updates: the boss who pretended to be from Child Protective Services, and more

Here are five updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. Boss called employee and pretended to be from Child Protective Services (#2 at the link)

While I insisted Wendy read your answer as well as the comments, I return with the underwhelming fact that Wendy let the entire incident slide with a nary a peep to anyone, saying she didn’t want to cause a fuss. She continued her job hunt and recently received a good offer.

But, ah, the universe is not so boring as that and I have more interesting news regarding said offer. The offer called Wendy’s workplace to get a reference (not from Winnifred) and Other Boss decided to take a look at her file… and stumbled upon the rather odd write-up involving gossiping over a bizarre prank.

Winnifred has been fired and hopefully the rest will all live happily ever after.

2. A consultant complains about our off-site meetings but doesn’t want to skip them

I took the advice to ask whether we could have him attend remotely in the future rather than travel for our meetings, and he was happy to take me up on that. I think I misread his interest in traveling and being part of the “team,” and it was better for everyone involved when we focused on the work he contributed as a contractor and stopped putting him in situations where he had to collaborate in person. Travel seemed to make his symptoms worse due to the likelihood of cross contamination. Thanks for your advice. in addition, comments from some of the AAM community really helped me understand his perspective.

3. Working with a traumatized volunteer (#4 at the link)

I wish I could say there was a happy ending to this tale; unfortunately, this is real life. Sansa quit in the middle of May. The trauma we detected and that we were told about turned out to be a mental breakdown induced by stress (she told us this herself). My purpose for writing in was to help in figuring out ways in working with her, and I pre-emptively mentioned my age and gender on the chance that her trauma was sexual in nature. Sorry if I ended up misleading any of the commenters in that regard.

On to the update. I passed on the suggestions of space, language and behaviour to my colleague (for which she thanks you all, by the way) and we tried giving her low-level tasks, also as some people suggested. We also let her go at her own pace and gave her permission to hit up our instruments since she could play the piano. It was… not that good. She’d forget Tuesday’s instructions on Wednesday and for a data-logging task, took a day and a half to complete what would have taken my colleague two hours at most. For my writing side, I asked her to write one article and proofread another, which after three days returned to me with the one with an incoherent flow of less than 500 words and the other with obvious errors overlooked. Our other team took her along as a facilitator for a regular musical ensemble training that we do, and returned, asking, “How are you supposed to facilitate anything when you don’t even speak?” We conferred, sighed, but decided to let her continue as she seemed happy and showed sparks of personality while she was with us. We could pick up after her between ourselves, and if work was her therapy, we could stand a bit of irritation if said therapy was working.

Then one day, she showed up around lunchtime, joined Colleague for lunch, then left after that, before calling Boss a couple of hours later. It’d transpired that she asked Boss for payment for her work, and when that was declined, left in a huff. She then revealed that she’d taken a freelance role… doing write-ups for an app in the Google Play Store. We thought that was the end of her, until she showed up a couple of days later, asked for work to do and left again an hour later – work untouched. She left for good in the middle of May when she showed up for the ensemble training, practiced with my colleagues, then announced she was quitting after that, heading for home just before the session started.

I hate to say this, but it was a relief to see the back of her. We tried to help her, but at the end of the day our angels couldn’t deal with her demons. Her general unreliability and entitlement also didn’t really do her that many favours. Ah well… In any case, thanks Alison for your advice. Also kudos to Middle Name Jane, SomePTSDChick, Specialk9, Heather and the general commentariat for your anecdotes, constructive criticism and wise words.

4. How do I get people to stop getting angry that my contract might not be renewed? (#4 at the link)

I am happy to say that on my last week, they renewed my contract for another month, and this week they renewed it until the end of the calendar year, and are putting together a job description to hire me into if a full time position with benefits becomes available. The people who know me are still grumbling that “if my department is bringing in lots of money they should be able to hire you as an employee” but at least they aren’t doing it loudly enough to attract random strangers anymore!

