our son-in-law works for us and won’t show up on time, manager wants to talk about God’s plan, and more

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

1. Our son-in-law works for us and won’t show up on time

We have had a family-owned business for 18 years. My dilemma is I have a 30-year-old future son-in-law who has been in our family for 10 years and worked for us for seven. He is a great employee as far as handling things around our shop, working steadily doing day to day tasks. He takes his job seriously when he is there. The problem is he comes in late every day and does not clock in or out. Everyone else is expected to do this, but he does not. My husband sat him down and talked with him about it just yesterday, and today he showed up two hours late and still did not clock in or out.

I am confused by this behavior. Obviously he feels that he is superior to everyone in the shop and does not have to go by this rule. I do not want to start a big fight as we have had a huge problem in the past with a family member taking advantage and had to let him go. He has not done this for the whole time he has been employed with us, just for the last couple of years. I have tried to talk with him before but he has told me it is different for him because he is a member of our family. I do consider this my error in letting it go for so long, but have no clue as how to talk with him about it, and my husband will just blow up and possibly let him go, which will ruin our family relationship with our daughter. How do I speak with him about it and what are some good suggestions for making him come in on time?

Well, you can try telling him very directly that, contrary to what he’s said in the past, he’s not exempt from your business’s rules just because he’s family, and that you need him to be on time and clock in and out. And you can tell him the only way you can continue employing him is if he plays by the same rules as everyone else. But if you say those things and don’t really mean them — in other words, if you’re not willing to hold him accountable as you would other employees — then you’re effectively ceding all power over to him, and at that point you’re just relying on wheedling and cajoling him into changing his behavior. That puts you in a really bad situation. Do you want to employ a son-in-law who won’t respect you as his employer and refuses to abide by your workplace policies?

It sounds like you and your husband need to decide if you’re willing to hold him to the same expectations as everyone else or not. One way to go about it that might minimize tension with your daughter (or maybe not, depending on how fair and reasonable she is) is to frame it as, “Bob, it’s up to you if you want to keep working here. If you want to stay, you need to arrive on time and clock in and out like everyone else. We hope you’ll decide to stay, but this is non-negotiable — and if you don’t do those things, we’ll assume you’ve decided the job isn’t for you anymore, and we’ll need to mutually figure out an ending date.”

Alternately, if you want to preserve family harmony at all costs, you could think about whether there’s a way to restructure his job — or your expectations of him — so that he has more flexible hours and isn’t required to clock in. If you do that, though, realize that you’re valuing family harmony a lot more than he is, which sucks but might be the reality of it.

2. Manager wants to talk about God’s plan with employees who share his religion

I’m a team leader in a large call center. We are on-boarding a new leader (an internal promotion from our team) who is pretty religious. Through the time we were developing him for this role, we had to help him see why bringing up religion causally in conversations (i.e., talking about things being God’s plan) isn’t appropriate with a direct report because if they don’t share your belief it could make them very uncomfortable, or others could overhear and feel uncomfortable. He’s wondering if it’s okay for him to talk about his faith if he’s in a closed-door meeting with a report he knows to share his beliefs. He would never ask them about it, but if they bring up on their own that they are Christian, is it okay for him to then engage in conversations about God’s plan as pertains to work? I typically put politics and religion into the same bucket of “things I don’t discuss with my direct reports” regardless of whether we’re on the same page. What do you think?

No, he absolutely should not do that. He can’t know for sure that the person welcomes religious conversation with their boss — or that particular type of religious conversation — or that they won’t feel pressured to allow him to continue once it starts. Or they may welcome it at first but then stop welcoming it. And pushing unwelcome religious talk on an employee is veering into lawsuit territory. Moreover, if other employees hear about these conversations, they may assume he favors the person who shares his religious beliefs — which again can be lawsuit territory. He’s at high risk of making people he manages feel uncomfortable and of opening your company up to legal liability.

It’s particularly alarming that he’s still looking for ways to talk to religion with people he manages after you’ve already told him to stop. I’d be very concerned that he doesn’t understand his responsibilities and obligations as a manager or what they’re rooted in and why, and that’s seriously bad news because it means you can’t trust him in the way you need to.

3. Laying someone off right before Christmas

I have a very part-time admin worker who has been with us for about 6 months. We are a very small company with a tight budget. Unfortunately, the last few months have been rough and I need to make some cuts. I have also been struggling with getting this employee up-to-speed and it seems like she is just not a good fit for the role. I have made the decision to let her go. However, Christmas is in a few weeks and I am not sure if I should wait to let her go in January or let her go now.

Financially, keeping her through December will be doable, but I am wondering if it might be better for her to know that she is going to be let go and give her a chance to look for a new job now? Her background is in retail, and it would probably be pretty easy for her to pick up a seasonal part-time job in retail now. Plus, she might need to cut back on holiday spending if she knew she was going to be losing the income from this job.

So, should I let her go now and be the jerk that fires someone right before Christmas in the hopes that she will be able to jump into another job for the seasonal rush? Or, wait until January and don’t ruin the holidays? I would also be able to pay her a severance of two weeks pay if I let her go now. But might not if I wait to let her go.

She does have another job, so this is not her only source of income. What are your thoughts?

If it weren’t going to cause hardship to your business and you had the option of keeping her on a bit longer, I’d suggest doing that, because a lot of people find it heartless to let someone go just before Christmas (and you have to factor in what other employees might think as well). But in this case it doesn’t sound like you really have the option — and I bet she’d prefer to do it now if that’s the only way she’ll get severance. And you’re right to think she might prefer the notice before she finishes her holiday spending.

Explain that you feel terrible about the timing, wouldn’t be doing it now if you had other options, and that doing it now means you can offer her severance that you might not be able to offer later.

Also, make sure you’re using the right language: You’re laying her off (eliminating her position), not firing her (which would imply it was because of her performance or behavior).

4. Giving Christmas cards to my employees

Should I give Christmas cards to my direct reports? I’m a mid level manager with 28 reports. I plan to give cards to my peers, and it’s likely that my direct reports will see them on other leaders’ desks and could feel put off by not having gotten one, especially since one of my reports gave me a card. My main thought about why I don’t want to is that I don’t want them to feel obligated to put it up at their desk when what they really want to do is shred it. Would scanning one and sending it digitally be a good middle ground.

Yeah, if you’re giving them to other coworkers, it would be weird not to give them to your employees. (And similarly, don’t do scanned cards for them if you’re doing paper cards for everyone else; it risks coming across as if you didn’t think they were worth the same amount of effort.) I don’t think you need to worry too much about people feel obligated to display them at their desks; some people display cards and some people don’t, and those who don’t can tell themselves you’ll assume they took it home.

One note though — please don’t give Christmas cards to everyone unless you know for a fact (and aren’t just guessing) that they celebrate Christmas. Many people don’t, and it can be alienating to have your boss assume that you do. You’re better off defaulting to a more generic holiday card, or something with a winter or new year’s theme.

5. Manager left a write-up for me with no discussion

My employer left a write-up for me in my desk without discussing it in person and asked for me to review and sign it. Is my employer not obligated to meet with me in person to review a write-up?

Do you mean legally? If so, no — although it’s certainly bad management to just leave that for someone without talking to them about it. But there’s no reason you can’t say to your boss, “Do you have a few minutes to talk with me about this? I want to make sure I’m clear about your concerns and what you’d like me to be doing differently.” Or if you’re already clear about the concerns and simply disagree with your manager’s take, then something like: “Do you have time later today so we can talk about your concern?”

{ 569 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, if he’s this focused on talking about God’s plan, is he considering a career with his church or a religious employer? Because that’s the only context in which it makes sense to me to speak to reports about God’s plan, and even then, it may not be appropriate.

    I would be careful to frame your feedback to him to make it clear that his approach is coercive and inappropriate for a manager, regardless of a report’s religious beliefs. I’m a little worried that he doesn’t understand the parameters of his role (especially because you drew a bright line and now he’s trying to negotiate it), and I wouldn’t want to give him the opportunity to frame your feedback as persecution.

    1. Stormfeather*

      Even completely aside from the whole making-employees-uncomfortable thin (which is a huge thing to set aside)… what kind of judgement is he going to have if he’s bringing “God’s plan” into his secular work?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m picturing a dust-up between two managers who share a religion, but disagree on God’s plan for the call center.

            1. sfigato*

              I love this reference. As someone who works with liberal social justice groups, I sometimes feel like I am living this skit.

        1. Jessen*

          I’m reminded of some incidents (thankfully not in the workplace) where certain guys informed certain women that it was God’s plan for them to get married. Apparently God had failed to inform the women in question.

          1. whingedrinking*

            I’m a reasonably outspoken atheist, and I’ve had people try to convert me in various ways. I’ve always pointed out that God, if they exist, knows where I live, and I’d be happy to chat with them personally if ever they showed up, but I’m not really interested in hearing from their go-betweens – what if they’re mixing up the message? Sometimes this cuts down on the proselytizing, and sometimes it doesn’t.

    2. Turquoisecow*

      Unless the work is religious in nature, he should keep religious discussions out of the workplace. (I’m assuming that it’s not if there are people at the workplace who do not share his religion or his views on the religion.) If he can’t do that, then he should consider getting a job that does work in a religious manner.

        1. JSPA*

          He is, however, entirely welcome to talk about his work at church, if he feels a need to mull on the topics, in combination [grin].

          If his report goes to the same church, I believe it’s still AOK (?) so long as he’s not giving them direction on the process of their job, and just sharing his philosophy.

          There are some companies where “god’s plan” talk is very much tolerated, so long as it’s left at the level of “god calls us to be our best selves and do our best by, for and to everyone we deal with.” I called Sierra Trading Post, having read the Christian messaging on their packing statement or receipt, to make sure that they did not discriminate against non-Christians in hiring. Their mission statement is very explicitly worded around god…but they assured me that they did not discriminate in hiring or otherwise, and that they would indeed hire someone Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or agnostic or atheist, so long as they were of high ethical standards and committed to kindness, honesty and treating others as they’d wish to be treated.

          Found it… google “Christian Companies that Sneak in the Gospel” (a webpage that’s pro doing so). “Our business ethics must be consistent with the faith of the owners in Jesus Christ and His teachings. We invite you to write our founder and president, Keith Richardson, if what we do does not match what we believe.”

          I tend to assume STP are indeed doing good work by buying odd lots / hard-to-sell batches / “seconds” of generally higher-quality items, and selling them affordably. (As opposed to Forever21, whose bible verses only enrage me further about the ecological travesty that is “fast fashion.”)

          1. Emily S*

            I would say even if they went to the same church, it’s not appropriate, though it’s probably less of a legal liability (not a lawyer though). Even people who attend the same church can have disagreements about religion and I can’t imagine it makes it any easier for an employee to stand up for themselves in a dispute when their manager is marshalling/weaponizing “God’s plan” to support his own side, even when the employee generally believes in the same god.

            1. Chalupa Batman (changed name, but referencing past comments, so CB is back)*

              Exactly. I’ve mentioned before that Mr. Batman used to work for a nonprofit with a religious bent, and his boss absolutely weaponized God’s plan. Boss would literally say that people who disagreed with her were possessed by demons, because God told her what they all needed to do and disagreement came from the devil. Dissent=lack of faith, and many people worked there specifically because they felt a religious calling to help, so it was a powerful tool of control.

              I get that leaving religious faith out of conversation completely isn’t realistic for some people (I’d compare it to asking them to never reference being a parent), but if that’s you, you must proceed with extreme caution. If a boss says “I believe God has a plan for me” as an aside, I think “oh, Boss is religious-didn’t know that.” If they say “I believe God has a plan for *us*,” my haunches immediately go up. You very well might know what God wants for YOU, but implying that you know what He has planned for ME makes me start wondering how far you’d go to preserve “God’s” plan.

              1. Vicky Austin*

                I am a devout Christian, and I would not feel comfortable with my boss talking to me about God’s plan. Even though I’m religious, my boss is not my priest.

            2. Gumby*

              Yeah, this. My grand boss does happen to attend the same church that I do. We discuss church things at church. We discuss work things at work. At *most* we might say something in the office like “Are you planning to go to the [church event]?”

              I’m not saying religious things don’t affect work things. I’m fairly certain I know my grand boss’s take on some work things because we have, in a church context, discussed vocation, religion/science intersections (work is a scientific R&D thing), etc. But they were discussed in their proper spheres.

              And at work it’s never “do this because it’s God’s plan” – it’s “do this because it needs to be done for business reasons.” Frankly, if God had a plan for specific things I do at work (other than the general do the work well, don’t do stuff that’s unethical/illegal, work is how you serve your neighbor stuff) that would be… well, anyone who told me that they knew God’s plan would have to prove it to me fairly rigorously. Otherwise I’d question whether said person was confusing their plan for God’s plan.

            3. Free Meerkats*

              Let us never forget the split between the Ancient and Orthodox Potato Church and the Plain Potato Church.

              Though both still maintain that, so long as you have a potato with you when you die, you go to a butter place.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            There are a lot of small, family-owned businesses around here who advertise their faith, e.g. a faith-based company, bible quotes on their vehicles / in their marketing, etc. I really don’t trust some of them not to discriminate, especially if they’re affiliated with the yoga-is-demonic church, which has its tentacles in a whole lot of stuff in the area.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Should probably add, I don’t care if they want to be religious, but it should not be a part of hiring practices or how they treat customers. If I hired them for a thing, they should do the thing, and that’s it. If I went to work there, they shouldn’t care whether I’m wearing a cross or a mala.

          3. Working Mom Having It All*

            The problem here is, as Allison mentions, what about the direct reports who don’t go to that church? It could come off as favoritism.

      1. many bells down*

        I used to work at a YMCA, so people tended to assume I was Christian (I am not). And even then, individuals would still try to get me to come to their specific church instead of whatever church they assumed I already went to. Even when people think you share their beliefs *generally*, there’s enough differences in the *specifics* to still cause conflict.

    3. Artemesia*

      Exactly. The OP has a huge problem with this employee who is obviously looking for ways to bend this basic ‘rule’ or principle of management as sideways as he can. He will not stop looking for loopholes. That alone should have disqualified him for management. — not his religion of course at all, but his insistence on inflicting it on other people.

      1. Lily B*

        Yup. It’s poor management and really tone-deaf. His intentions might be good but that’s not behavior that’s going to be acceptable *anywhere* unless it’s a religious organization (and frankly, even then it might be a lot).

      2. EMW*

        Honestly, I think the OP wasn’t clear originally: “…because if they don’t share your belief it could make them very uncomfortable, or others could overhear and feel uncomfortable.”

        It doesn’t seem like the employee is trying to bend the rule – he asked about if this other situation was ok or not. I feel like he’s recognizing the fact that his judgment is not great on this, and getting approval/input before doing something.

        I think the OP needs to have a larger conversation about how religion in the workplace can open them up to legal issues, and tell the employee to refrain from bringing it up at all for those reasons.

        1. selena81*

          yeah, if they only phrased it as ‘we had complaints from non-religious people’ than it is reasonable of him to ask if it’s okay to talk to religious people
          but if they made it clear that religious talk has NO place at the workspace than it’s problematic if he goes like ‘but what if i just ask my underlings if they want to discuss this thing with me that i am clearly passionate about’

      3. Michaela Westen*

        He might be one of those very, very pushy types I grew up with. No matter what I said or did, they kept trying to force their religion on me.
        If he is like that, then he will keep trying to find ways to discuss it no matter what his boss does.
        But it could be he’s unclear on the boundaries and sincerely trying to understand. OP will have to watch and see what happens after boundaries are made clear.
        If he is trying to push, he might play innocent… “oh sorry, I didn’t know/forgot about that boundary”… to get away with it longer.

    4. Kuododi*

      I am deeply committed to my particular branch of Christianity and have always found it to be a source of strength and peace through my life. That being said, if anyone (supervisor, co-worker, grand-boss etc) we’re to start talking about God’s Plan at our secular work place…. I would have a big attack of ” oh H**l no!” and get out ASAP. I’d probably have the same reaction if we were at a faith based place of business. No one person has the power to be the arbiter of the will of the Almighty. Best regards

      1. Drago Cucina*

        Agreed. It’s not appropriate. No matter the religion, denomination, etc., there are levels of adherence and difference in observance. I wouldn’t want a supervisor bringing this up in a secular work environment. I worked in a Catholic school and it wasn’t a part of my evaluation.

        1. JSPA*

          It however could be, if you married a same-sex spouse (depending what country you’re in, I suppose). So…yeah, the lines are supposedly clear, but are still oddly bent around some issues, and legally in flux.

      2. PhyllisB*

        You said exactly what I came here to say. I am committed to following God’s plan in my life, and if someone came to me in everyday life and wanted to discuss this, I would be happy to, but I would NEVER do this in the workplace. I think they are going to have to demote/dismiss this person.

        1. Lily B*

          Exactly. This is super ineffective evangelism and he’s more likely to turn people off this way.
          I don’t talk about my faith at work, but I’ll occasionally mention a church event or volunteer work when making smalltalk about the weekend or something. If my coworkers are curious about it, they know where to find me, otherwise my assumption is they’re not interested.

          1. Recent Anon Lurker*

            Agreed Lily. If somebody asks my plans for the weekend I’ll probably mention that I’m going to church among the other things that are on my calendar, but that’s the extent at work. I would never take it beyond that unless I’m off the clock because as some other people have said work is for work, and this isn’t a good way to evangelize.

            1. RUKiddingMe*


              “Working in the yard, cooking, church…” is a whole lot different than “Have you heard the good news?”

              1. Recent Anon Lurker*

                Exactly – and if coworkers want to ask questions, I’m more than willing to answer, but will never do so on the clock.

          2. Clorinda*

            It’s the opposite of evangelism. What would you call it: catangelism, maybe dysangelism? We need a word!

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Yes, I know it’s not uniquely Christian. But Christian fascists are, unfortunately, common in the U.S.

          3. Vicky Austin*

            It reminds me of the time I was commuting to work on the train, and a young man (about 20) got on and started preaching at everyone, “Jesus loves you! Repent and be saved! Put your faith in Jesus!” and so on. Most people ignored him until a few stops later when an older man (about 60) was getting ready to get off the train, and before he departed, he emphatically said to the young man, “You’re not John the Baptist, and that’s not how you preach the Gospel!” The younger man was stunned for a few seconds, and then said, “Jesus loves you!” The older man said, “Oh, I know He does!” and then left the train.
            I actually felt bad for the kid. He meant well, but just had no sense of boundaries.

        2. JSPA*

          I have some broad eye-rolling tendencies around religion (so I take my rolling eyes away from places where it would be rude of me to do so) but I have to say, in this case, it’s quite unclear to me that the supervisor heard a clear “never.”

          I know we all want to make rules understandable, but this is a case where the “examples of why” were seemingly misconstrued as “the circumstances where it applies.” You have to start with the clear “never”–then talk demotion or dismissal if it doesn’t stop.

          Alternatively, employee COULD be searching to become a court case.

          I…don’t know what might be up for re-litigation at the highest levels, these days, in the US. (I don’t think any of us know, including the Supreme Court itself.)

          I’d be very careful to avoid saying, “no religious anything inside these four walls” (as presumably a person who can eat on break, and pee on break, can also read their holy book and pray on break). I can even see it being (re)litigated, whether people who can eat together, without presumptions of favoritism, can pray together.

          This is worrisome to me, as “pro-vs-anti-tuna-salad” is rarely going to create the same risk of inappropriate tribal affiliation within a business structure as shared religious practice can. But then, sports talk is both fraught and broadly condoned. I suppose we shall see.

          1. MeganK*

            I really like your distinction between the ways “examples of why” could read – obviously from OP’s perspective they were supporting evidence, but I could see someone with good intentions totally misreading it as “the circumstances where it applies.”

            I’m not sure if you were asking exactly or just thinking out loud on the rest of it, but I think “never discuss our work in the context of god’s plan with your subordinates, regardless of your read on their religious beliefs; it’s not a productive way for us to have that conversation and it opens us up to liability in various ways” might be specific enough and also work.

    5. Jasnah*

      That’s the reason this is an issue, because OP didn’t draw a bright line. OP said “if they don’t share your belief it could make them very uncomfortable, or others could overhear and feel uncomfortable,” aka “You might offend people who aren’t your religion”. So he naturally concluded that it was OK if those people weren’t around. The issue is actually that you could make coworkers of any religion uncomfortable by talking about your faith, so he should stop talking about religion at work. It’s not any god’s plan to accidentally send email to the spam folder, so he should already know this is not OK, but I think OP’s explanation added complications to this issue.

      1. Observer*

        It’s not any god’s plan to accidentally send email to the spam folder,

        Eh, if you believe in individual Divine Providence, that’s an arguable statement. But the idea of getting into that discussion at work is just bizarre. You really, really shouldn’t be discussing whether G-d “really meant” that email to wind up in spam, or anything like that. You *should* be figuring out what earthly measures you can take to minimize the chances of this happening again. No need to bring G-d’s plans into this AT ALL.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          For some reason I find your speculation on divine intentions for which emails end up in spam to be hilarious….

          1. Observer*

            Well, I can see it turning into a great sitcom episode. But I CANNOT see this turning into a productive workplace conversation.

            I take it you’re not planning a new office based sitcom. Although I could see someone reading this site and coming up with quite a series.

      2. Clay on my apron*

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. OP’s explanation leaves a lot of wiggle room which is why the employee is wiggling right now.

        OP needs to make it clear that their previous statements were too vague and that it’s not okay, under any circumstances, to have religious discussions with your direct reports. There are many, many reasons, and “non Christian colleagues might feel uncomfortable” and “Christian colleagues might feel pressured to participate” are only a few of them.

        OP also needs to make it clear that this isn’t up for further discussion.

        1. Observer*

          OP also needs to make it clear that this isn’t up for further discussion.

          OP, if you come away with anything from this discussion THIS line is it.

        2. Works in IT*

          I would be shocked if my manager decided to start talking about “God’s plan”. I know he is religious because I’ve seen his Christian music cds, but I know he is professional enough to not bring up religion in the work place. Occasionally politics, because he often talks about the non profit he runs in his free time which has to navigate the political realm, and at the local and state levels in this area literally every politician regardless of party affiliation is blatantly beholden to the real estate developers and favors them over anyone else, so conversation turns to desire for land use that is isn’t houses or strip malls fairly often. But never religion. I would be dismayed to hear my manager was talking religion with people because I do not share that religion, and it would feel like nothing I did would keep him from favoring the people who shared his religion over me.

      3. beth*

        Eh, I’m not convinced. Did LW have to explain as much as they did? No. Is it possible that the employee wouldn’t be searching for loopholes anymore if LW shut them down more bluntly the first time? Yes. But most people–even deeply religious people–are aware that ‘God’s plan for our work’ isn’t an appropriate topic for a secular workplace, and would accept LW’s ‘no’ no matter how it was justified. This scrambling after a loophole is happening because the employee wants to find a loophole, not because LW offered an explanation for their decision.

