my horrible old boss may become my new boss

A reader writes:

I have just found a new wonderful job after having been at my old one for almost 10 years. One of the main reasons I left was because my boss was a terrible manager.

Now at my new job, after only two months my wonderful boss left for an amazing project and my old boss is going for that position. Not good. Also, I am basically running the department until we find a new person.

I have been made a part of the search committee and specifically said to pass my old boss’ application over for 10 years of reasons. The manager above this position has asked me twice exactly why I am so adamantly against this person coming into the organization (since they look nearly perfect on paper), and I get so emotional that I am not eloquent in my explanation (also I was asked at times when I didn’t have much time to gather my thoughts, i.e. running to catch my bus, on my way to another meeting, etc.). And to add a further complication, I was given the green light to go ahead and apply for the position if I wanted to. Should I email my boss with more articulate information about this old boss, or should I forget about that and just go for the position? My worry is that if I’m not successful, my old boss could be successful.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Can I ask employees to stay home if they’re sick?
  • “Tell us what makes you unique in 150 characters or less”
  • I picked my own goals for the year and didn’t meet them
  • Can my employer decide not to pay me for this month because of financial hardship?

{ 229 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    I always picture employers like that broke nonprofit as operating out of somebody’s garage. It’s the “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” of workplaces.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Pandora did it. It’s original employees went without pay for a really long time when the company was first started.

      1. CoveredInBees*

        A lot of start-ups get around this by: A) hiring people to inexperienced to know their rights and/or B) making them partial owners in the company. The only people in a (privately held) company who don’t have to get paid are the owners because the flip side is they can take in huge profits when times are good.

        1. Artemesia*

          Or they pay minimum wage or less and stock options that vest in a year and fire them a day before what they have earned for a year vests. I know two people this happened to in vastly different points in their career and companies. One of them set up the on line presence of a start up that did business on the internet and then dumped him just before the stock became his. So they stole his labor to get their business up and running.

          The non-profit that doesn’t want to pay for January will of course fire someone if the employees don’t agree to go along. Another option is to work like crazy to get another job and then insist on the January pay per the law.

          1. JB*

            That’s appalling! I remember reading that expose a few years ago by someone working for one that was like an Uber for housecleaning and there was a ton of blowback. I really wish there was a database out there of start-ups that engage in this type of behavior so I can boycott them all!

          2. Startup fan*

            There are relatively few employees at startups that get paid minimum wage. They are still competing to attract talent. They also tend to offer benefits such as health insurance once you get beyond the founders and (perhaps) the first few employees. So in sum, you’re exaggerating because you dislike startups.

            Yes, the salary at a startup will likely be less than at an established company; in exchange for that, you get equity. That’s a good thing. New businesses could never compete with large ones without an equity incentive. And yes, early employees at successful startups can get rich.

            Yes, this is also a risk-reward tradeoff. No one is forcing you to join a startup if it’s a tradeoff you’re uncomfortable with. The startup may, indeed, not work out; most do not.

            Similarly, however, you should not deter people who embrace risk from joining a startup.

            1. Startup fan*

              I suppose that I should add this can be a little different if you’re one of the earliest non-founder employees, and you join before the startup gets angel or venture financing. Then, yes, you may be making less than you would at Walmart.

              But (1) if the startup gets financing, that will change; venture capital exists in part to pay staff. And if the startup doesn’t get financing, that will be apparent in relatively short order, (2) an early employee in that position will probably get equity close to that of what the founders are getting, so if things go well there is tremendous upside, and (3) again, no one is forced to be employee number 5 at a pre-funding startup. (Also, to some degree, the reality is that the earliest employees may be working on the startup in their spare time, and don’t quit their day jobs until there’s some clarity about getting the first round of financing.)

              By the time the scale, startups have almost always attracted funding. Again, the base salary expectation isn’t what you’d make at Apple, and nor should it be.

            2. Autumnheart*

              Are you still trying to convince people that it’s a good idea to work for “equity” and under-market wages? Man, there’s one born every minute, but you know, you don’t have to be one of them. The idea that people get rich working for start-ups is like claiming that people get rich selling Mary Kay cosmetics or Amway.

              Smart people don’t sell their labor for under-market wages and literally worthless promises of future income that will never actually materialize. Not unless there’s a real, concrete benefit to doing it, like getting experience in a particular skills set, and then moving on after a year or so. And if one chooses to do so, then it bears remembering that there’s a real, measurable cost to under-valuing your labor in exchange for someone else’s profit. Just as there is when you do it for some other kind of unethical business who wants to convince you that you should give them your labor for free.

              1. Startup fan*

                “The idea that people get rich working for start-ups is like claiming that people get rich selling Mary Kay cosmetics or Amway.”

                Demonstrably false. Look through SEC filings for companies that have recently gone public.

                Of course, not everyone who works at a startup gets rich that way; it depends if the startup succeeds, and most do not. But some do. It’s all about your tolerance for risk versus reward.

                And startups are not “undervaluing your labor” if you negotiate your options package properly. I submit that it’s presumptuous of you to say that people who do this aren’t “smart.” When you say that startup employees aren’t “smart,” what you really mean is “they don’t share Autumnheart’s risk tolerance.”

    2. Black Bellamy*

      It’s curious to see such a large percentage of posts reference completely ridiculous situations in nonprofits. I work in a huge for profit corporation, and the great majority of stuff I read on here would absolutely never ever ever be happening here. Oh sorry we can’t pay you because reasons? Whaaaa? If the business is insolvent, there are procedures for dealing with that. Legal, official procedures. You’re right, it’s like a lot of these are people who have no idea how to run a business and yet there they are.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I know some amazingly professional nonprofits. And as Ou notes, scrappy startups do this kind of stuff all the time. I think the motives and the methods of persuasion tend to differ between for-profit startups and dysfunctional little nonprofits, though. Nonprofits are likelier to insist that people are obliged to go without to serve the mission, whereas startups are likelier to suggest people will hit a jackpot later if they put up with crap now.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          The non-profit I work for is…well, it’s only fairly professional (it’s gotten a lot more so as the years go by). But even so, it would never, ever expect employees to work for no wages…or no health insurance…or to regularly put in ridiculously long hours…or in fact most of the really egregious behavior that I’ve seen reported here on AAM. The cause is good, but the cause doesn’t pay the bills, and I think most non-profits realize that – at least those that are fairly professional or better.

      2. The Goldfinch*

        I think lots of times people who run non profits get muddled in their thinking because their mission is to help people in need. So the attitude from the leadership is, “We can’t shut down! People need us!” without thinking that if you ask your employees to work for free, they are going to end up in need themselves.

        Plus, and I’ve seen this happen first hand, the executive director is often someone quite charismatic, with knowledge of and passion for the NPO’s mission, but very little (if any) experience running an organization. They are seen as a valuable part of the community, because the mission is legitimately important, but are crap at the practical aspects of employing people. The board is often filled with people who fit a similar profile, and well, it can all go downhill quickly, after enough of the actually competent employees decide they are tired of propping up a dysfunctional place.

        1. fposte*

          Some of the most poignant ones I know of are when somebody wants to respond to a loss–they’ve created a foundation after they lost a family member to a disease or disaster, that kind of thing. And obviously the personal commitment and sense of mission there is huge, but it doesn’t always translate in the ability to run an organization; then when things start going sour, it feels like your original loss is being dismissed.

          1. BRR*

            I think the same thing every time this happens! Beyond the initial influx of donations, what the long-term plan?

            1. fposte*

              Yup. And there’s no way to warn them off without sounding like you’re diminishing the loss. I’ve seen a few advice columnists manage it, but they got asked first, and I don’t think everybody asks first.

          2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

            Yes, I’ve had to gently deter a family member from creating a foundation to honour a child. Her thinking was that family and friends would fund it forever. I persuaded her to get involved with the umbrella organization of the disease she wanted to help.

            1. Helena*

              This is s great approach. If family members want to set up a memorial fund, a specific named research grant or patient benevolent fund (or annual memorial bake sale, whatever your budget allows) under the aegis of an established charity is much more likely to have an impact than an inexperienced two-man local NPO.

              You get access to the major charity’s publicity, organisational skills, and established followers. Far less likely to fizzle out as other people move on with their lives (and more distant friends and colleagues of the deceased will move on and forget, sad to say).

        2. CRM*

          You hit the nail on the head, this was my exact experience working for a small non-profit straight out of college. Executive Director (my boss) was great at fundraising, passionate about the mission, and absolutely terrible at managing.