5. Explaining why I’m moving back to my old city after 10 months away (#5 at the link)

I wrote back in Sept. 2017 to ask about how to frame a job search less than a year after I’d started a new position. Complicating factors: I’d moved to a new city for a partner, we had decided to move back to my original city together, and I hated my current job. I just couldn’t figure out how to explain all of this to potential employers, and I was worried about being perceived as flakey.

You suggested that I was overcomplicating it and suggested a line —”Seattle’s a great city, but moving here showed me that I’m a Marylander through and through” — that was beautiful in its simplicity. It helped me clarify my narrative and taught me an important lesson about keeping things simple!

I used that line in my cover letters and in interviews, and I found that was more than enough explanation for my job search, no need to mention my partner or nightmare job at all.

It took a few months, but I’m happy to say that I found a great job and moved back to my original city. The framing you suggested made me feel totally confident during the interview. Thanks for your help!

{ 137 comments… read them below }

      1. Liet-Kinda*

        I will now go sit somewhere quiet and meditate upon the beautiful symmetry of the universe, and also cackle.

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

      THIS. I also hope that Other Boss gave a glowing review and Wendy got that job.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Karmic justice!

      Just imagine Other Boss reading through the file like, “WTF… oh, hell no.” And then going about righting the situation and getting Winnifred fired. Like the superhero we all need.

      1. LKW*

        I’m hoping there were some stern discussions with HR as well. How that “prank” was recorded in the file and yet went no where until the right person stumbled upon it baffles me.

        1. Bulbasaur*

          Seriously. On the plus side there appears to be at least one competent person in charge there, so hopefully they can make some changes.

          1. Mountainshadows299*

            I second that… It’s likely it didn’t go through HR. I once had a program manager who would write me up for things she couldn’t actually write me up for (it was one of my first jobs and I was in my 20s and didn’t know any better). Turns out she had me sign them, but never sent them to HR (I couldn’t afford to lose my job so I signed them). Word on the street says she left the company because they found out she was embezzling money (don’t know if it’s true, but wouldn’t surprise me). The new manager found my last write up and let me know what happened. I became a much wiser employee after that.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m imagining OtherBoss opening Wendy’s file and saying “WAIT A MINUTE, I read this on AskAManager. That was MY employee? No way is that going to fly here!”

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I cackled, not gonna lie. Bye, bye bye indeed.

      I’m glad she was batsht enough to write her up.

    5. :-)*

      God! I loved that update. While I’m sad that Wendy didn’t stand up for herself, I am so pleased that Karma does happen to the people who deserve it. b-bye Winnifred!!

      1. :-)*

        On the other hand, it might have been better to indeed wait for another opportunity to find a better place, so in a way perhaps she did stand up for herself, albeit not in the way I would. (And perhaps that was wiser ;-) )

    6. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      We use a different, slightly longer phrase:

      “So long Winnifred. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, or you’ll suffer brain damage.”

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    It makes me happy that Winnifred got her comeuppance even though Wendy didn’t want to cause a fuss. I hope Wendy’s new job is better and that OP’s workplace is happier without Winnifred’s drama.

    Sansa in #3 sounds more like an asshole than a trauma survivor.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Oh, absolutely. I meant her particular behaviors seemed more on the asshole end of the spectrum though.

        1. Works in IT*

          It is an unfortunate truth that some people react to trauma in ways that drive others away from them just when they need others most.

          1. Justin*

            I’ve been there. On both sides. It’s sad, but also, yeah, no, I was a jerk and received responses accordingly.

            I hope she is able to figure things out.

          2. Engineer Girl*

            Trauma victims can get super self focused. That can lead to selfish thinking which leads to being a jerk.

          3. Sunshine*

            This. It’s sad because when you’re in that space you really can’t help it; but of course other people aren’t and shouldn’t be obligated to deal with it.

        2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

          It sounds like she attributed her behavior to “stress,” rather than “trauma.”

          1. Close Bracket*

            Well, the stress *was* the trauma. And before you say, “everybody has stress, she’s just an asshole,” keep in mind that most people’s stresses don’t cause them to have mental breakdowns. You don’t actually know what her stresses were, so it’s not reasonable to dismiss her stress as non-traumatic and jump right to asshole. As Works in IT says, “some people react to trauma in ways that drive others away from them just when they need others most.”