        1. valentine*

          This scrambling after a loophole is happening because the employee wants to find a loophole, not because LW offered an explanation for their decision.
          I agree. I wonder if he wanted to move up to cast the widest net, with both colleagues and callers, for ministering and converting.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Also word would get around that religious fanatics answer the phone there, and they would lose business.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              I don’t know if I’d say uncalled for. I think it’s useful to explore the worst-case scenario to help our OPs so they can have something in mind *in case* the situation goes there.

              1. Ellex*

                There are two potential scenarios here: one is that the employee is extremely evangelical and is searching for loopholes; the other is that the employee has very unclear notions of appropriate workplace behavior (and when to keep their religion to themselves) and OP will need to be extremely explicit and emphatic about it.

                I’ve met both types – the first will always be searching for loopholes, the second just needs some guidance on how to separate their religion from their work life. For people who literally view every aspect of their lives through the lens of their religion, this can take some extra effort.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  The fact that he thinks it’s at all aporopriate to talk about at work, secular work leads me to think he’s the first type.

                2. valentine*

                  I’m surprised by all the comments about how obvious it is that religion doesn’t belong at work.

                  people who literally view every aspect of their lives through the lens of their religion
                  may view any separation as sin, faithlessness, wrongdoing. Let’s say they are walking with Christ. They can’t leave Him at the door and go into secular mode because they have no such mode. For them, there are no streams to cross.

                3. RUKiddingMe*


                  I don’t why you’re surprised really. We live in a “religion is personal and private” kind of culture.

                  So what should someone who is unable, for whatever reasons, to separate it from the rest of secular society, work, school, etc. do then?

                  Only work within their religion or show respect for others’ rights/beliefs as well?

                  I’m kinda interested if he’s managed to not harangue people thus far. If so, if he is only wanting to do it now that he has a position of authority, that’s concerning.

              2. JSPA*

                Yes, some people are deeply boundary-challenged, and they live and work in areas where that’s enabled. They exist. But they generally either are blind to boundaries or they reject the concept.

                This is, at best, someone who misunderstood a general directive as a specific circumstance directive. At worst, it’s someone who’s trying to steer super close to the rules, while checking in advance (!) if it’s OK.

                Those parameters are pretty clear from the actual statements in the question. Jumping to proselytizing customers is just…random.

                Sure, this person could HAPPEN to turn out to be anything from Cthulhu’s stealth minion to an axe murderer. Outside the scope of the question. But all of that is speculation. (And no, defaulting to the stereotypical proselytizer is not a counter argument. All of us get to be taken as individuals. Not as interchangeable faces of the Great Stereotype. No matter how annoyingly closely people in your own life may have been, to that stereotype.)

        2. Ice and Indigo*

          Have to agree. It sounds like he’s been told no twice already – first, ‘No, you can’t just casually bring religion into a general work discussion,’ followed by, ‘No, you can’t bring religion into a work discussion with fellow-Christians in a mixed-faith office.’ If he has to be told, ‘No, you can’t bring religion into a work discussion with fellow-Christians in a soundproof room,’ this is a guy who is, shall we say, doing a pretty poor job at inferring general principles from specific examples.

          I mean, maybe he’s exceptionally literal-minded, but the odds favour him just being more interested in talking about God’s plan than in complying with the spirit of workplace secularism. So yes, OP needs to say, ‘You cannot talk about God’s plan in a work context, no exceptions, no further haggling,’ but it’s not OP’s fault that this needed to be said. Most people would have taken the point by now.

          1. PB*

            Yeah. I feel like the next step would be trying to talk about religion with fellow Christians offsite. This guy is looking for a loophole so hard, he’ll cut his own out if he has to. Could OP have been more firm? Maybe? But I don’t think it would have helped.

          2. Stormfeather*

            You cannot preach it in a box
            You cannot preach it with the clocks
            You cannot preach it in a room
            You cannot preach it with the broom
            You cannot preach about God’s plan,
            You cannot, cannot, Sam-I-Am

        3. Observer*

          I’m another one who has to agree.

          Look at the comments on this thread – a number of the people reacting with horror are themselves people who consider themselves deeply religious. That tells you a lot about what is going on here.

          1. Amberlyn*

            It’s also worth remembering that religious conviction can change! After a traumatic experience, and a cruel response from a religious leader, I went from being deeply committed to a specific faith to being very upset at any discussion of that faith. Under this employee’s desired approach, I’d either have to suffer through the continued religious talk, or disclose a highly personal even if prefer to keep out of the workplace. That’s not a good position for anyone.

        4. Emily S*

          But most people–even deeply religious people–are aware that ‘God’s plan for our work’ isn’t an appropriate topic for a secular workplace, and would accept LW’s ‘no’ no matter how it was justified.

          Eh, there are regions of the United States where I wouldn’t be so sure this was true. Despite what the law may or may not permit, if you visit Alabama or Oklahoma (for example) you’ll find a lot of religion in schools and workplaces. I think it’s very plausible that someone who’s only worked in places like that might genuinely be under the impression it’s fine because it’s what they’re used to and they don’t question it.

          1. Working Mom Having It All*

            On reading this, I 100% assumed it was a Bible Belt situation where there is more religion talk in all aspects of life than is considered appropriate elsewhere, and where it can be tricky to separate out casual conversations about life outside of work from evangelizing.

            In a major coastal city, this is all obviously “don’t touch with a ten foot pole” territory. I have close personal friends who I don’t realize are religious until they mention church in conversation. And even then it’s usually in passing, not “do you want to get saved?”

            But I grew up in the rural South, where it can be really hard to draw that bright line. And all of this is why it can be so frustrating to live there if you’re not religious, the right kind of religious, and most likely to go the “right” church or display the “right” amount of external religious trappings to others.

          2. Vicky Austin*

            Again, there’s a huge difference between saying to a coworker who shares your faith, “Let’s pray together” and informing your subordinate what God’s plan is for them. The former is sharing and practicing your faith, the latter is an abuse of religion. As someone said further up this thread, it’s not the place of anyone else to determine what God’s plan is for me. Only God knows His plan for me, and it would even be inappropriate for a priest or other spiritual leader to inform me outright, “God’s plan for you is to do X, Y, or Z.”

            1. Stuff*

              But the key is by “Sharing” faith with a co worker you think less of the ones who don’t share the faith or favor those who do share the faith. Neither is appropriate for the work place

            2. Jasnah*

              Yeah, agreed that I don’t actually see a difference and I’d be weirded out by people casually praying in the office as a group, or a few coworkers throwing around religious phrases and references about work things. I don’t think people should share and practice their faith at work. Not only is it irrelevant in most circumstances (“Let’s pray together over this broken printer”??), but it’s a pretty surefire way to alienate people that you need to get along with. If you wouldn’t share your politics or sxlife at work, then don’t share your religion either.

              1. Vicky Austin*

                For many years, I worked at a left-leaning nonprofit in one of the bluest cities in one of the bluest states in America. I left a few months ago. Almost all of us were anti-Trump, and his administration was in opposition to our mission, so it was very common for us to talk about politics and vent about Trump during lunch and even at meetings.
                Similarily, I could see staff a faith-based organization in the Bible Belt having casual conversations about God and spirituality. Maybe not praying over a broken printer, because that would be ridiculous, but I can envision situations where God and prayer might come up. For instance, a staff member who is Christian mentions that her mother is dying of cancer, and another staff member who is also Christian asks, “Would it be helpful if you and I prayed together?” In this situation, it would be a Christian organization, both coworkers know that the other is Christian, and they have talked about their faith on more than one occasion. Heck, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be a Christian organization in the deep south. It could be any faith-based organization anyplace.

    6. Lady Kelvin*

      Not only this, but I would assume that because I don’t share his faith he is going to think less of me/automatically discriminate against me because in my experience, people who cannot keep their faith out of every conversation of their lives (including work) also think less of those of us who don’t share their faith. And I’d be looking for a way out quickly before I’m pushed out. My coworkers have no idea if/which church I go to and we’ve been working together for several years. I know a few of my colleagues go to church, but in general I know nothing about my colleagues Sunday morning routine and I have no interest in knowing. It has absolutely no impact on whether or not I can do my job well.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        This. Devoted religious people who bring it up at work means I automatically think bias. They will always favor their religious type over an atheist, everything else being equal.

      2. Dr. Pepper*

        Oh my goodness yes! I have a neighbor that is very religious and talks about it all the time and they most certainly think less of people who are not of the same faith. Whenever they bring it up, I smile and nod and under no circumstances share the fact that I am *not* of the same faith. Preserving cordial relations, you know. If I had to work with this person, or, ugh, they were my supervisor, I would be very uncomfortable and unhappy.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I did find out one of my neighbors is very tolerant of other faiths, or maybe it was just because she likes me. It’s not everyone.

          But it is prevalent enough that I agree; I would feel uncomfortable too.

          1. Dr. Pepper*

            I’m fully aware. There’s a large contingent of a certain sect of Christianity where I live and they rather dominate things around here. Because of that I have friends of that faith (of which I am not a member) and we get along just fine. I find many people very tolerant and respectful of those of other faiths. But the ones who shout the loudest about their faith (or anything, really) are best avoided and it does you no good to get drawn into discussion of it with them. These are the people who will most definitely look down on you if you do not share their faith, or else they see you as a “conversion project”. The OP’s employee, like my neighbor, appears to be a “shouter”.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        Removed. Please stop making sweeping negative statements about specific religions here. (You said in another, also removed comment that you think it’s necessary to speak up about this at every opportunity, but that’s not something I allow here.)

      4. many bells down*

        My boss at the aforementioned YMCA let slip once in a meeting that I wasn’t Christian. There was indeed backlash. I got a long, weird letter from some of the admin staff about how they really wanted to “party in heaven” with me, and a different department’s director tried to have me fired. Fortunately, Grandboss shut that second one right down, but it was pretty uncomfortable.

        1. delta cat*

          Whaaaa… at the Y? This must be a regional thing? I spent years working and volunteering at a Y in high school and into university, and am now a member of a different Y in another city, and I have never seen anything remotely religious anywhere other than the word “Christian” in the full name of the organization on my paycheque and on the oldest sign on the oldest building. (Well, that and the reference to a bible verse on the logo that used to be on the summer camp t-shirts — a logo that they dropped in the late 90s because it was en explicit Christian reference and they didn’t want that.)

          1. many bells down*

            Did they do the bit in the interview where they ask you to interpret the mission statement? Because I remember that ending in “…in accordance with the spirit of the teachings of Jesus Christ” or words to that effect.

            1. delta cat*

              I am assuming this must be a geographic thing! I’m in Canada, and the Ys I’ve dealt with are two of the biggest in the country, and my experience was the extreme opposite. They worked very, very hard to make it clear that they were a secular organization. If anything, some of it smacked of trying maybe a touch too hard. For instance … I spent a few summers working in camps. All traditional camp songs that had the word God in them were either banned or had the words changed (often clumsily, to things that didn’t even fit the rhythm or rhyme of the original song).
              There was definitely no reference to “the teachings of Jesus Christ” in any mission statement that we were ever told about! We were told explicitly that the “Christian” part of the organization’s name was historical and no more significant today than the “young men” part, and we should all behave accordingly.

      5. else*

        Yeah. I don’t trust anyone who makes a big showy display of their faith to behave fairly towards anyone who doesn’t also make a big show of the same faith. This is born out of experience. Religion and spirituality can bring a great deal of joy and comfort to people, but they do NOT belong in professional life (unless you are a minister or chaplain, of course).

      1. Ice and Indigo*

        Success, probably. I had an employer who’d sometimes talk about God’s help when something lucky happened. This is not exactly why I eventually quit, but the fact that they did was one aspect of their lacking boundaries – and also feeling like everything that benefitted their company was the will of the universe or something, which turned out to include benefitting the company at the expense of reasonable working conditions.

        This is NOT a good sign.

      2. Project Manager*

        If the work involves service, which honestly all jobs do in one way or another, he may believe that that service is part of his calling. Parable of the talents etc.

        That’s how I feel about engineering – it is a profession of service, where we use our intelligence and problem solving abilities to make people’s lives better. Even something as minor as a spoon – it used to require a lot of labor to create even a crude spoon, and now, the cost of making a spoon is a bagatelle.

        And no, I don’t talk about this belief at work.

        1. OtterB*

          This. Me too. I’m not an engineer, I do data work. It satisfies a deep-rooted belief in me that people should have the information they need to make decisions. It is a form of service. And I don’t talk about it at work.

          Some years ago, in a group at church, I commented that the biggest advantage of the group for me was to have a place where I could talk about how God was working in my life without people thinking I was a religious fruitcake. I didn’t think at the time to add, or without people finding me obnoxious, but that applies also.

          There’s nothing wrong with the manager thinking about his work in terms of God’s plan. But if he’s going to discuss it with other employees, he needs to translate those thoughts into terms of shared workplace values, e.g. service, integrity, collaboration, etc.

        2. TootsNYC*

          This Sunday’s reading included John the Baptist’s advice to tax collectors and Roman soldiers: Basically, do your jobs (even though those jobs were to benefit the Roman government) with honesty and diligence.

          That’s why, I realized, I raised a stink about someone who thought it wasn’t important to spell names correctly in the ADA-compliant text for our website.

          So doing my job as a copyeditor is very much informed by my faith. But I seldom talk about it at work, and never w/ people who report to me. I will occasionally mention it in a conversation where someone else might say, “I read a book by Kierkegaard, and it really had an impact on me, and that’s why I strive to be diligent and ethical at work.” It’s the intellectual backdrop for me of our shared standards. So people who work with me know I’m a Christian, but it generally doesn’t come up.

      3. Aleta*

        It sounds like it’s a mix of casual asides of “Well, that project failing like that definitely wasn’t great, but everything’s in God’s plan, y’know? Let’s figure out what went wrong” and more serious What Is God’s Plan For Your Life? conversations. I come from a religious background where both would be quite normal, and the second is just career goal conversations with religious framing. Like, God’s Plan encompasses EVERYTHING, so of course it would also include your career, and I can’t really see anyone I know from that time NOT wanting to bring it up in that context. Like, their Entire Lives were centered around this, it was THE factor in their career decisions, of course it would come up in any sort of career goals talk. To not bring it up would be refraining from talking about the single most important part of your decision making process while discussing your goals with a mentor figure.

        1. Aleta*

          I’ll add, while people I knew like this understood that secular or other religious people Didn’t Want To Hear It, but it was a huuuuuge source of frustration and any of them would have JUMPED at the chance to not have to hide such a huge part of their decision-making process. I can absolutely see this sort of loophole-searching happening in that case.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          I can see this but I’d be concerned that my manager would be basically preaching to his subordinates using religious justifications, and not addressing business needs as such. To me I don’t think that it’s necessarily a problem to acknowledge that religion plays a significant part in how you approach work, but having a detailed religious conversation in a work context is inappropriate.

      4. Clorinda*

        Well, I’m a teacher, and I pray at work (silently, during planning periods, and sometimes on the spur of the moment when some child has pushed me right to the edge, just to say God give me patience RIGHT NOW), and at church I pray about work. But I don’t pray to or at my students or fellow teachers. S0, I do think I am following a plan by doing what I do, and I also know that if I want to keep on teaching in a public school, this part of it has to remain private between me and God.

    7. Ice and Indigo*

      That’s actually another layer of inappropriate. Talking about God’s plan to people you outrank basically IS acting as their pastor – the power difference makes it hard to avoid. But in a church, if you don’t like or agree with the pastor, you can go to another church without threatening your livelihood. Even if people do share his particular brand of faith, this is really coercive, both in religious and professional ways.

    8. EPLawyer*

      But did they draw a bright line? They said he should not discuss it with others because that person might have different beliefs. They did not say “Do not discuss religion at all with your direct reports.” The first is be careful in what you discuss, the second is a flat out do not do bright line.

      I think it needs to be very clear that religion is not to be discussed or brought up AT ALL. Forget the softening language of “it might make someone uncomfortable.” Just be very clear that it is work place policy that managers do not bring up religion in their job.

    9. Sara without an H*

      I wonder…Does the manager-candidate display this tendency to push boundaries in other areas? I have trouble believing that all the rules-lawyering won’t crop up in other aspects of his work.

      While I do want my reports to think seriously about procedures (Would it work better if we did it this way? Do we need to do this at all?), sometimes you just need people to go do stuff without arguing it. While the manager-candidate’s attempts to skew the rules so that he can proselytize is problematic at best, I suspect it’s going to leak over into other areas as well.

    10. JB*

      >”I’m a little worried that he doesn’t understand the parameters of his role”

      Exactly. The actual religious discussion is secondary to the real problem, here… The employee has no clue how to behave professionally and doesn’t understand even the most concepts of employment law.

    11. a nonny*

      As someone who is dyslexic and agnostic and sometimes suffers from insomnia, I lie awake at night wondering about dog’s plan.

      1. whingedrinking*

        I like to say that Canadians think of religion like underwear. If yours makes you happy, that’s good. You should be able to wear whatever kind of underwear you like, or none at all. However, people get really uncomfortable if you let it show in public too much.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          Even Mormons don’t show or talk about their underwear, and it’s part of their religion to wear special underwear.

    12. Vicky Austin*

      Even if he is working in a church, it could still be overstepping his bounds to talk about God’s plans with his co-workers. That’s really the kind of thing that would only be appropriate if he were a clergy member or other religious leader, and he was advising people who have specifically come to him for spiritual direction. I’m a devout Christian and I’d be uncomfortable with a coworker imposing religion on me like that.

  2. Stormfeather*

    OP 1, if you’re not willing to fire him, just assume you’ll never be able to make him follow the rules of the company, and further assume that morale for any non-family employees may very well plummet.

    1. Aunt Betty*

      Agreed. The non-family employees are going to rightly consider that family employees are valued more highly than they and they may even quit over it. Also if the OP doesn’t put a stop to SIL flouting this rule, he’ll continue to appropriate other special considerations. This MUST be addressed before the problem becomes worse.

      1. valentine*

        OP1: How did you respond when he said it’s different for him because he’s family? You can tell him that he’s an employee and must behave as such, and only your husband and you can come and go as you please. (Especially if you would hold Daughter to employee standards.)

        Considering the total cost of keeping him on (overscheduling because you don’t know when he’ll be in, paying him for hours he hasn’t worked (Is this timecard fraud?), replacing people who leave because of him, and health impact of stress), it may serve you to pay him not to work there, to be his official patron.

        I’m wondering what he’s getting away with in his dealings with his coworkers, who are highly unlikely to report him because (to date) he’s untouchable.

            1. irene adler*

              We had an employee who behaved similarly. NOTE: no relatives involved. She was told -many times- to adhere to a regular start time (8 am). Yet the behavior never changed. She arrived each morning up to 2 hours late. Every time with a unique excuse.
              She simply did not take the warnings seriously.
              And, management let this go on for 10 years. No consequences.
              And I know she witnessed other managers doing the ‘do as I say not as I do’ approach to their reports. So I’m betting she figured all the warnings were simply an act. Something she didn’t have to heed.
              Eventually she found another job.

      2. On Fire*

        I submit that he has already made his decision. Consider: LW has talked to him in the past, but “he has told me it is different for him because he is a member of our family.” THEN it escalates: “My husband sat him down and talked with him about just yesterday, and today he showed up two hours late and still did not clock in and out.”

        LW, I usually roll my eyes at “the sky is falling” escalation worries. But if this is allowed to continue, I predict that he’ll start saying things like, “When I’m running this place…” or “Well, that’s how (LW family) does it, but when I’m in charge…” And as others have said, you’re going to lose good employees. (That’s if he isn’t *already* saying things like this. Which wouldn’t surprise me.)

        I suggest you have one more conversation with him. And if he even *hints* that the rules don’t apply because of his status, or if he comes in late/refuses to clock in/out again, the conversation then becomes, “Clearly this isn’t working out, so let’s begin planning your transition out of the company.”

        Regarding family harmony: as Alison said, he doesn’t value it. But consider, at the same time you or spouse is having this conversation with son-in-law, the other of you might talk to your daughter. NOT “SIL is horrible and we’re firing him,” but more “We have some concerns that we need Bob to address if he’s going to continue working in the family business.” (And I only suggest this because it is a family business and directly affects the daughter.) Otherwise, SIL may go flaming off to her and try to stir her up.

        1. Psyche*

          Yeah, you need to make it very clear that at work, he is an employee first and family second. All rules apply to him. If he cannot handle that, then for the sake of preserving your relationship he has to find another employer.

        2. Antilles*

          Agree with everything here. In particular, the last paragraph is crucial – in order to preserve the harmony with your daughter, you need to talk to her directly because otherwise the story she’s going to hear is absolutely going to be “I was a model employee, your parents had ridiculous expectations”.

        3. Emily S*

          I’m honestly gobsmacked by the future SIL’s behavior. How insanely comfortable/entitled to a job in their company he must feel to have the company owners tell him they need one thing from him, and for him to look them in the face and tell them he doesn’t have to do it. It’s one thing to be so comfortable with your boss that you feel more empowered to speak candidly and push back on things they ask you to do. It’s another entirely to display a failure to recognize that you have a boss who outranks you and who ultimately has the final say.

          1. MassMatt*

            I agree, but it’s the letter writer and husband who have let it escalate to this point. The SIL acts as though the rules don’t apply to him because they don’t! If someone suffers no bad consequences for their behavior why would you expect them to change?

            As long as the owners of the business worry more about how the daughter will react than having a functioning workplace the SIL will exploit the advantage.

            1. Emily S*

              I agree the owners are making it easy for him to get away with, but there are people who don’t take advantage of situations like this even when they know they can. My boss is kind of a pushover but I don’t use that to shirk my work just because I know he’s too conflict-averse and too much of a people-pleaser to call me on the carpet over it. I still understand that despite my boss’s personality, I am here to do a job and he is my boss.

            2. valentine*

              comfortable/entitled […] for him to look them in the face and tell them he doesn’t have to do it.

              It’s true: He doesn’t have to do it. Even if he is the one who put it about that OP has to choose between this and her daughter, even that extortion is less astounding than the fact the only consequence is conversations.

        4. Mary*

          Yes, your last paragraph is what I was thinking too. Under normal circumstances, of course, you absolutely wouldn’t involve an employee’s family, but if the only reason he still *has* a job is because he’s family and you don’t want to upset your daughter, I think it’s only fair to give her a heads-up about what’s going on. Not, “Daughter, can you not make Bob get here on time?” but “Daughter, it’s quite likely that we’re going to have to let Bob go soon, we’d’ probable have done so earlier if he wasn’t practically family, we’re sorry about that, but we thought you should know.”

          Before you do so, I’d think about how it’s likely to work out – you know your daughter and whether she’s likely to take Bob’s side and rage at you, or take your side and rage at Bob, or just feel miserable and caught between the two, or simply (and sensibly!) say “la la la la, this is between you two, I decline to hear it.” But I thikn sharing the information earlier gives her more of a chance to manage her reaction than her partner getting fired by her parents and it being the first thing she knows about any problems.

        5. Dust Bunny*

          I would love to know how OP’s daughter sees this, and what their relationship with her is like. Were they passive parents who raised a woman who is OK with her parents being used, or is this a whole family of pushovers and SIL’s is running their daughter’s life, too?

