my boss told me to pretend I don’t know things, can I wear burlesque hair and makeup to my office party, and more

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

1. My boss told me to pretend I don’t know things so I don’t look “confrontational”

I wanted to ask a question about an incident that occurred a while ago, that now I worry about. In my first job out of university, I worked as an intern in a very policy-heavy role where I was responsible for informing coworkers of and enforcing rules around privacy in regards to personal information and financial data. In my exit review, the feedback I received was that I was hurting myself professionally when I gave an immediate answer of “No, that behavior isn’t allowed under policy” or “No, I’m not allowed to give you that information” even if that was correct answer. Essentially, my boss instructed me that I would be better served professionally if I lied to my coworkers, told them I didn’t know the policy answer to their question, and return later (she suggested a week) with an answer of no, because it would be less “confrontational” and show a willingness to be a team member. I never saw my enforcement of policy as being confrontational since that was my job, but to this day I wonder if I am hurting myself professionally by being too quick to provide answers in the negative. Is it normal to delay negative answers to make it easier for coworkers to understand that they aren’t allowed to do certain things or release certain information?

No. Your boss gave you terrible advice. It’s the advice of a person with fundamental misunderstandings of how to be pleasantly and appropriately assertive, and you should ignore it. (And she suggested delaying your answer by a week? Good lord. That’s a further sign that she’s someone whose priorities are really out of whack.) It’s true that you shouldn’t be brusque with people (like just saying “No, you can’t do that”). But there’s nothing wrong with a pleasantly worded, kindly delivered, “No, unfortunately our policy prohibits X because of Y.” That’s true in any job, but especially one where your role is to give that information!

2. Can I wear burlesque hair and makeup to my office party?

So I have a glittery quandary. I’m an amateur burlesque dancer. We do shows a few times a year, and each show usually comes with a professional photoshoot for promotional purposes. I also have a full-time, serious professional job that is not soaked in glitter.

This year, the day of our photoshoot is the same day as our company’s annual Christmas party. Because of scheduling, I’m the last one in the afternoon, and I won’t have much time between shoot and party. People do dress up for these parties, and they’re actually a lot of fun, with a live band, open bar, draw prizes, secret Santa, and a meal. The photoshoot, meanwhile, is 1970s themed. My hair is going to be giant, and my makeup is basically as if a disco ball sneezed on my face. Not to mention the lashes and general glitter (which often ends up being craft glitter stuck all over your body with hairspray). In life, I don’t generally wear a lot of makeup or do much of anything with my hair, so it’s a big departure. (I’m actually having both professionally done for the shoot. Prior to getting into burlesque I didn’t own a hairbrush, so that’s the level we’re dealing with here.)

Is it going to be weird if I show up to the party full disco realness? The alternative is a hurried shower between the two to tame my hair, and showing up with wet hair and my usual minimal makeup. If I don’t take off the makeup and hair … should I dress down to tone it down? Or lean into the 70s harder? It’s not a secret at all that I do burlesque, but I don’t usually parade it around the office!

Is there any possibility of getting your photoshoot moved earlier in the day if you explain the situation? It sounds like other people have earlier slots, and if you can trade with someone, that might be your best bet here.

But if that’s not an option … Well, it depends on your office. Is your office one where showing up with giant hair and glitter would seem inappropriate/out of place/tone-deaf? If it’s a pretty uptight crowd and people are likely to frown on this — or even if it’s just likely to get you marked as the Kooky One in a way that you don’t want/could harm your reputation — I’d go with the hurried shower in between. But if your office is pretty relaxed and people won’t care — or would even get a kick out of it — then hell, it’s a party and you can go for it. But it’s very much a “know your office” situation.

3. My coworker is selling snacks to our students

I work in a public high school. Today I learned that one of my coworkers, Ethel, is selling snacks to the kids we work with – she goes to a big box store and buys in bulk, then resells them to students at a profit. This is definitely illegal (the packages literally say NOT FOR RESALE!), and I’m fairly certain it’s also a violation of the district policy. Do I have an obligation to inform somebody about this?

Possible complicating factors:
– I haven’t seen this happening myself (another coworker told me, and a third coworker confirmed it);
– my direct supervisor apparently did find out at one point, and gave Ethel a stern talking-to…but doesn’t know that it’s still going on;
– Ethel is very close to retirement, and it’s pretty likely that she’d lose her pension if this was found out.

I’m torn. This is incredibly gross behavior, to me – she’s profiting from our students! – and it seems like a pretty clear ethics violation. On the other hand, I don’t have firsthand information, I’m new to the department, and I don’t want to be the center of the shitstorm that would absolutely ensue if this were reported … even though I do think that Ethel would deserve everything she got.

Yeah, making a profit off the students you’re supposed to be serving is gross. I don’t think you’re obligated to report it, but I think you’d be on very solid ground if you decide to. And you wouldn’t need to make a huge stink about it — you’d just say to your manager, “I feel awkward about this, but I feel like I need to let someone know. I’ve been told that Ethel is selling snacks to students, and I felt uncomfortable keeping that to myself. I wanted to pass it on to you so you can decide if it’s something you want to look into.” Keep your tone mater-of-fact here, not outraged or scandalized. You’re just passing on work-related info your manager might want, in the same way you might let her know that a vendor sent the wrong box of flyers, and your tone should reflect that. It’s up to her to decide how to deal with it from there.

You’re not responsible for any consequences to Ethel that stem from this. If there are consequences, that’s her responsibility — and she’s been warned in the past to cut this out, so it’s not like she didn’t realize this wasn’t okay. And really, profiting off students is so icky — it’s not like you’re reporting her for being a couple of minutes late or printing personal stuff on the office printer.

4. How do I word the exact dollar figure I’m looking for?

I am probably really overthinking this issue, but what is the best way to give your salary expectation number? I wonder if there’s a wrong or right way to say it — “65 thousand” or “$65K” or “65 annually”? Or if you’re negotiating how much more money you’d like, is saying “22 hundred” instead of $2,200 unprofessional?

As long as people understand what you’re saying, you’re fine. Any of the examples you gave are clear. There’s no expectation that you’ll speak especially formally and never use common shorthand.

5. How do I tell my team that my husband and I are separating?

I relocated to my husband’s home country about six months ago and we’re now entering a trial separation. I don’t have friends or family here, and have shared the news with my boss. My plan is to remain in this country for the time being. When and should I tell others on the team? Typically, I wouldn’t say anything, but I’m going from a 1.5 hour commute to 10 minutes, and moving into a neighborhood where two colleagues work. (One of the colleagues is my direct report.) What’s more, I’m likely to go home mid-day to walk my dogs at least once or twice a week, which will seem strange since previously that was not an option. My plan is to be matter-of-fact but honestly, I have no idea what to say. Do you have any advice?

You can just say, “Oh, I’ve moved and am now living much closer” without getting into the separation. People are unlikely to respond to that with, “BUT DID DAVE MOVE WITH YOU?” It’s possible that you’ll get some questions about why you moved, and you can answer those with the reasons you chose that neighborhood (“I was ready to be closer to work” or so forth).

If at some point you want to mention the separation, you can, but you’re not obligated to. When/if you do, though, you can just say, “Actually, Dave and I are separated” and reply to any concerned follow-ups with, “Thanks, I’m doing okay!” You can keep it all very vague.

{ 649 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    On #3–in the U.S., firing wouldn’t lose a worker her pension. It may mean that she won’t attain her *full* pension, but if she’s vested, which seems likely given the implied duration, she gets the money that she and her employer have put in, even if she’s fired. (If she’s not vested, she still gets back the money she put in.) So this isn’t casting her out in the streets with nothing.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes. And her behavior is gross. If she knows she’s violating district policy to profit off of students, then she accepts the risks of that behavior. But Alison’s script is much better than my draconian feelings toward Ethel.

      1. Someone Else*

        Especially since it sounds like she already got a hefty warning; this woman knows what she’s risking as she continues to do this.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      It depends. Usually it takes something severe to lose the pension. Selling snacks to students isn’t to that level (usually). That said, I do know one person that fully lost their pension. He was set up by someone else.
      Happy ending – he ended up married to a multimillionaire. The person that set him up got walked out herself.

      1. Not Australian*

        @Engineer Girl… this sounds to me like one of those comments that could be the basis for a movie script! On the one hand I would love to know more, but on the other maybe it’s just more interesting to speculate…

    3. McWhadden*

      It’s a high burden but people definitely can lose their pensions for ethical violations stemming from work. In my state you’d likely need an actual criminal conviction for that. (And this may be illegal but no one will prosecute the not for resale thing.) But not every state.
      I’ve known a couple of people who have forfeited their pensions. One was stealing quarters from the copy machine.
      Personally, I think it should be a very high burden since most public sector people don’t get social security unless they paid into it significantly in another job.

      1. fposte*

        It depends on the state—in most of them the law requires conviction of a crime, and even there you will often get back what you put into it. I think either copy quarter guy had more to his story or lacked a lawyer (or this was a long time ago).

        I’m pretty comfortable saying Ethel isn’t going to lose her pension over this.

      2. NW Mossy*

        It also depends on whether it’s a pension provided through a governmental entity (like a state or county) or a private employer. Private employer pensions are subject to ERISA, which generally operates under the rule that once earned, it can’t be taken away, even in cases of crime. The IRS and the marshal’s service both have limited powers to collect taxes or restitution from private retirement accounts, but even they are subject to serious constraints around what they can do.

    4. Orange Power*

      This is ridiculous, but I am actually the person on our high school campus who is responsible for this type of report. We only have two approved “snack bars” outside of the official school cafeteria: our student store (with spirit wear, PE clothes, etc) and the Athletics snack bar. There is not only a district policy against snack bars on campus but due to Federal and State nutrition guidelines, you legally are not allowed to sell those items before school, during, and 30 minutes after. So if this teacher is selling to students, she’s not only profiting inappropriately, but she’s violating laws doing so during school hours. If she already has a warning, it’s more than fair for her to face severe consequences for not correcting her actions – she’s jeopardizing the school’s funding if this violation were reported.

      1. raktajino*

        Does this intersect with being a mandatory reporter at all? I know it’s not abuse of kids but it’s abuse of power and illegal behavior, so couldn’t the letter writer be obligated to report it up the chain?

        1. Ellen*

          How about potential abuse of power? I end up kind of HAVING to buy some multi level marketing stuff from a manager at work. I figure the costs-twice-as-much-as-in-a-store is a small price for peace.

          1. Ellen*

            To finish the thought, but it is pretty different for kids, even teens. “Maybe you were hungry, or your blood sugar was low, and that’s why you did poorly on your test” sounds pretty, but there is the possibility.

            1. Chinookwind*

              If she were selling it at cost because of kids and teens with high metabolism AND was selling healthy-ish food, I would think that she had come up with a needed work around for the nutrition guidelines (I have seen high school teachers of early morning classes to have a toaster with bread and fixings in the back of a classroom). But, it doesn’t sound like that is what she is doing.

        2. Luisa*

          I’m not claiming to be an expert in all state laws about mandatory reporting, but I know for certain that this is not the type of behavior that law is intended to guard against in my state. DCF and law enforcement have much bigger issues to grapple with regarding abuse and mistreatment of children than someone running a secret snack bar out of her supply closet.

          I don’t find this teacher’s behavior acceptable, and her supervisor needs to step in and end this. But I’d honestly be more angry about state or district resources being wasted escalating this beyond telling Ms. Smith to cut it out than about the fact that Ms. Smith is doing it in the first place.

          1. op#3!*

            OP here – yeah, it’s definitely not mandated reporter territory. And tbh you hit on one of the other reasons I’m hesitant to say anything – is it really worth the time and energy? (we can also ask ourselves whether it’s worth the time and energy I’ve spend being angry about it…which it probably isn’t, but OH WELL.)

            1. Luisa*

              I truly do not mean to sound flippant or condescending when I say this, but: yes, you are probably overthinking this. As a fellow teacher, I applaud you for looking out for your students, and I also encourage you to devote your mental energy to the highest priority issues (your planning, your curriculum, whatever is going on with that one kid who is struggling, meeting your students’ academic needs, creating a safe and welcoming classroom, advocating for your students who get left behind by bureaucratic nonsense, your many piles of paperwork, etc.). It’s a tough job, as you well know! :)

            2. LCL*

              It’s not worth the time and energy. Every since there have been high schools, someone has been buying snacks or sodas wholesale and selling them at high markup to the students. Who are willing to pay because they are a captive audience.

              According to your post, you are a new employee and were just told about this. If you were talking about any kind of abuse to the students I would say report it and professional consequences be damned, but this isn’t abuse and is insignificant. You will look unbalanced and hurt your credibility if you go to war on this.

            3. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

              I’m with Luisa and LCL on this one. If the administration cares about this issue, they are perfectly capable of following up without you.

              If Ethel was doing something that was abusive towards students you would need to speak up. Since the students chose to buy snacks from Ethel instead of waiting for lunch or bringing snacks from home, that’s not an abuse of power.

              If you had been in the department for a long time – long enough to have some political capital in the department and with the administration – you could mention something about Ethel if you saw it first-hand without much of an issue.

              As a new(ish) member of the department who has heard things secondhand, you really don’t have much (if anything) to report. After all, “So-and-so and What’s-his-name told me that Ethel is selling candy” isn’t particularly actionable and has the possibility of making you look bad if the two staff members are confused on their timelines or Ethel isn’t selling candy right now. You have some secondhand gossip – and some schools are hotbeds of staff gossip.

              One other point: this behavior – while illegal in a not-likely-to-be-enforced ever and kind of crass – was very normal when I attended HS in the late 1990’s. Ethel should have stopped it – but she wouldn’t be the first teacher to refuse to change methods when asked to do so by the administrator.

              I hope you are having a good year otherwise! Teaching is a lot of work – but a ton of fun, too

              1. Scion*

                “Since the students chose to buy snacks from Ethel … that’s not an abuse of power.”

                That’s not how power differentials work:
                – Since they *chose* to work extra unpaid overtime…
                – Since they *chose* to donate money to the boss’s favored political candidate…
                – Since they *chose* to sleep with the boss…

                1. LCL*

                  I was pressured into working unpaid overtime in an early job. That was a serious abuse of power. I just can’t see selling unauthorized snacks as serious.

                2. That Lady*

                  It absolutely *is* serious, though. It’s one thing to throw a kid a Cliff bar or a bag of chips if they left their lunch at home or you know they come from a food-unstable home and completely another to deliberately create a situation in which you entice minors to pay you money for goods and services that are federally prevented from being sold on campus. It’s gross, and it’s worth reporting.

            4. Geology Teacher*

              I’m a teacher. It doesn’t fall under mandatory reporting laws.

              It does likely fall under school district policies and licensing requirements. I would assume that if I didn’t report it, and it was discovered that I didn’t report it, I could be disciplined (there are a whole lot of policies that teachers don’t read or know but must follow). If you know about unethical behavior or behavior that may violate policy you need to report it. In this case, a simple mention is fine (I heard that X is doing Y, just thought I’d let you know in case it is a problem).

              Then move on. If this is actually happening, the teacher has set themselves up for many potential problems. Selling approved food in a school store or fundraiser is okay. For personal profit, not so much.

          1. AgathaFan*

            I think she asked whether this kind of situation falls under the umbrella of mandatory reporting.

            Your comments usually read as very adversarial. Just something I noticed.

            1. Les G*

              This right here. This commenter has appointed himself AAM’s resident expert on workplace safety, but when folks start discussing an aspect of workplace safety he hasn’t considered he’s dismissive.

              For the record, this really does not fall under the category of mandated reporting. But when you’re working with children, safety is absolutely paramount. And that includes being very, very alert to potential abuses of power and inappropriate relationships between adults and children.

              1. Hills to Die on*

                Very adversarial and dismissive, just for starters. Including anything he doesn’t like in general, real or perceived.

            2. raktajino*

              Exactly. My memory of my mandatory reporter training is that it’s limited to child abuse or neglect, but my last training was 8 years ago (I’m no longer a teacher). I also know that teachers’ reporting obligations can vary from state to state and school to school. Plus, other fields have very strict ethics reporting requirements and I could envision a situation where something similar would indeed be reportable. I just wanted to confirm that this isn’t potentially a problem on that front. I’m glad to hear it’s not!

            3. Labradoodle Daddy*

              Allison has asked that people not attack commenters based on things they’ve said in other posts.

              1. AgathaFan*

                It wasn’t an attack, it was a comment.

                None of us referred to a specific thing (s)he said, we merely pointed out a pattern.

        3. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

          This is not mandatory reporter territory.

          Mandatory reporters are required to report suspected or known physical, sexual, emotional or medical abuse or neglect of a child.

          “Abuse of power” isn’t a legal category unless you can prove that there is an ongoing emotional abuse component – and selling optional snacks to kids is not going to fit that category – ever.

          Is it illegal? Sure. So is making copies of a chapter of a textbook for a student – but plenty of teachers do it. How about showing YouTube copies of various documentaries rather than purchasing them? Happens all the time. If the OP3 is worried about the legality of it, they could try and file a police report about the resale of the candy bars – but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

      2. Alice*

        What I take away from your comment is that she may be violating a contract between the school and Aramark or whatever food service firm runs the school’s cafeteria. Sorry, I can’t get myself het up about it. If her boss doesn’t care enough to follow up about it after having told, why should OP?

        1. PB*

          Yes, it is violating a contract with their food vendor, which could be a big issue. Ethically, the bigger issue is profiting off of hungry children you’re supposed to be educating.

          1. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

            “Profiting off of hungry children” is a bit of of overkill. The students are not required to buy the snacks from the teacher as their only form of food or in lieu of lunch.

            When I was in high school, teachers and clubs did this all the time to fund classroom supplies and club supplies. Was it legal? Probably not – most of them were done by selling candy from large box stores. Was it the end of the world? Nope. No one seemed to care much one way or the other.

            I taught after the ban on junk food for sale in schools – but I did set up a bin for pop cans to be recycled that I used to purchase pencils, paper, notebooks and folders for my classroom along with replacement chemicals for the lab. I made the whole process as transparent as possible – and my students appreciated that.

            I find the teacher’s choice to be a bit crass – but this was a very SOP in many schools 15-20 years ago.

            1. Scion*

              There’s a difference between selling snacks to benefit the school (clubs or supplies) versus profiting off of it. In fact, the OP has posted multiple clarifying comments that this aspect of things is what’s bothering them.

        2. Kathleen_A*

          Why should the OP care? Because it’s just icky. And wrong. *I* care and I’ve never met and am likely to never meet Ethel.

        3. Artemesia*

          Exactly. Boo hoo, the kids are not having to pay the high prices for snacks by some greedhead vendor. The idea that this is ILLEGAL because labeling requirements mean stuff is labeled ‘not for re-sale’ or it might cut into the profits of ‘Hose the Students Inc’ is sort of silly.

          She has been told to cut it out and so her supervisor needs to revisit this. But the idea that it is abusive or mandatory reporting behavior is ludicrous. If she were requiring kids to buy her Amway products to get an A — or at all, it would be one thing, but making granola bars available or whatever is unlikely to make students feel coerced — they want the food after all.

          Hard to see why the OP is upset by this unless she is the supervisor with a person who has resisted direction.

          1. Temperance*

            There are extremely strict regulations for food sales at US public schools, though. This is actually a serious issue.

          2. op#3!*

            OP here – part of my concern (beyond the fact that it feels gross for a teacher to take money from students for her own personal gain) is also the vulnerability to exploitation: the kids know that this isn’t above-board, so what happens when a kid gets a bad grade on a test and says, “Mrs. Ethel, if you don’t change that grade, I’m going to the principal about your underground snack bar?”

              1. Afiendishthingy*

                I don’t know. I don’t think it’s super likely but I definitely wouldn’t write off the possibility. Wouldn’t write off the possibility of a parent doing it either.

              2. op#3!*

                Oh, it’s absolutely ridiculous – but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Kids are smart, and some of them are very desperate for a certain grade, and frankly, unless someone got caught or was dumb enough to put something in writing, there would be no way to know. (Ethel is also the faculty advisor for the National Honor Society, which to me is just the cherry on top of this whole situation)

                1. boo bot*

                  Ha, I can think of like three kids I knew who would have done this. (I was not one of them, I swear!) Totally ridiculous, possibly unlikely, but totally plausible.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              She’s a teacher? I had the impression she works in the school office.
              Hmm, that’s a whole other dimension.

            2. Afiendishthingy*

              Not to mention the ethics of the teacher implicitly asking the students to keep a secret with her. Ick.

          3. Ella Vader*

            I agree with the OP that making a personal profit off students is in poor taste and unfair – and I think that’s the real issue.

            However, the snacks being labelled “not for resale” may mean that the full information about ingredients and allergens is not on the packages that she is handing out – the expectation is that the person purchasing the large pack is taking responsibility for appropriate screening and information sharing. Which could have terrible consequences for an allergic student.

        4. op#3!*

          OP here – for me, it’s the fact that she’s profiting off of students – it feels gross and exploitative to me. I can’t really explain it beyond that, I guess?

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Ugh. My first thought was “That’s lame. Things were so much better back when I was in school.” Then I felt old. So, so, so very old. Are the clubs not allowed to sell food? Back in olden days when I did synchronized swimming, all the sports and clubs were allowed to sell pizza/cookies/snacks after school (if we signed up to and were approved) so we could raise money for our sport/club. I know home backed goods are not allowed anymore, but is this kind of fundraising not allowed?

        1. EPLawyer*

          You are limited to the number each year. It is federal law that affects federal funding. The last administration did this in an effort to get kids to eat healthy instead of junk food. There have been some adjustments but it is still pretty much intact.

          So yeah, not only is she profiting off students but she could have ALL of the federal funding for the school pulled. Her retirement date might need to be moved up.

        2. Yvette*

          But that is fundraising to cover expenses for your (school sanctioned?) club or sport. So you could get equipment/have a party at the end of the school year/buy the coach a gift (a tradition in many schools), not for personal gain. She is selling these items at a profit.
          At my daughter’s school they had a program where the kids were provided I-Pads for school work. They were constantly losing or breaking their styluses. One teacher got into the habit of buying them in bulk and selling them to the kids for what she paid whenever she needed them. I had no problem with that. This is not the same.

        3. LadyPhoenix*

          Yeah. We French students had a big “suitcase” full of Hershey brand candy for our fundraiser…. that we were not allowed to sell to our classmates or on the bus. I couldn’t fathom why.

          I mean, as long as the times weren’t distracting (lunch, before or after class, after school), I didn’t see why we shouldn’t have been able to sell our candy that was provided BY THE SCHOOL. And it isn’t like you’d be able to sell it anywhere else unless you might have been on a sports team.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            Crazy. We used to have to sell candy bars, lollipops, pies, and all sorts of other things to raise money for band/orchestra. Our classmates were our best customers!

        4. op#3!*

          OP here – as other commenters have said, the problem is that it’s not fundraising at all – or rather, it’s funding Ethel’s cable bill. There *are* regulations around clubs fundraising with food, and a lot of them are really strict, and there’s definitely a conversation to have about whether they’re fair / appropriate / necessary – but this isn’t that. Ethel isn’t funneling this money into a school event or activity; she’s funneling it into her own pockets.

          1. Effective Immediately*

            You know for a fact Ethel is paying her cable bill with this and not using it to, say, buy classroom supplies?

            That seems odd given the third hand nature of the information.

            I have a feeling this might be a rumor mill gone awry situation.

            1. AgathaFan*

              The cable bill thing is just an example and I think you know that.

