scene never ends well.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      +1 on talking to a lawyer. I worked for a shady boss and seeing a lawyer to protect myself legally was a great decision. Try seeking a lawyer who lists employment law as a practice area.

      When your boss or company is involved in something that appears shady don’t hesitate to seek legal counsel to protect yourself.

      Good luck!

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Forgot to add. I’d thought there were things I could keep a copy of at home and my lawyer advised I couldn’t. He did list things I could keep though.

        It was interesting about papers you can keep copies of versus can’t. A lawyer can guide you better for your individual circumstances.

        Please update also.

      2. Glomarization, Esq.*

        Agree wholeheartedly with this and neverjaunty’s comment as well. Legal whistleblower protections are all great, but they often kick in after you’ve been unlawfully fired … They’re not a magic cloak against getting fired in the first place. You can be right and legally safe, and still out of a job.

        And yes, yes, yes, to Anon Accountant’s note about being careful what documentation you take home. Organization financials aren’t public (other than what’s disclosed on your 990 every year). And/Or if there is personally identifiable information in there, LW could be fired for cause, and all the whistleblower protection law in the world isn’t going to help!

        1. Elizabeth*

          Could the OP make printed copies of documents and hide somewhere in the office where no one would find it? E.g. slide underneath a filing cabinet or another large piece of furniture that is never moved.

          That way OP isn’t breaking any laws about taking home private documents, and the documents would be recoverable even if the shady boss deletes electronic copies.

          1. Anon Accountant*

            I saved some workpapers in a flash drive/computer USB stick. I hid it in the office where it wouldn’t easily be found. Sounds odd but the issue with my boss had the potential for jail time and CPA license revocation so I went wild with having backup safely hidden.

            A flash/jump drive is small and easily hidden. Just be careful where it’s hidden. Wouldn’t be surprised if documents suddenly weren’t able to be found.

      3. Anne of Green Gables*

        Also, if finding a lawyer sounds daunting, my state’s bar association has a lawyer matching service, where you can enter your zip code and choose from areas of specialization and they suggest lawyer(s) in your area with that specialization (online or via 800 number). AND when you make an appointment with that lawyer and tell them that you used the referral service, your initial 30-minute consultation will be $50. I don’t know how many states have a similar service, but it’s worth looking into.

  8. Ginger ale for all*

    LW #1. I am curious why the advice to get a resume in order after you have covered yourself with a paper trail wasn’t given. To me, I think your boss might be endangering your job with their habit of throwing you under the bus and I would have an eye open for another job.

    1. SignalLost*

      Even aside from the issue of endangerment, I can’t say if want to work for this guy. There may be other issues at play, like a niche industry or an area with few major employers or other qualities that make this employer irreplaceable, but if you can get out, you should

    2. Sherpa*

      Good point. But can I also say, I always have my resume ready to go… or at least at a point where it would require little effort to polish it up. I am very happy in my current position but one never knows what tomorrow will bring!

  9. Magda*

    #4. If you haven’t contacted them in writing, I’d do it now. They have officially requested the money. I’d want some documentation to prove I have tried to pay them back, so I wouldn’t call again at this time, I’d send an email (or letter) to HR stating that you contacted the payroll office several times and got no response.
    I’d also email your old manager if you haven’t already.

    1. Observer*

      Exactly. You’re not getting anywhere, but there is a good chance that someone will wake up later and be perfectly willing to throw you under the bus – or even just not be interested in hearing any “excuses”.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*


      The phone calls are falling through the cracks. LW should send e-mail to HR and Cc their manager and the next one or two people up the line to get this resolved.

    3. Antilles*

      I’d send an email (or letter) to HR stating that you contacted the payroll office several times and got no response.
      Agreed 100%, but I’d actually go a bit more detailed than this – don’t just say a generic “several times” but include the specific dates if possible (“I called on September 7th, September 20th and October 1st”), mention the fact you left voice mails each time, etc.

    4. kittymommy*

      I was thinking this as well. Sending an email or certified letter, and mentioning in them about the previous attempts of contact, is basic CYA. With just phone calls it’s very easy for them to say the LW never contacted them.

    5. Susan B.*

      Seconded. And do it by certified mail and make them sign for it– thst way you have a record that you wrote them.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        I would use a fax. While it sounds incredibly outdated, it is even better than a registered letter. A registered letter can at best prove that you sent a letter, while a fax can prove what you sent and that they received it. And it’s even cheaper, win-win!
        There are many shops that offer fax services.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      Paper trail is excellent advice here.

      Agree with Observer–you can be 100% in the right, and three months from now someone in payroll wakes up and throws you under the bus.

  10. Llellayena*

    #4: Contact the company by email (not phone) and in that email, document as best you can when and who you called. If they continue to ignore you, you want to have written confirmation that you tried to pay them. Then they can’t send it to collections (or sue) and claim they couldn’t reach you.

    1. C-Hawk*

      I might also recommend sending a letter (to payroll if you have their address, or your former manager if not) by certified mail. My lawyer recommended I take this step once 30/60 days of non-payment have passed for my contract work. Certified mail will give you proof that not only did you contact them, but they recived the contact (or are unreachable by even the postal service).

    2. LurkieLoo*

      And use a read verify program. There are several (readnotify readverify didtheyreadit etc) and most of them will offer a free trial of some sort. Either a certain number of days or a certain number of emails. Then you will have documentation that they received it and if they opened it.

      If it comes down to it, you might want to send an old fashioned certified return receipt postal letter.

  11. Yet Another Allison*

    #1 I’d say one of 3 options… related to each other somehow, a secret affair or the intern has dirt on your boss. There is no plausible reason someone who “works” 2 days a week doing nothing gets paid that much. Unless it’s nepotism, favoritism or hush money. Why else would everyone be told to basically mind their own business?

    1. Yvette*

      “secret affair” That was the first thing that popped into my head, young, full time pay for part time work, doesn’t do much actual work. I keep thinking back to when William Aramony the national President of the United Way was caught giving his girlfriend a 5 figure salary for a no-show job a condo and other lavish gifts with United Way money.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        It’s pretty gross to immediately assume that a young woman who’s being paid well above her experience must obviously be a whore. I really hope it’s hush money. Like, maybe she found out about how he’s using an unpaid intern to embezzle money out of the building fund?


        Okay, I was joking, but does the intern know she’s being paid? Or being paid that much? What if the boss is using her to funnel money through to him?

        /the best in-comment fanfic I’ve ever written, I’m pretty sure

        1. Notasecurityguard*

          …she would have to know. Presumably the payroll checks are in her name. She might not be getting the money herself (if it’s an embezzelment scheme where he “pays” her 42K a year and she gives most of it back to him for instance) but she’d have to know.
          As for the whore comment, while I don’t love the language it’s not unreasonable to assume that paying 42k a year to a young woman who does no work out of a secret account might have something to do with a sexual relationship

          1. Autumnheart*

            Several people said that the boss was obviously boinking the intern and then paying her extravagantly with misappropriated funds as a benefit of their sexual relationship. What else is that assumption supposed to imply, if not that she’s having sex with the boss for money?

        2. fposte*

          Cronyism occurs with family, with romantic partners, and with friends. I think it’s pushing to consider it the same as whoredom. It’s about unethical favoritism, not sex sale.

        3. Holly*

          I’ve read practically the whole thread and I haven’t seen one person making any comments about the woman, nor calling her names. That’s coming from you. Everyone is discussing the boss’s unethical behavior, and it’s pretty reasonable to assume that an untoward relationship, sexual or not, is the cause.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        They’re not the most interesting fanfic here, but that doesn’t make them unlikely.

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        For me, “enabling” makes me think of drug addicts and dysfunctional relationships. Why would anyone want their brand to be associated with that? Ick.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Drat. Meant to reply to the threat about web design disasters. Alison, would you be able to move the comment? I understand if you can’t. Thank you!

    2. Yojo*

      I think you have to add the possibility that it’s not the boss making the sketchy sketchy call, but somebody higher up in the organization.

      1. Nita*

        True. In which case, if OP goes to the board I’d recommend going to several board members at once. Otherwise she may “luck” into contacting the exact board member who will want this hushed up, and her fired. My gut feeling is, there is definitely some kind of personal relationship here – but it’s very unlikely the intern is related to the entire board!

  12. Scotty_Smalls*

    #1 I feel like if Op sends an email Boss will know she’s not going to leave it alone. This is the beginning of the next Catwoman reboot.

    1. teclatrans*

      Yeah, my alarm bells went off when I read that advice, and I am ALWAYS on the side of documenting and getting things in writing. This is really shady stuff, possibly with jail time attached — get a lawyer, tip off the agency, and don’t give the boss any reason to suspect you are going to upset their schemes.

      (Catwoman is a great reference point for this!)

      1. neela*

        Let’s not fear monger here. This scenario is not going to result in jail time for the letter writer.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          You’re really concerned about fearmongering re: this letter, you’ve mentioned it a couple times now?

          The jail time comment was obviously directed at LW’s boss. I think it depends on how much money and what laws were violated, but I don’t doubt someone who’s facing jail time might do something stupid like try to pin that time on someone else, who he’s used as a scapegoat before—especially if the scapegoating took and LW’s name was never cleared.

