I called my boss a nasty name, coworker isn’t doing our joint project, and more

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

1. I called my boss a nasty name

I just recently started a new job. I’m 55 and having difficulty in learning new tasks, even in areas where I have experience. My new boss has been very frustrated with my performance, and I’m trying hard to improve. She’s extremely overweight. I don’t even know what thought led me there, but I think I may have made a hateful remark about her weight under my breath. If I did say it, it was under my breath and I think I may have said “fat ass” and nothing more. Again, I don’t even know if I said it. I’ve only been there a few months and have been having trouble settling in. I suffer from chronic depression and anxiety. I’m going to ask her about it when I’m back at work, but I don’t really know how to handle it. Any constructive advice would be greatly appreciated. She’s been frustrated with my work and has been rather critical, so it’s a tense situation

That is … not okay. I know you’re not sure if you said it out loud or not, but even the possibility that you would make a cruel remark about someone’s appearance is really problematic. That’s never okay to say to anyone (let alone to your boss). People’s appearances at work (or anywhere, really) aren’t up for your critique, and making a nasty barb about someone’s weight or appearance because you’re frustrated with them is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.

If you did say it and she heard it, it will be difficult — maybe impossible — to salvage this, although you should still give her a sincere apology. The fact that you don’t know either of those things complicates this, but you could apologize for letting your frustration show.

More importantly, though, this is a sign that you’re got to rethink whether this job is right for you. You’re struggling with the work, your boss is being very critical (which may be a natural result of how things are going), things are tense, and now you’re at a point where you’re conducting yourself in a way that I assume is out of character and that you don’t feel okay about. Maybe this isn’t the right job for you. But if you decide that you do want to stay and try to make it work, there’s no way to do it without resolving to change your mindset about the job and about your boss and getting yourself into a mental space where nasty personal comments would never even be on the table as an option. If you can’t do that — if you still find yourself at risk of muttering awful comments to/about people — you owe it to them and to yourself to move on.

2. My coworker isn’t doing our joint assignment

Long story short, my manager had me and a coworker train some other coworkers on a process that they hadn’t learned yet. Neither of us like to do training, but our department’s trainers are busy (as are the rest of us, but that’s life).

Coworker “K.” and I had a short meeting (which I instigated) about the training session, and she stressed several times how much she hates training / is too busy / the trainers should be doing it, but we finally got it done. I felt stressed by doing the training and her attitude, and wound up doing much of the training myself (she sat in the back, made a few suggestions/clarifications, and frequently rolled her eyes). Now she says she doesn’t think we need to check their work as they proceed with doing this process. (“It’s not that much different than what they already do, besides, I hate checking.”) The trainees all told me privately that they do want their work checked.

I guess I’ll just do the checking, since she doesn’t want to. I don’t have any more time in my schedule to do it than she does, but I’m at least willing to do it. If she is forced to do it, she’ll probably do a half-hearted job of it. The question is: should I tell my manager, and if so, is there a way to let my manager know that this is what’s happening without getting K. in trouble or sounding like I’m telling on her?

“I wanted to let you know that K. felt strongly that we don’t need to check the trainees’ work, but they’ve all told me privately that they’d like it checked. K. is pretty adamant that she doesn’t want to do it, but I think we should — so I’m going to go ahead and do the checking, and just wanted to let you know.”

You can also add this, if you want to get into K’s issues with the training itself: “I feel like I should let you know that the training itself had some bumps. K. seemed to feel pretty strongly that she didn’t want to do it and so I ended up doing most of it myself. She sat in the back and didn’t seem thrilled to be there — she rolled her eyes a lot, which wasn’t great for the trainees. I wanted to pass that on to you because if we get assigned training again, I think it would help if you talked to her about the role you want her to play.”

Your tone for this should be bland and matter-of-fact — not outraged or scandalized. You’re just passing on work-related information, and your manager can decide from there what to do with it. But this isn’t tattling or trying to get K. in trouble; it’s letting your manager know how a work project is going.

3. Boss wants to shred corporate credit cards over a missing receipt for $4.66

Recently, my wife’s boss gave her the department’s corporate credit card to make some minor purchases for an event while she herself was on vacation. My wife made a very small (but legitimate) purchase of some balloons for this event and then mislaid the receipt. The purchase was for $4.66. Her boss, who has described herself as having “control issues,” has told my wife that because of her, the corporate cards will probably have to be shredded. My wife is in tears. I find it an absurd and inappropriate statement for her boss to make in this context. Am I missing something? There is no history of anything remotely approaching malfeasance, nor of any such accusations. Can you shed any light?

There’s a good chance it’s hyperbole. It would be ridiculous to get rid of corporate cards because of one missing receipt for $4.66, and it sounds like the sort of thing someone trying to make a point would say without realizing how silly it sounded.

But if it’s not hyperbole and the boss decides to shred the credit cards because of this, that’s about her clearly severe control issues and not about anything your wife did. And in that case, if it wasn’t the balloon receipt, it would have happened from something else anyway. Talk to your wife about not letting someone else’s loony behavior shake her this much. (And about what else might be going on that she’s at the point of tears over this, because I bet there’s more.)

4. We give job candidates assignments that take 10-20 hours

I read with some dismay your advice to the freelancer applying for a permanent position that she shouldn’t have to do a 30-hour assignment as part of the application process. We are a law firm and have recently moved to giving legal research and writing assignments to our attorney candidates. I would not be surprised if these projects take 10-20 hours. We don’t use the work, because we give them questions to which we already know the answers. And we’ve found this to be an incredibly effective evaluation method. We’ve had people whose writing samples (the equivalent of a portfolio) were fine, but who did an inadequate job on the assignment. And we’ve had people whose work on the project was better than expected and tipped them over the edge to getting an offer. A two-hour skills test would not give us particularly useful information, because a major part of what we want to know is whether someone with a difficult question and limited time can put together a well-researched, well-organized, substantial piece of legal writing and make it convincing.

We do not make every candidate do this, but if we are still seriously considering them after the interview, we use it as a major part of deciding whether to hire them or not. Is this different because we don’t use the work and the expectations of workload in law are so different, or is this still unreasonable to ask of candidates?

Yeah, unfortunately it’s highly unreasonable and overly onerous. The thing is, the litmus test can’t just be “is this incredibly useful to us in assessing candidates?” because in that case, we’d all just have candidates do a week of work for free because that would be incredibly useful in assessing people too. You’ve got to balance it against what’s reasonable to expect people to do.

In your case, I’d look at whether there’s a smaller piece of the project that you could give people to do, or whether you could look at past work they’ve done. If neither of those work, then I’d urge you to consider paying people for this work — not because you’re going to use it (since you aren’t), but because you’re asking for them to invest a significant amount of time in it.

But I would also look at who you might be screening out with this requirement. For example, if you’ve got a candidate who’s employed 50 hours a week and is a single parent to young children, is she really going to find 10-20 hours to do this? Are you comfortable screening out people who just can’t make this work with the logistics of their lives?

5. Can my manager prevent me from working in inclement weather?

My employer sent an email stating that the business was closed today due to inclement weather after I was already with a client at our office. I told my employer that I was fine to continue working and I had clients who said they were comfortable coming in. She said that if something were to happen to me and I got into an accident, her insurance wouldn’t cover it and she said I was not allowed to work.

Is she allowed to tell me I can’t work? I understand being liable, but can’t she have me sign something stating that I am aware of the consequences and she will not be held responsible? I want to work because I am now missing eight hours of work that I can not make up and do not have PTO.

She is indeed allowed to tell you that you’re not allowed to work. She does have to pay you for the time you already spent working that day, though.

You might try pointing out to her that it’s a financial hardship to be told not to work when you’re there and able to work, and ask if she’d consider not docking your normal pay for those days. (It’s also worth noting that if you’re exempt, she can’t dock it regardless.)

{ 590 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Yikes, OP#1, this does not sound like a good situation. I’m a little worried that you’re losing your personal “true north” in all the complicating factors you noted (struggling in terms of performance, boss is frustrated, workplace is tense, which can exacerbate your underlying anxiety and depression).

    First, I would approach this with the assumption that you did say what came into your mind. Next, follow Alison’s advice about apologizing sincerely for letting your frustration show—that helps cover your apology in case your boss did not hear what you said (and I’m hoping she didn’t).

    It sounds like you know that what you said was not ok, but there’s a little bit of hedging in your letter that makes it sound like you’re rationalizing what happened. To me, it’s reading as, “I know what I did/said was wrong and mean, but my lapse in behavior was justified because of [complicating factors].” It may be that you don’t feel that way at all, but insofar as you can take an emotional step back to gauge the gravity of what happened, I think it could help ensure that your apology sounds sincere and not begrudging.

    Finally, I absolutely do not mean to interfere with your therapeutic care or treatment plan, but here’s what helps me (as a person with depression). When I’m super stressed out and entering the depressive-panic-performance spiral of shameful doom, it really helps to go see my therapist or increase the frequency of my sessions with her. Meditation and CBT help me with the stress/anxiety part of it.

    1. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

      This. I think the only thing the OP is unsure about is if their boss heard them. They know full well what they said and that they said it out loud. Own up to being nasty.

      1. Mommy MD*

        Yes. And somehow the “fat a**” has surpassed you in the work place despite the extra pounds. There’s something about everyone over which people can make nasty sarcastic remarks. You have to take responsibility for your words and behavior. Personally I don’t see remorse, just the worry of being caught.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I don’t know if I agree that LW knows what they said was wrong. If your first instinct is to insult someone for being fat when you’re frustrated, I think that speaks to much deeper issues.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        A lot of people’s first instinct when they feel threatened is to lash out with anything they feel will hurt. Race works; gender works; fatness works–anything that might mark the other person as inherently Less Than. Then they are very surprised if you, say, suggest that the racist comment indicates they are racist. “I’m not Xist; I just needed to attack a member of group X! Some X’es are my friends!”

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          And that is not okay. If that is someone’s first instinct, they have a lot of work to do.

          1. Czhorat*

            Yes. Someone on Twitter tried to give the “stubbed my toe” exception to the idea that one should never say the n-word word.


            If in the heat of the moment your impulse is to use racist language than that is part of who you are. You need to fix that in yourself

              1. Czhorat*

                That was literally given as an example of when it’s OK to use it.

                My mind boggles as well.

                On topic, what if OP1 had used an ethnic or religious slur rather than a weight-related one?

              1. Creag an Tuire*

                What, nobody else matches racial slurs to specific bodily injuries? Stubbed toes are blamed on black people, banging your head on the bottom of the cabinet is the fault of the International Jewish Conspiracy, and in the rare occasion that you accidentally hammer your thumb during carpentry, you must hurl invective at the nearest Welshman. I thought everyone knew this.

                1. AKchic*

                  Personally, I always assumed that carpentry injuries were to be blamed on the Romans. Just me?
                  Once every three years, we hurl out cheese-related insults and humor. Every summer it’s Shakespearean insults. However, ethnic slurs and ableist epithets have not crossed my mind.

          2. Allison*

            Right. I’m roughly 10 pounds overweight, which isn’t a lot, but one of my biggest fears these days is that someone is gonna get mad at me and, amidst a lot of yelling about why they’re actually angry, will throw in some nasty variation of “AND YOU’RE FAT, TOO!” I don’t know why this scares me so much, but it stinks that people will use your extra pounds as a legitimate reason to be angry with you.

            1. AnotherSarah*

              That’s a fear I have, too–that I’ll be having a heated argument over something legit and the other person will throw that in. It’s just easy and available and I think we revert to our worst instincts in these situations (which doesn’t make it okay!).

              1. Nervous Accountant*

                I have literally had that happen to me (thanks parent!)…somehow in the “real world” (aka work) this has not happened. I’d like to think that I could shut it down if it did happen, but who knows.

            2. Beagle Mama*

              I was morbidly obese at one point, lost around 90 pounds and have but about 10 (or so) of it back on. Recurring fear for me as well that I will get some variant of “fatty” thrown at me for a misdeed.

            3. I will kill people with this cricket bat*

              I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has used my weight against me, either in an argument (guy yelling at me in road rage) or for some other weird reason (woman who told me I better not hit her car with my car door “just because I was fat” or the guy who saw me walking on the street and said “better keep walking, you fat, c-word.”

              I’m genuinely not even surprised by these things anymore. They still make me shake, though.

              1. Catleesi*

                I feel you. My latest was a bunch of high schoolers making pig faces and noises at me as I walked out of a restaurant with some take out. It’s painful and cruel, and I’m really sorry that you and anyone else has to deal with it.

              2. HLK1219HLK*

                I notice even in the comments here that there still is a lot of really disgusting comments related to weight. People who would never in a million years use a racial slur, or attack someone for a physical disability, somehow think attacking someone because of their weight is appropriate or acceptable. I’m reading the comments from people who are terrified that someone might use the “f” word (fat) in connection with them, like somehow that would put an indelible tattoo on their foreheads, forever branding them as members of the one group that they and society love to attack and demean. People have nightmares that they may be called fat in a fight – really?? Really?!? If someone called you a dumba**, would you suddenly become an idiot? Then why do you think being called fat is this “permanent” stain on your character?

                Look, if you think it’s easy being fat, spending every day being judged for everything you do, then maybe get your head out of the clouds up there on your pedestal and try learning about this idea called “Compassion.” Maybe that person has a medical condition. Maybe they’ve turned to food to manage past abuse or current depression. Maybe they just like to eat. But how DARE you point and isolate them like you’re any better. I’ve seen heroin and crack addicts get more compassion than an overweight person. And trust me, I know from experience which one has a much easier road to getting clean (hint, it’s not the group that is expected to get “clean” while also having to keep taking their “drug” (food) of choice because there’s no going cold turkey option for them).

                I spent my life being told I was a failure even though I was head and shoulders above my peers at work. I have tried every diet, had surgery, spent months exercising hours a day, and seen medical professionals and the only thing that moved down was my self esteem. You have no idea how isolating it is – people looking at you with disgust, openly saying they would rather have a mentally disabled child than a fat one. And people can’t figure out why overweight people don’t just eat sensibly and exercise regularly? Wow let me think why that would be the case.

                But hey, I finally found the perfect diet plan, the one that peeled over 180 pounds off my frame. It’s called Stage IV cancer. Now I get complimented about how “great” I look, and have people rushing forward to assure me that they’re so proud to welcome the former fatty out of the discrimination pen and into the “normal” people side. Guess what? Screw you, because I would rather stay here than go join a group of sanctimonious fools any day. Do you think I’m happy to see the stranger in the mirror, the one with the haunted eyes wondering how long I have until the cancer comes back instead of the one who had overcome everything and learned to finally accept herself, knowing that she had value even if the a-holes of the world felt otherwise?

                So guess what – When you sigh with relief when you sit next to me instead of the “fatty” two rows back, jokes on you, because now I’m goung to judge YOU since you’ve outed yourself as a bigotted, narrow minded moron.

            4. Autumnheart*

              People will use that insult whether you’re actually fat or not. Someone called me fat once when I was 106 lbs at 5’2. “Fat” seems like a go-to insult for tearing a woman down about her supposedly most valuable characteristic (her appearance) and doesn’t actually have to be an accurate assessment about weight.

              1. LCL*

                That has also been my experience-I have only been called fat whenwas slim, and someone was trying to insult me. Now I am, well, kinda fluffy, yet I haven’t heard that in years.

          3. Dust Bunny*

            Amen. Not okay. If it’s that close to the surface, the ideas are there, no matter what you tell yourself.

            I’ve gotten mad enough to yell at people but I have NEVER called anyone fat or a racist/ethnic slur. Ever. Not even close. And I would not claim to be much less inherently biased than most people, but I don’t lie to myself about my weaknesses, either. Equal-opportunity insults only, please.

          4. Jadelyn*

            Well…yes and no. To a certain extent, our initial impulses will always be a reflection of conditioning as much as anything else. What I’d rather ask people to work on would be their self-control and how fast their “that’s not okay” circuit kicks in when they’re under stress. If nothing else, that’s something that’s much more within the realm of conscious control.

            Part of this is probably because I’m someone who suffers from intrusive thoughts (thanks depression, anxiety, and ADHD!) and sometimes those thoughts are really awful, including using deeply inappropriate language, and I hate that my brain obviously conjures that crap up from somewhere even though I would never in a million years actually voice any of it. So I’m not really interested in scolding people for their initial, impulsive, private thoughts – as long as they control what actually comes out.

            1. rogue axolotl*

              I agree that I don’t really want to go down the path of condemning everyone who experiences the occasional bigoted impulse, since I think a lot of that stuff is due to societal conditioning. I do think it can be helpful in some cases (not speaking to you in particular here) to try to “retrain” your impulses by consuming a lot of media featuring and made by groups of people you don’t belong to, so your initial association isn’t with some faceless group of “Those Other People” but with people you like and admire.

            2. Jordan Rae*

              Good point about the conditioning. I read somewhere once that your first thought is what you’ve been told to think and your second thought is what you actually believe. But, in the case of the letter writer, they seem to be trying to excuse or soften the comment by telling us in their letter that their boss is overweight, making excuses about the work load, etc. So their first thought was unkind and their second thought wasn’t “wow that was unkind” it was “I hope Boss didn’t hear that but I’m just so frustrated”

        2. Labradoodle Daddy*

          I understand that up to a point, but going for the weight specifically rather than a general grievance is worth noting.

          1. Dragoning*

            Yeah, this wasn’t “jerk” or “a-hole” or something generic about the way they feel about the person; this was attacking a specific characteristic of their boss.

              1. fposte*

                I’m not sure if I really believe in “character flaws” anyway, but I would think that deliberately choosing the most hurtful thing to say to somebody in the moment could be fairly construed as a character flaw–that’s pretty much what meanness is right there.

                1. Kelly AF*

                  (I think Michaela Westen was indicating that the specific attacked characteristic — being overweight — is not a character flaw.)

        3. Hard Disagree*

          I have to hard disagree with your last two sentences. If someone makes a racist comment while lashing out they know it’s racist (or sexist, etc.) otherwise they wouldn’t be using it in this context. They’re not going to be surprised that someone thinks it was racist. After all, that was the point of saying it in the first place, wasn’t it? And if that’s their gut instinct they probably have some racist/sexits, etc. tendencies.

          In short, LW #1 most likely has a problem with bosses weight that they usually keep to themselves, but didn’t in this moment of frustration.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I think the person lashing out is X-ist, but usually won’t acknowledge it and will launch into elaborate justifications if called on it.

            I’m arguing not that this behavior is okay, but that this behavior is really common and probably doesn’t indicate any deeper seated exciting layers. Someone who uses slurs when they’re mad believes that slurs are an effective way to lash out.

              1. Laini*

                Really? We’re at the point now where we’re just going to excuse slurs as immaturity? I can’t anymore.

            1. AnotherJill*

              It’s more a matter of not having appropriate coping mechanisms for their frustration. Everyone needs to be able to take a deep breath, step back, and calm themselves. Unfortunately, many aren’t taught (or have learned) that skill. The LW would be well served to find a way to develop better coping strategies and how/when to employ them.

              1. Jadelyn*

                This. Whatever your first impulse may be, I’m not as interested in judging that. What people ought to be taught and need to proactively learn, if they weren’t taught it, is self-control and appropriate coping. Upgrading the effectiveness and response time of your “Nope that’s Not Okay” filter is going to be more useful and of more immediate effect than castigating yourself for having the impulse in the first place.

            2. Fat Boss Here*

              Thank you. I’m overweight, but trying to lose the extra poundage.

              I’m sure I’ve been called worse names than fat ass.

              But be honest: Most of us who he reached a certain age and a certain level of wisdom have called our boss a name or two under our breath. I sympathize with OP and beg some of you smugger posters to be more sympathetic.

              1. Anonymeece*

                I think it’s more the choice of name than anything. Calling the boss a jerk or a loudmouth or control freak is a lot different than attacking someone based on their size. Sure, I’ve muttered some imprecations (out of earshot) about my boss, but I’ve never gone after physical features.

                I’m sympathetic to OP feeling overwhelmed, embarrassed that they’re not picking this job up as fast as they would like, and maybe their boss is a jerk, but I’m less sympathetic to how OP expressed that, or the fact that he/she doesn’t seem to realize how big of a problem it was to choose that particular sentiment to vent their frustration.

              2. Emily*

                I sure have called my called various bosses a variety of unkind names, in my head or back at home. But I’ve never once called my boss anything unkind related to race/class/gender/weight. That’s a completely separate situation from “my boss was a real ass today,” and it’s not smug to say.

        4. Dr. Pepper*

          Yup. I’ve seen it many a time. It’s essentially juvenile and deeply immature. It’s the go-to method for kids when they’re trying to find a way to insult someone and really make it sting. Some people never grow out of it, but is that really surprising? There’s plenty of fully grown adults walking around without the maturity you’d hope for considering their years.

      2. Lexi Kate*

        Yes, I would bet my car that OP has a history of muttering hateful things “under her breath if she says it” to anyone that op perceives as causing her problems. OP is not only targeting only obese people, she is going after anyone different than her or different than her perceived vision and its not ok.

        1. Myrin*

          I get where you’re coming from, but I feel like this is starting to veer in the direction Alison warned about below, where comments are “stating speculation as definite fact and read[…] as unkind”.

        2. Teapot librarian*

          Somehow I read this as “your car has a history of muttering hateful things.” I think I need more coffee before I’m in charge of anything this morning!

            1. Beagle Mama*

              Ugh…I went scrolling back up through the comments to find what “Christine” wrote, then it hit me. Well played I Love Thrawn. I am going to get more coffee

          1. Jadelyn*

            Does it count as my car muttering hateful things if I’m muttering hateful things at other drivers, speaking for us both?

      3. Labradoodle Daddy*

        Agreed. LW needs to take an uncomfortable look at themselves and ask why they thought this was OK.

        1. Labradoodle Daddy*

          And I hope this doesn’t sound mean or flippant. Sometimes the most significant moments of personal growth happen this way.

      4. Phoenix Programmer*

        Yeah that’s where I am with this LW too. Honestly they we’re even rude in the letter. There was no need to call the boss extremely overweight. Frankly there was no need to judge her weight at all. LW could have just said what insult they muttered and left it at that. Instead it came across as defending her insult choice even more – you see she is extremly overweight.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I took it as context. Knowing she’s noticeably overweight helps as we don’t have to speculate whether the boss actually is overweight.

          1. Perse's Mom*

            I don’t think it matters, though? Weight is SUCH a sensitive thing for so many women that it’s going to be hurtful to most of them, no matter how much they actually weigh.

              1. Phoenix Programmer*

                Even then – at least use the medical terminology obese. No need to say “extremely” overweight.

                Also if OP had written in saying I called someone slur – I doubt people are going to derail on a question line of – is boss really fat though? Because it frankly does not matter.

                It just comes across as more defending why she was ok to say slur.

                1. sunny-dee*

                  I took it to mean why the boss could take what was said very personally, as opposed to a general insult.

                2. Jadelyn*

                  Actually, I’d rather someone call me “extremely overweight” a million times than call me “obese” even once. It being “medical terminology” makes it a WORSE term to use, not a better one.

                  I mean, “overweight” isn’t great either, in that it buys into the framing of there being a singular, easily defined “acceptable weight” and that being outside that is inherently a bad thing. But at least it doesn’t medicalize the mere fact of existing in a medically-classified Bad Body. My body is not a goddamn disease, and it’s sure as fuck not an “epidemic”, so don’t use those kinds of terms for it, thanks.

                  Personally, just call me fat, the word itself isn’t an insult unless you’re using it as one. But if you’re not comfortable with that, and I know a lot of people aren’t, calling me “overweight” is going to get a resigned shrug because I assume you’re trying to be tactful, but calling me “obese” is wildly dehumanizing and you better be ready for, at a minimum, some extremely harsh words in return.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh, I don’t think OP has accepted that what they said was wrong. I think they think it’s not ok to call your boss a nasty name under your breath.

        There are definitely deeper issues if, when under stress and feeling frustrated, your first goal is to attack someone based on their identity or appearance. But I’m not sure OP is even in a place to acknowledge or accept that that’s a bigger problem they need to address.

    3. Emily*

      Re: rationalization/“complicating factors”
      — I read it that way as well, although I will admit I may be projecting. This is more life advice than strictly work advice, but I can’t recommend enough that you get ruthless with yourself about evaluating the role of your mental health on your behavior. What I mean is, being honest with myself about when i’m just being lazy vs when my depression is making it genuinely impossible to get out of bed, or when I snap a little at someone because I’m just in a shitty mood vs when I snap a little at someone because my anxiety disorder is through the roof. Holding myself accountable in this way has helped me immeasurably (especially at work!) because I stopped giving myself an excuse to behave badly.

    4. Almond oil*

      I think you are being very nice, but the op is hedging and making excuses for being horrible. People who say these things aren’t one time offenders, you don’t all of a sudden change your mindset and decide to call someone a name based on their appearance. Op has been muttering it to herself for a while and with that she most likely does this with every part of her life when things don’t go as planned. Op needs to get a handle on her anger before she is fired or punched. She is most likely not just disparaging obese people in her real life, and this isn’t just happening at work, this is a larger problem.

      1. AKchic*

        All of this.

        I saw a lot of deflection and self-serving excuses in this letter, and the only real apology or remorse was the fact that the boss probably heard what *may* have been said. But, c’mon, we all know it was said. OP is trying to deflect on the fact that it was said in the first place, even though she justifies (possibly *wink* *wink*) saying it and gives reasons for how it isn’t really her fault in the first place. Using stress, mental health diagnoses, or anything else is not acceptable. It is scapegoating. It is not holding yourself accountable. It is using your diagnoses as a crutch and ultimately does you, and anyone else with a diagnosis a disservice.

    5. Labradoodle Daddy*

      All fantastic advice, my one add-on would be to always carry a copy of your favorite book or album (whether it be hard copy or on a phone/tablet). Something that soothes anxiety whenever you read or hear it can help wonders!

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I have notes in purple ink on flowered paper in my lunch box, re coping with my boss and reminders of how to handle the hierarchy and my goals.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Yes! This is a really good suggestion. My desk is littered with self-soothing things – from my handpainted moon and stars mug, to the pretty alcohol ink coaster it sits on, a dreamsphere (amazing shattered-rainbow effect acrylic sphere paperweight thing), a small ceramic dish with beautiful metallic glaze and a couple of pretty stones in it, my pens sitting in a clear shot glass I’ve filled with seed beads in my favorite colors, a foam “hearthstone” from World of Warcraft, a couple pieces of my own art hanging on the walls…and a couple interactive things, a rainbow-colored fidget spinner and a couple tins of “thinking putty” in my favorite colors. Does it look a little cluttered? Yeah. But the ability to just let my eyes wander over my desk and rest on a variety of things that make me happy is what gets me through the day sometimes.