              Also, this is not just third hand. Multiple coworkers and a supervisor confirmed it.

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Just curious but do you know what kind of markup is she charging for these snacks?

            I get where you are coming from about making money from the students being unethical, but for me I think it changes if she is actually price gouging students or just making a small to medium “profit” to cover the time and energy it takes to go to the store, purchase and stock the snacks.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                I don’t disagree, but I think it makes a difference to the situation if she is paying 25 cents on a bag of chips and selling it for 50 cents versus selling it for a dollar or a dollar fifty.

                Similar to “stealing a handful of paperclips from work vs stealing boxes of unopened paperclip, or printing two tickets to a baseball game vs printing 10 copies of your 800 page novel.

                1. pancakes*

                  It doesn’t make a difference to me whether she’s profiting a lot or only a bit. I don’t think the other examples are quite on-point because they don’t involve students being used as a captive market.

      4. MK*

        For those who are interested, here is more information on the new regulations on “competitive foods” (that is, foods that are sold to students in schools that compete with the healthy school lunches): These regulations went info effect in 2014, so for those who are remembering that their own teachers did this/candy bars in vending machines, etc., this a pretty major and recent change. The idea is that the 2010 regulations on school meals require them to be much more healthy (all grain items have at least 1/2 whole grain, 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetables must be served with each meal, a variety of types of vegetables are required, there are weekly limits on sodium and fat), so it would be ineffective to offer these healthy meals along side tempting vending machines and school stores full of junk food. Many private schools do participate in the federal meals programs, so it’s not just a public/private school thing – if the school gets the federal funds, they have to comply. Generally, if you graduated more than 8 years ago, school food is very different from what you remember!

      5. op#3!*

        OP here – I hadn’t even thought of that end of things, actually! I was approaching this from the lens of our state ethics guidelines, which have a lot of stuff about conflict of interest and profiting unfairly from your position (and tbf are generally written from the perspective of city and state employees rather than teachers). Good to know!

    5. Luisa*

      Agreed. I’d be very surprised if the consequences for this involved a significant hit to her pension. This definitely needs to be stopped, because it is unethical and probably counter to district policy, but this is unlikely to have far-reaching implications for Ethel. OP, just say something to the principal using the suggested language and mentally move on.

    6. op#3!*

      OP here – I’m not sure if she’s fully vested, I think not (teaching is her second career). Still, it makes me feel better to think that she wouldn’t lose everything (even though part of me is still frothing with rage over this).

      1. Snacks*

        Well, how much of a profit are we talking here? I’m not being flippant – but if your core issue is profiting off of students, would it change your perspective if she was charging less/making less than Aramark? Perhaps that will lower the frothiness? I agree you should let your supervisor know, and then let it go.

        1. boo bot*

          I’m wondering this, too, because I think how much money she’s making is super important: is she basically breaking even? Or is the extra income enough that she depends on it in some way (i.e. the cable bill thing)?

          I can see some merit in what she’s doing if, as someone said above, she’s basically just selling them at cost+ a little extra to account for time, gas money, etc. If she’s providing cheap food for kids who need a snack, I feel like there’s nothing actually wrong with that, especially since teachers personally buy a lot of supplies they shouldn’t have to, and I can see this being kind of like, “I want to provide this so kids can easily get a snack if they need it, but I can’t add it to the long list of work supplies I already pay for or I’ll starve.”

          That said: if this is her side hustle and she’s making real money from it, I could see it creating a conflict of interest, although I would expect the issue to arise from a (probably unconscious) preference for the kids who are her customers – not just because of the money, but because of the secondary connection through something that positively impacts her.

          I feel like that sounds a little nuts, but if it’s netting her enough that losing the income from this gig would impact her life in a significant way, then it actually is significant. This is a weird one.

          1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            I agree. Teachers are also notoriously expected to shell out the cost of supplies from their own pockets. That kind of makes it more of a “fundraiser” type side hustle to me. (even though I agree it’s not the best way to go about this)

      2. Delightful Daisy*

        OP, I get why you’re so ticked about this. A teacher profiting off of students is just wrong. The NHS sponsor doing it makes it worse in my opinion, since part of the NHS recognition is students who have demonstrated excellence in several areas including character. Ethel is not excelling at character; she is in fact the opposite.

        When you throw in the healthy snacks regulations and potential risk to federal funding and potential for a student/parent to blackmail over grades, it jumps it up a level. I say tell her supervisor and let her handle it. I always tell the staff that I supervise “I can’t address the problem if I don’t know that there is a problem.” Hopefully once you report it, your frothing will decrease substantially. Good luck!

      3. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I think being concerned about the ethical and financial implications of this make sense, but “frothing with rage” seems to be a bit over the top. Do you have other issues with this co-worker that have made her your BEC?

    7. Chinookwind*

      In Canada, it would depend on the pension she was paying into. If it was one where there were defined contributions where she was paying into it or RRSPs, that money is hers and can’t be taken away. But, if it is defined benefit (which are the older style) that is funded/managed by the employer, then HER actions could make her ineligible for the benefit.

      The key words are HER ACTIONS, not yours. If she is benefiting off the backs of the kids she is paid to work with, than she should be willing to suffer the consequences of her actions. Think of it as one of the risks of being a business owner. :)

    8. Aida*

      Addressing the specific part of OP’s comment about the boxes being labeled “not for resale” — that’s not a LEGAL notation. It simply means the items don’t have barcodes or other info on them typically used by shops when reselling. you can do whatever you want with any thing you buy or own, so long as its lawful to own/sell in your state.

      The issue here has to do with the the dynamics of staff and student. Personally, if she’s selling things cheaper than they’d cost at the store, that provides a great help to students to save them money. A granola bar from the shops costs $2+ where we live. So if it costs her 75¢ and she sells for $1 each, that is a positive service to be encouraged. It may cost her hours of driving and shopping time to buy these things and I have no issue with her making a quarter I each if it letskifskerp a extra dollars their pocket!

      1. Mrs. Krabappel*

        Ethel is surely breaking the school/ district policy by selling to the students for a profit. She can be fired for that even if she is a tenured teacher in a unionized state. That could impact her pension depending on the state. OP— your administration will find out about it soon enough. If they really have talked to her before, it’s their job to keep watching her. If they don’t or they turn a blind eye, that’s on management, not on her fellow teachers.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, as much as I love Sarah Cooper, I don’t think it’s appropriate to use her satire to give serious advice… which is what your boss is doing. Delaying advice or pretending not to know is not how to become a “team player.” I suspect your boss wants you to be less direct, but that may not be appropriate for things like violations of privacy laws and protocols. I think you can safely put her advice in the misguided and unhelpful bucket.

    1. sacados*

      I agree. I’ve been dealing with sort of a similar situation (on the other end) with my company’s IT/Systems team. They are very rigid and rule-focused (as they should be) and any request about whether it’s possible to do something different/bend a certain policy is met with an immediate “No. That’s against the rules.”
      Which is admittedly very frustrating. But the issue there is the short brusque nature of the reply, and the refusal to go into any detail explaining why a slight exception that I think seems perfectly reasonable and not out of line to ask is actually not an option. I definitely wouldn’t want them to delay their answer, but it is definitely important to pay attention to tone.

      1. Amylou*

        Yes I’d rather know right away the answer than to have to wait a week!

        Also, if OP1 has seriously followed this “advice”, wouldn’t they have looked incredibly incompetent to coworkers just seeking a simple answer when they say “I don’t know” *all the time*? There might even be coworkers who do Y (which goes against policy) *because* they never got an answer and might assume it’s ok to do so.

        1. valentine*

          OP1, if you took a week to get me an answer, I’d suspect makework. I bet the boss doesn’t tell her own boss her strategy is the cause of delays.

          1. Lance*

            And just to add to that, if you took a week to get me an answer, and that answer was directly relevant to any of my job tasks, I’d wonder why the hell you think it’s okay to take that long to get back to me and delay my work, and how it could take that long to look up a policy that you should (I assume) have ready access to somewhere.

            1. Matilda Jefferies*

              Yes, and there are probably lots of people who wouldn’t bother waiting for the answer, and just go ahead and do what they were going to do anyway. I would say the privacy/ security risks in that approach are much bigger than the (hypothetical) reputational risks to the OP!

              1. Anne of Green Gables*

                Yes, this is exactly what I was thinking. I know a lot of staff who would think, “well, it’s been a few days since I asked and I didn’t hear back, so it’s probably ok” and just do whatever it was. Holding on to information seems like it could create a lot of problems.

        2. The Other Dawn*

          It seems like OP was the equivalent of a privacy officer or information security officer, or maybe compliance, in a bank (just guessing from the description, and I know she was an intern). I’ve been in that kind of position and if it took me a week to give someone an answer, you bet I’d look incompetent and people would definitely call me out on it. Yes, there are times when you do need to look up a regulation or regulatory guidance in order to figure out the answer, but that’s not all the time. If you’re in that kind of position, you generally know at least the basics of the regulations and your company’s own policies around them. OP’s boss gave her really terrible advice.

          1. Anon for This*

            This kind of direction is unfortunately not uncommon from management, which is why normally the role also reports to a bigger entity (corporate, BOD, etc). I feel bad that an intern was put into that position to begin with, frankly; being in compliance and having to go head to head with management is fraught enough when you’re a seasoned professional, let alone completely new to the field.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              Yeah, I missed that the first time around. Why is an intern responsible for enforcing policies? I could see if she’s assisting the compliance officer (or whatever the position is), but it seems like some people wouldn’t pay a ton of attention to an intern telling them they can’t do something.

            2. Observer*

              I’m guessing that the reason for this is that the OP was an intern in a department that is more supervisory (like compliance) and dealing with lower level staff, not management. So, it would be say the receptionist or the office manager that’s asking them if they can do x or share y information, not a department manager asking those questions.

              1. OP1*

                I address this in a different comment below, but I was working in fundraising and was acting as compliance on the fundraisers in terms of what information they could share with donors/what they could do with exisiting trust funds etc. In hindsight and after seeing the comments it does seem weird that that was an intern position, but it had been (and still is to my knowledge) a 1 yr intern role. My coworkers hated that it was an intern role because it meant 2 months out of the year nothing got done during while the new intern was being trained and wanted the role to be full time but they wouldn’t do that for some reason, possibly related to what they wanted to pay that position (I made about 35k)

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I get why they call it an internship, but that just seems more like a 1 year contract position and less of an internship. I agree it is almost entirely related to them only wanting to pay $35k, they don’t want to pay more give raises so hiring people for one year then moving on to a new grad is a good way to do it.

    2. Gen*

      It wouldn’t be unlikely for someone asking ‘is this behaviour okay?’ and not getting a reply for an entire week to think ‘oh well OP didn’t say it was wrong and surely she’d have come back to me by now if it was a problem’ so they do it anyway. That advice is at best risking wasting lots of people’s time waiting a week for an answer and at worse risking constant policy violations. Over time you’d also look less competent if this sort of enforcement is the bulk of your job because there comes a point when you SHOULD have immediate answers to at least some questions

    3. akathryn*

      I posted about this more elsewhere in the thread — but everything about OP’s manager’s feedback got my sexism spidey senses tingling. Would love to know more context re: OP’s gender, coworkers’ ages and genders, the workplace environment, etc.

      1. Lilo*

        I immediately got sexism vibes too.

        I am a woman who is in a highly niche field and part of my job is knowing obscure rules and exceptions off the top of my head. I have had the experience particularly of older men in my field when I immediately identify the hole in their plan of action (my favorite was when someone insisted I was ridiculously interpreting something when my ‘interpretation’ was the holding in a Supreme Court case (decided about 5 years before the conversation) which I could explicitly name and cite to him).

        I am not going to delay explaining why a course of action is a non-starter if I know it off the top of my head. Doing so would mean wasting time and client money.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I guessed sexism, but I don’t think the deep whys particularly matter here–especially as it’s a retroactive “was this crazy?” question? Maybe the boss thinks that’s the way women should behave, or young women should behave, and maybe she’s fighting a one-person battle to adopt delicate, indirect communication in all aspects of life.

        If it’s a bad thing, you don’t need to parse whether it’s also for a bad reason and so therefore proven bad–it can just be a bad thing that should stop. Like the teacher with a secret snack bar should cut it out when her boss says to, whether the reasoning is “Step 3: Profit!” or that kids get hungry and want a Snickers and there is no school vending machine and she just charges enough not to lose money on the deal.

        1. Observer*

          Actually, I think that in this case there is some relevance. Firstly, it can help inform the OP’s evaluation of the former supervisor’s advice. If she’s just insanely conflict averse, then you need to be aware that any advice that tends to downplay decisive action or the need to exert authority etc. is useless. On the other hand, if the OP is a female (or female presenting), Black or a member or any other group with a lot of stereotypes about being “angry”, “aggressive” etc. and that’s what’s going on here, then that poisons a lot more of that person’s advice.

      3. LKW*

        Well, it does seem that the boss is a woman and she may have internalized bad advice like “Don’t be so direct” or “No one likes a know it all” or “You just embarrassed a man and that is bad”. But yeah, I got a big ol’ hint of “Behaviors appropriate for Men vs Behaviors appropriate for Women” vibe

        1. Karen from Finance*

          Yeah, women can and often are sexist against other women. As you point out, it’s internalized behaviour and it sucks.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            Exactly. My mother is a prime example. I love her to death, but internalized misogyny has really done a number on her. She has all kinds of ideas about what it means to be a good wife, a good worker, etc. that are all based on rigid gender roles. She finds it hard to believe that I don’t cook my husband a hot lunch every day that he can take to work and heat up on his break. I love my husband, and I love doing things for him, but his hands aren’t broken. If he wants a hot lunch, he knows how to turn on the stove and cook something.

      4. OP #1*

        So both my boss and I were women and the field of work was in fundraising for a university. Seeing the comments I suspect perhaps she DID want people to break the rules “because they didn’t know” perhaps. Donors often got upset because we couldn’t release information about students.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Mmm. I wonder if she was hoping to get the money from the donors before telling them the bad news about their info requests. Not cool.

        2. MeganTea*

          It sounds like you already realize that your boss’s “advice” is motivated by her questionable (possibly unethical) business practices, and not by a desire to help you improve professionally.
          As one commenter already said, FERPA is not something to mess around with.

        3. Karen from Finance*

          This gives me pause, though, because if this was the case wouldn’t she have said something to you before you actually left?

            1. Karen from Finance*

              Not openly and blatantly.

              If the boss was trying to do this, she would have told OP exactly the thing she told her, WHILE OP WAS WORKING THERE. What’s the use of telling her “hey, the whole time you were here, it would have been useful to me if you gave people room to violate FERPA while claiming ignorance” once she was no longer an employee? The wording makes sense if that’s her goal as long as OP’s her employee, but it doesn’t make sense to go there once she’s leaving.

            2. Karen from Finance*

              PS: If you want an employee to use a loophole to help you break the law in a plausibly deniable way, you give them this hint before they leave, while they can still do it. This is what I’m saying.

        4. Dr. Pepper*

          Oh wow. Your former boss is, um, not doing it right. At all. I would be incensed if sensitive information got out simply because a manager was like “well, don’t say it’s against policy to disseminate this information, give it a week”.

          I mean, it’s one thing to say “no” nicely, and donors expect a warm and courteous response to their inquiries (as they should), but if what they want violates policy, “no” must be said. It sounds like she has no idea how to be diplomatic yet firm.

        5. Lilo*

          Oh that is not okay. Releasing info on students can be a serious violation. Your boss was definitely out of line here.

        6. Observer*

          In other words she was setting you and the requesters up for serious violations of policy and law.

          Please do not follow ANY of her advice. Also, count your fingers after you shake hands with her. If you are right, she’s shady as all get out.

          There is a lot of talk on this blog about what “throwing people under the bus” is. Well, keeping information from people to cause them to violate the law qualifies.

        7. Bulbasaur*

          For a cautionary tale, read up on the mortgage fraud and robosigning issues associated with the US foreclosure crisis (Wikipedia has it in 2010, although that’s only the date when it began receiving widespread media coverage).

          In brief, during the housing bubble banks skimped on their legal obligations for chain of title documentation on mortgage reassignments, or flat out didn’t document them at all. When this began presenting legal issues for standing in foreclosure, most of them began producing made-up (i.e., fraudulent) documents on a massive scale to fill the gaps. These needed to be notarized, so they hired a lot of staff and had them do the training to qualify as notaries. They never actually told any of them to break the law, but they hired exclusively low level staff who were unfamiliar with mortgage law, then assigned case loads that required them to get through hundreds of cases in a day. This was only achievable if you didn’t actually read any of the documents you were notarizing (hence ‘robosigning’). This was of course a breach of their notary obligations, and it’s likely that a fair number of people who had paid attention to the training either self-selected out or were let go because of ‘failure to meet performance targets’ or something similar. But a fair number remained and were responsible for a great deal of fraudulent (but notarized and legally admissible) documentation that was used to wrongly foreclose on people. When the scandal broke, the very first thing the banks did was try to blame everything on the notaries that they had hired.

          I’m not saying anything like that is going on here, but some of the things you’ve said here would raise red flags for me. Asking you not to hold people to policy, or to do so only after a significant delay. Stubborn insistence on keeping this a low level/intern role and changing it every year, despite the fact that it requires 2 months of training. I might be wrong but I don’t think this would pass the smell test for me.

          If something underhanded is going on, then your best defense is to hold firm and follow the rules and policies as you see them, so just keep doing what you’re doing.

      5. Tasha*

        Totally felt that OP is female and boss was male. He didn’t like a woman telling people they shouldn’t/couldn’t do something. Probably felt she was “bossy.”

      6. Van Wilder*

        Yeah. Her boss could have been either male or female. But there is no way the LW was not a woman. Nobody would give this advice to a man ever.

      7. JBI*

        My first image was a an older woman telling her younger subordinate not to be too blunt.
        Mind, my brother was interviewing two people, a man and woman, for a pre-sales engineering job. One of the questions was “What would you do if salesperson came to you to ask for something that you knew was impossible:”
        Man: “Well, I would try to work with them…”
        Woman: (Bluntly)”I’d say that was impossible.”

        My brother decided to offer the woman the job.
        It may be a schmuck/non-schmuck distinction vs sex

      8. Yay commenting on AAM!*

        Me too, on sexism.

        I’m a woman who worked in a field with tons of safety regulations, in an organization where I reported to supervisors who didn’t know or understand the safety regulations I had to abide by.

        One asked me to do something, I told him it wasn’t permitted, he accused me of “making up rules because I didn’t want to do any work,” so I handed him the rule book to read. He threw it across the room and sent me home.

          1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

            I was working as an aquatics director at a community fitness center in a low-income neighborhood. My boss would not allow me to purchase any of the mandatory equipment required to operate the pool, nor would he allow me to hire any staff to lifeguard the pool or teach swim lessons. Nevertheless, he was in process of booking rental groups to come in and rent the pool and take swim lessons.

            I told him that we could not have the groups come in on the schedule he requested, since we did not have enough staff and we were required to have X guards for Y number of people in the pool. Additionally, we were required to keep weaker swimmers in the shallow end of the pool, and the shallow end of the pool was not large enough to fit the number of swimmers he wanted to have come at the same time.

            I told him that I did not see it working, and that we’d need to come up with an alternate plan to fit everyone into the pool. He began screaming at me and accused me of always saying no and wanting the program to fail, then when I passed him the rule book I was operating by, screamed at me and said I was insubordinate, threw the rule book, and sent me home for the day.

            I had a chat with HR: that job has turned over every 9 months since. He’s yet to be fired four years later.

    4. Flash Bristow*

      Hmm, it’s an odd one isn’t it?

      I note that OP is only told to wait a week when the answer is in the negative. So they’d either be saying “yeah, that’s fine” right away, or “let me check and get back to you”. Which, when twigged, could become an office running joke…

      OP#1, Alison is dead right (as usual!) – just give them the info and move on. You could always kinda compromise about the “telling them you need time to look into things” aspect by saying this: “I’m sorry but no, I don’t think that’s an option. Would you like me to look into alternatives and get back to you?”

      1. LQ*

        This absolutely seems like if they don’t know it’s ok to do it so by not telling them no, they can do it and not feel bad. This is not an intern’s job to tell people that they aren’t allowed to do things. Just the fact that boss gave the role to an intern feels like the boss wanting people to do the thing they are not allowed to do. “We have a person who’s dedicated role is to be aware of and inform others of the policies.” (They are an intern and when I got one who was really bright and on top of her game I had to constantly tell her to back off!)

        On the other hand it sounds like this is actually something the OP is good at (saying no to coworkers about something like this in a straightforward and clear manner is really important and I’ve known a lot of people who weren’t great at it) so go OP!

      2. DustyJ*

        Oh my word, I just realized that’s what my previous manager did.

        If there was a positive answer, she would give it right away. If there was a negative answer, she would make me wait for weeks. She was too ‘nice’ to say No, so she just refused to answer at all until I stopped asking. I learned by trial-and-error that silence equals rejection.

        Public libraries: never again.

    5. Anon attorney*

      I agree that the boss is dead wrong here, but I’m a little surprised Alison didn’t advise on how to handle this with the boss as well as confirming boss is being ridiculous. It may be that hiding somewhere inside this ridiculous advice is a piece of useful feedback about how you communicate with stakeholders. Even if that isn’t the case, how are you going to deal with your boss when they realize you’re ignoring their instructions? To be clear, I don’t advocate following those instructions but I do think you will need to “manage up” to ensure that not taking this on board doesn’t affect your future performance rating, or even just your working relationship with boss.

      1. Anon attorney*

        …or you could just ignore me because Alison actually read the question properly. This is what happens when you read AAM before coffee time and on four hours sleep!

    6. snowglobe*

      Another interesting aspect of this is that the boss didn’t say anything to the OP about this until their exit interview. If the boss thought this was an issue, shouldn’t they have said something earlier? Clearly, the ex-boss is the type of person to avoid difficult conversations, which means advice about communication should be taken with a grain of salt.

      1. Life is good*

        Or the boss was pissed that the OP was leaving and couldn’t resist jabbing OP for something on their way out. In my experience, managers often take a good employee’s moving on as a personal insult.

      2. Marthooh*

        Well, if it’s polite to wait a week before you say “no” to someone, then obviously you have to wait at least a year before you deliver an outright criticism. But two years would be better, of course.

          1. Artemesia*

            LOL. I always had trouble getting into those books because of the total lack of character development but he was spot on on the idiocies of communication in institutions, particularly universities. I think every ridiculous rule enforcement or policy is something I encountered at one time or another. Another one that nails it is Connie Willis in Bellwether.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Yes – I had a hard time getting into them too, in the early books, but they get much stronger in that area later on, and I’m very glad I stuck with them far enough to get to that point!

                1. jenkins*

                  Definitely – the early ones are more gags than anything else but some of the later ones can bring me to tears. He developed enormously over his writing career,

            1. sourgold*

              Passing high five for Willis’ Bellwether! She’s a master at describing dysfunctional workplaces.

              (Also, I would say that while the early Discworld books are low in character development, the mid- and late-series novels become very nuanced and insightful. If you ever want to try again, pick up one of the later Watch books or Small Gods or Going Postal, or try the Tiffany Aching books!)

              1. Bulbasaur*

                I used to wonder who the self-insertion character(s) were in Pratchett’s books, if any. I had some theories on the matter, but then I read Neil Gaiman’s essay on him where he talked about how he isn’t a jolly old elf like people think, and his defining quality is more like focused rage. When I read that, Vimes and Granny Weatherwax immediately sprang to mind (both recurring characters that get a lot of air time). I used to think Tiffany Aching was a candidate but now I think she is probably modeled on his daughter, or some more or less imaginary version of her.