        2. Psyche*

          It isn’t fear mongering to say that something in this scenario isn’t right and could in fact involve illegal handling of funds. Everyone is telling the OP to take whatever steps she can to protect herself just in case. Hopefully it isn’t needed, but there are enough warning signs that it is better safe than sorry.

        3. Evan G Grantham-Brown*

          How do you know that? Are you a lawyer? Do you know all the details of LW1’s situation?

          What LW1 describes sounds like embezzlement. That’s a crime. People go to prison for it. And LW1’s boss has tried to finger LW1 for shady stuff in the past. The letter writer *probably* won’t end up in jail… but getting tangled up in the legal system is no joke even if you don’t wind up incarcerated.

          It isn’t fearmongering to say “Talk to a lawyer, because this is some heavy shit and you don’t want any of it landing on you.”

  13. The Beast of Craggy Island*

    #2 I’m in engineering, and we have the same issues with clients. A recent project was particularly bad. I sent designs to the client, and got no reply. Then he said he never received anything. So I sent it again. A week later he sent it back with some comments. I fixed the design and sent it back for approval. No reply. Later he signed off some of the stuff and asked for the dimensions of the panels. The drawings I sent earlier (the ones he commented on) showed all that information, but OK, I sent it to him again and asked him to please take a look and let me know if he’s happy. No reply.
    We proceeded with construction anyway, because there was a deadline. This is not how things are done, but in this case we didn’t have a choice. When the client showed up to test the panels, he suddenly realised that some of the equipment is rated for the wrong voltage, and we had to replace it (at our cost). We also had to rewire the entire thing, because the wire colours were wrong. But the drawings he signed off clearly showed the voltage and the wire colours.
    Other documents were approved (with his signature), and were used as the basis for the whole design, but then he would change his mind. This happened 5 or 6 times.
    In the end the job was a complete mess, and we get blamed for it. And everybody (including my managers) think this is just how it goes. There’s no way to prevent this. I disagree. Before we start working on a project there should be a project plan which must explain in detail how the approval process will work. And every person involved in the project must read it and sign it to indicate they understand and agree to follow the plan.
    Then, if the client decides to change his mind somewhere in the middle of the project, we can refer to the plan to protect ourselves, and charge the client for the scope change.
    But our project managers don’t have the balls to stand up to the clients.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Some of my favorite lines from clients/upper management/other-people-with-no-idea-what-I-do-but-are-giving-me-feedback-for-some-reason:

          * The background noises should flow naturally like they would in nature. (there were no nature sounds? There was a music track and sound effects – like splats, typing, and a “computer thinking”)

          * Are you sure these are all our options for title case? None of them look right. Let’s Capitalize the First word in Every Title./Subtitle and Every Other word that is over four Letters long Instead. (This was to advertise a training event for TEACHERS.)

          * Don’t use the words allow, let, or help. Our program isn’t giving them permission! Those words can only apply to living beings! It ENABLES them. Only use the word enable! (also the event for teachers)

          * I don’t know why you would choose those colors, they’re far too colorful for this! (it’s their brand colors, that they specifically gave me along with the “proportions” each color should be used… for their pamphlet for a children’s event).

          1. Snickerdoodle*

            That made my head hurt. The grammar disasters were the worst offender, but also, the word “enabling” refers to addictions or other problems to many people. Also, I used to work in audio and LOVE creating sound effects, but there’s a time and a place for all of it.

          2. Aunt Vixen*

            * Are you sure these are all our options for title case?

            … I’m a little surprised there was ever more than one option for title case. That’s – not really a variable thing.

            an editor

            1. EddieSherbert*

              Right?! He was literally trying to decide between:
              A title that looks like this
              A Title That Looks Like This

              (he also regularly told me that “everyone can write and anyone can do your job.”)

            2. DaffyDuck*

              Well, styles for title case are usually: AP, APA, Chicago, and MLA. Some places throw in New York Times and Wikipedia.

            3. Mephyle*

              There are actually some variations in different styles of title case!
              From the website yourdictionary-dot-com:
              •In the AP Stylebook, all words with three letters or less are lowercased. However, if any of those words are verbs (is, are, was, be), they are to be capitalized.
              •In the Chicago Manual of Style, all prepositions are lowercased, even the lengthier ones (between, among, throughout).
              •In MLA style, words with three letters or less are always lowercased.

              Although that should be “three letters or fewer

    1. Ender Wiggin*

      Wow. I’m in engineering too and I promise you there are jobs out there which don’t have these problems! That sounds like a nightmare.

      OP Allison’s advice regarding contract is good. I would also suggest you put together a simple “scope change” document which sets out additions to scope and cost you can send to clients when they ask you to do more work.

      Figuring out what clients want is a skill in itself. I’ve had good results on occasion with having a conversation asking why they want something. It’s tricky to do this without sounding rude, but it’s really necessary when they keep changing their mind and adding things on. You need to get to the bottom of WHY as that will help you figure out what they really want. I had clients ask me to add in something physically impossible into a model and when I had a good chat with them about why they wanted it, it turned out they wanted something completely different but didn’t understand how to ask for it. I actually managed to negotiate an extra piece of work – a report explaining in layman’s terms the physical limitations on the different systems – to help them ask for more sensible things in future.

      For the current client I suggest you have a frank (but polite) conversation with your main contact where you point out what’s happened so far and ask questions like “who asked for x and who asked for y”, “who has the overall approval” “what was the thinking behind the changes” etc. When clients keep flip-flopping like that it’s sometimes because one person wants x but another wants y. Or sometimes it’s because they don’t understand the reasons for x and the reasons for y. Or there has been an internal miscommunication on their side.

      Another thing that works sometimes is presenting 2 options and saying “I recommend A but its up to you”. Then get it in writing whichever they agree with. The earlier you do this the better. It’s kind of like with toddlers – sometimes they just need to feel like they have a choice to feel involved in the process.

      Good luck!

      1. Project Manager*

        A concept of operations document, which describes what the system is for and how it’s expected to work, is a huge help. It’s almost impossible to write a perfect requirements set that can’t be misinterpreted (in good faith!). A concept of operations provides context in which to understand requirements.

        Unfortunately, a lot of customers don’t understand that you can save in the long run by doing more planning up front. I’m not in the private sector myself, so it’s different, but it is definitely an ongoing struggle to convince people that yes, we really need this planning time.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m a writer, and it is normal boilerplate for a contract to specify one first draft and one round of revisions. I believe anything with art has more revisions, but not infinite. And “revisions” is like “move this label, make this line heavier, delete the pink blob thing.” If the client wants to go a whole new direction, with a Renaissance look rather than post-modern, then that’s a whole new art piece even if technically it’s going at the top right of p. 48 to illustrate the chocolate llama dimensions.

        1. designbot*

          A normal contract for me in graphic design is 2–3 initial options and 2 rounds of revisions. Depending on the type of design, it’s also normal to have some level of *refinement* in later stages where final copy is developed, etc. But even then if the changes are big enough it’s so, so normal to be like, “we can absolutely do that. Since you have already signed off on the schematic design for this element we would need an additional 2 weeks and $4500 to implement that change. Please confirm this is the way you want to proceed.”

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I’m a physicist but have been working in engineering since I left uni.

      I work in a big company. Things customers have asked my:

      -How many dots are in this graph exactly (a few thousand…)
      -Please explain X in Chapter Y.2 (I explained X in Chapter Y.1 one paragraph above already…)
      -Can you make it so value Z is within regulation (not with legal methods…)
      And my favourite:
      -Can you make it so X doesn’t happen (not without changing the laws of physics, so…)

      There’s a lot more, obviously.

      Fun can also be had when other departments forget they need something from us and remember at the last minute. And tell us about the three weeks of work they need from us the day before the whole project is supposed to be sent to the customer…

      1. Ender Wiggin*

        Oh I love the breaking the laws of physics one. Breaking the first law of thermodynamics is a common desire. No sorry, you can’t get more energy or of a system than you put in!

        Best I had was about switching on an old mothballed coal plant for an hour or two at peak times. Sure, no problem, we’ll just go back in time, rehire the hundreds of staff and begin the start up process three days beforehand!

      2. Sandy*

        To be fair, I’ve asked the “can you make it so X doesn’t happen” question. What I usually mean is “what variables would you have to change/tweak in order not to have X happen”, because you KNOW as soon as I try to explain it to my boss, she going to say “but I don’t want X to happen!” so I need to be able to explain why.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        My mother-in-law felt that with two offspring with PhDs in the hard sciences, they ought to be able to come up with a gardening light saber for her. (She lived in the deep south, where kudzu might attempt to consume you during a nap.)

        1. Dance-y Reagan*

          I love everything about this comment.

          Also, one of my in-laws tackled that gardening issue with a machete he got during Vietnam.

    3. Triplestep*

      I’m a designer, but I work in-house – I still run into this problem. (I’m either designing the spaces or I’m the liaison between an outside architect and leadership at my company.) Corporate clients are the worst because there are so many who want a say in the design but no one seems to want the final decision.

      Alison’s advice is good, but I’ve seen pushback about whether the first revisions should “count”. There are the type of clients who will say revisions were needed because you failed to listen to them early on, just as there will always be people who will see the final design and imply “big deal, I could have thought of that”. (Yes, but you didn’t until I presented it to you, and suddenly it seemed like the obvious way to go! but I digress.)