          1. Emily K*

            There’s actually lingo for this in the nonprofit world – “Founder’s Syndrome.” A charismatic founder who may have been great at running a 2-3 person operation with a few volunteers in a lax/informal environment, but doesn’t have the skills to manage a larger, complex, formal organization, and is too personally invested in the organization to trust anyone else to run it. As a result the org will either always be limited to the small scale the founder can manage, or the founder will grow beyond their capacity and run the org into the ground. (Or often, both at the same time, when the org grows beyond the founder’s capacity but is also continuously missing out on opportunities to expand their reach and efficacy due to mismanagement.)

        3. Yay commenting on AAM!*

          Yes, I used to get this *all the time* in the nonprofit world. I ran a nonprofit aquatics program, so some of the things I got this for were safety issues:
          “Well if the pool is closed because someone threw up, the underprivileged kids who can’t afford lessons except through this one particular program won’t get to swim and that’s not fair to them.”
          “Well the rental camp can only afford to pay for one lifeguard, so let’s have them swim with only one lifeguard. It’s not fair to the kids that the safety regs require four lifeguards for 80 camp kids when camp can’t afford them, then the kids don’t get to swim and that’s unfair to poor people.”

          Me: Um. Pools are dangerous? We have rules so people don’t die? Disappointed kids are better than dead ones? Remember?

          1. stump*

            Although what I’m hearing here (and what I don’t think they realize they’re saying) is that they don’t think poor kids deserve safe pools… :/

      3. CoveredInBees*

        Soooo many reasons…

        The most benign is that NPOs tend to be so “mission driven” that it becomes a part of hiring criteria in every position, regardless of whether that makes sense. I don’t need to know everything about the tsetse fly or have experience handing out nets to run payroll for a malaria organization. It gets worse higher up in management. You get people who have been doing program work for ages (wonderful, useful work!) but have no experience managing different departments or fundraising or doing anything an ED actually spends their time on. Meanwhile, someone who has the skills and could learn the mission-specific info isn’t considered for the job. Also, people get pushed into wearing multiple hats. One year, most of my office got hit with unexpected tax bills because our payroll person (who had been doing 4 other roles and was thrown into payroll) didn’t know that there was a municipal tax. She didn’t live in the same city, so she had no idea this was a thing. Also, legal advice? That’s probably coming from a board member or a connection with a board member who is volunteering their time as available.

        The mission focus also leads people (both inside the NPO and donors) to be indignant at the idea people need to get paid for their work. *Surely* they work because they care. Yes, they work because they care but they still have bills to pay. Plenty of people use it to excuse bad behavior within the organization because they “doing so much good.”

        I refuse to return to the non-profit world.

        1. Emily K*

          Over my nonprofit career, my observation has been that the HR, IT, and Finance department hires tend to be the most dicey precisely because you don’t need passion for the cause to work in one of those departments, so the org competing for the same workers as big for-profit companies who can all afford to pay better…which means that a lot of times those departments are getting the for-profit world’s scraps, people who were passed over in the for-profit world and couldn’t get a better-paying offer than the nonprofit one. Whereas in a mission-driven role like program work, comms, and fundraising, you’re more likely to see people who *could* earn more but are weighting other factors more heavily than pay in their job search.

          Mission-driven and talented aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, and the better a nonprofit can pay the more they avoid this trap (somebody tell that to the donors who hate overhead, please), and I’ve worked with some great HR/IT/Finance professionals in the nonprofit world who were both mission-driven and talented. It just seems to be a lot less common in those departments than in the mission-based roles.

          1. fposte*

            Some of what you say extends to academia, too. There are areas where we can compete with for-profit and areas where we just lose out.

          2. JB*

            This is a very good point. I also think that it’s more common in the nonprofit world to have situations where there’s a one-person HR/IT/Finance “department”.

      4. pleaset*

        “a huge for profit corporation”

        I think size is a big part of it. In the for-profit world if we includes small restaurants and shops, we would probably see a large amount of craziness as well. Also some start-ups.

      5. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        I’ve known any number of for profit businesses that didn’t pay employees, From gas stations to restaurants. Usually, they were smaller companies and I also knew for-profit companies that wrote paychecks that bounced, robbed the employees’ pension plans to meet payroll, etc. Tons of dishonesty in the for profit bsinesses.

        1. fposte*

          Restaurants also seem to take the prize when it comes to shutting down overnight without telling employees, too.

          1. whingedrinking*

            For-profit education tends to be sketchy too, in my experience. Not always – some organizations are great – but in my city there was an especially famous incident where the teachers unionized, collective bargaining was futilely attempted for about ten months, and the teachers went on strike. The day they were supposed to come back and negotiate an end to the labour stoppage, everyone from the faculty to the non-teaching staff to the students found out, by means of a computer-printed notice taped to the front doors, that the school was shutting down permanently. So, yeah.

      6. Fleahhhh*

        Yeah I have worked in nonprofits my whole career (aside from some random service industry and teaching gigs) and they run the spectrum from fully professional, competent, HIGHLY adherent to legal standards to completely haphazard and flying by the seat of the pants.

        I am glad to say that MOST of the nonprofits I’ve worked for are of the first type and these are usually the larger, more “institutional” agencies.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      My husband works for a startup and for the most part they’re willing to pay people a decent salary – not top of market, but definitely competitive. (They’ve been in existence for about 3.5 years now and have seen some success.)

      However, the CEO still occasionally seems offended that people want money. They try to partner with other companies to offer better services, and he has pushed back on some partner agreements that asked for a significant commitment from the company, saying something to the effect of “they should want to do it out of the good of their hearts.” He’s also stated that job candidates who try to negotiate must not *really* want the job.

      (They also suck at hiring in general, but that’s a whole other post.)

      1. Rainy*

        My late husband worked for a small consulting firm back in the 90s (that would probably be called a startup today) that did the following:

        Issue the monthly paychecks only on the nearest Friday at 5:05. Once hub got to the bank before they locked the doors Friday night, and on Monday morning everyone’s paycheck bounced. It turned out that the owner had the Fridays at 5:05 policy because he didn’t transfer money into the payroll account until Monday morning.

        Promise health insurance and give vouchers for flu shots. Oh, and no PTO at all, even sick time.

        The owner would walk around and slap people on the back of the head if he saw them “reading on his time”. They were reading manuals and documentation.

        Underbid on contracts “to make sure we win” and then promise unrealistic delivery dates on the expectation that his (exempt, salaried) employees would work 20 hour days.

        That dude was the worst. He also hit on me at a happy hour where spouses were invited, and then asked hub to make me set him up with some of my single friends.

          1. Rainy*

            Oh yes. Unfortunately due to the lack of health insurance he ended up having to leave without a next job lined up so he could have major surgery. Whoops.

        1. hayling*

          My husband had the same problem with checks bouncing. The owner would keep them in meetings until 6pm on Friday. He would go to the company’s bank Saturday morning and cash the check and then go deposit it at his bank! The company was doing poorly, and the owner fled the state shortly after my husband left.

          1. Michelle*

            yeah, I don’t get this. My dad told me when i was a kid that anyone that lays unwanted hands on me has no reason to complain about retaliation. . He also taught me retaliation must be severe enough to prevent further contact and that he would never ever blame me and I would never be in trouble for defending myself . I don’t get that there are bosses or coworkers that get away with this more than once but reading this blog it happens so often i can only guess a lot of people need self defense training and some good therapy.

            1. Rainy*

              My late husband was a martial arts practitioner and instructor. He didn’t hit the guy back because he could have seriously injured or killed him, and as a practitioner of a full-contact martial art, the burden was on him at all times to be in control, since he could literally kill people with not only his hands but also random objects in arm’s reach.

              If it’s me, I can hit someone back. I’m a white woman and present pretty high femme, and the cops aren’t going to look at me when they arrive and assume I started it. Not everyone has that option.

    4. Marie*

      A friend gave us “this is not my hat” for our recent baby shower & now I understand and laud your profile picture. Particularly on a comment about wage theft!

  2. Myrin*

    Is the picture meant to be the old boss chasing after OP? Because if so, that’s absolutely hilarious to me for some reason.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I was just coming to comment on how much I adore that photo paired with that article – it is just incredible. Like a slasher film, where the killer is always following you and always finds you, only it’s your ex-boss.

  3. Observer*

    Oh heavens, I remember the NPO one! Did we ever see an update to that?

    How does an ED even THINK this is ok? And how does a Board allow it?

    1. Psyche*

      I don’t understand what was going though his head at all. How did he think he could just decide that the employees were donating their time for the past month?

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Yeah, it wouldn’t fly for an employee to say, “Hey, I crashed my car and need a new one. So, because of my financial hardship, I need you to pay me three times as much this month. This isn’t an advance, it’s a forfeiture of your capital. To me.”