          If LW’s daughter is at all reasonable, the only family harmony at stake will be between her and SIL. I would be furious if my parents gave me [theoretical] husband a job and he blew it off like this.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            I would also, as a non-family employee, be job-hunting because clearly this jerkface is going to remain employed essentially at my expense, since OP isn’t holding him to the same standard.

    2. Artemesia*

      The son in law as Alison rightly points out isn’t particularly concerned with family harmony; he is more into abusing his position. He might well be a major factor in destroying the business if highly valued employees are driven out by his arrogance and the special treatment he receives. This is one to confront openly and clearly as Alison suggested, putting it on his shoulders to decide. Does he want to work there following the rules of the business or would he feel more comfortable working elsewhere. Presumably he wasn’t a future SIL when he started in the business and now marrying the boss’s daughter is putting him in this odd position that he is handling so badly. Acknowledge to him that it might be an uncomfortable position for him and you understand that he might well want to work elsewhere — so his choice. And do it now and cleanly. Letting this continue will be a disaster for the family and for the business.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Agree with all of this. Also, he’s doing a fine job of disrespecting OP and husband. Not just as a boss but also as family. He’s doing it publicly, in front of family and employees. You’ve talked to him about it and he’s just ignoring you.

      2. Dr. Pepper*

        Exactly. Relationships are two way streets and so far he appears content to let you do all the work while he does what he wants. Perhaps (but only very much perhaps) he doesn’t realize that his behavior comes across as that of an entitled prick, but for some reason I doubt it. He thinks he’s got it easy, and he sure is acting on that. You’re trying to preserve family harmony, run your business, and keep him employed, and he’s….. showing up when he feels like it and openly telling you that your rules don’t apply to him. Sounds like someone who’s taking their position, and family, for granted.

    3. Annie*

      THIS. I worked for a smallish family-owned company where it was clear rules about things like lateness, lunch length, and just general office etiquette didn’t apply to the sons working in the company, and it made me feel incredibly unappreciated. I started looking for a new job about six months into that one because of how demoralizing it felt to see rules only applied to some of us.

      1. Harvey 6-3.5*

        I can see that. I wonder if the OP could simply tell the son-in-law that due to new policy/accounting rules/software/etc., all pay is tied to clock-in/clock-out times within the actual work day. Then only pay him for the actual hours that he is clocked in and out during the 8 1/2 hour period he is supposed to be working. This imposes the natural consequence of reduced pay for being late and no pay if he doesn’t clock-in/clock out (assuming it is legal to do that, of course).

        1. TootsNYC*

          there are labor laws governing exempt and non-exempt workers that may apply here.

          But it may be possible to eliminate his full-time exempt position and make it a part-time position.

    4. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      OP1, I once worked for my aunt. She made clear on day 1 that when in the office, I was an employee and not a relative. My manager had full authority to manage me as she saw fit and was not shy about providing feedback when I needed to improve. As far as I know, being a relative was never an issue with the other employees. None left because I was on the job.

      Later on, I worked at a family-owned company where the CEO’s child came in late, left early, and was treated as a special case by everyone. They lost almost all of their good employees within two years.

      It may be hard after several years, but it’s vital you re-establish this dynamic in your office. You will lose your good employees. If your daughter is mature, she will understand.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP1 – I can think of one step you could take before firing your SIL for disregarding your work practices. Switch him to a non-exempt position. That puts him on the clock and if he doesn’t punch in…he doesn’t get paid.
      If you offer some benefits to exempt employees not non-exempt employees, consider what you’ll do on that beforehand. Also consider what’ll you’ll do if he starts punching in without actually working for overtime levels of hours. Presenteeism can be as damaging as absenteeism.

      1. Suzy Q*

        I was going to say something like this, too. Only pay him for the time he clocks in for, and he might change his behavior. Tell him it’s going to be this way going forward.

    6. Dr. Pepper*

      Yup. If you are not willing or able to impose meaningful consequences, you cannot make him follow the rules. Well, you can’t “make” him do anything, but you can influence his choices by how you respond to them. Since appealing to his better nature and finger wagging haven’t been effective, you’re going to have to get tough or give up. And yes, know that is you give up and let him do as he pleases, non-family employees WILL see it and that breeds bitterness really quick. This is a *big* reason I, and many others, do not like working for a family business while not being part of the family. Special treatment abounds and that really sucks. It’s a morale zapper for sure.

    7. Ms. Ann Thropy*

      ^^This.^^ Not putting an immediate stop to it, either is endorsing it. Employees who are actually doing their work and following the rules of the company are justifiably resentful, even if they haven’t complained to you.

    8. JSPA*

      I see another scenario.

      If he’s extremely diligent in other ways, and if he thinks it’s obvious that he’s 100% committed because it’s family, and if he thinks about and does prep work for the job outside of regular hours, and talks about it with family outside of regular hours, he may de facto be working more than a full schedule already, and it may show. Is he the one the family calls in first if something needs fixing on the weekend, or at the end of the day? Can he not watch the ball game with the in laws or enjoy the 4th of July without spending hours on shop talk?

      If that’s the case, then giving him a job title and recognition and duties with more flexibility may formalize the “110%” that he’s already doing (without forcing him to clock in, if that’s not actually a key part of his job description).

      Clocking in is for people who NEED to be there. Also for people who won’t put the job first, if they’re not stuck on site with nothing more beguiling to do. Makes sense to me to bake more flexibility into everyone’s schedule.

      1. Works in IT*

        It sounds like he’s working in a job that requires coverage though (OP has to schedule extra employees during his shifts to make sure someone is there). Even my coworkers who are occasionally called in the middle of the night for a password reset (whyyyyyy) show up every day and are available during regularly scheduled business hours to handle the things that come in every day. Because that’s what the job requires.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        If he’s showing up two hours late, he’s not that diligent.

        Also, the fact that he’s arguing about something entirely reasonable instead of just doing it says all kinds of bad things about his “diligence”. He’s not the boss–it’s not his call.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          In my job, my coworkers and I occasionally work till 9 PM or midnight. When that happens, of course, we’re usually in late the next morning. Our employer recognizes this by not giving us fixed hours at all – but if they did, I could see us still “showing up two hours late” after giving more than two hours the previous evening. And that doesn’t fault our diligence.

          That said, that probably isn’t happening here. If it is, OP’s son-in-law should’ve just said so rather than saying “it’s different because I’m family.”

          1. Dust Bunny*

            The OP is the boss: S/he should know if this is what’s going on. So either s/he doesn’t know what hours the SIL is working, regardless of SIL’s refusal to clock in, or SIL isn’t doing it. Either way, OP doesn’t have a handle on this.

          2. Someone Else*

            If he clocked in and clocked out, OP would know, but since he refuses to do that either, it’s difficult to quantify him the same way as the others. It’s compounding the lateness issue because he’s refusing to track his time officially.

      3. Dr. Pepper*

        Actually I believe this is a good point. It’s worth considering if nothing else. It’s possible the OP is getting stuck on one particular problem and missing the forest for the trees, so to speak.

        What else does he do besides this? In, say, a family farm type operation, I can very well see someone in SIL’s position thinking that if *he* is the one who’s always up in the middle of the night assisting with calving, or the first one called when the tractor breaks down, or working all hours in the hay field, that showing up on a flexible time schedule and not clocking in or out is a reasonable trade off.

        1. Ellen Ripley*

          This. I’ve had a part time job at a family farm/orchard and the family members don’t clock in and out. But they end up coming in early / staying late / covering for ill people / doing paperwork and email at home, which none of the rest of us do. Obviously FSIL is not doing a good job of communicating, but if he is doing these kinds of things routinely, he may feel that the LW and spouse are nickel and diming him, especially if his position doesn’t require coverage during specific hours as long as the work gets done.

      4. The New Wanderer*

        I think the issue is that if this is the case, the SIL is not using that as a reason. He is simply using “I’m family, so I don’t hafta show up on time.” That’s a problem. He might be valuable, but he’s also incredibly insubordinate.

        The fact that this has gone on for several years already means the OP already has information on what this has done to employee morale and turnover. Maybe it hasn’t had a big enough impact (or they haven’t realized the impact it has had) which is why they haven’t pressed the issue more. But I think ultimately it’s his attitude that’s a problem, not his performance. And that is worth a “shape up or get out” conversation. Because there’s almost no way this would fly in any other work environment.

    9. TootsNYC*

      morale for any non-family employees may very well plummet.

      This is one other argument that you could make to him, if you haven’t.
      (I don’t anticipate it having any effect, however.)

      When you are a family member, the obligation to behave ethically and to follow the rules is even HIGHER, not lower.
      It’s a form of noblesse oblige. You have the advantages they don’t, and so you need to act with greater restraint and generosity.

      Are other people waiting on him? is there lost productivity, lost sales, because he’s not in the office?

      He’s probably exempt, so you can’t dock his pay for the hours he doesn’t show up. But you could figure out all the other methods people use to discipline exempt workers.
      Or you could restructure his job to be part-time in hours, with part-time in pay.

      I would also say that you might consider letting his fiancée (your daughter) in on the problem, and its ramifications, so she knows what’s coming.

      1. JSPA*

        Seems problematic from an employer – employee privacy point of view, while practically required from a family point of view. Which is what makes family businesses so tricky.

  3. Aphrodite*

    OP #1, I would also worry that if he is treating you, as his supervisor, like this now (before he’s your son-in-law) that when he is officially part of the family, and perhaps not on his “good” behavior that his work behaviors might get worse. In other words, after the honeymoon comes the marriage–and he may no longer feel he has to “court” you.

    I completely agree with Alison’s advice; he needs to either shape up or ship out (of the business). And he needs to show a permanent change in his current attitude.

    1. kittymommy*

      This really stood out to me as well. It’s one thing to assume that the rules are different when you’re family, but to be told different, more than once, and to go so far as to correct your supervisor is … troubling. Why does he think he knows more than his future in law, supervisor, and (what sounds like) co-owner of the business!!??

    2. MLB*

      He’s taking advantage of the situation, and I agree, it will only get worse once he’s married to OP’s daughter. I could understand getting away with a little more because you’re family if it happens once in a while, but he’s doing this every day. If OP decides to confront him and have the “shape up or ship out” conversation, she may want to have a private conversation with her daughter first.

      If you decide to let him continue in this manner, you’re going to have a whole lot of bitter employees on your hands (if they’re not already bitter now).

  4. Observer*

    #5, why would the manager have an *obligation* to meet with you about the write up? It might be useful to think about your assumptions around the respective obligations of your employer, and yourself. Getting your facts right could be very useful to you.

    Also, think about whether your (possibly incorrect) assumptions could be affecting your work and working relationships in negative ways. eg If someone assumes that their boss is not allowed to require them to do anything that’s not in their job description and therefore doesn’t do anything that is not in that description, their boss is going to see them as insubordinate and difficult.

    1. SignalLost*

      Why would a manager feel it’s appropriate to plonk down a writeup, in potential full view of others, for something that seems not to have been previously discussed? Why would an employee’s expectation that disciplinary action would not be conducted in public (since it sounds like the writeup was in fact left on her desk rather than handed to her while she was at her desk) count as an assumption that needs to be revised because the employer has no obligation not to discipline in public? What a weirdly adversarial stance to take, defending the idea of public, unexplained discipline.

      1. Observer*

        I didn’t defend anything. And, talking about assumptions, you’re making a lot of assumptions about things not in any way evident. Leaving a write up on someone’s desk hardly constitutes “public discipline”. Something was left at the OP’s desk – unless the OP left it out, there is nothing to say that anyone even knows what it is. And the only question the OP has is whether the manager is required to meet with in person to review it.

        It’s reasonable to think that good managers will, in fact, meet with you to discuss something like that absent some really unusual circumstances. It is not so reasonable to assume that they are REQUIRED to do so. And when you have incorrect expectations, that can cause problems. Not because you are a terrible person, but because you’re going to react to situation in ways that are not really optimal, or worse.

        Ignoring instruction that you think your manager is “not allowed” to give you does not make you a bad person. It may not even necessarily make you a bad employee. It *IS* going to make you an employee who your manager is going to have major issues with.

        Sure, it’s extreme but that’s what makes it so clear that it’s a problem. Most situations are nowhere near that extreme, so the issue is not quite as crystal clear. But they still exist and still have the capacity to harm the OP.

        1. JOA*

          If the information on said writeup is private, i.e. that OP’s colleagues shouldn’t know about it, then it’s absolutely inappropriate to leave it on their desk. Anyone in possession of private information for business purposes, be they employer or employee, is indeed required to handle it in a sensitive manner.

      2. Yorick*

        I guess it depends what the write-up was for. Some things are straightforward and don’t really need a lot of discussion (for example, tardiness), and others things are not.

        And actually, we don’t know whether the issue from the write-up was never discussed before (just that the write-up itself was not discussed). Maybe the manager has mentioned this before and LW5 is just surprised to be written up about it.

        1. Admin of Sys*

          But even tardiness could be worth a discussion – I had a friend who got tagged as ‘late’ because they didn’t immediately start responding to emails upon arrival, which was what their manager was counting as ‘present at work’.
          Unless the issue was previously discussed, I think it’s always worth going over what constitutes an issue and it’s resolution with an employee.

        2. MassMatt*

          I was wondering if the issue was something the manager has mentioned before and has continued, hence the escalation to a write up. I still think to bad management, but we have seen MANY letters here where an employee has been given many ultimatums and still feels blindsided by getting fired or put on a PIP.

          That the LW is focused more on whether the manager is “allowed” to give a warning this way vs: the substance of the warning makes me think this is a similar case.

      3. JSPA*

        This could be as minor as “broke the no chewing gum” rule. (And it could have a cover page.) We really don’t have enough information whether this is something major and needing discussion, or something to acknowledge, add a “sorry, won’t happen again” and then Not Do That One Little Thing.

    2. beth*

      Going over reviews/write-ups in a meeting is common enough that I don’t think it’s at all weird to assume that it’s the way things are done, or to be thrown off by a manager not doing it. It’s odd to me that you’re interpreting it as a sign of a difficult employee.

      1. Observer*

        I don’t think the employee is necessarily difficult. But incorrect assumptions can really cause problems. I chose a somewhat extreme example to make it clear just how much of a problem it can cause. Perhaps I should have pointed out that if an employee thinks that an employer can only fire them for good cause, they could be at risk. Not that an decent employer should fire a good employee (or any employee, for that matter) on a whim. But we know that in most cases, and employer CAN do that, and it’s useful *to the employee* to be aware of that.

        The problem is not the the OP is “thrown off” by this. The problem is that the OP thinks that the manager is doing something illegal here. “Is this as weird as I think this is?” Almost certainly yes. “Is this a really bad way to do performance reviews?” Definitely. “How can I get my manager to do a proper review” Good question; I’ll leave suggestions to Allison. “Is this legal?” is a very different question. It’s also far more adversarial. So, thinking about the assumptions and attitudes that may underlie it is worthwhile, in my opinion.

        I’m not in any way implying that it’s good management to do what the manager here apparently did. But since when is good sense and good management legally required? Managers can require employees to waste time, effort and money on make work or on stroking their (the manager’s) egos. Managers can let terrible employees get away with horrible misbehavior (in most cases) because they are conflict averse. Managers can usually allow bullying to happen on their watch, and may even be the bully, and it’s perfectly legal. None of these things is good management, and some of these things are just plain terrible behavior. But still legal.

        1. anon today and tomorrow*

          I think this is a pretty big stretch. I didn’t take the use of “obligated” to mean legally obligated, but more morally or from a HR standpoint. This seems like a lot of unfar speculation of the OP, and I don’t think it’s helpful.

          1. tra la la*

            Also, Alison is the one who asked if OP meant “legally.” OP just used the word “obligated.”

          2. Quoth the Raven*

            I didn’t take obligated to mean “legally obligated” either (the confusion might stem from Alison asking OP to clarify if she meant that). I took it to mean “be required to”, which the manager might actually be, depending on the job description and the nature of the write up (if, for example, it is part of his job to provide feedback).

            1. Observer*

              Either the OP meant legally obligated or obligated in some universal fashion. That makes no more sense than a legal obligation. Sure, it’s good management practice, and some employers formally require this as part of a manager’s duties. But, the idea that it’s universally required in a way that someone like Alison could actually answer that question with a yes or no, is just totally not congruent with the real world.

              People get blindsided all the time because they think that an employer “has to” do x, or “is not allowed” to do Y and then the employer does something totally different from what they think the rules are. It is totally to the benefit of any employee to understand the difference between what an employer SHOULD do as a matter of good practice, and what an employer HAS to do either as a matter of law or some other universal binding obligation.

              1. EPLawyer*

                Why is why they write to Alison. They are used to A, all of sudden they are hit with B. So they ask Alison, with all of her vast expertise, to explain if B is correct after all. Which is perfectly normal.

                There is absolutely nothing in the letter to suggest that the OP is difficult or not understanding general office norms. Because it IS general office norms that if there is a write up, you meet with the person, go over the write up THEN ask them to sign. Not just plop it on their desk and expect the person to just sign.

              2. anon today and tomorrow*

                As EPLawyer, that’s why they write to Allison, because sometimes they’re not sure what an employer should or has to do, and criticizing them and assuming they’re a difficult employee because they wrote to her with this question comes off as harsh.

                And really, I think it’s more reasonable for the OP to write asking if an employer is obligated to talk with them about a written warning rather than some of the other letters we’ve had asking if things are legal (like whether it’s legal to not invite spouses to parties). This seems like an extreme reaction to something that a lot of people would question.

        2. beth*

          This is still a huge stretch. The letter writer didn’t actually ask if this is illegal–“is this allowed?” can be in reference to workplace mores and standard expectations just as easily as it can actual laws. Allison was the one who brought up the word ‘legal’ here, not LW.

          And even if LW were asking if it’s legal…it’s a major leap to assume that LW is adversarial or unaware of their position in the workplace hierarchy. You’re reading a lot into what comes across as a perfectly normal, reasonable question to me.

        3. RC Rascal*

          If the OP is a member of a protected class AND this is out if the norm for company culture AND/OR policy, AND the OP can provide examples of different styles of communication and conflict management with employees who are not members of the protected class, then this is an example of discrimination. At that point it is illegal.

        4. JSPA*

          They could mean any of the following:
          “is this common.”
          “is this generally legal.”
          “is the feedback process something the company is likely to have regulations about.”
          “is this rude.”
          “is this used to signal disrespect”
          “is this used to signal it’s no big deal.”
          “is the mode of delivery itself a warning sign / is this used to signal that I screwed up so badly they don’t even want to talk to me.”

          OP asked a limited question with no information about the seriousness of the infraction, so OP got a limited answer.

        5. Smarty Boots*

          No, the OP doesn’t say, is it illegal. That was AAM’s question — it’s not in the letter as posted.

          1. JSPA*

            But…it’s hard to say what else ‘allowed’ would mean. Alison isn’t privy to the procedural documents of OP’s workplace. Nor to any bargaining agreement. So it’s hard to see what OP could be asking, literally, if not the legal precedent.

            A lot of people have said “but they can’t do that” to me about things that, turns out, employers can absolutely do. It’s not such a stretch that this is what “allowed” means, here. It’s also the only version of the question that Alison can answer, not having more info.

    3. Doctor Schmoctor*

      “why would the manager have an *obligation* to meet with you about the write up?”
      Because otherwise, the manager is not managing. A manager who is afraid to talk to their employees when there are problems, is not doing their job.

      1. LQ*

        I agree. This is a clear sign of a poor manager. (Assuming the OP didn’t decline a half dozen meeting invites and not show up for work or something absurdly out of line like that.)

        Can the OP be fired? Sure. For having a blue tie. Or anything else. But that’s not what should form the basis of every interaction with your employer. It leaves you terrified, guessing constantly, or just checking out.

        I think it’s fine to assume that your employer is a decent one who is going to try to do the right thing (like manage, not fire you for having a blue tie, etc) rather than assuming your employer is a tyrant who is going to wield their power however they wish and you should conform to their will or be destroyed.

        1. Observer*

          I agree that this is probably the sign of a poor manager. But a poor manager and a manager that does things that are forbidden are two different things. And it’s important for the OP to understand that. If the manager were so bad that he were refusing to have REQUIRED meetings, Allison’s scripts would be a lot less useful. But if he’s just someone who is not so great at managing, Allison’s scripts are far more useful because it’s addressed to a fundamentally reasonable person.

          There is a difference between people who refuse to follow the rules and people who engage if non-optimal behaviors. Not reviewing a write up is generally an example of the latter.

      2. Written Warning*

        Yup. I got a written warning, and I didn’t even know what was happening to me at first. My boss sat me down in her office, pulled out a paper and started to read from it. It was placed on her desk, and from the seat across I read the heading upsidedown: “Written Warning”. I have been working for more than twenty years and have no experience with such things, but I am pretty sure this is not the optimal way to do this!

        I was asked to sign the warning under a statement that said I was acknowledging the content had been reviewed with me. So in fact my boss WAS obligated to discuss it with me. And she did. The absolute bare minimum. Because she’s a terrible manager.

      3. Observer*

        That’s all good and fine. But that’s not what the OP is asking. The OP didn’t ask if this is a bad practice (which is almost certainly is) but whether it’s a FORBIDDEN practice. The answer to that is that unless there are a lot of circumstances that are not typical, this is NOT a forbidden practice. And, the question remains – why would you think it’s forbidden? What other things does the OP think are forbidden or required that could hurt the OP?

        The issue here is no that the OP is a difficult employee, but that if they have other incorrect assumption in this vein, it could cause behavior that would be seen by their employer as difficult. That’s not in the employee’s best interest.

    4. Another observer*

      Observer, although your tone seems to be generating some pushback from the commentariat, I do think you’re offering a useful reminder that the manager-employee relationship is often adversarial, and it’s useful to be prepared for that.

      1. Smarty Boots*

        I don’t see anything wrong with the OP’s tone. Here’s the entire letter:

        My employer left a write-up for me in my desk without discussing it in person and asked for me to review and sign it. Is my employer not obligated to meet with me in person to review a write-up?

        That’s what I’d call a politely worded question. I don’t see any off-putting tone here, and I think the commentariat is going a little overboard by imputing all sorts of bad behavior or intent based on a tone that isn’t even there.

    5. Mike C.*

      Because you don’t surprise people with stuff like this. There might also be mitigating/aggravating circumstances that apply to this situation that need to be discussed and so on.

      Why is it ok to just plop this on someone’s desk without saying something?

    6. LGC*

      …I really hope you’re not saying that what the manager did was okay.

      For what it’s worth, I think that for something that significant (in effect, an issue with LW5 that’s serious enough to put in their file), yes they are ethically obligated to get some context before submitting it. And regardless of what the issue is with LW5 (even if they might be difficult enough that their manager is afraid of meeting with them), it’s the correct thing to do.

      1. Observer*

        No, I’m not. And in fact I said that more than once before you posted your comment….

        The fact this is generally bad practice really has nothing to do with the question, which indicates that the OP really doesn’t understand the workplace (or left out the crucial fact that they were asking about moral obligation, which TOTALLY changes the question.)