    6. Czhorat*

      Op#1 – there are a few factors at play here. The first is that your boss perceives you as being a poor performer. If, in addition to performance issues, they perceive you as being cruel to them about their weight then you are very quickly moving yourself into “too big a problem to be worth the effort” territory. It’s the kind of comment which can be a final step in pushing the frustrated boss from “we need to figure out how to make things work with this employee” to “I need to find a way to get rid of them”.

      The bigger issue is internal; this reminds me a bit of a discussion on Twitter about whether it’s ok to use a racial epithet in a moment of anger. The best responses said that if that’s your impulse when angry then racism is part of who you are. So too with fat-phobic comments. That you said that under your breath says that it’s part of how you think, that you judge your boss for her weight. That’s something on which you need to work.

      PCB suggested cognitive behavioral therapy and/or meditation. I’ll second those, and say that you need to work on two things: one is your anger in not stopping yourself from saying something cruel, even if under your breath. The second is the underlying choice to judge a woman’s weight.

      Good luck; it seems that this is a low point at which you might be best off moving to another job. Perhaps that can be a catalyst for some genuine self-improvement.

    7. Workerbee*

      OP #1, kudos to you for deciding to ask your boss about what you said in the hopes of salvaging the situation. That couldn’t have been an easy choice, and I agree with Alison about giving a sincere apology about letting your frustration show.

      To my mind, age isn’t a factor (people have difficulty with known and unknown tasks at any age) as much as work environment and clicking with your boss, and personal stuff going on, and such. I know I don’t have the full picture, but could be this job isn’t a good fit, or you’ll have to put more work into making it a good fit.

      Regardless, whatever triggers you have that lead you to flash out with hateful, personal comments are so worth examining before you do more damage to this and future jobs. Good luck to you!

    8. Hills to Die on*

      “ Next, follow Alison’s advice about apologizing sincerely for letting your frustration show—that helps cover your apology in case your boss did not hear what you said (and I’m hoping she didn’t).”

      God, yes. Do not lead in with “Hey, did you hear me call you that name the other day?” There’s more than enough good advice here about self-reflection so I won’t reiterate that, but you may also want to consider updating your resume, looking for internal transfers, etc.

    9. Lucille2*

      I didn’t read it as OP making excuses, my impression was that OP says this is normally out of character, but may be hitting a breaking point in maintaining their composure. This is normal human behavior. It is never ok to call someone what the OP called their boss, but OP coming forward and admitting to wrong doing and asking for guidance is a good thing.

      1. Kelly AF*

        I was a bit uncomfortable with all the “well, I’m not sure I said it, I might have said it.” It read to me like failure to take full responsibility for one’s actions.

        1. Sal*

          Agree. Compare it to the full accounting provided by the OP who bit her coworker. No hedging! Did it! Horrified at self!

          It was generous of AAM to give OP the out that OP is behaving in ways OP finds gross and out of character. That seemed a bit…extratextual. (And I am usually not hard on the OP, for the record.)

        2. rogue axolotl*

          On the other hand, it might be a sign that the LW realizes how bad it was and doesn’t really want to admit it to themselves (or can’t believe it actually happened). Either way, I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate too much about what led the LW to do this. What they need to do now is recognize how unacceptable it was, address it as best they can, and take steps to keep it from happening again (both by getting out of what seems like a bad situation and by giving some serious thought to their feelings about weight and body image).

    10. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      If the boss heard, HR will meet OP at the door the next morning. Depending on how new she is and how poorly her performance has been this could be a fireable offense.

      If the boss didn’t hear – this is a sign to focus on coping with frustration. You can’t let this happen again. Listen to PCBH.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, talk to your manager sooner than later. Alison’s scripts are perfect, and it’s important for your manager to know that the load on your plate is much greater than it is for K (otherwise your manager might assume you’re getting adequate support or that the additional work is being equally divided).

    It may also be worth bringing this up directly with K. Have you been direct with her? Something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been complaining about additional trainee oversight, and in the trainings, you’ve seemed dismissive and irritated. I get that neither of us want to do this, but right now, a lot of that load is falling on me. What’s going on?” There’s a very small chance that she’ll stop indulging her adult temper tantrum if you make it clear how much it’s affecting your load.

    But definitely talk to your manager.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      I’m guessing K’s class project partners back in school just LOVED her. *eyeroll* If I was your manager, I’d want to know if an employee had a hissy fit and huffed their way through an assignment instead of actually doing the work. Alison’s scripts are good. You want to be calm and matter of fact. You’re not whining or complaining or “telling” on K, you’re giving your boss a project status update. If I were in your position, I’d probably have bitched K out already for letting me do all the work while she sat there rolling her eyes and being useless.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I agree. Please get any ideas of “tattling” out of your head. You are not spitefully trying to get K in trouble; you are trying to address a legitimate work issue.

    2. Legal Beagle*

      Agreed. If K were just being a grouch – annoying, but bearable. But K is actually not doing the work she’s been asked to do, and is putting a lot more work on LW’s plate as a result. Saying “I’m not going to check the trainees’ work because I just don’t feel like it” is not acceptable on any level, and needs to be brought to K’s manager. LW, it’s not helping or the company to cover for K’s laziness by taking on her share of the work yourself.

      1. Recent Anon Lurker*

        I also agree. OP you aren’t tattling, you are giving your boss information they need in order to make sure the training is getting done (and done correctly). If nothing else, those trainees deserve being trained fully and K isn’t going to do that training.

    3. Observer*

      I totally agree with your first paragraph. This is important information for the boss to have.

      I don’t think that there is any point in the OP talking to K again. It’s not that K is saying “I don’t want to do it, so you do it.” It’s “I don’t want to do it, so it doesn’t need to get done, and I don’t care who it affects.” I might cut her some slack on the last part of that except that she knows that the students want the work checked. And she sat in the class a ROLLED HER EYES.

    4. Letter#2*

      Thank you for your kind reply! Yes, I did say pretty much what Alison said, but it was before she answered my letter- – I was talking to the boss about something else and she asked how training went. I didn’t say anything about the eye rolling or attitude, just that I was doing the checking because K said she didn’t think it was necessary.
      She said “hmmm” and thanked me for my hard work and said “I can always count on you.”
      I appreciate the compliment but I wish I wasn’t “that one” that people can always count on at work to take on (yet another) project. We are all stressed and understaffed right now.
      In fact, I would have commented sooner to this post but I’ve been sick for a few days now.
      Anyway, it has occurred to me as i’ve checked their work that it’s better that I do it than K, if she was going to do a half hearted job that wouldn’t have helped our trainees.

  3. Ummmm...hi*

    I would be slightly sympathetic if you hadn’t criticized her weight. I think what Alison said was great. You need to move on regardless if she heard you or not. I have worked horrible jobs that I had no choice but to leave. I didn’t like the person that it brought out in me. I was stressed, my boss was horrible, and family said that I wasn’t a fun person to be around because I was using them to destress by complaining about everything ALL THE TIME. Learn from this and move on.

    1. HS Teacher*

      It read to me like OP was making a lot of excuses for making a nasty comment about her boss’s appearance. There’s no justification for it, and I’m really tired of people thinking fat-shaming is a reasonable thing to do.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        The kind of people who do that just want to be cruel. If the person wasn’t fat, they’d find something else to pick on.

        1. schnauzerfan*

          Or they’d call her fat anyway cause that’s just about the worst thing you can say about someone (in some people’s view)

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I’m underweight, so if someone called me fat it would make people think they’re delusional. :D

            1. uranus wars*

              Me too but I have definitely been called a fatass before. It’s like someone said earlier, sometimes it’s because your overweight but sometimes its because people want to be cruel and they think that matters to you. Not sure that is the case here but definitely something that happens.

      2. Allison*

        Seriously, it’s like the second your BMI goes into the “overweight” range your feelings don’t matter anymore.

  4. Not Melvin Belli*

    I’m an attorney. (1) No, this is not generally part of the hiring process at law firms. (2) I think it’s a brilliant idea, albeit perhaps a bit long; it would be better to trim it down to fie hours or so of research, and maybe give the candidates a pack of relevant cases/statutes to read, rather than having them located sources on their own. Note that law reviews at law schools usually do something very similar as part of their write-on competition.

    Far too many law firm interviews are informal chit-chats that tell you next to nothing. I so much prefer the strategy consulting firm tactic of having candidates work through a case interview. I’ve found that very difficult to replicate, however, because the consulting firms are testing your ability to “think on the fly,” whereas law firm work product is much more research intensive.

    As for “screening out people who just can’t make this work,” well, it’s a law firm. You probably want to screen those people out given the nature of legal practice. Perhaps the law firm world ought to change, but that’s a bigger discussion (and in any event would also require more flexibility from courts and clients on deadlines).

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s really common in medium to large nonprofits and PD offices, although they usually let the candidates know they’ll be expected to complete a practice exercise when the candidate is on-site for their interview (and the exercise is not 10–20 hours long).

      Because it’s relatively common for an identifiable subset of legal employers, there should be good examples floating out there for OP to use as a model. I would not use something like a write-on packet, just because those are often designed with the idea that folks will have 5–10 days to devote their entire attention to the write-on, and there are often weird rules about outside research.

      OP may also want to look at the sample questions from the California Bar’s “practice” section. They’re designed to be completed in 3 hours with no outside research, and they can help bring out skills that you can’t discern from a writing sample or interview. Another option is to design an assignment and ask the candidate to walk you through their research plan/approach, which is less time consuming for the candidate but also helps illustrate if the candidate has good legal research skills. Or you can do things like set up a moot intake interview / deposition / motion hearing / preliminary negotiation, etc.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        Yes, this is a much better idea than the OP’s process. I provided my private practice experience below, but I like what PCBH offers here.

      2. AnonAtty*

        Yeah, I did write on in law school and for most of us, it was just what we did during spring break of our 1L year. I would never have the time or willingness to do something like that now.

        I had one interview as a 3L that gave me a short case packet, then had me write up a memo in an hour while in their office. That didn’t feel unreasonable.

        1. Yorick*

          That seems reasonable. I’m not a lawyer, but I had a one-hour assignment for my current job and it was perfectly fine.

        2. Gerald*

          I did something similar (although tech not legal) where I was provided with a topic and asked to write a two-pager about it. It relied a bit on my own experience, a bit on my ability to do online research, and it also tested my writing ability. I was allowed to write it wherever I wanted (I have also done writing samples at the interview location), but had exactly an hour in which to complete the work.

        3. Ophelia*

          I don’t work in law, but we also do a similar writing assignment when hiring, but like yours, it’s designed to be done in about an hour, and we give candidates all the material they’d need to complete it.

      3. Recent Anon Lurker*

        Yeah, my husband isn’t in law, but was in a highly specialized field that required very specific hands on skills. The interview process took a full day, and included a two hour practical assessment. The company provided all the things that you needed to complete the assessment, and also made sure you knew in advance (so you could bring working clothes and safety shoes). It really was vital to do the assessment, the one time they skipped it because the candidate complained (hubby was on the committee who interviewed her*, he was worried about skipping the skill test because her answers to questions seemed shaky) management had to fire the person six months later for lack of ability to actually do the technical parts of the job.

        *The issue was legitimately skill in this technical area, not gender. After being fired she was replaced by another woman who did have the skills necessary, but it was a very male dominated field. Hubby transferred sideways to a much more stable part of the industry seven months after this all went down.

      4. legalchef*

        I might be too late for people to see this (and therefore it isn’t useful), but I have to hard disagree that it is “really common” in large nonprofits/PDs. I’ve been practicing in NYC for 10+ years, have only worked in nonprofits, and have interviewed at and/or worked for the largest legal nonprofits in the city (and of course know a lot of people at different orgs), and I have never heard of people being given any sort of test at any level of hiring.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Practice exercises are mostly for new attorneys (i.e., 3Ls and folks within 0-2 years of law school). In that context, Queens Law Associates and Bronx Defenders both require on-site practice exercises as part of their interviews. ACLU of NYC has used practice exercises, although this varies greatly by time and supervisor. The Door and NYLPI have both used practice exercises in their process for selecting fellowship candidates. Several in-house public interest fellowships in NYC include a practice exercise as part of their final interviews. It’s not giving people a test—it’s giving a practice exercise. And that doesn’t include the hundreds of legal employers that are not in NYC.

          I’m not saying it’s the majority practice for all nonprofits/PDs. I’m saying it’s a common enough practice that if OP wants to include a similar exercise, they have resources to draw upon that allow for much more useful practice exercises than what OP’s firm is doing.

      5. Yam*

        An issue with the screening is not just people who *can’t* spend the time. Many candidates, including the strongest, will just drop out of the process at the point you ask for something unreasonable. During hiring they are also trying to work out if this will be a good place to work and you have just given them the answer.

        Even if they know the job will involve long hours, they expect to be paid. If you ask them for a lot of time for free many people will take that as a red flag.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That’s why you do the exercise during the interview. It’s not reasonable to ask people to spend 10 hours, or even 5 hours, outside of work to complete this kind of exercise. But a 1 hour exercise with a closed universe during a final interview (where the final interview is no more than 3 hours long) doesn’t tend to throw up red flags or create inclusion concerns.

          I’ve found that a decently designed exercise, used when hiring very junior or new attorneys, can be drafted in a reasonable way that reveals specific skills that an interview cannot, and is not unduly burdensome on the candidate.

          1. designbot*

            That also controls for the fact that different candidates left to their own devices would spend really different amounts of time on it. I bet it would change the LW’s perspective if they found out that the person who was less impressive than they expected only spent 2 hours on it, and the person who got tipped over the edge spent 30 hours on it. Now would it still be useful to know that the person who spent 30 was that much more invested than the person who spent 2? Sure. But their work qualities can’t and shouldn’t really be compared.

      6. CanuckCat*

        I work for a charity that does a lot of work in disaster relief, and an exercise like this was part of my interview process. I didn’t mind though because they wanted to test my capabilities in an emergency situation, so I was only given a three hour window to complete it in (again, far less than 10-20 hours), and it was a separate part from the rest of the process, where I picked a time from several slots that was convenient for me to do it in.

    2. Artemesia*

      Sheesh after you hire them they won’t be working 50 hours a week somewhere else. But yeah, let’s be careful to screen out everyone except white bros with wives who raise their kids and do all the housework. Because ‘law’.

      1. beth*

        They’ll also know in advance to schedule childcare and the like–which is much easier to get with advance notice than when you unexpectedly need 20 extra hours of coverage out of nowhere.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah, that’s not how screening out should work. And the idea that “it’s a law firm” makes it ok is why the legal profession continues to have high numbers of lawyers with substance abuse issues, hemorrhages lawyers in the first 5 years post-law school, and has massive pay inequalities for women and POC.

      3. EPLawyer*

        They are already screened out because law firm associates are expected to work more than 50 hours a week — and they don’t care you have kids. It’s just how firms are set up. It’s not a good system but its the nature of the beast. You want to work for a law firm, you put in the hours. There is no work-life balance. Your boss texts you at 2 a.m., you better respond. Johnny has a school play, that’s nice you can hear about it sometime next week, maybe.

          1. AnonAtty*

            Yeah, that is not the experience of everyone at law firms. Not by a long shot (depends on geographic location a bit, I have heard New York law firms are their own different creatures).

            The irony is that I work with a lot of lawyers from different practices, and some of the worst stuff I see is from those big firms. I think everyone is so tired and overworked the work product quality really suffers. Just basic mistakes.

            1. LawLady*

              Those basic mistakes are also about pricing. Occasionally big firms handle projects where the budget doesn’t quite accommodate BigLaw bill rates. So the agreement gets drafted, but not thoroughly proofed. It’s not really that everyone is so tired and overworked, it’s that they are being old that they can’t spend more than x hours on this project, because that’s what the client will pay for.

            2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

              Cosign on seeing terrible work product come out of BigLaw firms. My pet theory is that this stems from no one at those firms ever actually going to court.

            1. Mary*

              If the LW is is in a position to recruit lawyers, they are literally in a position to push back on that expectation. They can choose not to screen out everyone who can’t put in 20-30 hours extra work on top of a normal work week. Saying, “it’s just how it is!” as if it’s as inevitable fact like the sun rising in the morning rather than something the profession could choose to change is what I mean by Stockholm syndrome.

              1. Holly*

                Okay, but there’s nothing indicating that EPlawyer is in that position, and to be honest, one individual partner isn’t even in that position – it’s a systemic problem in BigLaw. Describing the culture matter-of-factly is not endorsing it. I don’t know why you’re putting the entire profession of law choosing or not choosing to change something on EPlawyer’s standalone comment, that’s all I’m saying.

                1. SavannahMiranda*


                  I work in law (not a lawyer but I love what I do) and the closest thing it’s analogous to is healthcare.

                  It would be wonderful if a hospital administrator in choosing a cohort of incoming residents was able to say, “You know what, let’s make this whole healthcare profession thing less demanding, more fair, and more balanced.” And they were able to single-handedly reform the grueling system by eliminating 24 hour shifts, on-call requirements, and other facts of the larger ecosystem of healthcare.

                  It’s not possible for any one partner at a law firm to reform the larger ecosystem of legal practice. And this doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that the legal ecosystem has reformed. Law firms in the last 15 years have diversified their attorney base, brought in more work-life balance, and made strides in pushing back on verbal abuse by partners of associates. These have been industry-wide initiatives. It’s far and away a Kinder, Gentler Legal World out there.

                  Certain standards of legal practice will always be incredibly demanding, incredibly fast-paced, and incredibly meticulous. By the time someone enters the legal world as a junior associate at a sizeable law firm, they know what they’re getting into. Just like a doctor starting their residency. They know what they’re in for, and signed up for it years ago.

        1. Llamas at Law*

          That’s really not true in all cases. I work for a larger mid-sized firm and at no point in my career has any partner ever texted me at 2am. There are a lot of firms out there that as long as you get your crap done and bill what you need to bill, and then scoot out at 3 pm for your kid’s
          Christmas pageant. No doubt that there are firms where it is the hell that you describe, but you can’t paint the practice with the same broad brush anymore.

        2. Nephron*

          This process is not asking for people to prioritize their jobs, this process is asking candidates to prioritize someone that might hire them. There is a big difference between doing 20 hours of work for the person paying you and doing it for someone you are not even sure you want to work for. I do not have children and am not overly fond of them and yeah Johnny’s school play is more important than an interview process from someone that thinks you have 20 hours to spare.

        3. garfield and friends*

          They are already screened out because law firm associates are expected to work more than 50 hours a week — and they don’t care you have kids.

          Even if this were true (and I defer to those with experience about if it is), this would still be ON TOP of that, since the candidates are likely already employed. So it’s a second job just to apply to this job.

        4. Dragoning*

          Perhaps you could start changing “the nature of the beast” by ridding it of things like this that expect far too much of a job candidate.

        5. Michaela Westen*

          Do these firms understand they’re screening out everyone with self-respect who wants a reasonable life by having this culture? And that they *could* change it if they wanted to?
          Of course change wouldn’t happen overnight, but probably in 1-2 years they could make a big difference.
          Meanwhile, the people who are willing to go through that are not going to be the most stable and competent – if they were they would be applying those skills to their lives, and decline to work there!

          1. Anonymoosetracks*

            Unfortunately, Biglaw culture is incredibly unlikely to change until their clients (not their employees) demand it. The reality is that plenty of amazingly talented people are willing to work these hours for the salaries that are being paid. It’s self-selecting. They are screening out the people that don’t want to work in that lifestyle, but there plenty of people who do. I have a lot of problems with Biglaw culture and so does my spouse (who spent seven years in it, with significant negative impact on our family life) but it’s not an unreasonable tradeoff to make to want to work those hours for that compensation.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              It’s like a big dysfunctional fraternity. “I had to deal with this shitty set up, so now all of you have to deal with this shitty set up. Also, billable hours.”

              1. Anonymoosetracks*

                See, I know that’s part of it but I really do think that another big part of it is that corporate clients paying $1000 an hour think that money should entitle them to 24/7 service (which may or may not be a fair assumption). And that just trickles downhill.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  That’s also true. The whole set up is dysfunctional and encourages really gross behavior where you treat people based on your perception of their “worth” (as denoted by their billable rate). The whole thing is a massive dumpster fire full of human excrement.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              And, frankly, the clients are NOT going to demand it because a lot of the nutballs hours come from the immovable deadlines (particularly agencies – agencies are insane compared to courts), clients not giving you what you need in a timely manner, and the fact that it’s a client services industry, and the client expects that you’ll call them back with answers on demand – that high hourly rate buys them expertise and responsiveness. And an increasing number are intolerant of having more than X people (or new people) on the bill, so it has to be the person who’s already worked a 50 hour week, if you want the client to pay for it.

              There is definitely a manufactured-emergency factor of lawyers who don’t appropriately plan their matters or refuse to have hard conversations with clients to set expectations, but the increase in competition within the industry means doing more with less and white-glove service (often on the backs of associates and staff) are how that happens.

              It’s a trade-off – the compensation is significantly higher than jobs that provide better quality of life.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Even before I learned to manage my allergies, I felt there is not enough money in the world that I would do that. I wasn’t trying to be a lawyer, but still… I also saw examples of it in other fields.
                Now I’ve learned to manage my allergies and that involves making all my food myself. I cook three evenings a week and do food prep on weekends. I do all my own errands and housework. I have a regular 40 hour job and I can still barely fit that in, and my social life, which is a priority.
                I feel sorry for people who live like that, no matter how much they’re making.

                1. Anonymoosetracks*

                  So, I totally agree with you that to me the money isn’t worth the pain…but it’s also hard to understand just how much that money can do until you see it. When you’re making in the high six figures everything you list except the social life is easily paid for. You can afford a personal chef who makes you allergy-friendly meals to your exact specifications, a personal assistant who runs your errands, a housekeeper for the housework, all in easy reach. I mean this only to say that, if you are the sort of person who really does value the occupational success/prestige over the social life, the rest of the tradeoffs really may come out in the wash. I don’t see it as pitiable. It’s not the choice I would make but it seems to me to be a rational one for who someone who values different things than I do.

                2. SavannahMiranda*

                  The thing is that a lot of people in law who live like that enjoy the demand. They have the need to push themselves, test themselves, exceed their own and others expectations, and go-go-go. I thought I knew what Type A Personality meant. When I went to work at a Big Law firm, I found out that I had no idea.

                  And the thing is, a lot of these people are perfectly happy. No, not for decades, but for five, seven, or eight years of brutal push. Like athletes at the top of their game, they know they have a limited window of time in which to set up the trajectory of their careers for the rest of their lives, and they enjoy that challenge. Maybe not every day, and during particularly harsh crunch periods, they bemoan their choices in life. But by and large, in the big picture, they chose this profession because they are cut out for it. Because they want that kind of challenge. It fits who they are as people.

                  Just offering another perspective on the fact it’s not just money that people do this for. When it’s all said and done, the money the first few years barely compensates. It’s who they are as people. They’re not athletes, they’re not fighter pilots, they’re not surgeons, but they have that same kind of drive. A lot of them are at the top of their game and like being there. They signed up for it.

                3. NotAnotherManager!*

                  I don’t know why you feel sorry for people who make different life choices than you do. Many people I work with get a great deal of personal satisfaction out of their accomplishments at work, and a number have gone into nationally prominent positions. For them, that’s more important than doing their own housework, errands, and food prep. They also have robust social lives and families, if they want. I personally am an extreme introvert and get my fair share of people at work and also loathe housework, so taking a lower-paying job to fit those things in doesn’t appeal. I also take the metro instead of driving because it’s my me-time to listen to podcasts or read, whereas I have coworkers that wouldn’t be caught dead on public transit (not out of snobbery but to avoid the hassle/delays).

                  To the extent options are open, we all pick what works best for us.

                4. Michaela Westen*

                  It’s good to know some of these lawyers are happy with their lives and choices. The people I’ve known in positions like that seemed distracted and cranky.
                  It’s not that I *like* housework and food prep. I have to do these things to take care of myself.
                  I don’t have that drive to work all the time. I’m a work-to-live person. If it were possible to not have a job at all, I wouldn’t. :)

                5. mrs__peel*

                  It’s pretty standard now for new lawyers to graduate with six-figure, non-dischargeable student loans. If they have the option of getting a demanding Big Law job with a high salary, then turning it down and taking a lower-paying job with a better quality of life is a luxury that they probably can’t afford.

                  It’s fairly common for attorneys in those types of jobs to put in a few years until they get their loans paid off, then switch to (e.g.) in-house counsel positions where the hours are less onerous. Especially if they have kids.

                  Personally, I never wanted to work 80 hour weeks, so I focused on the government and non-profit sectors from the beginning of my legal career. I do enjoy my quality of life overall, but I would be lying if I said that repaying my student loans isn’t a massive source of anxiety for me.

            3. SusanIvanova*

              You could replace “biglaw” with “game software shops” in that paragraph. I don’t know how far the analogy goes, but non-game software shops manage to ship software more complex than any game without burning out their employees.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            They do, and they don’t care. It’s one of the most disgusting and shameful aspects of the profession, imo.

            There’s been complaints about increasing levels of suicide, and an article ran last week in most national law magazines about a junior partner at a BigLaw firm committing suicide. His widow followed up with a (nationally published/circulated) piece called “Big Law killed my husband,” which was thoughtful and bang-on and so sad.

            And as others have noted, there are employers where those expectations are not the norm (although EPLawyer is absolutely describing a real and prevalent model). But even in more functional law jobs, with the exception of contractors in two-income households, I rarely meet lawyers who work fewer than 60 hours/week, with many working closer to 70.

        6. Anon for This*

          Yeah, that doesn’t make it okay. “That’s just the way it is” is never good reasoning for bad practice.

        7. Emily K*

          OK, but what if someone already has this exact kind of demanding job? Now they have to do another half a week’s worth of hours more work on top of it or they are somehow not cut out for the type of job they already have? All lawyers have to be able to add 20 hours to their already 50-60 hour workweek or they are not cut out to change jobs?