                I agree Connie Willis is very good at writing dysfunctional workplaces. ‘Passage’ and the whole Oxford time travel series are also good examples. She is so good at it that some people I know won’t read her, because it hits too close to home.

    7. Catherine*

      Well, I’m going to be the one to disagree and say that I dont think the boss’s advice is all that terrible. I know a pharmacy tech who uses this technique all the time, even though it’s actually not what her bosses want. To paraphrase what she told me, “I know that their medication isn’t covered by insurance. I’m supposed to know that and just tell them that. But I type it into the computer anyway, and it immediately tells me it’s rejected. NOW the customer is mad at the computer, not at ME.” So it really can be useful in avoiding unproductive confrontation to find a way to depersonalize the policy. And if you have the opportunity to reapond not right in the moment but later when you can provide a print copy or email copy of the relevant policy while doing so, it can make sure that everyone starts on the same page if there’s any pushback (rather than someone’s hate-searching through policy when they’re mad at your answer). The boss may not have explained this well and a week may indeed be questionably long, but depersonalizing these situations is indeed a valid reaction management technique.

      1. Alice*

        Sorry, I don’t think a pharmacy tech can be expected to memorize every drug’s status with evry insurance company every year, and so I would indeed want them to look it up if they told me it’s not covered without checking. There are not hundreds of thousands of policies that OP was responsible for enforcing, so the comparison isn’t apt. And besides, the time delay has very little to do with the depersonalization that you recommend, which does make sense. OP could have said, “our policy forbids that; I’ll send you the relevant section for reference when I get back to my office” immediately.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          As a pharmacy tech I doubt they know all medications. But they probably deal with certain medications/insurance combos often enough that they know when isn’t covered, or they literally just looked up medication A for a customer with insurance B and they know it is not covered. When I worked in retail I would have similar situations happen. A person comes in looking for popular item X, if I tell them we are sold out without “checking” the computer or in the back some people will get mad. Often times, I know we are sold out of item X because we have been for days, or I literally looked it up for the previous customer and we were out of stock. But I will still pretend to check the computer to “see” if we have any in stock, or go in the back to “check” if we have any more but I will just use it as an excuse to go to the bathroom or just take a quick 2 minute break from dealing with people.

          But yes in the context of the OP’s questions delaying by a week is way long. But like “Super dee dupe anon” said in a post below, in compliance if you are seen as the stern enforcer who just says “no” all the time it can make the job difficult, but if you know the answer is no but either are aware of alternatives or take the time to research alternatives and can say “no, but this is what we can do instead” that achieves the same or similar outcome people are likely to listen to you more.

      2. Emily K*

        I think that makes more sense in a customer situation than a co-worker one. You get different customers every day and they haven’t been vetted and the company doesn’t have any authority over them. They can be assholes and jerks with little consequence and walk out after wasting a bunch of your time or yelling or both.

        But colleagues work work you. If they’re throwing hissy fits and shooting the messenger because they don’t like the policy, that’s a disciplinary issue and you or your bosses have grounds to escalate the issue that colleagues are throwing temper tantrums when the policy/compliance specialist accurately informs them of policies.

        1. Catherine*

          In a large college or university, everyone outside your office can be like your public. On the other hand, a really small educational institution can be more like a small-to-medium nonprofit. In any case, of course a person should judge the situation—there’s not a one-size-fits all here. You want to show you’re knowledgeable and give answers quickly, but also try to avoid being personally seen as a roadblock. If possible. It’s never perfect.

      3. Antilles*

        I can see where that would be helpful in a pharmacy tech working with customers, but I don’t think that’s really an analogous situation.
        1.) With a medication, it’s defensible to always check because it could have changed recently or there could be a weird quirk of this customer’s plan or etc. Not so with financial information and personal privacy, where the rules are typically set in stone and rarely-if-ever change.
        2.) OP is providing information to co-workers, not customers. Customers come in once a week or once a month and probably aren’t dealing with the same tech every single time. OP’s co-workers are her co-workers, so OP is going to come off really poorly if she always has to ‘consult policy’. Like, this is the fifth request I’ve made this year and every single time, you haven’t known *any* answers offhand? Are you being incredibly CYA or are you just bad at your job?
        3.) If your co-workers are getting mad at OP because of the policy, that’s an issue with the co-workers. You can’t control a random pharmacy customer getting irritated, but there’s a level of professional decorum expected. Especially since we’re talking about personal/financial information here, a co-worker who gets pissed at “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you that due to privacy policy” isn’t going to get much sympathy.

      4. Super dee duper anon*

        I do think the boss’s advice as presented is pretty terrible. If this is a very straightforward thing, and the answer is a hard no then waiting a week just because is silly…

        But! I’m totally with you that sometimes a hard, immediate “no” is not the best approach, and I’m wondering if perhaps the manager was trying to recommend using a bit more of a nuanced approach (but it came out very wrong)…

        I work in compliance, so my job is quite literally to interpret rules/laws/regulations, apply them and enforce them. My first company took a very black and white approach, and because of that our entire department had an extremely adversarial relationship with just about every other dept. It was miserable AND on a whole, not effective, because rather than coming to us with questions people took an “ask for forgiveness” approach bc they didn’t want to deal with us. It resulted in way more violations than my current company.

        With my current company we try to give hard no’s as rarely as possible. A lot of stuff is just flat out against the law, so hard no’s still happen, but we are highly encouraged to try to think creatively or offer alternative suggestions. I do think that’s best practice and absolutely encourages a culture of compliance bc people know we’ll try to work with them if at all possible.

        1. Observer*

          What you say is reasonable. But the OP’s boss didn’t suggest that. Your current employer is not telling you to lie. Nor are the telling you to delay people’s work – and OP’s former boss was suggesting a WEEK.

          There is just no way to realistically get from what you are describing, which is a very good approach, to what the OP described.

      5. LQ*

        Doing it in 5 minutes is radically different than doing it in a week. And yeah double checking is fine, letting the computer say it’s not covered is fine. Doing it within the same conversation is very different than letting people go off and violate policy because you don’t like the word “no” (or more likely I suspect, you want people to violate the policy – the boss, not the OP).

      6. Psyche*

        I think the difference is the length of time. If you look it up right away and tell them the answer, that is less than a 5 minute delay but makes them feel like you tried. If you wait a week to tell them that their prescription isn’t covered, they will be very pissed.

      7. Anon for This*

        From a compliance perspective, this doesn’t make sense at all. The position (and similar ones, like the OP is working in) is meant to reduce liability to the company/organization. You can’t just let people run around doing risky/illegal things because you don’t want them to be mad at you!

        As I said below, this kind of pushback isn’t uncommon and just comes with the gig. But unlike a customer service role, your primary objective is absolutely NOT to make everyone happy, it’s to make sure legal and procedural directives are followed.

        If compliance were a popularity contest, it would be an unmitigated disaster.

        1. ThatGirl*

          I work in a consumer facing dept and actually we have to follow legal and compliance sorts of things too… my job is not solely to make customers happy :)

          1. Anon for This*

            Oh of course! I’m not saying people in customer service don’t have to follow rules, I meant that customer service’s end goal is providing a good customer experience/making the customer happy.

            Compliance isn’t here to make people (especially leadership!) happy, it’s to ensure rules are being followed, so admonitions to ‘wait a week’ to make people happier or the comparison to a PharmTech blaming the computer so the customer wasn’t angry with them don’t really fit.

      8. Observer*

        The boss didn’t suggest “depersonalizing”. And a WEEK goes from “questionably long” to clearly ridiculous and non-responsive. Today there is NO excuse for waiting that long for answers to the kinds of questions that the OP was being asked.

        It was terrible advice. Period. The OP’s further clarification makes it worse, of course, but even without that, it was really really bad.

    8. Trout 'Waver*

      The boss’s “advice” is so completely ludicrous and off base that I’d have questions about using her as a reference, tbh.

      At my workplace, if our compliance people took a week to get back with a “no”, they’d be fired and replaced. Imagine sitting in a process hazard analysis meeting and having your EHS specialist tell you “I don’t know, I’ll look it up and get back to you next week.”

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, that was my thought too. Knowing the policy IS your job and it’s going to make you look awful if you constantly have to check. And this goes double since the boss just said it as a blanket statement without any caveats or limitations.
        To use your EHS example, if it’s an oddball question or unique situation, it’s perfectly reasonable to hear “give me a couple days to get back to you, I’m not sure the last time we had to perform an underwater confined space entry, so I’ll need to look up that protocol.” But you’re going to look completely incompetent if you need to ‘check policy’ on a routine matter like whether or not a hard hat is required in the workshop.

    9. WindyLindy*

      I agree! In my last job, I often had to ask people for data, and my favorite way to hear no was a quickly sent “Sorry, I can’t do X because of Y, but I can provide Z (similar information that might help.)” I won’t be wasting time waiting for you to send me the info, and I might be able to switch to Z instead.

    10. Artemesia*

      This. I would assume that the OP is considered abrasive or condescending in the way she provides information and the supervisor wants her to tone it down and be more gracious. But the direct message of how to do that is ridiculous.

      I did my career in the South where people tended to pad information like this with lots of soft gibble gabble to lessen the blow of saying ‘no.’ But you still needed to say ‘no’ when that was the answer.

    11. Aitch Arr*

      I’ve gotten feedback that I can be ‘too prescriptive.’

      I’m an HR Business Partner. Sometimes, I have to say ‘no, you can’t do X’ or ‘our policy forbids Y because…’

      I wonder if a man would get the same feedback.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Ah, the joys of Enforcing While Female. Don’t hedge enough, you’re “too prescriptive” and harsh. Hedge too much, you’re “wishy-washy” and lack confidence so no one will respect your authority.

        (Also, I love your username!)

    12. skunklet*

      This is my question to the OP – was this down south? I say this, b/c as a born and raised Northerner, when I lived down south (11 years), I was FREQUENTLY told by bosses or coworkers that I was mean, because I would use verbiage like “No, sorry, US Customs won’t allow…” or “No, US Customs requires…”… Of course, now that I moved back up North, I’m not mean at all, even though what I say remains exactly the same. (Ftr, I know not all Southerners are like this, but they do seem to be less direct in many situations… we all know that Bless Your Heart doesn’t mean what it says, for example)…

    13. Jadelyn*

      I feel like this manager is bizarrely confused over the basic concept of softening language – it’s possible that OP was a bit brusque in their presentation of “nope, can’t do that” responses, and the boss’s intent was to say “hey, you need to soften that a bit”, but to suggest *waiting a week* as a form of softening is weird.

      OP, I’m a big fan of “Unfortunately, I/we can’t do X” language. The “Unfortunately”, especially if paired with a sympathetic tone and a smile, places you and your “target” on the same side of the issue, together constrained by regulations, rather than you and the regulations versus the coworker. Another one I’ve found useful is “As I’m sure you know” or “As I’m sure you understand” – implicitly framing them as being on your side and agreeing with your base assumption, which is “we need to follow regulations” and thus it forces them to get really explicit about it if their intent or desire in the conversation is to circumvent a regulation. Also, if you can offer an alternative, that can help smooth things over.

      An actual situation that happened to me a couple weeks ago in which I used all three of these techniques:
      “Hey, can we get Jane’s home address? The branch would like to send her a card expressing our sympathy on her illness.”
      “Unfortunately, I can’t share that information – as I’m sure you understand, we need to take staff privacy very seriously, even in cases when it’s for something nice, like this. But if you’d like to send the card over to HR, we can send it out on your behalf.”

      1. CM*


        It also sometimes helps if you can show that you empathize with the reasons why the person wants to do the thing they’re not allowed to do, so it seems like you’re not just being callous to their needs. Like, “I can understand why you’d want to do X, because it seems like that would be the fastest way, but unfortunately…”

        However, if I had to choose, I’d rather get a rude no immediately and know how things stand than have somebody fake me out by pretending they have to go check and telling me no a week later.

    1. Elle*

      I like this advice.

      It’s not that I think its inappropriate to show up in your fancy hair and makeup (especially since if I were you I’d want to enjoy it for as long as I could after the hours it takes to get glammed up). Its that its such a departure from your norm that it will stand out to your coworkers and lead to questions. You aren’t someone who regularly styles herself in a retro way and would conceivably go over the top for this party just for fun.
      So I’m just picturing the questions about why you’ve done this unusual thing, to which you either need to have a good lie crafted, or be willing to admit you just came from a burlesque shoot.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m picturing the coworkers who will have no idea who she is.

        I’m with Alison overall–some offices this would be fun and cool and a small leavener of “neat!” in the evening, some offices this would be a sign OP doesn’t know how to separate her job from her burlesque act.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Does anyone ever get dressed up for Halloween? Like all out? If so I would say go with the hair and makeup. If not I would take a closer look. This would go over great at my current workplace (that is super healthy) but would not have gone over well at all at my old toxic job. And at my job before that it would have been fine but the owner would have brought it up to you every time he saw you for the rest of forever. So that is also something to keep in mind if you know someone at work who cannot let things go.

      3. Joielle*

        It would be fine to take a shower and come late to the party if OP is uncomfortable going in her makeup, but if the only concern is what her coworkers would think – she should go for it! They already know she does burlesque. She doesn’t have to “admit” anything because it’s not some terrible secret.

    2. snowglobe*

      If the theme is “70’s party”, isn’t it likely that a lot of people will be dressed up in costume? It’s been my experience that a lot of normally conservatively dressed people will really get into costume parties. I’d recommend the OP ask around to see if co-workers are dressing up – if so, I’d guess that the OP’s glitter and big hair would be the hit of the party.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I think the photo shoot is 70s themed, not the party. So there will be an even bigger difference in styles.

    3. FTW*

      Having done some performance, I would say it depends on the level of hair, make up and glitter. I would take it down a notch myself (throw hair back into a pony tail or bun, take off any eye makeup above the crease, use take to get the egregious glitter), but wouldn’t feel the need to go home and shower.

    4. Dasein9*

      Depending on your means and the location of the party, even getting a hotel room for the night might not be a terrible idea. Many offices have their parties at venues in or near hotels and this would mean you could be less hurried and also not worry about getting home okay if you decide to drink. Just add the party clothes to the bag your photo-shoot clothes are in.

  3. Lena Clare*

    LW2 – Now I can’t stop thinking of the Gorgeous Ladies Of Glow :)
    I’d say big hair and make up would be fine, but glitter….ooof. That stuff gets everywhere. People’ll be washing glitter of themselves and their party frocks well into the new year!
    Whatever you decide to do, have fun. Your burlesque photo shoot sounds amazing!

    1. Bowserkitty*

      Agree. I personally would love it but I know a lot of people who equate glitter as “the [STD] of the craft world” who would possibly hate it.

      Still, LW2 sounds like my type of gal and I would be happy to have that sort of hair and makeup at my party! Definitely determine your office atmosphere though.

      1. anony mouse*

        After reading about one woman who lost her eye after a tiny piece of craft glitter got stuck in her eye, I’m definitely in the anti-glitter camp.

        1. Dizzy*

          I want to take this opportunity to advise LW2 and all of her burlesque cohorts to STOP USING CRAFT GLITTER ON THEIR SKIN. As stated above, it can be shockingly dangerous. I’m a professional body painter and I assure you that are plenty of cosmetic grade/body safe chunky glitters available. Amerikan Body Art’s Pixie Paint is a good one, and there are even eco-friendly biodegradable glitters out there for you!

          Be kind to your skin!

          1. Tupac Coachella*

            Agree-when I learned how significantly different cosmetic grade glitter is from craft glitter, I suddenly felt like I’d unknowingly spent my (relatively tame) teen years living on the edge. Also, I vote Dizzy for Alison’s next “interesting jobs” interview.

    2. Emily K*

      I had a similar reaction. Most of the look is probably fine but I wouldn’t show up to work covered in craft glitter because it sheds everywhere and personally I would feel embarrassed to be the person who left a bunch of glitter all over the floor and any chairs I sat in that some janitorial staff was going to struggle to vacuum completely later.

      Depending on how easy/hard it was to do I would consider leaving the hair up and just doing a body rinse in the shower to get the glitter off.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, that’s what I was wondering — if there will be any way to kind of split the difference.

        But even that assumes a fairly “fun” workplace, where showing up with a pretty different look from your usual will be well-received.

      2. Iris Eyes*

        That’s what I was thinking. Sans glitter it could be a fun look especially if there is a festive sweater type dress code. I’d probably also remove the fake lashes but those are increasingly “normal.”

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      I’m a self confessed glitter hater. It gets everywhere and you’re finding it forever. I would not be stoked if a coworker brought the Glitter Parade to the office. Could some of the glitter be washed off but the hair kept the same?

      I was thinking you could really lean into the Christmas theme since you’re already going to be dressed up. Maybe a festive hair ornament, an especially Christmas-y outfit, and/or one of those Christmas necklaces that light up. That way you could just go with looking different from your normal appearance but you’re just extra festive instead of apologetic for your look. Of course, know your office, but this is what I would probably do because I hate having to change my look on the fly like that.

    4. DCBA*

      I’m an amateur belly dancer, so I understand about the glitter! My recommendation would be to pack a container of baby wipes, and de-glitter yourself between the photoshoot and the party. Keep the hair; it’s a party, and the hair sounds fun! But you can definitely tone down the makeup and glitter with your friend, the babywipe.

  4. Temperance*

    LW2: I think you should try and swap appointments if at all possible, but otherwise, you should grab the shower and show up a little late.

    1. Millie*

      About the only way that I could see the 70’s glam-glitter look flying would be if it was an ugly sweater party, and you were able to wear a super-70’s ugly sweater with it. Like something with a red-and-green 70’s suit-wearing cat doing the pointer dance move next to a silver Christmas tree that lights up. Then it would look like you were really going all-out for the party theme, and people would think it was cool.

      But if it was just a standard generic Christmas/holiday party… I’d do the shower, use a hair dryer so your hair isn’t wet, and show up a little late if you have to. I’ve only been to a handful of office Christmas parties, and every one of them required a more standard appearance–either a regular work look or something more formal. Otherwise, you risk some people laughing about it and bringing it up for months to come and/or its being slight ding among the more serious-minded people. It would be the same as a cosplayer coming in wearing faerie make-up and hair: sure, it may look awesome, but it also says that you either don’t know how to look for the context or you’re choosing to ignore norms, both of which would make people question your judgment.

      Assuming it’s a generic party, I would actually say that if you can’t thoroughly undo the 70’s hair/makeup before the party, it would be better to not go at all. People won’t gossip much or at all about your skipping the party; they’re likely to gossip about your showing up looking radically different from how you usually look.

  5. Lena Clare*

    LW1 – I am incensed on your behalf. Either she was clueless and really believed delayed non-confrontation is a valid means of communication (I mean, she waited until your EXIT interview to tell you this! Lol. So I think this is probably the case) or she was being petty and dropping a little bomb on you before you left, knowing that there was nothing you could do about it, believing you’d worry about it and spoiling the start of your new job.

    People are weird for sure.

    1. Not Australian*

      Yeah, and without wishing to be inflammatory about it this has potential for straying into ‘women should pretend to know less than they do’ territory which is a whole new ball of wax.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        That was my immediate thought. I’ve gotten similar messages, and it sucks. If I know things and it’s my job to know things, why on earth would I act like I didn’t know things?? Not cool.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Excellent point: Manager walked the walk about the value of not giving people any negative information until the last possible moment.

      1. Marthooh*

        Yeah, you gotta admire her for that. Well, you don’t gotta, but you can. If you want.

        One week later: Actually, no. That’s bullsh!t.

    3. Colette*

      I think there is value in not giving an immediate answer when you want the other person to think it through for themselves. For example:
      Person 1: Are we allowed to take cash out of the cash drawers to pay for supplies?
      Person 2: What happens when the cash drawer is short at the end of the shift?
      Person 1: We have to balance.
      Person 2: So if we pay for supplies, we won’t balance. There’s another process for paying for supplies.

      But that requires leading the person asking to figure out the answer or locate the policy, not just waiting a week and saying no.

      1. DreamingInPurple*

        It’s a bit of a balancing act to find the right tone as well, because it’s easy for an extended series of leading questions to get to feeling a bit condescending, especially if you and the other person are peers.

        1. LCL*

          Sometimes that slightly condescending tone is needed for seasoned employees if they know the answers and are trying to get around policy when they have already been told no. But as a general policy, don’t be condescending.

      2. Psyche*

        I would be pretty annoyed by that response. It seems less condescending to give a straight answer and include the reason. It would be much easier if Person 2 just answered “No. If we pay for supplies out of the cash drawer it won’t balance at the end of the shift. There’s another process for paying for supplies.” The same information gets conveyed.

        1. Colette*

          It depends on whether it’s something the other person should know. If it’s brand new information, I agree – but it it’s something they’ve seen before, it can be useful to not train them to expect easy answers.

    4. LilyP*

      LW 2- it sounds like this is different enough from your normal appearance that people will ask about it. Imagine every conversation you have at the party starting with them asking about your hair and you having to explain — does that feel fun/funny/comfortable or awkward and annoying? You know your co-workers best :)

  6. Ellen N.*

    I don’t understand why people are upset about the teacher selling snacks to students. My husband is a teacher. When he taught elementary school he gave out snacks as rewards. He’s told me of teachers selling snacks to older students. Schools have vending machines which usually contain candy bars and sugary drinks. If the teacher is selling healthier snacks at a lower price what is the problem?

    What should earn our outrage is soda pop companies who donate money to schools in exchange for filling vending machines with their products.

    1. Lena Clare*

      The outrage comes from the fact it’s illegal (here). The products are not for resale and the teacher is making a profit from the students.
      Giving sweets out as prizes is WAY different than reselling them for profit.
      And soda pop companies isn’t the point here (and is slightly different anyway).

      1. TootsNYC*

        but is it ILLEGAL to sell the “not packaged for individual sale” items? Or is it just that the company is alerting people that the individual packaging doesn’t carry the nutritional info, etc., that is on the larger package (and that it wasn’t intended for individual sale)?

        1. Lena Clare*

          Actually I don’t know if it’s illegal or not, but I meant (and was referring to to) teachers selling stuff to students and in our school district in the UK it is not permitted.

        2. Lilo*

          Actually, thinking about it, there may be tax issues or state rules about vendors allowed on school property. There are also nutrition guidelines about food items sold in schools.

          When I was an intern, I did some work on a food vending contract with a public museum and there are all sorts of things you had to comply with, as a public institution.

          A lot of this is jurisdiction specific (this is not my field) but it is definitely possible that this explicitly violates a state or federal rule regarding vending or food in public schools.

        3. nnn*

          That’s what I was wondering. It seems like the laws surrounding selling foodstuffs would be, like, hygienic food handling laws or business laws, not “don’t buy a big pack and resell the little packs”. I always figured the “not for resale” label is because the manufacturer doesn’t want people reselling the little packs.

          (Although that raises the question of why the manufacturer would care…)

          I could possibly see it being illegal to sell foodstuffs in the office for other reason (random office worker doesn’t have a permit, hasn’t undergone a health inspection) and I can certainly see it being against office policy. I’m just not sure that the “not for resale” on the package is what would trigger it.

          1. nnn*

            Ugh, and now I see that I missed it’s a school, not an office. (No more commenting before coffee!)