    7. NW Mossy*

      You’re right that the legal obligations an employer has to employees are often far less than employees may know or understand, and that employees who believe the law goes farther than it does sometimes set themselves up to have their expectations dashed.

      However, there’s a thread of cynicism in your comment that seems to imply a sense of “expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.” That’s just as corrosive to working relationships as naivete, and probably an overcorrection for the scope of the OP’s “offense” in asking this question of Alison.

    8. Memyselfandi*

      I would say that by writing and asking the question the letter writer is indeed thinking and questioning her assumptions around the respective obligations of her employer and herself.

    9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Well the OP is a worker and not management, a huge amount of workers aren’t well versed in employment law or even standards of practice in most cases. That’s why AAM exists, it’s hard to navigate the complex different systems.

      The majority of the people I’ve worked with in non-essential and non-management roles are great at their jobs but couldn’t tell you a darn thing about rules or regulations of any kind unless they directly effected their day to day work. They weren’t difficult, they’re humans. As a manager, you’re paid more and held to a higher level of knowledge.

  5. Observer*

    #2 – G-d’s plan as regards the work?! What on earth is that supposed to mean?

    Beyond that, not all Christians share beliefs. There are many different denominations and while some denominations are fairly homogeneous, others are very heterogeneous. “Oh, you’re Christian too? We must have the same ideas about G-d’s plan!” is a REAL jump, even leaving out the work related aspect of it. Bring that in, and you’ve just moved into potential law suit territory.

    1. Anonicat*

      Right? I’m a Christian and I’m leery of discussing His plans in any specific way – my personal beliefs about humility and human limitations make it very dicey ground, and on top of that I’ve met too many people whose ideas of appropriate plans are waaaaay too limited. I’d rather hide under my desk than discuss something so personal and uncertain with a colleague, let alone my supervisor.

      1. It's mce*

        I’m Catholic and I feel uncomfortable with someone who would talk to me in this manner. An ex-friend of mine worked in hospice care and she told me that she would tell patients it wasn’t too late to convert. I told her that she should stop in the case of a patient/patient’s family getting upset.

        1. Artemesia*

          Wow. The last thing someone needs in a hospice is someone intruding on their personal faith or lack of same. I’d fire someone who did this. It is one thing to ask if they would like to speak to a clergyperson but quite another to proselytize at the bed of a dying person.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I would have complained to her supervisor. Her behavior is so unacceptably out of bounds and also so cruel.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          I’ve got a parent in hospice: my eyebrows are in my hairline. (And my dad is a Christian and might be okay with this–the minister visits, the choir comes by and sings.)

          1. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

            Or he might be even more upset–if someone told me “it’s not too late to convert” I’d be upset, but it wouldn’t have the subtext of “you only think you’re a Christian” that telling a Protestant that he should convert to Catholicism, or vice versa, would.

        4. JSPA*

          I can’t think of a single hospice duty where this would not be a firing offense. Entirely beyond the pale.

        5. Quackeen*

          I used to volunteer at a hospice. As part of the application and interview process, they warned very clearly against proselytizing. I’m glad she is an ex-friend.

    2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I don’t know but I’m thinking of something like “God tells me He wants you to start doing some teapot design work in addition to your previous duties” or “it’s not in God’s plan to make your position full-time” or something like that. It would definitely fall into the category of spiritual abuse to add anything about God’s will into your managerial discussions, in my opinion also if the job is religious. A manager isn’t their employee’s spiritual authority even if they share the same religion.

      1. Gen*

        As a non-Christian I’ve only ever heard “Gods Plan” used in contexts like “it was Gods Plan that [death/tragedy] happened”. I heard it a lot when we were trying to mourn our pregnancies and when I was injured by medical negligence. If I heard that phrasing at work I’d definitely be concerned it was going to be used to justify whatever they felt like. “It’s gods plan that you earn less than your male coworkers”, “it was gods plan that Jane got injured in that industrial accident”, “its gods plan that Jason gets that promotion”.

        1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

          That was my thought too. “You’re not going to get a promotion or any kind of recognition, but you should dedicate your entire life to this company anyway. It’s God’s plan.”

      2. many bells down*

        Mr. Bells was a good Mormon boy in Utah. When he got to college, he questioned his faith and started going “goth”, but he was still a very straight-edge Boy Scout; no smoking or drinking or swearing or anything. He had a boos that called him into his office to tell him to “rethink his lifestyle” because said boss was “putting together an elite team that would receive direction from the Holy Spirit.” and as Mr. Bells was a very productive employee despite the goth look he wanted him on it.

        That wasn’t even the weirdest part of the conversation. It got waaaaaay racist after that.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      “Beyond that, not all Christians share beliefs.”

      Ever heard the joke about the man on the bridge?

      I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: “Stop. Don’t do it.”

      “Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.

      “Well, there’s so much to live for!”

      “Like what?”

      “Are you religious?”

      He said: “Yes.”

      I said: “Me too. Are you Christian or something else?”


      “Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”


      “Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”


      “Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”

      “Baptist Church of God.”

      “Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”

      “Reformed Baptist Church of God.”

      “Wow, me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”

      He said: “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915.”

      I said: “DIE HERETIC SCUM,” and pushed him off the bridge.

    4. A.N. O'Nyme*

      I’m reminded of the beginning of my American Literature class with this one – the Puritans famously (and boringly) wrote down literally everything that happened to try and figure out what God’s plan was. Period of draught? Well God’s clearly pissed at you. Things going good for you (hello, Massachusetts Bay Colony)? Well then you’re doing everything right according to God and he is rewarding you.
      Seriously, especially Plymouth Bay colonists have a lot of hysterically grasping at straws going on in their diaries.
      That said though…I’m very concerned about how intent he seems to bring religion into the workplace. Not shutting this down immediately will likely lead to issues down the road. Things going bad for the company and New Manager has to size down his team? Well obviously God is angry because he’s employing Jane-who-is-not-Christian, ergo she has to go.
      I’m not saying he would do that, but he could.

      1. LQ*

        Yeah, I’d be worried that if I got sick my boss would say god was punishing me and so I was bad and shouldn’t get promoted.

        I see you’re stressed out and overworked and you got sick.
        Good boss: Lets reprioritize/take something off your plate/make sure you have time to recover
        Godly boss: God’s plan is that you aren’t able to do this work and shouldn’t get promoted.

        (And if he’s said this stuff before…I don’t think he’s actually changed so if someone who has previously communicated that to staff is being promoted, I have to assume he’s going to continue to hold those beliefs and I should definitely be looking.)

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          “I know it seems like you have a lot on your plate, now that you’re doing the work of those two coworkers who quit and weren’t replaced, but remember, God never gives you more than you can handle.”

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            Ugh, this. I’ve heard variations on this several times in my life and that would be very bad to hear from a manager.

        1. JSPA*

          I occasionally elide the central vowel (without being observant of any religion). Jews are not the only faith with proscriptions against writing the full name of God (as a mark of respect) or, as in the case of Judaism, as pre-planning to avoid erasing or defacing the name. (If you don’t write the whole thing, nobody can mistakenly or intentionally deface or disfigure it later). There have been orthodox rulings that’s it’s OK on a computer because that’s not a permanent record; thus, “Letter to the editor, use G-d, in case someone uses it to line the birdcage after; deleting a file with ‘God,’ that’s no problem.”

          (I don’t know why data on a hard drive or data stick would not be presumed permanent, compared to, say, icing on a cake but…OK. Religious procedures are not required to have internal or external logic.)

          1. Former Retail Manager*

            I had no idea this was a thing. I’ve learned something new today. Thanks for the info!

      1. Mary Connell*

        A probably preferable way to address this, LadyCop, would be to ask why certain commenters use that spelling. Any number of people would be happy to explain that it is done out of respect, to avoid using the name of God too frequently. As I understand it, it is tied in with one of the Ten Commandments: to avoid taking the name of the Lord in vain.

        (And with this comment, hasn’t LadyCop provided a real life example of the “die heretic scum” joke above?)

        1. Ellex*

          Some interpretations of that commandment say that it’s only a prohibition against perjury and not fulfilling your obligations: if you take any kind of oath invoking God and then break that oath, you’d be taking the Lord’s name in vain.

      2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        Some Jews write it that way because they consider it inappropriate to destroy anything with G-d’s name written on it. Most of the things we write or print will be destroyed, sooner or later, accidental or otherwise. Copies of web pages are constantly created and then destroyed. (I have seen ads that for similar reasons referred to “the A-mighty” in inviting people to holiday services: in a month or two that ad is going to be pulled down and either recycled or landfilled.)

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          This is the reason I’ve heard. I also read once that this practice is one reason why you sometimes find caches of religious documents in ancient sites, because they were buried under the floors of buildings or in crypts etc when they were too worn to be useful but still had the name of G-d written on them.

    5. ElspethGC*

      There are plenty of Christians whose version of ‘God’s plan’ involves me being disowned or fired for my ‘sins’ (or ‘converted’ to being straight, or harmed, or dead). I’m not Christian, but I know plenty of people who are and who certainly *wouldn’t* want to see me suffer. There are also a lot who would.

      If I heard someone talking about God’s plan in the workplace, I’d be very concerned that God’s plan clearly involved me being fired or otherwise discriminated against. Unlikely to happen, because the UK has pretty good employment laws and protections for LGBTQ people, and because talking religion in the workplace is almost unheard of here, but seriously. I wouldn’t have high hopes for the inclusivity of someone who talks about this sort of thing in the workplace. After all, if he thinks he knows what his God condemns, he may try to take the plan into his own hands.

  6. Nini Bee*

    An aspect that’s been left out of OP #2’s letter is that if he’s discussing work related matters in a religious way with direct reports, but only after making sure they’re Christian first, then is he excluding non-Christian direct reports from potentially important work related discussions? Especially if he’s talking about “God’s plan as it pertains to work.”

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      And even if he doesn’t, are the other hires going to feel like they’re excluded from the manager’s special confidential meetings because he won’t Talk God with them?

      1. Ice and Indigo*

        Or regarded as not taking their work as seriously as the people who let him preach at them, because presumably caring about God’s plan is a deeper commitment than caring about doing your job?

    2. MLB*

      To be honest, that’s beside the point. Unless you’re working for a religious organization, religion should NEVER be discussed at work. Making the assumption that because another person follows the same religion, doesn’t automatically mean they have the exact same beliefs as you. It can be a touchy subject and should not be brought into the work place.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      And to get there he has to ask employees what religion they practice — which is absolutely illegal.

      I know several non-Christians who enjoy fairy lights & glitter enough to take any excuse to decorate. One friend learned to love the secular aspects of Christianity because he spent years in foster care — but he’s now strict enough in his Judaism to keep kosher. He’s also extremely outspoken about minority rights.

      If my friend ended up behind closed doors with a proselytizing manager? Insert the “eating popcorn” meme.

        1. rldk*

          Not the asking in itself, but it is definitely not recommended from a legal perspective because it opens up the manager (and employer) up to religious discrimination liability. The same way that it’s not recommended to ask about age or pregnancy plans in the interview process, because any decision made that includes that information could appear to have been changed by that knowledge, which *is* illegal.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        It’s not illegal to ask; it’s illegal to make decisions and treat people differently based on the answer (a la ‘Oh I WAS going to consider Sarah for a promotion, but she’s [religionA], so that’s a no-go’). Which is why it’s *bad form* to ask – once you’ve asked, it’s out in the open, and the company runs the risks of lawsuits over discrimination.

  7. Dan*


    There’s no good time to lay someone off. That said, IMHO (and I can only speak for myself) I want as much notice as possible that my income is going to cease. I’d happily take notice (+severance) now, instead of a tap on the shoulder and no severance in the middle of January.

    If you were to lay me off in the middle of January with no severance, my personal view of history would be that you pulled a fast one on me (let me “enjoy” Xmas knowing you were going to lay me off afterward) and then did so with no severance. I’d feel like a sucker. And as you brought up, there’s that Xmas spending thing. If you lay me off in the middle of January with no severance, I’m doubly pissed about the Xmas spending I did. Again, IMHO, I just don’t see how letting her go in January with no severance is the preferred outcome.

    To your point, having some severance and the ability to pick up some seasonal retail work is financially likely a better outcome.

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Agreed. If I knew I wasn’t going to have a job in January, I’d be very careful about Christmas spending. I’d definitely rather know as far in advance as possible. OP, it’s kind of you to consider what might be better for her especially since she hasn’t been a stellar employee.

      1. Cat wrangler*

        I agree with letting the employee go now with severance rather than in January with none. At least they stand a chance of finding another job and can budget according over Christmas if they can’t. Kudos for considering the best way to do this.

      2. Washi*

        I agree about the spending, and also being able to pick up a retail job fairly easily (since that’s the employee’s background.) And it’s not quite clear from your letter whether there would be a notice period in addition to severance, but if she isn’t laid off effective immediately, you might offer to be extra flexible during that period in case she needs to go to interviews.

      3. Not Gary, Gareth*

        Jumping in to add my voice to the chorus of agreement: it really is the kinder thing to lay her off now.

        A similar thing actually happened to me, except my employer waited until *the day after Christmas* to lay off my department of 10 or so. Even with severance (one week – whoopee), it felt like an intentional slap in the face. Five years later, I’m still hurt and angry thinking about it. And my absolute first reaction was regret at having spent so much on gifts – if I’d known I would be out of a job, I would have planned ahead and reined it in a bit.

        There was also no acknowledgement of the horrible timing, and they marched us out of the building without allowing us to collect our personal effects from our desks – those were thrown into a box and mailed to us later. Overall it was pretty devastating.

        So, don’t be that guy. Lay her off now, give her severance and a good reference, treat her as kindly and gently as possible. As others have said, it’s the best of a bad bunch of options.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes. There are no “oh boy I’m being laid off!!” reactions to be had here. The severance, holiday spending, and chance to pick up seasonal work make “tell her now” the best of an array of unpleasant options.

      1. Bulbasaur*

        I agree this is the best call. The timing is horrible and she will very likely be upset about it, but it’s the least horrible of the options available to you by some margin. Be honest and lay out the reasons why you’re doing it.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      YES. Give me as much warning as possible. If you know you can’t make payroll past a certain date, tell me as soon as you figure that out. I’ll take severance and a seasonal retail job thankyouverymuch!

    4. CM*

      I agree. At first I was thinking that the OP could give the employee a choice, but it’s not really much of a choice — work through the end of December or don’t work, but make the same money either way. Severance is the way to go.

    5. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Agreed. I once worked with someone who was doing very well, or so it seemed, during their probation and was confident enough that they’d be kept on that they bought a brand new car, with the attendant loan, on that basis. The manager gave every indication of being very pleased with her, at least in public, so I was very surprised when she was let go on the very last day of the probation period.

      Now it admittedly wasn’t very prudent of her to not wait until probation was finished, but the manager later told me that she knew it would happen and felt terrible that she was making big financial commitments just before getting let go but there was nothing the manager could do about it. Later I realised that they did that to all of their new staff, including me when my time was up. I have no idea what the company gained by doing this but it was apparently policy.

      Long story short I’d rather know I’m going to lose my job sooner rather than later, especially if it might save me from spending money I might need.

  8. ENFP in Texas*

    “He would never ask them about it, but if they bring up on their own that they are Christian, is it okay for him to then engage in conversations about God’s plan as pertains to work?”

    Considering how many different denominations of Christianity that exist, just knowing someone else is Christian doesn’t automatically that they’ll share all your beliefs. I hope the OP makes it perfectly clear to the emoyee that discussing “God’s plan” at work is off-limits.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Just knowing how much disagreement there can be in *my own Meeting* tells me that having conversations like that at work (unless it were specifically an organization that is within our sect) is a terrible idea and — at best — has a real potential for hurting someone’s feelings in a way that is completely unnecessary.

    2. Auntie Social*

      I hope OP says she’ll talk with him again about “God’s plan for your unemployment” if he does it again.

    3. Argh!*

      In my little corner of AppalachIndiana, “Christian” means fundamentalist, most likely Baptist or “non-denominational” (and almost all non-denominational churches have “What we believe” statements on their websites that are 100% Baptist). And they don’t believe Catholics can be considered “Christian,” and probably other mainline denominations.

      I can see something like that happening here. There have been a few people at my job who have prosletyzed but for the most part they do keep it to themselves, especially the managers.

  9. LadyPhoenix*

    LW #2: There are places this manager can discuss God’s plan: his church’s service, at home, in a bible study group, at one of those Big Christian gatherings…. but work, especially secular work, is not one if them.

    The fact he is trying to qeasle out of this is not good. Don’t give hin an inch.
    “I’m sorry Bob, I told you already that the religious talk might alienate someone else. I rather you focus on your work.”

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      I would suggest there is exactly one time in a secular work place where church can be mentioned – it is 1. with someone already at his church, 2. in a break room and 3. contains only the words “did you say you needed to carpool to church this Sunday?”

      1. hermit crab*

        I’m not sure about that. I think the issue here is that the employee is discussing *religion* – not just mentioning church. There are plenty of workplaces/situations where, for example, answering “what did you do this weekend?” with “I had a great time at my church picnic” would be perfectly appropriate.

        The difference here is that the employee is bringing religion into the workplace in a really inappropriate way.

        1. Risha*

          Exactly. As a non-Christian, a coworker who is casually discussing what they did that weekend in church or the volunteering they did at the food bank = I’m happy they had a good time/feel good about what they’ve done. It’s part of their life, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t talk about it like any other part.
          Talking about God’s Plan for themselves or their personal beliefs = I’m uncomfortable, please stop.
          Attempting to talk about God’s Plan for myself or the company = oh HELL no.

    2. A.N. O'Nyme*

      The only time to discuss God’s plan while at work is if you’re a priest delivering a sermon (which would probably make it your actual job to do so). Any other work environments? Nope nope nope nope nope.

      1. Well Well Well*

        Well, no. There are plenty of other jobs directly involving religion that might include discussion of that topic. Religious non-profit workers, for example, or seminary tutors, or missionaries. And so on.

        Don’t make the mistake of becoming too narrow and prescriptive in response to this situation. At this job, this behavior is not appropriate. That’s the important thing, not how many other jobs exist where it would be appropriate.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          Nix on the religious non profits. Many accept government funds for certain work and they shouldn’t be bringing religion up at all when using those funds for those services. LiHEAP, etc.)

          1. PennyParker*

            Indeed; I wrote a thank you below because this group helped me get that talk shut down at a church-based non-profit I was working at which accepted federal funds.

          2. Evan Þ.*

            And there’re a lot of other religious nonprofit services that don’t involve government funds – so sometimes it still is appropriate for them to discuss religion.

        2. A.N. O'Nyme*

          Less me being prescriptive and more me forgetting missionaries, sunday schools, etc. are a thing, to be honest.
          I’m still gonna disagree with the religious non-profit thing, though.

  10. beth*

    LW2 – I think you need to lay down a flat rule that he can’t bring up religion while at work, period. He’s currently searching for loopholes rather than following the spirit of your past discussion, which tells me that he can’t handle nuance when it comes to this particular topic; if it’s not a blanket ban, he’s going to keep looking for the right loophole.

    If you see signs of this on any other topic, or if he continues pushing once you tell him it’s straight-up not allowed period no matter what, I would seriously question his judgement and wonder whether he’s really the right fit for a management position.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*


      I read that and the first thought that came to mind was “Really? This person is the best fit for the job??”

      1. Oblomov*

        Probably they are a bright eyed eager type who have decided it’s gods plan for them to have Stakhanovite zeal for their job. Measured by crude personal productivity they are a most profitable employee

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          Heh, heh.

          Ok, this Monday is just a bundle of amazing references (my Twitter feed is b-i-z-a-r-r-e this morning).

          You may be right. At this point, all I can offer to the prospective employers of this eager beaver is that these people love their 5-year plan goals and, when it turns out they bit off more than they can chew, *KABLOOEY* here comes shturmovshchina and the endgame goriachka when scapegoats gets fired.

          Or, in this case, maybe there’s an argument for God’s Plan to be made at that point.

    2. Joie De Vivre*

      I agree with Beth. And something else to watch for, if any of his direct reports have a sexual orientation that is in conflict with his religious beliefs- will he be a good a good manager for those employees? Or will he hold their orientation against them?

    3. Lynn Whitehat*

      I find it very difficult to believe this guy has reached adulthood literally never having encountered the idea that religion is a sensitive topic, and you don’t inject it willy-nilly into a secular workplace. He’s trying to find a way to inject it because he wants to do what he wants to do, not because he has never heard that he shouldn’t. This isn’t some obscure area of law that most people don’t deal with. No benefits of doubts given.

  11. Celeste*

    OP#1, you are going to need to let him go. He’s bad for business because he’s costing you the goodwill of the rest of your staff. He’s old enough to know better, and I have a lot of questions about why he shows his future father in law so little respect. No other employer will let him work a short day and opt out of timekeeping. Maybe he needs to learn that lesson from some of them. Then your daughter can be angry at those employers instead of at her partner, as she should be right now. Good luck; it will suck in the short term, but you’re doing the right thing for your business by letting him go. You have a family to provide for, and that has to come first over what liberties this employee wants from you.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I think there’s one more step before firing him, but I agree that they have to be *willing* to fire him if necessary. If they aren’t willing to fire him, then he gets to set the terms of employment, using their relationship with their daughter as a hostage, even if that’s not how he’s thinking of it.

      The one more step is to sit him down and tell him that the rules that apply to other employees also apply to him, and he needs to follow them if he wants to continue to work for the business. Make him answer, not just listen, with a “can you agree to that”. Honestly, I’d work in the fact that they *have* fired family members before, so he doesn’t go on thinking that it’s an empty threat. Maybe with something like “Over the years we’ve learned that giving special privileges to family members is bad for business and terrible for employee morale; we’ve had to fire someone over this before, and I’d rather not have to go through this again.

      Then, if he continues to come in two hours late and refuses to clock in, they have to fire him.

      If they aren’t willing to do this, then they have to own that decision. They’ve decided future son-in-law gets special privileges because he’s family, and they have to work that in to how they run the business, and deal with resentment from the other employees.

    2. Coffee with my Creamer*

      Yes, they need to let him go and possibly their daughter when she gets mad. It would be better to do this now than later. OP needs to get their power back, I cant imagine how the other workers are perceiving OP and her husband. In case OP doesn’t know everyone at the workplace knows SIL is late and not clocking in and they are all talking about whether OP knows or not.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        Agree with all 3 posters here. A formal final written warning is a good step not only to hopefully snap the SIL back to reality but also a CYA. I would also talk with the daughter and let her know that Fergus is on really thin ice at work. It would not shock me in the least if daughter has no idea that Fergus is pulling these shenanigans.

          1. Justin*

            Oh I dunno about that, I think it’s very possible that he treats her just fine and thinks he has such a great relationship with her parents (“They love me! They gave me a job! I’ll be running that place someday.”) that he can get away with breaking some rules.

  12. Stinky Socks*

    At least in my branch of Christianity, discerning God’s plan with someone else falls under the purview of spiritual direction. It would be grossly, wildly inappropriate for one’s spiritual director to ever be someone above you in the chain of command. Besides the professional overstep (which this absolutely would be) it would also be a huge religious one.