      I find that reminding clients of schedule and budget sometimes lights a fire under them. That’s part of what Alison is saying in her answer (it will impact their budget if they have to pay for more revisions) but I’m talking about the financial costs inherent in delaying a project. This is where you put on your project manager hat and frame it as their ally: “Of course we can keep tweaking the design! Let’s look at how that would impact our schedule and budget.”

    4. BluntBunny*

      When working with external companies if they have said that have not received something I have previously sent I screenshot or forward the original message to them. You can CC your project manager or other people on there side in this email with a polite let me know if you require anything else. Also if you get no reply by email there is the dreaded phone call which I find gets a quicker response or regular Skype meetings. After a week of no reply email them with your project manager CC’ed saying you cannot proceed if this document hasn’t been approved and if they have any further comments. Last resort is to ask project manager or someone senior to visit client site if they are close by.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        I always include in the delivery of designs what round of revision we are in (i.e. round 1 of 3, 2 of 3, final round of revisions for approval). If I’m not getting answers, I will often loop in that contact’s boss and my manager, or my grandboss if things are getting dicey with a big project. Typically I’m dealing with an associate manager, coordinator or maybe a VP or director, but that person’s boss has been in meetings and calls and I can cc them once things get to the point where our deadlines are in jeopardy. I also typically have language in each email that spells out timing, “Please provide completed revisions by the 3rd so that we can meet your deadline of November 1.” In each successive attempt to get a response, I mention how the delay will affect our timeline. “As noted previously, our Nov. 1 deadline has now been pushed to the fifth. Without feedback today, we are looking at another two days delay to Nov. 7.” I also always respond to the same email chain, so that if I look my manager, boss or their boss in, they can see the history.

    5. Construction Safety*

      Drawings/specs which “Are Approved For Construction” are exactly that. Nothing begins (maybe even down to the ordering of components) until the the drawings/specs are signed & returned.

      Delivery is quoted as 18 weeks (or whatever) ADA (after drawing approval).

      That’s how it works to protect all parties.

    6. Lora*

      Yup. Here is what you do:

      1. “I will send you a copy of our standard URS form and a sample of what we need to start design. Please fill it out and return it to me at your earliest convenience.”

      2. “Here is the project timeline with the payment milestones. We will perform a review of the design proposal at the kickoff meeting, and again in X weeks when we have completed detailed design. At that point we cannot initiate component purchasing until all designs are fully approved and we will require a milestone payment of $$. We also require approval at a tack-up inspection midway through fabrication, which we anticipate to be Y weeks after detailed design approval. Factory acceptance testing occurs approximately Z weeks after tack-up. At FAT, another milestone payment of $ is required. We will be present for uncrating and document any shipping damage. Plan to execute site acceptance testing directly after uncrating. Final payment is due at completion of SAT.”

      3. Customer: I want to revise X.
      Engineer: Okay, I will write up the change order.
      Customer: what?? no, I just want you to change it. It won’t take long.
      Engineer: I understand, I will write up the change order and get it to you by (time) for approval.
      The function of change orders is charging A$$hole Tax. Changing your mind costs money. Customer may decide to keep the original design after all.

      1. Erstwhile lurker*

        This is the perfect answer, there’s no way they can argue with it as well. I’ve just convinced my boss to put something like this in place after a few ‘heated exchanges’ over revisions.
        Yes there is an element of a$$hole tax, but if people had a bit more respect for your time in the first place we wouldn’t have to levy it.

    7. Anon From Here*

      This is … amateur hour, I’m sorry to say. I’ve consulted in oil and gas EPCM, and the successful contractors and subcontractors in this industry will have very detailed processes in place to handle change of scope and change orders and such. It’s kind of a very fundamental way of running the business. I hope your company gets its act together.

    8. zapateria la bailarina*

      sorry if i’m just ignorant or naive, but how could you be made to pay to replace things that the client signed off on? if they signed off on it and it’s wrong, how exactly is that your fault?

    9. smoke tree*

      Sometimes I fear that I’m the terrible client–to be fair to myself, the reason for this is because I’m the go-between who passes all of the (sometimes contradictory) feedback from the company to contractors. But from the contractor’s side, I’m sure it sounds like I’m just arbitrarily changing my mind all the time.

    10. Erstwhile lurker*

      Client facing managers capitulating is a common issue, you need a bogeyman figure in the background to redirect the decision making to at times.

    11. Hey Nonnie*

      Stuff like this is exactly why I no longer do flat project fees. Clients pay by the hour, only. I will send them an estimate of how much their project will cost, but I will also explain the the time required for revisions depends entirely on how many revisions they want. I’ll suggest that they give me all their revisions at once instead of piecemeal, to save time. (If I sit down to work on your thing, I will not charge less than a full hour, so don’t send me 20 five-minute changes one at a time.) I’ll remind them of their running total during the process. And beyond that I leave it to them to be grown-ass adults who can manage their own budget. As long as I’m still getting paid, they can take as long as they want.

      With flat project fees, EVERY client was asking for “just a little more.” “It’s not that much.” “It’s only a little outside of scope” …until every “little bit” added up to tons of extra time.

  14. Lumen*

    OP #1: Wow. That smiling “forget about it” from your boss took this from ‘red flag’ to ‘WTF’ right quick. If there was a valid, reasonable, appropriate reason for this, then it shouldn’t be an issue to explain it to you. I assume that since you’re privy to salary information like this, you’re generally trusted with confidential information already. If there is someone you can CC (or BCC) on that email to your boss, do so. And maybe start looking elsewhere – if this boss has a habit of throwing you under the bus, then retaliation or other negative behaviors aren’t far behind.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        …and then the intrepid heroine starts investigating further and 200 pages later ends up at gun/knifepoint while The Boss soliloquizes that it’s such a shame it had to come to this, if only she had listened when he told her to leave it alone.

        (I am not suggesting the OP made any of this up – I just read a lot of mystery/thrillers and the way it was worded just SO fits the trope. It kind of made my morning.)

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I definitely pictured Walter White lurking behind a pachysandra somewhere in the office.

    2. Snickerdoodle*

      Yeah, that reeked of the classic “It’s not a big deal!” “Soooo it won’t be a big deal to stop it, will it?”

  15. Lumen*

    OP#2: We regularly work with contractors at my office. When we come across something from a prior project we want changed or updated, or a new feature added, there is a ton of work, on OUR side, making sure we nail down the scope of work and how many hours it’s going to take from the contractors to do it. Because if we jump in willy-nilly and don’t know what we want and keep going back and forth about it, we get billed for that.

    Make it clear on the outset with your clients how long revisions take and how much extra revisions are going to take. The onus should be on them to know what they are willing to pay for, and not on you to accommodate every mind-change they might have.

  16. Phil*

    #5 I used to work a retail job that had a similar policy. I found that, while they’ll deny leave requests during that period, I was able to find a few willing coworkers who were only too happy to take on some extra shifts (especially the public holidays where you get crazy overtime pay). Any way you can do some creative shift-swapping to get the days off?

    1. Ego Chamber*

      Crazy overtime pay? Because you worked public holidays or because working those holidays put you over 40 hours? If it’s just working a holiday that does it, is that a state-specific thing or a retailer-specific thing? Because I worked retail last holiday season and I didn’t get overtime pay for any of the holidays I worked (Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Xmas Eve, Xmas, New Years Eve, and New Years Day—good times!).

      1. Lynca*

        It’s an employer specific thing or possibly a state employment law, depending on where you live. FLSA does not mandate overtime for holidays unless that time puts you over 40 hours.

        Here it’s employer specific. My sister gets overtime for working major holidays in her hourly job (not retail though).

      2. coffee addict*

        I think it all depends on the employer. When I worked in retail, all of those days were paid time and a half, plus the store had free meals and other incentives, like raffling off gift cards, t-shirts, and other little things.

      3. Valancy Snaith*

        This depends on where you live–in many provinces in Canada if not all, working statutory holidays pays time and a half or double time.

      4. blackcat*

        It’s state by state. Certain holidays require overtime pay here in MA, even if you are not working over 40 hours in one week. It’s to discourage businesses from being open on holidays.

        1. Dragoning*

          If they wanted to discourage businesses from being open on holidays, they could just ban them from being open.

            1. fnom*

              Yep. Which is why working retail in MA, you cannot be in the building before the clock strikes midnight on the morning of Black Friday. It at least gives you a chance for early Thanksgiving with your family. I really appreciated that. Usually had to work at 12:15am (to give us time to get in/clock in) but a 4h nap and copious caffeine (and weirdly enough, a change of socks at ‘lunch’ to feel refreshed) got me through all six years.

    2. MLB*

      It’s a good idea, but LW needs to accept the fact that even after finding others to cover shifts, the company may still say no. They have a clear policy, and LW needs to decide what’s more important to her – the job or the trip.

      I had the opportunity to go to Europe with a friend for 3 weeks when I was in college. I told my manager that I needed off, and was completely willing to quit if she said no. But I was making minimum wage, going to school, living at home with my parents and could have easily found another minimum wage job. It’s all about priorities.

      1. Aleta*

        Really? In my experience in the service industry, time off requests are denied on the basis of coverage. What matters, above all, is that the shifts are covered. If you do your own legwork to get them covered, instead of letting the scheduler deal with it like if they approved your request, then what would they be telling OP5 “no” about unless there was a blanket policy that you couldn’t transfer or swap shifts? That is incredibly common and no employer I’ve had ever objected to it.