  4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My heart skipped a beat…it’s never legal to not pay your employees. If they’re broke, they need to shut down. File bankruptcy. You cannot recover from “no wages next month! You better show up tho!” You don’t just get to ride your employees out like they’re vendors you’ll never pay. I need an adult, this stresses me out, I’m devastated that I can’t flush these floating turd “businesses” down the toilet. Oh wait they didn’t pay their water bills, no flushing for any of you unpaid employees!

    I need to lay down.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      *pay your employees for time worked. You can skip paying them after they go home of course.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      Yeah. I worked for a really new business at one point and it generated about the same income as a goldfish. When our first paycheck came around, my boss tried to get me to say that I took paid breaks that I didn’t take so he could avoid paying my coworker and myself overtime. When he finally paid us (no overtime rate though) I cashed the check immediately to make sure it didn’t bounce, and then quit. You can do a lot of shady crap but you do not mess with your employees pay.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Hallelujah it didn’t bounce!!

        I’ve seen “businesses” bounce paychecks. It’s a nightmare to imagine the people stuck with it.

        BTW folks, if they’re not paying you, they’re not remitting the taxes to the government…if you’ve been there very long that can conclude in you not getting unemployment if you ever try to collect.

        1. Lynn*

          Prior to my current job, I worked in banking. I started on the teller line right out of high school and worked on up to branch manager after college, then I moved to the back office side of things. I always felt terrible when shady employers bounced payroll checks (when the employer was our customer and when the poor employee was our customer pretty much sucked equally). And bouncing a payroll check is shady, no matter how you slice it.

          I suppose, with this case, the only small (and it is microscopic here) upside is that at least the employee knew ahead of time and hadn’t written checks out of the payroll that would then bounce and cost the employee money in addition to the lost pay. Honestly, though, most people have enough auto payments that even that advance warning wouldn’t save them from a ton of overdraft fees and late payment fees.

          1. boononybot*

            Yup, I worked at a business where we got paid every other Friday; people would rush out on their breaks to go cash their checks, because there was always a chance that the payroll account would run out of money, and whoever was late to the bank had to wait until Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Thursday…

          2. Moonbeam Malone*

            When I worked as a bank teller I remember the time we had like, ten angry dudes in our lobby who couldn’t cash their paychecks. Eventually the business owner came in and he didn’t understand why the checks he had deposited only a couple hours prior weren’t immediately ready for withdrawal. (Checks are not money, guys. We even had a line on our deposit slips stating this to avoid confusion.)

          3. starsaphire*

            My ex went to work for a brand-new restaurant once. Just opening up. Two dudes who’d never owned a restaurant before. (First big red flag.)

            A paycheck bounced. He went down to the bar and complained, and got paid out cash. (Second red flag, the size of Rhode Island.)

            Another paycheck bounced. This time *I* went down and complained, and got the money. (The red flags were taking on flashing lights, but I couldn’t tell my ex what to do.)

            Then he got hurt at work one night, and they insisted he go to the doc-in-a-box after his shift. But it was late enough at night that the doc-in-a-box was closed, so I made him go to the ER. I bet you all canNOT guess which insurance the restaurant had kinda-sorta-forgot-but-not-really to pay the premiums on?


      2. Mrs. Fenris*

        My husband’s business struggled greatly during the recession. We made payroll out of our home equity line a couple of times. You *never* just tell people you can’t pay them.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


          My beloved prior boss stopped paying himself as soon as money started drying up. He would have found capital like your husband did or close before ever saying “y’all won’t be paid, thanks for taking one for the team!”

          1. OhNo*

            My father owns his own business, and he did the same thing more than once. He no longer employs anyone (thank god, because he wasn’t very good at hiring or managing), but at least while he had employees he made damn sure they got paid.

        2. Bunny Girl*

          Yeah I think that’s what didn’t sit well with me. These people were well off, even if their new business wasn’t making any money. He shouldn’t have tried to shave down our time to avoid paying overtime. But that was enough to show me that I couldn’t trust the guy and I bounced. I wasn’t going to stick around to see what excuse he came up with the next time our pay period came up.

    3. Jadelyn*

      ESPECIALLY in fecking California, of all places! Infamous among HR folks for the strictness and overall pro-employee-ness of our labor laws! And you want to try just not paying people for their work, HERE?

      LMAO, yeah, good luck with that. I’ll be over here making popcorn and waiting for the show to start the second the CA DIR gets wind of this.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I read national HR news from a daily email blast I’m signed up on…the stories of places in California getting caught…have mercy.

        The Labor and Industries department up here also sends out “shame” mails to let everyone know when a big fine or ban is placed. A construction company recently got perma banned from public bidding and owed employees 159000 in unpaid wages. They thought they could just not pay prevailing wages L.O

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I’m a Shark Tank watching, The Profit obsessed business nerd.

            I’m angry at Texas and upset Austin can’t have mandatory paid sick leave…

            It’s Wolters Kluwer email blasts. I can’t find a place to sign up…they may be done since we’ve done their webinars prior to my arrival. It was just coming to my shared box, like Christmas for Business Nerds.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’ve shared this story here before. In the early 2000s, about a dozen of my friends all worked for the same startup that its owner ran into the ground within a year. They all started there in the spring of 2000, and in the late summer – early fall, they stopped getting paid. But, “you better show up tho!” So they’d show up every day and spend all day job-searching on the company internet. I mean, what else are you supposed to do? One by one they would find work and leave. They were all gone by early 2001. I’m puzzled that OP’s employer apparently expects a different outcome. And in California, where the cost of living in insane. They need to shut down now, because now that they have made it official that they are not paying people, they will shut down in a few months no matter what.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Argh. I’m glad they all found jobs eventually.

        I’ve seen companies die from the inside. I’m essentially The Man Behind The Curtain. But I’m a controller. I’ll be the first to tell people to run and let me know if they need a reference.

        I spent hours at 19 on the phone with a colleague I’m another city when the business buckled. Only one payroll bounced, it immediately was fixed before layoffs and closures rolled out. I’ll never ever not deal with this crap and stay silent, not even at 19 as an assistant. And my boss was a good man, he lost everything but never ever took advantage of the innocent.

        I don’t do sneaky shady villain “entrepreneurs”. The risk in business is solely on the shoulders of ownership.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Yikes. I worked for a small HR consulting company in the mid-80s, and cash flow was less than impressive. The economy was still in recovery and we knew we were in low water. The owner called a meeting to describe our situation – which we appreciated – and then asked if we needed to be paid for the next 3-6 months. We all said we needed *something* but could defer OT, commissions, and/or bonuses. He immediately became combative and petulant, saying we were not supportive of his vision and didn’t have the company’s best interests at heart. He expected us to give him our very best efforts to match the blood, sweat, and tears he invested in his company. He said he was humiliated and hurt, and wouldn’t forget our attitudes when he ‘turned this ship around.’

      I wasn’t the first to find another job, but I was one of several. The ship sank soon after. If I’m going to bleed, sweat, and cry over something, it’ll be my own business.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Unless he’s exchanging equity for your unpaid time, I’d drink his alligator tears each morning.

        I had a boss claim to take a pay cut to keep us afloat. I was the accountant. Spoiler: he didn’t. I hate everyone who pulls that sob story “suffer for meeeeeeee and my empire!!!” crud. No. I’ve got my own castle to build, dude.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            It drastically depends on circumstances.

            My boss stopped taking pay from his company but his wife had a job that paid all the bills.

            My mom’s wages have always been savings. Even now, they could live off dad’s pension.

            Not everyone is a paycheck away from eviction but a huge amount are, I always assume someone needs every dime regardless of their reality.

            I’ve had a person get shorted (accident) and I called my boss at home and hustled to get their balance. Boss was like “this couldn’t wait????” “maybe but that’s not my call, this is his money, we need to give it to him NOW not Monday.”

            I also want to fight every accounting department who sits on reimbursements. You hand me a receipt, you get a check by end of day, barring the check signer being on Mars that day.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Yes. I feel like a lot of higher-ups get comfortable with their concomitantly higher wages and forget what it’s like to have a lifestyle where a $10 underpayment means the lights getting shut off because you couldn’t make the power bill, but I’ve been there recently enough that I really feel for staff who are caught in that kind of situation. So for us, no matter how small the difference is, if we find an issue where someone got underpaid, we let the employee determine the urgency for us. We tell them how much it is, and give them the choice to either get it right away, or on the next payroll. And if they say “I really need that now” then come hell or high water there will be a check in their hands that day.