        8. WoolAnon*

          I work at a law firm (paralegal/admin assist). It’s pretty small (almost 20 of us, including lawyers and support staff). The partners actually left a very large firm and put together their own firm because of some of those crazy issues. As a result, they’ve created a very sane environment to work in.

          Part of the reason I left exJob was because my boss would do crazy things like text me at 2am.

          Most of the attorneys have children, and work on intentionally creating work-life balance. But I think the ‘intentional’ part is key.

          At any rate, OP4, if I was asked to do something extreme like the project you described, I’d take it as a sign that working with your office would be working with non-sane people, and I’d run. I’m single, don’t have children, and have a limited social life, so I could do it, but it would hit a major red flag for me.

    3. LeRainDrop*

      Attorney with 10 years’ practice under my belt, most at a big law firm.

      No, the OP’s process for testing research and writing skills is definitely not reasonable. Truthfully, no firm has ever asked me to do anything of this nature for them at all, let alone 10-20 hours’ worth of work. We usually offer to submit a writing sample, and most places seem to take it, though many don’t even bother(!). Unless you are the creme-de-la-creme firm with significantly more highly-qualified candidates who are always clamoring to work for you, you are seriously risking turning away great candidates who would not bother with this burdensome assignment, especially if they are already employed full-time (which for many means full-time-plus, you know?).

      I agree with Not Melvin that the practical test method itself is a great one in theory and could even be done well in practice if you limit it to, say, a 3-5 hour research and writing project. There are many, many research issues that you could offer to candidates that would not exceed that time frame and give you the insight into their skills you’re looking for.

      1. Not Melvin Belli*

        “Unless you are the creme-de-la-creme firm with significantly more highly-qualified candidates who are always clamoring to work for you, you are seriously risking turning away great candidates who would not bother with this burdensome assignment, especially if they are already employed full-time (which for many means full-time-plus, you know?).”

        It ultimately doesn’t seem to deter hordes of business school students from interviewing with top consulting firms. And it provides a basis for firms to consider candidates from places other than top-10 law school. The reason why so many firms look to law school rank and law review membership as hiring criterion is precisely because the traditional law firm interview focuses entirely on “fit” and not the last bit on skills.

        1. LeRainDrop*

          Absolutely, in the context of business school students applying to consulting firms, this is the norm and reasonable. It could be a direction for firms to go as time goes on. Like I said, I think the practical exercises make a lot of sense and do help to better evaluate candidates. But in the current context of law firm hiring, a 10-20 hour practicum would be out-of-step and off-putting. I like PCBH’s ideas for how to rein it in to 3-5 hours tops.

          1. LeRainDrop*

            @Not Melvin — And again, I would note in your own example, you are talking about business school students interviewing with “top consulting firms,” which is exactly what I intended as a parallel of “creme-de-la-creme” law firms.

        2. Susan Calvin*

          Please note that you’re talking about fresh graduates though, who probably have some spare time. In that situation, I was also ok with coming to three separate out of town interviews/assessments. Now that I’m already employed, that wouldn’t fly, and my impression of those pressure cooker mc firms is that 90% of the people who clamor for a position there never intend to stay beyond 3-5 years and then either switch careers entirely or go to a (comparatively) more sedate boutique firm, so I wouldn’t assume that people with any kind of seniority in this career path are still subjected to this.

          1. Anna*

            But even for fresh graduates who do have the time, it becomes exploitative and feels like a form of entertainment for the people who hire. How high will they jump? Let’s see. Whether or not people are established in their careers or just starting out, asking for a free 10 to 20 hours worth of work to test their mettle is unreasonable.

        3. AnonAtty*

          I have participated in attorney recruiting and there are plenty of ways to consider students outside of top law schools (which is, itself, not actually a great predictor of future performance), other than really long assignments. Verbal hypos are actually pretty effective, for instance, because they teat your ability to do snap analysis, which can be critical.

      2. AnonAtty*

        I am an experienced attorney, and I would self select away from a job that asked me to put that much time into a research and writing assignment for a job interview. It’s insane and suggests they would have some extremely unreasonable expectations.

        To be blunt, at my billable rate, that’s thousands of dollars of work. I have done short research and writing assignments as part of recruiting (more when I was a law student) and this is a while level of magnitude higher than I have ever seen.

        This will seriously lose you candidates and be a huge red flag to potential employees.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          thousands of dollars of work

          Ding-ding-ding we have a winner. If you can’t decide whether to hire me on my resume and references, I’m gonna decide to let some other sucker do this research and writing assignment for a chance to work for your firm. I’m too old for this sh-t.

          1. MattKnifeNinja*

            I feel same way. If my resume, client list, references, and portfolio isn’t enough to help you decide, and maybe a small “We’d like to see your take on (x), I’m doing a hard pass.

            The true rock stars aren’t going to jump through 6 burning hoops, parkour over a moving bus, and swan dive into a dixie cup. The only people who sign up to do a 20 hour grins and giggles project are just out of school or desperate (I’ve been there).

            When businesses moan how they can’t find qualified workers, I wonder how what their HR is doing.

            Yeah…too cynical for that sh*t too…

        2. Delta Delta*

          Same here. If I were applying for a position that required info about my writing ability, I’d send them something I wrote (and for heavens sake, after 16 years of this, I’ve written plenty) If they want me to forego thousands of dollars, I might suggest to them my “free” time would be better served taking on a pro bono case or two to help expand access to justice. Self selecting, indeed.

        3. Anonymoosetracks*

          Yuuuuuuup. Can you imagine someone looking to transition from BigLaw to OP #4’s firm? That would be literally tens of thousands of dollars in lost billables. I cannot imagine anyone so desperate to take a job that they would essentially pay five figures just to apply.

          If they’re just hiring current law students, I guess that’s one thing. But attorneys with anything more than entry-level experience? Hard no.

          1. TooTiredToThink*

            I am not an attorney (closest I got was taking the LSAT and doing well); but I know enough about the career that my eyes bugged out reading this story. You are the first person that I’ve seen comment on what I was thinking – this could *only* work with someone fresh out of law school. Anyone else? There’s just no way. Well, I guess there is a way because apparently they do have applicants that have done this.

        4. Linzava*

          Yes. I’m not an attorney, but I’m pretty dang good at what I do. I would self select out of any process that takes more than 2 hours of my time (not including the interviews). It screams bad boundries and power imbalance abuse. No thank you to all the red flags this process raises.

          1. Anna*

            This, this, this!

            There’s a neighboring county where their applications ask for supplemental questions and tell you “250 words is a good starting point”. No, 250 words is probably enough to answer the question. When a position comes up in that county, I do weigh the time it will take me to answer their questions against my interest in the job.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        The “creme de la creme” firms are not doing this. Big Law generally hires for attorneys as follows:

        Junior associates are recruited via law school fairs and local hiring based on the prestige of their school, their academic performance, and their summer associateships (summer internships for law students).

        Lateral associates are recruited for specific practice areas based on performance within the industry and/or specfic expertise at an agency or client that the firm needs and then school prestige and performance.

        Lateral partners are hired based on their book of business and fit with existing firm work.

        None of these people are going to spend a half of a week doing a research and writing assignment. A few hours, sure? But I can hear my general counsel now if attorney recruiting tried to implement this, and it’s not good.

      4. I AM a lawyer*

        If I were in the hiring/interview process with a firm, and they asked me to complete a project that could take 10 – 20 hours, I would drop out of the hiring process. I’d rather devote that time to the billable hours requirement at my current job. Thus, they’re not only screening out people who don’t have that time (which is bad and bad for the legal profession in general), they’re screening out candidates they might actually want because those people will just opt out.

    4. neverjaunty*

      What law schools do as a requirement for law students is not a good guideline for how law firms should go about hiring lawyers. Maybe the OP is talking about hiring fresh law school graduates who don’t have a body of work to refer to, but if a firm told me they expected me to do 10-20 hours of work (even fake work) for free, I’d assume they were screening for desperation rather than competence.

    5. Another Sarah*

      Re the screening out – I would question if you would actually have time to do a 10-20 hour work assessment with your current commitment to your current practice and your work/life balance. I’d add to that the scenario that you’ve been offered two interviews – one with this requirement, one with a 2 or 3 hour assessment. Which firm sounds more tempting?
      If the answer is “well if I really wanted the job, I’d do it” that’s the problem. High powered candidates know there will be another firm, another interview. Candidates who work at high powered firms with long hours may not physically have the time to complete it because law. People may submit inferior work because they gave it the time they could, not the effort they were capable of. You’re starting with a pool of candidates that is already reduced because people self-select out.
      The thing about interviews is that they go both ways. When companies forget that, they come up with unreasonable expectations for people based on the idea that people want a job and will compete for it – forgetting that companies also want the best people to work for them. For those people, companies are competing, and unless you’re desperate, there is always another interview.

      1. Nita*

        True. I’m not in law, but when I was considering leaving my current job, my already high hours went even higher because I like my coworkers and didn’t want to dump multiple half-finished projects on them. Plus, it was just a busy time and new work kept coming in – the more clients like you, the more that tends to happen. I would not have had time for a 20-hour assignment on top of that, unless I was willing to do my current work shoddily. (Unless it was a 20-hour assignment spread over 2-3 weeks, maybe…)

      2. NW Mossy*

        Exactly so.

        And law has another problem that’s been brewing for a while – increasing competitive pressure in their market. When a firm can’t charge nosebleed rates for their services because the market won’t bear it, it dries up the pool available to hand out the eye-popping salaries that were keeping staff on board with the always-on culture. When the money goes away, so too does the desire to live for the firm.

        1. Milton Friedman fan*

          But the problem is that then there aren’t enough lawyers to do the work, and clients will pay more. They may kick and scream, but they’ll do it. That’s the market at work.

    6. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Law review is not the same as a job. There is no way I’m going to take on 10-20 — or even 5 — hours of busy work to prove to a law firm that my resume, writing sample, and references are accurate.

      1. Equestrian Attorney*

        Yeah, this might have been reasonable as a fresh law grad. I do remember a few essays requirements during OCIs (but they lasted an hour and took place in a room provided by the firm). Those made sense when I didn’t have much as credentials. But as someone who recently changed jobs after almost five years at the same firm, I would have been seriously peeved by this, and never got anything of the sort in the 10+ places I interviewed at before finding CurrentJob. Job-searching while working in big law was time-consuming enough, and thankfully most places I interviewed seemed to assume that, given my experience, I would be capable of drafting a basic memo, not to mention complex commercial agreements.

          1. Anon3L*

            +1. You know what provides a thorough review of law students skills? A summer associate position or paid part-time position during the semester. Heck, many law students want to “split summers” so you could feasibly find plenty of candidates to work for 6 weeks in a summer. That’s reasonable. 20 hours of free labor? Even the 3Ls are likely to self select out…

    7. Lynn*

      Not only is it 10-20 hours of the applicant’s time, but who’s paying for their Westlaw access to do the research? That costs money. To expect them to go old school and use books would take even more time.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        The Westlaw access is a good point. Are you screening out candidates who would think it’s wrong to use their Westlaw access to help them find another job? What would the firm do if it caught an employee using Westlaw for job hunting related research?

        1. Lynn*

          Some organizations pay by the transaction, so it’s not just using the service for job hunting, but sending the bill to their current employer.

    8. lawyer*

      I’m in biglaw. We have strongly considered doing this, because of how useless most law firm hiring is. What we’ve considered is providing people with a packet of materials and asking them to do the exercise in the office in a fixed period of time (like 90 minutes). That way it falls into the period that they’ve already arranged to be out, doesn’t place an unreasonable burden on candidates, and also helps us evaluate the ability to perform under time pressure, which is a critical skill for us.

      1. lawyer*

        I should add that we have the luxury of doing this because we are a highly desirable employer (high prestige niche practice at a firm known for quality of life) and that we would limit it to new grads and attorneys with 3 years of practice or less. Once you’ve been out longer, I can get a better sense of skillset and aptitude in an interview, but with new lawyers it’s really much harder since they’re still in the learning phase.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          For what it’s worth, I would not say this is a luxury that requires that you be a highly desirable employer! What you’re describing is totally fine and any employer can (and should) do something similar.

          1. bookwormish2018*

            OP#4 here. I did leave out a few relevant details. Applicants get two or three weeks to do the project, so it does not require them to suddenly clear their schedules. We also allow people to say that they can’t start for another week or two if their schedules are too busy at the moment. And we are hiring people fairly near the beginning of their careers. The job posting also mentions that this will be part of the late-stage process. Having said all of that, no one has ever refused to do the project or even pushed back at all. Several have asked for a more convenient start date, which we always agree to.

            I guess I come down in between several of the posters. Some people were really just objecting to the fact that litigation is a very high-intensity field, which it certainly is. For a litigation job in my city, average work hours at the large firms are 60-80 hours per week, occasionally 90. Ours are not as high (one of the reasons why people want to come here), but litigation is unpredictable, and anyone whose schedule is too tight to fit in unexpected work is not someone who can do this kind of job, either for us or anyone else. We give them three weeks and some flexibility. A judge might give five days and a hard deadline or (as has happened to me several times) less than 24 hours to prepare a major document.

            As a few of the posters noted, writing samples of prior work for junior people are not very helpful. They have been heavily edited by others and are only mildly useful. A few of the posters said that they had been practicing for many years and have many examples of briefs they have written. That is a different situation and not really the pool we are hiring from. But if someone had been doing something completely different in law and was trying to change to our kind of work, it would make sense to see if they could even do litigation-type writing.

            On the other hand, what I definitely did get out of this discussion is that the projects we are giving are too large. We should make the assignments smaller, probably by picking an issue that has limited caselaw and thus less to research and synthesize. I hope that a more limited project will reduce the burden while still giving us the kind of information we are looking for.

            Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and suggestions.

      2. Psyche*

        It would also mean that you aren’t unintentionally comparing a great candidate’s 3 hour sample to a mediocre candidates 30 hour sample. I really wonder if the candidates that turned in worse than expected work were doing it in only a few hours while the surprisingly good ones spent way too long.

      3. blackcat*

        My dad is in BigLaw. He does something like this when considering fresh grads to work for him. He finds it pretty reliable and a good way to get a more diverse team. A fairly large number of people from great law schools with high GPAs tank this assessment (his is 3 hours, I think, with a break in the middle). And a good many folks from state law schools (who are a more diverse bunch in many ways, including second career types) do very well.

        HR doesn’t know he does this. It’s just for his team/subdivision/whatever they call it. He has about 25 associates who nominally work for him at any time along with a half dozen or so junior partners. He suspects HR might object if they knew, but he’s a rainmaker and HR doesn’t like to annoy rainmakers…

        1. garfield and friends*

          Your dad might want to tell HR. If there’s a legit reason for HR to object, HR will let him know, if HR doesn’t object, then it’s CYA, and if any of the candidates go to HR about it, it would help that they know it’s going on and not get blindsided.

          This might just be from my own job, where if a hiring manager was adding an extra test that HR didn’t know about, that hiring manager would probably get fired because it’s potentially opening HR to a lot of lawsuits about unequal treatment of candidates and discrimination.

          1. blackcat*

            Well, HR does give plenty of discretionary time to folks interviewing (it seems interviews are a full day, HR dictates 2-3 hours of that time). Most people apparently do a long lunch or more chatting to assess “fit.” He pointed out when they hired him (he made a late career switch) and discussed how he should go about hiring his team. He basically said he preferred less time assessing “fit” and more time assessing “skills” since, in his experience, good “fit” generally meant hiring more white dudes (and some white women) from the same 5 or 6 law schools that everyone else went to. HR said* “fit” is very important, but my dad could do what he wanted to assess that and it didn’t have to be the standard things. So my dad added the skills test. HR should have told him explicitly if he couldn’t, as he is a lawyer who is very good at following the letter and not spirit of instructions. As it’s the same (or very similar, updated for current events) test for every junior person on his team, his employment law friend says he’s okay. Again, good lawyers are good at CYA stuff. FWIW, his team is more than half women and roughly half POC (some overlapping of course) in an office that is ~25% women and ~20% POC. I suppose some white dude could make the case my dad discriminates against white dudes, but that would be a hard case to make with a clear skills assessment.

            Oh and the assessment in in-office, as a part of the full day interview.

            *Now, this is what my dad reported when he was complaining about HR. Is my dad a reliable narrator? Generally. But not always. Perhaps that is part of what makes him a good lawyer.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Adding this to his process is not something that competent HR would advocate firing him for, nor does it particularly open them to legal issues (assuming he’s not only giving the exercise to people of a certain race, etc.). Legal hiring does not require that every hiring manager follow an identical process. A particularly rigid/bad HR department might tell him to stop, but any company that would point-blank fire someone for this would be highly dysfunctional and ineffective.

            1. blackcat*

              His beef is that the HR person in charge of hiring/onboarding in his particular office is not competent. There other things he regularly complains about, like telling new hires that the retirement plan is “not worth their time” and advising everyone to sign up for the “cheapest” health insurance option (which is not the cheapest for most people!). Might he be told to stop it if that person found out? Quite likely. Might he be permitted to continue if he escalated to that person’s boss (who is at a different office)? Also quite likely. Would that entire process be drama filled and not worth his time? Almost certainly. So he does his own thing, hopes for the best, and complains about this dude to his wife and adult kids when he gets particularly aggravated.

              And no law firm point blank fires a high-level rainmaker, even when they really, really should. Which is a whole other issue….

            2. Green*

              In biglaw, HR prefers standardized processes across the firm, developed in consultation with the firm management committee or the primary firm executive. Some random partner who considers himself a rainmaker making up his own process and adding additional onerous requirements would absolutely be concerning to them, in particular because it could damage the firm’s reputation with key law schools, etc. They spend a hell of a lot of money on recruiting efforts. (I mean, they pay $3300-3500 a week for interns…) And they spend a lot of time and money on high profile inclusion and diversity efforts. Also, I am not aware of any biglaw firm that requires writing assignments (vs. the occasionally required pre-prepared writing sample).

              No offense, but I would totally opt out of working for your dad. There are a lot of partners in biglaw, the firms are all roughly interchangeable, and the salaries are interchangeable. I’d take one that doesn’t immediately indicate pain-in-the-ass.

              Also, he should check out the results of an unconscious bias study on writing samples by lawyers — lawyers who are told the author is black are much more critical and rate the same work sample lower. I’d be surprised if he hires many underrepresented minorities and women into “his” group, and THAT is also a problem.

          3. Ginger ale for all*

            I think that a lawyer would know if they are exposing their firm to legal risk or not already. JMO, though, I have no experience with law firms.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Every lawyer reading this is probably laugh-crying right now.

              That said, the HR person he’s working around sounds like a nightmare.

              1. blackcat*

                HR dude is COO’s nephew or something like that :/

                My dad really enjoys everything else about the firm compared to his last, so he rolls with it. Could be probably make a stink and make the firm choose between him and HR dude? Probably. But again, Not. Worth. It.

                And, yeah, if my dad read this, he’d LOL at the idea that someone might fire him for his hiring practices. I think at his level, he’d basically have to be disbarred to get fired. And even then he might get a hefty golden parachute to facilitate him keeping his clients at the firm.

                1. Recent Anon Lurker*

                  And there is the update info that I was expecting. Unfortunately, this HR guy has protection to do the horrid advising that he I’m guessing thinks is saving the company money.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              There are lots of areas of law, and not everyone specializes in employment. (This was a running joke when I worked in legal IS – lawyers expected everyone in IS to be an expert in every technology/software imaginable off the top of his/her head, but certainly couldn’t be expected themselves to know anything about admiralty law or mining rights.)

              I also find it odd that HR is recruiting lawyers – most BigLaw firms with which I’m familiar have attorney recruiting departments, and HR handles staff recruiting only. Attorney recruiting here is run by an amazing person who gets what a core part of the business it is, though, and he’d be livid to find one of the partners going around the process. I’d imagine that it’d warrant a visit from in-house employment counsel to ensure that there was no risk exposure, plus a sit-down with recruiting to talk about fixing the process for everyone.

              1. blackcat*

                There are recruiting types. There are also specialized teams that have their own screening on top of what the recruiting types do, and that’s what my dad runs. HR dude maybe isn’t staying in his lane fully? IDK. All I know is what my dad tells me (read: rants about). It is HR dude’s job to make sure that candidates get scheduled for certain days, get the appropriate paperwork, that sorta stuff. He doesn’t have any actual power re: hiring.

                My dad really likes the recruiting team in general–they send him a well curated pile of candidates, my dad (or one of the more senior-junior people on his team) signs off on bringing them in, then names go to HR dude for scheduling. Recruiting team does some stuff on interview day, HR dude some stuff (which he is super territorial about), then my dad’s team the rest. My dad came up with the screening task, but it’s implemented by someone more junior. The exception to the rule is that sometimes my dad gets recommendations from law professor friends of his and reaches out and personally tells them to apply and note his team in the application. He has a few friends who are law profs at state schools and that’s generally how those folks get into the pipeline. I’m in higher ed and I explained how elite schools often try to develop relationships with particular high schools serving high needs kids to up applications of first generation college students, and my dad decided to try to do a bit of the same. Seems to work.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Ah, we just don’t split scheduling. The recruiting staff handles everything, including managing referrals, preparing interviewers/interviewees for the process, coordinating with the committee on attorney recruiting, packets for interviewers, day-of scheduling (and rescheduling/shifting when someone inevitably has a client call that appears out of nowhere or runs long), shepherding the process along… it’s a process. Recruiting also does attorney onboarding/orientation.

                  Our current HR is great and could do all of this as well, but it doesn’t make sense here to split the process between departments when one handles it just fine. HR has enough on their plate. They only see attorneys after hiring decisions have been made and benefits need to be lined up.

        2. Lance*

          Honestly, as long as he’s up-front about the time commitment for the assessment… I see no problem with this. 90 or so minutes doesn’t seem unreasonable for such an assessment to me (it’s certainly not the 10-20 hours required from the OP’s company), and it’s a good chance to see a new grad’s abilities in action especially, when they don’t have experience backing them.

          1. CM*

            I think around 1-2 hours of work is reasonable. 3 hours is pushing it. 10 hours when I’m just at the interview stage? Nope. While I’m not convinced by Alison’s argument that you might screen out single moms who work 50 hours a week — because these are EXACTLY the type of people law firms don’t want, they want somebody who has a wife at home taking care of everything so the lawyer can work 24-7 — a candidate with options will self-select out of this process.

    9. Legal Beagle*

      WAY too long. The bar exam takes less than 20 hours! The onus is on the firm to come up with a more efficient way of testing skills, and show some respect for potential hires by not sucking away their time with law school-esque homework assignments on the hope of a job offer.

    10. Coder von Frankenstein*

      “As for ‘screening out people who just can’t make this work,’ well, it’s a law firm. You probably want to screen those people out given the nature of legal practice.”

      That *might* be reasonable if you’re talking about an entry-level hire. If you’re talking about someone who is already working at a law firm, though, you are asking someone who’s already working crazy law-firm hours and asking them to add on even more.

    11. gmg22*

      This convo has been interesting to me looking at it from the perspective of my previous field of journalism. Back in the day — ie, pre-Internet, when big newspapers were raking in money hand over fist — the very common practice at large news organizations was to bring in reporting or, especially, copy-editing candidates for what was known as a “tryout”: an entire WEEK of work on the desk they hoped to join. (It was paid, but if you had another job already and were looking to leave it, that meant taking a week of vacation.) There may be a few rarefied places that can still afford to do this, but my last job in the industry was at a place that you’d expect to be one of them, and they had done away with the practice for some time. Still, the idea of “do some work for us so we know how you actually operate on a day-to-day basis” doesn’t seem so crazy to me.

      The one potential issue I do see with an overreliance on pre-existing writing samples submitted by a candidate (and I have this in mind having just been asked to review some as part of a hiring process under way at my organization) is that you can never really know how much help/editing the person got to get the sample into its final state, especially if it was work product. I agree that the time commitment cited by the OP is awfully large, and that they should consider downsizing it so this is more of a 3-5-hour commitment — but I think asking for something like this more on the fly can be very valuable.

      1. Recent Anon Lurker*

        I posted above, but my husband worked somewhere that requiered some very specific skills, and did have a screening assessment that was hands on to make sure you could do the skills (and not just that I have the piece of paper saying you can do the skills). But they also advertised that this assessment was part of the interview and that they would give you everything you needed (except for a change of clothes/shoes).

    12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      As for “screening out people who just can’t make this work,” well, it’s a law firm.

      Wouldn’t a lot of these people already be working at a different law firm, and as such, not have enough hours in the day to complete a 10-hour assignment for someone who may or may not end up hiring them?

    13. Green*

      I’m catching up on last week, but as a lawyer, I would absolutely opt out of anything with an assignment. I would have done that whether I was a 1L or a 5th year associate.

      Biglaw doesn’t do that. It’s not common at mid-sized or smaller firms. It’s not common in in-house legal departments. Not only will you be screening out people with lives (which you were like “Whatevs! Given the nature of legal practice!” which is absolutely NOT the nature of legal practice — that people who don’t have 10-30 hours to devote to unpaid work can’t hack it???), you will be screening out the best candidates because they will be screening YOU out. To me, it screams “This firm is unreasonable.” People with better options will take them, so you’ll get the desperate folks with more student loan debt than self confidence and assertiveness.

  5. Aphrodite*

    OP #1, have you noticed a previous tendency in yourself to be critical in a nasty way during frustrating times in your personal or previous professional life? Do you feel frustrated and angry in general or is this a unique situation that caused something in you to snap? If it’s the former then perhaps therapy? If not, then maybe it is a bad fit situation for you.

    Plus, it might be worth thinking long and hard about this looking back over, say the previous 30 years of your work life as you use Alison’s excellent advice.

    1. valentine*

      OP1: Don’t mention the possible insult. If you didn’t say it or she didn’t hear you, it makes your situation bizarre. Starting with your next shift, brighten up and buckle down. Pretend you have a good attitude. Fake it, even if you never make it. Things are dire, but you’re going to improve them, even if it’s by moving on. Ask your doctor about your struggle and look online for assessments as to what may be causing this. Is your best learning method at odds with that of your current tasks? Do you want this job and do you think you can do it well? If so, what do you need to accomplish that? Make a list of things you will do and things your employer can do (maybe comment here if you’re unsure what’s reasonable to ask for). Sit down with your supervisor and present your plan. I hope you get to where you want to be.