        1. Sparklehorse*

          I was never able to take time off at the holidays when I worked retail. They wanted me there 40 hours a week precisely because I was a reliable, good employee. You could try to get your shifts covered, but no one was allowed any overtime, and nearly everyone who could work 40 hours a week was scheduled for 40 hours already.

        2. WS*

          Because they think that if OP5 gets time off at the holidays (even if they did all the legwork themselves) that EVERYONE will wnat time off at the holidays. This is not a good way to manage, but it’s certainly not uncommon.

    3. EddieSherbert*

      I think this is worth trying, but I would check with management first to see if they’re okay with it (before putting in all the work to find coverage).

    4. Critical*

      Coworkers can only take other shifts with management approval – and if they’re already working 5 shifts or even fulltime hours, then they can’t take on any more. Not to mention coverage issues for overlapping shifts.

      Retail means working holidays. Often part-time workers get bumped up to fulltime hours during those crucial weeks around xmas/new years so there’s not a lot of room (if any) for shift-taking.

    5. Aerin*

      That’s what I was going to suggest, too. I’ve spent nearly my entire life in these sorts of jobs (they need the coverage they need, no way to fudge it) and I’ve made heavy use of shift swapping to manage other obligations. Hell, I’m currently at a desk job, but it still requires 24/7 coverage and sufficient staffing to deal with expected volume. I recently swapped with someone to cover the shift scheduled for the first day of my vacation, so I could take it as a regular day off and save the vacation day.

      Now, if you’re asking for like a week or two off in a row, there’s just no way that’s going to fly during the holidays. But if you’re still getting two days off per week during that time, you can string together up to four days off in a row if you can arrange for the coverage. That would allow you to spend at least some time with the family, even if they’re going to be on the trip for longer. You can usually change an existing ticket purchase to a different flight for a fee.

  17. in a fog*

    OP #2, Alison’s advice is spot on — put the price for revisions beyond what’s reasonable (three to four rounds, I’d say) in writing as part of your quote or proposal, and stick to it.

    But I’m really commenting to share this amusing site: https://clientsfromhell.net/. What you’re describing is VERY common but not at all reasonable, so don’t worry about showing some backbone.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      I go to CFH on the daily but I strongly advise treating it like any other place online (that isn’t AAM): do not read the comments, it gets brutal over there and it’s been a much better experience since I started following my own rule.

      On topic: LW2, I’d recommend billing hourly for revisions that are out of scope, and make sure you have a contract that details the scope of the project from the beginning. I made this mistake a lot in the beginning, too. It sucks but you can learn from it and do better going forward. :)

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        CFH is still alive? The last time I was reading there it was dying slowly and the comments were still useful as long as you ignored the known idjits. I liked that place. I’m’a check it out again.

  18. LadyPhoenix*

    #1: i think your place is a “front” for illegal activity.

    I would document all your findings, take them outside of work, contact your lawyer, and get the hell outta dodge.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Funny… ‘Cause I was only thinking the boss was having an affair with the intern and thus wants to keep her around. Unless she is someone’s kid and he was forced to hire her.

      1. LadyPhoenix*

        I was thinkibg that… or that she is a prostitute and the boss is her pimp.

        Nothing smells fresh in this. Like, something is seriously smelling rotten in Denmark, if you know what I mean.

  19. Amylou*

    I recently worked with a designer who very clearly spelled out how many rounds of revision and whether they would go over the quoted time (hourly rate). It was good for both of us to agree on a process, brief, etc.

    It might be a client-side communication as well that can be solved by being more direct with your clients. As a client, I was the one dealing directly with the designer, but my team was also involved in feedback. They were not aware how designers / revisions work, and at some point people just start to run wild with ideas/new features/new ideas. But it’s really simple if you’re able to say: hey we have only 1 round of revisions left after this one, let’s make the most of it. Or: Hey that extra feature is actually not something we originally asked for in our brief, so we’d probably have to pay for a few hours more work at $XX/hour. Maybe some people are not familiar with the design process, maybe some are not comfortable to tell their boss/team “that’s not a feature we asked for in our brief and it will cost $XXX extra”…

    I would try out some more clear communication. The clearer, the better. In writing preferably as well so that can be shared with others on the clients side.

  20. Cheapskate*

    OP2 I’m jealous of the position you’re in! Like Allison said, charge for extra revisions beyond a certain point. Then you’ll benefit either from minimal hassle or extra income from people who can’t make up their minds. I make a lot of marketing materials for my company in-house and because I’m so accessible, my coworkers don’t hesitate to come up with new change requests. They’ll never suggest multiple changes in one go, but every time I send a new version they’ll suddenly decide something else has to change as well. It’s usually something minor like adding one word. Or maybe something has to be changed back to how it was before. It’s crazy-making.

    1. nonymous*

      For the in-house crazy-making, I’ve started using a script where I identify the next project I’m going to work on and warn that extra revisions is stealing time for that one. It really helps if someone in the group is super invested in seeing the next one succeed.

  21. Foreign Octopus*

    OP5 – I’ve worked in a lot of retail over the years and can confirm that time off over the holiday is a no-no. We were always told that December is not a time when we could have holidays and I think it’s something that people have to accept as being part of the job when going into it.

    Saying that, you have been there two years and maybe you have built up enough goodwill with the manager for them to make this a one-off. I would say this is unlikely though. Holiday periods tend to be stricter regarding the rules of time off.

    I think your best bet, reiterating what some of the commenters have already said, is to see if you can find people to help cover your shifts for you. It is the holiday period and they may be grateful for the extra shifts, or they may not, but it may come down to the fact of whether you want to go on this holiday more than you want to keep this job and that’s a decision that only you can make.

  22. Glomarization, Esq.*

    I really do think that for LW#1 to send that e-mail to her boss is not the way to go, because she’ll risk getting fired on the spot. Yes, there are whistleblower protections. But a boss who’s shadily paying $42K/year to someone won’t really care that they’re violating whistleblower protection law. And while it’s litigated or whatever, who’s out of work?

    LW, as a lawyer for non-profit organizations, and based solely on what I see in your letter here, I think you should start by writing down the date(s) and nature of the conversations you’ve had with your boss and colleague(s) about this intern. Look up your state department/agency/bureau that deals with non-profits and see how to report financial shenanigans to authorities. You can almost certainly report this anonymously, and that will flag the organization as one that the state attorney general may start looking into.

    If you can trust someone on your board of directors to be discreet about who brought it up, tell them about what you suspect. The risk here is that they’ll tell the boss and, again, you could get fired, whistleblower protection law notwithstanding. (You can try an anonymous note, but in a small agency like yours, an anonymous note may be either ignored or not actually too anonymous.)

    Finally, as I’ve seen a few others mention, update your resume. Your organization may go down financially, or you may decide you want to get out before a “taint” attaches to you for working for a shady boss.

    Good luck! I was on a board once where the president of the board was embezzling funds. We fired the admin assistant because their signature was on some of the paperwork authorizing transfers, though they were (admittedly) kind of in a position where it would have been tricky to refuse to do the transfers. This can be dangerous stuff for support staff, and you could very well be collateral damage here.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      And P.S., of course, talk to a lawyer. Call your state or county bar referral service to find one who has experience with non-profit organizations. The hour you spend with this lawyer could save you thousands of dollars and lots of grief going forward.

  23. The Doctor*


    “There have been shady financial things in the past that my boss tried to play up as my fault or an error that I didn’t catch.”

    So we already know that Boss is truly shady, so pursuing it openly won’t get you anywhere. Definitely take it to the top levels of the parent organization plus the head of the audit team. (As a side note, do you know if Intern is somehow related to Boss or to a friend/associate/debtor of his?)

    1. Cochrane*

      Now that there’s a “history” of “incompetence” on the part of OP1, you’d better believe that they’re being set up as a patsy to take the fall when this all blows up.

      There’s no easy answer, if they stay and blow the whistle, they’ll be repercussions from shady boss. If they leave before crap hits the fan, there’s nobody around to refute the boss’ story that they were so bad at their job that the unpaid intern was paid from a totally wrong account.

      Stumbling across stuff like this is like witnessing a mob hit. OP did nothing wrong but is going to suffer to some degree for seeing something they shouldn’t have.

  24. only acting normal*

    Where I work we have training courses on ‘consulting skills’ which are mostly about finding out what the client *actually* needs/wants vs what they asked for. It really is a skill set apart from the usual dealings with clients (the professional communications, finding work, promoting your services, costing etc).
    The worst are clients who are extremely prescriptive, but have no clue what they’re doing. Getting to *why* they want what they say makes you feel like an annoying toddler (But why? Why? Why?!) just using diplomatic language. But it’s worth the initial pain for smoother work later.

    1. LurkieLoo*

      I’m not a consultant, but I have found that asking why and making someone explain why they want what they want has often resulted in a completely different answer than I would have given based on the original question.

      People frequently know what they want, but the words they use as laypeople don’t always mean the same thing as the words you hear as a specialist.

      My partner is in freelance and really struggles with this at times. I know of at least 2 projects that have had to be dropped and/or refunded due to the client asking for a thing that is within the skill set and then being upset when it can’t be delivered because what they actually wanted was not. (Think creative writing vs technical writing, but they think writing is writing.)

      If you don’t want to got the full contract route, though, you can always just make sure to mention the revisions during the initial consultation and recap in an email.