              We had a fiasco with our (at the time new) payroll system a couple of years ago, right around New Year’s. I don’t recall the details, but I think it was something like system crash delaying our payroll processing so we weren’t able to get our ACH file sent out to Fed to be processed by the pre-holiday deadline, but whatever the details were, the upshot of it was that people weren’t going to get their check until like the 4th or 5th of January. Immediately, the VP of HR sent an all-staff email that said basically, “Hey, pay is gonna be delayed – if this is going to cause financial hardship for anyone, let me know right away and we’ll cut you a manual check for your paycheck amount so you can get it deposited or cashed today.” There were a handful of folks that took him up on it, and I was very very glad that the company was willing to make sure people were taken care of that way.

              1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                I’m truly happy your team gets it!

                My partner worked for Giant Bigger Than God Company for a hot minute. He quit because they seemingly forgot his pay the first pay day and weren’t able to help at the warehouse level. This FUBAR company outsources HR, he had to call, then was told it wasn’t lost…he was just on a completely different pay schedule than every single one in the building. So he waited…it didn’t show up. It was a nightmare of HR help desk BS to get paid.

                Then he quit. Gave everyone “in charge” his resignation.

                3 days later an email came through from HR asking why he hasn’t shown up for his shifts and threatening to terminate him for job abandonment…after already quitting. I can’t wrap my mind around the nonsense.

                We were long distance for a few months to transition to another city. I had to wire him money to pay bills while waiting for the issue to be resolved.

                Meanwhile having done payroll/HR/accounting for almost 2 decades, I was even more enraged knowing it was sheer incompetence at work.

                1. pcake*

                  Years ago, my husband’s new job forgot to pay him, and that made us very nervous. Luckily it just was a clueless error, but you don’t have to be one paycheck from the curb to want to be paid.

  5. Kittymommy*

    I am agog at that one!! How on Earth does a CEO think “nope, not going to pay you this month”?? And in California of all places. Was there an update on this one?

    1. Someone Else*

      When I read that it was so preposterous I kept trying to come up with a logical explanation that might make sense. Like maybe they meant they were going to furlough for a month? (but that seems ridiculous) or maybe they meant they were cutting all execs’ salaries by 1/12 (but that wouldn’t be phrased as “not paying you in January”), it’s just so bad and so DUMB I keep grasping at straws, even though I know I should know by now that some people just suck.

    2. Galahad*

      I have seen this, and have it legal too.

      The key is that you announce it BEFORE they do the work, and
      -give them the option to quit January 1, 2019 (collecting EI, based on “effective dismissal”), or
      -work (out of the goodness of their hearts), or
      -take vacation in January (paid, or unpaid based on accrued vacation previously earned) and resume work in February.

      The vacation option was pretty common the times that I have seen this before. The next most common is “seasonal shut down” and “seasonal layoffs” which are crappy if you did not warn people when they were hired.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I’m actually a bit confused with the wording in this letter. I originally read it as they weren’t going to get paid for the work they were going to do in January, in which case that work hasn’t happened yet, so it would be legal since they WERE told ahead of time, before they did that work. I’ve reread it a couple of times and it’s still not clear if it’s that or if they’re not getting their paycheck IN January for work done in December.

        But no one else seems to be reading it that way. I’m hoping Alison can chime in here with clarification.

  6. Cat wrangler*

    If a company was unable to meet the wage bill, I think I’d be polishing my resume up and looking. Don’t they have reserves?

    1. Emily K*

      IIRC, the OP was in their first job – so, they both weren’t sure if this was normal/OK because they had nothing to compare to, and also – probably they didn’t have much savings being in their first job.

      1. ISuckAtUserNames*

        Wait, so the LW got hired as a DIRECTOR as their FIRST JOB?!? That alone should have set off alarm bells.

        I get that Director might mean something different in the non-profit world than corporate one, but come on.

        1. CoveredInBees*

          It is definitely different from the for-profit world. Outside of very large non-profits, you won’t find something comparable due in part to having a (legally-required) Board of Directors. Honestly, it can mean different things from one org to the next. We had a “director” of HR in my last non-profit gig and she was the only non-program employee they had for an organization of 10.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          But as a new to the workforce, 20 something, you don’t always know you don’t just skyrocket to a high position.

          I found myself with a business dumped in my lap at 23. But the thing is I figured it out and they weren’t broke AF. Just dying down. Never ever had a finance charge of bounced check. But I’m a number wizard and fought for every dime to come in and pinched the pennies going out.

          1. MsSolo*

            I dunno, I think a lot of people do. When my sister’s friend suddenly found herself running at pub at 21 having started as a barmaid six months before, she was very aware that this wasn’t normal, and wasn’t some kind of reward for being the best goshdarn barmaid. Brewery couldn’t find anyone else willing to be a landlord and everyone above her quit.. She made it work for several years, though I think she was very relieved when she quit to go to university.

        3. Ali G*

          It is a little. But smaller orgs might hire people with inflated titles to make look bigger than they are. I would doubt their salary reflected the title.
          I’ve been a director at 2 NPs (including my current job) and 1 for-profit. All positions are different and depend more on the structure and hierarchy than anything else.
          For example in my current job, I am a Director, but I don’t oversee any staff. I report to the CEO and am classified as an Executive. At the other NP, I was also a Director with no staff, but I was lower on the totem pole (reported to a VP who reported to the CEO). At the for-profit, I was a Director that oversaw 4 staff and reported to a VP who reported to another VP who reported to the CEO.
          So as far as my experience, a job title can mean many different things.

          1. Emily K*

            Yep, I was hired as a Director at my second job. The org had 4 employees: An Executive Director, a Communications and Legislative Director, a Membership and Marketing Director(me), and a Legislative Policy Analyst.

            The thing is even that fresh in my career I wasn’t under the impression that the work I was doing was comparable to a Director in a 50-person or 500-person organization. It just made sense that because I was running the entire fundraising and marketing effort alone, of course I was the Director of that area.

            It’s really common in the nonprofit world to have so few staff that everyone is a Director of an entire area with no staff under them, and it’s also fairly common for those small nonprofits to not be able to hire very experienced people into those roles. In fact, it’s how a lot of us who now work in higher-level roles at more sophisticated, established nonprofits gained the experience that we were able to parlay into our current jobs. By being willing to take on a huge job with very little experience, and figure it out on the job, and getting results that were good enough to put on a resume and tell a bigger org: see, I can do this!

    2. Cat wrangler*

      I didn’t phrase my earlier comment very well- I meant that the company should have reserves of cash to pay bills, not the OP.l having reserves.

  7. designbot*

    for LW1, while I agree that she should collect her thoughts and provide concrete reasons, I also think that “I left my old job specifically to get away from her, and winding up working for her again would really be a worst case scenario for me” should also count as a valid reason and I wouldn’t shy away from saying it.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      . . . that’s kind of s/he said, s/he said, though. “I don’t like this” isn’t an objective reason.

      1. fposte*

        I had the same initial reaction, but then I realized Designbot is pretty clear that that’s in addition to the objective reasons. Thinking about the people I worked with, that could actually add a valuable dimension–manager sucked in the following ways, and it was bad enough that I left specifically to get away from them. If you’re a solid and trusted co-worker, that both underscores the effect of the quantitative things you’re saying and legitimately raises the possibility that Bad Manager’s arrival will mean the loss of good people.

        So I wouldn’t lead with it, and I’d play it by ear depending on culture and relationships, but I could see it having a place.

        1. Rainy*

          This is reminding me a little of Small Industry Rockstar saying “if you hire my HS bully I’ll leave”–if you have enough credit in an organization it can work, although I agree the offering the objective “here’s what I witnessed and why I think this person will be a very bad fit for our goals” first is extremely important.

        2. boo bot*

          Yeah, I would start with the objective reasons, but I think it’s actually really important to say that part – it takes a lot for someone to leave a job because of one specific person, I think (even if it’s the boss).

          There’s that relationship phenomenon/cliche where one partner raises the same issue over and over, and the other partner halfheartedly promises to change for years and years, and never does, and finally partner 1 leaves over it. And partner 2 says, “Well, if I’d known you were SERIOUS I would have changed!”

          For the workplace equivalent, telling New Boss, “Old Boss was actually the reason I left,” is how you convey the magnitude of the issue. If NB wants to hire OB, it’s possible to rationalize around or dismiss whatever behaviors you describe (I mean, maybe – it sounds like they were pretty bad!). But if you show there was a serious consequence to OB’s actions – namely, driving at least one employee to quit – it gives NB something that’s harder to dismiss.

          1. fposte*

            I wouldn’t say if it I didn’t have cred at the new job; there are a lot of people where it wouldn’t really matter. But I can immediately think of a number of colleagues whose statement like that would tip the hiring balance.

            1. boo bot*

              Oh, absolutely, this definitely depends on the OP having credibility. In this case, I’m urging the path of full disclosure because they’ve got the OP running the department in the interim and they’ve given her the go-ahead to apply for the position herself.