            Given that it’s a school, I think the reselling candy might be worse because of the power differential, but the rest of my comment remains unchanged.

          2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            Really intensely curious about this same question. I mean, I can put whatever I want on a package, but that doesn’t mean it is law. I can sell you a candy bar that says “must pay seller an additional $1 million upon eating” – but that doesn’t obligate you to pay me.

            Maybe it’s actually a legal requirement for the manufacturer – like, they have to follow certain laws for things that are meant to be resold, and if they want to make an exception to those laws, they have to clearly mark that thing as not for resale?

            I bet Ethyl is getting into legal jeopardy with sales tax, though. At least in most US states, she would need to be collecting sales tax on every candy bar and remitting it to the government. Damn it, Ethyl!

        4. WillyNilly*

          “Not labeled for individual sale” items lack ingredients and nutritional information. Allergies, diabetic issues, etc, can arise from uninformed consumption. Yes it is illegal to sell packaged food without ingredients, and in some places calories, listed.

          There are also tax issues.

        5. ThankYouRoman*

          It’s not a tax issue.

          If it’s a taxed item (food usually isn’t), the teacher paid their 10% at Costco or wherever it was at point of purchase.

          If she claimed tax exemption because she’s reselling ONLY THEN is it dodging the tax man.

          Goods are taxed once. End scene.

          1. WillyNilly*

            In my state, prepared foods are taxed, so packaged snacks are taxable.

            And they are taxed based on the price, in this case the bulk price paid in the store. The teacher is now reselling them at a higher price than they were previously taxed at.

          2. The Commoner*

            This is incorrect in the US.

            Sales and use taxes are different in every state and can have further differences at the county/parish, city level, etc.

            Some areas might not tax chips at the store but may if it comes from a vending machine. Or if it’s sold with prepared food. Or for whatever reason.

            These laws are not consistent.

            It’s always a tax issue any time there is income or sales.

      2. MK*

        The “not for resale” does not necessarily make it illegal; this is usually put on the packaging by the manufacturer do that the store won’t open the package (that has a lower total price) and sell the snacks individually. There might be laws where the OP is that make it illegal, but the sign on the package is just an instruction.

        1. Psyche*

          There are laws about what needs to be on the packaging in many areas. So it could actually be illegal to sell it individually if it did not include things like the ingredients list and nutritional information.

      3. afiendishthingy*

        I’m a teacher. I don’t care about the legality or damage to the makers of the snacks or the corporate food vendors the school has a contract with. I wouldn’t care if the teacher were giving away the snacks or even selling them at cost to the kids. It’s the fact that the teacher is making a profit from hungry kids. You can’t run a side business at your full-time job and especially not selling to students.

      4. Les G*

        This is…not where the outrage comes from. It’s about exploitation. Unless folks are going arou d reportung the corner dive bar for selling expired Fritos, the resale factor is so very much not the issue.

      5. Taylor Swift*

        LOL, love the armchair lawyers here making such a big deal about this. If you think any regulatory agency would care about this, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

    2. TooTiredToThink*

      Does she have a business license? Is she paying taxes? Does she have liability insurance in case she sells something out of date that makes a kid sick?

      That’s only the beginning.

      1. Ellen N.*

        Many schools encourage students to sell candy door to door and at mini malls. Do those students have business licenses? Do they have liability insurance in case they sell something to somebody who gets sick?

        1. Lilo*

          I mentiomed this below but my spouse did this in school (starting when he was 10 or so) and it wasn’t just getting candy from Costco. There was a clearly defined program that he was part of.

          My parents always had us decline to sell band candy, but I seem to remember that was also a very specific program that I believe had some tax free status on profits.

        2. Marvel*

          … Yes? They’re covered under the school’s liability, and the school does the work of obtaining the relevant vendor permissions as well (which, in the U.S., varies not only by state but often by county and/or city–some don’t require specific paperwork at all, others do).

      2. pleaset*

        These are interesting questions, but not the core issue – the core issue is that it’s a conflict of interest to sell to minors you have responsibility for. The power relationship and the “parental” relationship relationship may make it hard for the kids to say no.

        That’s it.

    3. zaracat*

      Because it’s using her access to students, which she only has because of her position, to make a profit for herself. That is an abuse of her position.

      1. Ellen N.*

        There are many instances where teachers make a profit from their access to students; many college professors assign books they wrote to their classes.

        I bet the teacher is marking the snacks up slightly to make up for buying and storing them.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Your husband wouldn’t have accepted “but everyone else does it!” as an excuse from bad behavior from one of his students. Nor should you offer it as an excuse for a teacher behaving badly.

          Which, btw, we know is inappropriate at this school because the person’s supervisor gave her a “stern talking to”.

          1. Ellen N.*

            You missed all my points. I don’t view the teacher as “behaving badly”. Therefore I don’t need to find any excuse for her behavior; certainly not “but everyone else does it”. I believe that the teacher isn’t “behaving badly” because I don’t see a negative consequence of his/her behavior. In fact, I’m very much in favor of healthy snacks being distributed in the classroom. Many children can’t focus because their nutritional needs aren’t being met.

              1. Mystery Bookworm*

                I was a teenager once! If the students are buying the snacks at a markup, I’ll bet my hat they’re not apples and carrot sticks.

              2. Health Insurance Nerd*

                Nowhere in the letter does it say that these snacks are healthy- Ellen N added that to her narrative justifying the unethical thing this teacher is doing even though she has been told not to. Profiting off your students is gross and wrong.

            1. Lilo*

              She also already got a talking to.abou t this. This is clearly something the supervisor is not okay with.

              IMO, this is particularly bad if She’s selling things like candy bars and chips after they were removed from the school’s vending machines and cafeteria.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                I was raised on junk food. It’s one of the reasons I felt bad all the time. IMO interfering with a teen’s nutrition is a crime in itself.

            2. LKW*

              The negative consequence, as noted upstream, is that if this is a public school, they have to follow strict Federal, State and Local laws regarding nutrition. Therefore, if someone is knowingly flouting the law, the school may receive a penalty or some other negative consequence.

        2. Someone Else*

          We already know from the letter the teacher is marking up the snacks because it says she’s profiting. If she were selling it for cost there wouldn’t be a profit. That said, regardless of the profit-factor, we know from the letter what she’s doing is prohibited by her employer (and in most places in the US, the law). So even if you personally don’t find it objectionable on ethical grounds, (and having nothing to do with the whole “not for resale” thing), there are buckets of regulations on food being sold in public schools. She’s breaking them. She’s unlikely to be prosecuted, but she’s still doing something illegal.

          1. Lilo*

            My husband, as a kid, sold candy bars as part of fundraising for a trip to go abroad (he grew up very poor and this was the only way he could afford it). But there was an explicit program he did this through (I think either run by the program or the candy company) and I believe there were restrictions on who could participate (it wasn’t just anyone).

            Knowing that these programs exist and are run as carefully as they are makes me pretty suspicious that there is an explicit rule being violated by the teacher here.

            1. Lilo*

              I will note someone with more on point knowledge than I have weighed in above and said her school has to comply with a lot of rules on a sales program.

              My background is not on point here but I would definitely suspect that turning a blind eye to this could get the school in trouble.

        3. Mystery Bookworm*

          Yes, and that’s a problem as well. Teachers shouldn’t profit off their students in this way, it’s a clear conflict of interest.

          There is a lot of research and real life examples to indicate that we tend to treat people who provide us with money differently than those who don’t – it’s impossible to be impartial about those things.

          Ethel’s duty is to teach these kids, not to be a candy supplier. What if she starts treating good customers better than those who don’t buy from her? What if she rushes through grading so that she can make sure she’s properly restocked Those might seem like crazy scenarios, but the fact is that, when we’re making money from someone, it changes our judgement. This has been shown time and time again and is why people are concerned about these sorts of overlaps.

          1. Mystery Bookworm*

            Not to mention that she’s already been told to knock it off. I think I would feel a lot differently if that weren’t the case, but the fact that she’s continued after that says….not great things about her judgement.

            1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

              And presumably since she knows she isn’t supposed to be doing it, she’s pressing the kids to keep it a secret. Which means she’s undermining the authority of the school. That’s a big part of the ick to me. School and teacher should be on the same side in the eyes of the students.

          2. doreen*

            You know, it’s not just because it’s a school and because the sales are to students. This would cause issues in other government workplaces. At my first government employer, there were a group of people who ran a “breakfast shop” . They had big urns of coffee and hot water and dozens of bagels. They do not profit- any profits went to fill the food pantry we kept for our clients. There was disciplinary action when the higher-ups found out. In part because a manager was involved in financial transactions with her subordinates but mostly because they weren’t being paid to run a breakfast service for an hour every morning. At another workplace some staff brought in a George Foreman grill and were selling burgers etc. Again disciplinary action because they were running a private business during the time the city was paying the to work,

        4. Susan K*

          When I was in college, I took a math class in which we used a textbook written by the professor. One day, she brought in a box of chocolates and handed them out as rewards for correct answers. At the end of the class she told us that she spent all of the money she made from the book purchases of the students in our class on that box of chocolates. I am guessing she got complaints in the past about profiting from making students buy her textbook, so she wanted to make a point about how little money that actually was.

          1. Slartibartfast*

            I took one class where the book was written by the professor, and it was because a good textbook didn’t exist for the subject, so she wrote her own. (Medical terminology for veterinary technicians). The illustrations were drawings of her two dogs who would sometimes come to class, and the textbook was very reasonably priced.
            I do think intent matters here, and the fact that Ethel isn’t doing this openly points towards bad intentions, especially if she’s been told not to do this. A teacher keeping snacks on hand and giving (not selling) them to students she knows haven’t eaten is a very different situation..

            1. Friday afternoon fever*

              In my experience teacher-written textbooks are sold through the campus bookstore, which is vastly different. Also, it sounds like these students are much younger.

              And, flip side, I had a world history professor who wrote his own (heftily priced!) textbook and it was useless because you could not google any of the concepts, which he basically made up. They did not exist on the internet. So ideally there would be more scrutiny even of purportedly school-related purchases.

              Susan K, that is lovely.

              1. Autumnheart*

                I had a textbook in college (within the last few years) where the author basically had THE authoritative text on this particular subject. He allegedly didn’t like the markup that was added to the cost of the textbook by the publisher, so he bought the rights back and now sells the e-book for about $10.

          2. Sarah N*

            Colleges are also increasingly requiring professors who assign their own work to donate the profits to a charity or something similar, rather than keeping them for themselves. It’s not everywhere, but universities are increasingly realizing the ethical issues with this and putting policies in place to avoid the issue.

            1. Ellen N.*

              Even if the professors donate the profits they make from requiring their students to use a book they wrote, they would still profit. Their book would sell more copies which would promote the belief that it was a well written book.

              1. pancakes*

                And? When a school hires a professor who’s written a textbook, it’s safe to presume the school agrees it’s a well-written book. I don’t see what this has to do with a grade school teacher selling snacks.

        5. triplehiccup*

          College professors assigning their textbooks to adults who choose their own classes and whether to enroll at all is totally different from K-12 teachers personally profiting off of children subject to compulsory enrollment and attendance laws. The latter is literally a captive market. The only exception is fundraising that benefits the school community.

        6. Greymalk*

          But there are rules where those professors can’t profit from their own students who buy the book. In my state the portion of the sale (from the profs own students) that otherwise goes to the author goes into a textbook scholarship fund at the university that any student can apply for.

        7. Emily K*

          College students are adults there by choice and who have paid to be there, and thus there aren’t nearly as many protections in place for them compared to high school students who are minors required by law to attend.

        8. Yvette*

          I had a professor who did that, he not only wrote it, he published it. But here is the kicker, he published it in 3 parts so you only had to buy one part at a time as you needed it. And the campus book store was only allowed to sell it for what it cost him to produce it. He made no profit. He was outraged at the expense students had to incur for textbooks and this was his way of helping them keep costs down. He was a very sweet man.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            My professor was the opposite – he wrote a textbook, and made very minor changes annually, resulting in a new edition every year. Since he informed the student bookstore that he wouldn’t be using that edition next year, they refused to buy it back at the end of the school year, which was a double whammy for the students.

            1. Yvette*

              He was a very nice man. Economics professor.
              When I was in college I avoided buying used textbooks because the bookstore was selling them for about 95% of new book value and I knew that the students who sold them back got pennies on the dollar, I thought that was very unfair. Granted, when dinosaurs roamed the earth new textbooks were not nearly as expensive as they are now, so the difference between brand new and beat up used was only a couple of dollars. (And there was no such thing as Amazon!)

              1. Autumnheart*

                I first attended college at the traditional age back in the early 1990s. I dropped out, entered the workforce, and then went back to finish my degree a few years ago (graduated in 2016). Personally, I found that my books were much, MUCH less expensive a few years ago than they were in the ‘90s. A big part of that was being able to buy textbooks online via Amazon or any other seller, and another significant factor was the ability to easily rent books and use e-books instead of paper editions. I doubt I spent $300 on books for the entirety of my degree completion (two years, basically the major courses), whereas I easily spent $300 per semester in the ‘90s. Same type of school both times, too—private Catholic university with decent regional ranking.

        9. Dragoning*

          At least college students are mostly adults. I feel very differently about taking advantage of adults and taking advantage of children.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Oh, don’t even get me started on how the entire college system takes advantage of everyone.
            Books are the tip of the iceberg.

    4. Artemesia*

      Yeah I kind of felt that way too. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at all to me, particularly if healthier snacks are involved. (and the ‘not for resale’ — seriously? That is only slightly a bigger deal than removing the mattress tag on your mattress)

      Of course she has been told it violates policy and thus should not be doing it, but the students are likely to see it as a service rather than exploitation. And maybe one of them will decide to try it themselves to earn a little money.

      1. JamieS*

        Yeah I mostly agree with this. I understand why the school district would want to put a stop to it (liability) but as far as individuals reactions I think some people are a bit too overdramatic in their outrage. For me it depends on how much she’s profiting. If she’s selling chips for $10 a bag then I can see the outrage but if it’s the range of a normal bag of chips or cheaper then the response is a bit ridiculous. Also the whole “not for resale” argument sounds like a something people who call the cops on a kid’s lemonade stand would say.

        1. Ananas*

          The real concern with “not for resale” foods is that they often do not have ingredient lists (allergens!) or nutritional info (carbs for diabetics!).

            1. Anon From Here*

              If the label says something like “not labeled for individual sale,” then the reason is that it doesn’t list nutrition facts (ingredients, allergens, nutritional data), and also likely doesn’t include the lot or batch number for reference in case of recalls.

            2. WillyNilly*

              No Jamie, they usually don’t. That information is printed on the larger, outer packaging, snd the smaller individual units are just graphics. That is literally what they mean when they say “not labeled for individual sale” – they are lacking the label information.

        2. Humble Schoolmarm*

          I agree too. I’m not about to start doing this myself and can see a number of issues it would create, but I can’t see this being an Off With Her Job Yesterday situation. I wouldn’t report it, but would assume that if several colleagues and, presumably, all of the students are aware, then word will get back to people who can make those calls sooner rather than later.

        3. Roscoe*

          This is exactly it. I wrote this below . I’m not saying its “right” that she is doing it, but some of these reactions on here are so wildly out of context with what she is doing that its crazy

        4. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Thank you, I was going to write something like this myself but in the interest of tidiness I’ll write here.

          I’m reading the OP and the comments and sitting here thinking to myself why is this a problem? I had teachers in HS who would do this type of thing.

          One teacher did it because the class was at the midpoint between the start of the day and lunch, and he found that the class paid attention more when they weren’t hungry.

          One teacher used to sell French candy and such that she had brought back from her many trips.

          Another teacher used to sell pens and pencils, because they got tired of supplying them out of their own pocket.

          Good grief, I think the world’s gone mad if we are up in arms about selling some chips in a classroom.

          OP needs to just step right out of this and MT(heir)OB.

          1. That Lady*

            Federal guidelines which were implemented in 2010 and again in 2014 prevent items like sodas, candy, and chips from being sold willy nilly in schools. It’s a very serious federal guideline that can result in funding getting pulled from schools. OP is right to be concerned.

      2. Tin Cormorant*

        This was actually my first job ever in high school! My teacher would buy single-serving bags of chips in bulk at Costco and keep them in a big wheeled cabinet with a lock on it. He hired another classmate and me to wheel it outside the classroom during our lunch hour and sell the chips to the other students. we basically just sat around and talked about our favorite video games while eating our lunches and selling to whoever came around — and most days there was quite a line because the vending machines didn’t sell what we had.

        There was talk among the teachers at the time that the school didn’t like us doing it, though I don’t think they ever spelled out exactly why to us students. I think the money raised was actually going towards school supplies for our department rather than being pure profit for the teacher. It was a long time ago, so I’m not 100% sure. Nobody saw it as a big deal though. Teachers get paid so little, we don’t argue when one of them does something creative like this to make ends meet.

        1. Gen*

          Yeah back in the eighties selling ‘not for resale’ bulk snacks in the school tuck shop was my job for most of junior school (age 7-10 so I never questioned it) but as an adult I’ve found that there are a lot of things that seem entirely reasonable to do that are actually prohibited. I’ve actually avoided joining the PTA at that same school because I know I’d be the one endless explaining why we can’t legally do x/y/z that the school has been doing for decades.

        2. Lilo*

          I get that your experience was fine, but not, a teacher hiring a student informally to sell personally acquired stuff to other student, on school property, during school hours?

          I mean, yeah, I worded that deliberately badly, but none of that was false. But you can see why that is definitely not something that would be a good idea for a teacher to do.

        3. Dragoning*

          I’d be pretty angry about the seeming favoritism of paying two particular students–even to do something like a job–from a teacher. Why did he pick you two? How? How did that affect his teaching relationship with you?

          Yeah, that’s concerning, actually.

        1. Lilo*

          I am confused too. From the letter In was picturing candy bars or chips. And is She’s selling candy bars after the school removed them from vending machines (which is happening in a lot of schools), that makes this even worse.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I think someone saying “School won’t sell you a Snickers? Stop by my place before third period, kid…” is a far more likely business model, rather than a secret stash of fresh vegetables.

            Though I agree with the point upthread that this warrants an “Eloise, cut it out” rather than full-scale call to battle.

        2. Antilles*

          I have no idea. It’s not in the letter at all. And having been a teenager at one point in my life, I’m literally laughing at the idea that it’s a teacher trying to sneak in HEALTHY food.
          Teacher: Hey guys, I’m making some extra money by selling whole-grain oatmeal bars and yogurt on the side.
          Literally Every Teenager at My School: You’re joking right? If I wanted to eat healthy snacks, I could just ask my parents. In fact, in my lunchbox right now there’s celery that I’ll be tossing straight in the trash uneaten because it tastes bad but my dumb parents just refuse to stop putting it in there.

            1. biobotb*

              How is that related? If these kids’ parents didn’t have money to buy their kids food, how would the kids have money to buy snacks (at a markup) from a teacher? In addition, just because a teenager’s parents don’t have money for healthy food doesn’t mean they’d like to buy healthy snacks from a teacher. They’re still a teenager. They’d still prefer candy and chips.

              1. Ellen N.*

                I have always preferred fruit and vegetables to candy and chips even as a teenager. I don’t believe that I’m alone in this.

                1. Antilles*

                  You’re not alone, but I definitely think that’s a small percentage – thinking back to all the 100+ kids I interacted with regularly at my high school, there were only a handful who actually preferred healthy options.
                  More kids than that actually DID eat reasonably healthy meals, but that wasn’t their actual preference, it was forced on them by outside factors – “my parents only buy me healthy stuff”, “the school cafeteria does not serve candy or chips”, “it’s wrestling season and I’m trying to cut weight by skipping cola”, and so forth.

      3. Holly*

        It doesn’t matter if the teacher is selling broccoli. Teachers should not be selling anything to their students.

      4. New Bee*

        Yeah, I mean, someone with authority telling her not to do it is their prerogative, but I’m a school administrator and this is exactly how we raise field trip money, so this is so different than my experience. Clearly my context is a lot different, because my (large, public) district would not care, and when I taught high school I knew teachers who did this (and also sold pencils and other supplies) and then just reinvested the money in buying more. So curious to scroll and see what other educators say.

    5. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, this seems to be the most victim-less “crime” ever. Of all the things to snitch over, selling snacks? Yeesh. Maybe if we funded education properly people working in it wouldn’t need side-hustles. But yeah, I’m in the Mind Your Own Business You Fun Spoiling Snitch category for this one.

      1. Laini*

        Same. I could see it being a violation of school policy. In which case, the school can enforce policy. But “illegal” because the company said it’s not for resale? Eh, not a big deal to me.

      2. slick ric flair*

        I’m 100% with you. This is the most victim-less thing ever and the people worried about business taxes, allergies, or mandatory reporting are so far over the top they are touching the moon.

    6. neeko*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the school has a conflict of interest/ethics policy – especially if it’s a public school – that this is violating.

    7. Anne (with an “e”)*

      In Georgia this is definitely against the code of ethics for educators. The teacher who is selling the snacks could (very likely would) have their teaching certificate suspended or revoked. Furthermore, any teacher who knows about this behavior and fails to report it could also have their certificate suspended or revoked as well.

      1. Ellen N.*

        In Georgia they were up until recently debating whether to teach creationism as an equivalent theory to evolution. Therefore, I won’t be taking my ethical cues from Georgia.

        1. Anne (with an “e”)*

          I am hardly holding Georgia up as a paradigm of what is right. My point is that my state has severe consequences for this type of behavior. I am also willing to bet that that other school systems have very similar guidelines. I teach in GA, therefore I am familiar with what is acceptable and what isn’t in that state.
          Also, if you referring to the so-called debate about creationism was in 2004, I would hardly call that recent. I would call it derailing though.

    8. Anonomo*

      I didnt really get it either until a commenter above mentioned the federal nutritional guidelines and that funding could be cut to the school. That would make it a pretty icky thing at that point, schools are so underfunded these days that doing anything to jeopardize monies isnt ok.

    9. Susan K*

      Yeah, I’m surprised by the outrage, too. When I was a kid, a beloved teacher at my school brought in bagels every day and sold them to students before school. I have no idea how much profit she made or what she did with it, but I’m pretty sure everyone knew about it (parents, other teachers, school administrators) and nobody had a problem with it. We students considered it a great service because a lot of kids ran out the door without breakfast and/or had sports practice before school and were hungry by the time classes started.

      1. Minnesota Miles*

        I’m glad I read far enough to see other people were confused by the strong reaction! I went to high school in the 2000s and our study hall teacher sold donuts from study hall. Everyone in the school knew it, it wasn’t healthy, it wasn’t an abuse of power because everyone wanted them. I went to a private school, so I doubt we were held to the same nutritional regulations. I’m sure there was a profit somewhere, but I didn’t and don’t care where it went?

      2. JJJJShabado*

        The fact that she is still doing after the warning makes me think she is doing it as a service for the kids, rather than trying to make money. My read of this is that they like getting snacks from Ethel and she continues to provide the service. I could be stereotyping based on age and gender, but I don’t see how you can mark up snacks that much to where it would be a worthwhile source of income.

    10. Colette*

      At first, I wondered the same thing, but ultimately it’s an abuse of power. What if the teacher starts docking grades of students who don’t buy snacks (for subjective things like participating in class)? What if she holds extra tutoring sessions for kids who buy snacks? What if she does none of this, but a student who is afraid that she will feels obligated to buy snacks anyway?