    2. What the customer needs is rarely what they say*

      Same here! This reminds me of an email-based course my company enrolled me into soon after I took my job — one of the things they teach is how to “get to why” WITHOUT sounding like an annoying toddler. It also includes some interesting background from science explaining why people get defensive when asked “why?”, and how to get to the answers we need using different questions phrased more effectively.

      Wait, I just found the link to the email course (it’s relatively cheap, under $90, and at least for me extremely worth it). I’ve added it to my signature in case anyone here wants to check it out.

    3. CM*

      This is what I’d say, too. I completely agree about setting up a contract that puts limits on revisions, but, in addition to that, taking control of the conversation and making sure that you and the client are both trying to solve the same design problem can cut back on the nebulous feedback.

      There are two things I’d recommend if they’re not already happening. 1) Discuss what the goals for the project are for the beginning and what constitutes success — so, “we need this to convey a sense of excitement” rather than “we need Jerry from Marketing to feel pleased with it in a nebulous, ill-defined way.” Then, when you have feedback discussions, you can explain why what you did creates a sense of excitement and, if the client disagrees, they can explain why they DON’T think it creates a sense of excitement. Your changes on the next iteration are then focused don solving that design problem.

      2) As in the comment above, don’t let the feedback discussion be a series of instructions like “move this here” or “do the exact same thing, but make it red.” Probe to find out why they’re saying they want to do those things so that you can uncover an actual design problem (“I don’t think the branding is clear” or “It looks too much like our competitor”) and work to solve that rather than carrying out the instructions. The clients are probably not designers, so if they’re the ones solving the design problem by saying “move this here” or whatever, there’s a really good chance the solution won’t work, so you’ll have to keep moving stuff over and over until they figure it out. If you actually know the problem you’re trying to solve, you might come up with a better solution.

  25. Notasecurityguard*

    So OP1’s boss is definitely either embezzling or shtupping the intern and paying her to keep quiet/keep it going.

    1. Jenn*

      Maybe I am out touch, but 42k a year seems like a LOT for affair hush money. The intern may be in on it, and that may be an element of it, but the amount of money suggests embezzlement to me.

      1. Notasecurityguard*

        Someone should organize an AAM betting pool for what it is if OP1 ever gets back to us

      2. Dance-y Reagan*

        42k is also oddly specific. I would have guessed that the kind of person who thinks this is acceptable behavior would just toss out an even 50k.

        It makes me wonder if there’s some corresponding information elsewhere that LW can use to reverse engineer what’s going on, like maybe that’s the exact amount of the XYZ grant. (In reality, I know LW should just stay out of it…but I love a mystery, so I can’t help but consider the possibilities.)

          1. Annon for this*

            Hmmm…way late, but try this on for size. $42,000 divided by 52 is $807 gross, 35% taxes bring that right down to around $500 a week.

    2. blackcat*

      Or she’s a family member/family friend/other person who the boss wants to funnel money to.

      Lots of possibilities.

      All of them bad.

    3. kittymommy*

      I’m thinking that he may be embezzling money and giving intern a kick back. $42,000 is a lot, but who knows if he’s doing something like this just through different methods out of other accounts.

      1. Mickey Q*

        I was wondering if they were paying the intern a flat amount or are they deducting taxes from it. If there are no payroll taxes coming out it sure looks like hush money. If there are payroll taxes coming out then why isn’t it being paid from the payroll account? Either way, squirrelly.

  26. Harper the Other One*

    OP #5, Some retail managers are “policy is policy!!1!” and some just need a little nudging to realize that of course there will be VERY OCCASIONAL deviation from policy. I would try to meet face to face and explain that you of course know how busy the holidays are, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime family event and that you hope your hard work has shown that you wouldn’t ask for an exception to policy casually.

    And depending how secure you feel in your manager, you could lay out that this is a “stay or quit” decision. I had to do that once in a retail gig: my husband was working away for a year and we had pre-arranged to coordinate vacations after Thanksgiving, but my manager “found” a no holidays after September policy and told me I’d have to move it. I had extra weight because he had already approved the time several months previously, but I also made it clear that this vacation time was a special circumstance and non-negotiable, and that his top-rated department supervisor would start job hunting tomorrow if I was forced to move my vacation away from the week that my husband would be in town. It does take some capital to do that, but it can be worth it for something like this.

    Plus, you can also remind them of Alison’s “hit by a bus” scenario – they’d find a way to survive the holidays if you were in an accidebt or sick, so they can find a way to survive with you taking time off. Heck, it would be easier because they’d have a ton of advance notice to do scheduling or hire a holiday seasonal worker.

    1. Izzy*

      Agreed with most of this except your last paragraph. The OP hasn’t been hit by a bus – she wants to go on a family vacation to Florida, which was booked without confirming her availability. Even if the company has an emergency backup plan (I’ve known retailers whose emergency backup plan was basically “????? DON’T GET SICK AT CHRISTMAS GUYS”) they would be well within their rights to say that this is not a good reason to use it.

      1. Not A Morning Person*

        I agree with the facts, but even so, sometimes family takes priority.
        I don’t know how old OP is or how long they want this particular job, or whether it’s the difference between having food and a roof over their head and being homeless. There are so many considerations. But my vote would be to quit if necessary to participate in this family vacation. Look ahead a few years and think about what you’ll regret more, disappointing your supervisor and having to find a new job, or missing out on this time with your family.
        Actual research says we’ll miss the family events more than we’ll regret working. It may be cliche but it is very true, no one on their death bed thinks “I wish I’d spent more time at work.”

      2. Staphylococcus anonymous*

        Despite having been following this blog for years and knowing the “work above all” attitude that has come up more often than not, I am still honestly shocked – mouth agape, staring at the screen – at the amount of bootlicking labor that populates these comment sections and allows themselves to be maltreated like this. It’s honestly dumbfounding. “Well that’s just how it is!” I miss the days when unions were the norm and people understood that they had bargaining power, that businesses simply could not run without them, that with collective action and cooperation they could make themselves essential and not disposable.

        It’s disgusting and pathetic how much of the advice for OP5 amounts to a fatalistic, “well, you’re not worth anything, so you must let your employer screw you around.” For shame.

    1. Ego Chamber*


      Also: How does this information help the LW? What additional advice to you have based on this information you’ve posted? What was the purpose of making this one point, which has been made several times already in the comments above with varying levels of subtlety?

      1. Justin*

        ….I agree some advice should be added. But why criticize this person for doing what many are?

        If it’s truly bothersome, Alison will say so, though.

        1. pleaset*

          A lot of people might think this, but repeating it even as speculation helps perpetuate stereotypes of women using sexuality to get ahead. It helps undermine the credibility of young women who advance rapidly in the workplace.

          I try to check myself when I have those thoughts.

          1. Observer*

            The simple reality is that when a young woman is being paid a high salary to do nothing, is being given a ridiculous amount of access to organization funds, and the boss reacts the way he did when it’s brought up to him, the most likely scenario IS that an affair is happening. Trying to pretend otherwise is not helpful to anyone, including young women.

            To the extent that it perpetuated stereotypes, it’s the stereotype of the sleazebag guy who has no compunction about using his position to get what he wants and has sleazy affairs.

            1. pleaset*

              “the most likely scenario IS that an affair is happening”

              This is gross, sexist bullshit.

              Even if it is the “most likely” scenario – which I’d be curious to see evidence of as I don’t think it’s true – it’s gross sexist bullshit to present it straight up without mentioning other plausible explanations at the same time.

              “it’s the stereotype of the sleazebag guy” – it seems to be a stereotype of both.

              1. Observer*

                Saying that it’s baloney doesn’t make it true. Most people have mentioned other possible scenarios – no one is claiming that this IS what is happening. But, life is what it is, like it or not. And, in real life, this actually is the most common scenario, with nepotism and hush money being the other somewhat likely scenarios.

                Name calling people who point this out is not terribly convincing, if you actually care about changing minds.

                1. pleaset*

                  “Name calling people”

                  I’m not name calling people – I’m name calling your statement that “the most likely scenario IS that an affair is happening”. That’s sexist bullshit.

                  “And, in real life, this actually is the most common scenario,” Do you have any evidence for this?

          2. Holly*

            No one has been saying a word about the woman. She’s also not advancing rapidly… she’s an “unpaid” intern working 2 days a week to do nothing, and getting paid a higher salary than staff. The boss says “don’t worry about it.” That’s extremely suspicious and an affair is not out of the question.

            1. Observer*

              It doesn’t look like she’s advancing at all.

              Claiming that this about stereotypes of women who get ahead by “sleeping their way to the top” (which IS gross) is actually pretty weird to me, since that stereotype absolutely denigrates women’s actual accomplishments, and is based on actually getting ahead. This intern is neither getting ahead or exhibiting any accomplishments.

      2. Ender Wiggin*

        You criticised this comment but not the one above about how the business might be a “front” for illegal activity.

        I suspect your criticism is more about finding this comment gross than about the other points you raise.

    2. The Doctor*

      While we don’t actually know this, there is lots of room for speculation. Is she a “sugar baby”? Is she related to Boss or one of his friends? Is she related to someone to whom Boss owes money? Is she or someone else blackmailing him?