        3. WS*

          I had an employee say “if you hire them, I’ll quit” about a possible new hire, based on what sounded like personality conflicts. Since the employee was not the type of person to have personality conflicts, we listened, did not hire that person, and they found other employment. And since this is a small town, we then found out when they were arrested for stealing $310,000 from their new job.

      2. voyager1*

        Anything that she says is really a she said vs he said though…. it will really come down to if they believe her or not.

        If she has real standing she could say him or me. We had whole trilogy of letters from LW that stemmed from about that last year.

      3. designbot*

        No it isn’t, but as fposte mentions I’m advocating a both-and, not an either-or approach. Also, what’s objective about this amounts to, hey if we hire this person it’s going to be a problem for one of our existing team members. That’s not necessarily veto-level consideration unless LW has mad social capital there, but it’s one aspect that a reasonable manager would take into account.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        Sure, but they clearly value this person’s opinion and if hiring an unknown person would mean losing an employee you know and like then that would be enough for a lot of people to pass on hiring the old boss.

    2. Lucille2*

      Saying she left the job because of old boss doesn’t provide the reason why though. Why was she such a terrible boss? That’s what Alison is suggesting, some unemotional reasons that her new company will consider. If she just states OldBoss is an awful human, period, what does that really mean? Alison is simply recommending OP articulate those reasons more productively to improve her success of getting the message across.

      1. MassMatt*

        And the LW is on the hiring committee, I get that it is an emotional issue and maybe she was ambushed or unprepared to explain things but multiple times? Form your thoughts, use your words , and explain the reasons why old boss is unsuitable.

        Honestly, if I saw someone with a perfect resume and someone on the search Committee blackballed them and was unable to explain why, I would wonder why they were on the search committee.

    3. mcr-red*

      And I’m not saying they are going to take LW’s opinion into consideration, but saying, “I left my old job specifically to get away from her, and if she’s here, I won’t be,” MIGHT be persuasive. (Also might not at all.) And I wouldn’t throw that gauntlet unless you really mean it.

      We once had another branch manager who was absolutely VILE to the employees at my branch, and I don’t think much better with their own branch’s employees. At various times, that branch manager was considered for a regional manager job, so to oversee several branches in my area. I was one of many people at my branch who straight up told our manager, “If Vile Branch Manager gets this job, I will quit.” I’m pretty sure all of that got back to important people. Vile Branch Manager never got any promotions and eventually got downsized.

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      While I agree that if it really came down to “her or me” in the OP’s mind, she really hadn’t been there long enough to build up the capital to draw such a line in the sand so openly without hurting her own reputation as being dramatic or unreasonable. The reasons she does divulge should be very business-related and not personal about why this manager is so bad.

      1. Artemesia*

        I agree she is on sand here, but. would very clearly lay out the objective reasons this boss is terrible AND would say that s/he was the primary reason for leaving that company. AND I would start a soft job search immediately; get the ducks in a row and start identifying potential moves — even if she waits a year, it is time to map out options.

    5. Troutwaxer*

      The important thing in this situation is to write up the discussion of why the old boss shouldn’t be hired at home, on your own computer, and print it out at home. Don’t send it as an email!!

      1. Artemesia*

        yes. If this person IS hired, you don’t want that floating around — I would do it orally. Even that can bite you. My worst boss experience was with someone who was apparently informed that I had opposed his hiring; I didn’t know him personally so I had simply supported another candidate, but he was resolutely hostile to me such that other people were bemused by it and his behavior in meetings towards me. Luckily I had the capital in the organization to weather it, but if I had not, I think I would have lost my job.

    6. CoveredInBees*

      I think this would depend significantly on how much social capital OP has in the company. Issues between specific individuals can open up speculation that it was also OP’s fault or that the problems wouldn’t recur with other employees. I agree that it should be a valid reason, but a lot of people don’t want to weigh interpersonal issues in hiring decisions.

      They might be of the mistaken belief that being professional is being able to suck it up and get along fine with everyone. Following this (bad) assumption and assuming old boss knows OP is there, it could be construed as OP being more of a problem than old boss if old boss is willing to head a team that OP is on. I want to stress that this is flawed thinking but I’ve seen it at work many times.

    7. Trillian*

      To avoid the he-said, she-said, “it’s just a personality conflict” dismissal, try to frame it in terms of corporate risk. Was there unusually high turnover under this boss, particularly of people with good reputations and long tenure? Did the boss have a habit of coming out with statements that could have been the subject of a legal complaint of discrimination or harassment? Did they put things in writing that should not have been put in writing? Does their social media exhibit poor judgement that could translate into legal risk? Did they have a sudden departure from a previous workplace that suggested they were fired?

      One of the people on my ‘they’re in, I’m gone’ list is was a bully who divided to conquer and in months had destroyed sound relationships between divisions who had worked smoothly before. He also undermined the company’s ability to deal with an underperforming vendor on a critical project because the vendor could produce his abusive emails in response to threats of legal action. He was here one day, gone the next. The other’s cluelessness about professional norms extended to disregard of the privacy of underage people. They were managed out of the highest position they gained—supposed restructuring, followed by advertising the position once they were gone.

      Good interviewers will use those as the basis to ask probing questions.

    8. MK*

      Unless the OP is an extremely valued employee (which is unlikely given how short a time she has been working there) and is prepared to quit over this, no, the fact that she left her her old job to get away from the old boss is not a valid reason for not hiring him. If the OP wants to mention it to emphasize how bad the situation got, she can do so, but it must be an additional point, not a reason in itself.

    9. Ask me how I know these things*

      I went through a horrific situation with a boss and quit over it. It took me a long time to be able to explain, concisely, exactly why it was so horrible.

      My guidance: be very, very concise with statements saying that the person is terrible, give concrete examples that are not based on drama or your work performance, and place emphasis on the ways in which you are able to work with people you dislike.

      “I left that job because my manager was verbally abusive and incapable of being professional. Several times a week, he told me he was going to kill my dog. He often left work early to engage in personal – and salacious – hobbies, and would dump his remaining work on our desks. There’s only so many times you can stay late because your boss is at a strip club on company time. He did not allow his subordinates to take PTO. I can work with people whom I dislike – that’s what professional norms are for – but cannot work with people who do not understand how to act like adults in a workplace. This isn’t an issue of me not liking the guy; he just cannot comport his behaviour with professional norms.”

      I think the OP should make a list of instances in which the manager was terrible. Cross off the ones that just take too long to explain. Cross off the ones that could be interpreted as being about her performance, unless the standards are objectively unreasonable. Add in ones about what he did with other people.

      1. Lucille2*

        I like the idea of writing things down in a list, especially when it’s coming from an emotional place. I would add asking a friend outside the organization to read the list and be prepared for honest, constructive feedback. Reading your comment about reasons for leaving the job, and I still hear the emotional side of it. The facts are all in there, but it is no secret your disdain for this guy. Maybe that’s ok, maybe it’s not. That all depends on the work environment and relationship with the new manager. You certainly raise some valid reasons for not hiring the manager, but I would leave out words that come out of personal opinion or values and stick to the professionalism issues.

          1. Trouble*

            To be fair, I’d question your judgement if you passed me this list. It’s your word against his stuff that he made threats and went to strip clubs on company time. If you said he was often unprofessional in tone and language when he spoke to you, was difficult to work with in personal interactions, and missed a lot of time at short notice which drastically increased your workload and made it impossible to get his input on the work requiring it, which in turn often held up the team delivering the work required, that would say something very similar without bringing your moral judgements into it. They might be valid but in a new workplace where they barely know you and don’t know him, they won’t be sure if you’re being overly judgy and touchy or if he really was the boss from hell. I agree with Lucille2, this still has way too much personal baggage to be used to a new boss as a reason not to hire someone.

    1. Claire*

      Yeah, these sites are a nightmare hellscape of ads. I’ve given up even trying, it’s too annoying, I refuse to jump through hoops to be able to read their content.

        1. ElspethGC*

          I use AdBlock Plus and it works, although there a few ads I have to block manually (telling ABP “Yes, this is an element I want blocking”) because they’ve been jigged so they don’t read as ads.

  8. Turquoisecow*

    I’ve definitely applied at places with the “write a short blurb about what makes you ‘unique’” on their application. I was at a loss as to what to write. Sure there are plenty of things I could say, but how is that relevant to the job?

    It seemed like they were trying to get you to say something that would catch their eye. “Oh, [applicant] likes water sports and has competed in water skiing tournaments! That’s interesting, I love water skiing. Let’s bring her in!” But, not knowing anything about the potential employer, how would you know what would catch their eye? Maybe he doesn’t like water sports. Maybe I write about how I have a huge collection of DVDs but he doesn’t like the movies I mention, or he thinks I’m a nerd.