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        What if she hires a purple people eater to set up a fight club in the basement? What if she’s a lizard person? What if she is secretly the third wife of Kim Jong Il?

      2. Ellen N.*

        It’s impossible that she’s making enough money from selling snacks to be a significant income stream. Therefore, I don’t think she’ll be tempted to favor the students who purchase snacks from her.

      3. Traffic_Spiral*

        “What if she holds extra tutoring sessions for kids who buy snacks? ”
        If she wanted to make money through tutoring, couldn’t she just… you know… tutor?

    11. Rosaline Montague*

      No no no. This is entirely unprofessional. Giving small healthy snacks in the course of teaching, or providing them out of the goodness of your heart for a student in need is fine; turning your classroom into a convenience store is absolutely not ok. 20 year classroom veteran.

    12. ScienceTeacherHS*

      At my school, we are mostly free and reduced lunch. Because of that, we get a lot of funding for our breakfast and lunch programs from the federal government. There are strict regulations put in place by the government about food sold to students. Teachers selling snacks could lose us all of that funding.

      BTW, our vending machines don’t sell soda between 30 minutes before school and 30 minutes after school. They won’t dispense it (except in teacher-only areas). And I’ve never seen a candy bar in a vending machine available to students.

      Some schools are less strict about this kind of stuff because they don’t get so much funding from the free and reduced lunch program, so they can more afford to lose what they do get.

    13. sourgold*

      I’m a teacher. Giving snacks as a reward or hosting a space for kids to bring food and share it together is one thing, and imo perfectly acceptable. Making profit off of your own students is … not so good. Outside of occasions strictly mandated by the school (such as payment for an outing, or something), money shouldn’t exchange hands between a student and a teacher, in either direction. It places the student in an incredibly vulnerable position. It can all too easily tip into abuse of power, if it isn’t already.

      It’s all very well to ascribe the best possible motives to this particular person (healthy snacks, and so on), but it’s hardly likely, is it?

    14. pancakes*

      I think it’s really gross that the teacher in question sees her students as a captive audience of open wallets. I don’t know how anyone in the US could not see what’s upsetting about it, considering the way student loan debt has exploded over the past 20-30 years. There’s an entire generation of administrators, loan officers, and debt collectors who make/made their living on the back of students they see as a vast, exploitable resource. Education and profiteering didn’t used to go hand in hand to the same degree they do now. Signing students up for a lifetime of debt didn’t used to be considered any more respectable than, say, signing up prospective home buyers for subprime mortgages. Obviously kids aren’t going into debt buying snacks from their teacher, but they are being used for her financial gain.

  7. TooTiredToThink*

    OP 1 – I have personally found that if I give a delayed no, it is usually met a lot better. People are less disgruntled. But I would never wait a week. Usually that same day. But, big difference, is that when I’ve used this technique its not been policy related. Policy related always gets a straight answer. Although, like Alison said, I will soften it – and use the backing authority (always “The Auditors”) in my response, such as “No, I am unable to grant you that access due to audit requirements. Gotta make the auditors happy.” – Etc…

    1. MK*

      This makes sense when you are asked to do something and you won’t for whatever reason: a short delay (not for a week!) reassures people that you considered their request and your refusal goes down better. But it doesn’t apply when you asked for information that it is your job to know.

    2. hbc*

      I don’t necessarily give a delayed no, but the softening is an absolute requirement. I might not even call it softening so much as giving more information.

      “No, you can’t use the llama brush on the alpacas” stops them from doing it, sure. But “We could lose our license if we cross any of the tools” lets them know the severity and prevents them coming back next week asking about the styling wands. Whereas “Company policy is to keep them separate so there’s always tools at each station” allows them to decide if they want to argue for an exception on those rare occasions when they need to use the llama station for an alpaca.

    3. LKW*

      Sometimes softening the response just needs a preface “That’s a great question, unfortunately no, that would be contrary to policy”. A little ego stroke followed by a bop on the nose.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Only if it’s sincere. Flashbacks to classroom situations where the teacher said “that’s a great question” to every question – patronizing! Or to questions that clearly aren’t great – phony too!

    4. Psyche*

      I think the best way is to say no and explain why. Then, if possible, offer an alternative. I have had a lot of issues with IT because of a lot of complicated policies. Some of the IT employees just say no but the good ones say no, ask why I need it and try to work with me to find what will be allowed and fix my problem.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        This is what I do. I try to explain, at least briefly, why a certain thing cannot be done. I also adopt an “I would love to, but I can’t” attitude. It helps things go down easier when the person thinks that what they want is a little thing, but due to their ignorance of certain policies and procedures, it actually would be a big deal. It’s also really nice being able to blame “The Man” if you can, as you can’t argue against or cajole The Man.

      2. TooTiredToThink*

        Yeah; I was in IT and I think this is why I had a lot more respect from people because I didn’t just say no. But again; if it was a policy issue (like someone asking for permission to something they couldn’t have); I would soften the blow. If it was something that they couldn’t have because it was just not possible, then yeah; padding the time to my answer made them more confident that I had done research. Even though I hadn’t :D

    5. Jadelyn*

      Yes – we have to do background checks on all new hires before they start because financial institution something blah blah, and inevitably there are always a couple of hiring managers who try to coax us into letting their new hire start before the background check clears. I get it, you don’t want to wait an extra week or two while the background check runs, but this is not something we can fudge! So I pull out the “Unfortunately, for regulatory and compliance reasons, we can’t start someone before their background check clears.” and they’ll usually respect that a lot more than they would if it were just “Our policy says no”.

    1. strawberries and raspberries*

      That would probably significantly cut down on the amount of prep time involved for OP #2 as well- she could probably even curl or braid her own hair under the wig and then undo it for real curls at the party!

      1. Bunny Girl*

        This is what I do! I had a burlesque performance recently and I just pin-curled my hair under my wig and shook it out after the performance and was able to go out. OP if you could get some cold cream and wipe off the more extreme aspects of your make-up and then you could take a super fast shower to get off the body glitter and your should be good to go! We also did this when I worked for haunted attractions and had places to be after dress rehearsals. Zombie make-up can become a sexy smokey eye in minutes!

    2. Lilly*

      Yes! Definitely wipes or cold cream, and if not a wig maybe they can do something that reads as less formal with the hair – “fancy” ponytails are my work party go-to and read as pretty casual, even with a fair bit of volume. Or keep the hair and balance with simpler clothes.

      1. Lilly*

        (Definitely it depends on the party tho – my last workplace threw huge bashes and half the office was empty day-of so people could get blow outs, but my current office is definitely more “hang out on the couches with wine and takeout”.)

  8. KTB*

    OP #5, Alison has given you excellent advice. People move all the time, for all kinds of reasons. Your colleagues are extremely likely to assume that your husband moved with you, especially since your commute got dramatically better. There’s no reason to bring them along on a journey that’s none of their business. You can tell the truth if asked directly, but I would be surprised if your direct report was that upfront. Best wishes for the best outcome for your situation.

    1. JSPA*

      One thing missing: If separation is likely to lead to divorce, does that affect your ongoing right to a) live in the country and b) work in the country? This is especially relevant if the timing of the marriage, move, job and separation might create the impression that the marriage was for immigration purposes (which could lead to loss of status that you currently hold that allows you to remain and work long-term). Depending, of course, on your local laws.

      If it’s all in the EU, then this is akin to a question asking about moving from one state to another in the USA, and you can ignore that aspect (barring the threat of GREXIT, SPEXIT, or all the other [x]EXITS that were thrown around, back when BREXIT seemed like it might be easy and simple). But otherwise…you and your employer could both be looking at your sudden, inadequately-anticipated absence. Which is NOT a reason to tell them sooner, especially if they have the legal right to replace you, “just in case.”

  9. KR*

    3 – I guarantee that if you don’t tell him he will figure it out eventually just from seeing the extra snacks in the hall or talking to the students. I say tell him. If you knew about it and didn’t say anything it will look bad.

    1. Roscoe*

      I always hear this “If you knew about it and didn’t say, it will look bad” argument, but I think that is very rarely the case. I mean sure, things like mandated reporter or financials, or if someone is actively stealing from a company. But I can assure you that in a school, they aren’t going to call a huge staff meeting and do an inquisition to find out who knew she was selling snacks. So how would they ever know, especially when OP says she heard this information 2nd hand. You people are really being dramatic about this

      1. LKW*

        Someone upstream, who is part of the education system, noted that funding could be pulled if the violation was discovered. Which version of the situation is best? Not saying anything and having funding pulled and then dealing with the consequences or saying something, letting the chips fall and dealing with the consequences?

        Personally, I’d like to keep the limited funding that’s given to the school.

    2. Anon From Here*

      If you knew about it and didn’t say anything it will look bad.

      I don’t think so. One, LW hasn’t actually seen it happening. And two, even if LW does witness it, LW is Ethel’s co-worker/colleague, not her supervisor or mentor or manager. I don’t see a real risk for any blow-back for not reporting this, myself.

  10. Close Bracket*

    Pick up some make up remover wipes like the ones linked in my name and remove the glitter and glittery make up before going to the party. It shouldn’t take long using the wipes.

    Kind of an aside, the 70s were way more shimmery than glittery.

    1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      If she is getting glitter sealed onto her entire body with adhesive I don’t know if some make up wipes are gonna cut it.

      1. Joielle*

        Heh, it’s just hairspray, not like… varnish or something. I’ve done this before for performances. It sticks for a while, but eventually it starts flaking off on its own. I think Close Bracket’s suggestion is good, if only to prevent shedding glitter all over the office later on.

    2. CheeryO*

      Yeah, I was thinking that a ponytail and some micellar water would probably be better than nothing if she really can’t be late to the party, but that might not be enough depending on just how much glitter we’re talking about.

    3. Melissa Modesto*

      I suggest looking up some burlesque perfomrers to see the level of makeup and glitter involved. A wipe isn’t going to do the job. It takes me two oil cleanses and a facial wash to get mine off, and I do this on a daily basis!

      The 70s may have been “more shimmery than glittery” (I wouldn’t know, before my time), but this is burlesque and we do things BIG!

      1. WillyNilly*

        I agree make-up remover wipes aren’t going to remove it all, but it might remove enough to not be crazytown.

        I think doing a wipe down, and possibly a brush out of the hair is a good idea. It will lessen the excessive amount of glitter, but not totally remove it – but its a party, so some glitter should be ok.

      2. Close Bracket*

        I’m aware of the level of make up and glitter used by burlesque dancers. It’s about the level used by belly dancers, which I am.

      1. Close Bracket*

        Well, yes, bc you don’t have to strip, dry off, redress, and restyle your hair, which got wet enough to need restyling even if you didn’t wash it. But it’s not about removing it all. It’s about getting it down to party levels.

  11. matcha123*

    When I was in public high school (’01 grad), one of my teachers would buy candy in bulk and sell it to us.
    His classroom rule was no snacks unless they were the ones he was selling. He explained his pricing and that the money he collected from buying snacks was used to buy us more snacks. The snacks were cheaper than the ones the school was selling and he also took inventory of what was and wasn’t popular and adjusted to trends.

    So, no, as a low income student who couldn’t get breakfast in the morning, I did not feel taken advantage of and I would have been angry if some busybody decided to “protect” me from paying 50c for chocolate chip cookies.

    Did he ask the school admin? No idea. But if that teacher is selling the candy at a mark-up, check it out. My teacher’s snacks also came from “Do not resell” boxes.

    Seriously, if she isn’t forcing the kids to buy, just drop it.

    1. sacados*

      Yeah, but again in your case you say the money from snacks sold was used to buy more snacks — not as a source of extra income for the teacher. I think that’s where the “this feels icky” factor comes from.
      I definitely get what you are saying though, about some students being appreciative for a source of easily available, inexpensive snacks that they can access during the school day. So it’s definitely not a black-and-white issue.

      1. Ellen N.*

        The original letter just says that the teacher is selling the snacks at a profit, not what the profit is being spent on.

        I don’t know of a single teacher who doesn’t buy supplies for their classroom so that’s a good guess at where the profits are going.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          I had a teacher who used to (and probably still does!) sell students weed. I’m 99.999% certain he wasn’t reinvesting the profits in the classroom

            1. Jadelyn*

              No, but their making a living should be coming from the people, y’know, paying their actual salaries, not the kids they’re supposed to be teaching. It’s like hawking MLM stuff at work – it’s not okay even if the person doing it is making a pittance and trying to make ends meet with a side hustle. They can want to make a living, and deserve to make a living, but that living should be coming from the actual duly earned wages, not from your coworkers’ or customers’ wallets.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          This is a strawman.

          I 100% agree that teachers should be paid more (MUCH more), but that doesn’t mean it’s unreasonable for schools to place limits on their ability to sell things to the students.

          1. Lilo*

            I mean there was just a popular TV show about a teacher who made extra money through his side gig when he got diagnosed with cancer. Even employed a former student!

        2. afiendishthingy*

          Come on. Yes, I’m underpaid as a teacher. I’m not going to supplement my income by selling Doritos or Mary Kay to my students.

        3. Holly*

          Someone needing extra money is never a valid reason for ignoring the potential ethics/conflict of interest/legal rules of a school district, which there potentially is here.

        4. Effective Immediately*

          I mean, is anyone REALLY making a living off of 50 cent cookies?

          Is Ethel rolling up in her new Porsche thanks to the money she’s ‘fleecing’ out of students, or is it going toward the hundreds a year she likely already spends (of her own money) on her classroom?

          The idea that a near-retirement teacher is living high on the hog by exploiting students with her EXORBITANT Lay’s markups is just the height of absurdity to me.

          1. pancakes*

            It seems absurd to me to say the ethics of the scenario depend on whether her profits are high enough to have changed her lifestyle.

        1. Lilo*

          Yeah, there is where this teacher loses me on ethics. Because then a student couldn’t bring a (almost certainly cheaper, possibly healthier) snack from home and have it in class? Nope, not okay.

        2. Mystery Bookworm*

          Right. That is exactly an example of the conflict of interest that people are concerned about. That position will encourage hungry kids (who may have already had something in their bags) to buy what the teacher is selling, rather than save their money.

        3. Anu*

          Completely agree. And as someone who has different dietary needs than a lot of people around me, this could have put me in a very bad situation. He’s basically creating a captive market. Very unethical IMO.

    2. alienor*

      When I was in high school, the P.E. teachers sold giant fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies out of their office in the girls’ locker room for a dollar. I don’t know what they did with the money (bought new volleyballs? something else athletic?) but they did a roaring business and none of us felt at all taken advantage of.

      1. ..Kat..*

        I was the student who didn’t have money for anything. I just watched others eat while I was hungry.

        1. Natalie*

          And? I doubt the gym teachers selling cookies are the only place commerce enters the school – my high school had vending machines, fast food available at lunch, about a million fundraising sales, couple of drug dealers…

          1. Sarah N*

            I’m, drug dealers are now your example of why this is fine and dandy? Also nutritional guidelines are a lot stricter these days, I guarantee schools aren’t selling fast food for lunch!

            1. ThankYouRoman*

              You’re wrong. They still sell plenty of trash fast food at many schools. It’s all we had available without a hot lunch program. It was literally nachos and hot pockets every day.

          2. Observer*

            So? What does the fact that there is lots of illegitimate commerce in many schools have to do with what this teacher is doing.

            As for any teacher that only allows the snacks that they choose into the classroom – that a MAJOR problem. And, if it’s only snacks they SELL? Sorry, that’s outrageous. The chances of having kids go hungry because of this go through the roof, because there are going to be kids who can’t afford the snack but could afford to bring something, kids whose parents are not going to allow the kid to buy snack but will send something and kids with all sorts of dietary restrictions.

            I can’t imagine why having drug dealers or snack machines in the school makes that ok.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Ewww. Even at my most desperate, starving teenage state nothing in the world could have made me buy something that was made out of an office in the girls locker room. Ick Ick Ick. That sounds about as un-hygienic as I have ever heard of. And I would bet anything it created a rodent problem. Pre-sealed snacks are a entirely different animal from baking something in a place that was not designed or oked for baking.

        1. Beaded Librarian*

          In high school one of the P.E. teachers was also the cross country coach so kids coming in and out of his office was common and frequent. The school was also built with a bomb shelter under it due in part to a military base being located in the same town. The teacher kept a bowl of candy that was from the bomb shelter supplies on his desk. They were unwrapped.

        2. Leslie knope*

          I think you misread, they didn’t make the cookies in the locker room (which, how would they do that?)

          1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            If you’re calling them fresh-baked that means they were baked recently enough they should still be warm (or could be), which in HS usually means made in a toaster oven or one of those little ovens with a convener belt. They are fairly small – we had one in our HS shop, which didn’t have other cooking facilities. They could be making them somewhere else and running them down to the locker room – but that would take a lot of running around, and you would still have unsealed food sitting around in place that is for storing sweaty clothes and showering and using the bathroom. But if you are selling something ‘fresh-baked’ in the same place every day I’m assuming you are making them there. And food just does not belong in a HS locker room.

            1. Bea*

              What? Fresh baked could mean the teacher made them at home in the morning too. Fresh baked doesn’t mean warm, it just means “recently made by a person and not purchased in the nonperishable aisle at the grocery store.”

              1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

                Homemade cookies are homemade. If you made cookies at home in the morning then brought them into school by the end of the day those suckers wouldn’t be fresh anymore. Maybe the person described it wrong, but after years of working in the food industry ‘freshly baked’ to me means made on the premises recently.

    3. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      Just because you’re not feeling taken advantage of, doesn’t mean you weren’t actually being taken advantage of. There’s a whole ‘ethics of power differential’ thing going on here that precludes this exact type of thing.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Ah yes, the famous ‘ethics of power differential’ involved in deciding if you want a cookie! Surely, a problem for the ages. Come on – you’re being silly. It’s a snack. Either you want it or you don’t – where’s the power issue?

        1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

          The issue isn’t wanting a snack, the issue is that snack being made available by someone in a position of power who then gains money from it. Profit is inherently unfair, profiting off people lower on the power chain than you is unethical. It’s pretty clearly spelled out in most if not all faculty handbooks.

          It’s the difference between handing out cupcakes to the class, and selling cupcakes to the class for a dollar fifty and pocketing fifty cents worth (or however much) of profit. One is ethical, the other is exploitative.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Okaaay… I think you have some sorta strange communist manifesto that you’re trying to shovel into an unrelated subject here. They’re just snacks.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Yeah. I…don’t think Different Rebecca is the one being silly here. “Communist manifesto”? What even.

                1. pancakes*

                  No one here has said or suggested that profit is unfair. A number of people have said that teachers profiting from their students is unfair and unethical. Hope this helps.

                2. Observer*

                  @Pancakes, read the comment. That is EXACTLY what she says:

                  Profit is inherently unfair, profiting off people lower on the power chain than you is unethical.

                3. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

                  That profit is unfair is a fact. Saying it should be equally redistributed would be communist. Stop putting ideologies in my mouth because you don’t want to deal with the fact that you’re okay taking advantage of kids.

                4. Observer*

                  Claiming that profit is unfair is most definitely NOT a fact, no matter how much you insist it is. It’s a total value judgement.

                  If you want to talk about FACTS claiming that profit is inherently unfair *is* a Communist value judgement.

                5. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

                  Hi, I’ve read Marx 9 bloody times now, I’m pretty well up on my communism, thanks.

                  And profit is unfair because in order for there to be profit, someone needs to be paying MORE than the value (use/practical/etc.) that the thing is worth. The person who takes that payment unfairly gains over the person who makes that payment.

                  So, to get back to the fact that exploiting children is wrong: to be perfectly clear, I’m fine with a lot of other types of exploitation and I’ve got no problem whatsoever with capitalism or profit in general. What I have a problem with is the unethical nature of selling unregulated goods to people over whom you have implied or explicit control and power, such as: children who are too young to know better, your own students, your own employees, someone down line in your chain of command, someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, or someone who is mentally incapacitated. And guess what? Schools have a problem with all that too! Which is why it’s very clearly written into their faculty manuals!

                  The teacher was already reprimanded, so you cannot say that the school doesn’t have a problem with this; it does. It is, has been, and will remain grounds for firing, regardless of whether or not you mistakenly think I’m a communist.

          2. LurkieLoo*

            “And profit is unfair because in order for there to be profit, someone needs to be paying MORE than the value (use/practical/etc.) that the thing is worth. The person who takes that payment unfairly gains over the person who makes that payment.”

            The person selling has taken the time and resources to front the money for the thing and deliver it to a place of your convenience. The person selling that should do it for free? The only way you will actually be getting that thing at the value it was originally worth is by going to the factory and picking it up. Or buying all the materials and making it yourself. Every step along the way adds to the value. I suppose a reasonable amount of profit depends on what the buyer’s time is worth.

            I can guarantee you the candy bar you buy in the store for $1.19 only costs the manufacturer $0.40 at most to make. But candy bars don’t get from the factory to your hand by themselves.

        2. Lilo*

          It is not just a cookie, it is a dollar or so every day that a kid gets from a parent. My mother in law works at a school where over half the kids are poor enough they qualify for a free lunch. A dollar a day for those kids is HUGE.

          Not to mention the violation of federal rules could have impacts on the school’s funding.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            If the kids are poor how do they afford the cookie? It wouldn’t really matter to them then, right?

            1. Lilo*

              It wouldn’t matter that their peers got to eat cookies and they didn’t? You don’t think they would be their parents for money? Have you met a child recently?

              1. Rat in the Sugar*

                I don’t think that would be changed by stopping Ethel anyway. There’s still vending machines and cafeteria snacks, items from the spirit store, school yearbooks, etc. Public schools do many things to make students feel unequal, and there are many things that kids ask their parents for money for. I think this is a red herring.

                1. In Progress*

                  Yes, public schools do many things to make students feel unequal… and that’s *not good.* Teachers should be trying to shrink that gap, not widen it.

          2. Yorick*

            But what if these snacks are cheaper than the vending machine, so poor kids can actually feel the same as their peers by having a snack? With the myriad ways kids can differentiate each other based on income, bringing that up here seems silly to me.

            Sure, Ethel should stop doing this. But let’s not pretend that it is just the most terrible ethical violation.

        3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          Now this puts my only experience with a teacher selling stuff (weed) in class in an interesting perspective. I wonder what the power dynamic was in that case? I generally bought from him because it was good, but I wonder what would have happened if I bought from another student? Something I never really thought about until this morning….

        4. Live & Learn*

          It may seem silly at the surface but it’s also real. At my junior high the gym teach sold candy in the locker room and was very bullying to the non-athletic kids. The kids she knew from sports teams were an easy sell, they already liked her and were likely to buy, but shy, un-athletic kids who already felt bullied by her felt forced to buy from her because they already weren’t great athletic performers. And in my area gym wasn’t just a chance to play games and run around for half an hour, being un-athletic was considered a personal failing.

          1. Effective Immediately*

            This was true of PE coaches in my school as well, but all that happened even without the candy/selling in the mix.

            Unathletic kids being punished by PE teachers is a trope as old as time, and I’m not sure the selling of the candy makes much material difference in terms of wrongness here.

        5. Observer*

          It’s a snack – and it’s the only snack someone can have because the teacher said so. It’s profiting off someone who you have power over. That’s out of line.

    4. HS Teacher*

      I’ve had students ask if they can buy drinks from me. I have a mini fridge in my room and keep soft drinks and water bottles in it. I don’t sell to any students, although sometimes I’ll give out an iced tea or something if a kid does particularly well that day.