      1. dawbs*

        Spiritual privacy seems key.

        Can you imagine having a “crisis of faith”, where you question beliefs and consider leaving the church (which is a *big deal* in terms of stress and emotion. It may not seem it, but the scales social scientists use to determine stress levels in individuals plus losing faith on par withthe death of a spouse) during this?
        while your boss is telling you about god’s will fir your livelihood and your internal debate is about existential questions and turning your back on a huge part of your life and community?

        (Btdt kinda. Glad I’m not still there. Lines not to ever blur in the future)

  13. Jasnah*

    I’m confused–in #3, Alison adamantly encourages OP to state that it’s a layoff(=eliminating position), not firing(=performance/behavior). But from the letter, it kind of sounds like it’s both? “I need to make some cuts” suggests budget reasons, but OP also says, “I have also been struggling with getting this employee up-to-speed and it seems like she is just not a good fit for the role.” This sounds like performance to me.

    I can see why, if given the choice, it’s kinder to phrase it as a layoff than a firing (ie “It’s not your fault”), but is there a reason for Alison’s strong reminder on language if it’s kind of both? Wouldn’t the employee also want to know if there was a performance issue that contributed to the termination?

    1. JessB*

      I think I’m some places the reason for the termination of employment can affect whether the person is eligible for unemployment payments from the state. That might be it?

    2. beth*

      I’m no lawyer, but my understanding is that it can’t be both? Either it’s a layoff (and the employee may be eligible for things like unemployment) or the employee is being fired for cause (and she may not be eligible for anything). In this case, she would be losing the position even if she were the best ever at it, because the role is being eliminated–so it’s a layoff.

      If the employee were totally unaware of the performance issues, I could see some value in sharing them simply to let her know what kind of reference she might get from the employer. But she’s likely aware that she’s struggling (I think most people have a sense of when they’re not doing great, at least), so it’s probably more important to be clear about her actual status going forward.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        In general, I think that they can still get unemployment if they’ve been fired, unless it’s for deliberate misconduct (not just being bad at the job), and the employer has to contest it. It’s quitting that can be tricky – you generally don’t qualify, but there are reasons for quitting that can make you eligible (like a major cut in salary, or the job moving).

        It’s also pretty common, and quite good business sense, to lay off the employees with the lowest performance when making budget cuts, even if it means rearranging job tasks. But it still counts as laying off, not firing. From a management perspective, layoffs can come unexpectedly, but being fired should be a progressive process (via a PIP, for instance), rather than being a surprise.

        In this case, the OP is giving the employee the ability to say that she’s never been fired in job applications (at least, if she hasn’t been fired somewhere else). Losing her job right before Christmas will suck – there’s nothing that can be done about that – but two weeks severance and a chance to get pre-Christmas retail hours (and adjust holiday spending) sounds like a better option that waiting until the beginning of January.

        1. Justin*

          I was laid off about a year ago and had to go to a reemployment class with the state department of human services before claiming UI, there was a guy in there who essentially had to quit because his job was moving several states away. He brought this up during the class and was told that he was still eligible for UI. This is in Minnesota FWIW.

      2. TheRedCoat*

        I dunno- I think it’s just one of the factors that were considered when deciding who to lay off. The position is being eliminated either way, she just ended up on the chopping block because of her performance issues.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      It’s not unreasonable (in fact, it’s sensible) to cut the people who are underperforming before you cut the people who are doing a great job. That doesn’t mean they were fired, although their behavior was what put them at the front of the line to the chopping block.

      But that said, if the OP has been coaching this employee before now (which they should have been), then there’s less value in muddying the “this is a layoff” waters with “oh but we also hated your performance.”

    4. Anonomo*

      “Not right for the position” isnt necessarily the same as “performing badly” though. Employee could be doing well enough if its her first office type job after a long history in retail, even if she isnt doing as well as a seasoned admin would.
      Framing it as a layoff would also eliminate the position so other reports know that the responsibilities they pick up are going to be permanent.

  14. Anonymouseeee*

    OP1 – He’s essentially stealing from you – I’m assuming you pay him for a set number of hours per week and he’s not honoring that commitment? Has he shown any signs of not enjoying/wanting the job in which case he may be trying to get fired rather than having to quit.

    1. Legalchef*

      Tht was my thought too – Not sure the rules on this (and of course they likely also vary by state), but if he is paid hourly and isnt clocking in/out how is he being paid? What he would earn if he arrived on time? If the LW sees him arrive 2 hours late, can she just start docking his pay and when he questions it say that he came in 2 hours late so he’s getting paid for 2 hours less?

      If he’s not hourly I’d imagine this would be diffierent, but could the LW start docking him PTO (if available)?

      1. Myrin*

        That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. Since OP specifically mentions “clocking in” several times and very literally, I feel like we can reasonably assume that they have a thing like what we have at my part-time workplace, an actual machine where you register your keycard or similar which then electronically clocks your hours and calculates your actual hours worked. Those can be manually manipulated – I had that recently where I clocked in and immediately afterwards accidentally clocked out again – but people would usually rather not (and I’m assuming OP would’ve mentioned it if that were an issue); so, what exactly is going on with his pay in general?

    2. CM*

      I was also confused by this, especially the OP’s statement, “Obviously he feels that he is superior to everyone in the shop.” If he’s exempt, and he’s doing a great job but coming in late, then it seems like a better solution to adjust his working hours accordingly. If he’s hourly, then he should only be getting paid for the hours he works, so there shouldn’t be a problem — he’ll just get paid less if he works less. The only explanation I can think of that makes sense is that they’re paying him full-time when he’s not working full-time. In that case, it seems easier to say, “We’re going to pay you for the hours you work, like we’re required to by law,” rather than continuing to have these talks about how he needs to come in on time.

  15. Observer*

    #2 You say “I typically put politics and religion into the same bucket of “things I don’t discuss with my direct reports” regardless of whether we’re on the same page.”

    That’s a really good rule. What is this guy saying that makes you doubt yourself? I’m curious, because from where I sit your rule is so sensible, and his attempt to get around it is so . . . troubling, that I’m trying to figure out what’s going on here. Is it just one of those situations where your first reaction is so horrified that you wonder if someone you are considering promoting could be THAT clueless?

  16. kilika*

    Just to give a dissenting opinion regarding Christmas cards. I’m probably in the minority here, but as a member of a minority religion who doesn’t celebrate Christmas – a “Happy Holidays” card to me is just a Christmas card with another hat. If not for Christmas, nobody would be fussing about these Winter Holidays nearly as much.
    The reality is, all these attempts at inclusion are just a recognition that around this time of year when Most Of Us are celebrating Christmas some people might be celebrating something else. Which is fine, I guess, but if somebody who celebrates Christmas gave out Christmas cards and included me – I kind of assume the card is more for ‘them’ than for ‘me’ anyway, if that makes sense.
    Getting a random holiday card vs. a Christmas card doesn’t mean much to me. Now, if somebody actually bothered acknowledging my important holidays – that would be touching.

    **I am not saying that nobody cares so stop saying Happy Holidays or whatever. I’m just giving a minority-minority opinion on this, and possibly a bit tired of the tinsel and music.

    1. Observer*

      I hear what you are saying, and as someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas either, I sympathize. On the other hand, it’s nice to know that some people realize that we ACTUALLY EXIST. It’s nice that someone realizes that, yeah, not everyone celebrates. That’s all I really want- I don’t care if you remember about Chanukah, or that you don’t make a fuss about it.

      Just don’t act as though I actually do celebrate Chrismas, and if I don’t I actually “really” want to, but just can’t admit it.

      1. Stuff*

        There are something like 17 holidays celebrated in the winter by different religions/faiths so I think happy holidays is completely appropriate as long as there isn’t a Santa or something on the card. I’m not religious at all though and if you want to send me any kind of card I don’t take it as some sort of pushing your religion on me, or not acknowledging my specialness. I just take it in the spirit of the season.

    2. Which Witch*

      As a Pagan who does not celebrate Christmas but does have a midwinter festival to celebrate at this time of year, I really appreciate any recognition that Christmas isn’t the only show in town. If people are going to give out cards, I’d rather they made that tiny effort than not.

      1. AKchic*

        As a fellow pagan, I send out holiday cards, because I never can tell who all is celebrating *what* on my very long list of friends. It runs the spectrum from Wolfenoot, GISHmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Yule/Solstice, Festivus, Christmas, Saturnalia, Krampusnacht (yeah, I have two who prefer that), and a few that refuse to celebrate anything but still love cards. Oh, and Cat Herder’s Day. Plus I handle all of my grandmother’s cards (she can’t hold a pen anymore, so I sign and address her cards, then handle the postage and drop off for delivery).
        This year it was llama, sloth and cat cards.

    3. Nea*

      This is why I’ve switched entirely to Happy New Year cards. Not “Happy holidays and a happy new year” but Happy New Year only. They exist, and while there are different religious calendars, everyone goes through the same cultural switch on Jan 1.

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        I’m a non-Christmas person, and I like to do a tongue-in-cheek “Happy Winter” in January.

        1. Nea*

          Mine aren’t tongue in cheek, though. I’ve found a company that uses quotes about dreams, inspiration, aspirations, etc., on the front and then has an internal message “hoping that your dreams come true” or “hope this is your best year ever” etc. Not hilarious, but really nice messages specifically tailored for an upcoming calendar year.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I’ve actually run into people who thought it was a recently revived Pagan holiday akin to Saturnalia. It took a websearch before one woman would even begin to listen. So if someone’s doing this for real, at least include a link to the wikipedia page or the Seinfeld episode.

          Because nothin’s ever easy, right?

      2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I have extended family in a multi-religion household (Catholic and Jewish), and they send out a New Year’s card every year. The message on the card is explicitly “Happy New Year” (no other holidays mentioned implicitly or explicitly), and it usually arrives the last week in December – in other words, shortly before the holiday the card is for.

      3. Traveling Teacher*

        That’s what nearly everyone does in France. It honestly makes everything so simple because there’s no guesswork: we all experience the passing of time (even if we might not all agree on the specific calendar dates, everyone has a Day 1 of their new year at some point!)

        Also, it is a Big Deal to wish people a Happy New Year’s. People go to great lengths to wish others a happy new year the first time they see them in the new year up to a month or more past Jan. 1.

  17. Clay on my Apron*

    OP1, I have so many questions.

    Firstly, your SIL sounds like a jerk. I wouldn’t want him in my business. Is he a jerk out of the workplace? Does he actually want to work in the family business or would he rather be doing something else?

    > he has told me it is different for him because he is a member of our family

    Why does he think that *he* can tell *you* how it works? Do the other family members have flexible work hours? Do they not need to clock in? Or is he expecting special treatment? Is he perhaps confusing “family” with “management team”? It doesn’t sound as though he is part of the management team (and shouldn’t ever be, based on this).

    > my husband will just blow up and possibly let him go, which will ruin our family relationship with our daughter

    What does your daughter say about this? I know that the norm is not to involve family / spouses in work issues but obviously this is quite a different situation. Is she aware of the issues? Does she support his behaviour? Does she make excuses for him? Does she also work in the family business?

    I would sit down with the two of them (daughter and SIL) and explain the impact this is having on your business (you can’t rely on him, staff morale is affected, etc), your financial situation (I assume this business is your livelihood and your retirement plan), his future with the company (he will never be promoted because you can’t reply on him to do what’s best for the business, plus lack of respect for the management team).

    Essentially although he may not see it this way, he is expecting you to put him ahead of the well-being of the business, you need to point that out to him and state very clearly that it cannot continue.

    And then unfortunately you need to actually impose consequences, which it seems you have not done so far. Call him into the office whenever he comes in late. Only pay him for the hours he works. (I’m not in the US but I assume if he is required to clock in, he is paid hourly.) Put him on a PIP if you have to.

    Good luck with this and please update us.

    1. Legalchef*

      I disagree w involving the daughter. This is a workplace issue and should be treated like one. They wouldn’t involve the significant other for any other employee and should treat this issue the same.

      1. Clay on my apron*

        The thing is, if this was an ordinary workplace, there wouldn’t even be an issue.

        OP wouldn’t care how the employee’s spouse will react to the situation, or be worried about alienating her.

        The employee wouldn’t be taking advantage of his “special status” as a family member.

        They would have fired him already.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Yeah. The entire reason that it’s a mess is that he is family. (I am guessing the father of one of more grandchildren.) Which is why Alison’s advice included what to do if OP prioritizes family harmony, not something managers normally need to consider.

          (I do agree with those saying “no rules for family” is a good way to lose the non-family employees.)

      2. Glomarization, Esq.*

        It would be nice for LW to give the daughter a heads-up that this conversation and possible firing is about to happen. Also, I’m not sure if the daughter has a director or manager role in the business, but it’s approaching best management practices to involve her in the conversation. There’s really no way to exclude close family members from business conversations when the business is run by a small group of family members. It’s a workplace issue and a family issue at the same time.

    2. hbc*

      I wouldn’t sit them down together, but I think it’s reasonable to tell their daughter that they’re approaching the point of firing her husband–after they’ve had that conversation with him.

      1. Lemon Bars*

        It really depends on how far off from reality they have let this go, from the ops letter it sounds like the daughter has been manipulative or underhanded in some way about the SIL working for them. Since they are afraid of loosing the daughter if they do anything.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think it means the daughter is manipulative or underhanded, just that if you fire her hubs after 10 years that’s going to wreck some holidays. It would be nice if she could go all high road about it, but it’s pretty normal if she doesn’t feel up to it.

  18. Alex Di Marco*

    #4 about the Christmas cards etiquette. I run a department of about 60 staff, about ten percent are my direct reports. At the end of the year I always give everyone in the department a card wishing them all the best for the new year. I make sure that the cards are sold for a charity (neutral, non-denominational) and blank inside. I write a best wishes message and consider that this is one time when writing a card I am taking a few minutes to truly focus on each and every employee, especially those I do not see often. It’s like an annual meditation: if I know that someone has been struggling with something I will send them positive thoughts but will not write anything in the card to indicate that. Everyone gets the same message possibly in different languages as we are from all over. It takes me a while and I may get a hand cramp :) but employees appreciate it. The hardest part is finding the cards that fit the above description. As for my peers, I give them to those I work with closely and whom I like. I give one to my boss if he deserves it :))

    1. anonagain*

      This sounds like such a lovely, thoughtful way of doing things. Also, I laughed at giving your boss a card if he deserves it.

    2. KC without the sunshine band*

      I do this personalization of cards as well. Having done it for years, I always get at least one person who thanks me for letting them know specifically that they are important to me. And no one seems to care what is on the cover. My sentiment inside is all that is mentioned or remembered.

      Also, I work for a very religious company. Though I’m not of the same religion, I don’t mind if they send me a card that shows their beliefs, no matter the religion. If someone wishes me well, that’s fine by me. Truthfully though, I couldn’t tell you what was on the card I got last year, but I know I got a card and there was a gift card in there. :) Sometimes we make things more complicated than they need to be.

  19. SusanIvanova*

    ” if they bring up on their own that they are Christian”

    I would be severely annoyed if I had a manager who started going mega-religious at me just because I happened to mention something about putting in extra choir practice for Christmas.

    1. Waiting for the Sun*

      Seconded. He sounds like someone who would concentrate on looking for evidence of Christianity in employees, pouncing on every “bless you” or inspirational-sayings calendar.

    2. Lilo*

      There is a HUGE variety in Christianity too. There are a lot of people who go to church who would be comfortable with this level of evangelism.

    3. ElspethGC*

      Ha, yes. I’m not Christian (meh about outright calling myself atheist because I don’t really identify with that label; I generally go with ‘secular’ or ‘non-religious’) but I am *culturally* Christian in the way that many people in the UK are vaguely secular Church-of-England-but-not-really-believing-in-it. I was christened in the same church where my parents married, I’d actually quite like to get married in the same church (if the CofE decide to allow same-gender marriages) because it’s an absolutely gorgeous building and a huge part of my town’s history back to the thirteenth century, and I’m a history nerd. And yes, I celebrate Christmas, sometimes even by going to said church’s carol service on Christmas Eve, because the music is beautiful. Any of those things might get off-handedly mentioned at work. That doesn’t mean I want someone to start talking about God’s plan!

    4. Silamy*

      And what even counts as mentioning? I sing with my (public) university’s chorus. All performances are in churches. Most are of VERY Christian music. Some are with the church choirs. I’m not Christian. I’m not even ex-Christian. I also enjoy shape note singing, which is only done in churches. There aren’t all that many secular options to sing with other people often and nonprofessionally as an adult, and my own faith doesn’t traditionally do choral music. Many churches also host secular functions (bingo nights, for instance) for the community at large -would he take a mention of being at a church ever as license to preach?

  20. Blarg*

    I know we don’t diagnose or speculate but the change in behavior (was a good employee for several years) and absurd excuse making could be to cover addiction or mental health issues, which would be hard to tell an employer. And hard to tell your in-laws. Add them together? You could have a guy who really does plan to come to work on time tomorrow but can’t. The outcomes may still be the same for the business (still need to let him go) but different for the family.

    1. Femme D'Afrique*

      The LW specifically states, “I have tried to talk with him before but he has told me it is different for him because he is a member of our family. I do consider this my error in letting it go for so long, but have no clue as how to talk with him about it…” so I think a leap to mental illness and addiction is a real stretch here.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I don’t know that we need to jump to any conclusions regarding the reasons for his unacceptable behaviour when the highly-likely reasons are already in the letter – he feels like he is entitled to behave the way he does because he thinks the rules don’t apply to family members; case closed. (And as for the change in behaviour, I can very easily see someone putting in some effort when they’ve just started a position (and maybe just started dating the daughter?) but then becoming complacent a few years down the road.)

      2. BookishMiss*

        Thank you. Not all bad behavior is the result of mental illness or addiction. I’d even say that most isn’t, and to assume it is perpetuates some pretty harmful conceptions of people with mental illness.

        1. Julia*

          Thank you. People can be jerks without having any mental illness, and mentally ill people can be anything from lovely to terrible, often independent of their mental illness.

      3. Glomarization, Esq.*

        it is different for him because he is a member of our family

        “Yeah, you know, if you weren’t family, I’d be much more reluctant to rip you off.”

      1. Les G*

        He’s been with the daughter longer than he’s been with the company, so I don’t think this line of speculation is any more plausible, actually.

      2. Yorick*

        I think he started working there after that (I think she said he’s been in the family 10 years, the business for 7)

    2. Trouble*

      He could just as easily be a guy who tends to be selfish, thinks because he’s marrying the owner’s child he’s on easy street and is now going to take advantage by setting his own hours. The fact that he’s said to his future in laws it’s different for him because he’s family says selfish to me not ill. If he was ill you’d think he’d be making some kind of excuses, not just breezing in when he feels like it and saying that he doesn’t have to follow the rules because he’s family when his future in laws/owners of the business are clearly telling him to show up on time and clock in.

      They need to tell him that he needs to clock in and out and be on time like everyone else or they’ll have to let him go. If their daughter takes his side then that’s unfortunate but doing this kind of thing to family is actually jerkier than doing it to any other mop and pop business because you’re putting your family into a really difficult place, fire him and hurt their daughter when her household can’t afford their bills, or keep him and loose excellent staff when they refuse to stay and be crapped on by the son in law being allowed to do as little as he wants.

    3. Dragoning*

      Honestly, I just thought he started working there as a boyfriend and his behavior slipped once the engagement happened.

    4. BachtoBach*

      I was also thinking about reasons for the change in behavior (other than the most likely — that he’s just a slacker). When I had a mental health condition I was put on medication that left me groggy for 14 hours a day. I was eventually prescribed a narcolepsy med that allows me to start work at a normal hour, but without it I’d be coming in at 11 every day too (it would probably be unsafe for me to drive before then). I’d handle this situation with the same care you would another employee — making sure there aren’t legit issues you can accommodate. That said, if a medical condition is in play here and he hasn’t disclosed it by now he probably won’t. If stigma keeps him from disclosing that’s sad, but he still needs to learn to navigate the workplace if it’s medical (requesting workable accommodations). Sometimes there’s a steep learning curve for folks navigating work with an illness — esp. one surrounded by stigma. Coddling him too much will just delay that learning.

    5. Les G*

      You’re right, we don’t diagnose or speculate here. Pointing that out does not change the all-too-obvious fact that this is precisely what you are doing, my friend.

      1. bachtobach*

        This is a tough one. It sounds like the letter writer doesn’t think this could be a health issue: “Obviously he feels that he is superior to everyone in the shop and does not have to go by this rule,” but the letter describes a significant change in employee behavior related to a specific time of day “He is a great employee as far as handling things around our shop, working steadily doing day to day tasks. He takes his job seriously when he is there”. I’d advise the OP to start by handling this the same way she would if an odd/negative pattern developed in another employee’s behavior by remaining cognizant that it could reflect any number of issues. However, the language of the letter implies she’s ruled all of those things out (and is left with him feeling superior), so I’m not sure if we should be advising on those alternatives or not.

  21. Glomarization, Esq.*

    my husband will just blow up and possibly let him go, which will ruin our family relationship with our daughter.

    LW#1, it’s not your husband who is risking ruining your family relationship with your daughter. It’s your future son-in-law who’s doing that, because he is taking advantage of his position in the family before he even joins it as your daughter’s spouse.

    As a past small business owner who’s had to have conversations like this, I’d take Daughter aside and talk to her, putting the situation in terms of “you know, your fiancé is putting me in a position here” and “we can’t welcome someone into the family business if they’re not going to treat it the way they would treat any other job.” I mean, if he were working anywhere else, he’d have to show up on time and do the work, right? Why would working for the family give anyone a pass on that? He’s OK with costing you resources now — and it looks like he’d be OK with costing you resources when he’s an even closer family member. Put another way, maybe he or your daughter will plead, “But he’s family!” Well, family shouldn’t rip each other off. So give Daughter some fair warning that you’re about to kick future son-in-law to the curb, but stand fast and don’t let him steal from the family business any more.

  22. Delta Delta*

    #1 – SIL may assume that he is the OP’s successor in the business. I’ve seen this before – the “this is all going to be mine one day anyway so I can do what I want” mentality. I know we’re not supposed to make assumptions, but I’m going to make a safe one here – OP and her husband probably work a heck of a lot more at their own business than SIL realizes.

    In addition to having a serious talk with SIL, I think creating a solid succession plan is probably a good idea, too (If you don’t already have one that is).

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      If that’s his mentality now, imagine what happens if he is ever in a position of authority. He is doing nothing to inspire loyalty in his fellow co-workers. I can see his succession to the business followed by an mass exodus of good employees who don’t want to work for someone so lazy and entitled.

      1. pleaset*

        “He is doing nothing to inspire loyalty in his fellow co-workers. ”

        I find it remarkable that his doing one thing bad results in you saying this – I frankly don’t see how you can know that. It might be true, but it might not be – particularly considering the OP said he was actually quite serious and effective when on the job.