    It sounds like they’re trying to get you to open up personally on the application, prior to the personal questions in an interview, but it comes off as disingenuous. Ask questions about hobbies in interviews, but don’t put it on the application.

    1. RVA Cat*

      So glad you specified water skiing. Unless of course the job was with a Russian hotel chain or a former UK spy….

    2. pleaset*

      “I doubt I’m unique with regards to this job, though I think i’d be excellent at it.

      Perhaps I am unique in not pretending I am unique.”

    3. hayling*

      I am so glad that this has died out. It was one particular application platform, Jazz (formerly The Resumator) that had this question as a default. Fortunately they have moved out of favor.

      1. Lalaith*

        It hasn’t, though. I was job searching up until a few months ago, and I got it a few times. Not many, thankfully.

    4. Emily K*

      I think you should still answer them in a work-related way. What’s different about how you approach work that would make a difference in what kind of workplaces you want to be in?

      Maybe what makes you unique at work is how much passion you have for learning more about your field, and how you spend hours every week reading whitepapers and watching webinars and you’re known in your department for all the professional development emails you forward to colleagues whose interests you think match. If that describes you, wouldn’t you want to get screened out of a job that didn’t value professional development or allow you any time for it? And knowing that about you would definitely make you a more appealing candidates to companies that have a high-achievement culture and expect their workers to stay abreast of field developments.

      Maybe you really value collaboration in the workplace, and you’ve gone out of your way to establish working relationships with others in your department that your predecessor never worked closely with, and as a result of collaborating more closely you’ve been able to improve processes or save time. Another thing where if that describes you, you most likely want workplaces that are really cutthroat and competitive to screen you out, and it’s also going to make you more attractive to workplaces that put a high value on collaboration and cooperation.

      I think Alison has given an example before where she told a job her quirk was that she compulsively copy-edited documents even when she wasn’t asked to, because she couldn’t stand to let the document go public with errors. If that’s you, you don’t want to work for a boss who will always be smacking your hand and telling you to stay in your lane and stop copy-editing her work, but a boss who would value a second set of eyes on her work will find it appealing that you come with that function built-in as a value-added bonus.

    5. Lalaith*

      I once got so annoyed with that question that I just went for the snark. I answered “My fingerprints. And my DNA. :)”

      I wish I remembered who that application was for. I don’t think I was contacted for an interview.

      1. Cassandra*

        “According to, I am the only {my full name} in the United States! Unique enough for ya?”

        (Happens to be true of me, not that this particular flavor of uniqueness is actually all that rare.)

    6. Audiophile*

      Yeah, I definitely made jokes when I came across that question. Never remember getting any call backs. Not the end of the world.

  9. DaniCalifornia*

    In 150 characters or fewer, tell us what makes you unique. Try to be creative and say something that will catch our eye!”

    UGH! I just filled out an application that asked that. I must have typed, deleted, and retyped the answer 50 times. I finally just typed something and hit send because it was causing such a headache. I almost hope I don’t hear anything from that company. I really hope someone in their hiring department reads Ask A Manager and recognizes they should stop doing this!

    1. Karen from Finance*

      What drives me crazy is how on EARTH do they expect all of their answers to be unique? By definition they won’t. And how does being similar to someone else make you less qualified? What if you seem witty but you just copy pasted a tweet you saw that day?

      Actually NVM what drives me crazy about this is all of this. Kill it with fire.

        1. PB*

          One of my pet peeves is when someone says, “This is very unique,” or “This is so unique.” There isn’t a uniqueness scale; it’s unique or it isn’t.

          I’d interview you for that answer. Then again, I’d never ask this.

      1. sacados*

        It’s a question that seems to be included by default on one specific careers/hiring site service. Since it’s opt-out, I honestly think most companies don’t even realize that the question is included — and even if they do, probably don’t actually pay any attention to what is written there. I very much doubt it has any impact at all on hiring decisions — unless someone managed to include something truly impressive and stunnning in there.

  10. Preggers*

    #3 This is common because of bad Applicant Tracking Systems and employers who listen to bad advice. We used Jazz HR at my old company. They rolled out this question with an update several years ago. The company has to manually turn the question off. We didn’t realize this at first until we started receiving applications with responses to that question. We were mortified and immediately called them to turn it off. Jazz was appalled that we didn’t like their question because they were really proud of the new question! And that is why I no longer purchase ATS from companies have no knowledge of recruiting or hiring.

    1. EH*

      Oh man, that explains so much. I kept seeing that question on applications for jobs that totally did not have the right vibe for it when I was hunting earlier this year. Bless you for turning it off in yours!

      1. Ali G*

        I’m picturing some buttoned-up corporate lawyer type seeing this question on an application and just having no freaking clue what to do with it.

    2. Oh man*

      That’s ridiculous that this option was manually added to your application process and you had to CALL to turn it off.

      1. sacados*

        It’s required, unfortunately. I’m on a job hunt and several of the places I’ve applied at use that Jazz HR service so I see the question a lot.

    1. Karen from Finance*

      I get it, but that’s a double-edged sword. It can make OP look bad instead, like she quit on a tantrum over not being able to get along with someone. She needs to be able to actually back it up with solid reasons.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Only it breaks the rule about not talking bad about your former place of business. It opens a can of “ORLY?” that most don’t want to pour out.

      1. Friday afternoon fever*

        There is suuuuch a wide gulf between bad-mouthing and stating relevant facts.

        If I am trying to hire you I don’t want to hear a bunch about your boss’s flaws. If I am trying to hire your former boss, I would absolutely value hearing a bunch about your former boss.

        It’s not a blanket no-tolerance policy; it’s a rule that should be sensibly applied.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        It’s like the difference between complaining about a coworker and explaining why that coworker’s actions or inactions are negatively affecting you. I think it’s totally fair to say “Ex-boss had issues with X, Y, and Z, making it difficult for me to do A and B, and ultimately I left the position over it” or similar.

  11. SB*

    For the non-profit, can’t they furlough the work/salary? Obviously if someone works they must get paid, but I was thrown since it’s November and the letter writer was referring to January. Is it a super old letter? Or are they talking about future work, in which case my mind naturally went to involuntary furlough.

    1. EnfysNest*

      Yes, it’s an old letter. The ones for Inc. always are, I think, and Alison always includes that little blurb about it – “I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them)”. I’m still not sure if this was being asked at the start of January or at the end after the work for that month had already been completed, though.

    2. Elizabeth Proctor*

      the Inc letters are usually old. “I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them).”

    3. CoveredInBees*

      This was for work already completed. The OP gets paid once a month (also illegal) and in the middle of the month (2 weeks before payday, last day of the month) is told they will not receive any salary for the entire month. *At best* they’d be put on furlough immediately and receive half of a payment for that month.

      1. Zona the Great*

        Is that a California thing? I get paid once Monthly and have had two other employers pay monthly as well. New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona.

        1. Emily K*

          Yes, each state has their own pay frequency laws and there are plenty that permit monthly payments and plenty that do not. I’m in Maryland, where you have to pay all employees at least twice every month (biweekly and semimonthly both acceptable). In DC, employees also must be paid twice every month (biweekly and semimonthly both acceptable), with exceptions for collective bargaining agreements where as infrequently as once a month is permitted.

          Over in Virginia, employees can be paid monthly or semimonthly only if they are salaried and earn at least 150% of the median salary in in Virginia, and everyone else must be paid at least once every two weeks.

          In practice because most big employers hire workers from all three jurisdictions, biweekly is very common for hourly workers even if the business is in DC or Maryland, to ensure Virginia’s standard is met if they ever hire anyone from there. Semimonthly is not uncommon for employers who only hire salaried workers, though there are plenty of employers who hire both and just pay everyone biweekly rather than have a separate payroll for hourly vs salaried employees (though some do that, too).

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Naturally California does require 2x a month. This gem of a state, it’s wonderful. I had to Google this because my mind is blown because monthly is acceptable in most other states. It’s the longest pay period allowed.

        1. Steve*

          A notable exception is that executive, administrative, and professional employees may be paid only once a month.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            That makes sense. I assume most places don’t want to do multi-pay schedules, that sounds tiresome!

    4. Steve*

      Isn’t it also illegal to pay people below minimum wage? Even if they are exempt / if it is a non-profit.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes. Only a government position would possibly be subjected to salary being held up. That’s only due to the government shutdown down crud, there is always concern military and such will have pay held because processing folks are locked out of their jobs. They aren’t being not paid due to lack of cash tho!