      I sell earbuds, at my cost. I buy them in bulk from Amazon in packs of 50. I sell them for $2 each. They’re cheaply made but okay in a pinch. I also sell notebooks at my cost. Our school requires students to have a notebook they leave in each class, and not all of my students are able to get to a store to buy them. I get them when they’re 20 cents each before the school year starts and sell them at that price. I received permission from my admin to sell earbuds and notebooks, probably because we don’t have a school store or anywhere else they could buy these things on campus.

      Anyway, I think OP should talk to the teacher before reporting her and tell her if she doesn’t stop doing it, OP will have no choice but to report it. This is someone who’s been teaching for a long time, and OP is relatively new. Reporting a teacher, even for problematic behavior, could affect OP’s reputation with the rest of the staff. If OP is genuinely concerned about her colleague’s pension, give her another chance to do the right thing.

  12. Everdene*

    I think I used to work for someone given the same advice as LW1 and it was incredibly frustrating! If I asked my manager a question and the answer was ‘no’ she wouldn’t tell me until I chased and chased for an answer. Eventually at a review I brought it up and her response was “I feel like you don’t like hearing no so I wait to give you that news” and I had to explain that what I didn’t like was asking 3/4 times to be told a month later “No, that’s against policy” when the original question was “Am I allowed to do this for the client or is it outside policy?” or low level “Is it ok if I come in late the day after that work flight which landed at 11pm?”. If you know the answer, share the answer!

    1. Blarg*

      Yes! Don’t try to protect me from “no.” Sometimes it’s disappointing. But if I have an idea or a request and the answer is certainly no, tell me that! And, as I’ve recently learned, please never ever tell people “the next step would be xyz, but that never happens” when there’s potential for a bad outcome. Especially if it could involve a courtroom. Just say no. Or say “this could be appealed.”

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      Right. You know what’s worse than being told ‘no’?

      Having to wait an entire week for it.

      I mean, sheesh!

    3. snowglobe*

      In my business (banking), loan officers are trained that the responses that clients want to hear, in order of most to least preferred, are:
      1 – quick yes
      2 – quick no
      3 – slow yes
      4 – slow no

      Slow no is something we always, always try to avoid.

    4. leela*

      “I feel like you don’t like hearing no so I wait to give you that news” is embarrassingly bad management. It comes off like that manager doesn’t like giving disappointing news so she waits to give it for *her* benefit, not yours. If she can’t handle saying things people don’t like in a timely manner, management might not be the right place for her.

  13. Akcipitrokulo*

    Op1… definitely no to pretending you don’t know something! Is it possible she meant maybe soften it a little? I’m towards the “just the facts” end, but “No, I’m not allowed to give you that information” could sound short to me.

    Somewhere in between might be less brusque? Which might be what she meant, but agreed terrible advice to pretend not to know.

  14. Tipcat*

    OP4, Make sure that you are clear. Alison said this, but I want to emphasize it.
    A couple of stories that happened decades ago when dollar amounts were laughably small: In the first, an applicant was hired as a clerk with a starting pay of “three fifty.” She thought that this meant $3.50 an hour and was thrilled. After she started, she found out that it was $350 a month. Very disappointed.
    In the second, an entry level job was offered at “ten fifty.” The job seeker thought that this meant $10,500 or $10,050 a year. She told the hiring manager that she had been hoping for $12,000 a year. The hiring manager was confused; she had meant $1,050 a month. Happy ending for both, but a close call.
    I think that lots of people are so embarrassed to talk about money that they move through the discussion as quickly as possible. Also, I think, the hiring managers above thought that the job seekers would have an idea of what an appropriate ballpark figure would be. Not true.
    Be sure that you are absolutely clear.

    1. valentine*

      Yes, OP4, don’t use “65 annually.” The rest are fine. If you need to slow things down, take notes.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Eh, “65 annually” is very normal ime – the “annually” part is what distinguishes it as being a thousands-per-year instead of 65 an hour or whatever else it could conceivably be.

    2. londonedit*

      This is what I was thinking…it might be a regional/country-specific thing but some of those ways of saying the numbers really don’t sound clear to me. Where I am, we don’t commonly say things like ‘twenty-five hundred’ and I think a lot of people would be pretty confused by that. In my experience, people would say something like ‘I am seeking an annual salary of thirty thousand pounds’ or ‘I had been hoping for a figure closer to thirty thousand pounds a year’. We also don’t commonly discuss salary in terms of monthly figures, so that would be odd, but again that might be regional. Make sure you state the number and whether it’s a per-month or per-year figure clearly. Personally I’d find ’65K’ a little bit informal for a salary negotiation, but again that might be because it’s more commonly used in colloquial language here.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Agreed – i’d either expect it in annual or hourly rate – anything else would be confusing! But either way, make it clear.

      2. S. King*

        I came to say this as well. I’m American and work in an international company, and the “twenty-two hundred” is both not commonly used nor easily understood by non-native English speakers. I’d stick to annual totals for exempt positions, hourly for non-exempt (unless otherwise requested) and err on the side of clarity (i.e. sixty-five thousand dollars per year).

    3. WellRed*

      Huh. I have never heard of pay rates be given in monthly amounts, just hourly or annually..I would have been confused too.

  15. Scmill*

    OP#3 I would just walk away from this. You said yourself that you don’t have firsthand knowledge of it, and if it is happening, it’s a victimless crime.

  16. akathryn*

    I would love to know if OP#1 identifies as female. I could be projecting, but that first scenario reeks of sexism. OP#1 was told to act less assertive and more clueless and deferential in order to be more likable — to prioritize other coworkers’ comfort/feelings even if it interferes with OP’s job! I cannot imagine that kind of feedback being delivered to a man, unless OP#1 was acting like a total jerk. (And even then…!)

    1. Waiting for the Sun*

      I wasn’t told I was confrontational, but I’ve definitely gotten flak for being a know-it-all from some fellow female coworkers. I did my best to be friendly and diplomatic, but they still resented me. Frustrating.

  17. Darren*

    OP 5.

    I’m not sure anyone would even notice you going out at midday for up to around an hour once or twice a week. They are going to assume lunch, maybe lunch and gym, if they found out you were walking your dog that would pretty much fit into the second category. At most you might just get a better view of how other people spend their lunch break (I spend about 10 minutes of mine reading a few times a week) if they ask and you answer.

  18. TechWorker*

    The time I struggle with #1 is when we get questions like ‘is x supported’ and the answer is ‘no, but we could maybe do it in future given enough time/depending on its priority’. (Or just ‘no’, if you’re busy).

    In my role it seems to sometimes be appropriate just to say no, and sometime more appropriate to explain the whole thing/ask for more information/offer to investigate, etc. Sometimes I spend a bunch of effort doing the latter when I’m sure other managers would just say no, other times I try saying no and someone else jumps in to ask more questions and I feel a bit worried I shouldn’t have blown off the original question.

  19. Flash Bristow*

    I… don’t get question 4. I mean, personally I’d say “65K” or “2.2K” (spoken as “two point two K”) but is this really something that needs asking?

    Anyway, there’s the answer. If for some reason it’s really bugging you, OP#4, then I’d see how the person you’re communicating with tends to refer to money, and use the same format.

    Best wishes in achieving the salary you’re after!

  20. Sparkly Lady*

    OP #2, have you tried using cosmetic glitter mixed into aloe vera. I find it so much nicer on the skin than hairspray!

    You can also use almond oil or an equivalent such as coconut oil for a quick change with the makeup. Nothing gets glitter off 100%, but oil does a really good job of getting most of it off. Then, depending on your skin, you can either wash it off or wipe it off, dry off your skin, and put on your more office appropriate makeup.

    If the hair looks good and goes with your office party dress outfit, I think you can get away with keeping the hair. But glitter is a real issue. It’s just too much for most non-costume settings, and it transfers on people like nobody’s business. You don’t want to get glitter on your co-workers. Not everyone will appreciate it.

  21. Grits McGee*

    To be honest OP1, in addition to the bananas feedback, I also don’t love the idea of making an intern responsible for enforcing policy– especially where it seems like you were having to out-and-out say no to people that were senior to you. (And when you’re an intern, everyone is senior to you. Managing up is expert-level business skills, not something you task to a newbie.) There’s nothing to be done about it now, but it does provide a little additional context on how not great your supervisor’s work practices were.

    1. OP1*

      Yeah, it was definitely a little strange. I loved it because I love policy work but it was definitely hard to be the enforcer. That was how the role was designed though- always a 1 year internship, always the intern that had to learn that stuff. A lot of people found it really frustrating too because the first two months nothing got done until the new intern was trained. I guess no one else wanted to do the role or they didn’t want to pay a reasonable salary for it?

    2. Anon for This*

      I’m going to put on my Cynical Hat and say they didn’t want to pay a compliance professional to do this (which is not an indictment of you or the job you did in any way, OP!).

      I definitely raised my eyebrows at the idea that this would be delegated to an intern.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        OP1 state they were paid for this position about $35k. I agree with you they did not want to pay for a market rate experienced professional compliance officer, so they use recent grads for one year and call it an internship.

        1. LurkieLoo*

          It could also be that they didn’t have quite enough compliance work for a full time compliance officer.

  22. Glomarization, Esq.*

    LW#3 writes: I do think that Ethel would deserve everything she got.

    If it’s actually pretty likely that Ethel would lose her pension over this behavior, that’s a really striking response.

    1. restingbutchface*


      It’s snacks, not drugs.

      Has OP spoken to Ethel and said hey, not cool? That would be my first thought.

      1. Liane*

        “Had OP spoken to Ethel and said hey, not cool?”
        No, but OP wrote that **Ethyl’s Boss** told Ethel it wasn’t cool, so it isn’t like Ethel has no idea this isn’t cool.

        1. Lilo*

          Yeah the thing is, continuing something like this, no matter how innocuous, after being told to cut it out, is self destructive and stupid.

          1. restingbutchface*

            Agreed. It’s not like the kids won’t blurt it out at some point. Ethel, get your act together!

            If I was Ethel’s boss I wouldn’t be outraged about the actual selling (although thinking about it, “it’s not drugs” is a super low bar and reflective of my own educational experience). I *would* be very very unhappy at being ignored.

    2. Anon From Here*

      I also think that this response deserves some introspection, whether or not it’s realistic that Ethel would lose her pension. Ethel is LW’s co-worker, not their boss or report. And LW “knows” of this conduct only second-hand. I’m not a fan of reporting things that I haven’t actually seen with my own two eyes, myself. But even if it is going on, why does LW think that losing one’s retirement income — and we know that one reason teacher’s paychecks are small is because of their bargain for deferred income in retirement — would be deserved?

      LW should maybe read their CBA and take this to their union rep before going to the boss.

      Also — the “not for resale” thing is kind of a red herring. The reason behind the label is two-fold: the individual packaging doesn’t include nutrition facts and ingredients (including potential allergens), so there’s a public health risk there. And the candy manufacturer misses out on profits when someone breaks down a box and sells items individually, so, boo-hoo, Hershey or Nestle loses a couple of pennies. At any rate, however, the “not for resale” issue is almost certainly not the issue that the school administration would have a problem with.

      1. Psyche*

        The LW is saying that Ethel is knowingly violating policy and knows of the potential repercussions. She has already been warned once. She is breaking policy for personal gain not an ethical imperative. I would not feel too sorry for her either. If harsh consequences were applied without a warning or if she didn’t realize that the potential consequences were serious, I would feel differently.

        1. Anon From Here*

          I think we’re gonna have to agree to disagree that “she deserves to lose her pension” is a reasonable thing to think about a teacher selling candy without authorization.

          1. Psyche*

            I agree that that seems like too harsh of a penalty. I just don’t think that the LW would bear any responsibility if that were to happen even if she reported the teacher.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Also, based on other comments, it looks like Ethel could be endangering the school’s funding. That’s some potential pension-losing behavior right there.

      2. op#3!*

        OP here – I did actually dig into it further after emailing Alison, and realized what you were saying about the “not for resale” thing – you’re totally right, and it’s not a real concern.

        That said, I stand by my overall stance: it is categorically unacceptable for a teacher to be profiting off of their students. Whether she *deserves* to lose her pension over it…I don’t know. I’ve cooled down some since I wrote the letter, to be sure, but I still do think that this is gross behavior, and that there should be consequences – especially, frankly, if she’s dumb enough to continue doing this after being explicitly told to stop.

        1. Roscoe*

          You seem to really see yourself as morally superior to Ethel and feel like its on you to police her behavior. You aren’t her boss. Mind your own business.

          1. Afiendishthingy*

            I mean. It IS gross for a teacher to profit off their students. The majority of commenters here, and especially the majority of commenters who are teachers, agree with that.

          2. BuildMeUp*

            I don’t think this response is fair; what Ethel is doing is clearly against the rules and she’s already been told to stop. We’re not just talking about someone who’s, I don’t know, ignoring some paperwork they should be doing. Ethel is potentially taking advantage of students. That’s not a “mind your own business” situation, IMO.

          3. Jadelyn*

            You seem to really see yourself as morally superior to the OP and feel like it’s on you to police her behavior. You aren’t her boss. Mind your own business.

            (See how rude that sounds?)

            1. Roscoe*

              I think I’m more rational to someone “frothing with rage”. And she wrote into an advice column that accepts comments. Everyone can mind their own business, but she is asking for opinions here.

    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Regardless of the pension (which I can’t imagine being in jeopardy here, teachers who are found guilty of much more heinous acts than chipgate have kept their jobs and teaching licenses), I think this is really telling of the OP’s mindset on this. She wants Ethel punished, not just to stop. I think the reaction is far out of balance with the actual issue here.

      1. Anon From Here*

        I have to wonder if the LW isn’t looking at a long, long career without too many friendly relationships with their colleagues if they go down this line of thinking every time they see a co-worker breaking a rule.

        1. HS Teacher*

          That’s my concern regarding the OP. I would let it go simply because of this reason. Why risk getting a reputation of someone who tells on colleagues? I could see it if a behavior is egregious. I’m just not seeing this as that big of a deal.

          I suggested in another comment the OP talk again to her colleague before reporting her. But, honestly, if this were happening at my school, I wouldn’t say anything, even though I’m a lead teacher.

          1. That Lady*

            It’s behavior that breaks a federally mandated food service policy that is directly tied to schools receiving federal funding, but it’s not that big of a deal? As another HS teacher, I’d be disappointed if you were my lead and you didn’t take action.

        2. Roscoe*

          Yep. I posted a story below about how a busybody teacher who thought he was morally superior went to my boss like this. He was pretty ostracized the rest of the school year when everyone found how how he was.

      2. Effective Immediately*

        I have to agree. This is moving into tattling territory, based on the OP’s letter and responses.

        I can’t imagine Ethel is buying a yacht with her candy profits; I’d imagine it’s more likely going into the hundreds of dollars of school supplies most teachers buy out of pocket a year.

        I get the concern about the power differential, I guess, but the tone seems way off base relative to the actual ‘crime’, as if Ethel is the Scarface of Whatsandsuch Highschool. I can’t imagine trying to keep a pension from an older teacher for…selling chips.

        What a weird hill to die on.

        1. Effective Immediately*

          The OP also describes themselves above as ‘frothing with rage’ over this.

          I can’t say I think very highly of the OP’s behavior in this situation, legal and ethical vagaries of kindly old ladies selling chips or no.

      3. BuildMeUp*

        I mean, I would want there to be consequences for this, too. This is a teacher who has not only potentially been taking advantage of students, but who has been explicitly told to stop and has ignored that and continued. If nothing else, there should be serious consequences of some kind so that she’ll actually stop this time.

  23. P*

    OP1: agree, saying “I don’t know” instead of the actual answer is bad advice on many levels. The only thing I will add (and I don’t know if it makes sense in the context of your role) is that it CAN be really helpful if someone doesn’t just stop at “no”, but goes on to suggest some other path that would be workable. Like “no, I cannot do X, but I can do Y” or “but you can go to A and do B” or whatever makes sense. Usually people who have been doing something for a while have a better idea of what other people might be doing in a similar situation that works, but the person who is doing it for the first time doesn’t know.

  24. LadyPhoenix*

    LW #3: My French teacher sold us candy bars before and after class. Granted, this was candy MEANT to be sold because it was fundraiser candy for our program.

  25. El Esteban*

    OP #3: Any idea how much profit Ethel is making? If it’s only enough to cover her the price if gas, I think that makes it more ethically “gray”. Also, do her students suffer from food insecurities at home? Maybe they’re not getting a proper dinner. Probably not, but my point is that Ethel could have good intentions. That wouldn’t make what she’s doing against the rules any less, but it would make it a lot less reprehensible.

    1. EPLawyer*

      If the food insecurities are happening, then Ethel’s snacks are not helping. One, I doubt they are healthy, chips and candy are not going to help with food insecurity. Two, she is selling the food so that is taking money from people who probably don’t have a lot to begin with which doesn’t actually help the problem.

      She has been told to stop. That tells me it is as AT LEAST against school policy. If she wants to help food insecure kids there are other ways to help. Give the money she spends on snacks to the school lunch program so kids can have meals, instead of chips and a candy bar. Ethel doesn’t get to decide she doesn’t have to follow school policy because she wants to help. The rules are still in place.

      For everyone saying they sold stuff back in the day, the rules have changed A LOT with the new federal guidelines. Most of the casual selling of donuts, chips whatever are not allowed anymore. Bake sales as fundraisers are a thing of the past because of the new guidelines.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        “For everyone saying they sold stuff back in the day, the rules have changed A LOT with the new federal guidelines. ”

        And a lot of us find the new rules ridiculous. Off subject a bit, but perhaps the schools would be better off worrying about curriculum and supporting both teachers and students instead of running around chasing down snack-barons.

        “Bake sales as fundraisers are a thing of the past because of the new guidelines.”
        Hmm.. that’s odd, just a couple of weeks ago I saw a school sponsored bake sale table at one of the schools while I voted. Should I have gotten photos and turned them into the feds?

        And yes, I do believe that if there are food insecurities then Ethel may be helping. What good does donating money to the school lunch program (how would one even do that) if the class and snack is sold first thing in the morning and this is the first thing that a kid has had the opportunity to buy or eat since that free lunch the day before. So yeah… it may not be healthy, but calories are fuel just the same when you need them.

        1. Scion*

          If all she wanted to do was help the students, there’s no reason she needs to mark up the snacks and profit off them.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          If these students are food-insecure, and they’re spending $5 a week on a daily snack instead of five boxes of mac & cheese, Ethel isn’t helping them at all.

          1. leela*

            Not everyone has the facilities at home to make mac & cheese. If food insecurity is truly an issue, non-perishables that don’t require cooking are a better buy for the students. As is one they could eat themselves and not have taken by a parent.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I honestly don’t think food insecurity is the issue here, I was just pointing out that if it is, having Ethel profit off those students by selling snacks isn’t the answer.

      2. leela*

        I grew up in poverty and sometimes homeless. Chips and candy DO help with food insecurity when you have nothing else and on weekends you have to time your sleeping to sleep through the hunger pain of one meal. I’m not saying I agree with Ethel’s doing but if food insecurity is an issue, chips and candy absolutely help. Especially if you might be getting free/reduced lunch at school but have nothing when you go home.

  26. Roscoe*

    #3 I’m a former teacher. It is definitely illegal. Is it unethical? I guess that is questionable. I mean, assuming that there are vending machines in the school, someone is profiting off the students anyway, so I don’t know that its any more unethical for a teacher than the athletic department or whoever gets the vending machine money. Its also not harming anyone. For me this is one of those things where I would just let it go since its not affecting you personally, nor is it hurting the students. If you were one of my co-workers, I’d be looking at you as a busybody here. No, you aren’t personally responsible for any consequences that happen to her. But you are telling on her just to get her in trouble even though it doesn’t affect you. There is a word I used when I taught to describe that exact behavior. But sinceI know this site doesn’t like it, I won’t open that can of worms.

    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      If you’re a former teacher, you should know that selling things to students for personal profit is unethical because of the power differential. This is either implicitly or explicitly spelled out in every faculty handbook I’ve ever seen.

      1. Roscoe*

        Even if you consider it unethical, my point still stands of just leave it alone. Its not harming anyone and OP should just stay out of it. Let her boss investigate if she wants

        1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

          It’s harming the students, who should be untempted to spend their pocket money on these things, and as it’s the students we’re here to protect/represent/serve, the OP should 100% report this. If you’re not in teaching to take care of your student’s well being, get the hell out of the business–you’ve lost the appropriate aptitude/attitude for it.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            A student’s wellbeing is not hampered by having slightly broader options when buying a snack.

            1. Justin*

              …the power differential creates pressure. Ethel’s boss already told her it wasn’t okay. Every teaching job I’ve had would find this very inappropriate.

              1. Morning Glory*

                I agree it is inappropriate and illegal, and as another commenter pointed out, dangerous if the single-serve snacks do not contain allergen information. But I really think there’s no pressure caused by power differential, unless Ethel is actively pushing her supply on the students.

                A student-teacher relationship is not the same as a boss-employee relationship – kids are much less likely to feel that implied pressure. When I was a kid teachers had snacks available for sale, with the money going toward after-school activities. There was no active selling, it was more like they were human vending machines, and nobody felt pressured.

                1. anon lurker*

                  I disagree. I think that the pressure of the power differential would be much higher in a teacher-student relationship, depending on the age of the student. The younger the student, the greater the violation.
                  If I were a high school student in this situation, I would feel uncomfortable around this teacher, especially knowing that the profit went into her pocket.

                  It’s not the same thing, but I also have an anecdote about teacher/student power awkwardness. When I was in my early teens, I babysat elementary -school age kids to make a little spending money.
                  One of my high school teachers knew this, so she asked me to babysit her kids. I didn’t want to say yes, because I didn’t want to mess up my grade or standing in the classroom. What if her kids didn’t like me? What if something happened when I was in charge? Would that meant that I wouldn’t be called on as much?
                  I also didn’t want to say no, because I thought it might affect my grade in the same way.
                  (This teacher was a lovely person, one who I liked and trusted. I don’t blame her at all, and I never had any repercussions in the classroom. It just shows that she, naturally, had power over me, and I knew it.)

              2. Traffic_Spiral*

                You’re seriously off your nut if you think that kids are being pressured because of a “power differential” to buy snacks.

            2. Effective Immediately*

              Seriously. Whether they buy from Ethel or at the corporate snack store (Aramark is DEFINITELY profiting off of students, they don’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts), there’s very little material difference to the students (except, ‘hey, there’s this nice teacher who keeps extra snacks we can buy if we’re hungry’).

              Also, are these kindergartners? 4th graders? Or are we worried about 16 year olds buying extra snacks? Is Ethel using aggressive, pyramid-scheme-style marketing tactics? Is she giving better grades to her regular customers?

              Unless Ethel is really trying to live her true life’s dream of becoming the snack equivalent of a 1980s Wall Street tycoon, I don’t really see how the power differential would be so drastic as to warrant this level of righteous indignation from the OP. There seems to be maliciousness ascribed to something ultimately pretty benign. If I found out my kid’s teacher was doing this, I wouldn’t bat an eye.

          2. Roscoe*

            Oh come on. Get off your moral high horse. If you want to say its not good due to the power differential, fine. But saying its harming them because they are tempted to spend money is ridiculous. And don’t tell me what I have the aptitude for. You seem like you need to chill out

            1. Afiendishthingy*

              Honestly, you’re coming across very confrontational in your comments on this post. So I’m not sure you’re well-positioned to say who needs to chill out.