            1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

              I don’t think “she’s just an asshole” is the answer. But stress/trauma can not only influence how someone behaves, and they can also warp their perception of that behavior and what is/isn’t a good justification.

              It sounds like her sense of “normal” was warped in some way; hence some behaviors that came across as fearful/traumatized, and some that just seemed bizarrely selfish.

              1. AK*

                I think it’s also a different situation to say “she’s just an asshole” on day 1 with no understanding of the situation vs saying it on day 100 after trying to be supportive for a few months. It sounds like OP’s organization was as compassionate as they could be given the circumstances, but Sansa’s warped sense of normal would’ve tested the patience of even the most understanding people.

          2. P*

            Rampant anecdotes and idle speculation ahead: I kinda sorta tertiarily know someone socially who apparently had some sort of stress mental breakdown due to work several years before I met her. But when I met her… I dunno. I couldn’t tell if she was still “broken” (by which I mean, truly unable-to-mentally handle working) or just TRYING to be broken to keep living off the workers comp or disability or whatever it was. And it wasn’t my business but I just remember lots of comments about gaming the system etc but also folks who knew her before and after really felt like she truly snapped; like I said not really my place to judge or figure out which was which. Just when I read the above I almost wondered if sansa was possibly /trying/ to be disqualified from things for some reason. (said person I knew was fun because she was kind of a crazy free spirit but I felt a little weird about it all) Doesn’t really matter for OP3 did they best they could, but I do agree with downstream commenters that after a certain point it makes sense to just focus on the mission of the org and not on trying to be an unofficial therapist.

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

      Oh, what I would give to be a fly when Other Boss found out and when Winnifred was fired.

      1. LKW*

        Agreed, in particular because it was months ago and I’m sure everyone just thought it was over and done with. Not instant karma more like slightly circuitous path karma.

    2. LKW*

      Do volunteers not know they’re volunteers? I’d love to say I’m not surprised but I didn’t think people really expect to get paid for volunteer services. Perks, sure, but payment?

    3. Labradoodle Daddy*

      Trauma seriously warps so many parts of you…… calling her an “asshole” is crass and doesn’t see the full picture, IMO.

  2. Happy Lurker*

    Thanks for all the updates. I feel so satisfied that there are still some professional people left!

  3. AthenaC*

    Re: #1 – So glad that one worked out well. I do have to say, though, I understand Wendy’s impulse to put my head down and just keep quiet until she could get away. I have learned that although I am normally fearless and quite outspoken, nothing turns me into a mewling kitten faster than the credible threat to take my children away. So I get why she decided to handle it the way she did.

    1. Seifer*

      I feel the same way! I don’t have kids, but I have come to find that everyone who is normally fearless and outspoken has that one thing that turns them into a ‘mewling kitten’ faster than you can say boo. When it’s not you, you’re like speak up!! And then when it happens to you… lost my voice, just want it to be over.

    2. Ice and Indigo*

      Especially as it can actually get you written up as aggressive and unstable, and hence a threat to your kids, if you get openly angry/distressed that you’re being threatened. (Ask me how I know, and karma, if you’re at loose ends now you’re done with Winnifred, I can suggest a few candidates.)

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      If it’s just a jerk boss who is being ridiculous, a fight can be hard but easy enough.

      However Winifred was unstable AF. It’s like I’m not going to start fighting back if I know someone is trigger happy and packing, you know?

      This is why I turtled as a kid being bullied. I had more to lose and knew they’d go for my eyes.

    4. Oranges*

      I am not normally outspoken and it would take a lot to get me to speak up. I’d probably do exactly what Wendy did.

      Everyone has a different calculation of cost/benefit with a given situation, and what can be a small cost to one person (aka raising a fuss) is a huge cost to another person. Same goes for how much the benefit is worth (justice/improving my work environment).

    5. LadyPhoenix*

      Winnifred already threatened the wellfare of her kids. I think Wendy was worried that Winnifred would do it again and follow through (Fire Wendy, then threaten CPS on kids).