      1. Quackeen*

        Seriously. I can get behind the idea of apologizing for any frustration you showed on the job, but not going to her and asking, “Did I…call you a fat ass the other day?” Frankly , true or not, your claim that you don’t know if you did so stretches credibility, and I can see her choosing not to believe it.

        Go in with a better attitude and a commitment to get some help.

        1. Triplestep*


          I can’t stand my boss, but she is also insecure and wants to be liked. I am excruciatingly pleasant to her as I plan my exit strategy. I struggle with a bit of anxiety as well and telling myself this is temporary is part how I cope. And being pleasant to her (pretending to care about her personal life and how hard her job is, making more out of her “accomplishments”) ultimately means that fewer coping skills are needed overall because this makes her more stable and predictable in return.

          1. Nearly out the door*

            Ditto – I’ve got through it and now have less than a week to slog through until I’m out from under and in my new job but by performatively “liking” my manager (asking about her weekend, “sympathising” when she complains about her self-inflicted workload) has made my life a lot more predictable and, actually, less exhausting because I know I just put on my fake customer service face any time I see her and don’t put any emotional energy into it at all.

            When I’m a fundamentally bad fit in a role (in this instance because my manager is horrifically inconsistent and work-life balance is something that only traitors to the cause want which is definitely not a standard of the industry) then it’s up to me to temporarily round the corners off of my peg enough so I can fit the hole enough so that I don’t screw up my professional reputation and work ethic and also to work to move on so that I’m not constantly in some kind of pain from being the wrong shaped peg for this kind of hole.

            1. Birch*

              I’m feeling this way too…. how do you consistently perform this rounding off of yourself without getting emotionally involved? Isn’t it draining?

              1. TootsNYC*

                it might help to think of it as performative.

                This isn’t the real you; it’s a performance.

                “I’m not a real doctor; I just play one on TV.”

          2. BookishMiss*

            Same. My ex-boss noted something about how I had been so approachable but then shut down right after my annual review (where she had included a lecture about Personal Things that are far beyond her purview). I started telling her excruciatingly annoying cat and grandma stories every day, and she seemed much happier.
            And then I left, and only looked back to laugh.

        2. Alton*

          I agree that bringing up the insult might do more harm than good if the OP genuinely doesn’t know if their boss heard it.

        3. Sylvan*


          I also think that if you did say it, well, you would remember it.* She might see it the same way.

          * OP, I’m going to relate something about having an anxiety disorder here. I am not suggesting that you have clinical anxiety or that you have any commonalities with people with clinical anxiety. I have no information on your mental health; I am not a qualified professional anyway. I’m describing this only because it answered the “Did I say something awful?” question.

          When I was in college, I used to have this recurring intrusive thought that I had written something horrible in an essay. When this happened, I edited my essays carefully, and sometimes I would ctrl+F a word or phrase. Not one single time had I written something bad.

          If I had, I wouldn’t just suspect it, I would remember it! I think perhaps if you insulted your boss, you would be certain of it, too, and not just fearing the possibility of it.

    2. Alianora*

      Hey LW 1, I’ll admit that I have the tendency to think cruel things about a person’s appearance if I dislike them. Because our society judges people heavily on their appearance, I suspect it’s instinctive to a lot of us.

      What I have found helps me with this line of thinking is not to immediately beat myself up for it or make excuses. Yes, I thought that. What did the person actually do that caused me to feel that way? I allow myself to be frustrated with them for whatever reason it is, and then admit that their appearance really has nothing to do with it. Neither does depression or anxiety.

      It also helps to think about other people I know who are overweight but don’t share that person’s negative personality traits.

      It’s worked! Nasty stereotypes are rarely my first thought anymore.

      More generally, it’s been useful for me to reserve judgment until later. Sometimes, someone does something that feels like a slap in the face in the moment. But when I don’t react immediately and give myself time to come to a conclusion, I often find that I can see where they were coming from.

      1. Nearly out the door*

        This is a really great way at working on something that’s pretty entrenched societally – I think I’m going to borrow it, too

      2. bearing*

        Treating these as “intrusive negative thoughts” can help, in my opinion. With the same techniques that people use to deal with intrusive negative thoughts about themselves.

        Realize it isn’t coming from a rational place and it doesn’t have to have power over you and especially over how you treat people.

        1. Kelly AF*

          Yes, you can practice not being attached to your thoughts — neither beating yourself up for them nor treating them as facts on which you have to act. They’re just… thoughts. They happened, and they’ll pass. You aren’t your thoughts.

      3. Mary*

        There’s a great line somewhere about how your first thought is what you’ve been socially conditioned to think, and your second thought is what you choose to think, and that’s what your character should be judged on.

        If your first thought is fatphobic, well, we live in a fatphobic society, we have all been programmed to have those thoughts. If your second thought is, “woah, hold on brain, that’s an awful thing to think, and it’s absolutely not relevant to the frustration I’m feeling, let’s focus on the task at hand”, that’s you. If your second thought is, “well, she deserved it, and anyway I’m stressed and miserable and it’s not MY fault!” that’s you. We all have the choice to recognise and be better than the fatphobic (or racist, or homophobic, or ablist, or classist) society we were brought up in.

  6. Engineer Girl*

    #5 – question – if OP is exempt then they have to be paid for the entire week, right? It’s all or nothing. And since they showed up to work for even a few hours it’s all.

    1. Mark Roth*

      I think, and someone please correct me if I am wrong, that she could be paid for just four days if she did no actual work on the snow day.

      But since she worked, she needs to be paid for the full week, if exempt.

        1. valentine*

          If non-exempt, why can they dock her pay? Even if she’d gone in despite the office being closed, they owe her for the time she worked, just like they owe overtime to employees defying an order not to work overtime.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, I noted that in the answer — she has to be paid for any actual time she worked, but if she’s non-exempt they can dock her for the rest of the day (assuming she went home as instructed).

    2. Bea*

      The way I’m reading it, it sounds like the OP worked a little bit prior to being told that the office was closed. So they have to pay her if she is exempt.

      The only time you can deduct a day is if they take a day off and are out of PTO and they’re completely unavailable, doing no work at all. It has to be a written procedure kind of thing.

  7. JamieS*

    I’m a bit confused on #5. What accident could OP get in at work that their boss would be liable for but insurance wouldn’t cover? Assuming OP’s employer has proper insurance, I’d think it’d cover any normal work-related accidents.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      If it’s weather related, I’d guess the concern is an accident on the way home after the weather continues to get worse. Which the company’s insurance wouldn’t ordinarily cover anyway, so perhaps there’s some missing details.

      1. Elizabeth Proctor*

        I would think if this was the case, the weather would have to be extreme for liability to enter the picture. Like, state/city office shut down, essential-employee only extreme (separate from school department).

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it might be one of those common misunderstandings like people who think they can’t let someone else drive their car because of insurance, even when the insurance would actually cover it, but who knows, maybe there’s something more to it.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think they’re concerned about what Magenta Sky describes. In some jurisdictions, if you’re injured on the way to/from work because of inclement weather that your boss knew it was dangerous, there could be a personal injury suit at play (which isn’t covered by premises liability or workers’ comp).

        But it’s more likely that OP’s boss doesn’t understand how her insurance works in this specific context. Ideally OP’s boss should pay OP for the days the business is closed due to inclement weather. My employer is doing just that this week because of the wildfires.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Or it could be used to leverage the situation, as in “do as I say because if you don’t here’s what will happen”. Some people will latch on to anything, be it true or false, to emphasize that the REALLY mean what they are saying. If the boss is prone to latching on to other false ideas this could be part of a larger pattern that indicates the boss does not believe people will follow instructions.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      They may get a discount on the business insurance for having and following an inclement weather plan? I work for a medium-sized company and our insurance company conducts audits on us and reviews our ISO certifications.

      1. HS Teacher*

        In the years I spent doing commercial insurance, I’ve never heard or seen a policy with such a discount. I think the OP’s boss is either ignorant regarding insurance, just as Allison suggested, or is using it as a cop-out to get the employee not to work.

    4. LQ*

      There might be some kind of requirement from the building that a supervisor always be there or something? (We have a rule like that but it is a union rule not an insurance rule, but it was what jumped to mind.)

  8. Greg NY*

    #5: This is another case, in a long line of them, where what’s legal and what’s right and just don’t align. What she did was legal, but it’s crappy. Good managers pay their employees, develop a work at home plan, or come up with a way for their employees to make up the time, in situations like this. You can talk to your manager (and I would if that happened to me), but if they refuse, they’re on solid legal ground even if shaky moral ground. Also, good companies announce their closures before the day begins unless there is a truly unexpected storm (such as the one in NYC last Thursday). It is no better for clients to come in not knowing the business was closing for the day as it was for you to do so.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      Personally I find this a whole less amoral then being open in dangerous weather. Decidomg to open in inclement weather – cause we can handle it – puts all the people who absolutely have to be on the road in needless danger.

    2. Mimmy*

      Also, good companies announce their closures before the day begins unless there is a truly unexpected storm (such as the one in NYC last Thursday).

      Oh it was unexpected alright! New Jersey announced an early closure for non-essential employees set for 2:30 pm…the email went out at 2:47 pm, SEVENTEEN MINUTES later! I ended up staying the full day because I was not at my desk at the time the email went out and I missed the bus. Hopefully I don’t get docked those two hours :/

    3. Jadelyn*

      Yes. My company has a branch in the area affected by the huge fire in NorCal right now. We had to close the branch for a couple of days. We gave the staff of that branch “authorized time” – paid, non-working time that doesn’t come out of your PTO – so they didn’t have to worry about taking a financial hit to their wages on top of the dangers of the fire and air quality issues. Were we legally required to? Nope. But it was the right thing to do for our staff, so we did it anyway. It’s…really not all that hard, tbh. It just requires that companies think of their staff as people and value their time, and I think that’s probably where the concept fails in so many cases.

  9. Maggie*

    LW4, pay them for their time! Invest in them if you expect them to invest in you! I am (I think) a great teacher. I once went to an interview, and felt it went well. Then, after it went well, I was asked to stay and grade sample essays in the library. I knew they weren’t going to use my work, but I hadn’t accounted for the time! I had to leave for childcare issues. I did the best I could adding nearly an hour to my original time frame, but I knew I’d blown it before I even walked out the door. Allison is right–if you’re asking for 10 to 20 HOURS, you are almost certainly screening out young parents who COULD do the work well at work, but not while working, parenting, and job searching all at once.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I understand this advice, but realistically, I don’t think folks can pay people for completing practice exercises. I think a better approach is to rein in the amount of time expected and design an exercise that fits within that much shorter time frame.

      1. Maggie*

        I agree, it could and should be shortened with effort and then pay shouldn’t be an issue. I just wish employers who pull stuff like this would tell interviewees in advance. Since learning my lesson, I’ve changed my ways in terms of scheduling job interviews. I clear my whole dang day for them now, just in case.

      2. Genny*

        I actually think using the metric “am I willing to pay for this”? is a useful heuristic, even if you aren’t really going to pay for it. Am I willing to pay a job seeker $2,000 to complete 20 hours of work for an interview? No? Then why am I willing to ask someone to put in that kind of time to complete the assessment? Am I willing to pay a job seeker $100 to complete one hour of work for an interview? If it means finding the right person, yes.

    2. Maggie*

      But then again, I don’t know much about the law world. If you regularly expect more than what can be accomplished during traditional work hours and you’re going to keep it, I’d tell interviewees *before the interview* so young parents like me can see ourselves out without wasting everyone’s time at the interview.

    3. Anon attorney*

      I wouldn’t do an exercise like the one #4 describes even if you did pay me for it. I value my time more than the money for something like that. Furthermore, I would self select out of the process not just because the exercise is too onerous but because it would indicate to me that your firm has a long hours culture and doesn’t support a good work life balance. In my jurisdiction that kind of culture would generally be seen as somewhat old fashioned and lots of extremely good lawyers, myself included, would not want to work for you because of it.

      There are ways to assess the skillset you want to evaluate that can be completed within the interview timescale (written exercise and/or mock trial etc).

      1. Aussie Lawyer*

        I am also a lawyer and I fully agree with Anon Attorney. 10-20 hours is ridiculous and signifies that the firm has a terrible work life balance. I would self-select out.
        A solution would be to limit the task to 2 hours, and not include research. You still get a strong idea of their writing style and analytical skills.
        I have also done several ‘tests’ from prospective employers and 10-20 hours is not the norm, and not accepted in the Australian legal industry.

    4. LQ*

      The money for the time doesn’t always make sense. If you’re already working 50 hours a week an extra 10 (or 20!) could be a burden too far regardless if you get paid or not.

      1. Kelly AF*

        Plus, if you do pay them… do they have to file a 1099 to ensure they’re paying proper taxes on the income? I feel like that is way more complicated than it would be worth.

        1. LQ*

          I assume you’d have to. I think there is a threshold under which you don’t have to issue a 1099, but if this is a mortgages worth of pay (which someone else said, which blows my mind but that’s a different thing) then it’s definitely not under that threshold (I believe $600, but I could be entirely mistaken about that). But are you paying hourly or for the “project”? Are you signing a contract to that effect? I assume this isn’t true since it isn’t work that would be used but is there any need for insurance or anything? Plus the whole what research tool are they using question. Plus you know you aren’t using this work for anything so it’s not like you might actually need it. You are just spending it because you can’t come up with a better more effective screening tool. (I’m not saying that’s easy, I’m entirely struggling with this still!)

          I don’t think just pay is a good solution here. I think keep working at a better (shorter) screening activity. (Good news there are lots of suggestions here.)

          1. Kelly AF*

            Not a lawyer, but I understand that while individual variation is huge, it’s not uncommon for an attorney to bill hundreds of dollars an hour for time spent researching/writing. (And then of course a lot of that goes to overhead, so it’s not all take-home pay, but still…)

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            The billable hour varies by practice area and local legal norms, but a 10–20 hour project, even for a very junior attorney, will hit the $600 mark at about 6–7 hours.

    5. Anon From Here*

      Paying lawyering candidates for their time to do a 10-20 hour project is all fun and games until you have more than one or two candidates. Even one candidate “billing” for just 10 hours could cost the firm in the low 5 figures.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        It could indeed. To which the proper response is, “Let’s find a solution that doesn’t require candidates to put in so much time,” not “Let’s go ahead and make *them* eat five-figure cost.”

    6. Anonymoosetracks*

      The other problem with this (aside from the hours/time issue that other posters have identified) is that law firm attorneys bill at hundreds of dollars an hour. A biglaw attorney five years out of law school probably bills somewhere between $500 and $750 an hour. I can’t imagine that any firm could absorb those sorts of costs just to see if someone is a good fit. Which is exactly why it’s ridiculous to expect an applicant to do it for free.

      1. Czhorat*

        That gives an interesting perspective: if a candidate’s time is billable at $500/hour, a 20 hour project is $10,000 worth of work.

        From that perspective it seems even more onerous.

    7. Shirley Keeldar*

      I know next-to-nothing about law, so take this for what it’s worth, but in my field being paid for an exercise like this is standard. I’m a writer, and if a publisher is thinking of me for a project, they might well ask for a sample chapter. If it doesn’t turn out to be what they want, they pay me what’s called a “kill fee” for the work and don’t hire me (and they also don’t use the work). Nobody blinks an eye. If publishers can do it, law firms should be able to—although I do agree that making the exercise shorter and simpler is much the better road to go.

  10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, your assignment is too burdensome. Every time I hire new lawyers, I’ve included a practice exercise, but an exercise should not take more than 10 hours. I’d reach out to your colleagues at other firms to get a sense of how they use practice exercises.

    To make practice exercises work effectively, you should do any/all of the following:

    1. Provide a narrow legal writing and research assignment with clear instructions specifying the deliverable and limiting the amount of time to be expended on the exercise.
         – If this is a “take home” assignment, give folks at least 1 week.
         – If this is an “in office” assignment (which I think is a better option), cap timing to no more than 3 hours.
    2. If you’re not measuring legal research skills, consider providing a “closed universe” of sources to the candidate.
    3. Consider running a simulation that requires some thinking on your toes instead of a traditional legal research assignment/memo.

    In general, you should design practice exercises backwards—specify the skills you’re trying to assess, and then design the exercise to help you evaluate those skills. For example, sometimes we’ll give someone all the pleadings in advance, have them do a mini-moot, and then send them into fake settlement negotiations (or a call with a regulator, etc.).

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I agree that any skill assessment assignments should probably fit within the interview (and should not be asked of anyone who doesn’t make it to the interview stage). One reason is keeping it within a reasonable time frame for applicants. Another is so you know how long applicants are taking on it. With the current setup, you don’t know if they are putting in 40 hours to make it perfect, or doing the best they can in five hours because that’s all the time they have to spare. But speed of work matters, as well as the quality – you’re probably not going to be happy with a new lawyer who does quite good work, but at twice the billable hours of their colleagues.

      Another litmus test of whether what you are asking is reasonable is to consider what happens to candidates who are interviewing with multiple employers. One 20 hour assignment might be managed, but four or five for different employers?

      1. Ella Vader*

        Not only do you not know if it took the candidate 5 hours or 40 to do the take-home assignment, you don’t know for sure how much of it is their own work. Maybe one of them has a partner or a parent who’s good at this kind of thing, whose ethics were flexible enough to help with the research or the writing or the proofreading.

        1. Jadelyn*

          It is possible to time-limit a take-home assignment. For some of our higher-level underwriter roles, we do skills tests, structured as requesting an underwriting analysis and recommendations of loan terms for a sample application; they are time-limited to 90 minutes, but not completed on-site. We schedule it like a phone interview, basically, and the candidate knows that the window is 1pm to 2:30pm, for example. At 1pm the hiring manager emails the files over to the candidate. The candidate must email the files back by 2:30pm. This way they can do it from home (or wherever) without having to take a trip to our offices, but it’s still time-limited and we’re reasonably confident that it’s the candidate themselves completing it.

          1. Loose Seal*

            That is smart for any take-home skills assessment, regardless of the profession. I’m going to file that back in my brain for future use.

          2. kitryan*

            I was reading quickly and at first glance thought you’d written ‘undertaker’. I was really worried about that take home assignment!

            More on point, for all of our admin roles interviewees have to do a Word and Excel test. Mine was in the office as part of the interview visit. At drinks for a departing colleague I found out two interesting things: at some point after I was hired the tests became take home and this colleague’s Excel test was done by her boyfriend. I’m really glad I didn’t know that when I was working with her because it made me lose quite a bit of respect for her.
            With that in mind, I’d be thinking about moving to in office tests if I were the OP. It’s too onerous and people are likely getting help. If I were a candidate I’d be thinking about the other applications I could be sending out while I was working on just one excercise for this firm.

            1. Jadelyn*

              LMAO! “You did very well in the interview and we’d like to move you forward to the skills test. A cadaver will be shipped to your home on X date and you will have 90 minutes from delivery to…”

              That said, I do agree that I’d prefer in-office tests. Time-limiting the out of office type helps to equalize the playing field in terms of time invested but there’s still the possibility, as you mention, of someone having a friend “on tap” to do the assessment for them if they can be available during the test window. Another method of minimizing that would be to have the hiring manager immediately follow up the test window with a phone call to go over the results, if they ask the right kind of questions digging into why the candidate made the decisions they made (though that would be hard to do for more quantitative skills tests like software, than for something like our undertakers I mean underwriters).

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I’m in tech and apply for jobs that involve working with data, and I found a LOT of employers sending me exercises that they claimed should take 1-2 hours but would actually take 6-8 hours to produce something you’d want your candidacy evaluated on. And I am not slow. I am actually quite fast.

        The problem is that the people making up the assignment are familiar with the data and are saying “Oh, this would take ME (who works here and is familiar with our data and processes and already knows what to look for in this dataset) 1-2 hours to throw together something I’d show my manager (because it’s fine for that to be quick and dirty).

        And then they give it to applicants who AREN’T familiar with their data sets and processes and who are trying to put together something that will convince these people to give them a job and expect it to take THAT person 1-2 hours, and none of those applicants are willing to admit they spent 8+ hours on it because it makes them look like bad candidates. But the people who do spend 1-2 hours on it are handing in something much less polished than the people who spend a full day, so they’re at a huge disadvantage.

        As a bonus, a lot of these companies insert these take-home assignments between the HR interview and the on-site interview, so they’re handing them out to huge numbers of applicants to cut down the pool before they schedule on-site interviews, which means that you end up with 3+ of these stupid assignments on the go at one time plus your actual job plus trying to keep the rest of your life from collapsing into chaos and squalor.

    2. neverjaunty*

      By new lawyers do you mean newly-minted lawyers with fresh JDs who have no significant work experience? Because seriously, 5-10 hours on top of an actual legal job? No thanks.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Newly minted. I sometimes do these exercises for folks at the 2–3 year mark if they’re transitioning fields or coming out of a clerkship.

        I think 10 hours is insane. Even 5 hours seems too long, tbh. I usually only do a practice question during the final stage in hiring, and I usually have them do it on-site during a half-day final interview. I always let people know the hiring timeline and expectations before they apply, including disclosing that final interviews will include a practice exercise.

        All that said, I’ve never assigned a practice exercise that was longer than 1.5–2 hours. I usually aim for 1 hour, with the possibility of additional time for candidates who may need ADA accommodation.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      A 10-hour exercise for an applicant? No freaking thanks. That’s literally a mortgage payment.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I live in CA and make decent-ish money and can I just say, mind blown at the idea that 10 hours of work can pay someone’s mortgage. Fully 65+ working hours (at gross rate, not even looking at taxes and deductions) are needed to make my mortgage payment…

    4. Anon From Here*

      Every time I hire new lawyers, I’ve included a practice exercise, but an exercise should not take more than 10 hours.

      I’m honestly curious here, do you seriously give a 10-hour exercise to lawyers who already have a number of years under their belt in the profession? Why would you do that rather than ask for a writing sample or two? And if you’re asking this from newly-minted J.D.’s, what kind of resources do you give them (e.g., Westlaw access) to accomplish the work?

        1. Anon From Here*

          PCBH says she has given practice exercises to candidates and implies that 10 hours would be an upper limit for a time commitment. I’d really like to hear more about the scheme she’s used.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Thanks! This is exactly what I was saying.

          As noted above, I have never assigned anything longer than 2 hours, and I only assign practice exercises on site. I really don’t like assigning “take home” practice exercises, because I think it’s unduly burdensome on candidates and excludes excellent candidates who have other demands on their time, like their current job and their personal life.

          My exercises are usually 1–1.5 hours, but sometimes I’ve had candidates who need ADA accommodation, and I’ve had those folks take up to 2 hours of time during their final, on-site interview.

          1. Anon for possibly silly question*

            If the candidate is slow due to ADA accommodations, how do you factor that in to the final decision? (Is this something that will make the candidate slower than their peers as a general thing?)

    5. Sylvan*

      I never think I’m informed enough to comment on law, but I’ll chime in this time: That’s not a practice exercise. That’s a part-time job.

  11. Magenta Sky*

    OP #3: You remind me of a guy we hired from a competitor, after years to trying to convince him to come over. He was a buyer, and his boss was the sort to overreact, with yelling and screaming, over very small things. The final straw was a screaming meltdown over an order of batteries from an alternate vendor, because the normal vendor was out of stock. The total difference in price was less than $5. He never looked back.

  12. beth*

    OP1, Alison is giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming this isn’t normal behavior for you. But from your letter alone, I can’t tell if you’re dismayed that you might have said it (or even thought it) at all, or if you’re just dismayed because you might have said it to your boss.

    If it’s the former, I think Alison is probably on point that there’s something in your life that’s seriously impacting your mindset and behavior in negative ways. It sounds like this job could be the culprit–if so, seriously, consider moving on! You owe it to yourself to get out of environments that are hurting you like that. If you’re not sure if that’s the source, maybe take a moment to think through what else is going on in your life? Maybe talk to a therapist and see if an outside perspective yields some insight?

    If it’s the latter, though, I think you have a lot more work to do. If this is your mindset, then somewhere along the line, you’ve decided that it’s only bad to hurt people when they can hurt you back–in other words, that it’s okay to hurt people as long as they’re less powerful than you. First of all, that’s cruel–it’s bully behavior, which is just a bad thing to be. And second, it’s going to bite you in the butt eventually, when you aim it at someone who ends up having more power than you expected or when someone with power over you happens to catch you treating others cruelly and objects. I hope you take this as the red flag it is, and use it as motivation to get yourself on a kinder track.

    1. fposte*

      I like your thoughtful approach, but I see things as slightly different than you describe in the third paragraph. I think the boss *is* more powerful than the OP, and that’s why she went for the hurtful name, to try to regain power by pushing the other person down either in the speaker’s mind or in the world. While this may seem like splitting hairs, I think that this is a dangerous pattern too, of assuming that since the other person has power it’s okay for you to try to pettily wound them. Even if you don’t get heard and fired for it, that’s still a pattern that hurts you as an employee and as a person.

      1. beth*

        I’m not sure I agree, primarily because OP is showing regret for having potentially said it. In my experience, the kind of person who uses petty insults to ‘strike back’ at those with power over them generally has a bit of a defiant attitude about it; they’ve justified it as the other person deserving it, they see themselves as standing their ground and defending themselves, and even in the face of consequences, they tend to react with anger, not fear or guilt. There’s a “sticking it to the man” tone to it.

        OP isn’t showing any of that attitude. They’re frustrated with the situation, and generally angry at their boss, but their reaction to this specific problem is very much fear and avoidance. They’re hoping maybe they didn’t say it at all–and if they did, maybe she didn’t hear it–and if she did, then how can I undo it??? They don’t sound at all empowered or defiant, and that makes me think that this wasn’t an intentional ‘using personal insults as a weapon’ scenario.

    2. lobsterp0t*

      I mean… right?

      If one of my staff members said that to me, they wouldn’t be wondering if they said it, because we would have had an immediate, minuted, and pointed conversation about the code of conduct and dignity at work policies and which areas they had breached.

      That isn’t the kind of incident you forget unless you are the sort of person who is consistently terrible, unless you’re having a genuine medically-induced memory or cognitive problem, in which case… that also needs to be looked into. But, it’s not appropriate for us to speculate on that, other than to encourage OP1 to take care of what ever needs they may identify.

      It is OK to leave jobs, organisations, etc.; in fact I would argue that if it is in your power to do so, then it’s often a great idea! Especially if it has become toxic. People can become too attached to a narrow view of what it means to succeed at work. Goodness knows I have.