  27. Zhook*

    OP2: I just finished a design project with 12(!) rounds of revisions. Alison’s advice is right – charge for it! They got to be as indecisive as they wanted, and I made almost 4 times as much as my original quote.
    You can also save yourself headaches by insisting that one person collate everybody’s feedback.

    1. Bulbasaur*

      To address one of OP2’s other points: clients are actually within their rights to do this if they really want to, as long as they are paying you for your time.

      If you want, you can raise your concerns with them (frame it as making sure that you’re delivering value for money) and offer to discuss strategies on how to reduce the number of revisions. But don’t do it unless you’re prepared for something like “We need to get approval from X, Y and Z before we can finalize, and we couldn’t get X to review it for three weeks and then they wanted everything changed, which meant we had to go back to Y and Z, and they weren’t happy with some of the revisions from X, and I kept trying to get them all in a meeting to talk about it but none of their calendars lined up…” Ignorance can be bliss in some cases.

  28. SigneL*

    Question: I totally agree that #1 needs to talk to a lawyer. Any ideas how to find one? I would have no idea how to find a lawyer!

    1. Anon From Here*

      In the U.S., google “StateName lawyer [or bar] referral service” or “CountyName bar [or lawyer] referral service” and call the number you find. The common practice is for lawyers to sign up for this and offer a discounted one-time consultation to people who call. Then you can take that advice or have them help you find someone to help you going forward.

      (Source: I’m a lawyer.)

        1. SigneL*

          Thanks! When we made wills our financial advisor recommended someone, and we have never needed a lawyer for anything else, so I wondered. Thanks again.

      1. KarenK*

        Agree with this. I paid $25 for a half-hour consultation, and saved myself about $8000. Totally worth it.

    2. Anne of Green Gables*

      I posted this upthread but will add it here: my state’s bar association has a lawyer matching service, where you can enter your zip code and choose from areas of specialization and they suggest lawyer(s) in your area with that specialization (online or via 800 number). AND when you make an appointment with that lawyer and tell them that you used the referral service, your initial 30-minute consultation will be $50. I don’t know how many states have a similar service, but it’s worth looking into.

      Also, I’m not a lawyer. I’m a librarian and I did offer this information to library patrons when I was in the public library. We also had brochures about the service that came from the state bar association.

    3. Clisby Williams*

      Often county or state bar associations have websites where you can search by area of law. Of course, you’re going to be limited to lawyers who are members of the bar association, but I think that’s fairly common.

    4. Temperance*

      What I would do, as a lawyer, is ask friends and family for a rec. The Bar Association is a God d place to start, but do your own research.

      1. Dragoning*

        I’m going to be honest–I don’t think most non-lawyers have family and friends who know “good” lawyers from bad ones. Most people just don’t have cause to need lawyers that often.

        I’d trust a bar referral service over “uh, I think I saw [name] on a TV ad?”

    5. Dee*

      This probably doesn’t apply to the OP, but sometimes a brief consultation with a lawyer will be part of a benefits package, sort of in the same bucket as an EAP. My last couple of jobs have included it, along with a website that let you put together a will, POA, medical POA, etc.

      1. Old Biddy*

        We have to pay for our legal insurance program, but it is similar. Stuff like wills, living trusts, pre-nups etc are free (prepared by lawyers, not do it yourself). Phone consultations are free, and then there’s a reduced rate if you need to hire a lawyer. I got it because I needed a pre-nup, etc, but have kept it for the peace of mind.

    6. Eliza*

      The advice I’ve heard from lawyers on how to find a good one is to talk to a lawyer in your social circles who practices in a different field and ask who they’d recommend. Your friend’s divorce lawyer probably isn’t the person you want advising you in an employment situation, but they probably have a better than average idea of who you do want.

  29. Laura H.*

    Op 5: ideally you would bring this up to your manager when you’re first aware of it. Good news is it’s early/ mid-October so you still have plenty of time. But address it with your management ASAP.

    I’ve done it twice (for single day events in different years) but part of that success was communicating as soon as I knew that my presence at those events was wanted.

  30. SigneL*

    #2, if you are a freelance designer, always work with a contract. ALWAYS! That assumes that you have a business, rather than a hobby. A contract protects both you and your client.

  31. Anna*

    #1, I would be so tempted to ask my boss for a promotion to unpaid intern, since that is apparently more highly paid!

  32. Anon Anon*

    #2 – if you don’t already I’d have a conversation about the scope of the work, a review of what the client is hoping for, and asking for samples of things that they like. Then recap everything and include it with the scope of work document and a change form.

    I work with designers, and I know many of them work with clients who have specific ideas in their minds that they don’t share (because they think you are a mind reader). Even finding out what they hate I helpful. We’ve found that taking an hour to discuss the scope of the work, and then having everything in writing with samples, saves so much time later on.

  33. Jojo*

    #1 either this intern is related to someone or sleeping with someone. Take note of the third party who is paying her. Yes, sent hour boss an email about this. Make a copy. Send a copy to your home email with bosses reply. If it comes up in audit you have documentation that way.

  34. Shananana*

    #4 Honestly, I manage the payroll group at my company. I say with the caveat that we don’t go after over used vacation, on the circumstances we have overpaid someone, we send the letter with info on where to send a check, and that’s the extent of our recovery process. It is way more work than any of use have time for to chase down a thousand dollars, chances of having an honest person who wants to pay us back is like 10%, and at the end of the day is is the businesses fault most of the time. Also, depending on what state you are in (looking at you CA for example) I can’t take that money back from you, even if you agree to it. In your shoes, at this point I would set the money in your savings account and don’t touch it, and if they reach out again you have the money and can pay it to them. And congratulations on being someone honest enough to pay it back. HR makes you very negative on that over time, we are always pleasantly surprised when it does get paid back.

    1. Shananana*

      Because, if they can’t get their act together to call you back, I doubt they have their act together enough to send you to collections. That’s extra work and costs them money. Picking up a phone is free.

      1. Observer*

        That’s fine till someone catches the problem and decides that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

        Then, they might send it to collections, rather that figure out what went wrong.

  35. Jojo*

    #4 before you pay them, make sure they did not with hold it from your last check. Then send a cashier check by registered mail. Or a money order. Which ever is cheaper. Because they will take their own sweet time about cashing it.

  36. PDeck*

    I know a few people have mentioned a journal for OP1, but my boss taught me a different CYA move: send yourself an email with your “journal entry” and file it away. It comes with a time stamp and you can keep a record of conversations you have as well as any emails that may be relevant in one place. Out of an abundance of caution, consider filing all emails that mention this intern as well.

    1. Lucille2*

      I do this as well. Fortunately, I haven’t been in OP’s shoes, but for documenting conversations with staff or clients, I send myself an email. I also have a habit of BCCing myself on emails I want to keep for documentation. You can save your sent messages, and it’s the same result, but whatever organization method works best.

      And, as others have mentioned, BCCing a personal email account will ensure OP retains a personal copy just in case.

      1. Food Sherpa*

        I have a standing BCC on all of my emails. I have an account (name)workbackup@gmail.com. It has saved my bacon many times.

  37. Bike shorts*

    #2 Try showing some extra enthusiasm toward the choices your clients are making. (If you’re not already). For example, rather than asking, “how do you like the blue I chose for the text?,” say something like, “I love this blue that WE went with! It feels so modern!” Or whatever.

    They might feel lost in the world of design, and asking for more options might make them feel empowered, but you’re an expert in the field so make sure you’re helping them make strong decisions.

    I think Alison’s advice is also good, but if you’re witnessing this more than usual, it may have to do with how you present options to your clients. And I’m just suggesting this all as someone who’s worked with creative professionals (That’s not my field) and felt much more comfortable with the people who told me straight up which ideas they thought were good and which ideas they thought wouldn’t work/weren’t working.

  38. Jaybeetee*

    LW1: You… need to start job-hunting. There’s no way this ends well, and right now you’re positioned to get hit with at least some of the blame when it does go sideways, because “you didn’t catch it”. I feel like an email in this situation is just going to bring retaliation somehow (this boss strikes me as someone who will cook up a reason to fire you).

    LW4: I second the advice to try email, and keep calling. Document your attempts to contact them (maybe even screenshotting the call logs on your phone). Log dates and times. That way, if they don’t get back to you, but you suddenly wind up hearing from a collections agency, you have all that info.

    1. Temperance*

      Something I caught after re-reading #1 is that LW#1’s boss has already been trying to blame her for accounting issues.

  39. Ali G*

    #3 – this is totally normal and not a bad thing! I went through this when I left my last job. At one point I was in a meeting about something and I started to say stuff about what needed to happen going forward, blah, blah blah. And OldBoss said “oh yeah, right – we discussed that yesterday in X meeting.” Everyone kind of looked around and I think we all had the same thought which was “then WTH is Ali G doing in this meeting??” I definitely spent my last week just surfing the web, making calls to people, and sending emails, and updating my contacts, etc. It’s fine!
    Take it as a good sign that they are successfully moving on without you and on your last day, you can truly walk out the door without looking back and devote all your brain power to your new job.
    Good luck!

  40. J.E.*

    #1, I’d find out if the intern is related to someone on the board. I’m of the mind to let them know first. If they think they might get found out, then they might pull the plug on this whole setup instead of risk the fallout. I was also thinking there could be an affair happening between the boss and intern, but if there doesn’t seem to be that kind of relationship between them, then it might be nepotism at play. Unfortunately, it happens often where a higher up’s relative is being paid more than some long time employees and not really doing much of anything. Most definitely look for another job. It sounds as if there’s been lots of other shady dealings happening and you want to jump ship before anything else happens.