      I’m sure there are plenty of moms who at the slightest sniff of trouble go full on Mama Bear (Whether Grizzly or Black or whatever is most visceral)… but that can of whoop @55 has to be saved for SPECIAL occassions.

    6. alienor*

      Not gonna lie, I breathed a sigh of relief when my daughter turned 18 because it meant no one could ever take her from me. There was no reason anyone should have, but I felt really vulnerable as a single parent, as if I was being judged harder than other parents, and always worried that someone would call CPS over some normal kid thing like messy hair or a shirt with a stain on it.

      1. Stinky Socks*

        I think a lot of families feel they have a target painted on them, justified or not. I am married, but we have a very large family, and homeschool some of the children. I have the same concerns about normal kid messiness being taken as some kind of reportable neglect.

      2. KylieHR*

        As a single parent, my mom had the same issues. It was also the impetus for her to basically refuse any form of assistance because the fine print was that CPS could show up at any time for any reason because you were taking assistance. So we went through some times where my mom was afraid to use TANF or food stamps, and we probably could have used the cushion. Still did subsidized housing though because we genuinely couldn’t afford anywhere else. But my mom was on guard all the time.

  4. AnonAcademic*

    Re #3, that sounds like an impossible situation trying to provide a “therapeutic” environment for someone who doesn’t sound like they were ready to be in a workplace. On the other hand, I’ve worked with many dozens of interns who were equally green/entitled/flaky, so perhaps the mental health aspect is a red herring. I just find the whole framing of it as some sort of rehabilitation for trauma problematic from the start, especially framing someone’s role in an organization in terms of their mental health or lack thereof.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Couldn’t agree more. Just because I work at a nonprofit doesn’t mean I’m qualified to provide work-based mental health support for someone.

      It sounds like it came down to one colleague making the call that everyone (and OP in particular) were being volunteered as therapy resources for Sansa and were supposed to just roll with it, even at the expense of their productivity and morale.

      1. epi*

        I have a comment presumably stuck in the spam filter, but it just took many more words to make your same point.

        The OP’s organization seems to have seen Sansa more as a client than a volunteer. Rather than expecting to benefit from her presence, they spent resources to tailor the experience to her. That is a really kind impulse! But it also sounds like it’s not normal for this organization, or there would have been no need to bring Sansa in as a volunteer. I think clarity about why Sansa was there– and whether this is truly a service the organization wants to start providing– could have avoided some of these frustrations.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          That’s a great point. It’s a bit much to expect co-workers to act as untrained (and uncompensated) therapists. They have their work to do, and no specific training in supporting trauma victims. I can see where having a job, doing volunteer work, or just keeping busy, would help someone and be good for their mental health – *but* that’s not the same as “everyone needs to be this person’s therapist.”

        2. Elan Morin Tedronai*

          Hey there, OP #3 here. Let me provide a bit of backstory: I work in a Christian organisation that partners with churches in their work. Ergo, in the course of what we do, we meet a lot of pastors and church leaders who we sometimes do favours for, and vice versa. Sansa started working with us because her pastor (whom Colleague and I have some… history… with) and mother (!!) came into our office and spoke to Boss about giving her a place to volunteer and some work to as part of her recovery. Boss agreed.

          When he told the both of us about it, we saw red flags flying all over the place, but though he agreed with us, he asked us to cut Sansa some slack and give her the benefit of the doubt given her situation. This we did, but the problems she presented were too much to overlook, so it was a relief to see her go.

          I’m trying to condense things for the sake of brevity, so if there’s anything that’s not clear, let me know and I’ll try to clarify below.

      2. sam*

        This was what I was thinking – Sansa may have been using this volunteering as “therapy”, but for everyone else, it’s…their jobs, and they’re not therapists. It’s certainly good for people to want to be, and to try to be, sensitive to someone who has been through *something*, but the whole thing was just an inappropriate burden to put on the rest of the staff who had jobs to do.

      3. Laini*

        I agree with you both, and it struck me as odd. The phrasing about how she showed sparks of personality/seemed happy, and referring to it as “therapy.” Just felt like a strange way to approach a work/volunteer situation.