  13. LeahS*

    1) I understand being frustrated and worried you just aren’t getting it. I understand having depression and anxiety and how someone else being critical and frustrated with you exacerbates these conditions. But you also need to evaluate how you view and you view and are treating your manager in general to make sure her criticism and frustration is rooted only in your difficulty with tasks. The face that you went right to her weight says a lot, in my opinion. A whole lot. “Jerk”, “Asshole”, etc. are an entirely different beast than calling someone a “fatass” or gendered slur, etc. They are demeanoning, based on contempt and disrespect, and indicative the person using them thinks they are less than. If this is contempt or feeling as though your manager is beneath you because of her physical qualities and possibly gender (given that fat women are often treated with contempt because of societal expectations) it may have been evident in your interactions and willingness to accept she is competent and your boss. Start from within and make sure and then proceed from there.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah. What you scream at the person who cut you off in traffic tells you a lot about yourself.

      1. Lexi Kate*

        This so much. When I was dating in college my mom used to say to watch people when they lose their temper or when they get drunk because that is when they show you who they really are when they cant control their emotions.

      2. fposte*

        I think there’s an element in there, as Mary suggests above, of “What you *allow* yourself to scream,” too. We’re most of us in traffic enough to practice this response pretty well; what we choose to practice is a big tell.

    2. MK*

      I agree, There is amazing variety in cursewords that are “neutral”, so to speak; you don’t get a pass for being angry when you said it.

    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      This. I can understand someone calling their boss a dictator or PITA. Using gendered and racist slurs (“Fatass”, “slut”, “dry cunt”, etc) makes me lose all respect for the one complaining, never mind whatever their rant is about.

    4. LeahS*

      Uh, came back here to re-read in the morning and just want you all to know that I really am a literate human being when not typing on my iPhone late at night haha

      And I couldn’t agree more with everyone that “What you scream in traffic” is a very useful litmus test for determining who people really are

  14. Almost Lawyer*

    OP4: I’m not a lawyer, but a law student. I’ve never been asked to do the amount of work you’re asking to be considered for a position in law, and I’ve been on 10+ interviews (not counting screeners) in a relatively short window of time (2.5 years). The closest was when I had an interview with a public defense firm and I did a mock bail application — I was given 10-15 minutes to interview a client, another 10 to perform any other contacts (such as calling the family or employer) and then make the application.

    I was asked to do a writing assignment that took less than three hours for an internship application while I was an undergraduate, and was told that my work on that assignment was one of the reasons I was hired for that position.
    During an interview for a newspaper job, I was asked to write a very brief story based on materials provided to me, and it took place at a desk in the office — I completed it in less than 30 minutes. However, I think if you are asking practicing attorneys to devote 10-20 hours to an assignment, when many may have strenuous billable hour requirements at their current position or may have a family to care for (or both!) you are being unduly burdensome on potential applicants. An alternative may be to prepare a package of cases and secondary sources on a particular legal topic and have the applicant write a brief memo, similar to the closed memo assignment we all did in 1L legal writing, and give them 2-3 hours to do so in a closed environment at your office so you know they aren’t getting outside feedback, and notify them ahead of time of this time commitment.

  15. Gerry*

    Op1. I have a problem with a woman in a similar age bracket who has continued to disrespect me and others. Thanks to red tape and office politics I have to retain her unless she leaves. I’m not physically (or mentally) a target for barbs like in your example, but this woman can’t control her outbursts and complaints. It’s very hard from a manager’s angle dealing with a disrespectful employee. It’s exhausting and can also affect the manager’s mental health (mine has been up and down lately thanks to this woman). It’s time to take a serious look at yourself and put effort in to be kinder or leave the job.

    1. TL -*

      The OP should work on controlling her frustration; it’s certainly not okay to be mean to people. However, she’s not responsible for her manager’s mental health.

      1. Observer*

        Both the OP and Gerry’s employee DO have a responsibility to consider the effect of their actions on people’s mental health. It’s one thing when you are talking about perfectly normal and acceptable behavior (eg the mess around the person with OCD who didn’t want anyone to wear anything asymmetrical in their office). But, when your behavior goes past non-typical and minimally acceptable to NOT normal and totally unacceptable, the effects ARE your responsibility.

    2. [redacted]*

      Yep. I have an employee who could’ve written the first letter. She’s extremely sensitive about her age, and she becomes hostile and contemptuous to deflect from her own insecurities and poor performance. I have compassion for a difficult situation, but hell, I also struggle with depression and anxiety. It’s not a license to treat people like garbage without consequences, and I have to look out for the rest of the department, who don’t deserve this toxicity.

      All this to say: OP1, apologizing for letting your frustration show (no greater detail is necessary, in case your manager didn’t hear you call her a fatass) is the way to go here. If your employer has an employee assistance program, it might be worth reaching out to get support in learning some coping strategies for difficult workplace situations, but seriously consider your plans B and C, in case this situation turns out to be too intractable to work out in the long term.

    3. Loose Seal*

      I once managed a woman who would mutter names under her breath when irritated at being asked to do her job. I had inherited her from another manager and she had been on a PIP for almost two years (!) at that point. First thing I did was pull her into my office and told her that behavior had to stop. Forever. Not just for a few months so she could get off the PIP but that the next time I even *thought* I heard it would be her last day at work. She complained, argued, and cried but I made her re-state it to me so that we could be sure she was clear about it.

      And, you know what? She never did it again as far as I knew. On top of that, she actually became a pretty good employee. I think once she stopped thinking she had to one-up me under her breath, she was able to see job assignments as just that — her job — rather than indictments on her personhood or whatever. She was still working there when I left a few years later and I hope she never slid back into the muttering imprecations phase again because she was a much better worker without it.

  16. Kiwi*

    OP1, it worries me that you mention your age. Do you think you’re struggling to learn because you’re 55? That’s not very old! If you didn’t used to struggle to learn, I’d encourage you to see a doctor in case there’s some kind of health issue going on.

    1. Lily*

      I think they mention their age because they think it gives then some leeway with “young, demanding, disrespectful” people.

      1. Waiting for the Sun*

        I think in that case the stress-insult would have been “little b*tch” or “know-it-all.” Not that those would have been good, either!
        Please heed the good advice here and take care of yourself, OP1.

      2. Wild Bluebell*

        I’ve noticed that some people use their age as a justification to having certain privileges, like “I’m entitled to not being criticized for bad performance because of my age”.

      3. Marthooh*

        I read it the same way Kiwi did, that age is one reason OP thinks they’re struggling. Luckily, we don’t have to speculate since OP already knows for sure.

      4. Lucy*

        Lily’s wildly speculative comment here is quite telling. We can all interpret the age mention differently. For me, I read it as the letter writer’s insecurity over possibly desperately NEEDING this job: there have been so many comments here today about the letter writer needing to decide if she WANTS the job, but no one seems to be poking at the societal messaging that getting older makes job searching harder. It could mean “I’m 55 and I know I’m not suited to this job but it stood between me and homelessness.” … but that’s not the problem being addressed in this letter. So stop speculating. It shows one’s own prejudices and insecurities to speculate.

        1. LCL*

          Speculating is one of the way we work through an understanding of what is happening in interactions between human beings. Yes, we bring our own experiences and perceptions to it, we are all different, and we are often wrong, that is why group discussion is so valuable. And Alison allows it, if it is on topic. Telling someone to stop speculating is like telling them to stop thinking.

          1. fposte*

            Sure, in our heads, but I’d really prefer people didn’t use quotation marks around something that the OP never actually said.

    2. Queen Anon*

      That was my first thought. I’m 55 and no one I know in their 50s and 60s is beginning to have trouble learning knew things (unless that’s a problem that they’ve had all their lives). My mom is 76 and has no trouble learning new things. 55 is hardly old age, so this statement really stood out to me as troubling. (Even moreso than the fat comment – and I’m pretty fat as well – though that, too, is very troublesome.)

      1. Dance-y Reagan*

        To counter your anecdata, all the people in my family/social circle who developed dementia started to see cognitive issues in their 50s and 60s.

    3. fieldpoppy*

      I hear a lot of resentment in the age thing — I’m 54 and I feel completely differently about my age/relation to learning, but I think that’s because my business continues to grow and evolve and I feel like I’m where I want to be at this point in my life. I have a lot of peers whose lives haven’t gone the way they hoped and they feel resentful and angry (at themselves and at the world) because they have to do work that feels hard, or something they hate but they picked it 30 years ago, or work that feels demeaning, all to pay the bills. I do feel a lot of empathy for that — and also feel like, this is the life you have, how can you live it with as much joy as possible?

      1. Labradoodle Daddy*

        This obviously isn’t true of ALL older people but on the whole younger people don’t have as much difficulty absorbing new info.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I think this is especially important when it comes to technology. It’s something my mom and I discuss pretty regularly. She’s about to turn 60 and doesn’t have an intuitive grasp on tech because she “didn’t grow up with it” (her words). I’m a Xennial, so while I didn’t grow up with it, I started learning it in college and have been using it for the majority of my adult life.

          1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

            I’m an older Millennial and my mom is in her early 60s and I have the exact opposite experience. My mom was intensely interested in SciFi, computers and programming, so she scrimped and saved so we had a home computer starting when I was a toddler. I grew up learning DOS commands and easy BASIC, seeing that getting a new computer meant getting the parts and building it, and chatting with my uncle in a command window before we had an internet browser.

            It took me a long time to realize how unusual my experience was, but I’m glad I have. I can better understand people’s level of familiarity and comfort with computers and go from there. Too many people I’ve met who grew up similarly to me get all condescending and huffy with less techy people and I hate that.

          2. Xarcady*

            I think it depends on the person. I’m 59 and don’t really have any problems dealing with tech*. But similar to Andraste’s Knicker Weasels’ mother, I’ve been interested in science and technology since I was a kid. Having an uncle who worked on developing computers for Honeywell all his professional life didn’t hurt either. (*Well, except video games, but I think that’s more a) lack of practice and b) lack of hand/eye coordination and c) most controllers are right-handed. And also d) not much interest in overcoming those obstacles.)

            I’ve seen 80 year olds who are better with their smart phones than I am. And I know a 30-something who can just about grasp how to close a window on her desktop and Does Not Want to be shown an easier way, because that will confuse her too much.

            I admit there are times when I am over the constant updates and new versions of software that works perfectly well. When I think of all the software that I used to be an expert user in, but now no one has heard of, it makes me wonder if someday my brain will just be full of useless old data with no room to add any more. But I also see the need to keep updated so that I don’t fall behind. I see keeping up with tech as just the same as keeping up with developments in my field. It can be a pain, but it is necessary.

            I think the real division is between people who embrace tech and people who use it because they need to.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            I’m 56 and I’ve had an affinity for tech since I was first introduced to it in 1989. My first computer class. Maybe it was luck that I had an excellent teacher, but my affinity is so strong I think I would still have it regardless of anything else.
            I was born with an analytical mind. I excelled in high school algebra. I was always drawn to technical stuff.
            It seems to me that it’s less about age and more about inherent talents and inclinations.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              So OP, can you use your inherent talents and inclinations in this job? If not, can you transfer or find a new position where you can?

          4. Autumnheart*

            I’m squarely in the middle of Gen X, and I work in tech. I think I pick things up pretty quickly, but I’ve also had 20 years to specialize and focus on the areas of technology that I need to use most frequently. I don’t have much in the way of free time, and I don’t spend it learning new platforms anyway.

            But I think I do have two advantages. One, my career is focused strongly on usability, so “knowing how to learn” is a major component of my skills set. And two, after noticing how a coworker’s “Negative Nellie/Nelson” tendencies had a real detriment on their work reputation, I decided to be consciously positive, or at least neutral, and to go through the new steps at least once before passing judgment on whether it was a good change or not. And you know what, it’s been fine 100% of the time.

            I think people put pressure on themselves such that they think they should be instantly good at a thing, or else it means they’re incompetent and can’t learn it, and that just isn’t true. Practice makes perfect, competence is built through experience. It can be as simple as having a reference or a set of instructions, and following them carefully the first few times to make sure you get the expected result.

        2. Dr. Pepper*

          Yeah, it’s harder to learn things, especially completely new things, with age. It’s true for all animals, not just people. It can be done, it just takes longer and requires more dedication on the part of the learner. There’s a reason we have the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. You can, but it’s much more difficult and thus people are prone to get frustrated and give up.

      2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        I find that willingness is a much more important factor than age when it comes to new tech. I’d say in my experience it’s a 50/50 split between older workers who are open to new tech and those who aren’t. The ones who are open to it embrace it and pick it up as quickly as a younger person who is open. The converse is true, older workers who aren’t willing to change/adapt struggle just as much as younger people.

        1. blackcat*


          My dad (67) learns new tech super easily. I (30) turn into Ms. Crankypants every time I have to update my OS. I can do all sorts of stuff my dad can’t (notably, I’m a competent programmer), but he adapts to change much better than me. My mom, on the other hand, still misses her old typewriter from law school.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I got a Mac for my home computer specifically so I wouldn’t have to do all that PC maintenance! It’s excellent. The one time in 6 years it required an update, I took it to the Apple store and they took care of it.

            1. Autumnheart*

              I use a Mac at work, and a PC at home. I find that they require updates at pretty similar intervals. My home laptop is a gaming laptop, so it likes to update the video and keyboard drivers pretty frequently, but otherwise both OSes seem to be approaching a best-practices point where updates are done with the intent of being non-intrusive. I would say that I’ve found that to be true in my particular case for about the last 5-6 years.

              Same with my mobile devices, for that matter–I have an iPad Pro and a Galaxy S9+. My old phone was 5 years older (also Android), and the improvements in UI with the Galaxy were really significant. All the major tech companies seem to be embracing UI/UX to make their devices more intuitive and less persnickety.

              I didn’t exactly set out to have a different platform on every device, but it does make it pretty easy to compare and contrast.

        2. Washi*

          I definitely agree with this. If younger people are on average better learners, in my experience it’s not because their brains are better in some way, it’s because younger people were more recently in school and tend to be
          1. More open to being corrected
          2. More willing to ask questions
          3. More willing to experiment to figure something out (especially re: technology)

          All of which contribute to better learning. There are both older and younger people who feel like they shouldn’t have to do these things (which can feel uncomfortable and threatening) and I find that they tend to be the folks who don’t pick up on things as quickly. 55 is not old and I’m guessing OP’s attitude is holding her back more than her age.

          1. LCL*

            But the being more willing to experiment with tech doesn’t really correlate with better performance, in my field. It’s the younger workers that will come up with ideas that are sometimes scary. And that would be OK, if they talk it out with the more seasoned people first. We need fresh ideas, but they must be vetted, considering some of the fresh ideas are being applied to 50+ year old equipment.

        3. Aleta*

          Strongly agree. Also, there’s a similar native vs non-native thing like with languages that people misunderstand – you don’t actually need native/complete intuitive understanding to use something to the greatest extent you’ll need to. My first language is English, but that encompasses a far greater range of ability than I actually ever use, so as a practical matter I use the same amount of skill as a fluent non-native English speaker. Similarly with technology – I might have a greater natural grasp of computer use, but I’m not more competent in general than my programmer father, and he uses more computer skills than I do.

        4. Mockingjay*

          Willingness is the key. I am 55 and the oldest member on my team. I use more tech than the engineers. I am the one who designs, configures, and customizes the databases that house our project info, then trains the team on how to use these. I also have to train on the systems the engineers are designing and testing so I can prepare technically accurate documentation (completed a very indepth technical course last spring, for instance). Each time I change projects or a new system is added, I have to learn it. I also have to keep up with word and information processing tools – I am currently training on an xml system.

          Quite frankly all this learning keeps me interested in my job and my skills current.

        5. MrsCHX*

          This. My 60ish year old parents have all the gadgets…
          My 42 year old cousin (who works in an office job!) just got a personal email address a few years ago. We’re a touch under 40 and my kids’ dad is just unable with tech. It’s crazy.

      3. Merula*

        Nope. Depends on the person.

        Often people at 50+ or even 40+ are at a place in their careers where they can self-select into roles that fit their skillset, and many do, which may allow them to focus on the things they’re interested in and not learn things that aren’t interesting for them. But that’s not everyone, not by a large margin.

        And let’s not forget that there are plenty of young people who are not good at learning new things, period.

        So when someone is 25 and not good at learning new things, that’s an individual trait, but when someone is 65 and not good at learning new things that fits into society’s ageism stereotypes and becomes A Thing.

    4. GreyjoyGardens*

      This is a great point! A few years ago, I felt like I had suddenly acquired adult ADHD and/or my brain had turned to oatmeal (and I was about 10 years younger than OP1). Long story short, a sleep test revealed *severe* sleep apnea. I use a CPAP and now have my old self back.

      All kinds of health issues can sneak up on you, especially as you get older, and it’s always good to take new and/or worrisome symptoms to a doctor.

    5. fposte*

      That might also have been something she’s anxious about, rather than something she really is a problem.

    6. Thor*

      FWIW, I thought it was so the readers/Alison understood that this wasn’t an issue of adjusting to the workforce and is instead specific to this position.

    7. Regina Phalange*

      This was my first thought. The struggle to master previously learned things, behavior changes, and lack of self control all suggest an underlying medical issue.

  17. Hmmm*

    #4 – One of the big problems with that time consuming of an assignment, is that you seem to think your screening process is the most effective… but is it? The fact that people have better work in their portfolio than they give you doesn’t mean that you saw their true work – it might just mean they don’t want to put in so much time for unpaid work. You aren’t necessarily getting the best applicant, but the best submission – and whether or not that’s the same thing isn’t clear. Frankly, unless I was desperate, I wouldn’t put in 20 hours anywhere before I was hired… so who knows who you’re actually getting.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, you’re probably screening out a lot of talented people who have other options, because they see this as a red flag that you’re awful. Seriously, asking for 10-20 hours of free work *on top of interviews* just to be considered? Should I literally pay money next? I’d assume that you have no work-life balance and treat your employees like serfs that should be overjoyed for you to mistreat them.

      1. Lynn*

        The databases you need access to to complete an assignment like that aren’t free, so many candidates would be paying actual money on top of the 10-20 hours.

      2. Anonymoosetracks*

        Yeah, in law this is already literally asking candidates to pay them money, between lost billables and access to the necessary legal databases. Unless they are only doing this for applicants who are still law students, I guess.

    2. Woodswoman*

      I agree with this. I was involved in a competitive job search and was given a practice exercise to complete. I was given about a week, and it took three hours. Happily, I got the position and consistently received positive feedback for my work during the years I worked there. But if I’d been given the kind of practice assignment that you describe, I would have walked and never looked back. It’s not reasonable to ask any candidate to put in at least 10 hours, not only for a law position but for a job in any field.

      1. pleaset*

        “practice exercise to complete. I was given about a week, and it took three hours”

        This seems reasonable. More time would not be.

    3. Amylou*

      Exactly, OP4 is probably missing out on some really good candidates this way. I’m not in the legal profession though but this big an assignment puts me off. With the exception of desperation (I’ve definitely jumped through more hoops in those times).

      Also, are you telling people up front how long it will take? The not-so-good work you get may be because people clear an evening to work on it, then realise that is waaay too little time, then have other commitments and just hand in something that’s not so great. You merely get disappointed in the candidate but think about the reputation you’re building this way as the crazy firm who asks for 20 hours of free work in their recruitment process. Candidates don’t forget that and would definitely remember it and tell other people!

      I think a good guideline time-wise would be: can a candidate complete this in an evening (3-4 hours max). I don’t think you should be asking for more than that. Be mindful if the fact that people may be working a (temporary) side-job, a full time job, study, have family and/or kids to care for, social commitments with friends, date nights, other evenings/timeslots dedicated to job-hunting…

    4. CTT*

      Yeah, I would be borderline-insulted if I were asked to do 10-20 hour legal research assignment because it’s outside the professional norms for the industry and I’m not a law student any more. Unless the firm had such an amazing reputation that I would do anything to work there (and then that gets to your point about desperation), I would bow out of consideration.

      Also, OP 4, are you giving this to ALL candidates regardless of what sort of work they do? I do transactional law, and legal research is for most in this area such a small part of the practice that it’s negligible. If a firm wanted to hire me to do real estate and then gave me a civil procedure assignment, I’d be very concerned that the firm leaders have no idea what their not-litigation attorneys are doing and wouldn’t be able to help me grow my practice.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        That reminds me of when I was thinking of getting a second job in the late 2000’s. I inquired at a few corporate retail stores and was told to go online or use their kiosk to apply. The days when I could have spent 3 minutes with a pen filling in a 2-page application form are over.
        Their online application involved answering a lot of personality questions. It was slooooowwwww. Click an answer. Click next. Wait. Repeat. It was going to take more than an hour to complete.
        They were screening for those who have lots of time and no better options than a minimum-wage retail job.

    5. Mockingjay*

      This. IANAL, but I withdrew my application from a proposal writing position for similar reason. I was asked to provide a sample proposal using a (prior) government task order. I figured it would be for a small task, 3 hours tops to complete. It was for a very large program with multiple subtasks. It would have taken me a full day just to parse the task requirements and prep an outline, and at least another 15 – 20 hours to do the writing. Way too much work on top of my actual job and life commitments.

  18. restingbutchface*

    Why does OP#1 think she said such a cruel thing if she can’t remember saying it? Genuine confusion – did someone else hear it?

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      I’m removing this because it’s stating speculation as definite fact and reads as unkind to me.

    2. J*

      This confused me, too, but my guess is Alianora is right. But really I just wanted to comment to say that your username is fantastic.

      1. restingbutchface*

        Thank you! And yes, Alianora is probably right, but there’s something weird about the whole situation.

    3. FRC*

      Some people have a habit of talking to themselves. I can go from silently thinking about something to muttering a low-volume stream-of-consciousness about it without realizing it until someone else points out that I’m speaking out loud. I can see not being sure if you just thought something or actually spoke it.

      1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        I talk to myself a lot. usually when I’m alone. However, at one bad OldJob I got into the habit of constantly whispering FFS under my breath whenever I was aggravated, which was on an almost hourly basis. People close to me would hear it and sometimes the public. It was a very hard habit to break.

      2. restingbutchface*

        Yup, I do this too, but I don’t know I’m doing it until someone points it out. Nobody pointed it out in this case. So OP either knows she said something mean or she doesn’t feel confident in being able to control what she says and is paranoid? Eh, I still don’t get it.

        1. Marthooh*

          Well, you yourself don’t feel confident in being able to control what you say: “I do this too, but I don’t know I’m doing it until someone points it out.”

          But… if nobody points out that you’re muttering things, that doesn’t mean you’re not doing so. So it’s not paranoid to think you might have said something out loud without meaning to.

    4. Gen*

      Some people mutter/mumble to themselves at varying volumes and don’t always know when they’re actually vocalising. Back in the early 00s there was an older Scottish construction contractor at our offices who got very upset about the number of complaints our mostly English office staff were making about his swearing and muttering. He thought they were being sensitive or prejudiced about his accent. Management got really frustrated because he WAS swearing every few words and muttering under his breath constantly but he didn’t believe it until someone gave him a dictaphone for the day. He was surprised by the playback. In his case it was probably a mix of other working environments being very loud and a work culture that didn’t object to the f-word being used in place of ‘um’. He still really struggled to correct it even once he was aware

      1. restingbutchface*

        Oh wow, that’s amazing. He had to be taped! I can’t imagine what his face would be once the tape was played back. But I understand that situation more than this one – your coworker didn’t know he was doing it but OP kinda maybe knows but maybe not but actually probably maybe might have said something? Surely you know or you don’t know.

        The word know has no meaning now.

    5. Roja*

      I caught that too. I’m struggling to imagine phrasing an apology for something she’s not even sure she did–if there was any possibility of the boss not hearing beforehand, talk about adding fuel to the fire now. So I lean towards not apologizing, actually, since she’s not sure that 1) she even said it and 2) the boss even heard it. Her letter sounded quite stressed and it sounds like her energy might be better devoted to finding more effective ways of managing her mental health.

      And I get it, having struggled with depression myself, and having apologized for things many times that people were very confused about and didn’t think warranted an apology. So in this case I lean towards not apologizing…

    6. beth*

      Memory is a funny thing, especially when it comes to highly emotional moments. It’s possible that OP has a habit of muttering under their breath. It’s possible that they were thinking it at the time and their memory really doesn’t show whether they said it or thought it silently, and they’re anxious enough about work and their manager in general that they’re panicking about the off-chance that it got said. It’s possible that they thought they said it, but their manager didn’t react (and they would have expected her to if she had heard it), so now they’re wondering if maybe their memory is wrong and they just thought it very loudly. It’s possible that they definitely said it, and they know that on some level, but they’re avoiding that anxiety-provoking reality by clinging to the possibility that maybe they didn’t say it audibly after all. It’s really impossible for us to say, but there are lots of possible explanations.

  19. valentine*

    OP2: Divide the trainees between K and yourself and only check your half. If you do all the work and your supervisor is fine with that, you may find yourself stuck with her. In future, shut down her moaning or be relentlessly cheerful until she stops conscripting you as her audience.

    1. S-Mart*

      That limits the effect on the OP’s workload but really does a disservice to the trainees. It could work (and be a good solution) if the boss is involved and is overseeing to make sure K actually does her half well, but based on what the OP has said I don’t think it’s a great idea if it stays just between OP and K.

      1. Lance*

        Yeah, in this scenario, the boss definitely needs to know what’s going on, as context if nothing else. Simply splitting the work (or trying to) and functionally hoping someone catches on is just going to hurt the trainees, and may not even bring any positive results.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          I agree – the boss has to know about this. If nothing else, poorly-trained new employees won’t be able to do their jobs as well, and that’s demoralizing for them and bad for the company. OP2 needs to go to their boss and calmly, objectively, tell Boss what’s going on.

          1. Letter#2*

            Thank you . I left a longer reply to Princess Consuela Banana Hammock above, but I talked to my boss a few days before Alison printed my letter, when she asked how it had gone, and just left the eye rolling out of it.Our department is understaffed and overworked right now, but I figured it was better to check their work myself rather than have K do a half hearted job.
            Sorry for being so late w an update, i’ve been sick recently with a horrible cold (which may or may not have anything to do with work stress).

      2. valentine*

        It doesn’t serve anyone for OP2 to do all the checking and take full responsibility for the trainees. If a trainee wrote in, I’d say to run because no one stopping a trainer whinging and rolling her eyes doesn’t bode well. If OP2 wants someone to pick up the K-ball, she first needs to drop it.