        1. Myrin*

          I mean, I agree with you that we shouldn’t really state stuff like this as if it were cold hard facts, but I also think that this is actually a very reasnoable assumption. This might technically be only “one thing bad”, but it’s a big thing which has the potential for far-reaching effects in several directions. If I had to narrow it down to one specific thing, my pain-in-the-behind second-in-command’s only “one bad thing” is that she’s insufferably condescending; it’s true for her, too, the she’s “actually quite serious and effective when on the job”. But you can bet that literally every single one of our 32-person-workforce except for her mother who also works there loathes her. Sure, her condescension is technically only one thing, but it’s enormous and seeps into every interaction she has with any of us.

    2. Marthooh*

      Yes, what’s actually different for family members is that they should be more dedicated to the job. Doesn’t the SIL realize he has a much greater stake in the business than ordinary employees? And is he aware that another family member was previously fired for taking advantage?

      Definitely create a succession plan to keep the business in the hands of someone who gives a damn.

  23. Natalie*

    LW #1:

    I have tried to talk with him before but he has told me it is different for him because he is a member of our family.

    Would a non family member who did this be discliplined in some way or let go? If so, your son in law is absolutely right – it is different for him as a member of the family, because you are letting it be different.

    If you want him to understand that he is the same as the other, non-family employees, your words are meaningless. The only way to do that is to treat him the same as your other staff.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      It should be different for a family member in a family business–but in the other direction.

      Dude should feel like he has more of a stake in things running smoothly and morale staying high, not the opposite. This guy has to go.

      1. Stuff*

        I agree with this totally. Maybe framing the conversation in this vein could be a wake up call. Explain that being a member of a family business means working harder than others, not getting special privileges.

    2. HappySnoopy*

      Thats the thing, they aren’t. OP stated:

      I do not want to start a big fight as we have had a huge problem in the past with a family member taking advantage and had to let him go.

      But the experience of not treating family different in workplace, while good for biz, was terrible for home/family. That’s what’s making OP hesitate this time.

      OP, I’d put foot down and say, we value all our employees, but we also expect them to value the business. You may not realize but when cousin Sally didn’t follow the rules, she was let go. There is no exception, family or not. Maybe do an improvement plan formally with graded repercussions if no improvement so future son in law realizes this is serious.

      1. Natalie*

        Right, my point is that until you actually treat him like an employee, he’s going to (accurately) believe that being family gives him special privileges. What might have happened to someone in the past is irrelevant to him, assuming he even knows about it – if you want him to understand that he’s not actually different than one of your other employees, than you can’t treat him differently than one of your other employees.

  24. CCS-CPC*

    Letter writer #3’s letter reminded me of when I was working for a company about six years ago (I wrote in at twice about this company: once when my boss tried to write me up when I missed a day during Super Storm Sandy and didn’t tell her *specifically* in my phone message that that was the reason I was calling off and another time when she retaliated against me in my review after I went to HR for the first one).

    In early November we were told that we had lost a large account and would be doing a mass layoff between then and Christmas. Pretty awful but at least they gave some notice. A couple of weeks later, but before the layoffs, HR sent out an email about the upcoming holiday party that said something like, “Don’t forget to RSVP to the holiday party by December 15th! And remember that employees who have been laid off are not eligible to attend”

    Somehow this tone deaf company keeps rolling along, although much smaller and less successful than it was when these things happened.

  25. Peppermint Bark season*

    #1 You wrote that doing anything “will ruin our family relationship with our daughter” this makes me cringe. If this is true you need to fire your SIL today. You have hid your head in the sand for this long its time to stop. My mother did this for my Sister and her husband when they had her first grandchild, that child is now 6 and my sister and BIL live in our child hood home with my parents who now reside in the basement so that the first floor will be for their family. Stop the crazy before it gets so far gone you don’t know where to begin, you are not helping anyone by letting this go.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      I read that LW’s husband exploding and firing on the spot specifically is what would tank the relationship.

      Can’t imagine firing him in any way would go over well though.

    2. RC Rascal*

      Prepare for a future of emotional blackmail once they are married. When they start having children SIL will find countless ways to manipulate you all. Start holding him accountable today. It is entirely possible he is much less interested in your daughter than he is the possibility of taking over your company.

  26. Anono-me*

    Your future son-in-law doesn’t think the rules apply to him, is basically stealing from you(r company), and is disrespectful to you when you tell him that things need to change. This is a huge problem for you as employers. However, I would also be concerned about what this says about his character and his approach to life outside of work and how this will translate into being a good spouse to anyone especially, your daughter.

    You don’t say what role your daughter has in the company, if any. If your daughter is part of the company, even if it is not management, I would have her there when you put him on a PIP and make her co-responsible for monitoring his start and end times. (You or someone who knows their job is 110% safe should actually do it, but make her the witness every day.

      1. valentine*

        If your daughter is part of the company, even if it is not management, I would have her there when you put him on a PIP and make her co-responsible for monitoring his start and end times. (You or someone who knows their job is 110% safe should actually do it, but make her the witness every day.
        No. This is awful. Playing the couple against each other goes against the idea that SIL’s family status shouldn’t affect the work relationship. Any solution that involves Daughter is inappropriate.

  27. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    I’ve worked in several family owned businesses. In one instance a family member regularly brought her kids to work with the expectation that the other staff would keep an eye on them.
    The SIL is showing his true colours now. Minimal work from him while ignoring workplace norms is just part of your problem. You worked hard for your business and someone who doesn’t care about your hard work is willing to step in and scoop out the goodies for himself under the guise of “family”. Your other issue is your other workers who are watching this every day and see no consequences for his actions. The good ones will leave, the bad ones will stay. Your daughter may be upset with you but even the most reasonable person can see this situation is unacceptable.

    1. Ice and Indigo*

      Good point that you may lose good employees. You’re also likely to get a sharp drop-off in anyone feeling like going the extra mile. When it’s clear that no matter how hard you work, you’ll never be treated as well as a lazy, selfish co-worker who’s related to the boss, then even the most conscientious of people lose motivation to work hard. Their hard work will be ranked lower than somebody else’s bad work, and that’s not just poor rewards, that’s actively insulting.

      1. submerged tenths*

        Perfectly put! My employer’s son has recently come to “work” here. He sits and plays with his phone most of the day. Nobody says a thing. I have decided that I’m all out of shits to give about going the extra mile when BossSon doesn’t. He isn’t the only one, just the most egregious. No wonder the place is on its last financial legs.

    2. AKchic*

      And am I the only one also questioning this guy’s lack of follow-through on everything in his life?

      He is a fiancé, right? He and the daughter have been together for 10 years. He’s worked at the company for 7 years. How long have they been engaged? How long did it take him to figure out that he wanted to marry the daughter? When did the slacking start? After the proposal? Before?

      This guy is 30 years old. He’s been with the same company since he was 23, which is great on paper, but he runs the risk of not getting a good referral if he screws up, and as he so blithely put it… he’s “family”. Maybe he is burned out on so much family togetherness and doesn’t want to commit to the family because he sees them all the time (work and home). Of course, that is pure speculation on my part, but I am questioning what started the slacking and attitude to begin with. It didn’t just happen overnight.

  28. SigneL*

    Just a (slightly late) thought: many of my friends do not celebrate Christmas, but I like to give thoughtful gifts and wondered how to do it. I decided earlier this year to give Thanksgiving gifts – a small, thoughtful gift along with a note explaining that I was thankful for their friendship. And then, I’m done – no crazy Xmas shopping/frantic baking/fighting the crowds. I think people really appreciated the notes.

    Second thought – do people actually display Xmas cards at the desks?

    1. hermit crab*

      I’ve displayed birthday cards at my desk (like the fabulous handmade card my direct report gave me one year). I can imagine people doing something similar with Christmas cards.

      Thanksgiving cards/gifts are a lovely idea!

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      I have a personal corkboard in my cube and all cards I’ve received over the years from co-workers go on the board, Christmas, birthday, congrats, etc. I also give cards to my peers each years. Some display them at their desk, some take them home, and some even throw them right in the trash as soon as they’ve read it. Seems to vary by person. I love your Thanksgiving idea!

  29. Sara without an H*

    OP#2: Is it too late to walk back this guy’s promotion? Because I see trouble looming if you go forward with it.

    I think the technical name for what your manager-candidate is doing is rules lawyering. He has already succeeded in making you doubt the validity of your own (excellent) rule against discussing religion or politics with direct reports. If you go ahead and promote him to management, I foresee multiple frustrating conversations down the road in which you argue with him about if-I-can’t-do-this-can-I-do-that. He will keep testing the boundaries in order to do what he wants to do — which is proselytize for his own version of evangelical Protestant Christianity.

    If you really think you want him in this role, you need to lay down the law fast: There will be NO discussion of religion with direct reports, because it’s an abuse of managerial authority. Period.

    You could also point out that he is at perfect liberty to express his Christian values by doing an outstanding job in his role, and by modeling a high standard of integrity, courtesy, and fairness to everyone he works with.

    1. Ice and Indigo*

      He might even try to lawyer ‘abuse of managerial authority,’ because what if his direct report actually LIKES it? That’s not abuse, right? I think ‘inappropriate in the workplace’ is the only thing you can say he can’t creatively misunderstand.

      I wouldn’t encourage him to think of new ways to express his Christian values, either. How he chooses to do express his faith isn’t his manager’s business, any more than how his direct reports see God’s plan for the company is his. The whole point is that people stay out of each others’ spiritual lives, so the management needs to model that.

      1. fposte*

        Yup, agreed. It weakens the “don’t talk about religion with your staff” message if you talk about religion with your staff.

  30. Snow Drift*

    LW #3, always give people the most information you can. It’s entirely likely that she would change her December spending with the knowledge that she’s losing her job. Don’t make her budgeting decisions for her under the pretext of “ruining the holidays”.

    I was laid off the day I got back from my honeymoon, and I’m still bitter about it over a decade later. My boss intentionally hid my upcoming job loss for MONTHS that I could have been job searching because “weddings are special”. Guess what, Bob? They’re not as special as staying solvent.

    1. Snow Drift*

      ETA: This isn’t a huge aspect, but still could be worth considering: if you’re letting her go in January anyway, that means she’s going to have to be reminded of this job loss for an entire extra tax filing. For a couple of weeks of work, is that really worth it?

      1. fposte*

        It’s just one more source of income on the return, though, not a massive deal, and in general if I were the employee I’d rather have that than go without the January income. What makes it different here is that the OP is able to offer severance, so it sounds like she’d be ending up the same financially either way.

        1. Snow Drift*

          Well, yeah, logistically, of course it’s not a big deal. But LW #3 seems very hung up on managing the employee’s feelings over the job loss, so if she expects wailing and gnashing of teeth, that will drag it out.

          As I said, I’d want all the info upfront.

      2. Sualah*

        I agree. It’s not a huge thing, but if possible, yeah, I’d rather have all the income in 2018 and not have to remember that a random W2 is heading my way in 2020. As I said, not a huge thing, but the convenience factor of it.

    2. Justin*

      Some people have no concept of what job loss actually means for someone. They think it’s like being dumped or some other kind of personal rejection. It’s just “bad news” and they don’t want to drop it on you at the wrong time. Well it’s actually that person’s livelihood and they need to get back on the horse as soon as possible. That’s more important than temporary hurt feelings.

    3. Name Required*

      Agree! I was laid off two weeks before my wedding last year; if I had known even two additional weeks in advance, we would have chosen to forego some last-minute purchases in lieu of having extra padding in our savings account while I was unemployed for four months.

      One of the other comments on this thread said something excellent: you can’t manage your employee’s feelings. There is no way you can come out of this with them feeling good about it. Give them the most information as soon as possible so that they can make the best decision themselves and accept that they aren’t going to like this decision.

  31. SigneL*

    OP #1 – I hope your daughter is aware of the problem. (I wouldn’t try to make her part of the solution, but I would explain that this cannot continue.) I’ve seen many family businesses fail because the families fail to be businesslike. And I don’t care HOW good someone is at their job, when they aren’t there, they aren’t working. (I also have a very low tolerance for insubordination, but that’s me.)

    I agree with the others who say this will only get worse. Have you actually calculated how much you pay him for time when he isn’t there? That might open your eyes, especially in a small business.

  32. Friday afternoon fever*

    #4, you may be overthinking the “card you don’t want” bit. You get one you don’t want to put out? You smile and express gratitude, you shove it in a drawer or the trash and move on. There’s a spectrum between “display” and “shred” and by providing a physical card you’re not cursing your employees with the inconvenience of, like, stealth-shredding it in a fit of pique.

      1. Wine not Whine*

        “Just don’t stuff the card with glitter.” _That_ brings back memories…

        One year, a regional sales manager here sent cards to her direct reports – and to support staff at the home office, which is how I found out about it – filled with metallic confetti and glitter.

        Years after she left the company, we still remember.
        (There’s a reason glitter is referred to as “craft herpes” – once you’ve got it, you never get completely rid of it.)

  33. Bookworm*

    OP3: If it IS financially possible, maybe you can see where the employee is at and explain the situation? You never know: she may be waiting for the new year herself before leaving because SHE doesn’t want to leave during Christmas (I guess depending on what you agreed upon and what the work is like, etc.). She may be eager to have that time anyway and is willing to forego the income and make cuts to her spending, etc.

    If it is financially doable, are you able to leave the option open for her to stay through if she doesn’t find something else? I was in a somewhat similar position where I wasn’t going to be hired (long story and not at Christmas) but the organization gave me another month so I could find something else. I ended up finding another position sooner rather than later and skedaddled because I didn’t see the point in staying at some place that clearly didn’t want me but it’s different for different people.

    Good luck! Thank you for putting such thought into it. Not everyone does, as I found out in my anecdote. This will be awkward, but it’s better than coldly cutting them off.

  34. MuseumChick*

    OP 4, I looked through the comments and didn’t see anyone mention this yet. My suggestion is, like Alison says, have the cards have a winter them or something equally neutral. I would frame the message of the cards as something like “Thank you for all your hard work this year!” for your direct reports and, again, something equally neutral for your non-direct reports.

  35. OlympiasEpiriot*

    #1: Does your daughter know she is essentially being used as a hostage? Also, does she know how terrible he is at being responsible? Also, does she understand that the success of the business is extremely important for the family? (I assume this is what kept a roof over her head and clothes on her back, etc.) Does she work in the company? Personally, I’d have a open, not-angry talk with her about this and how it affects the business. Simultaneously, I’d be putting him on notice. I mean, yeah, maybe his start times could be adjusted, but that would assume he puts in his time and then some (just not on perhaps the exact same schedule as everyone else) and doesn’t treat this like his domain and like regular rules don’t apply to him.

    #2: Is this person really the right manager to hire?

    #3: Do it as early as possible. Be kind.

    #4: Everyone.

    #5: Make sure you talk to them to make sure you are on the same page for going forward and solving the problems.

  36. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*


    If firing her slacker fiance for cause will ruin your relationship with your daughter, that’s a larger problem–because it implies she’ll expect you to put up with who knows what else because “he’s family.”

    If the problem is that your husband might blow up at Slacker Fiance, you may need to have these conversations with Slacker, and possibly with your daughter. The one with him that says “being family doesn’t mean it’s different for you,. Given that, are you prepared to keep the job?” and the one with your daughter that says “if Fiance doesn’t start doing the job we’re paying him for, which includes working all the hours he’s paid for, we’ll have to fire him. If so, it won’t be personal.”

    If she started in on “but family,” again you would have a larger problem.

    1. LadyPhoenix*

      This. So many dysfunctional families will allow dysfunction and toxicity to fester because of the “Faaaaaamily” ruling. It takes less energy and awkwardness to just sweep bad behavior under the wrong and pretend everyone is a great big happy family at the expense of the family members who are or were wronged… and those member are supposed to “forgive” their toxic member because of that stupid rule.

      If family was as strong as people make it out to be, they would survive a shake up.

    2. E*

      The “but family” excuse should be looked at from both sides, if the daughter is willing to consider that family should not treat the company owners with such disrespect.

    3. fposte*

      While I think there’s some truth in that, I also think it’s more complicated than that. Most of us don’t hang much with the people who fired our SOs, whether for cause or not. It’s a challenging thing to do. I think it’s okay for daughter to need some space from her parents if that happens.

    4. Autumnheart*

      There’s also the possibility that if OP fires the SIL and he turns into a Problem Child as a result, then maybe the daughter will wise up and not marry the guy.

  37. LKW*

    #5 – Talk to your manager before signing it. Especially if there are comments or issues that have never been brought to your attention. Consider the wording and whether it reflects the things you did well, or the things on which you could have improved or need work.

    Your manager may feel it’s inconsequential and you’re doing well and therefore need no discussion. OR your manager doesn’t want to deal with having to give you hard news. Neither is really being a good manager. Also, your performance review is an opportunity to discuss where you want to stretch and grow and ask for help to get there.

    This is your career. No one will care about it more than you.

  38. Micheleny*

    #3 another thing you need to keep in mind almost all retailers completed their holiday hiring by now. Most of them start the process in late August/early September. All hiring/training is completed by October.

    1. Choux*

      Yep, this is the absolute worst time to try to find a retail job. All the help is hired and trained, and many of them will be let go come January.

    2. Working Mom Having It All*

      This is a good point. Anyone let go from a job right now is almost guaranteed no work, or even the prospect of work, until the new year.

      On the other hand, depending on the field it can also be tough to find work in January/February. So maybe weigh that out?

    3. Milksnake*

      This is exactly what I was going to point out.
      I started in retail and spent almost 10 years working various positions. I can 100% confirm there’s NO WAY she will pick up a retail job right now. Holiday hiring is way past done and store managers are already planning who they’re going to let go in the next two-three weeks.

  39. Queen of Cans and Jars*

    I’m getting ready to open a business, and it’s letters like #1 that make me feel better about my rule of not hiring family. It would be the type of work that my teenage nieces & nephews would probably be interested in doing, but I have no stomach for the kind of family drama that would ensue any time that I had to address their performance and/or behavior.

  40. bachtobach*

    OP#1 – Since you said your son-in-laws lateness hasn’t always been an issue I wonder it’s worth asking him if there are any issues (medical, personal, etc.) that could be causing it. It’s very unlikely since you know so much about him (he’s family!), and obviously he shouldn’t feel obligated to disclose some kind of super personal medical condition. However, if there are life changes (medical, the arrival of children wrecking his schedule, etc.) that are making standard working hours difficult it might be worth offering him the option to discuss an alternative schedule (which it sounds like you are already ready to do), and you may find out he has some legit reason to not be working until 11am. I’m someone who has to take narcolepsy medicine to make it to work on time due to medical issues — without the med I wouldn’t be able to start work until around 11. Or it could be he’s just really not a morning person (some people have unusual biological clocks), and if he’s still putting in a full day and staying late you may be getting better work from him than if you pushed for him to work 9-11am. It’s unlikely, but I’d treat him like others employees and make sure this isn’t something you need to accommodate. (The not clocking in and out thing is more black and white though — I can’t think of a legit reason for not doing that).

  41. Ann Furthermore*

    OP1, my husband recently went through something similar when he hired my nephew. He was in a bad spot and had was dealing with some really awful personal stuff. My husband needed some help so he gave him a job. I told my nephew that all he had to do was show up on time every day and do what he was told. My husband’s biggest pet peeves is someone who’s a minute or two late every day.

    A few months in I found out that he was taking an unscheduled day off once every couple weeks, and on at least one occasion didn’t show up at all. And after a couple months of that he had the nerve to ask for a raise. My husband told him that if he was anyone else but his wife’s nephew, he would have already cut him loose for being unreliable.

    Then after another incident of not showing up for work, my husband fired him. It turned out that there was a legitimate reason for the no show, and had there not already been an ongoing attendance problem, he probably would have held onto his job. But he’d already burned through any leeway he might have had.

    You need to fire your future SIL. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t respect you and believes the rules don’t apply to him, even after talking to him about it. He’s not going to change.

  42. Recovering Journalist...*

    In skimming through the comments for #1, I haven’t noticed anyone else commenting that the person in question is actually not really “family”. Unless I’ve missed something (which is possible), he’s not yet a fiance. The family may like him in general and things may be going such that he may become a fiance/son-in-law in the future but not yet.
    If he’s pulling games like this now, it doesn’t bode well for once any marriage takes place.

    1. NerdyKris*

      Lots of people consider long term partners family before they’re married. I have to beg my mother not to spend so much money buying my girlfriends Christmas presents, but she insists on treating them the same as her kids.

      1. Recovering Journalist...*

        I know what you mean and I agree (actually I’m an in-law who has been shown that “I’m not really family” more than once). All I meant in my previous post is the man in this situation seems to be expecting the full perks of being a family member when apparently he has not even taken the first step of formalizing his status as family. If he’s taking these perks now, imagine what he’ll do when it’s official.

    2. doreen*

      The OP refers to him as a “future son-in-law” – in my reading, that makes him a fiancé since the OP didn’t say anything to the contrary.

    3. Owlette*

      OP#1 says that he’s been in the family for 10 years. I took that to mean that he’s been in a relationship with their daughter for 10 years and for whatever reason they just aren’t officially married yet. In many states, being in a relationship for 10 years means you’re married through common law. I see no reason to think that he’s not part of the family, especially for dating someone for that long!

      1. Justin*

        I’m pretty sure the “common law marriage” definition (where it exists) requires that the couple consider themselves married and present themselves as married to the community for a period of time. It doesn’t just automatically kick in for couples after a certain period of time living together or whatever.

        1. whingedrinking*

          It does where I live. You do have to be living in a “marriage-like relationship”, but mostly it’s whether you live together and are romantically involved in some way. It’s to prevent situations where the dependent partner in a financially lopsided relationship gets left high and dry.

      2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

        I am not a llama, but there are only a few states where common-law marriage is still a thing, and in all of them the people have to present themselves as married. (There are countries where “de facto relationships” have some legal status, but not in most of the US.)

        I suspect that introducing/referring to someone as your fiance would have the opposite effect–if you’re engaged to someone, that means you aren’t yet married to them.

    4. Working Mom Having It All*

      My read is that the couple is engaged but not yet married, not that they are dating but otherwise uncommitted.

  43. LKW*

    #1 – My dad owned his own business. I know what you’re going through.

    Allison’s script is good. Some other things to keep in mind -he will point out all of the things you and your husband are doing that are similar (or that he perceives as similar). If you guys don’t clock in and out, he’ll raise it. If you take longer lunches (esp with clients), and blah blah blah. Be prepared to have your own actions called out. Don’t get defensive, you don’t have to – this is your business and you get to run it the way you want.

    And that’s the crux: this is your business, you haven’t put his name on any ownership papers I assume. He should make no assumptions about the business, inheriting it, owning it, etc. You may need to spell that out more clearly. Just because you own something doesn’t mean you have to give it to your children. And perhaps that is the discussion with your daughter. A family business is great, but if ownership of the business destroys the family – it’s not.

    1. CM*

      This is great advice. I get the feeling that there is a lot of emotion here from the OP’s mentions of her husband blowing up and the SIL thinking he is superior. I can see this conversation going badly if everyone is feeling hurt and taken advantage of and ends up yelling at each other. Instead, think about the impact that his actions are having on the business and how you would deal with it for any other employee. Then try to explain that in a factual way and I think that will help you take LKW’s advice about not getting defensive.