    2. epi*

      It kind of sounds like a combination to me. Some people do graduate without significant prior work experience. Both trauma symptoms and being new at something can interfere with your ability to be self-aware and to understand what others expect from you. Sansa could also have felt that what she did was work deserving of payment because it felt hard for her, especially if she wasn’t getting feedback about all of this. It can be hard to tell what is hard because it’s a stretch for your skills, and when it’s just a mental health challenge! Especially when you’re new.

      I could kind of see why someone might think the volunteer experience would be therapeutic, since this sounds like a creative environment and volunteering might have allowed Sansa to dip her toe into a work-like situation but with lower stakes. Seeking out volunteer work can be part of therapy, for example as part of identifying and then trying to live out your values in DBT. However, many people actually need boundaries and accountability in other areas of their lives as they work through mental health challenges. It was kind of the OP and their employer to try to tailor this experience for Sansa, but it sounds like they really intended to treat her as a client– tailoring the experience to her needs and expending their own resources to do so. They might benefit from being clear with themselves about that in the future, and whether this is a client service they can ever provide.

    3. IndoorCat*

      I agree. If someone is recovering from a traumatic experience, it can be helpful to have a structure even if they can’t handle a job. But, that doesn’t mean the volunteer thing is therapy. It’s not the purpose of a non profit to be group therapy for their volunteers.

  5. Observer*

    I just love the update on #1.

    It does say that the place is a fundamentally decent employer. Although I do agree that I would have hoped that someone in HR would have realized that something was badly off with this write up.

    1. Paloma Pigeon*

      It would be interesting if HR suffered some heat from Other Boss in addition to Winnifred being fired.

    2. rldk*

      It sounds like HR, or at least the other supervisor, weren’t aware of the write-up until they pulled Wendy’s file. It’s possible HR wouldn’t be notified of a new write-up unless they look for it.

      And ultimately, someone else in the org saw the write-up, noted how sketchy it was, and acted accordingly with karmically pleasing results. So that supports a ‘fundamentally decent employer’ conclusion :)

      1. Carpe Librarium*

        I’m also interested to know how much detail was in the write-up.
        Did it just refer to “gossiping about a ‘prank'” and Winnifred got fired for not following proper write-up procedure and the nature of offense that should justify it, or whether Winnifred actually included the details of the ‘prank’ itself.

  6. fellow_celiac*

    De-lurking momentarily to remark on #2 and express solidarity with the consultant. Traveling with celiac disease can be exhausting because it requires one to do a ton of research (where can I safely eat, what can I safely eat there…) and “speaking up” (I can’t have croutons on the salad and no you can’t just take them off and bring it back out, could you cook my food separately on a freshly cleaned surface, can I see the ingredient list for that…). It’s like being on high alert all the time.

    When I get cross-contaminated or glutened, the symptoms affect both my mind and body, and it takes me about a week to feel like myself again. You are a good manager for allowing this person to remote in and avoid all that hassle, as well as the illness that can accompany cross contamination.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I let my friend with celiac pick where we eat every time. I’m not picky and her health matters more than thinking I need to try out some restaurant with good reviews. I can’t imagine the extra stress having such a fickle illness causes!

    2. animaniactoo*

      I feel for you. My husband is notoriously narrow in his “what tastes good to me/I am willing to risk trying” range. He was SO ridiculously happy early this year. Because I discovered that I can’t have soy anymore and we went out to eat with my sister and I thought it was easy enough to order, just telling the waitress “I just need you to tell me if anything I’m ordering has soy in it.” Boy was I wrong.

      It was a brick oven pizza/trattoria/beer/hip kind of place. Practically every last thing had soy in it. They were using partial soy flour for everything that had a bread or breading component. Soy sauce in pasta sauces/salad dressings and so on. It took over 20 minutes and 4 check-ins with the kitchen before we found a dish I could have (thus, my husband was no longer the problem child at our table…). It sucked. I think I’ve only been to one restaurant since. And I’m nowhere near as bad as having celiac!