  41. Mazzy*

    Wow employer in #4 Seems so petty, I could never imagine hunting down a former employee we paid a lower salary and asking them to pay back a couple of days for vacation. It’s not like that they really cost us any money. I would only hubt them down if they actually, I don’t know, are used a company credit card for personal expenses or sometime

  42. PBH*

    LW5: You knew the policy but decided to let your inlaws purchase tickets anyway and just allow it anyway. Why? You know the policy. You screwed up.

    1. slavetothefaxmachine*

      I don’t think LW was aware of this before it happened, like the inlaws went ahead and set this whole thing up without checking with anyone beforehand. At least that’s how I read it.

      1. caryatis*

        Yeah, the in-laws sound like the problem here. LW#5: you know you don’t have to go just because they bought the tickets, right? They were wrong to do so. I’d much rather stay home and earn money than hang out with in-laws.

    2. Bookartist*

      You have the power to tell your in-laws to do something, and they listen? Whatever you’ve got, bottle it!

    3. TootsNYC*

      It’s not clear that the in-laws actually asked the OP if it was OK to purchase the tickets.

      There are plenty of parents of adult children who do that sort of thing–buy the tickets–just assuming their kids will be able to get the time off. It’s a jerk move.
      They deserve to lose the money on the ticket, frankly.

      I think the OP should just say, “Sorry, Mom and Dad-in-law. I cannot get the time off, and you didn’t ask me about it beforehand. I’ll have to miss it. I’ll Skype in on that day.”

      And then send flowers or something so the ILs can’t credibly gripe that she ignored them or didn’t care.

      1. TootsNYC*

        My FIL did that–the stakes weren’t as big, but it was rude nonetheless. They’d horned in on my vacation (because my now husband had horned in on my vacation, and then they tagged along, WITH his little brother–“our last chance of a family vacation”).

        And FIL bought tickets for us all to go on a boat ride on the very morning that Boyfriend and I wanted to climb a mountain. I argued very hard for him to just lose the money on our ticket–he should have asked. I eventually caved to Boyfriend’s pressure, but I was mad.
        And I have to confess, I wasn’t particularly gracious about it. I didn’t gripe the whole time, but I made it clear that it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my time, and that I was doing a favor by coming, and that he was rude to not have asked me before he committed his money to it.
        And then when he said, “Isn’t this nice? Isn’t the view beautiful? It’s so nice to be out on the water,” I said, “No, not particularly. The view isn’t any different here from what it is on the island, and it’s windy and cold. It’s nice to spend the time with you, but no, the boat ride is not something I’m enjoying.”

        Maybe it was rude, but my goal was to be just unpleasant enough that he wouldn’t do it again. Because believe me, he would.
        It wasn’t successful, because he DID do it again; he made reservations and paid for a weekend at some stupid resort that they’d been bugging us to go to. I think we’d used the “can’t afford” excuse a little too much (though we had also said, “We don’t want to go, we don’t want to spend the time, and we’re not interested.”
        And we went along, and then we really made it clear when we got back, that it was rude of them to do it. I told my DH, “he does this again, buys tickets without asking us, and we are NOT going. You can cave, if you want. I won’t.”

      2. TootsNYC*

        Also–my parents celebrated their 50th with a “be there, no excuses!” gathering over Christmas. My mom made her claim for the time more than a year in advance.

        And she said, “This is enough notice that I expect you to save for it, to plan for the time off from work, etc. I have never had all my family with me on Christmas since the first of you graduated from high school, and I’ve never complained. This is mine.”

        In the end, one of the nephews couldn’t come; he was in the Navy and couldn’t get the time off. It was fine. We missed him, but it was clear that he’d tried. He didn’t have an EXCUSE; he had a REASON.

        That’s how my mom would have felt if someone couldn’t get time off from a retail job. She’d be annoyed with the job, perhaps.

      3. London Cat Lady*

        Yeah, lots of parents do that without asking, and it’s not a good idea. But what if OP wants to go? She can always find another retail job, but an expenses paid trip like this is once-in-a-lifetime.

        I had this last year at a call centre job. I’d been there eight months without taking any holiday at all but I was due to visit my mum over Christmas from 24th – 27th December. 24th was a Sunday, so I didn’t need the day off for that, but I needed 27th off to travel home (my mum and siblings don’t live locally). I put in the holiday request and had it rejected because apparently it was company policy to not allow annual leave in December. I wasn’t informed of that when I started, and they didn’t enforce it consistently. Yes, I quit over it. It was a call centre job, which I could find at loads of other companies, but I only get to see my family a few times a year. And in my opinion, London based companies should understand that many of their staff will have family who aren’t local, and should revise their annual leave policies accordingly.

      4. Leslie knope*

        This is another one of those things that gets brought up in every post about this. The OP didn’t indicate that they didn’t want to go so I don’t see how this is helpful.

    4. Harper the Other One*

      Okay, aside from the whole “the in-laws booked, not the OP” side…

      Policy is not a binding slave contract. There are all sorts of reasons for OCCASIONAL deviation from policy. If the in-laws had asked the OP to talk to their boss first, it would have been reasonable for the OP to say “My in-laws are celebrating a once in a lifetime anniversary over Christmas” and lay out a plan for how they could be absent for that time with minimal impact on the business.

      This is exactly where a boss/manager can use discretion to retain good employees. An exception to policy for a once in a lifetime event creates major goodwill and makes an employee feel valued. And OP effectively indicated that they are willing to quit this job to go to the event because it is a significant family moment. Which is worse for the business, one exception to policy or losing a trained, capable employee?

      I’m very much team “policy is important” but being utterly inflexible in policy is not a good way to manage.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        I see it as not so much utterly inflexible as recognizing that there are times in many jobs where taking PTO is not doable. If you’re a tax accountant, you can’t plan your honeymoon for early April. And if you want to take him off at Christmas, get a temp job in an office, not one in retail where during the holidays they need all hands on deck.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I don’t know, even a tax accountant might be able to plan a honeymoon for early April with sufficient advance notice and a plan for how the work was going to be handled. After all, as Alison points out, if an accountant had a car accident in early April, their office would figure something out — and that’s with no notice at all.

          Nevertheless, this isn’t a full-time accountant job with future opportunities and good benefits; this is a part-time retail job. If the manager values having employees long-term, flexibility on this one instance – a once-in-a-lifetime, important family get-together – would likely be worthwhile.

        2. Izzy*

          I agree. Peak-season retail isn’t like an office job where you can make up for low staff levels by staying late or asking for deadline extensions or whatever – you simply do need to have a certain number of staff physically in the store during certain times, and if it’s a small business absences can have a big impact. And this store has made their policy clear from the start.

          That’s not to say that nobody should ever ask for an exception or even that the OP won’t get one if they lay out their argument now – they have months to go and it’s possible the management will reconsider! But it’s not unreasonable for the store to be inflexible on this specific policy.

          1. Staphylococcus anonymous*

            If you don’t have enough staff to accommodate an absence at a peak time, you have bad business sense. What is that common saying? “YOUR lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Allison and the commenters here spit that out every so often, and yet in a scenario where it is perfectly apt, they err on the side of “the business is always right!”

            What a terrible, terrible attitude about life and the priorities therein.

            OP5/LW5 – if you read this far – what will you regret more? Missing your in-laws 50th anniversary, or losing a job where your humanity is so subjugated that you’re told it is reasonable to BE required to work and make money for your employer in place of commemorating a once-in-a-lifetime event? When you’re looking back on your life and your choices in the moment of your death, do you honestly think you will think, “gosh, I really wish I’d skipped out on my family and kept that part time job”?

    5. Staphylococcus anonymous*

      Because it’s a shit policy and there are things in life more important than a petty part-time job.

      I’m sad for all the people on this blog whose number 1 priority is work. How empty and devoid of fulfillment your lives must be.

  43. Moonbeam Malone*

    #2: I’ve been in your shoes! It felt really terrible and difficult to put my foot down when I hadn’t spelled out those limits in the contract. One thing that helped me was every time I thought, “I didn’t give them a limit on revisions!” I would follow that with, “Well, I also didn’t promise them they were entitled to ANY revisions. They’ve also made an assumption.” This wasn’t something for me to say to the client, just something for me, to help me keep perspective. For most creative jobs anything beyond 3 rounds of revisions can pretty reasonably be assumed to be extra work. Take Alison’s advise and tell them after this one you’re beyond the scope of the agreement and will have to charge $X per hour for additional work. And if you can’t fit the extra work into your schedule be up-front about that as well! The client will need to know that.

    I recently found a really great online lecture on creative freelance contracts which I’ll post a link to in a reply when I’m at my home computer. Maybe it can help with your next gig.

  44. Coffee Drinker*

    OP #2 – I agree with AMA. I have been the client many times and our contracts usually do state either a set # of revisions (therefore we look over each request carefully to try and get as much out of them as we can foresee needing) or a set # of days to make as many revision requests as we want (which we may not look as closely at what we are requesting, but will look more frequently at what is being sent to us). Depending on the type of work being done usually determines which option the contract is set up for.