          3. Rat in the Sugar*

            If students should be untempted then schools should take the vending machines out of the halls, stop selling snacks and a la carte food in the cafeteria, stop selling sweatshirts out of the spirit store, etc. Schools don’t adhere to a principle of not tempting students.

    2. JJ*

      Totally agree. I don’t understand the outrage here or that commenters think it would be well deserved if Ethel gets fired and loses her pension. People can be really petty. There is no victim here.

    3. HS Teacher*

      I don’t think it’s illegal and would like to see a statute that lists it as such. It may go against their district policy or be a contract violation with regard to the school’s vendors, but illegal? I’m not so sure about that.

      I have several colleagues who sell things to students at their cost; as do I. I think the profit thing is the problem here, but I don’t even think that is illegal.

      1. Roscoe*

        Its “illegal” in the same way a kid selling lemonade on the street without a permit is illegal. In the strictest sense of the word, its breaking the law. Most logical people wouldn’t really care about the legalities of it though.

        1. sourgold*

          No. A kid selling lemonade on the street isn’t in a position of power over their customers. A teacher is in a position of power over their student and ought to respect that and not try to profit from it.

  27. Guy Incognito*

    OP #4: just write the amount on a piece of paper and slide it across the table while making eye contact. That will do it.

    (Allison’s advice is fine. I’m just off today and wanted to make a joke.)

    1. LQ*

      Take the piece of paper they slide you, sigh, add an extra zero, slide it back and lean back in your chair with your feet up on the desk.

  28. Alfonzo Mango*

    #3 – I definitely remember teachers at my high school and junior high. In hindsight, it is in bad taste. Don’t pray on young kids with poor impulse control.

  29. Wildflowers Don't Care*

    Wow, I can’t believe anyone would want to screw a colleague out of her pension for making a few cents off kids who’d likely be buying the stuff at a higher price elsewhere anyway. The LW needs to mind her own business and stop looking for ways to throw coworkers under the bus. Surely, there are more pressing issues for her to turn her attention to. Besides, this rather unattractive desire to tattle might end up backfiring with her manager–I know I’d look askance at an employee who felt this was an issue worth making a stink over.

    1. Justin*

      There’s no “tattling” on unethical behavior because we are not in kindergarten.

      If anyone is screwing anyone out of a pension it’s the person doing the act after being directly told not to (but she’s unlikely to lose the whole thing anyway).

      1. Anon From Here*

        Fine, but LW doesn’t need to be the agent of Ethel losing her livelihood/pension/whatever. If LW is truly concerned about Ethel’s lack of ethics, then LW could approach Ethel one-on-one and voice their concern.

        1. Someone Else*

          Why would Ethel cut it out after LW tells her to, when her boss telling her to cut it out apparently had no effect? Either LW says nothing, which is reasonable given she’s got the info secondhand, or LW tells boss in the offhand way Alison suggested. Talking to Ethel in this case is almost definitely pointless.

          1. Anon From Here*

            I didn’t say she should tell Ethel to cut it out. It’s not on the LW to tell Ethel anything or enforce any rules. I said that if she has a concern with Ethel’s conduct, she should raise that concern with Ethel. Generally, if you have a problem with what someone is doing, you should go to that person and raise your concern with them directly, first, not run to your supervisor (unless there’s some kind of worry about safety or something). Incidentally, doing so would also confirm whether or not Ethel is actually doing what LW has only heard second-hand.

            1. Someone Else*

              I agree with what you’re saying in general but it just doesn’t make sense to me in this context. It’s not “running to your supervisor”. If I have a concern about someone’s behavior and I know they’ve already been spoken to by a different person about that behavior, but they’ve continued the behavior, I’m not going to go to them myself to raise my concern with them directly. What’s the point there? It’s already been raised with them directly. If the boss said “Ethel, what you are doing is against policy. Stop doing it.” and Ethel continued, I can’t imagine any universe where my going to Ethel and trying to convince her she’s abusing power, or being unethical, or again reiterating that she’s violating policy and putting her job/the school’s funding in danger would have any effect at all. If a person with authority over Ethel didn’t convince her, a peer sure won’t. And if my purpose is NOT to convince her to stop, then there’s even less point in discussing it with her (or anyone else). I also don’t think it’ll confirm she’s doing it again or not. If she knows she’s breaking the rules, she can just say “yeah I used to but I stopped after the warning”. Unless you catch her in the act, you still don’t know, making the discussion even more pointless. If other teachers continue to tell LW about it she might encourage THEM to say something (either to Ethel or the boss), since she’s not aware of it directly. But I really don’t see any middle ground between wanting Ethel to stop and ignoring it completely. There’s not point in anything in between.

      2. Effective Immediately*

        OP has stated they are ‘frothing with rage’ over this. Does that seem to be a proportionate response to the ‘crime’ to you?

        I shudder to think what some posters here think of jaywalkers.

    2. Kix*

      Ethel could very well (unknowingly) putting the school in jeopardy by selling snacks if the school has a contract with an outside entity to sell snacks/soft drinks. My department doesn’t allow outside food sales because we are contracted with an entity to provide food and beverages.

      1. leela*

        I’m also thinking if peanuts get in there somehow, like Ethel, who is not a licensed food vendor from the sound of it, didn’t check, and something happened, that school is going to go through *hell* from the parents when they find out that someone had an allergic reaction because an unlicensed food vendor brought in food without the nutritional information on it and gave it to kids

      2. sourgold*

        Yup. Also allergies? Diabetic kids? If there’s no info on where the snacks came from and what’s in them, there’s real danger that some student might end up hurt, and the wrath of the parents will descend on the school in a heartbeat.

    3. neeko*

      I mean, I wouldn’t really care about someone doing this in my workplace but Ethel is screwing herself over here. Not the OP.

    4. Holly*

      I think you’re losing sight of the fact that a school is a unique environment with unique rules and there are issues that differ from a typical office place that makes what Ethel is doing *not okay.* Do I think she’d lose her pension for this? Definitely not. But it’s absolutely not okay for teachers to sell to students.

  30. Ilikechocolate*

    #3 the not for resale thing is a bigger deal than people are making it out to be, often there is no nutritional or allergen information on individual packs. So what happens if a student with an allergy has a reaction, potentially with fatal consequences but even if not it is serious.

    Does the school want all the negative press associated with a teacher abusing their position to sell snacks and causing harm (or even a death)? Serious allergic reactions happen more than people think.

    Alison’s advice is spot on OP has not standing to deal with this he/she just needs to report it and let her/his boss deal with it or not but either way they have covered themselves.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      Diabetics who take insulin with meals (rather than once a day) need to adjust their insulin according to the carb count of what they’re eating. If they take too little, they’re risking high blood sugars. If they take too much, they could end up passing out from hypoglycemia.

      Yes, snacks count too.

      1. Elsajeni*

        Sure, but also, these are high-school students who, if Ethel wasn’t selling anything, would still have access to vending machines, the cafeteria, and other places where they could buy or share food that might or might not be thoroughly labeled. There may be ethical issues with Ethel selling snacks, but she’s not forcing anyone to buy or eat allergens or unaccounted-for carbs, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to object on the basis that someone who’s old enough to understand their own dietary restrictions could potentially make a bad decision.

  31. MLHD*

    Anyone who wrote out “22 hundred” would get a pretty strong side eye from me. Is that even a thing? haha

    1. Someone Else*

      I thought that letter writer was describing what they’d say outloud. If the question were about writing down their desired pay, then I totally disagree with the advice given, since a lot of what that LW wrote is unclear/awkward for writing that out. But if she were discussing potential ways to say it outloud, there are more ways to put it that sound OK when speaking.

    2. LurkieLoo*

      I would agree. In writing, $65,000 or $2,200 would be appropriate. I’d probably be ok with $65k, but would think $2.2k would be a little odd.

      I hope the letter writer is talking about speaking the amount.

  32. Roscoe*

    So in other comments I’ve already said that this is a mind your own business thing. But I think the social consequences for OP could be very bad if she tells and its found out (which it likely would be). Here is a story.

    Back when I was a teacher, I had a group of friends at the school. We would prank each other now and then (I know this site hates pranks, but it was all in good fun and we all were involved). Well one day another co-worker found out about one of the pranks I was pulling on a couple of the girls. He was around when it happened, which is how he found out. The girls thought it was funny. He found it inappropriate (no it wasn’t anything sexual harassment related or anything). Instead of pulling me aside or something like an adult would do, he decided to go to the principal with his concerns. I knew it was him because there were only like 5 people who knew, me, the 2 girls I pranked, my other good friend, and him. So it was definitely him. I got in trouble for it. But I for sure made sure everyone knew that he went to my boss to tell her what happened. The people I played the prank on had been friendly with him at the time, but stopped talking to him unless they had to. He kind of became the school pariah among the staff (except of course for the administration, since he was kind of their spy). Even for people who may have agreed with him, the way they saw it is that he handled it so badly that they lost respect for him too and NO ONE felt comfortable speaking openly about issues we were having or management if he was around, because they thought he might run and tattle.

    So OP, I have to ask what you have to gain here by going to your boss and if its worth it. Because even the people you heard about it from who may not agree with her behavior may lose some respect for you if you decide to go to management about this. I definitely would

    1. Holly*

      Roscoe, I have to say that I don’t see anything wrong with what this person did except, I suppose, risk interpersonal relationships. It’s really important for a school not to have codes of secrecy/”tattling”/snitching.

      1. Roscoe*

        It’s not “wrong” its just a crappy thing to do. Its like if you find out your neighbor is smoking marijuana in their home (assuming its illegal). Its not “wrong” to call the police even though it has no effect on you. But MOST people would think you are just being a busybody and probably not like you too much.

        They were bringing up an issue that had NOTHING to do with them and had NO effect on them. Most co-workers would see that as problematic. A similar example would be going to your boss because you saw your co-worker leave 10 minutes early one day.

    2. leela*

      Hmm. You say it was definitely him but it really sounds like what you mean is “I decided he was the most likely person”. I have stories of my own where coworkers decided they “definitely knew” who was responsible for something but someone they thought wouldn’t have done it because they were friends actually did, even if they were friendly at the time, and an innocent person got made into a pariah. I’m not saying it wasn’t this person, it’s just that you really didn’t seem to have any evidence other than your hunch and then you told people that he went to your boss? Not “I think it might have been him”, from what you’re writing here?

      1. Roscoe*

        Well as it turned out he did admit it to others later. So while I wasn’t 100% sure at the time, I was right about it.

      2. ThankYouRoman*

        Ah the assumption thing.

        At my 10 year reunion I found out my archenemy only started “the war” because he was told by two little liars I snitched on him and got him kicked off the sports team he was on.

        It wasn’t me. But I was a good enough fall person. I didn’t even know the dude was engaging in underage shenanigans let alone telling coaches.

    3. sourgold*

      I find it troubling that what you perceive to be the problem in your story is that someone ‘tattled’, and not the fact that he was essentially ostracized by his colleagues for misreading a situation and trying to do the right thing. Why didn’t you talk to him instead of making so sure everybody hated him? That kind of behaviour belongs in primary school, not among adults.

      1. Roscoe*

        I got in trouble, I told my colleagues what happened. It was up to them what they wanted to do . But yes, if they think that he can’t be trusted based on HIS actions, that isn’t on me.

        Why didn’t I talk to him? I had nothing to say. I think what he did was bad, but he made that choice. He didn’t misread a situation. If he was actually concerned, he could have asked the people he felt I wronged. He didn’t do that. Had he done it, they would’ve said it was fine. He didn’t like me (that was clear from years prior) and he used that to get me in trouble.

        1. sourgold*

          Frankly, this story a) reflects worse on you than it does on him, and b) has absolutely nothing to do with the OP’s problem. You’re projecting wildly.

          1. Roscoe*

            It actually has a lot to do with OPs problem, because I’m giving her a warning of what could happen if she decides to take this not her business problem and go to their boss about it. People tend to not like when their colleagues are spies for management. You can think its petty or whatever you think, but that doesn’t mean it may not happen.

            1. sourgold*

              Ah, yes. What matters more: the mere possibility that some jerks might dislike you for ~tattling, or the actual fact that kids are being taken advantage of?

              1. Roscoe*

                Being taken advantage of? Come on now. Hyperbole much? If you think she shouldn’t be selling stuff, that is one thing, but there is nothing to say that kids are being taken advantage of. You are really acting like Ethen is abusing kids or something.

          2. JJ*

            i think it reflects more on the people who want to get other folks in trouble over nothing. As everybody keeps saying about Ethel and her facing the consequences of her actions, the same applies to the OP. Sure, she can raise it to the boss, but then be prepared to face the consequences of your coworkers not trusting you anymore.

    4. That Lady*

      Why do you repeatedly refer to presumably grown women with professional qualifications as “girls”?

  33. TurkeyLurkey*

    On #1 – there are various people in managerial and HR roles at my company who do this, and it is terrible and frustrating! When I ask for answers, I am sometimes differed by more than a week with no real reason as to why, and then at the end am still told “I don’t have those answers” or “I can’t give them to you.” It makes the person I’m talking with appear incompetent in their position and has caused me to push much farther and harder than I should (or would) if I had just been told “No, this is policy XYZ and I can’t violate that.”

    Good on you for sticking to up-front answers – don’t take your boss’s advice on this one.

  34. Justin*

    Though I teach adults these days and thus it’s a different deal, at not one single educational workplace of mine would that be considered okay.

    Should you bring it up? Well, her boss already told her not to. That suggests it’s something that’s not okay.

    And for all the people with the “we should pay teachers more,” yes, of course, generally speaking, we should. And they (we) shouldn’t have to have side hustles. But the key word is “side,” right? Extra profit within your educational workplace is not the “side.”

    And if she’s just using the money to buy more snacks, she could just say so.

    Students are not educators’ customers. (And professors selling books through the campus bookstore to adult learners is not at all the same thing.)

    1. Surrogate Tongue Pop*

      +1 Teachers….hold the grade book. Whether or not she’s selling to her own students or a broader population of students is irrelevant because the optics of a teacher selling non-sanctioned items (i.e. not fundraiser candy) can create a perception of being a “customer for grades”. Even if this is 100% not the case, perception/optics/rumors can persist and spin into something they’re not. Not to mention potential risk to the district if a parent finds out, for example, their kid never bought from Ms. Ethel an received a poor grade, but other kids who did buy from Ms. Ethel received higher grades. The “customer” aspect throws a wrench into these types of situations and leaves the teacher and the district to defend properly assigned grades that were not influenced by other factors. It seems harmless (and students can still get snacks from sanctioned areas, like vending machines), but the potential for ethical/reputation/other risk(s) is too great.

    2. Dance-y Reagan*

      Honestly this would be a drop in the bucket in the schools at which my family/friends work…their problems include arson and gang fights. Nobody would GAF about Ethel the Cookie Lady unless she was selling edibles.

      1. ScienceTeacherHS*

        Sounds like your family/friends might be working at schools that have lots of kids on free and reduced lunch. Ethel’s snack selling could endanger their federal funding for that. Schools care about their funding.

      2. Afiendishthingy*

        1, I love your username. 2, I work in an alternative school setting with kids with pretty severe behavior issues, difficult home lives, etc. It would be a huge deal if one of our teachers were running a side business selling snacks to our students. Teachers are held to high ethical standards, and we should be.

  35. blink14*

    OP #2 – Is it possible that Ethel is selling snacks at a profit, but also at a cheaper price than the school approved snack bars or vending machines?

    Just wondering if maybe her intentions are good, like taking that profit to buy more snacks to sell at a lower price than the school approved options. Perhaps she thinks she’s actually doing the students a favor by selling them cheaper snacks. And really, how much profit is she making if she keeps stocking up? I doubt she’s clearing hundreds of dollars after restocking her items.

    Either way, it’s wrong what’s she’s doing, but I would stay out of it. Your supervisor is aware of the problem, don’t get involved unless you actually see something first hand and can report concrete evidence to your supervisor. Even if she’s doing this purely for profit, it’s a pretty big thing to say you would agree that she should lose her pension, which would likely ruin the rest of her life.

    1. blink14*

      Woops – meant OP#3!

      Also, is she actually a teacher? I get the sense she could be in an administrative role.

      1. blink14*

        Right, and then it’s the supervisor’s responsibility to follow up. Unless the OP has a first hand account, then they should stay out of it. It’s been reported already.

          1. blink14*

            Right, but the supervisor should still be following up on to make sure she actually has stopped. Or the OP’s coworkers should say something to the supervisor, since they’ve seen it first hand.

  36. Never*

    #3 it also singles out the kids who don’t have extra money to buy snacks at school. Poor kids don’t need any more help feeling bad about being poor.

    1. Roscoe*

      Or maybe those kids just don’t like whatever snacks she is selling. I doubt she is going down the class roster taking attendance and asking if they want a bag of chips. Its more like, if they want to buy, they buy. You people are really grasping at straws with this one. Singling out kids would be making a show of it. IF they don’t buy it, that doesn’t single anything out.

    2. Sylvan*

      That wasn’t really my experience growing up, as someone who didn’t have a ton of money to spend on snacks every day. Buying or not buying a bag of chips wasn’t that fraught an issue. Would you say the same about vending machines? Or about snacks or desserts in the lunch line?

      I think the teacher shouldn’t be doing it because their boss has already told them to quit it, FWIW.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah I think unless it’s become a pickled lime situation a la Little Women where you are ostracized if you can’t buy these particular snacks, I don’t think this is likely to cause any additional angst.

        I agree that the bigger problem is that the teacher was already told to cut it out and didn’t.

    3. JJ*

      If that’s the case, then I guess the school should remove any vending machines, stop selling school branded items, stop selling the yearbook, stop selling class rings…

      1. op#3!*

        Well, they did remove the vending machines – the kids are still mad about it. School branded items, etc., still exist – but as far as I understand, those mostly go to profit the school / school activities. This is profiting…Ethel. To me, that’s different.

        1. Lilo*

          That is exactly what I guessed. Ethel is a real jerk. Those machines were removed for a reason and the reason wasn’t so she could fill the gap and line her own pockets.

          1. Lynn Whitehat*

            Yes! Exactly! Finally some limits were placed on where and when junk food could be sold, so it’s not a constant temptation. As a parent, I would be really angry to find out that a teacher was going around those rules and selling my kids junk. And angrier still to find out that the principal told her once, “oh Ethel, you mustn’t” and dropped it.

        2. JJ*

          Ah, I see. Are angry that Ethel is making a little bit of money and you aren’t? If she was selling at cost or giving the stuff away, would you have the same reaction? Sounds like you wouldn’t.

          1. sourgold*

            Profiting off of your students behind your boss’ back is the problem, yes. It would be completely different if she was giving stuff away.

          2. Lilo*

            Those vending machines were removed for a reason, because it was wrong for schools to profit off feeding kids junk food. Her filling the space undermines the good they were trying to do and lines her own pockets.

            OP is right to be pissed coworker is exploiting the kids and the school’s attempt to be healthier.

  37. drpuma*

    OP2, it sounds like the makeup will be much more drastic than the hair, so if you can’t move the photo shoot I would focus on that. Pick up good old fashioned cold cream (oil-based and EFFECTIVE) combined with some gentle micellar wipes to clear your face. Put on a bright, vibrant lipstick so that your bare face and done hair don’t look completely out of whack. You can keep your hair back from your face with a wide headband or scarf. Your hair and makeup folks also may have some ideas or be able to help you transition to a more “fun yet professional” look.

  38. Anon for This*

    LW #1: you have all my sympathies, as a compliance person in a place where compliance is viewed as ‘mean’. My literal job description lists ‘conduct activities in a pleasant manner’ (which I missed when applying).

    Luckily, I am far enough into my career to recognize that it’s not a me problem. You didn’t do anything wrong, and I empathize with that feeling of wanting to do your job right but being instructed to basically not do it.

    Let this feedback roll off. As long as you aren’t being snide or short with people asking, you’re fine. And if you plan to continue in any kind of regulatory line of work, please try to understand that this is part of the gig. People–even the people who should understand and appreciate what you’re doing–don’t always take the kindest view of those in positions to enforce rules (this is true of management as well). Try your best not to take it personally.

  39. Urdnot Bakara*

    For #3…. honestly, unless she’s selling snacks at a *significant* profit, I would leave it alone. When I was in high school, I had a teacher who kept microwaveable breakfast and lunch items (and a microwave) in his classroom and sold them to students for, like, 50 cents. That was probably a small profit for him, but he used the money to buy more snacks, and honestly, I often didn’t have time to eat in the mornings and came to school hungry, so I was happy to pay 50 cents to solve that problem when I otherwise wouldn’t have any options until lunch. It’s not like he heavily marketed that he had snacks–they were just available if his students wanted them. It’s likely your coworker views this similarly.

    1. blink14*

      Yup, this matches my thoughts. There’s a reason students are buying from her – either the type of snacks she’s selling aren’t available at the school, or the prices are cheaper, or both. If something is being sold by the school that’s similar and cheaper than her prices, I doubt she’d be doing it because the students would likely not buy something similar at a higher price.

  40. Kix*

    OP #5, when my boss and her husband decided to divorce, she made a brief announcement at the end of one of our team meetings because she figured we’d noticed she was no longer wearing her wedding ring. It was a simple announcement, and one which I thought took a lot of courage because it’s not an easy thing to discuss publicly. She didn’t offer details, and of course we didn’t pry.

    1. OP #5*

      Thanks, Kix. I definitely think it will be noticeable because we generally take about 30 minutes for lunch. The country where now I live is much more rigid about employee laws so there’s less of the, “I’m running a few errands over lunch.”

  41. Hiring Mgr*

    On #3, while I understand it’s against the rules, personally I can’t get too worked up about this, so if it were me I would just ignore it. By no means are you obligated to report it. As you say, she’s near retirement.. I’d let it slide

  42. Veruca Salt*

    I admit I wondered if Ethel was a code name for my husband. He’s a high school teacher that buys candy in bulk and sells them to his students for $1. There are some differences though. The candy is from a bulk retailer and not marked “not for resale”, his school does not have a cafeteria and instead, all students bring a lunch and eat in the classroom with their teacher, and most importantly, he is the junior class sponsor and all proceeds go to funding their prom.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Well surely he should be tossed out of his job for this. Well maybe not because he’s not breaking the all important “Not for Individual Sale” laws in this country. Which are usually prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, right after the mattress tag removing miscreants.

      *This entire post, brought to you by the letter /s

    2. Holly*

      Each school district/school has their own conflict of interest and ethics rules – as long as the school administration is aware of what’s going on, and he’s checked the rules and he’s not in violation, I don’t see a problem with this, since it’s going towards the prom and not a personal profit.

  43. AnonGoodNurse*

    OP1 – I was given similar advice earlier in my career as an attorney. It was framed more as a way to make our clients think we weren’t just saying no without having put any thought into it. We were coached to say, “Let me think about it” before giving a hard answer. Meh. There are times that made sense, but others it did not. I had the clients get mad at me for not telling them “no” up front because they would think if I knew they couldn’t do something, then I would just tell them. So if I said, “let me think about it” they would proceed with their plans and then get mad when I came back with “actually, this is prohibited” because they spent time and resources on something that I could have just told them was a waste of time.
    What I took away from it, is that you do need to be careful with your phrasing (especially if you’re in legal or compliance), but also let them know if you think something could be problematic. What I started saying in some cases was “I don’t think we can do that, but let me double check to make sure there’s not some exception I’m missing.” Then follow up later that day with a “No, sorry, that’s not something we can do.” I didn’t care for the extra step and it didn’t improve the relationship, but it gave me (and my boss) something to push back on when they complained. (Plus, they were usually just mad about the outcome and wanted to shoot the messenger. It’s just one of the downsides of being in compliance.)