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        I’m another can’t have soy person either – and so yep, I was reading this story and follow up and was like – yeah; it can get very exhausting and I don’t have to worry about breathing it (hence why some folks can’t even go down the baking aisle!) so this was definitely the way to go and I’m glad for all parties.

      2. Bryce*

        It’s one of those things that you never notice until you have to look, and even then you can miss stuff if you’re not familiar with what you’re looking for. My father passed recently and despite tradition (not just the default way people express emotion, but we’re Jewish and when sitting Sheva you’re not supposed to do anything normal so other folks bring by meals and such) we asked for “please no food” because it was better than the laundry list of what different folks could eat. The close friends of my mom, who had heard her kvetch about it before, listened; everyone else… well let’s just say her neighbor’s family got a lot of pies and gift baskets.

        My mom developed her gluten issues later in life, and was really glad I’d had peanut allergies from birth. Learning how to manage those had taught her a lot of skills that made things less overwhelming when she had to shift her own diet. It’s a chore sometimes.

      3. Beaded Librarian*

        It’s amazing what has soy in it. I worked in a hospital kitchen for years and the Head of the Dietary Department actually printed out a list of all the words that mean something contains soy. It was at least 30 words and most of them you wouldn’t guess that they indicated the presence of soy.

        1. Recent Anon Lurker*

          Speaking on behalf of my very diet limited mom – yeast is almost as bad as soy. Take most breads, soups (it’s a preservative), ice cream (preservative again), and of course no alcohol right out of your diet.

        2. JSPA*

          And now they’re tucking pea protein into all sorts of things–pea allergies can be just as intense as soy allergies, but get far less attention. Maybe because (until now) peas were not hidden in all sorts of foods.

      4. Parenthetically*

        Oh my gosh, some dear friends of mine went through this with corn — I remember being at a restaurant with them, handing the waiter the little card with all the “alternate” names for corn products, and a few minutes later seeing him come out of the kitchen looking so stricken, only to tell them that there was literally one item on the menu that didn’t have some kind of corn product in or on it. So disheartening!

    3. phira*

      I don’t have celiac, but I have IBD and am on a medically restricted diet that can be nearly impossible to stick to if I can’t prepare my own food. Travel can be a nightmare because not only do I need constant access to a bathroom, but it’s likely I’ll end up worsening my symptoms because I have such little control over my food (or sometimes I find it too embarrassing to have to stick to my diet in a professional setting).

      So like fellow_celiac said, it’s really not just the risk of illness, but the copious amounts of stress that come with business travel when you’re in this kind of situation.

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m glad we got Winifred being fired before getting to the sadness of #3

    #3 reminds me of someone I once knew who flushed her life down the toilet in reaction to trauma, total self destruct mode set in. We’re not all able to repair, even with all the support in the world. Thank you for trying, LW. Please continue to be kind and helpful to others, this case was a loss but others can.

    1. valentine*

      Ad hoc therapy without informed consent or even knowing the issue is dangerous and far from kind.

    2. Sunshine*

      It can take time, and also for the trauma to cease. There can be a nasty cycle where trauma makes you less employable and sociable, which weakens your network and salary, putting you in precarious jobs and housing in bad areas, which exacerbates the trauma, which makes you less employable…

  8. Close Bracket*

    Regarding #2:

    The original letter had this: I would be able to have him dial in remotely for this next event. This seemed to really upset him

    The update says: I took the advice to ask whether we could have him attend remotely in the future rather than travel for our meetings, and he was happy to take me up on that.

    What happened in between?

    1. JanetM*

      I wonder if maybe Consultant had a chance to think it over and decided that yes, remoting in was a better option than making himself miserable? Or if it was presented to him as an option, rather than “I’ve decided you should do this”?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I would bet on this. The gut response versus after you’ve had a chance to think about it for a week and realize “Well actually…”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I wonder if he had already put in effort and costs to travel. Then got a “you wanna just dial in??” and was like “I BOOKED A FLIGHT WTFFFFFFF”.

      Then he realized that the OP’s idea was better for his limitations!

      People sometimes kneejerk the first time it’s mentioned or take it the wrong way.