    I did see a comment above about not offering extra revisions, but we have seen were extra are offered at a fee. I don’t recall us taking anyone up on this offer, mostly because the mark-up on those revisions is so high and our changes requested at that point are not important enough to justify the cost. I do think offering it shows you are willing to accommodate client needs, but within reason.

  45. Plant_Mama*

    LW 5: I’ve worked retail 5+ years and I’ve always been able to take some time off around the holidays. Go to your managers now and explain to them to situation. Show them the plane tickets and hope that they’re understanding! I hope it all works out and you can go!

    1. Independent George*

      I think it’s really at the manager’s discretion. I agree with you, it’s worth trying for an exception. Some managers will do what they can to keep a good employee. Others are very black & white about the rules. I’ve worked for both kinds of managers in a retail environment.

      I sympathize with OP, however. It’s a pretty well-known fact that anyone employed in retail will have an impossible time getting PTO approved during holidays. And if the in-laws are going to make a fuss over it, they’ve really put the OP in an impossible position. When I worked in retail, I had to schedule my holiday time off in the summer. My family and in-laws never had their plans figured out that early, so I just had to pick the holiday I wanted off and hope for the best.

  46. Evan G Grantham-Brown*

    LW1, CONSULT A LAWYER RIGHT NOW. Your boss may be going to jail, and he’s tried to pin the blame on you for his shenanigans before. It might not come to that–but you can’t know that for sure. You need to know what kind of risks you’re facing and what your options are.

    While you’re setting that up, document the everliving hell out of everything, and make sure the documentation is someplace your boss can’t touch it.

  47. Snickerdoodle*

    Re: OP #1

    I absolutely think the boss and the intern are sleeping together, given the amount of money the intern makes, the lack of work the intern does, and the boss’s reaction based on two (!) different concerns raised about said intern. Document, document, document EVERYTHING and definitely report it to the parent agency NOW before that audit hits in December. The parent agency definitely wants to know about it now.

    And job hunt because you don’t need to work for anybody that gross anyway.

  48. MissDisplaced*

    OP#1: Boy, this intern issue raises so many red flags. But it needs to be reported to your higher board if you have one, and if not, I would begin looking for other jobs. Your boss’s reaction was eyebrow raising. My thought is she is a) the kid of someone higher up and he has to keep her, or b) he’s having an affair with her and wants to keep her around. Either are gross.

    OP#2 Congratulations! You’ve found the graphic design Clients From Hell!
    This is a very invasive species unless you stage strong measure to weed them out. I suggest the following remedies:
    Create a contract with clear terms for project stages and payment stages. Must sign before work starts.
    Collect a deposit of at least 10% of the quoted work.
    Create a “revisions phase” where you specify the number of revisions included (1-3 rounds no more) in the price quoted and deadline for those revisions (usually 2-3 weeks max).
    Set a price for revisions beyond the included rounds (typically hourly rate applies).
    Specify what will happen if those conditions are not met: Could be they owe 1/2 payment if they are unwilling to proceed or it goes on hold.

    Seriously, people will run designers in circles if allowed to do so. I’ve been on both sides, and many a time as the manager I have had to put projects on hold because people aren’t sure, or situations change. Sometimes, you (or some executive) just don’t like the style and can’t come to an agreement. If these things happen, I tell the designers the project is on hold and to invoice for any work done thus far. As a designer, you can do the same thing, but it is harder to get payment (hence the contract and staged payments or deposit). But you do need to nip this in the bud.

    Depending on the type of projects you take on, you may want to consider just going with your hourly rate. That way you get paid no matter how long a project drags out.

  49. LadyDirector*

    OP #1- please see if your personnel policy or bylaws have a whistleblower policy that allows you to go directly to the board or board chair. This is very serious and you want to be proactive. If no policy, please go to your board chair discreetly and ask how to proceed.

    1. Anon From Here*

      This is excellent advice. Non-profit best practice is to have a packet of policies that includes a whistleblower protection policy. If there’s a policy in place, it almost certainly sets forth a step-by-step procedure for alerting the board to this problem.

  50. Anon for today*

    OP 1 should do as AAM advises and put something in writing to the boss and keep a copy securely for herself. Any risk of retaliation is worth the security of having documentation that she brought this to his attention, especially since he’s done shady stuff in the past and tried to “blame” her. I saw in the local “crime blotter” that one of my coworkers had been arrested for theft from another job. I showed it to our mutual boss, but didn’t put anything in writing about our conversation, nor did I bring it to a higher level of management. Later this coworker was investigated for theft from our company and I was questioned because I knew about the prior arrest. Fortunately, I was far enough removed that I didn’t get in trouble, but it would have helped to have that additional piece of evidence, since there was a lot of he said, she said in the investigation.

  51. JS*

    OP #2

    This is going to sound a bit harsh but the issue isn’t with the clients it is with your approach to this whole situation. This applies to anyone in sales, customer service or art (photography, graphic design, clothing design, etc) where you have to work with clients. You give client’s an inch and they will surely take the mile and then some. If they are approaching you for work or accepting your pitch over others they obviously see value in your work and abilities and want to utilize that. Use that fact to your advantage!

    The fault I see with most people who get walked on by their clients is they are more concerned with delivering to this abstract notion of the clients goal rather than positioning the client see what they have delivered is the best solution for their goals. Clients aren’t artists and rarely themselves know what they want, or they “know” but just don’t know what that tangibly looks like. You need to sell them on the fact that what you delivered is best. That isn’t to say it’s all subjective but you should be able to confidently back up your work based on facts, trends, or other concrete evidence that is relevant to them and their business. This wont be easy and may require more research up front on their past campaigns, goals, etc in order to talk about this confidently but you will be better for it in the long run with all the hours you save (and personal sanity) not having to do so many revisions.

    Of course some clients will be difficult regardless and you will do revisions but they wont be the kind of “start from square one” revisions if you walk into the pitch or first meetings selling them on your idea of their vision. I guarantee you as someone who used to work with creative agencies and works in media sales now we have tamed some pretty difficult and demanding clients using this method.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      “You need to sell them on the fact that what you delivered is best. ”

      Yes! This is something advertising agencies do very, very well. Not so much with independent designers.
      As an independent designer, you’re probably also dealing with companies who can’t afford a larger agency, and thus are trying to get all they can for their money. I often found it easier to simply charge a reasonable hourly rate. Interestingly, some of them still made changes until the cows come home! But at least they saw the billing total reflected their whims.

    2. chickaletta*

      Exactly this. I was a designer for ten years (in house and freelance), and asking clients something like “what do you think?” is an invitation to hell on earth. Present your work from the start as the best solution to their design problem. Of course be open to concerns and suggestions they raise, but don’t go fishing for open-ended opinions. It’s also helpful to remember that opinions come secondary when it comes to graphic design (as opposed to fine art where an opinion counts more, as in, “I really like the blue sky in that painting”) Graphic design exists is to solve a visual problem of communicating a message, and the first concern should always be whether the work communicated the intended message, not whether it uses the client’s favorite colors or whatever. Shut that kind of shit down from the start by not even asking if they like what you did. If anything, ask them if it communicates the message they want to send.

  52. Been there*

    #3 – I just went through this at LastJob. I gave extra notice to avoid leaving my boss and co-managers in a bind. Turns out, they probably didn’t need it. As soon as my boss notified the other managers, they immediately went into action putting a next steps plan in place, without my involvement or knowledge. I admit, it stung a bit. But they are using that time to move things forward without you. It’s best they start now so you can still help out as needed. I’ve also experienced the other side where notice has been given, time is running out, and Boss doesn’t seem to be ready for the inevitable.

    However, when I resigned from LastJob, in addition to being excluded from planning, my peers were not shy in showing their displeasure about my resignation. THAT stung. I felt very unwelcome in my last few weeks. I also feel it negatively affected my reputation among my direct reports and others in the company. There was a whole air of “leaving on bad terms,” that I felt I couldn’t control.

  53. knitcrazybooknut*

    #1 – IANAL, but I do know that payroll managers have been held responsible in court for shady dealings they were ordered to implement by their bosses. I work in payroll, so I have a vested interest in making sure everything is legit. Good luck.

  54. KnitpickerWojo*

    #5 here. I just want to thank everyone for their comments and give you an update. I personally emailed the owner of the business and stated my case in a professional, non-confronting way. I followed Allison’s advice about what to say and how to say it. Since coverage won’t be an issue while I’m gone, I also suggested that I would be willing to work extra shifts before/after my time away, or if the owner had another solution in mind, I’d be open to it. Several hours into my shift, the owner called me and said my time off wouldn’t be a problem she just hadn’t had all the information before. Anyway, thanks all!

    1. Red 5*

      I’m so glad to hear that! I worked holiday retail for years and years, and the best jobs were the ones with bosses who were willing to be flexible, especially with long term employees. Have a great trip!

  55. Mateo*

    #3 Assuming you are an exempt employee, just smile at everybody, take a 1.5 hour lunch, maybe go home a little early.

  56. Except in CA*

    Man, I really hope we get an update on LW1. That’s not going to end well for anyone involved.

  57. Michael*

    #4…in California the emploer is prohibited from going after wages that have been paid – prepaid vacation, unaccrued but used sick time, expense advance, benefits, even FSA expenses. Nothing stops them from asking for it back but they’re not allowed to, a court won’t side with the employer and you wouldn’t need to comply. Contact your state’s labor relations board to ask the rules governing this situation.

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