  12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    #4, I had the exact same thing happen a couple of years ago. We all set our goals (as was required of us) based on the workload and the understanding of the company’s near future that we had then. Then we all got hit with massive new projects, and I didn’t even remember that I had any goals set until the time came to be reviewed on how I’d met them. I just wrote, “got A done, but not B and C, because D and E became priority” and other things of that nature. My boss was very understanding (having probably had the same thing happen to his own goals that year) and it did not lower my review grades in any way.

    1. Emily K*

      Yes, that’s how it works at my employer and should in a healthy environment! The purpose of goal-setting is to focus your work and to give manager and employee a shared understanding of what success looks like. It’s not to hold someone to the exact letter of a document written 12 months ago before significant conditions changed on the ground.

  13. Karen from Finance*

    We once found our office cleaning lady in tears, turns out the company that we’re getting her services from had decided not to pay her that month. Her boss told her to take out a LOAN because the company didn’t have money. I told her to tell the boss that it’s their company, they should take out the loan.

    I was then assured by Accounting and Leadership that for us, it’s company policy to always pay wages first, whatever happens, they will never not get paid. But we couldn’t really help her because she was a subcontractor.

    Eventually she quit and I think she’s now working closer to her home, but the whole experience still makes me angry to remember.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      But did you get a new cleaning company?????

      I will drop any vendor who I know is pulling illegal stunts! I would be calling them immediately. Oh no, they may fire a lady who isn’t being paid! Cleaners make very little, that’s insanity. That poor woman.

    2. Karen from Finance*

      We didn’t get a new cleaning company. Sadly I don’t have any type of say in our vendors, and the people who make these decisions are aware so… It is what it is. There’s probably that the other cleaning lady (who is still working with us) has been working with us through this vendor for the last 10 years and is very loved here so it’s a bit more complicated.

      I can only hope they gave the company a very stern talking to.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m screaming inside.

        Not your fault naturally. Not screaming at you. But you just unburied my 3682nd reason for being in positions where I’ll wrestle a CEO and CFO in a handicap match to rid a company of this kind of thing, if I must.

        I’ve changed vendors for so much less. Vendors are a dime a dozen. I bet it’s because they’re charging a lot less than any other company. Which then leads to this nonsense.

        Flames on the side of my face.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          I feel you. And I really do want to some day be in a position where I can have people to fight over this type of thing. It really IS infuriating.

      2. Just Employed Here*

        We also had a problem with the cleaning company not paying the much loved cleaning lady her holiday pay, as they are legally obliged to do. She mentioned it to us, and the bosses got a lawyer to draft a letter to the cleaning company to pay her immediately, as it was a risk for us to use subcontrators who were breaking the law. (I’m sure there was some actual legal risk, but our bosses were mainly just pissed on her behalf…).

        She did get her holiday pay, but still had some other problems with that employer later. In the end, several years after the holiday pay incident, we switched cleaning companies, got a better contract, and discreetly passed on her details to the new company. They hired her, she continued cleaning our office, and had a much better employer after that.

        When she moved away and stopped working for that company, she left two fancy cakes in the office kitchen and a lovely letter for us.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          That is a great outcome, I’m glad it turned out so well! I wish this is how it would have gone here.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yessssssss, your boss sounds like a kindred spirit. I raise my glass to him for standing up to a bullying vendor and so glad the lady was able to leave eventually.

          Ranting aside, people in these positions (labor and service), are rarely able to stand up for their rights. They’re bound by their often impoverished or borderline impoverished situation. They don’t have any social capital to burn.

          That’s why I’m always ready to use my political capital if necessary. Worse case is the business owner doesn’t care and tells me to take my business and shove it. That’s cool. I was going to anyways and I’ll call every regulation bureau I can scrape off the internet to get them on your tail, leave scathing reviews and go for blood. It’ll cost a lot more than a person’s hundred bucks in holiday pay you’re trying to steal.

        3. MattKnifeNinja*

          As someone who worked as a worker drone (no degree/blue collar job), you’ll never know how much it means to have a higher up have your back.

          Too many times you get treated like human trash, because your job requires no book learning.

          Your crown in heaven will have many stars, or hopefully a better spin on the Karma Wheel.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          Our clients are mostly from an industry that is not usually regarded for their high ethics codes.

          This thread is making me very depressed now.

  14. lurker bee*

    Did the OP of the horrid former boss letter ever send in an update or post in the comments of the original article? I tried looking for the original but wasn’t able to find it and am hoping someone remembers or can share the link so that I can stop the shivery, skin-crawly feeling the letter induced. Thanks!

  15. WantonSeedStitch*

    Ugh, I had a nightmare about my old awful boss coming to head up the office where I work now, even though it’s a completely different industry. I remember that in that dream, everyone in the office was quitting in disgust, and I was going to do the same thing. He asked me to stick around for old times’ sake, and I was like, “NO CHANCE IN HELL, DEMON.”

    1. T. Boone Pickens*

      Haha this made me chuckle really, really hard. Thank you for that.

      For the record I would totally support you in saying this and would even chime in, “NOT TODAY DEVIL!”

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I once had a nightmare that the woman who was fired from my org a few months after I started there was re-hired, in an “oh, we made a mistake, we decided to take her back” kind of thing. In my dream I was horrified. Thing was, even though IRL I didn’t love her and was pretty happy when she was fired, she was not so bad that I would have been horrified if they re-hired her. The horror in my dream was pretty amusing.

  16. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #1 – yes, apply for the position. If you’re passed over, for someone else, that’s one thing. If, after your objections, they hire old boss for it, then it’s time for you to move on. They didn’t respect your opinion and put you in what they know is a horrendous, impossible situation. Oh, and if they hire YOU – best of all worlds.

    #4 – rather unusual, because in times where they can’t afford to make payroll, usually it’s the underlings that get stiffed first, and management always gets paid. If it’s only the directorship that’s losing a paycheck – well, as AAM said, that’s illegal, but if you’re not getting paid it’s likely that your subordinates on the line are going to experience some oddities, too — so I would find answers to those questions because if NO ONE gets paid, you’re not going to have a job, anyway…

  17. EH*

    #2: Yeah, if they don’t get paid sick leave, they’re not going to call in sick unless they’re incapacitated. It’s not okay to tell them not to come in if they’re sick if it means they won’t get paid.
    The higher-ups need to find a way to offer at least partial sick leave. It’s the smart financial move, for the reasons the OP cites – having ill workers is awful for morale and productivity, and having low morale and productivity costs the company money.

    1. CoveredInBees*

      It can also impact the clients. My son’s daycare has paid leave so that teachers can take time off when they’re sick because toddlers are walking petri dishes. This means *everyone* gets sick less often. Do the kids still get sick? Yes, because all the handwashing and nose wiping in the world won’t stop that. It is still better than many of my friend’s kids who are elsewhere. It also is more fair to people who do such a valuable job for fairly low pay overall.

      1. Artemesia*

        Next time you see a small kid with norovirus barfing cross country on an airplane and infecting everyone on the plane, note that once upon a time, airlines would let you defer a fight without charge if someone in your party was sick — now it is hundreds of dollars in change fees, so people pack up the kid and fly anyway. When my kids were young, I changed flights a couple of times when they were sick without penalty.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          But doesn’t travel insurance cover that?

          Thankfully, I’ve never had to test this so far, but I’m sure I’ve had friends being able to cancel whole vacations because one kid was sick and couldn’t fly.

          1. Vertigo*

            My mother had to deal with this once – at least in her case, they needed a doctor’s note to prove she was sick. She had a stomach virus but was in Canada and so didn’t really have a way of easily finding a doctor or getting there, so it wasn’t very helpful.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Paid sick leave laws need to be everywhere…but then Texas goes and has a Texas sized fit of course. They apply to part time. You get hours based on your hours worked, it’s the easiest system ever. Argh.

      The days I feel I’m turning too conservative, I have a talk with myself about employment laws and how much I love them.

    3. Kitty*

      Yep. I once worked somewhere that didn’t pay sick leave for the first 3 days. Most employees were on minimum wage, so this meant either people struggled in to work sick, or took like a week off, to make the first 3 unpaid sick days ‘worth it.’

    4. AnonEMoose*

      All of what EH said. I would assume it is not a question of them “wanting” their pay, but a question of needing it to keep a roof and food on the table. Back when I was temping, I’ve had to make that choice. And I’m sure some people got sick because of me.

      But…I had bills to pay and no sick leave, and no room in the budget for an unpaid day off. And most of the ones who might have gotten sick because of me were full time with benefits.

      In my world, you don’t get to not offer sick leave and then complain about people coming in sick. It’s incredibly clueless at the least, and downright cruel at the upper end of that scale.