  20. HA2*

    For #4 – I’d say it depends on what level you’re hiring at.

    If you’re hiring students at entry level, it could make sense to expect them to spend, basically, a full weekend on this. However, if you’re hiring people who already have jobs, there’s a good likelihood that what you’re *actually* measuring is how much time people are willing to spend, or how busy of a week they’re already having.

    Sure, it’s law, and so you expect people to work extra sometimes. But if they *already* have a job where they’re *already* working extra (and probably already making time to attend interviews and do job applications!) lots of people won’t have time for extra on top of extra. So there’s a chance that the people who do the best on this are those who are successfully able to cut 30 hours out of their current job to do your 20-hour assignment, and those who do worst on it are those who try to cram it in in 5 hours because, well, they’ve got other deadlines besides this one that are taking up the “extra 20 hours” they had this week.

    You might not be getting the real evaluation of people’s skill that you think you’re getting.

    1. LeRainDrop*

      This is absolutely spot on. If I were still at my big law firm looking to lateral and a prospective employer gave me a 10-20 hour research and writing assignment, I would definitely withdraw from the process not only because it’s such a red flag about the employer’s expectations and work culture but also because it would not have been possible to complete it in less than maybe 3-5 weeks depending on what other current job deadlines I was already obligated to meet. There’s essentially no way that I would have continued in the OP’s process unless it was some mythical “dream job” scenario.

    2. Nita*

      #4 – I can’t tell for sure just from your explanation, but this may be a pretty different situation from the letter that prompted you to write in. With that letter, there was a suspicion that this may not be a real evaluation tool – it may instead be a way for the “interviewer” to get a polished final product for free. There were a few comments from people who have seen similar scams – no actual job, just a questionable way for an interviewer to get some free work.

      I’m getting the sense that when you’re giving possible candidates your assignment, it’s clearer that you’re not going to use the work as anything but an evaluation tool. If that’s the case – yes, it’s a pretty long assignment, but at least your applicants can decide whether to take it on without also having to weigh whether they’re being scammed.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think the reasoning behind the 30-hour test matters a lot less than people think–in that particular case, I don’t think it’s a viable way to obtain the product they needed and so probably not a scam. It’s still a test that screens for desperation and having a ton of free time, whether deliberately or because they are clueless about the demands of their job.

        You don’t want to work for someone who thinks a 20 hour project should take 1-2 hours, even if they are really super sincere in that belief and not up to anything underhanded.

        1. garfield and friends*

          You don’t want to work for someone who thinks a 20 hour project should take 1-2 hours, even if they are really super sincere in that belief and not up to anything underhanded.

          +1. Running into this with my job. At some point, that kind of ignorance becomes malicious.

      2. Liane*

        “It may instead be a way for the ‘interviewer’ to get a final polished product for free.”
        OP4 states that the exercises aren’t used by the firm.
        That said, I have read of scams like this in other fields and I wouldn’t be surprised if the firm loses potential good hires who suspect they are being used as free labor, as well as for the other reasons people have brought up.

        1. Liane*

          Nita, I missed something in my first read of your comment. Sorry, it’s clear now that you got it and we agree.

    3. pleaset*

      “If you’re hiring students at entry level, it could make sense to expect them to spend, basically, a full weekend on this. ”

      This is true for a stereotypical student who
      + doesn’t have to work a job on weekends
      + has their school work well under control during the week (doing well easily, and having time to do it all – and not, say, work – on weekdays
      + is not involved in something special in their life (sports in my case, during a college experience of privilege)
      + is not a parent or have caretaking responsibilities of some kind.

      So yeah, full-time student, no job, no demanding outside activities, just students who can blow off chilling on weekends.

      1. Thor*

        Right, it’s sort of bugging me how many comments in this entire article are defending it for new grads, as if the only people that ever come out of law school are 24 year olds with financial security.

    4. neverjaunty*

      It really doesn’t make sense to expect a student to spend an entire weekend on a skills test for a single job.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Right, and imagine if they’re interviewing at multiple firms that expect them to do this. New grads may look at several prospective employers, and I’m pretty sure applying for a job being a full-time job is supposed to be hyperbole.

  21. Akcipitrokulo*

    For OP1… I wouldn’t repeat what you said when you apologise… mainly because if she didn’t hear it, it would be unkind tto say “oh, sorry I called you fat”.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      Also, I don’t think there is anything you can say to make someone feel better about having been called fat.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yep. If she heard it, an apology for “bad behaviour” or however you want to word it will mean she knows what you’re talking about. If she didn’t, but obviously would have seen the attitude, there’s no reason to cause further hurt with the additional info “oh, I also called you fat”.

    2. Micromanagered*

      This whole idea of addressing it with the manager (when OP may or may not have said it and manager may or may not have even heard it) is kind of weird to me. I think, if anything, OP could say “As you know I’ve been struggling to get ______. I was very frustrated with _______ on Friday, and I think I might have said something inappropriate for work under my breath. If you heard that, I’m so sorry. I’m going to watch my level of frustration more closely in the future, so that I don’t get to that point again.” But don’t say “Sorry I might have called you a fat ass.”

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I think LW knows very well they said it and are simply prevaricating in the letter.

        That being said, LW DEFINITELY DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT allude to or specify what they said. Or even admit they said anything. I think a vague apology is the best course of action here since it’s possible boss didn’t hear.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yep. “I was getting frustrated on Friday and on reflection realised I might have let it show – I’m sorry about that” is probably good.

        2. Micromanagered*

          I think LW knows very well they said it and are simply prevaricating in the letter.

          I’m taking OP at her word that she is not sure if she did or didn’t. I don’t think that’s such a stretch.

          1. Leslie knope*

            IDK, I’m having a hard time with this considering that’s often an excuse used by bigots. You either said it or didn’t, you know?

            Also, as someone with depression and anxiety I don’t really appreciate the OP using that as a red herring. The whole thing comes off as trying to excuse her behavior.

            1. Femme D'Afrique*

              Yup! Plus she knows the exact word she may or may not have used. I’m not buying it either.

    3. Marthooh*

      Alison’s advice was to “apologize for letting your frustration show” which is just enough to be sincere, without being insultingly specific.

  22. Cambridge Comma*

    OP3, obviously your wife’s boss is ridiculous. Everywhere I’ve worked has had a procedure for dealing with lost receipts. Not that she should have to, but if it might help her to get over the stress, she could ask the store for a duplicate receipt. When I used to work in retail in the 90s the tills (registers?) were able to do this (don’t remember now if it was with a normal login or a supervisor login), so I‘m guessing at least some can do it now. If someone came in at a quiet time knowing the date and time they bought the item and the cost it would have been fairly quick to locate the transaction and reprint the receipt. (It’s a submenu so perhaps not everyone would know where to find it, but maybe they are willing to look).

    1. Rebecca*

      I was going to suggest this, too. And I agree with Alison on her other point – if the employee is stressed to tears over this, there’s more going on.

      Aside, at my company, receipts under $10 weren’t required, like if you got a fast food burger at a drive through coming home from a business related trip, you could just expense out the $4.99 or whatever under the appropriate line. Once I was called out because I got tacos for $3.00 – not because I didn’t have a receipt, they were actually concerned I didn’t have a decent dinner!

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        That’s what I came here to say; we’re also not required to submit receipts for expenses under $10. The boss is not just a control freak, but a nasty, cruel control freak.

        1. Beatrice*

          Our documentation requirements vary by expense type. I don’t have to submit anything at all for car rental or airfare that I book using the company-sponsored trip planning service, for example, because they get all that automatically, and I don’t have to submit receipts for meals if they’re under $25, but I have to submit a receipt for everything classified as fuel (they want to make sure we’re not adding convenience items at gas stations). Still, we have a lost receipt process…you just certify you lost the receipt, provide any other documentation you can, and it’s fine.

          I lost a gas station receipt once. The charge was consistent with the cost of fuel and the miles I’d traveled on the trip. I provided notes spelling out the math. It was fine. For balloons, I could have gone back to the store and taken a photo of a price tag and submitted with that. If it became a pattern, it would be a problem, but one lost receipt shouldn’t be a big deal.

          I also charged personal items on my travel card once. My bank froze my personal card because of a strange charge related to the trip, and I found myself in a Wal-mart in a strange city after banking hours with no other way to pay for personal items I needed immediately, so I used the travel card. It’s against policy to use it for personal items deliberately, but stuff happens and we have a process to deal with it. I gave my boss a brief explanation when I submitted my expense report, and it was deducted from my next paycheck.

        2. Observer*

          And stupid with it. Shredding the corporate cards is going to make more work, and not give her any more control than she has now.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have also gone with, “This situation is so ridiculous that I will pay the small amount out of my own pocket just so we can move on.” I know you can’t use exactly those words, I say it nicer than that but it’s the same idea.

      I know some stores can use a person’s credit card to retrieve purchases from months ago. It might be worthwhile to call the place and ask them to fax/email a copy to you.

      I think the larger concern here is that this woman is in meltdown over $4 and change. You can probably get that receipt reproduced. But you aren’t going to be able to prevent this boss from melting down over very simple situations.

      Competent bosses just shrug about this stuff, because they know how to verify the purchase. I remember decades ago someone lost a much larger receipt for several hundred dollars. My competent boss just shrugged and said, “Okay, we will do x and y, and that will get a us a copy of the receipt.” This was decades ago when the technology was so much less than it is now.

      Additionally, OP, try encouraging your wife that cancelling company credit cards is a really bad, self-defeating plan for the boss. Lack of cards will slow down operations. PLUS, it does nothing to solve the actual problem. I can pay cash and STILL manage to lose the receipt. Perhaps people can be encouraged to take pictures of the receipts with their phones as they go along.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Yeah, I think I’d resubmit and omit that particular line item. I’d rather take a $5 hit to my finances than deal with this drama.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Unfortunately you can’t do that with a corporate card. Your submissions must match the charges. Our system has a “Personal Expense” check mark that you can use and they deduct that amount from your paycheck, but then yell at you for using the corporate card for personal expenses. Which is fair I guess.

          I’m guessing that the company doesn’t have a sophisticated expense system that would allow for this.

          But that being said, if I were her I’d bring in $5 cash and tell them that this is for the lost receipt and roll my eyes at the ridiculousness. It’s a good point that the OP’s wife is dealing with other nonsense from this boss.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Oh, right. I’ve never used a company card, but I’ve had to submit for reimbursement before. That makes a lot of sense.

    3. Ama*

      I have spent my entire career working in nonprofits/academia where regular audits are pretty common and expenses are very closely tracked. Every place I’ve ever worked considers the occasional lost receipt under $25 no big deal; at one place we had a form acknowledging the loss and describing the expense and at my current work we just include a short memo. (I think I remember a colleague in finance telling me once that the $25 guideline was in line with IRS guidelines on business expenses but I am not absolutely sure that is true.) In fact I just turned in my monthly corporate card with a memo in place of a $7.50 receipt for a lunch because it somehow didn’t get into any of the places I stash receipts when I travel.

      Now if it was a chronic problem or larger costs that would be one thing but less than $5 one time is a completely unreasonable thing to get upset about.

    4. Liane*

      Also since this purchase was on a corporate credit card, the issuer has a record and could provide a copy.

      1. Alianora*

        Good point! I’ve had to call vendors occasionally if the cardholder forgot to get a receipt, and it’s usually pretty easy for them to email me the invoice at least.

        The system my workplace uses has a checkbox where you can write “missing receipt” and an explanation for why it’s missing. Of course we don’t actually require receipts for expenses less than $75, so it wouldn’t even be an issue here. But a financial system that doesn’t allow for the possibility of a missing receipt isn’t very well-designed.

    5. Not another Liz*

      Ditto on the duplicate receipt. Over the years I’ve had to get duplicates for various co-workers expenses reports – vendors never refused, never had a problem. This is common & not the difficult.

      But if for some reason the vendor refuses – just buy the same amount/type of balloons and use that receipt. For me, it would be worth it to get any receipt just to shut the boss up.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        You usually can’t do the latter option. Either it will show that it was on a different card, if you use a personal card, or will show that it was paid in cash if you pay cash. If you use the same card to buy more balloons, you’re still out the original $4.66.

        That said, the same computerized retail systems that make it clear how you paid and on which specific card also allow the retailer to print a copy of the receipt. It’s much easier to just do that.

    6. Gumby*

      The only way that shredding all of the corporate cards makes sense to me is if the boss thinks that the receipt might contain the whole card number meaning the account is now, possibly, compromised. But that just means the boss is crazy and uninformed.

      If it isn’t “oh, no, the number might be out there” then the threat to shred the cards is… punishment?… for losing the receipt? I mean, it’s still over the top for such a small charge but closer to reasonable to say “specific employee can’t be trusted to keep track of receipts therefore specific employee can no longer have access to the corporate card” instead of “we must shred all cards and no one can use them.”

    7. Working Mom Having It All*

      I handle the expense reports for my team, and there are a number of ways to reconcile a lost receipt. None of which involve shredding all the cards and not having company cards anymore.

      Calling the store and seeing if they can email a copy of the receipt is worth a try.

      My company has a specific form to fill out when a receipt is lost. The auditors don’t love it when you make a habit of losing stuff, but generally unless it’s a very large amount of money or seems suspicious, it’s not a problem.

  23. Sarah*

    OP1, nothing excuses cruelty. I understand being stressed, but to go to personal insults rather than a generic insult… that’s just wrong. You need counseling and a different job.

    1. TL -*

      I’m not defending the OP, but if this was out of character for her (and if she’s writing to Alison, it probably is) then, actually, some people’s tempers work differently than others. A one off insult is definitely cause for reflection but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything more than the OP should be more careful and continue working to lower her frustration levels.

      I tend towards personal insults when I’m angry. I work very hard to control my temper and walk out before I get to that point but it is where my temper inclines me. If I lost it once in a decade, I’d apologize and figure out where I could have calmed myself down, but I wouldn’t reevaluate my whole life. If I was losing it several times a year, I’d be way more concerned.

      1. Labradoodle Daddy*

        If you say it at all, it’s not out of character. That’s a nonsense defense that really needs to be put to rest.

        1. Myrin*

          I feel like you’re using “out of character” differently – TL probably means it in the sense of “Have you ever done this thing before? When? Ten years ago? And you usually behave differently? Then that’s out of character for you.” which, as far as I can tell, is the meaning that is commonly used.

          1. Name Required*

            I have never, in all of my years of being anxious, depressed, or frustrated, called someone a fat ass. Not once. Not in my head, not under my breath. I have struggled and continue to work on being reactionary and have thought some unkind things … but generic unkind things, like “what a see-you-next-tuesday”or “I hate this a-hole” not “what a stupid tub of lard.”

            Perhaps saying it out loud is out of character for OP, but I’m skeptical that this is the first time that OP assigned the phrase “fat ass” to someone, even if it’s only been in her head prior to now. I think that’s what Labradoodle Daddy is saying — that thinking someone is a fat ass is not out of character if it’s the first thing you jump to while unconsciously insulting them.

            While we’re encouraged to take the letter writers at their word so that people feel comfortable writing in, the phrasing of this letter makes that very, very difficult for me. I don’t see that OP is taking responsibility of their behavior at all, and I think OP will continue to “maybe, perhaps, I don’t really remember” insult folks in the future if she doesn’t prioritize owning her behavior. You can’t make an effort to improve your behavior if you think you have no control over it.

            1. Squid*

              Just want to point out some important context here: the word implied by “see-you-next-Tuesday” is considered an extremely misogynistic slur in the U.S.–very much not a generic insult a la “asshole.”

              1. Name Required*

                I was born, raised, and live in the US; it is considered a generic insult where I live that applies to people of all genders.

                1. gmg22*

                  With the very, very specific exception of Irish-American communities populated by fairly recent arrivals (I’m thinking Boston suburbs or parts of Queens) I have never, ever heard the C-word deployed that way on this side of the pond, or of anyplace else in the U.S. where it’s “considered a generic insult … that applies to people of all genders.”

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  Sorry late, but an Irish friend told me the c-word isn’t an insult in Ireland. It’s sort of an endearment. I didn’t understand until he gave this example: “Hi you effing c—! How are you!”

            2. Dance-y Reagan*

              What comes out of someone’s mouth is fair game, absolutely, but directing LW how to think is past the point of ridiculousness.

            3. Alianora*

              I commented above about how I have a similar tendency to think cruel things about people’s appearances when I don’t like them, and what I do to deal with it.

              Good for you that you don’t have these thoughts, but since our society is very judgmental about appearances, I think it’s understandable for this to be someone’s first instinct. It’s what they do afterward that matters.

              Obviously the LW is not handling it well, but berating them for even thinking something isn’t constructive. In the letter I see a lot of excuses being made. The way out of that mindset isn’t to consider yourself a horrible person and self-flagellate, but to accept the fact that you were taught to be prejudiced and actively choose to think differently.

              1. Alianora*

                This is to say that no, I don’t think the LW was acting out of character. But I see some comments with an undercurrent of “You are an awful irredeemable person for even thinking this” and I think this can reinforce the spiral.

              2. Lissa*

                I agree completely with this post. I think most people DO have uncharitable thoughts. It happens. And in society that focuses on appearance, for some people that’s where they’ll go. If every person who has had negative thoughts in that direction is horrible then I think that’s going to be a pretty large percentage of the population. It’s about keeping those thoughts to yourself, not never having them exist to begin with. And yeah, try to reframe and think differently when you can but not self-berating anytime a mean thought crosses your brain.

              3. Recovering journalist*

                It is not understandable, even more than having vile racist thoughts is understandable because we live in a racist culture.

                Both you and OP do need to do some inward examination if you jump to personal insults when stressed, regardless of whether they are vocalized. Think about it: your instinctual reaction is hateful and unkind. If you think that is okay or you think it is normal or healthy, you are kidding yourself.

                1. Lissa*

                  I’m sorry, but I think you are kidding yourself if you believe the majority of people have never had an unkind thought cross their mind. I’m sure those paragons of humanity exist, but for most of us mortals, it does happen and it’s about what we do after those first thoughts – not about never allowing them to happen in the first place.

                2. Recovering journalist*

                  I am certainly not a “paragon of humanity,” but when I am stressed and someone is bugging me, in my mind I think “Jerk!” I don’t think “sizist insult,” “racist insult”, etc. etc. That isn’t that weird. It really isn’t. If you think it is, maybe you have some thinking to do too.

        2. gmg22*

          This thought-provoking statement prompts a personal confession of something ugly. As a college student, I once got rip-roaringly mad at a professor over a grading dispute. Not to her face, I stress — but in furiously recounting our meeting to my roommate, I used a homophobic slur to describe the prof. As soon as it came out of my mouth, I shocked myself, and wished I could take it back. It was a good “never ever use that word again” moment, and I never have. But in that moment, I did a bigoted thing. So how long would I have to spend paying back one hateful word said in anger before it wouldn’t be considered part of my “character”? Or does that one word immediately and irrevocably put me on the same level as someone who throws around hatefulness all the time, every day, throughout their life?

          1. Autumnheart*

            Well, if it makes you feel less like an outlier, I did a similar thing with a different type of slur when I was in HS. Now I’m in my mid-40s and I still cringe whenever I think of it! The same is true of a few other occasions in my 20s where I did something really cringeworthy and not cool.

            I basically think of it like, our characters are the way we choose to be, and if the embarrassing memory serves a purpose at all, it’s a reminder that I don’t want to be that person and will make a point of not repeating such an incident.

            People can and do lose their careers and their futures to one moment of (documented) ugliness. We can’t even say that a one-off isn’t reflective of the person they really are, because if that one moment comes to define you in the public eye, it becomes very difficult to claim credibly that “I’m not like that” when the only thing society sees is the time you *were* like that. All the more reason to eliminate that behavior pattern entirely–you never know when Candid Camera is going to capture you in a moment that won’t reflect well on you. It’s like, you can have sex only one time and still get pregnant, you can drive after drinking the only time in your whole life and still kill someone, because the laws of physics and reality don’t care if it was the first or only time. If the conditions align perfectly to capture you in that moment, that’s it. It happened and it can’t un-happen, and then it becomes part of your story, good or bad.

        3. Lissa*

          So there’s no such thing as out of character actions or words, because if you said it or did it it’s in character? I really don’t think that makes sense, or the word “character” becomes totally meaningless.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think “character” does mean what we treat it as meaning, tbh. Most of us will do most things if events line up right, and I don’t think there’s essential goodness or badness. A lot of this is about the practices of your group, too. So I don’t think there’s an essential character and that sometimes we color outside the lines.

            I’m more interested in what you we afterwards. Do we, like gmg22 above, immediately realize that you find this horrifying and consciously put a mental fence up? That’s different from the person who says “Whoa, might have gotten caught” and then only uses the word in a whisper in future. But I also don’t hold it against a person who heard that, or the homophobic joke I remember telling at 17, and thought “Dude–no” and kept a wide berth from us afterwards, either, because these are things we did, and other people get to make their own choices about that.

    2. Not a one time thing*

      People I have seen who go to personal insults when they are angry mostly do say these things all the time. They usually are not talking to people different from them so the insults aren’t seen as horrible. Most people don’t spout hatred as a one time deal, they are always thinking it so it is always leaking out.

      So the op may not need true counseling but op needs to learn how to express their self without going to middle school warfare as an adult.

  24. Doctor Schmoctor*

    #4 I once showed up for a job interview where I was led into a room with about 10 other candidates, and we were given a test. A written test. There was no interview, just “you have two hours”. Someone asked “when is the actual interview” and the dude from the company said, “we’ll let you know.” Then he walked out. I got up and left. Some of the other left too.
    I don’t want to work for a company that treats people like school kids.

    There is no way I would spend 10-20 hours on something for a job interview. I’m not that desperate for money.

    1. Recent Anon Lurker*

      Totally not cool to sneak an assessment on someone by calling it an interview. I don’t blame you for leaving, I would have too.

  25. RUKiddingMe*

    #3 Can’t the boss just find out when/where from the CC company? Won’t the charge on the account statement setve as a defacto receipt of sorts?

    1. Nearly out the door*

      That’s what we used to do in a previous role of mine where I was managing a lot of new-to-the-workforce people – the number of receipts they “lost” (read: forgot to take or ask for) on their first expenses claims was pretty high, but finance were able to take the credit card statement and an breakdown of what that expense was for. For less than $5 there would probably not even be the slightest worry about tax issues (for larger amounts, there can be, but I know of several large bills that were only backed up by the cc statement that were audited and passed).

      Yes, there was a little bit extra paperwork, but it happens and your wife’s boss is being a jerk (and also making themselves look like a twit)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, there is a cut-off point where the size of the purchase is so small that it’s not worth the labor hours to track it down and verify the legitimacy of the purchase. The only thing to do there would be to watch and make sure it’s not happening on a regular basis with any one person.

    2. Antilles*

      I was wondering that too.
      I work for companies that regularly submit invoices to governments and regulators and everywhere I’ve ever worked, there was a policy where if you lost a receipt worth less than a trivial sum ($25 or something), there’s just a specific Lost Receipt form. The form is significantly more hassle than the normal expense-with-receipt but it was pretty commonplace: Accounting pulls the list of charges and uses that as a pseudo-receipt, then you manually highlight the charge in question and write out everything you bought (to justify that it’s really a project expense), and then it gets signed off by a full department head rather than a mere department head (to help verify the expense is legitimate). It’s not something that’s encouraged and if it happened more than once, you’d definitely get a lecture about the importance of documentation, but it’s not something where someone would fly off the handle and suggest shredding all credit cards over it.
      And again, the expense reports were eventually submitted and invoiced to governments and regulators…and even they were reasonable enough to know that sometimes receipts get lost.

    3. Observer*

      The problem here is not the lost receipt. The problem is a boss who is a control freak who is either a drama lama or a punitive jerk – or both. Sure, there are almost certainly ways to get a copy of the receipt, and the size of the SINGLE purchase is small enough that it shouldn’t really matter much. But, the boos doesn’t care about any of this. Because if she did, her first step would be to check this stuff, not threaten to shred toe company cards.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Never mind the fact that shredding all the company cards would make it exponentially more difficult to accurately track receipts. It’s not even a threat that makes sense in this context.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          “Shredding all the company cards” = “No one is allowed to have a company card anymore.”

          What about that doesn’t make sense? (Except the basic premise.)

  26. Lynn Marie*

    OP #1: I don’t have advice for you, but just want to say you have my sympathy and support because it sounds like you’re in a terribly stressful situation and it must feel awful. I hope writing in and getting advice from Allison and all the comments helps you – you can get through this.

      1. Lilo*

        Where an earth are you getting that? Op isn’t performing and she is frustrated. I know we tend to side with LWs in this forum, but there is nothing to indicate boss has done anything wrong here.

  27. Glomarization, Esq.*

    LW#4, a 10-20 hour unpaid busy work assignment as a screening tool for your firm is bananas. Maybe it’s barely OK for your incoming freshman cohort, but I wonder what the OCI folks at your local law school(s) would actually say about it.

    Even a lawyer at the beginning of their career will look at 10 hours and start to calculate how much of their electric bill they could pay with 10-20 hours of that kind of money. At the stage where I’m at at my career? I’d be rolling on the floor laughing at this, if it weren’t so sad.

    A lawyer never guarantees anything, but I guarantee that you are losing the best candidates over this ridiculous measure.

  28. Llamas at Law*

    OP #4- do you give these candidates access to your firm’s legal research platform (Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg etc.)? If you do not, how do you expect them to do the research? Use their employer’s platform (which would be stealing, IMO)?

    Using myself as an example, I have been practicing law for 13 years. I have filed literally hundreds of documents publicly, many of which include legal research and analysis. If you can’t find what you want out of that selection (which is must more “real life” law than a random research memo), why? Why can’t briefs in support of summary judgment or motions to dismiss satisfy the same need?

    Also, 10-20 hours is 2-3 days of work. What lawyer has that much free time? And as I think someone pointed out above, that is a huge cost. My rate is $260 an hour in most cases. You’re asking me to screw my employer out of $2,600- $5,200 in billings by doing free work for you?

    I guarantee that you’re missing out on a lot of great candidates because of this.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Unless you’re a solo, my guess is that the rebuttal to your suggestion would be that they don’t know how much of a publicly-filed brief you wrote versus the other attorneys listed and how much supervision/rewrite was required by the signing partner. When we file an SJ or MtD, there are usually 3-5 names on it, and it was usually written by 1-2 of them with varying degrees of oversight (up to and including, rewrite the whole thing) by the signing partner.