    1. Friday Night*

      1) That boss was bonkers bananas. Give people the answer they need to do their work as soon as you have it
      2) That sort of role is NOT an intern role because….
      3) My theory on the really effective way to do that role (from someone who works in a slightly different field, but who did the work of a safety and personal data security person) is that you have such a through knowledge of both the rules AND other peoples projects that when they propose to do something that is no legal (or safe, or whatever) – you can work with them to get the effect that they want within the rules.
      Given that I wasn’t a lawyer – I would generally say “We can’t do it that way because of XYZ, but…” and then try to work with them to figure out ways to do it. Often that does result in me going away to do some research.
      Obviously there’s stuff that doesn’t work for that, for example someone wanted to create lightening with a multi-million dollar piece of a equipment while a person was inside – there was no version of that experiment that was viable.

      4) If you want to be generous to the boss – they saw someone doing the role as in (3), but had no clue what was involved with getting to that point (in depth knowledge of both the regulations and the projects) and so was trying to describe aping a behaviour that seemed to work without understanding what went into it.

  44. Student*

    AAM, you’re out of touch on #5. I moved recently. Sadly, “Is your husband moving with you?” came up in nearly every conversation I had about it. It is a common question when the move benefits a woman’s career in an obvious way.

    If they perceive that this move obviously favors your career over his, they will ask. My move was fairly long distance – you might be able to duck the issue if the move is relatively local, if the potential impact on your separated husband is not obvious to them, or if you offer up an alternative motive up-front. Alternative motives such as cost of housing, major space change (big to small or vise versa), amenities, local family, major impact to “family” costs (groceries, commute/travel, etc.) will successfully bypass the issue, because they do not draw people’s attention to a woman putting her career before her husband’s interests. I feel sad just writing that.

    OP 5, I suggest just owning it. You don’t need to bring it up, but if they ask about your husband, just be as fact-oriented as possible. If you get cagey, they will dig in. “Yep, I just moved to X for the shorter commute. Nope, husband’s staying put – we’re separated. I understand you’re curious, but I am doing fine, and I’d rather not discuss it further so it doesn’t become a distraction at work. “

    1. OP #5*

      Our situation is a bit different because my husband wants the separation so I’m just moving into the city from the suburbs. We were married in March and moved here in April. But, yes, I think being matter of fact is the way to go.

  45. OhGee*

    LW2, I would go in the glitter and big hair. Why not? People already know you do burlesque and it’s not like you’re showing up in pasties. I think that sounds fun. (I’ve also never been uncomfortable being the ‘kooky’ one, and it hasn’t hurt my career.) Glam on!

    1. Elfie*

      Not showing up in pasties? What are pasties? Where I come from, pasties are a savoury pastry-based food filled with meat and potatoes!

      1. StuckInRetailHell*

        Pasties are nipple coverings. They are a small circle of fabric just big enough to cover the nipple and aureole that is literally pasted on so the whole rest of the breast is exposed. Used by strippers where full nudity is illegal.

        1. OP2*

          OP2 here! I can attest that pasties are a thing and they are best adhered with carpet tape. They are also 100 per cent not office appropriate :P.

  46. ArtK*

    Although #3 is horrible in and of itself, the labeling on the packaging “Not for resale” is just referring to the fact that the individual units are not labeled for retail sale — no nutritional information, most likely. I doubt very much that the FDA would go after her for a private transaction.

    That said, she’s doing something gross and ignoring a previous warning. Let management know and let the chips fall where they may. Frankly, I’d be looking closely at her to see where else she is exploiting her students.

    1. ThankYouRoman*

      So glad to see the “not for resale” explained. I cringed at “IT’S ILLEGAL!”

      Dear everyone, you can also remove that tag from your mattresses after you buy them! It’s regulations for merchants, not the general population.

      There are fundraisers who sell Bulk candy and that’s where your school’s snack shops get their products!

    2. op#3!*

      OP here – I did some more digging after I sent my letter, and found out exactly that. Good to know!

      …but like you said, ultimately, it’s still gross and ignoring a previous warning.

  47. Bend & Snap*

    #5 as someone who recently went through a separation and divorce–don’t talk about it at work. I told my boss because I needed to be out for court dates and stuff, but my coworkers didn’t know. I only told people, very casually, once the divorce was completely final and it was all very matter of fact. I did it this way because of how other peoples’ divorces were received.

    If you disclose, you sign up for pity/sympathy, prying questions, speculation, gossip and all manner of crap you don’t want at work.

    1. OP #5*

      Thanks for the point of view. Right now I’m feeling pretty isolated because we only moved here six months ago (married eight months ago) so other than work, I just don’t know anyone who is not his friend.

      1. Phryne*

        On the flip side, everyone at my office knew about my divorce (which hit me out of the blue…Tuesday morning everything was great as far as I knew, Tuesday midnight we were getting a divorce & he was moving across the country to be with some woman he met online that I didn’t know existed) and I could not have asked for a better response. Every single person was wonderfully supportive without being prying. People gave me space, but also offered tangible things like “hey, if you need a second pair of hands to move furniture or something just let me know”. I hadn’t worked with them long and, like you, really hadn’t made any new friends in the area so the general moral support from coworkers was huge. Also, a couple of them had gone through divorces fairly recently themselves and provided me with some useful “lessons learned” about lawyers, processes, and unique rules in this state.

        Best of luck to you!
        (And if it helps at all, while my divorce was out of the blue and not something I initiated, 6 months later I am happier than I’ve been in a decade!)

        1. Bend & Snap*

          I’m so glad you had a good experience at work!

          And I’ll echo the “happier after” sentiment. I initiated my divorce, it was grueling and horrible, and I’m so so so happy now.

  48. Scion*

    #3 & Profit: I don’t understand all the people talking about “using the profit to buy more snacks.” You can’t get rid of the profit by buying more product – that just makes you more profit! If I spend $10 on snacks and then sell them to kids and make $20, that’s $10 profit. If I take that $10 and buy/sell another batch of snacks, then I now have $20 profit. And so on, and so on.

    Legal Issues: The “Individual Resale” thing does not apply, in general, to individuals – only retailers due to labeling laws (just like mattress tags). However, the matter is complicated because it’s a school, which may be under additional legal or contractual constraints.

    Ethical Issues: There is definitely a power differential between teacher and student, I don’t think anyone would deny that. The *magnitude* may be up for debate, but it’s definitely in play.
    Additionally, I wholeheartedly agree with Alison that “profiting off your students is icky.” (Really, is anyone of a different opinion?) If the teacher just wanted to provide a service to the students, there’s no reason why she has to profit off it.

    Safety Issues: One of the main reason for labeling laws is allergies. A high school student is unlikely to accidentally eat a candy bar they’re allergic to, but the possibility that one might opens up a huge can of worms (and liability) for the school.

    Workplace Tattling: As Alison is fond of reminding us, there’s no such thing as “tattling” in the workplace. There’s only letting your boss know of something that’s important enough that they care about, or not important enough. The boss has made it clear that they do consider this to be an important issue (and it’s most likely against the district policy), as they have *already* talked to the teacher about it.

    1. blink14*

      My point, and probably others as well, about the profit is that she’s likely not making a ton of money from it, once she purchases more product. In your example, there’s no net profit once more snacks are purchased – she recoups her original investment of $10, and then spends the $10 profit on another $10 worth of items, which means, she ends up with only the original $10 she put in, so basically coming even in operating costs. Now, if she spent $10, sold the snacks for $30, she would recoup her original investment of $10, make $20 profit, and if she spent $10 of that on new items, then she has a true $10 profit.

      I do think she’s likely making an actual profit, but it’s probably not hugely significant (although it could be, who knows). My guess is she saw a way to provide snacks at a cheaper cost to the students, and doesn’t see the ethical issue with it. Smaller but possible chance she’s doing it purely to make money.

      1. anon teacher*

        …your example doesn’t work. she makes a $10 profit, which she spends on $10 more of items, *which she then sells for more money*. Whenever she decides to get out of the game, she has money that she didn’t have before – that’s profit.

        1. blink14*

          Of course she’s making a profit, or else she’d continually be spending her own money on new product. That’s exactly what I pointed out – if she’s selling the items for more than she paid, even with investing some of that profit into purchasing more items, she’s still coming out with some money that’s actual profit.

          My point, along with other commenters, is that if she’s funneling some of that profit into buying more items, which is most likely what she’s doing, she’s not just selling bags of chips and walking away with $50. She’s sustaining her own “business” with the money she makes from sales, but her actual net profit probably isn’t huge (again, it could be, we don’t know).

      2. Scion*

        blink14, I’m not sure I’m understanding your logic. Using the profit from previous sales to fund purchasing of new product does not reduce your profit, because you’ll then sell the new product for more profit. It does reduce the up front cost (i.e. the first purchase is all upfront, while subsequent purchases can be taken from the profit).

        Spend $10, make $20 ($10 profit)
        Spend $10 (at this point she’s even*), make $20 ($20 total profit)
        Spend $10, make $20 ($30 profit)

        (*She’s not actually even, she has the same funds that she started with, but she also has $10 worth of product)

        If she wanted to provide cheap snacks to her students, there’s nothing stopping her from selling them at cost. It’s the profiting from students that the OP is concerned with (they’ve posted numerous clarifying comments).

  49. Anon and on and on*

    3) When I was in high school we had a teacher that did this. He sold candy bars out of his desk drawer. He was a photography and art teacher and the money he made was used to buy supplies for his class as the school budget did not allow for much. OP doesn’t know what that other teacher is using the money for and I feel like this is a case of OP should mind his/her/their own business and keep out of this.

  50. OP #5*

    Mine question was definitely the least interesting/controversial today! :)

    For some additional context: My husband and I married in March of this year and moved to his home country in April. (From the U.S. to Scandinavia.) I was freelancing with U.S. clients & working from our home in the suburbs until getting this job in mid-August, so my network of friends are mostly my colleagues, though we don’t socialize outside of work.

    The culture is such that people don’t run errands over lunch break and generally we take about 30 minutes, so it would definitely be strange if I’m suddenly gone for an hour or so a few days a week. Complicating matters is that we’ve had some major issues with my direct reporting abusing work-from-home and leaving early/mid-day.

    I decided to tell my direct report, matter-of-factly that my husband and I are separating and I’ll be moving closer to work. Again, thanks to the culture, it’s a mostly stoic one so there wasn’t a lot of pity or sympathy. I don’t plan to tell anyone else at work until things are more certain in either direction.

    Thanks to those who have weighed-in and wished me well.

    1. LurkieLoo*

      I think the additional context makes it even more ok to not get into it with any colleagues you don’t want to. If you had worked there for years and they all knew your husband well, it might make more sense to inform people. I would imagine half the people won’t even remember whether or not you’re married if you don’t talk about him.

  51. Gabriela*

    On the flip side of #5- is it ever ok to ask about someone’s potential separation? I have a colleague who I enjoy working with although we are by no means friends. We were having a working lunch and she mentioned that she has no plans for the holidays and that she might take a solo trip somewhere because her parents will be doing something else. She has also stopped wearing her wedding ring. I’ve been criticized in the past for not asking enough about what’s going on in my friends’ lives (I promise I want to know and am interested- I’m just bad at asking!). I don’t want anyone to think I am uninterested in their lives, but it feels intrusive to ask about someone’s marital situation.

    1. Ella Vader*

      Gabriela, when I was in that situation, I would have made a matter-of-fact mention like that to a co-worker in order to *prevent* them asking directly about whether we’d broken up. I wouldn’t have wanted it to be an issue or topic of conversation. Assume that she’s single and don’t pursue it.

    2. OP #5*

      Maybe you could introduce me to your colleague and she could come here, because I will be alone in another country for Christmas, as I’m certain my husband will not want me to join him or his family. :)

      I would want someone to ask, but then, I’m pretty forthright.

      1. Gabriela*

        She is pretty great and would probably be great company. I would certainly never ask why someone separated, but I don’t want anyone to assume I’m disinterested in them. Also, my family has a tradition of inviting those who don’t have family in town (many of us work in higher ed with college students far from home) to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving.

      2. Ella Vader*

        Oh, hey, op5, thanks. I didn’t think about how my response wouldn’t be helpful if the co-worker is actually you.

        What about if Gabriela doesn’t ask directly, but keeps in mind that the co-worker’s holiday calendar maybe isn’t as full as she would like. So if Gabriela is hosting an open house on Boxing Day, or getting tickets to a play, or something, she could try inviting co-worker. That is responding to the factual information without needing to know the details (whether they’ve broken up, whether her partner is out of town because his mother is dying, whatever). In that case, if the co-worker was OP5, she’d have another opportunity to volunteer more information once it’s clear that an overture of out-of-office friendship is being made. And if the co-worker is me, I’d say thanks and accept the invitation, and might or might not explain later about why I’m alone this holiday.

        1. Gabriela*

          Thank you both for the advice! actually messaged her earlier to invite her to our Thanksgiving. She politely declined, but I’m glad I opened the door.

  52. Hawaiian Principal*

    OP #3: Ask your principal if she permission to sell snacks. Some schools do allow it for club/organizations to raise money. The snacks must meet the federal nutritional requirements unless they are being sold 30 minutes before classes or 30 minutes after classes. If you are in the US, Ethel won’t be fired for this or lose her pension.

    But she should not be selling snacks to line her own pockets. That’s a big no-no.

  53. Admin in Arkansas*

    OP1: If it was phrased exactly as you say, I completely agree with Alison. Manager is out of touch.

    However, there is something to be said about positive positioning, which is what I had hoped your manager was trying to convey. It was a huge part of the job when I worked tech support at a major telecommunications company, where de-escalation and keeping a customer listening is 90% of the game. There is something off putting about asking a question and getting a direct “No,” no matter how nicely it is said. It may be 100% factual, but that doesn’t mean you can’t say it in a positive way. We were all trained to “lead with what you CAN do, not with what you CAN’T.”

    For example:

    “Can you give me a credit for that data overage?”
    “What I can do is look into some payment options for you or possibly connect you with a financial services rep if you believe this will cause a hardship? Additionally, I’d be happy to review with you the issue that lead to the overage so that you can prevent such an issue from happening in the future.”

    If they pressed on the matter of the credit, we still would not say a direct “No,”. “The option of a credit is not available at this time because the data overage is a valid charge, not an oversight or computer error. What we can do for you is…” (If you’ve ever worked customer service you know there is just no helping some irate people, so being as positive as possible helped to have the high ground if/when they start pounding their fists and demanding a manager.)

    While this obviously isn’t always feasible and can come across as slightly contrived, its just about being positive and works if done genuinely. Sort of the same idea as being able to complain as long as you also provide a solution. In your situation:

    “Can I have x info?”
    “That information is protected by (law/regulation/policy)”.
    “Can we do (task) this way?”
    “Tasks are typically done this way, but let me look into it.” “That sounds potentially in conflict with (law/regulation/policy), so for now lets just do it the usual way.”

    1. Observer*

      Whoever instituted that kind of thing wasn’t doing anyone any favors.

      This stuff doesn’t come off as “slightly contrived” but, at best, as though you think your customer is stupid. If I ask for a credit, I do NOT want to talk to a financial services rep. If I *know* what caused the overage and told you that when I started, I don’t want you to “review” this with me. Etc.

      Sure, some people can’t be pleased. But those people are not going to be mollified by this nonsense. And people who might accept a polite NO, may be really off by a response that sounds like you didn’t actually listen to what you were told and / or like you are being condescending.

      Being positive is good when it makes sense. A bit of indirection that still gives a clear answer, is also good when it’s reasonable. But that’s as far as it goes.

      Making yourself a pretzel to make something look good is not useful. Like trying to see if you can spin “lie and wait a week” into a reasonable piece of advice.

  54. TeacherNerd*

    OP #3: Ugh, selling snacks to students. LAME. Why would you do that? (That’s a rhetorical question.) Yeah, that’s not cool, and I am NOT a fan of profiting from students. PLEASE tell your VP.

    (I say this as a high school teacher. In my school, students who buy their lunch on campus are also required to take a piece of fruit, which many have told me, or confirmed, many throw away because they don’t want it, so I’ve asked them to donate it to my classroom fruit basket. Hungry students – like the homeless students we have, or just those who need a snack – can help themselves, but I also have other snacks in there, liked dried fruit-and-nut mixes and those little 2-tablespoon individual packets of peanut butter students can grab. One teacher set up a GoFundMe to do something similar.)

    1. ThankYouRoman*

      THANK YOU. From the bottom of my never hungry heart, I deeply appreciate you doing everything you can to ease the hunger of others.

      I had a homeless friend in high school. She was treated terribly by teachers who would get angry she’d try eating in class when it was due to her being too poor to afford lunch. She’d help the lunch crew so that she was given a meal afterwards. Only where was she supposed to eat it if not the class directly after lunch?! The teachers knew. She wasn’t secretive about her struggles. They would even try to make her throw the food away. It was so horrible.

  55. Calculator*

    Sorry all you responsible adults out there, but my sister and I and ALL the other students love buying snacks from the teachers. Sometimes thats all we have to eat all school day. And they usually only sell each thing for like a dollar. We dont have vending machines. Now students are catching on selling out of bulk packs too to make some extra cash. And I think theyre smart for it. We buy all the time. Gatorade, sour belts, chips, cup o noodles. Im drooling.

    1. LCL*

      I kinda figured this would be a bigger thing than it was when I was in school, because of the new stricter nutrition standards. When I was in high school we were allowed to leave campus for lunch, and spent our spare change on gas money, cigarettes and other substances. The junk food is preferable to the other options.

  56. logicbutton*

    “Not taking this job for anything less than 65 large. You hear me? Sixty-five big ones. That’s 65 stacks, as low as I’ll go.”

    1. TeacherNerd*

      Yep. It’s our job, as teachers, to be as extra as possible. (Snark genuinely not intended. Last year my seniors kept telling me how extra I was being, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nothing takes the insult out of an insult by not being insulted!) :-)

      1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

        Taking advantage of children for monetary gain is abuse, and as the teacher has already been warned about it, it’s grounds for firing.

  57. Tea Fish*

    Students are a captive audience and are NOT there for teachers to make a buck off of. It would be different if A) Ethel got permission from the school and B) was keeping track of the money and transparently sinking it back into classroom costs or some other sort of fund for the students, but turning a profit on kids that you oversee and whose futures you have an impact on– I really find that unacceptable, and yes, worth firing over if she can’t grasp what the issue is.

    I also don’t think that there’s a distinction between Ethel selling snacks or other kinds of products to her students. Would it be okay and harmless if she was pushing Mary Kay? Scentsy? Herbalife? DoTerra? Her personal handmade cards and soaps? Jewelry and sugared pecans her sister made? If it’s acceptable, should it be open grounds then for all teachers in public schools to start pushing their side hustles on their students as well?

    This is also behavior that would be really problematic in other ‘caring’ and government established professions as well– nurses hustling by selling snacks at the hospital to their patients, social care workers selling handmade jewelry to the folks they advocate for, and so on and so forth. I don’t understand all of the comparisons to ‘tattling’ for OP when it’s already been established as a problem for Ethel and it’s entirely her fault she continues to flout the rules.

  58. claudia grace*

    LW4: At my first out-of-college job, when I asked about salary, I was told by the owner’s wife, very sweetly, that the position paid “Twenty eight hundred.” That was it. I assumed she meant $2,800 a month, because before that, all my college jobs had specified payment by what it was a month, or hourly (often both).
    What she actually meant, and I found out the day I started and was signing all the paperwork, was $20,800 annually. So I learned a lesson about making sure I know exactly what a position pays, and in what increments, that day.
    I lasted 5 months, until the paychecks started bouncing regularly, and I found a different job.

  59. Jenny*

    To #1: I had a job where my boss didn’t like that I knew more than her about certain regulations and even told me to stop signing my credentials after my name in notes, like I was bragging or something. No, the state says I have to identify myself—I have a protected title from the state. So idiotic. The only thing I could think to do is just stop signing my notes.

  60. cheluzal*

    3: Psh, my middle school sells it to kids themselves! Kids staying after for tutoring or grade recovery can buy chips and drinks that admin sells. I know some teachers have sold pencils or erasers at a cheap price to kids who don’t have it. There is no PROFIT being made. It’s barely enough to cover buying more….I don’t see it worth tattling on a lady near retirement.

  61. Rika*

    #1 “… my boss instructed me that I would be better served professionally if I (…) told them I didn’t know the policy answer to their question, and return later (…) with an answer of no…”

    Maybe your manager got some stuff mixed up, because that IS actually excellent advice… when dealing with CEO’s and the like. If a CEO or other higher up asks you if something is possible, and you know the answer for a fact to be no, you should never immediately say so. It makes you look negative and uncooperative even though in reality you saved everyone time and effort. Instead you should say “I’ll see what I can do” and then return a reasonable amount of time later and tell them how you looked into it, but unfortunately it can’t be done. Now you look cooperative and active even though you just wasted everyone’s time. I realize how stupid that sounds (and is), but I swear it’s the best course of action if you want to make a good impression.

  62. Kee*

    LW#3 Are you sure that she is still currently selling snacks? She may have cut it out after the talking to and the other coworkers are telling you old info. Especially if the talking to was recent. It seems weird she’s not even trying to hide it (two separate coworkers know about it) after being told to stop.

  63. Aaron*

    #3 – I’m not sure why selling snacks to students is “gross” or “icky”. I would have said unethical. After all, its not as if she’s selling birth control or practical joke supplies. Maybe she’s not keeping them properly refrigerated (which would indeed be gross)?

  64. CanCan*

    OP 5 – You don’t owe anybody an explanation. First, people may not notice, at least not what you do at lunch. Second, as Alison suggested, people move and you don’t have to say that your spouse didn’t move with you. Third, polite people at the office will generally not pry if they realize you’re not up to talking about it. So if they suspect you may be separating, they won’t ask about Dave unless you mention it.

    On a personal note, I broke up with my husband 3 years ago (half a year after I started a new job, shared my family details and even shown my wedding pictures with my teammates). At the time of the break-up, it was too painful to talk about it, so I didn’t tell anyone. After that, there didn’t seem to be much reason to bring it up. I told it to a couple of colleagues, and I don’t know if any of them mentioned it to the team, or if the team noticed that I never mention “Ryan” again, – but none of my teammates have ever asked about him! I still don’t know if they know or not. If someone asks, I’ll tell them. If not – it really doesn’t matter. It’s my life, and I’m doing fine. Nobody really wants to talk drama anyway; we all have enough stress.

    Good luck to you!

  65. tunmi*

    LW #3: We really are going this hard for a teacher, who belongs to a notoriously underpaid profession, for selling snacks to students…

    You also mentioned that you don’t have firsthand information and that you’re new. I’d leave this alone. I highly doubt she’s raking in money from selling snacks to these students.

    I’m also curious about the demographics of your school – what’s the population like, and just how well funded is it? How many students are on reduced/free lunch? Keep in mind, poor students can buy snacks too. What’s the quality of the lunch students get? I ask because this isn’t uncommon at my high school.

  66. OP2*

    OP2 here! I can attest that pasties are a thing and they are best adhered with carpet tape. They are also 100 per cent not office appropriate :P.

  67. OP2*

    Sorry that showed up not in the intended thread– anyway, I just wanted to thank everyone for their comments! I’ll check back in after the party!

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