    2. Stuff*

      He wants the “benefits “ of being family in a family business without the responsibilities or headaches of being family in a family business

      1. LKW*

        I agree. I worked for my dad for one summer. I had special privileges to be sure, I got to go pick up lunch and have lunch with the boss. I also got the jobs no one else wanted (so many days at the packing station). But we were there before anyone else and we often left after everyone else. My dad worked 7 days a week. No one could say they put in more hours than him.

  44. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    OP#1 — My instinct not based on any actual content of the letter makes me wonder about issues that go beyond the workplace. It could be that SIL is just a workplace cad, but is he also a domestic cad? Does he disregard the needs of others at home? at family gatherings? with friends?
    Does he have mental health or substance abuse issues that are at the root of the 2-hours late days?
    I believe he’s responsible for the health of his own employment. And I would definitely suggest a chat with your daughter … not because she’s supposed to make him do anything … but because I would be concerned about how much this behavior is spilling onto her.

    1. Suspendersarecool*

      I was wondering that too. Hard to imagine that kind of entitled attitude is limited to work. Do they seem to have a relationship of equals?

  45. canamera*

    #2 Last time I checked, this was still a free country. Freedom of speech is enshrined in our Constitution. It’s what distinguishes us from just about every other country on Earth. I realize that only applies to the government not impeding our speech and not our employer. But I resist all attempts at work to have my speech policed. If you give in and only use their approved wording (like the generic “happy holidays”), you are giving your employer that much more power over you. I say what I want and say it confidently. If I want to talk about God, I’ll talk about God. If I want to talk about politics, I’ll talk about politics. I’m not going to live in fear as if this were the 1980’s USSR. Generally I don’t talk a lot about these things at work because I’m there to work. But if it comes up, I say what I believe.

    1. NerdyKris*

      Actually, there are laws against creating a hostile work environment and discriminating on the basis of religion or race. Why is it so offensive to you to hear that maybe you should take a second to consider the views of the person you’re speaking to? Do you also talk about your sex life, or swear like a sailor? Of course not. So why wouldn’t you also consider that maybe the person you’re talking to has had to dodge eight other “Why don’t you celebrate Christmas” questions that day?

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Your employer CAN impede your free speech. Most jobs are not set up as a refreshing opportunity for you to share your thoughts on politics, religion, cute goat videos, or why Fergus sucks.

      As you feint at, but don’t seem to grok–free speech means the government can’t arrest you for what you say. Your employer can fire you, your family can refuse to visit you, passersby can refuse to stop and listen to you.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      Great idea, canamera! I’m like you! If I want to talk about the receptionist’s tits, I’ll talk about the receptionist’s tits! If I want to discuss my bowel movements, you’re hearing about them, like it or not! Professionalism? That’s for commies!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        When I left the Peace Corps, part of the exit training was to explicitly state “I know you’ve grown accustomed to graphically discussing your latest exciting digestive symptoms as a bonding thing with your fellow volunteers, but that’s not going to fly when you’re back home…”

      1. Ice and Indigo*

        And only Americans have free speech. That’s why I’m posting under an assumed name; if I said anything at all the EU didn’t like, they’d send me to the Brie mines. It’s a living nightmare, I tell you.

    4. Labradoodle Daddy*

      That’s inappropriate for the workplace. I would strongly urge you to reconsider this stance before it causes problems for you.

    5. Ceiswyn*

      So it’s not OK for your employer to change what you should do, but it’s fine to use your own power over subordinates to try to change their beliefs and behaviour? Because that’s what the manager in OP2 is doing.

      There is a very big difference between talking to coworkers about religion if it comes up naturally in conversation, and talking to subordinates about religion in a work context. The fact that you’re blowing this up into ‘living in fear’ does not speak well of your sense of proportion or your judgement.

    6. The Expendable Redshirt*

      An effective manager won’t talk to the people who report to them about God’s Plan for Invoicing. It’s not relevant to this particular industry. And there are negative consequences for conversing with employees about God’s Plan for Invoicing. Some examples include, making other employees of any faith uncomfortable, perception of favoritism, and laws against discrimination based on faith.

        1. AKchic*

          I’d like to see Gawd’s Plan for Selecting New Toilet Paper for the Women’s Bathroom. It is necessary. I think the seat covers are softer and thicker.

      1. Femme D'Afrique*

        Yeah, I didn’t want to point that out because, well, the rest of the comment had several other things that needed to be gawked at first. Wow.

    7. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

      Really? I suspect that you’re constraining your speech plenty, and planting your flag on “I can proselytize to Fergus” rather than on “I’m going to tell my manager why he’s a horrible person because of who he voted for” or “if I don’t like someone else’s work I’ll tell them so at the top of my lungs, even if they’re not in my department.”

      If a coworker tried to proselytize to me, I’d ask them to stop before going to HR or our boss). If they called me un-American for asking them to stop, I would try to be professional and go to HR, because a huge political argument wouldn’t be appropriate, or fair to the people nearby who are trying to get work done.

    8. LadyPhoenix*

      The “Freedom of Speech” ammendment is there to keep the GOVERNMENT from inpedinf on your speech.

      Private work firms, schools, internet forums do NOT have to follow such a rule. And they can happily block you or tell you to stop if they feel like it.

      1. a1*

        OP knows that and even says that. Look, I don’t agree with what they’re saying in general, but they did get this part right.

        I realize that only applies to the government not impeding our speech and not our employer.

        1. fposte*

          OP knows that and yet doesn’t actually understand what that means. It means “Freedom of speech” is not enshrined in our Constitution as a general principle, despite her acting as if it is.

          1. Autumnheart*

            And it particularly means that being allowed to criticize the government without fear of retaliation has nothing to do with saying things in the workplace that create a hostile environment, discriminate against other employees, and are against company policy.

            Freedom of speech is not freedom from being fired for being inappropriate in the workplace.

            1. a1*

              Right. Like I said I disagree with a the point of the post. But people keep saying it applies to the GOVERNMENT like she doesn’t know that, even though she said that and that is what I was pointing out. She does know.

              All that said, I also don’t think she’s going around pontificating about religion and politics,or even talking about it, as much as some people seem to think either.

              Generally I don’t talk a lot about these things at work because I’m there to work. But if it comes up, I say what I believe.

              I take that to mean she doesn’t bring these things up, but if for some reason someone asked her about religion she wouldn’t shy away from it either.

              1. fposte*

                And that might be okay. And it might not. It depends what she believes. The rights of people not to hear that they’re going to hell count more, for instance, than the rights of someone to express their belief in that fact.

                Mostly, though, it’s that she started with the straw man of “Last time I checked, this is still a free country” (where do you check that, what metric are you using, and for whom?) and segued into the first amendment cliché that makes this more a vague buzzword vent than a specific informed statement or reasonable challenge to anything said. So I can’t tell what she’s disagreeing with, but maybe she feels better for getting it off of her chest.

    9. PennyParker*

      If you worked for my business (and I do own one) I would fire you in an instant if I heard that attitude.

    10. Tinker*

      There are a great many things that potentially fall under the umbrella of personal freedom that are also not conducive to getting work done with one’s coworkers rather than descending into an argument about the Morrigan’s plan for your eyeballs.

    11. The Other Geyn*

      All I want for this holiday is people to understand what the first amendment actually does. It protects you from government regulation of speech (and even then there are exceptions). Employers (and social media platforms and Allison) can regulate your speech. And if you are a government employee, there are often specific rules about wha they can talk about in the workplace.

    12. Someone Else*

      I don’t see the issue here as one of “free speech” or impinging on anyone’s rights. Sometimes, you’re directed to use different phrasing to refrain from offending/pissing off/alienating/otherwise making to feel bad the person who will receive the message. Telling someone “hey maybe don’t phrase it that way” is not turning into the 1980s USSR. (which, again, the reason that was scary was because of what the government might do to you if you were heard saying something it didn’t like, not about individuals). Your boss isn’t going to throw you in Lubyanka if you insist on discussing Jesus with your Orthodox Jewish coworker, but he (and the coworker) might think you’re a jerk.

    13. Vicky Austin*

      There’s a difference between saying what you believe and preaching to your coworkers. The former is fine, the latter is not. The guy in the letter is doing the latter.

  46. LadyCop*

    #2. I am Christian, but you damn well bet I do not want my boss talking to me about God’s plan for my life! They are your supervisor, not your religious council, spouse, family member, therapist or dog…seriously not something I want to hear because odds are he’d be in a different ballpark than the truth.

    1. GreenDoor*

      This! I’m Catholic but, even amongst Catholics we disagree on the dogma, the leadership, stuff coming out of the Vatican and so on. I don’t want to debate religion at work, even among my “own kind” – especially not with a boss.

  47. TheRedCoat*

    OP#1: IF for some reason you are unable to face this head on with the scripts other people have suggested, I recommend: “For tax/payroll reasons, everyone will only be paid for the hours they have clocked in. If you do not remember to clock in, you will not be paid.” And then stand by it. I’ve had a job that shifted the blame to the IRS to solve rampant attendance problems. A few months of getting paid less for every minute you were late cured a lot of it.

    1. Ginger*

      That solves half the problem. The attitude that is he is someone above rules because of family is a huge, IMO larger, issue.

      OP 1 – he’s looking to ride the gravy train. He sounds like the type that will expect to be promoted, won’t listen to other managers (he doesn’t listen to you, the owners and his in-laws, no way he is going to listen to someone else).

      The fact that they’ve talked to him already and he still hasn’t changed speaks volumes. I’m not sure I’d give him another chance.

    2. Natalie*

      I’d be extremely cautious with this approach, since it may not be above board itself. If these are exempt employees, you cannot dock their pay for anything short of a full day absence (although you could charge PTO if they have it), and doing so risks their exemption and would make you liable for all the OT you currently don’t have to pay them. If they’re hourly employees, you have to pay them for all hours you’ve “suffered or permitted” them to work, regardless of whether or not they’ve punched the time clock.

      As a general rule, Departments of Labor don’t look super kindly on disciplining through mucking with people’s paychecks.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Nope. If they work, they get paid
      Burden of proof is on the employer. They need to make damn sure everyone clocks in and out, terminate anyone who “forgets” frequently. But pay them. Never ever suggest you’ll dock pay.

  48. foolofgrace*

    OP#4: 1) How can anyone know with certainty, without guessing, that someone celebrates Christmas? 2) I’m in the minority here but I would feel awkward if my manager gave me a holiday/Christmas card. I’d be thinking, sheesh, now do I have to give them a card back? Or not? 3) And I’ll just say it and know I’m going to get slammed — a card from the boss without a gift inside (gift card, bonus check) would, I think, be weird. Bosses aren’t personal friends, they’re bosses. I apologize if my opinion offends anyone.

    1. Colette*

      I think a lot depends on how it’s done. A generic card signed by the manager isn’t going to mean much to anyone. A card with a thoughtful note about, for example, what she appreciates about your work could be very meaningful.

      A couple of years ago, I gave cards to my coworkers and wrote something I appreciated about every one of them – and they were very well received. But I made a point of only giving ones that said “Merry Christmas” to people who celebrate Christmas, and I acknowledged in a “Happy Holidays” card that I knew my Muslim colleague didn’t celebrate Christmas.

      But in that case, giving the card was the point – I didn’t stop by anyone’s desk to see whether they displayed it or threw it out.

  49. Rootsandbranches*

    LW4 – if you haven’t started your cards yet, may I suggest New Year’s cards? My direct reports have always seemed to value a card with a note about how I’ve valued their work over the past 12 months and something I’m looking forward to in the coming year. (Bonus – you can get cards for half off by buying them after Christmas day).

  50. EMW*

    For the layoff – why not give her the option?

    She can have two weeks of severance and have this week be her last week, or continue to work through X date in January while she job searches. It sounds like she doesn’t need to job for benefits, so maybe this isn’t as helpful as it is with a full time job.

    This is a common thing isn’t it? I feel like several of my friends have even been put in job pools for first application to other internal jobs, knowing that they have until X date to find new employment.

    1. Emily*

      This is what I was thinking – if either option is doable, LW #3 could tell her about the layoff now and ask her what she’d prefer.

  51. learnedthehardway*

    OP1 – I wouldn’t involve your daughter in the business decisions about how to deal with this employee, but I would inform her afterwards of what your decision is, so that she gets it without any “interpretation”. My guess is that the future SIL will say you don’t like him, or something. He sounds like the type to not take responsibility. I do think that Alison’s suggestion is the best way to manage him – either he shapes up, or he ships out. That said, I’d tend towards shipping him out. You already have clear evidence that he’s NOT a good employee and that he will try to take advantage of not-even-quite-family relationships. I would be telling him that he has a month of notice that he needs to find other employment, and that after that time, he is let go (or whatever is legal for you to do). If he complains, I’d tell him that he’s getting special consideration because he’s going to be family, but that it’s clear that he can’t work for the business, because he’s not taking his job seriously.

  52. Not All*

    #2 makes me crazy. WHY?! is this guy being promoted to management when he clearly is incapable of separating his personal beliefs from his work life?

    I have never once in pushing 3 decades in the workforce encountered a person with this type of religious bent who didn’t also discriminate against employees who didn’t share it. The BEST of them simply got along so much better with people who shared their bent that they unconsciously gave them better opportunities, reviews, and references…and that’s still a really bad situation because those were definitely not the best employees. The vast majority of them drove out every single employee who wasn’t part of their particular brand of religion.

    In my experience, promoting someone like this is like promoting someone who is openly racist by telling them they can’t discuss it at work because it might make someone “uncomfortable if they don’t share your beliefs”.

  53. boop the first*

    1. I’d like to know how he would respond to “You’re not family when you’re at work.” I’m surprised that he was able to shut down a conversation with that “I’m family so I’m different” line. Do you believe it’s true? I know you mean to say that your husband is a little impulsive, but still, why would firing the SIL cause drama with the daughter? Is the daughter spoiled too? I would feel embarrassed if I discovered that my husband did that. But not in the wacky sitcom way you’re afraid of.

    3. Christmas is super weird! Employers can’t “break up” with employees the same way that people can’t break up with their partners until after valentine’s day. Are people still that spendy or is it just a stereotype now? Honest question. I only ask because I haven’t exchanged gifts with anyone in years, and it’s not because there’s been a discussion about it, it just dwindled off. My aging mom is the only one I can think of who still buys extravagant gifts from time to time, but she also still watches television, which suggests that buying big TVs and actual CARS is a normal thing to do, and I suspect that it’s connected.

    ANYWAY, #3 mentioned that the person their trimming off is “very part time”. Maybe we’re worried over nothing?

    1. Blueberry*

      I still do a gift exchange with several people. And we don’t have kids, so my husband and I spend a fair amount on each other.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Considering that I can’t walk into a store this time of year without suffering the crowds and hysteria. Yes. Gifts are still huge, even worse, they aren’t taking it easy and shopping online. No thanks.

      It’s a holiday centered around gifts. Look at all the Secret Santa posts and gifting to bosses questions…

    3. Sualah*

      Not really sure what you mean by “that spendy.” If someone has only 5 people they want to buy presents for (example: Mom, Dad, SO, sibling, BFF) and they cap their spending at $20/each, that’s still $100. That’s not “spendy” but if they knew they were being laid off, they’d probably save that $100 for rent or gas or something. I’m not sure where you get from “I don’t exchange gifts” to “everyone else is super spendy.”

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        A hundred dollars can be a lot of money if you were counting on earning it and suddenly won’t be.

  54. Celaena Sardothien*

    I’m a Christian, and I totally agree with Alison on #2. Even if this guy is talking with someone he supposedly knows shares his religion, that doesn’t mean this person will want to chat about it. I mean, I know that my boss goes to church, but I don’t want her coming up to me and talking religion! It’s very personal.

    Plus, what if he and his direct report disagree about what “God’s plan” is? He/she is going to feel pressured to agree with whatever boss says.

    Furthermore, just because the direct report is also a Christian does NOT mean they share his beliefs. There are so many different sub-groups in Christianity–Catholics, Protestants, Calvinists, Conservatives, Progressives, Evangelists, etc., etc., etc. I have a huge suspicion that Religious Boss-Man is going to assume that everyone who is a Christian is going to automatically agrees with and believe everything that he does, and that is messy territory.

    I’ve had someone assume that I feel a certain way on a topic because of my religion, because of course I agree with this and don’t agree with that. Um, no. Just…stay far away from this is all I can say.

    1. Harriet Vane*

      People use the phrase “God’s will” frequently to justify the unjustifiable or to try to make others accept an unpopular opinion. I work for a church and I don’t think any of the ministry staff would use that phrase. It’s BS.

    2. Mary*

      I have a huge suspicion that Religious Boss-Man is going to assume that everyone who is a Christian is going to automatically agrees with and believe everything that he does, and that is messy territory

      Or the flipside, and just as offensive, tell them they’re actually not a Christian if they’re not the exact same brand of Christian that he is.

    3. Autumnheart*

      Or start refusing to promote women because God’s Plan is that women are supposed to be subordinate to men and stay home with the kids. Or start getting involved in someone’s pregnancy or birth control.

      Don’t put the religious extremist in a position of power over employees, where their success at work will depend on his religious biases.

  55. PennyParker*

    On the topic of religion at work I came here to say thank you for a previous post about discussing religion in a non-profit environment which uses government funds. I volunteer at a food pantry and there was a religious group which was sending their “missionaries” to us for a weekly workshift. By observation I discovered that they were proselytizing to our clients, who are quite vulnerable and probably felt they could not refuse the religious lecture. Due to a conversation on this site I was able to get that shut down; I actually quoted some of the info which came across on this site. I was so very thankful for the info which helped me get that shut down. And, the group keeps coming (we do need their help) but there is no more proselyting on the federal dime. Thank you. I’ve wanted to tell you this for at least a year, so this seems like a good time to do so and say thank you.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      Ugh. I have very low opinions on missionaries, who seem more intent on forcing people to convert than they are actually helping people.

      1. PennyParker*

        I could not have done it without the advice from this site. I even referred my supervisor to the discussion on this site.

  56. NicoleK*

    #1 I feel for you. It’s going to be hard to get him to change that behavior since it’s been going on for a long time. I work with someone who comes in whenever she wants too. And it’s aggravating.

  57. T*

    I will not work for family companies and stick to larger corporations precisely because of issues described n LW#1. No offense but the bigger issue is probably the resentment brewing with other people watching the son-in-law get away with this behavior. The letter is focused on the daughter and son-in-law’s feelings, not the overall dysfunction that was created by letting him set his own rules for years.

  58. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #2 when he comes in late, send him home without pay.

    None of the families I’ve worked with over the years would accept this. Your SIL is a disrespectful jerk. He will ruin a dynamic your family has poured themselves into creating. You have your livelihood to lose if he poisons the well win his entitlement and toxicity.

    Even as an adult, my parents would kick my butt if I ever spoke to them like I’m in charge like that. You are being taken advantage of.

  59. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #5 You need a new job. The next thing you’ll find is a “you’re fired” notice in a paycheck envelop one day.

    I’ve been written up once. By a sociopathic jerk needless to say. Even he pulled me into a conference room. He didn’t actually discuss the thing but watched me read it.

    I found a new job in less than a month. You can’t trust this person, they’re gunning for you for some reason.

  60. Hiring Mgr*

    The problem with #2 is what if the Gods have different plans? For example, Thor might want to make sure the toner in the printer has been replaced, but on the other hand, Zeus might demand expense reports get filed first… Who do we take direction from? /s

  61. Knitty Gritty*

    Chiming in on #3 from the “those left behind” point of view: If at all possible, do not let the person go close to the holidays. My previous company laid people off on December 20 of last year. It was terrible for those let go and only slightly less terrible for those of us left. To say morale tanked would be a vast understatement. By the end of January, 4 of us out of the ones who weren’t laid off had given our notice or quit. (small company that had less than 30 employees before the layoff)

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Sometimes this just can’t be helped. It sounds like this is a small business that genuinely can’t afford to keep paying this person, not a big company that could absorb a few extra weeks of pay in order to preserve morale.

      I think the morale challenge can be significantly ameliorated by communicating truthfully with the remaining staff. “Unfortunately, we had to lay Amelia off. We really didn’t want to do that so close to the holidays and the end of the year, but by doing so we were able to offer her severance pay. Here’s what this will mean for the rest of us : [workload redistribution, projects ending, overall stability, etc.]” Folks are going to worry about their own jobs and how well they will be treated if you need to lay them off; allay that concern as best you can; being open about the situation is helpful even if the news is bad (“The new project has taken longer then expected to become profitable and, to be frank, we’re really struggling. It’s possible that we will need to do further layoffs. Here’s what we’re doing to prevent that, and here’s what we commit to doing if it comes to that.”)

      1. TootsNYC*

        it’s true that folks worry what will happen to them, but people also really care about how to treat other people, even if they aren’t worried about themselves.

        Nobody wants to “hang around with” a jerk.
        But I think that by being open about it, and offering severance, etc., the OP can be not a jerk.

          1. Knitty Gritty*

            Agreed. If the management at my former company had acted with the sort of thoughtfulness that OP#3 is showing, we all would have felt completely differently about what happened.

  62. GreenDoor*

    #1…..OP, assuming the employee just genuinely wants to get clarity on what he can/can’t do, it may help to frame in it the context of “this is how things are different when you become someone’s boss” as in, going out to lunch, having drinks after work, going to each others’ backyard barbecues, being friends/dating, and interacting on social media ALL take on a different feeling once your someone’s boss. All of these things – including the extent to which you discuss religion – must now look different to avoid favoritism, pressure, bias, etc. Maybe that will help give him context, looking at it more broadly than just at something as personal as religion.

  63. jack*

    LW#3: is there any reason why you can’t ask your employee what she’d prefer? Ask her if she wants to leave now and take the 2 weeks severance, or stick around until January. And give her flexibility if she is able to find a new position in between now and then (ie doens’t have to give you 2 weeks notice, can leave early/come in late if she has an interview/etc).

  64. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP 1 – I think I’m one of the fortunate few commenters here who worked for family-owned businesses where family members busted their behinds to get things done. But I’m posting this so you know that, when it comes to hiring productive family members, It Can Be Done.

    I wish I had advice to offer besides what others have, but I agree with Alison and the contributors here. Your SIL is a huge liability, for all the reasons already mentioned. He needs to either drastically change his behavior and performance, or leave your business. Please keep us posted, and good luck!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve only worked for family owned businesses. The underlying hatred here is usually unfounded and spotty. So I’ve tuned it out lately. Then again I would rather eat glass than work for a company with 27 layers between me and the top, with 17 bosses in between, ick ick ick.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Valid point. For the past 25 years, I’ve worked for mostly Fortune 100 companies and recently made a change to a much smaller org – not family owned, but relatively lean and flat. It’s nice to go directly to whomever I need to speak to, C-suite included, instead of working through multiple channels of ‘internal communications’ for the purpose of ‘process management’ and ‘team engagement.’