  29. Mercurial*

    Op1: I think Alison’s advice is spot-on in terms of evaluating whether this role is correct for you and whether you want to put significant extra effort in to performing better and improving. If you really think that you may have said cruel comment this both out loud and in your boss’s earshot – and you are committed to the role – then one way to tackle it might be to ask for a meeting, and explain that you recognise you have been having performance issues that have been causing you something extreme frustration, and that you may have even been inadvertently and unconsciously rude for which you apologise most sincerely. From this point on you will be doing your level best to perform to the standard expected and you wanted to let them know that. To be honest, it may not work-if your boss heard do you say that then she may be working on managing you out of the role anyway. But at least you can apologise without repeating exactly what was said and risking hurting her even further.

    1. Name Required*

      I wouldn’t use the ” inadvertently and unconsciously rude” part. There’s no benefit to OP to say that. As a manager, I would hear, “I either can’t or won’t be responsible for my emotional behavior at work” if someone told me that they were inadvertently or unconsciously rude. I get that when someone has high levels of stress, their behavior sometimes doesn’t reflect the best of them … but managing that stress and frustration is a basic requirement in the workplace. If you can’t do that, you can’t act professionally. And if you’re performing poorly on top of that? Eh, she shouldn’t nail herself into that coffin.

      Honestly, I’ve been this lady (without the fat shaming remark) — so overwhelmed, frustrated, and anxious that any additional stressor could make me lose it. The most positive response I’ve gotten in addressing this was to plainly say, “My behavior has been unprofessional and unacceptable. I won’t behave this way in the future, even if I get frustrated. I am working on the skills I need to succeed in this role, including my interpersonal skills. Is there anything I can do to make this right?” And then listen and follow through. Very often, owning the behavior, listening, and proving you’re a person of your word is all that’s required to turn the situation around.

    1. Observer*

      I can’t speak for the OP, but I’d guess it’s because she boss jumped to the nuclear option and dumped all over Wife – and Wife is clearly overwhelmed by this.

  30. FabTag*

    LW #4, the company of which I am co-owner gives job candidates assignments that will take several hours, but we always pay them — up to $200 per candidate or $20 per hour we expect the assignment to take. This results in a much higher caliber of candidates and sets the tone that we believe their work has value. We’ve found many outstanding candidates will do work well beyond the number of hours we are paying for.

  31. SigneL*

    OP3 – your wife can almost certainly get a duplicate receipt from the credit card company. I’d be brushing up my resume, because I wouldn’t work for that boss very long.

  32. SigneL*

    #3 – I wonder if the boss thinks the credit card has been compromised because the receipt has been lost? It should be easy to find out.

        1. garfield and friends*

          If that’s the case, it can be solved by showing the boss any kind of receipt.

          Bending over backwards really far with the benefit of the doubt… losing a CHECK might cause this problem because of check fraud. But checks and store recipes are different animals.

          1. Où est la bibliothèque*

            I know somebody who, when turning in personal receipts for expense reimbursement, blacks out the last four digits of the credit card number that shows on the receipt. Some people are just paranoid about credit cards.

          2. teclatrans*

            I agree that, if the boss really doesn’t know how modern credit card receipts work, then the simple solution is to get a copy from the store and submit it (without mentioning that it’s a copy).

        2. LQ*

          I think this is the answer. The boss is an immortal vampire who thinks $4.66 is a huge amount of money, has no idea how receipts or credit cards work and is sucking the life from OP#3’s wife.

          Encourage your wife to go for an all garlic diet and job hunt during the day when it’s safer.

    1. GG*

      This is what I’m thinking. Because I can see a missing receipt resulting in being told you won’t get reimbursed for that expense. (And yes, that’s putting aside all the ways of getting a duplicate receipt or just using the line on the statement.) But I just don’t see the connection between “missing receipt” and “we have to shred all of the cards on the corporate account.” It just makes absolutely no sense.

      1. Competent Commenter*

        And, uh, let him shred them. They will be reissued for free. I don’t get why that’s such a big threat.

    2. Marthooh*

      That’s what I was thinking! Maybe the boss thinks a receipt is the only way to be sure that the charge was made by a legitimate user, so lack of a receipt means the card is compromised.

      Obviously this is wacky, but some people think of using electronic funds as akin to summoning a demon — if you don’t do the ceremony just right. you forfeit your soul. Or, you know, your credit rating.

    3. teclatrans*

      I agree. Allison’s answer makes me think she heard “boss is threatening to get rid of corporate credit cards because she thinks we can’t handle them,” but the way OP worded it (and the specific use of the word “shredding” — which I think is not metaphorical but literal) makes me think that the boss actually thinks that the missing receipt has compromised *that card.* Which…30 years ago, when credit cards were run on those little carbon-copy machines, this was a valid concern. It was very important to destroy or secure your receipt, because all the relevant info was on there. (I think the three-digit security code on the back didn’t exist then.)

  33. Not So NewReader*

    OP1: Try to ease up on yourself. I do understand you are saying the boss is hard on you but it sounds like you are much harder on your own self than the boss is. Remember, if it’s not right to say to a dear friend then it is not right to say it to yourself either. What are you doing, beating yourself until your attitude improves?

    Use affirmations, OP. Tell yourself nice, reassuring things. “I can get this.” “Okay if I just look at this for a few minutes then I will figure it out and it will be okay.” No one can do this for us, sadly. We have to cheer lead ourselves through stuff. Affirmations are very powerful because even if you use your affirmations roboticly without feeling, they can still help. It’s about trying to use affirmations, not about how well we say the affirmations. Many, many people are privately encouraging themselves to move forward, so you are not alone here.

    I am saying all this, OP, because I am sensing a lot of anger in your writing. You know, life is hard and when it’s not hard that is only because it is down right impossible. Your anger is probably justified. I don’t even know you but I do know that many people face terrible, terrible situations. The key is what we do with that anger. Do we let it swallow us right up and swallow our lives right up?
    Find ways to help dissipate that anger. Drinking water every day helps organ function, if the organs are functioning correctly that can lessen physical stress and in turn less mental stress.
    Take walks. Even a 15 minute walk daily can make a difference. That extra energy (anger) has to go somewhere why not chose to spend some of it by walking.

    Last and this one is the weirdest. It could just be your workplace. Honestly, I have left jobs because everything I touched turned to crap. These were short stints, I got out when I saw that there was just something there where I would not ever excel at the job. To this day, I cannot tell you what that thing was. I moved on to something else and the difference was day and night. Some workplaces are just a bad match and there is no real solid reason to describe why it’s a bad match. Put yourself in places where you will succeed.
    I hope you let us know how you are doing.

  34. What’s with Today, today?*

    #3 sounds ridiculous but companies can be ridiculous. When I used to work for then-Clear Channel (mid 2000s), my boss got his butt chewed repeatedly over a missing $1.99 receipt. He been driving through West Texas in a company truck, through a dust storm, and needed washer fluid. Lost the receipt some how. I thought he’d never hear the end of it. Lol.

  35. JB*

    Dear Lawyer Types:

    If a potential client asked you to do 10-20 hours of work in order to assess whether you were the best law firm, would you bill them for that time?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    1. Nita*

      For what it’s worth, this is not super uncommon in my industry. Only for big clients, of course, but it’s not completely out there for multiple people with high billing rates to spend hours on putting together a proposal. I guess similar reasoning might go for a job – again, only if you’re confident this job is really worth that kind of effort.

    2. lawyer*

      I can’t tell what answer you’re expecting here, because we regularly do spend 20+ hours putting together RFP responses or preparing for pitches, and we’re not paid by the prospective client for that. I would not expect to pay a job candidate for their time interviewing or prepping for an interview, but nor would I ask them to do a 10-hour sample assignment for me. We’ve considered practical exercises as part of our hiring process for junior lawyers, but everything we’ve considered has been something that could be added at the end of the interview (so a 1-1.5 hour writing exercise, completed in our office).

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Exactly – the client acquisition process is competitive and requires all-cost employees to research and submit the information that clients want when selecting counsel, along with at least some legal research into the issue to which the matter relates. Nearly all client onboarding requires some level of free work.

        And clients are not shy at telling you what they will/will not pay for or insisting you write off/write down time even after the bills are sent.

    3. CTT*

      In my experience that’s my what clients ask for when they consider hiring you; you make a pitch and discuss previous deals and spend a lot of time working with them to figure out expectations (which you bill to marketing in the hopes that this nonbillable work turns into real work), but a client who said “do free work for us” isn’t good business for anyone.

    4. Arctic*

      Yeah, that’s a really terrible example because you are lucky if you are only doing 10-20 hours of free work for a client. Despite the reputation of milking out ever 15 minute increment, clients (especially savvy clients who employ big firms) expect a lot of freebies.

  36. Not Today Satan*

    I know that we’re not supposed to armchair diagnose, but for the sake of people reading–obsessing over and being unsure of whether you did something (usually either taboo or awful) can be a form of OCD. The multiple phrasings that OP1 didn’t know whether she had said it rang some alarm bells.

    It could also be that OP often doesn’t know when she mutters things, or is simply trying to retain plausible deniability. But the anxiety diagnosis + wanting to ask the boss (seeking reassurance) makes me think it’s a possibility. Not trying to diagnose the individual. But most people aren’t aware of this type of OCD so I thought it might be beneficial to share.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, I think this is really worth considering; I thought about that too. It’s the verbal equivalent of people who become convinced that they hit somebody with their car and need to circle back to check (dunno if technically this would be a variant of harm OCD but it doesn’t really matter). OP, is this something that’s ever happened to you before, and are you seeing somebody for your anxiety/depression who might be able to explore this possibility with you?

    2. beth*

      Obsessing over a past mistake is also a common symptom of general anxiety (the clinical kind, not the ‘everyone gets nervous sometimes’ kind), which OP has already told us they struggle with. One way or another, OP might benefit from checking in with their medical team.

  37. Lexi Kate*

    #3 If they do cut up the credit cards there is more to it than this one $4.99 charge with no receipt. That $4.99 may be what breaks the camel’s back but it wasn’t the start of it if it does. With your wife’s manager being so upset I would guess she was already in hot water due to her/her team submitting too many charges with no receipts or for other issues and was under a no more mess ups or the card is gone by her management. Most places have something in place to ok up to a certain amount if a receipt is lost by an employee (ours is up to $25), but usually if the company has a name that gives you an idea of what they sell it’s an easy gloss over. If I get a $6.50 charge from Starbucks with no receipt, and the person submitting says they got a coffee I’m going to let it go.

  38. ElmyraDuff*

    I’m pretty concerned about OP 1’s flippant attitude about the content of her comment. Commenting on someone’s weight is never, ever okay.

  39. garfield and friends*


    We’ve had people whose writing samples (the equivalent of a portfolio) were fine, but who did an inadequate job on the assignment.

    I’m willing to bet that this has more to do with this being absurdly onerous than on the people not being good candidates. Will you catch a few bad candidates this way? Maybe. Are you more likely to just screen out people who do not have time for this? Yep.

    LW, you’re screening people out that you probably don’t want to be. You probably also have people who give up at this stage and screen themselves out. How useful is this to you if it’s costing you candidates? How useful is this to you if it’s impacting your ability to attract candidates?

    If people have any other options, when you dump this on them, they’re gonna take the other options.

  40. Four lights*

    Re #4: A few commenters are saying that this might not be the worst for students fresh out of law school. However, not every new attorney is a twenty year old with time on their hands. Some people go into law later in life, and may have family commitments. (I’m thinking of one attorney I know who started as a paralegal and probably passed the bar in her late 30s.)

    1. lawyer*

      The thing is, the value of this for new attorneys isn’t related to their age – it’s valuable because they don’t have extensive experience. And that’s going to be true regardless of chronological age at graduation. Someone who was previously a paralegal would actually be an exception, because they already have a lot of experience, but otherwise it’s not really about the person’s age.

      1. FTCLTL*

        I read Four Lights’ comment as meaning older / career change law graduates might have other time commitments / family obligations / etc that would prevent them from being able to complete this kind of assignment.

        1. Four lights*

          Yes, I’m saying that the idea that it might be okay to require a fresh out of law school applicant to complete a 10-20 hour assignment on the assumption that they don’t have any other commitments is an incorrect assumption.

          1. TootsNYC*

            actually, I don’t think it’s OK to require that much effort even of young, single people with no family.

    2. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I used to work with a woman who graduated from law school at 40 as a divorced mother of two (she went to law school at night while working full-time). But regardless of age, 10-20 hours of unpaid work as part of any hiring process is nuts. I certainly wouldn’t do it.

    3. Anon From Here*

      Onerous application procedures do fall more heavily on second-career lawyers who have more commitments outside of work than the younger set. So there’s definitely a risk that take-home projects like the 10-20 hours described (!) will screen out otherwise perfectly competent and reasonable hires.

      But a baby lawyer is still a baby lawyer, whether they got their license at 22 or 42. (I was closer to 42.) So some kind of skills assessment — maybe something you can accomplish during the time you already set aside for the interview, as lawyer posted above at 8:44 a.m. — isn’t a terrible idea in and of itself.

  41. kittymommy*

    #3. The boss is being an drama llama her. If the government entity I work for, probably +100 corporate cards and receipts are required for EVERYTHING, can figure out how to deal when a receipt goes missing and not shred all the cards, this department can.

    I cannot even imagine the nightmare if we had to shred and replace all the cards we have.

  42. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    OP1, not okay! If you’re frustrated and lashing out in your real life that is something to work on.

    Lately, in my life, I feel kind of frustrated with people who push food at me or buy into Health at Every Size (good original ideas but in its current iteration it appears to deny that high weight causes problems). This is because I have lost a good amount of needed weight. But I’d NEVER call my boss or friend or partner a fat ass, even under my breath! It just wouldn’t cross my mind.

    I’d examine, if I were you, if you have underlying resentments or anger that make you lash out. There are skills to deal with that! It will also help your view of your life in general.

  43. Kix*

    OP #1’s situation reminds me of a similar situation that happened with me when I was a first line supervisor many years ago. One of my team wasn’t on a formal PIP, but I was coaching her to improve her performance and one afternoon after we’d had a coaching session, I heard her mutter under her breath, “Fat bitch.” I guess she thought I didn’t hear her, but I did. I replied, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but whether I’m a fat bitch or not doesn’t take away from the fact that you need to improve your work performance here.” She was mortified. I was probably in that job for six more months before I was promoted to a different department, and she spent those six months trying to make up for what she said.

  44. Snickerdoodle*

    OP #2: I’ve had coworkers similar to K., and they’re the worst. One was lazy and would try to tell me to calm down when I was hustling to get both our jobs done; I glared and ignored her because I knew she was aware that she looked bad in comparison. And hey, moving fast doesn’t mean I’m panicked or stressed; it means I’m getting stuff done while she goofs off all day. Thankfully, it didn’t go unnoticed, but I quit before it ever got truly resolved. (That just meant the lazy girl had to do both our jobs instead of neither, and I sabotaged my job gleefully on my way out. Heh.) The other extraordinarily bad/lazy coworker I had was a piece of work; she got rude with anybody who called her on anything, tried to go over the manager’s head when she got lectured about her attitude, got told by the grandboss to keep her snippiness to herself, and quit before she got fired. It was beautiful. Anyway, my point is that if you’re doing a good job and your boss is halfway competent, they’re already aware of the issue and documenting problems and preparing to take steps accordingly, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to address it. Either way, your lazy coworker is probably going to quit or get fired if her behavior doesn’t change.

    OP #3: I had a super controlling boss like that and quit for precisely that kind of behavior. Every time the slightest thing went wrong, the supposed offender would get hauled into the boss’s office for a closed door lecture which included yelling, threats of firing, questioning their entire skill set, etc. They especially loved to accuse people of theft. It would have been one thing if legitimate theft ever occurred or if there were a buildup of other offenses, but it never was. It was ALWAYS the bosses themselves who’d actually committed the offense and then tried to pin in it on somebody else to save face. Ridiculous minutiae such as what you describe resulted in low morale and high turnover. For instance, the boss once didn’t see an IM on Skype because he was goofing off, and he tried to tell the whole office not to use Skype anymore because it was unreliable and a timewaster. He also misplaced a hammer once and first said somebody stole it and then, when he found it, said that somebody had moved it closer to the door so they could steal it later. –face palm– Your wife’s boss sounds a lot like that, and I think she should get out before that behavior escalates. Nobody reasonable behaves like that, and nobody reasonable wants to work for anybody unreasonable.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Jeez! I had *that boss* once too. He was always accusing people of things as thought they were trying to rip him off. It sucks.

    2. Letter#2*

      Thanks! The problem with coworker K quitting or being fired is that we’re already shorthanded and overworked. If we lose anybody (no matter how much they complain or shirk their share of the work), the deeper in a hole we’ll be.
      Sorry this update is late, i’m recovering from a (stress induced?) miserable cold.

  45. tpp*

    OP4: There’s a simple fix of making this sort of thing ok. Pay the candidates a fair, competitive hourly rate for the work. Tell them up front that it’s likely taking them 10 – 20 hours and pay them for 15 hours.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I was never so relieved as a hiring manager than when my new employer said, “You should pick your finalists, and then pay them to work a shift with you.” (Fortunately, we had evening shifts, so people could do it after work, and I could be flexible on how soon they came, when they started, how long they stayed, etc.)

      Being able to reimburse them for that extra time was really important to me.

    2. Jessie the First (or second)*

      That’s not a feasible solution.

      1. Employed attorneys generally work long hours. This past week, for example, I was working 9 to 6 in the office, plus at home in the evening 3 nights, plus a couple of hours each weekend day. (And I am in a small boutique work-life balance firm.) You can offer to pay me for my 10 to 20 hours – but I won’t take you up on it because I do not have the time. I’m not going to take time off work for this.

      2. Many attorneys’ billable rates – assuming private practice, assuming some experience – are going to be fairly high. What would you pay a BigLaw 3rd year associate who is making $200,000 a year at her job? Are you going to do that for the group of second-round candidates? That is an expensive hiring process. If you pay the same hourly rate as contract attorneys make (in my area, about $30 per hour) , that won’t be an incentive to the big law attorneys (or the medium law, or the boutique law attorneys) and it will not likely convince any of them to continue.

      10 to 20 hours of an assignment – whether free or paid some nominal, contract type rate – is not workable.

  46. Justin*

    Echoing waht many have said #1. The solutions have been spelled out re: work (apologize for frustration, perhaps look at moving on, etc). And indeed, work on treatment plans.

    As a fellow person with depressive issues, I empathize, and, though not that specific target (weight), when I was younger and unaware of my issues, I’m sure I said targeted things (though not at work). It only was able to vanish when I specifically talked out my issues with various groups in session, so you might want to talk that out explicitly. It’s understandable to have unkind thoughts (I think we all do), but when it’s a specific group, we owe it to ourselves to unpack it as much as we can. I’m still working on all my own, but working on it is a big step, and I hope you can do the same. It’s also just a weight off one’s shoulders not to hold onto intensely negative feelings based on group representation, but I’m getting off topic now.

  47. Not Today Satan*

    Even when I was desperate for a new job, I *never* would have taken 10 hours to complete an assignment for a prospective employer. Because I didn’t want to jump from the frying pan into the fire in terms of yet another terrible employer–and expecting me to complete such an assignment would indicate to me that the employer is controlling, doesn’t feel like I’m an equal, will want me to work 100 hours a week, etc. You’re undoubtedly missing out on a lot of good candidates.

  48. Anoncorporate*

    #4: I completed a 10-20 hour assignment for my current job. Because of the type of person I am, I wish we did these in lieu of in person interviews. I feel like the written case study is the only reason I got a job offer at all during my job search, because I didn’t have much experience but it gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my abilities. On the other hand, I can’t recall a single time an in person interview was useful for me in assessing a prospective job.

    1. KHB*

      I had a similar experience to you. The hiring manager gave me a weekend to do the assignment and said I could spend “as much or as little time as I wanted” on it. I ended up spending pretty much the whole weekend on it, so probably at least 16 hours and maybe closer to 20. Like you, I didn’t have much experience with the skills they were testing for – almost nobody does who doesn’t already work here – so the assignment not only gave them valuable information about my abilities but also gave me a taste of the kind of work I’d be doing for 40 hours a week. All in all, I thought it was a useful experience (although in fairness, I might not feel the same way if I hadn’t gotten the job in the end).

      Nowadays I’m on the other side of the table – I don’t make hiring decisions myself, but I’m senior enough to help my manager evaluate candidates. Our hiring process still includes the same type of assignment, and as far as I know, we’re not losing a significant number of candidates (if any) because of it. (The assignment comes after the phone interview and before the in-person interview, so if people were bailing at that stage, we’d know about it.) I really don’t think we could get anywhere close to the same results if we trimmed it down to a 1-2 hour exercise.

      1. Observer*

        You might know if people are bailing, but you might not know why. And you would never know that people didn’t even apply because they heard about it.

        If the only way you can assess skill level you ARE losing people who have options and know how to ask the right questions before they go for a job.

        To be honest, I’m also wondering what other demands you are making on people without any consideration for their welfare because it works for the company?

        1. KHB*

          “You might know if people are bailing, but you might not know why.”

          People aren’t bailing, is the thing. I thought I was clear about that.

          “And you would never know that people didn’t even apply because they heard about it.”

          I won’t be so arrogant to say that this is impossible, but I really don’t think it’s a significant factor either. Because of the specifics of our candidate pool (i.e., we’re in a small industry, but our new hires are almost exclusively people who aren’t already working in the industry), the word on the street about our supposedly onerous hiring process would have to be really widespread if it’s going to reach any significant fraction of our potential applicants. I have a hard time imagining that word could spread so far and wide without any of us having any idea about it. But like I said, maybe I’m wrong.

          “If the only way you can assess skill level you ARE losing people who have options and know how to ask the right questions before they go for a job.”

          That’s really interesting that you’re so certain about an employer and an industry that you don’t know anything about.

          “To be honest, I’m also wondering what other demands you are making on people without any consideration for their welfare because it works for the company?”

          To reiterate, I’m not personally in a position to be making demands of anybody. But actually, this is a great place to work in terms of employee welfare and work-life balance. I’m basically never in the office for more than 40 hours a week. Maybe a few times a year, a project will take more time than I anticipated, and I’ll put in a few hours over the weekend. And the boss makes clear that if people are regularly working overtime, he wants to know about it, because it’s not supposed to be that way.

          1. Anoncorporate*

            Same here re work life balance. I am not overworked in my current company. Tbh, I agree with Alison and others that 20 hours is a bit much. Like you, though, mine was more “spend as much time as you want”, but let’s be real, I wanted the job and wrote a 5-page report, so it took some time. I think the main point I was trying to make in my original comment is that test assignments can help people new to the workforce who do not yet have a portfolio. I was suffering from the problem of every entry level position wanted 5 years of experience, and I had just graduated. The assignment gave me chance to prove myself despite lack of experience.

            1. KHB*

              To elaborate on that aspect of things: A common solution to the “how do I get experience when all the jobs require experience?” conundrum is to cobble together some related experience through internships and volunteer work. But that also has the effect of weeding out people who can’t afford to work for free. (I know not all internships are unpaid. But way too many of them are.)

              When I decided I wanted to move into my current field, I started by trying the “gain experience and build a portfolio through volunteer work” thing. But it was really hard to find volunteer opportunities that were close to what I wanted to eventually do, and it was really hard to follow through on them on top of everything I was already doing for my regular job. (And I didn’t even have any major personal responsibilities like kids.) For me, it turned out to be a whole lot easier to spend one weekend on an assignment that tested the specific skills the employer wanted, than it would have been to spend weeks, months, or years on volunteer work with no guarantee that any employer would ever look twice at it.

              1. Anoncorporate*

                I did both paid and unpaid internships throughout college/grad school. For me, it didn’t help even though the experiences were related to the jobs I applied for. I struggled. I took a couple of contract jobs before landing a full time job. I am in a very competitive city/market. I am also a non-white female in a white male dominated industry, so there is reason to believe that (may???) have worked against me, as well.

          2. Observer*

            That’s really interesting that you’re so certain about an employer and an industry that you don’t know anything about.

            I don’t actually need to – this is a fairly universal issue. And you actually proved my point. Your description of your candidate pool IS one of people who don’t have better options if they want to be in this industry.

            That doesn’t make your process less onerous. It just makes it a process that people will accept because it’s the price of admission, reasonable or not.

            But it’s extremely rare that “people without many other options” and “excellent candidate pool” have a really high overlap. So, it’s certainly NOT advice that’s applicable to any other field.

            1. KHB*

              Then it’s a good thing that I’m not offering advice to anyone in any other field – just describing what worked (and works) in my own.

  49. Observer*

    Alison, on #4 you write “ For example, if you’ve got a candidate who’s employed 50 hours a week and is a single parent to young children, is she really going to find 10-20 hours to do this? Are you comfortable screening out people who just can’t make this work with the logistics of their lives?

    This is a law firm. I’d be willing to bet that the answer is an unequivocal yes, even if the firm won’t admit it. The OP may personally recognize that this makes no sense, but the ethos and culture of law firms is that it you have a personal life that requires more than minimal time commitment, you are not cut out for the work.

    An Atlantic Article notes that in many large law firms, lawyers typically bill 60-70 hours, of which they bill 40-50. (50 Billable hours is at the fairly high end, though.) Beyond that, there is a lot of evidence of a culture that really expects people (especially those on the lower) rungs to totally commit to the firm in a way that simply makes family a far second place priority.

    1. Riverdalek*

      Law firms shouldn’t use the excuse that they work a large amount of hours because to be honest, that really doesn’t set them apart from other fields. Many IT/Dev jobs are under the same pressure to work just as much. Lawyers aren’t this special set of harder working people. There are other roles that require just as much work with much more reasonable hiring policies.

    2. Thor*

      Putting aside the morality of that in the first place, your comment is ignoring the fact that applicants may have a job like this already. Where are the hours going to come from if you have such a demanding job and a family to do the assignment?

      1. Observer*

        I think you’re missing my point. I think it’s immoral, and I agree that it is ALSO filtering out potential candidates who already have biglaw jobs. My point only is that while they MIGHT care about that, they will NOT care about the demographic Allison describes, even though they might say otherwise.