  18. Sam Sepiol*

    #1: Alison, you usually default to female pronouns if the gender isn’t specified. In this letter, the LW (I presume deliberately) didn’t specify but you went with male. Is this because it’s an old letter from before that policy, or did you read it as male, or something else?

    Feel free to delete if too off topic!

  19. T*

    LW#1 I’ve been on your position and was part of a group of people involved in hiring a new person. My boss was adamant about bringing this horrible woman back after she had quit, but I was pretty young and didn’t know how to say “this person is pretty horrid” in a professional way. I said nothing and she of course got hired, and it was excruciatingly bad working with her. Please say something, now.

  20. Cary*

    OMG – if you can’t afford to pay your employees you can’t afford to be in business. End of story.

  21. Parenthetically*

    “I understand these guys want their pay”


    This is the most Privileged Management view of part-time work I’ve seen in a long time. Yeah pal, they want their pay because eating is better than starving and making rent is better than being evicted. Criminy.

    Maybe it’s just because I’m already feeling particularly ragey about our “systematically redistribute wealth to the wealthiest and then hope it trickles down I guess?” economy right now but this kind of crap makes me want to storm the Bastille already.

    1. Becky*

      Seriously, they don’t come in to sick just for funsies–they would rather not come to work sick either– you’ve just perpetuated a system in which being able to stay home when sick is only an option for the elite privileged.

  22. Essess*

    I’ve woken up in a panic multiple times from the same nightmare that my demon OldJob boss applied for a position in my company that would make him my boss again. I have already prepared a response if that EVER happens telling the people at my job about the vicious things she did to the people that worked for her, her complete incompetence at managing a team (her solution to the problem of tight deadlines was to implement 3 2-hour mandatory team meetings every day –early morning, mid afternoon, then 9pm including weekends – NOT JOKING about this! so I hadn’t had a single day off for several months and was working mandatory 60+ work weeks because the weekend meetings were mandatory too) and the extreme morale issues that occurred from her. I would completely honest to them that if she were hired then I’d have no choice but to look for another job immediately because of her extreme tendencies for retaliation. I’d be clear that it was THEIR final decision but I would not physically be able to work for her. I had reported all her behaviors to the director during my exit interview on my last day at OldJob and she actually stormed over to my desk a couple hours later and started screaming at me about the things I’d said to the director.

  23. KillItWithFire*

    I’ve had a HORRIBLE boss, so I sympathize with the first post. The best thing to do is discuss it unemotionally and not bring up the more unbelievable things. Sighting their biggest failures (which are easier to back up) or instances that normal at lower levels is helpful. My Horrible Boss’s behaviour was so insane that no one really beleives any of us or understands how bad it is, so people that have worked with him in the past have an ongoing support group – a lot of us haven’t worked together but we worked for this POS and we all know how bad it was.

  24. CastIrony*

    OP#5 reminds me of the time where my old boss at HotDogsandBreakfast would ask to pay me on Monday instead of Friday (my payday), but at least he kept true to his word!

    I would HATE it if I wasn’t paid for a month! I don’t care if they have hardships.

    1. Fergus*

      Yea it’s not like you can say to all your creditors would you not mind not getting paid for a month. They would say sure the electric company will shut you off, the loan on the car will default and the car will get repossessed, the mortgage will foreclose and they ill take your house, the credit cards will sue for payment. My company said they wouldn’t pay me for a month, I would say I will see you in a month, fair trade.

      Old Chinese proverb

      NO tickey, NO laundry

      1. CM*

        “Old Chinese proverb – NO tickey, NO laundry” is pretty racist… please avoid saying stuff like this that reinforces stereotypes.

        But I agree with you on the rest.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        The problem is businesses do frequently not pay their vendors for an extra 30-180 days without too much issue. It’s grotesque. They frequently abuse small businesses that allow it more than any utility or bank would ever.

        That kind of thing is why it’s brutal to see the difference between commercial debt and personal debt.

        You can file personal bankruptcy for a huge fee, so most citizens can’t and don’t. A business can shut down. Run off with millions. And the small guys who extended them a few thousand to tens of thousands of bucks in materials or services are left in the dirt. Collections is only a thing if they care and are trying to do right, etc.

        I’ve had these tyrants hurt my small time bosses who take home a good enough living, if their business thrives. One jerk skipping on a 50k invoice is a death punch to many businesses.

        So yeah…a jerk who don’t pay employees are probably playing a game to see who cracks first.

        This is why I’m a total hardass about collecting on accounts. I could never do consumer collections. My heart knows $50 or $100 is a lot to a low wage worker. Meanwhile mega corps demand 120 day terms and pay on 200+ It’s disgusting.

  25. Jam Today*

    I periodically get a minor anxiety attack that one of my old bosses will be hired at my new company (same industyr, they’re hiring, and he got laid off) and I’ve reached the conclusion that it would be one of the few circumstances in which I would walk off the job instantly and with no regrets.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      What if they were in a different division/location and you wouldn’t be working with them?
      Still an issue for you? Some companies are so large, it’s quite possible you would never interact with them.

      1. voyager1*

        There is one person who I worked for a very short time. If she was working in the same building as me and I never had any contact with her it, would be very tough for me. She made some things very personal in her interactions with me. Calling it bullying doesn’t do it justice.

        So yes I might leave even if that person was just in the building.

  26. ragazza*

    I managed to escape a horrible boss at my company, then my new boss got fired and I got sent back to the old boss. I didn’t have any leverage, but you do! Definitely find some concrete things to say and speak up.

    (I actually did tell the VP who gave me the news that I wasn’t thrilled about working for my old boss again (I think he was aware of this as four of us had gone to HR to complain about him, and god knows how many other people as well), and then he went and TOLD HIM WHAT I SAID. Luckily I managed to orchestrate a transfer to another team but I don’t trust anyone at this company anymore.)

  27. LuJessMin*

    #1 – About a year after I joined former company, one of the managers who was hiring a new accountant asked me about a coworker from previous company, who had been my supervisor and was a God-awful person. I told manager, “If you hire her, I’ll quit. I’m not working with her ever again if I can help it.” She wasn’t hired. And I don’t feel bad about it.

  28. MissDisplaced*

    Ugh! I cannot imagine a much worse scenario than #1 other than they would actually be hired, over her objections, and the horrible boss would be her boss again. I’m sure that’s happened somewhere, but I hope not.

    1. The_artist-formerly-known-as-Anon2*

      As I said – if they do that – then OP had BETTER start looking for a new job

      a) she’s on the search committee and they would be ignoring her advice
      b) they’re knowingly putting her in a bad position and probably bringing in a problem as well.

      When I’ve gone from one place, to another, to another, I’m sometimes asked “do you know anything about ” – I put personal feelings aside – things that happened 10-15-20 years before and say – “he’s good at this, really hard worker, I had a dispute with him once, but I’ll shake his hand and welcome him if you hire him, and as I said, HE’S GOOD.”

      OTOH – there was one person who had applied to a place I had just left – owing to office politics, an attempted and failed office coup (which I avoided). She had left that same company shortly after I did but got her a** in a sling at the new place in a few months and lawdy, lawdy, her resume showed up at my new company. When asked I did the right thing. I apprised our management, when asked. That was likely the end of her candidacy.

  29. Tara2*

    I literally did a double take on the “What makes you unique in 150 characters or less” one. I came across the *exact* same question a few days ago, and then my friend jokingly suggested I write a haiku. Got confused as to whether I wrote this question to Alison and just forgot about it somehow.

  30. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    On the no-pay / bouncing paychecks – in some states, non-payment of wages is a felony. Now, there is a definite contrast between a paycheck being held up because of a blizzard, etc. and the company just outright horsing around with payroll, excuses, etc.

    A company – family owned – in our area – sold out. And the employees thought all would continue on. Right? Uh, no.

    First thing – they found out their United Way contributions weren’t making their way to the United Way. Second thing – they found out that medical insurance premiums weren’t delivered to the insurance company — it became public and hit the papers when a woman went on maternity leave, gave birth, and the hospital told her that she had no insurance!

    She brought the bosses to court – who were ordered to pay her hospital bill, or go to jail! It was later learned that withheld tax money never found its way to the IRS or Mass. Department of Revenue. Some of the management actually DID go to prison.

    I also had a neighbor who ran a business – her office was burglarized, and later it was learned that they had taken a number of bank checks, used the check printer, and put that all back together. The burglar (she – turned out to be a drug addict from our neighborhood!) also took the check stubs – and it wasn’t learned until a few days later – the crook had been cashing what looked like payroll checks at various supermarkets in the area.

    Big problem she had – and the bank extended her a line of credit = “I’ve got payroll coming up on Friday”… but that can be frightening. What would have happened if the balance shortage hadn’t been noticed and her laborers’ paychecks bounced on Friday night?

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