        Also, I learned to tune out the chatter in every company I’ve worked for. Easier said than done, but it’s a sanity-saver. Fortune 50 or a 2 person operation, people are gonna talk. Best not to internalize it!

  65. TootsNYC*

    #3: laying an employee off before Christmas.

    I vote for telling her now, so you can give her either notice or severance.

    I had a boss who had decided to fire me, and she waited until AFTER I came back from a Christmas trip to the midwest, because she wanted me to have that time with my family. I was furious.

    This was in the days that you could actually get a refund, or shift your tickets to some other time–and if I’d known, I would not have spent the $300 on the ticket.
    Or, I might have just moved back (probably not, but…).
    I also might have gone anyway and been able to avail myself of the right kind of emotional support.

    That was NOT her decision to make. I consider that her not telling me of a decision she’s made was a form of lying.

    I’m still made, decades later.

    So I vote tell her, and let any “grace period to soften the blow” be obvious and apparent. (For one thing, you’ll look better, if you say, “I have to eliminate your position, but I’m going to give you notice to try to make it easier.” You’ll be doing a good thing, and openly)

    1. Lissa*

      Basically no matter what you do, you run the risk of it being “wrong” – tell right away, you’re the Grinch/Scrooge, tell too late, you were making decisions for her. And asking “if you were getting laid off near the holidays, when would you prefer to find out…” is right out…

  66. Midlife Tattoos*

    OP2 – many years ago, I was on a team of people in which one person did bible study with the boss at lunch breaks, etc. Everyone resented this and knew nothing good would come of it. When it came time for layoffs, guess who kept his job when I didn’t (even though I’d been there longer and had more experience)? Like I said, I was young then, but if it had happened now, I would have been suing the hell out of the company.

    At another company where I worked, there was a social worker who brought up God’s plan for a client. This earned him a swift and immediate dismissal.

    1. Midlife Tattoos*

      To add on to this — the coworker doing bible study with the boss felt empowered by this, and thought that gave him the right to push his religion on the rest of us. When a very close friend of mine committed suicide, this coworker told me all about how my friend clearly didn’t have jesus in his heart and so therefore was surely burning in hell.

  67. P*

    OP1: Sucks but agree you should not tolerate this behavior; besides the fact that what they are already doing is disrespectful to you and to employees, what else are they going to start doing?
    As a manager/boss you are obliged to make it clear this is not acceptable and they will be fired if it continues; and do it if they don’t heed the warning. I would also make it very clear what level of “mistakes” will be acceptable in the future (ie, 15 minutes late once; warning but won’t fire? Twice in a week, fire, barring proof of some kind of emergency? Forgetting to clock out once, warning that will be fired if it happens again within the next month? Whatever rules make sense and you would apply to any other employee)
    As far as your daughter goes, since she is family I think it would be a good idea to give her a heads up “unfortunately SIL hast started doing X and Y, and worse when we asked him to stop he told us no because he was family. This is not reasonable and we will fire him if it continues; I just want you to be aware of what’s going on since we love you very much and hope things are OK” (or something similar)
    — it’s not your daughter’s fault he is acting this way and there should be zero expectation she can/should control his behavior, of course
    — wouldn’t be appropriate to contact an employee’s SO if they weren’t someone you didn’t already have such a major relationship with
    — don’t know what’s happening at her home or what your daughter’s like. Daughter may react in two ways (or somewhere in between) a) be horrified and mad at SIL or b) double down and demand he get special treatment /really it’s all your fault/etc. Or possibly start with B and go to A or who knows. But if B that really isn’t your fault and in the grand scheme of things enabling such toxic behavior will not really be doing her any favors, if that’s any comfort.

  68. Stuff*

    I kind of disagree about letting someone go before Christmas. If you wait until after they will have bought gifts based on their current income. By waiting they have no way to adjust that spending. While you may not want to “ruin” their Christmas I think it is actually kinder. I would want to know earlier.

    1. TootsNYC*


      I posting my own story earlier. I think it’s the height of presumptuousness to decide for them what their emotional priorities should be.

      Tell them the truth, as soon as you know it’s the truth.
      Your kindness in delivery, and any severance/notice/warning can be your emotional assistance.

      Because believe me, the warm fuzzies of Christmas will rapidly be eliminated by the panic of an inaccurate spending pattern!

  69. Kelly*

    OP#1: what exactly are you confused about? He’s been able to get away with the behavior up till now. Treat him like any other employee who showed up for work two hours late. It’s not that complicated.

  70. animaniactoo*

    OP #1 – I would start here “Jack, I know that Tom talked to you about this yesterday, and that I’ve talked to you about it a few times over the past few years. I regret that I was not firmer and more definitive with you about it and it’s left us in kind of a mess here, but we need to straighten it out and it has to happen rather quickly.

    When you told me the rules were different for you because you’re family – honestly, I was so surprised that I didn’t know how to respond. The rules actually AREN’T different and they can’t be for very good business reasons. Most of which have to do with employee morale and general structure and reliability, and as a family member I’d be happy to to talk to you about those reasons if you would like a better understanding of what goes into it. But it’s not really necessary. I just need you to understand that while we’re family, we’re also your employers and at work – the employee relationship comes first, not the family one.

    You do great work for us when you’re here and obviously we value that. It is true that as family you get some extra leeway that other employees don’t, but what you may not realize is that you have also gotten leeway because you ARE a good employee in terms of the work you do. However, we’re at a point where I want to be clear that you’ve pretty much used all of that leeway up right now. Is there a reason that you’re having problems making it to work on time?”

    Start there, structure the conversation the way you would with a good employee who was having an issue – dig into why and see if there was an accommodation to be made. If there isn’t one that you’re willing to make, then phrase it as Alison suggests: “It’s up to you if you want to stay, but if you do….” and note that you’ll go through whatever discipline process you have if there continue to be issues. If he tries to argue with you about being family and how the rules SHOULD be different for him – that’s the time to say “That’s only true if *we* as the business owners agree that it’s true, and we don’t. We accept responsibility for having let it go on so long and not addressing it because we do value the relationship with you and daughter, but we’re addressing it now and it needs to be fixed. I’m not going to cover this ground again, I just need to know if you want to stay with the understanding that you will need to follow the same rules as all the other employees? Obviously that’s my preference, but it’s really up to you.”

    One thing that you may need to make clear is the difference between being a company owner and a company employee. You’re the owners. Regardless of whether he’s family, as OWNERS you and your husband do have privileges that others don’t, and it’s because your business role is different, not your family role.

    And after you talk to him, call your daughter and let her know “Listen, I’m trying to keep this separate but we’ve had an ongoing issue with Jack as an employee and while he generally does great work, it’s important to get it corrected and we just had that conversation with him. I won’t go into details with you, it’s up to him if he talks with you about it. I just wanted to give you the heads up and say that I hope that this won’t have too much of an impact on our family relationship.”

    And then – expect some awkward for awhile. Let it be OKAY to be awkward while it gets sorted out. Acknowledge the awkward and work to hold on to the family relationship outside – whether that’s by allowing a little distance or by structuring some family together time to be able to be social and bond about other stuff. But stand firm on Jack fixing this.

    1. fposte*

      I think that last paragraph is really key. OP, it sounds like you’re hoping there’s a secret way to make him do this that will guarantee your daughter isn’t unhappy, and I don’t think that exists. If SIL was going to be a “oops my bad, I’ll do better” person he’d be doing better already. Sterner measures will have to be taken. The point here is that the family business is an opportunity, not a guarantee.

    2. TootsNYC*

      right–not a bad idea to point out that he’s not an OWNER.
      I would also save room to say something more pointed about how HE is making a decision:
      “It seems to me that you don’t really want to work here anymore, since you come in so late and refuse to do the basic of clocking in. I think that’s a message to yourself and to us that you are done with this job. That’s OK–you don’t have to stay here. You do really good work, and we’d be happy to say so to any other employer in town. Perhaps it is time to separate the family status from the employee status. Because I think that’s the underlying message in your actions.”

      And in this: “I hope that this won’t have too much of an impact on our family relationship.”

      I don’t know that I’d say that; I feel like it points to a possible lever the daughter could use. I might stick with, “We’re trying to keep the company business separate from family relationships.”

      I might also say to either or both of them: “Our family and our happy relationships are important. But if John keeps coming in late and refusing to clock in, it’s basically really disrespectful to the company we own, and to us as his employers, that if it continues, it will eventually ruin the family relationships. It’s hard to feel warmly toward someone who is being that disrespectful. So it’s likely that the employee relationship has run its course, and it’s time for John to work for someone else.”
      Essentially the message is: By pushing John out, we are choosing our family over the business, because the family relationships will suffer if this goes on. And it will be John’s fault; John is the one damaging the family relationships, by presuming on them in order to behave as a bad employee.

      There’s also this: “We’ve already honored John’s family status by being more patient with him than we would have been with someone else, even someone as good at his job as John is.”

      1. animaniactoo*

        The thing with the lever is that this is clearly already a lever that is in daughter’s hands, and there’s some awareness that it’s the kind of thing she might be partial to using (based on previous actions?). By putting it on the table, OP is acknowledging that they know it’s there as well and are not being held back from addressing this by knowing that it might be used.

    3. Stuff*

      I might add that “as family” someday you’d like him to take on an expanded role. But unless he can prove he values the company as much as you do that won’t be possible and In fact he’s very close to being let go.

      1. TootsNYC*

        love that point about how he’s showing he doesn’t value the company.

        if he’s family, he should want it to succeed, and be thinking more about how he can contribute to it, and not about how it’s taking away from him, and how he can take for himself at the expense of the company.

        He should consider his time there to be an investment, then.
        Even if he isn’t going to inherit it someday.

    4. jhjh*

      This is great — but you need to make sure that you don’t expect more of Jack than non-family employees if you’re not going to give him more freedom. I do not know if you do or not, but consider it, because expectations like that go both ways. Do you ask him to step in and do more than you’d ask anyone else? Do you ask him to stay late, or be the pinch-hitter when someone else is sick, or ask him stuff about work on his time off because you’re seeing him anyways? Or whatever might be relevant in your industry. Obviously coming in two hours late and refusing to clock in/out is a hugely extreme thing, the more laxity you give to him as family would not have to be that far, just I always resented the “laxity only goes one way” thing at some previous jobs and would not stay 15 seconds late at places that policed my lunch time (this was never a place where it was important for work reasons).

      1. fposte*

        I think a family business is a situation where it would actually be okay to have disproportionate expectations, though. Just be transparent about it. “You get an opportunity in our business because you’re family; be aware that the family track here means more responsibility in exchange for that opportunity. We won’t take it personally if you opt to work somewhere without that obligation.”

    5. Kelly*

      This seems like you’re still giving him special treatment: “And after you talk to him, call your daughter and let her know ….”

      1. animaniactoo*

        No, it’s giving special treatment to your daughter who you already know is poised to not take this well, and trying to be clear and upfront with her about the situation.

        Giving him special treatment via talking to daughter would be trying to involve daughter in exactly what the issue is and trying to work out with her how to fix it on his behalf with her. This is specifically what OP and her husband need to make sure they don’t do, limiting it only to informing daughter there is an issue, and acknowledging that it could be a family problem but hoping for it not to be.

      2. AKchic*

        With a family business, it’s different. He isn’t her husband, but will be, if the marriage actually happens. What happens in that meeting will affect her and her relationship with her parents (as the owners of the company), so yes, looping their daughter in that they spoke to her fiancé (but not going into specifics) is okay. It’s kind of like saying “hey, I just wanted to let you know that I told your boyfriend that his car was dripping oil on my driveway again and he didn’t take it well, we had some words. I just want you to be aware.” It’s a head’s up in case (okay, the very likely outcome) that the employee comes back to the daughter to complain about his boss/her parents and their supposedly unfair treatment of him.

  71. TootsNYC*

    Alison wrote:
    One note though — please don’t give Christmas cards to everyone unless you know for a fact (and aren’t just guessing) that they celebrate Christmas. Many people don’t, and it can be alienating to have your boss assume that you do. You’re better off defaulting to a more generic holiday card, or something with a winter or new year’s theme.

    I think a manager should make it her business to find out what holiday their direct reports celebrate (or don’t celebrate), and then tailor any greeting cards appropriately.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, I think a lot of people would feel awfully uncomfortable with a manager making it their business to deliberately find that out about everyone. I would!

      1. TootsNYC*

        Wouldn’t you just be able to pick up on it? Or wouldn’t it be a reasonable casual conversation? “Do you celebrate Christmas?” and then pay attention to what you hear?

        Maybe I’ve never really had an official boss who was so far away or in so infrequent casual conversation that they wouldn’t have picked up on most of it. Or that it would seem weird if they said, sometime in mid-December, “Oh, do you celebrate any of the winter holidays?”
        or even, “What are your plans for the holiday break?” I would think it would end up being mentioned.

        1. fposte*

          Mostly I hear about seeing aunts and uncles. (I really wouldn’t go around asking “Do you celebrate Christmas?” That’s a little too close to a survey.)

          The other problem here is it seems to be falling into the All Important Holidays Are in Winter (and Every Faith Has a Big Holiday) fallacy, and it’s even questionable if cards are all that universal to other holidays. I think you’re still better off with a secular occasion on the writer’s side as the reason.

        2. CoveredInBees*

          It would seem weird to ask the question about winter holidays and asking about winter break probably wouldn’t get the answers you’d hoped, not least because many people don’t get a winter break or seeing family vs. skiing vs. hanging out at home doesn’t say much about religious observances.

          1. Owlette*

            I don’t think it’s so weird to ask about winter holidays! My boss asked me that exact question this year, because he was trying to prepare for my team’s PTO and shuffling around projects. He literally asked, “Are you visiting your family this year for the holidays?” and I was able to respond, “Yep, I want to fly out for Christmas–can I take off X dates?” Totally normal question.

        3. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

          I know a lot of people whose answer to a question about travel plans for late December would be something like “I’m going to see my family in Montreal” or “I’m looking forward to a few quiet days at home,” neither of which tells you what if any holidays the person celebrates. (In years I’ve gone to my family in Montreal, there’s been a Nativity display–with pandas and dinosaurs–because one of my relatives likes having that, even though she’s not exactly Christian.) This year, I’d probably mention that we’re going to New York to spend a few days with my mother, but we’re not going to be celebrating a holiday. Christmas is relevant here only because Mom has plans with my cousin who gets the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, and since nobody involved is celebrating Christmas they can sit down and make headway on the paperwork.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        Yep. If I didn’t mention it, I would be weirded out if my manager was like “Sooooo, do you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa?” I would see it as my manager cagily trying to figure out what my religion is, and since the answer to that question shouldn’t affect her evaluation of me, I would be weirded out.

      3. ArtsNerd*

        Yup, my job sends out holiday cards every year and it’s all about winter and New Year’s 100%. This year it’s a snow globe (h/t my fundraising friend for sharing her list of concepts.)

    2. Jasnah*

      Yeah, and what happens if the major holiday isn’t in the winter (as is the case for most religions)? Or if they don’t celebrate anything at all? Or if they’d rather not tell you so that they can be classified into a box of “Jimothy gets ‘Merry Xmas’, Pamantha gets ‘Happy Solstice'”? I think it’s easier and simpler to just do “Happy New Year, thanks for all your work this year” cards, or “Happy New Year, let’s do great work together this year” messages. This is what is common in my country.

      1. Lissa*

        Totally! It’s also kinda funny to think how often the same people getting angry about how they now have to remember so many different things don’t realize that “Happy Holidays” means they now have to remember nothing specific about anyone. ;)

  72. Colorado*

    I’d love for my manager to tell me what God’s plan is as we go into our second round of layoffs before the holiday. (okay, it’s sarcasm, but it’s been a rough month)

  73. JB*

    @ OP #1 – “Obviously he feels that he is superior to everyone in the shop and does not have to go by this rule.”

    If you refuse to discipline him the way you would discipline another employee, then he is right.

    1. Kelly*

      This is where I’m falling as well. Talking to your daughter about her future husbands work behavior…would you do this if he wasn’t marrying into your family? I think true equity in treatment would go a long way to remedy his attitude.

  74. AKchic*

    For the God’s Plan manager – I think it would be prudent to tell him outright that there is absolutely no reason to discuss religion at all while being paid. He is not paid to minister or proselytize. Discussing Gawd’s Plan is an attempt to minister or proselytize and that’s not what you have hired/promoted him for and is wildly inappropriate as a manager. Not everyone is religious in the same way as he is, therefore even if they are the same flavor of religion, it could still make someone uncomfortable, and could open the company up to lawsuits. He is welcome to discuss his religion off company time, to non-employees (so there are no subconsciously felt obligations or implicit requirement issues) and especially off company property.

    I would even discuss with Legal and HR the ramifications of him looking at how he is already looking for loopholes and ask them to help you with specific, layman terms on how to spell it out (or be with you) to ensure that he understands perfectly that any proselytization at work could very well cost him his promotion, if not his place within the company.

  75. Working Mom Having It All*

    Re OP#1, who is “everyone else” in this conversation?

    Is “everyone else” the rank and file employees of the company who are not family, but doesn’t apply to family members? Is “everyone else” mostly also family? Is the rest of the “family” in the family business working in management or leadership roles where their hours aren’t tracked closely, while Future Son In Law is on the shop floor among the hoi polloi? Do other family members working for the business clock in and out and arrive punctually as a rule?

    My guess here is that FSIL sees himself as one of the family, and expects to do as the other family members who are part of the business do. This cuts both ways depending on the reality of the situation. If the rest of the family are punctual clocker-inners and FSIL is the exception, then you should clarify that with him. “I know this is a family business, and as family you might be assuming that you get special treatment. But you should know that Brother Joffrey, Aunt Cersei, and everyone else in the family are all managing to do this consistently.” If everyone else on the family side of the family business comes in whenever and is treated as an exempt employee (hours not tracked), while FSIL is held to a different standard, that should also be considered. That’s not to say that this behavior should be tolerated (TWO HOURS LATE???), but that it might be the reason for his behavior. Because otherwise who shows up hours late to work as a rule for two years and keeps their job?

  76. Teeth grinder*

    Besides the question of which flavor of Christianity, and the general impropriety of discussing religion at work – thoroughly discussed already – he needs to spend working time on WORK, for heaven’s sake!
    In his own terms, Christianity, like most major religions, frowns on stealing, which is essentially what he would be doing if he uses the employer’s time to do anything other than the employer’s business. If it’s “God’s Plan” for him to work there, then he should actually work. “Render unto Caesar” is scriptural, after all.

    1. AKchic*

      *laugh* Are you suggesting fighting fire with hellfire? Not that I’m against it. I think it works beautifully in many arenas.
      Unfortunately, I think if that OP does couch it in biblical terms, it will only encourage the newly-promoted manager to continue trying because they’ve just been shown how the bible can be used *in context* within the workplace as an example of both encouragement and chastisement. It will solidify his desire to discuss religion and use religion as a tool to communicate with employees.
      No parables here. Plain language.

  77. CoveredInBees*

    OP2: I would have it all cut out because even IF the report practices Christianity the same way the supervisor does AND wishes to talk about it at work (already unlikely), it can cause some resentment with colleagues. It can lead to the appearance of favoritism. This has happened to me.

    I had a manager who practiced the same type of Judaism as me and sometimes it came up in very general conversations. She was the type to play favorites (a few evergreen and the rest constantly changing) so it made me look like more of a favorite. That was until the rest of the staff spent more time with me and found out she was just as awful to me. If we were in a less gossipy office and that manager was less prone to screaming, the resentment might have stuck.

  78. Bolts of lightning*

    I’m curious. What is God’s plan for call centers? Could it be it’s that all of them (the outbound call centers, anyway) will one day burn to the ground?

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Whatever the result, it is Ineffable. We are too puny to understand The Plan (which is my typical response to anyone who wants to discuss it with me, I call them prideful and that they need to be humble).

      Personally, I think the call centers are in a kind of folded multi-dimensional space that actually exists in Limbo…which is why we can never fully eradicate the calls.

  79. Stuff*

    Op1 thinking more on it I might say – I know you thing being family gets you special treatment but here are your choices. 1 You can be treated as an employee which means you clock in on time every day and work like every other employee and will be treated exactly as other employees. or 2 you can be treated as family with a possible future stake hold in the business which means you in fact get more responsibility not less which also means clocking in on time and accepting additional responsibilities like filling in when needed. With the future expectation that you will grow into a lead role. You choose. If neither is acceptable to you then you are not a good fit and should look somewhere else for employment. Regardless a clear path needs to be established – the family business is not a trough to belly up to when he wants a paycheck.

    1. Stuff*

      And this added responsibility should included learning the business so that at some point he can take responsibility off your hands. He should be a help, not a burden.

  80. Noah*

    I am really curious where people get the idea that employers are legally required to do all kinds of things they are not required to do (and frankly never occurred to me that they are required to do). Is there like some bad HR source on the internet that props up these idea? Ad campaigns by plaintiff’s lawyers? Twitter trolls trying to confuse people? Some of these myths are so pervasive and others so random, that I have a hard time understanding where these ideas come from.

    While this questions was triggered by the last letter, I don’t mean to criticize the OP. This is such a pervasive thing, that it almost seems like everybody believes one of these myths. I probably do and don’t even realize it.

  81. CM*

    #2 — I’m kind of surprised by the reaction to the god’s plan guy. To me, it really depends how he’s talking about this stuff, and it would be hard to make a blanket rule about whether it’s okay to say it.

    For context, I’m not Christian and I never have been. I’m a life-long atheist and I live in Canada, where things are more secular than in the United States.

    I’ve had Christian coworkers who believed that whatever happened in their lives was part of god’s plan for them. It was important to them, and it was how they got through hard times — by reminding themselves that there was a benevolent force in the universe that cared for them and would make sure things turned out the way they were supposed to, so that their suffering had meaning. I don’t share that belief, but it didn’t ever offend me to hear them say it. In fact, in some cases, I felt like being able to talk about our different worldviews and share how we each saw things brought us closer.

    I think that whether sharing your beliefs is having an oppressive effect or building close relationships is a really sophisticated social calculation that depends on a lot of intangible factors, and having a blunt policy like “you must never mention your beliefs to anyone” doesn’t really capture that. From the company’s POV, that might be a good way to avoid situations where people who don’t have really sophisticated social skills blunder into territory they shouldn’t be in, but there’s also something kind of dehumanizing about the idea that you should have to hide your most dearly-held beliefs from everyone you know.

    Surely there’s a way for people to be religious WITHOUT oppressing others. I’d like to spend more time encouraging that than telling them to keep their religion to themselves.

  82. CM*

    #5 — I have a question. I’ve heard people on this blog talk about “write-ups” like they are an official thing with a recognized meaning, but I don’t know what they are. What are they, guys?

    1. Stuff*

      They can vary but they’re a written reprimand that will go into your employee file. In some companies x number of write ups can mean dismissal.

  83. La Lapine*

    Ironically, the workplace that had the most Bible talk of any I’ve ever experienced was a federal government agency. I’ve never run into this at any non-profit or for-profit I’ve worked for. I leave in a major metropolitan area that overall leans liberal, and I was so flabbergasted that I would encounter this at a federal government agency out of all places.

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