        There is a reason why the legal profession has a bad reputation.

    3. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Agree that this law firm is likely fully comfortable screening out single parents. (Or anyone who has a clear “family” vibe to them.)

      But perhaps it would get through to the OP and her firm if she realized she is screening out people who have other options, people with busy jobs, people who are actually successful and good at what they do and don’t have to put up with crap like this when looking for a new job.

  50. Polymer Phil*

    OP 4 – I keep hearing about these homework assignments for new hires on AAM, but never elsewhere. Is this just a thing in the law field, or elsewhere? It’s pretty much unheard of in my field, and I really hope this isn’t a trendy new management fad.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not a fad; there’s an increasing recognition in many fields that you learn far more about a candidate’s work when you actually see them do the work, rather than just talking to them about it — like the way a football coach would want to see a potential player actually throw the ball. It’s better hiring. But typically assignments should be 1-2 hours at most.

      1. Recent Anon Lurker*

        My husband had to complete a skill assessment for one of his prior jobs just out of college back in the mid 00’s. This was something that all interview candidates were made aware of when the interview was scheduled, and they also provided all the required tools (this was a hands on and technical engineering skill). The assessment took about two hours.
        The only time while he was there that the skill test was skipped the person they hired was totally incapable of doing the hands on portion of the job, despite their portfolio and certification implying that they could do/had these skills.

        1. Observer*

          Which makes both cases – for doing the assessment and for keeping it to a reasonable amount of time.

          OP take this to heart. These areas have a lot in common with law in this respect.

      2. Polymer Phil*

        I hope they limit these to a reasonable number of candidates in addition to limiting the time commitment. I could see some company asking a few thousand applicants to do a 2-hour assignment just because it’s no skin off their nose. I would want to know I’m on a short list of finalists for a job before being asked to do this.
        Frankly, I find the current standard practice of two rounds of interviews really disrespectful of my time as well – I was starting to get nervous about faking yet another doctor’s appointment during my last job hunt.

    2. The Original K.*

      I’m a marketing and communications person and I’ve done them. They’re short though (1-2 hours) and the company doesn’t use them (write a press release for a thing that happened five years ago, etc.). You do sometimes run into companies that clearly just want you to rewrite their website for free as part of the interview process (my designer friends say they run into employers/clients who just want free work with some regularity), but I’m good at sussing those out by now, and I opt out at that point. I have sometimes had to do them in interviews themselves – you talk to someone for an hour and then you’re given an hour to do a thing. That’s OK as long as I know in advance that I’m going to be there for two hours (and I always ask that question if a time frame isn’t provided).

    3. londonedit*

      I’m an editor and most interviews will involve some sort of test. If it’s a commissioning job, you might be asked to come up with one or more ideas for new books, and perhaps write up proposals for them as if you were presenting them to an in-house meeting. That always irks me a bit because I worry that companies might be stealing people’s ideas, but realistically, in book publishing if you know the market then you’re probably going to be identifying things that the company in question is already looking at. And as a candidate if you’ve got any sense you’re going to choose things that show you understand the market but that aren’t totally incredible and revolutionary. With that sort of task, you’ll be notified in advance and you’ll complete the work before the in-person interview – but it’s probably 2 or 3 hours’ work at most.

      If it’s a project editing job, then you’ll usually get a proofreading and/or copy-editing task to complete, sometimes along with an exercise such as writing a short piece of cover copy for a new book, or condensing an existing piece of copy into a snappy marketing blurb. But those tasks will be done at the interview, and will usually only take 30 minutes-1 hour to complete. So yes, in my industry it’s pretty normal to have some sort of task to accompany an interview, because it’s a good way for employers to get a feel for the actual skills each candidate has. I could claim to be the best copy-editor in the world, but an employer would rather get some concrete evidence of that before they commit to hiring me.

    4. Red Lines with Wine*

      Technical writer here. My current job had me edit/rewrite an existing sample from their documentation set. They said it should take about an hour, but I spent about 2.5 because I needed to do some research, and discovered that the document needed a complete rewrite. I had no visibility into their environment, so I had to make a lot of assumptions, which is what irks me the most about this type of interview assignment.

      This kind of thing definitely does happen for writing-intensive jobs, in my experience.

    5. Solidus Pilcrow*

      I’m a technical writer and short writing assignments are very common and have been for years. I’ve taken several during the the interview itself. They do tend to be short: write a summary of software updates based on a page of developer notes; use a supplied style guide to edit and format a client communication; make up a template in Word.

    6. MCR*

      I’m a lawyer who lateraled from Biglaw to a small firm. The small firm that I work for now gave me a writing exercise, but it was a 2 hour assignment. I have since administered the same 2 hr assignment to other candidates and it’s been a great screening tool. It’s worked for litigators and non-litigators alike. I suggest you revisit your process.

    7. Autumnheart*

      It’s standard procedure in creative fields. We’re expected to have a portfolio of work, but because some outliers will pad (or invent) their portfolios with work that isn’t their own, the assignment is intended to determine whether the candidate can actually do the work.

      Unfortunately, the flip side of that coin is where companies or clients want you to create usable content “as an assessment”, and then they refuse to pay you but they use the content. It’s difficult to get a satisfactory conclusion out of that scenario, since it costs you more to pursue them legally than the work is worth, if you even have the money to take them to court in the first place.

      Clearly creatives and baby lawyers should team up! The lawyers would get “exposure” and the creatives would get a source for a nice, intimidating C&D for those content-stealers. :)

  51. Observer*

    #3 – Alison is right. Please talk to your wife and find out what is going on at work. Either she’s hyper-sensitive, which is something I would expect you would have been aware of, so I’m guessing that this is not the case. Or something really serious is going on at work. It doesn’t have to have been a major blow up. But a constant stream of craziness can really get to you.

    It sounds to me that beyond recognizing that the boss is being ridiculous over the matter, is to help your wife accept that a constant stream of “little” things is actually a very big thing. Yes, any one item is not a big deal and she should let it roll off her back, but when it’s ongoing that is not something she should – or possibly even CAN – let roll of her back. Think about the legal standard for harassment cases – the law say that a person has a case if the problem is SEVER – eg an assault, or PERVASIVE – ie small things that are not severe, but are still common. The legal reasoning is that even though any given issue is small overall it creates a negative environment that reasonable people cannot be expected to deal with. This is true not just for legally protected classes.

  52. Anagram*

    OP1: Do you feel like you are nearing burnout? For a person with chronic depression and everything it entails, it’s challenging enough to just sufficiently perform in a job, not to mention mastering a new one – and that in addition to everything else you have to deal with outside of your workplace. Difficulties with learning new things can also be related to your mental state more than to your age. Also, depression requires a lot of self-care which you might not have the strength for, and lowered self-esteem may cause you to push and keep pushing yourself too hard, because recharging doesn’t work properly either.

    Your already stressful situation has just got aggravated, so you need to find possible ways to reduce your burden. Apologising for showing your frustration is a good step, but is there anything else you can do? It would be great if some of your work tasks can be turned into a routine once you get used to them. Reevaluating job priorities could also help. If you feel there is nothing you can shift at work, are there ways to do less at home? Therapy and medication do give support, but things like taking walks and dedicating time to non-sternuous stuff you enjoy can make a difference, too.

    Honestly, I believe that on a larger scale, “Omg I might have thrown an insult” is much less of a problem than a possibility of a meltdown from pushing too hard when you are already straining. Chronic depression can be so crippling that there are no “spoons” for managing one’s own emotions, not to mention “faking cheerfulness”. These suggestions do not help. “How dare you use a fat-shaming slur” may be a valid reaction, but it does not help in the long run. I am surprised by the lack of the usual empathy I see in comments here.

    1. fposte*

      I actually think there is a fair amount of empathy in the comments considering the topic; in general, though, when a commenter performs an action intended to cause harm to somebody, a number of people are going to focus on that harm intention, and I think that’s fair as long as people aren’t mean. It’s not just “OMG I might have thrown an insult”; it’s “I may be downplaying a practice of being deliberately as hurtful as possible.”

      But I also think the OP may never have said or even have thought the insult at all and this may be driven by brainweasels.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, I think people are reacting to the fact that the OP doesn’t re express any remorse – she notes the remark was hateful, but doesn’t say anything like “that kind of language is out of character for me and I am mortified to think I could have attacked my supervisor in such a personal cruel way.”

        1. fposte*

          I also wonder if the header was the OP’s or Alison’s; it seems to eliminate the gray area if it’s the OP’s, and I think the dissonance between that and the letter may have made people side-eye her.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Huh, that’s interesting.

            The fact that the LW doesn’t remember whether she said it or not actually causes me to see her in a worse light.

            Because she either says this kind of thing often enough to not remember this specific time, thinks this kind of thing all the time and isn’t sure if it popped out verbally, or is lying to herself (and Alison) to try to manage people’s reactions about her crappy behavior.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, it’s a big fork for me on this one. Either she didn’t say it or anything like it and her brain is tormenting her that she did, in which case I have a lot of sympathy, or else she did say it and was careless enough to do it where she might get caught, which has scared her; in that case I have a lot less.

              But I do think the first is a possibility, and if the header wasn’t the OP’s, it may have suggested a certainty that I’m not yet convinced of.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                Interesting… I hadn’t considered the possibility that she didn’t even really think it, but rather that it’s all a mean trick of anxiety brain.

                (To me, whether she said it out loud or not doesn’t have much impact on my impression of her. Thinking it is the problem; verbalizing it is just a side effect.)

                1. fposte*

                  If you read anxiety/OCD forums, they are replete with posts by people who are convinced they’ve done something like this, or worse, and want to confess and apologize to somebody. I think that’s why some of us are wondering if that’s what’s going on here.

                  As far as the thoughts go, for most people as long as you keep your mouth shut and behave I don’t care about the thoughts, and a lot of us have random intrusive thoughts (I’ve never thought “fatass” before about anything and I guarantee you that’s going to float around my thought rotation for a while after this post). But most people don’t consciously think something a lot without ever giving voice to it, and I’d hope that anybody who was worried that their mental invective had spilled into the audible would think about what that might mean about them and the possibility that they’re hurting themselves as well as others.

                2. Lissa*

                  I do struggle with intrusive thoughts and tbh, it was my first thought going into this post – i am reading VERY carefully (tbh I did a find for the names of commenters I know are very reasonable and don’t tend to namecall) because I knew my own brain would hate reading stuff about how thinking mean thoughts makes you bad, etc. I do realize it’s a really common mindset to have, and it’s hard to explain this type of thought, but because of my own experiences I never want to say someone is nasty etc. based on just having a thought.

                  I also think that we are more likely to be sympathetic to people whose brainweasels send them up bad thoughts about themselves or ones that are super absurd than one’s whose thoughts revolve around specific societal prejudices, but very often intrusive thoughts DO latch onto Worst Thing Possible, so that does make it more likely that it could be something bigoted.

    2. neeko*

      You can be empathetic while still acknowledging that what OP1 said was wrong. Owning up for our mistakes and/or poor decisions is a part of life.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      You’re right, I have less empathy for this LW than I do for most.

      It’s because she’s showed us something really ugly about herself, and that’s what I’m most interested in about her story. Snapping at work happens — people get stressed, this LW in particular is dealing with depression, things happen. But using a slur designed to hurt people, one that leverages societal oppression against a person you’re frustrated with? That’s miles outside the bounds of normal adult behavior.

      So I’m less interested in how she can navigate her work situation (or even her stress and depression), and more interested in how she can become a better person; a person who doesn’t default to striking out oppressive slurs.

  53. peachie*

    #3… That seems like an overreaction even if she doesn’t end up actually shredding the cards. People lose receipts! It happens! Especially in event/conference situations, a TON of little “oh no, need this random thing NOW” things pop up, and it’s so easy for a receipt for a $3 print job or whatever to get lost while running back and forth trying to put out fires.

    Unless it’s a large sum of money and/or there’s a pattern of this and/or there’s a reason to suspect the expense may not have been legitimate, there’s no reason for that conversation to be anything more than “hey, in the future, maybe take a picture of your receipts as soon as you get them,” if that.

  54. HS Teacher*

    I was a commercial insurance agent for many years, and Ive yet to see a policy that won’t cover if employees work in inclement weather. Even if an employee/customer slipped and fell, the liability coverage would take care of it.

    If the boss deosn’t want you to work she should just say so instead of making up some BS insurance excuse. Although, to be fair, she may just be ignorant and not understand how insurance works. There’s a lot of that out there too.

    1. Arctic*

      They probably mean their Worker’s Comp insurance won’t cover (which is typical for most states if the employee is coming or going from work) so the office would exposed to tort liability, which is either more expensive or they may not have.

  55. MissDisplaced*

    For #3 The boss is being quite ridiculous over a <$5 receipt, and especially as your wife can pinpoint exactly what it was for too! Goodness, where I work, we are not even required to provide a receipt for under $10 purchases when traveling. If it's really that bad, the store may be able to provide you with a receipt if you have the card used to purchase the item, sometimes they can look it up that way. But honestly, this is pretty nuts.

    #1 I'm not sure what to say. Regardless if you said it or not, it sounds like this job may not be a good fit and aggravating your depression and anxiety. But I'm somewhat more concerned by the fact that you don't seem to remember whether or not you said it, coupled with an inability to learn new tasks. Does that happen often? If so, please discuss with your doctor! It may be something more than stress.
    Either way, you really need to have an open and honest discussion with your boss about what is and isn't working, and deciding together where to go from here.

  56. Seventh Knight*

    OP#1, as someone who is a “fat-ass”, I can assure you I know it, and, barring visual disability, I’m pretty sure everyone around me already knows it too. As such, using any sort of insult to point out aspects of someone’s body size in a moment of stress or frustration says far more about the insulter than the insulted.

    If reverting to schoolyard insults in a professional setting is your go-to when things are difficult or frustrating is your way to make yourself feel better, it might be time to seriously reflect on your coping strategies, and on your empathy towards other people.

  57. Usernames are not my forte*

    To the last LW, my cousin went through something very similar and it is a pretty funny story. We are all originally from Northern Wisconsin, aka the amount of snow we get in a day is more than most people get in a year. She had a job interview in North Carolina and they had got about an inch of snow the night before. She obviously didn’t think anything of it, and showed up on time for her job interview bright eyed and bushy tailed. She waited about 20 minutes after realizing that the doors were locked and called the interviewer. The interviewer thought that she was absolutely nuts, the whole business was shut down for the day due to the weather. She did end up getting the job, and they all joked that they knew she would be dedicated to the position because she braved the snow to get there.

  58. Meredith Brooks*

    As a self-admitted “fat ass” (among other things) I was pretty shocked by OP1’s letter. Not because she thought her boss was a fat ass or may have even mumbled it under her breath or in a staged whisper, but because I felt there was an undercurrent of justification of having done so. Being stressed is not an excuse for being mean. And quite frankly, calling someone fat, shouldn’t even be a nasty remark. It’s an adjective. Yet, you turned it into an expletive because someone upset you, not because they were ignorant or rude to you, but because they are frustrated by your lack of ability. Your response was to lash out at someone who is 1) trying to do their job and 2) likely trying to help you do a better job. Of course, your boss might be many things and a terrible person. But you literally ridiculed someone else’s appearance to make yourself feel better. I wonder if you would make the same type of comment if that person was a different race or religion, or was disabled. It’s not a hard leap, my friend. Before you even try to apologize for what you might have said, I would take a long, hard look in the mirror to make sure you actually are sorry for you said and can offer a genuine apology.

    1. Ja'am*

      Yes, yes, yes. I also don’t like the mention of depression and anxiety in the letter. What does that have to do with the subject matter truly? I see it as another form of justification. Idk, it just really irks me when people know they did something wrong and then they bring up their mental health issues. I have depression and anxiety too, but they’ve never made me a person who uses gross, hateful language like that, and especially not enough to ever let me even think about saying something like that, even under my breath, let alone actually leaving my mouth. Never.

      I also have a feeling that maybe people say things out loud even under their breath because they actually want someone to hear it. I think the best thing to do to ensure anything like this doesn’t happen again is to change your mindset, OP. There’s already some very good advice from those commenting on your letter here, please take the time to read them and self-reflect.

    2. Bevina del Rey*

      Right on, in full agreement. The issue here is much larger. When you’re judgmental to that degree, there’s usually some projecting going on, feelings of one’s own inadequacy, which could, indeed be the root of THINKING something like this, but SAYING it is another matter altogether. I think #1 could really use this as a chance to do some deeper work on self-acceptance and get the needed support to feel more able to be a kind person in the world.

  59. Asenath*

    Regarding OP1, I think that bad behaviour can be a reaction to stress, and sometimes that behaviour includes rude language – the exact type of rude language isn’t as important to me as it appears to be to others, and doesn’t say anything to me about the worth of OP1 as a person. She should certainly apologize (in general terms, since she’s not sure if the insult was heard or even said), work on dealing with her anxiety and depression, and, if she’s having as much trouble with this job as it seems in the letter, start working on both her current job (to get through it as well as possible) and her exit strategy.

    1. Recovering journalist*

      This is nonsense. Stress doesn’t cause people’s minds to think of cruel and hateful comments. You only think of those things if you are someone who judges people on that basis. You might have a shorter fuse or be more irrational or many other things, but the fact of the insult OP1 chose is all OP. And OP should look inward on that one.

  60. Elle Kay*

    #3 I wish I could agree with Alison and many other commenters on this being an overreaction. I mean, it is but it could still be a legit issue.

    So 1st off, it may be very inconvenient but I have had to send staff back to stores to get the store to pull up and re-print a receipt. And, yes, for $2-3 charges. It is a hassel but every store my staff has had to do this at has been able to do so. It would NOT be fun for your wife but the store SHOULD be able to.

    I work for a large university and I have 2 in-house “corporate” cards (one for each department) and I CANNOT close out the credit card for the month if I do not have EVERY receipt. And the university maintains the right to revoke the credit card if this happens. Which is nuts but true.

    1. Observer*

      Actually, the fact that every store should be able to print a receipt actually proves how big of an over-reaction this is. The reaction to this should be “you forgot the receipt? Please go back and have them re-print it.” If the boss is really rude “Get your *** over to the store and make them give you a copy!” “I’m going to shred the cards and IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” is beyond ridiculous.

      Also, there is a difference between revoking YOUR credit card. No university is shredding the all of the cards because of one receipt that YOU didn’t submit.

  61. Justin*

    OP4: I built an eLearning demo for a potential employer that took way too long to complete. And I got similar feedback as to how you are describing some of the products that you’re receiving: that it didn’t match the level of quality as what was in my portfolio. And you know why that is? Because my work portfolio is full of examples of my best work, produced over weeks or months, not a practice exercise or example produced on the fly.

    The other reason why my demo wasn’t as good as what was in my portfolio is that I wasn’t all that excited about building something that took that long to build on my own time and didn’t have a lot of time to build it.

    So you’re likely not getting the best work out of these applicants because they don’t really have the time to do their best work, or they don’t really want to because they have other options and think your place of business might not be the best place to work.

      1. Justin*

        Sure but your portfolio will have work that is your absolute best, and possibly that you’ve edited or expanded upon.

      2. Genny*

        There are still ways to test “on the fly” work without asking for 10-20 hours of someone’s time. Plus, it doesn’t sound like the OP is tracking how much time people are actually spending on the project, just that the company thinks it takes about 10-20 hours to complete (which a pretty large spread IMO). If you’re trying to test how well someone works under a deadline, have them complete the assignment during the interview or through a timed platform online.

  62. Xarcady*

    #4. Ten to twenty hours for a sample job is just too much.

    There’s a company near me that several times a year advertises for a position that would fit all my skills. Friends who are currently working there in that position have encouraged me to apply.

    Why haven’t I? The job is for a training/writing position. The company wants a sample lesson from each applicant. The company is in a very niche industry, so most applicants will not know the subject matter. You are given a chapter from one of their textbooks, and from that you need to develop a lesson plan. You need to storyboard the lesson plan. You need to have a PowerPoint presentation to go along with the lesson. You need to plan a webinar to present the lesson on line. You need to have handouts for the most important points. This task, including reading the chapter and figuring out what everything means well enough to teach it, has taken applicants 3-4 days of work. You only get 5 days to complete the task. You don’t actually get to teach the lesson, so everything must be written out.

    Sorry, that is just too much. I’d need to take time away from the job I’m working at now, and with no PTO, that means I’d loose a few days pay to work on a sample that might or might not get me a job. It might be a great job with a great company, but what they want is so complete and thorough that I have to wonder if they are using the lesson plans in their business.

    You might not be aware of it, but stuff like this gets around. Your company may have qualified candidates self-selecting out of applying because of the extent of your sample job.

    1. Justin*

      They’re certainly limiting themselves to people who are out of work already, people with jobs aren’t going to have time for this.

  63. Tracy*

    In reference to OP#4, I wonder if it’s possible that this firm feels they can demand such an arduous task of applicants because it’s such a tight market for attorneys? People seem to be willing to put up with things they normally wouldn’t when there are lots of applicants not not a lot of jobs. Still, it doesn’t seem right that this firm is doing that.
    Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Entirely possible. There are a glut of attorneys in the market now, and a lot of them are doing contract document review and even seeping into paralegal and other paraprofessional jobs long held by people without JDs. I just hired a recovering attorney for a staff position last month.

      I haven’t seen the graph in a while, but a fairly small percentage of attorneys are actually working six-figures-to-start BigLaw jobs. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the six-figures of debt to go to law school unless you’re going for loan forgiveness or going for broke, but that’s just my take.

  64. Erin from accounting*

    For LW3, as someone who works in the accounting department and collects documentation for expenses, it’s usually totally OK for small things like that to just snip the line out of the credit card statement! The date, amount, and store name are all recorded there.

    Maybe your wife can suggest that to keep the peace for now, but her boss is a loony for sure!

    1. Sparkly Librarian*

      Since it’s a corporate card, not a reimbursement for an expense charged to a personal card, the company has the credit card statement already. They know where, when, and how much was spent. What the manager is demanding is the store receipt that shows what items were purchased.

  65. Bevina del Rey*

    #1, have to take issue with what sounds like blaming your behavior on depression/anxiety. I’m empathic and know that it can create a sense of stress where parts of us come out that we’re not proud of. But I can honestly say that I would never even think of saying something like that no matter how anxious or depressed/stressed I was feeling/what I was going thru. This may be a sign you’re not ready to work. We all have times when we think judgmental thoughts, and so the challenge here is in impulse control, which, as mentioned by others, could be something you work out with therapy. Good luck!

  66. Hamtaro*

    OP1, you have to admit to yourself that you did a bad thing. Not because of your age or your stress or your depression/anxiety (I have those too! I don’t call people fatasses!). You are the one who is in the wrong.

  67. Elizabeth West*

    #1–Apologies if someone has already said, this, but OP, is your health okay? Sometimes health problems can cause cognitive issues. I’m thinking particularly of thyroid disease. I know when I was struggling with it, before I was diagnosed, my memory was crap and I felt like crap. I thought I was going crazy, TBH (it happened at 28, not 55, which made it even weirder). If you’d tried to teach me anything during that time, I would have forgotten it two seconds later.

    If you haven’t had a checkup in a while, I’d go get one and mention that you’re having a hard time learning new stuff. Of course, it may just be that this isn’t the right job for you, but if there is a problem, you don’t want it to follow you to a new job.

    In the meantime, if you want to stay at the job, you could maybe take initiative to ask your boss if you could sit down with her and discuss some of the issues you’ve been having. Maybe say, “I realize my performance hasn’t been up to what you may have expected. It hasn’t been up to my usual standard. Does it make sense for us to make an action plan?”

    And if she does bring up the “fat ass” comment, I would definitely apologize. But be prepared that she might say no, she doesn’t think it’s worth retaining you.

  68. Allison*

    I’ve always had to track expenses, but never even needed a receipt for something under $20 or $25…

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same, I think attaching receipts for petty amounts actually ticks our accounting department off. They do not need a printout from your farecard account for your $3 metro trip to the courthouse, thanks.

  69. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Re: OP1
    Many many years ago I decided to clean up my language by pulling a “Johnny Dangerously” and substituting common words not normally associated with insults. Toad and crabgrass were particularly satisfying. There were others.
    Everything was funny until I jokingly used one of the animals in conversation with someone who had had a childhood bully use that word on her for years…
    Oh boy. Since then I just try to stop the verbal punctuation entirely.

  70. LeeNYC*

    I am late to respond, so apologize it this is a duplication. OP, make a doctor’s appointment and get checked. You are 55, having trouble learning new things, and having a problem with impulse control. You may have had a mini-stroke or TIA.

  71. lobsterp0t*

    Wow, LW1, that’s… pretty shocking. I’m not a huge fan of all the couching language – reminds me of the SWIM on certain other forums on the internet. Either you did it or you didn’t; just own it and accept it was totally inappropriate, if you’ve got a medical thing going on for goodness sake get that checked out and dealt with; and do not blame your mental illnesses or your age for behaving like that!

    I am a fat manager with chronic anxiety and depression and I have never personally insulted someone in that situation, especially someone who was my boss!

    If you don’t respect your boss because she is fat, too bad – because she has the authority and power to make things work (or not) for you at work, and you have the power to either improve or move on (or be moved on).

    Personally attacking a fat person for their weight is not only discriminatory and harmful, it is totally unprofessional to do it in retribution for the fact that you are frustrated with issues of your performance. I bet if you sought assistance and swallowed your pride and indignance about being performance managed a little, and cut the attitude, you might get a better outcome.

  72. Did I say thaaaat?*

    LW#1 Since you aren’t sure I’d be a bit concerned about admitting it to the person only to find out that you didn’t actually do it and then you’d have an embarrassing moment you could have avoided.

    If it were me I’d ask for a sit down — not bring up that I may have said something inappropriate — but instead express my perception of the frustrating situation between the two of us, explain that I am trying and am aware I’m not always succeeding – maybe there is a truce that can be settled on.

    If you did call her a “fat ass” – let her bring it up and then you can apologize profusely but, to me, no point in shining a light on something that may not even be a “thing,” Unless, of course, you are actually sure you did it, sure she heard you and know in your heart of hearts that you need to apologize.

    Also, I’m sorry you’re struggling – with depression and the job. It’s not a fun place to be and I hope you can find a solution to both issues and get on with enjoying life in all aspects. You’re just 55 (same as me) and every day is a gift, even if the sun isn’t always shining! Hang in there <3

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