    3. PieInTheBlueSky*

      Based on the comment “I think I misread his interest in traveling and being part of the “team,” and it was better for everyone involved when we focused on the work he contributed as a contractor and stopped putting him in situations where he had to collaborate in person.”, it sounds like the consultant felt an obligation to attend the meetings in person, even though it was not required. Maybe the LW was able to reorganize or reframe the meeting in a way so that the consultant understood that being there in person was truly optional.

    4. Lissa*

      I could see a few things. One, since OP said they misread the interest in traveling, “This seemed to really upset him” – “seemed” is the key word here, and it was just a wrong read. It happens.

      Or maybe consultant was worried that this was some kind of reprimand, like “ok, we’re taking you off travelling” was perceived as a demotion or putting his job at risk, and he didn’t realize it really wasn’t anything like that.

      OR he just changed his mind after a few bad travelling experiences, he was regretting turning down the option and jumped at the chance the next time it was offered!

  9. Goya de la Mancha*

    Yay for updates!

    #1 – I had totally forgotten that Winnifred had written Wendy up for gossiping! I got mad all over again. So glad she’s gone. Is Wendy sticking around now?

    #3 You tried, which is more then some would have been willing to do!

    1. AFPM*

      Yes – I was hoping that Wendy would reconsider. Also a bit confused as to why the new employer called looking for a reference – if the Other Boss needed to check her file, she likely wasn’t told by Wendy. So was this okayed by Wendy, or just karma at work so Winnifred would be discovered?

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I figured the reference checking happened before the offer. (Hopefully the new employer got Wendy’s okay to call her then-current employer.) The process of Other Boss looking into the Winnifred weirdness and getting her fired may have taken days or weeks, during which time Wendy received and accepted another offer.

      2. Glimmer*

        A lot of times after you’ve accepted a position and they’re doing the background check, HR will verify your current employment. So not a full-blown reference check but just making sure that you weren’t fibbing about your job or your dates of employment. I know it happened to me the last time I changed jobs.

    2. Arctic*

      I remembered the write-up but I’m still confused. Winnifred was so stupid she actually spelled out the real reason for the write-up?

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        She might have thought “well, I’ll never get caught.” And she didn’t, for some time.

        1. Stormfeather*

          Or her thought processes are weird enough that she didn’t fully realize she SHOULD hide it

          1. Parenthetically*

            Yep, I think this is the thing. Winifred is one of those people who genuinely thinks that “I was just kidding!” is a free pass to be any kind of a-hole you want.

  10. Grouchy 2 cents*

    Look, I feel for anyone with mental health issues (and I’m a member of that club myself). And it makes sense to check in with your empl0yees/colleagues and figure out a way to make their work lives less stressful during the bad stretches. But it is a really really bad idea to hire someone (paid or volunteer) that you know has severe issues that have yet to be treated. Being someone’s therapist is way beyond most people’s expertise. Additionally it’s way beyond most people’s bandwidth too. We all have crap of our own to deal with, and frankly there are a lot of days when I can barely keep myself together. I sure as hell don’t want Sansa’s emotional well-being getting dumped on me as well.
    I doubt it was helpful to Sansa either. I would be unsurprised to hear that the whole thing wound up setting her back even further by reinforcing all the negatives she already internalized about herself.

    1. Arctic*

      It’s illegal to not hire someone because you know they have mental health issues.
      You can not hire them because they can’t do the job but nothing at the outset suggested that was the case with Sansa.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        As I see it, the error wasn’t in hiring Sansa; it was in expecting her coworkers to go above and beyond. That’s not their jobs. Yes, you expect coworkers to treat one another with respect, but you can’t ask them to play therapist, especially at the expense of their own jobs.

        1. JSPA*

          ADA applies to employees, volunteers, customers / clients. (Confirmed by googling, “does ADA apply to volunteers.”)

      2. Observer*

        Oh, they knew there were going to be problems. That’s why someone shared that “she’s a trauma victim and this is part of her therapy”

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Exactly. It sounds like she had experience or skills that would make her able to do the job. However her previous trauma created a bar that the ADA could reach…IF she was able to make it work and fulfill her side of the deal.

      4. Wintermute*

        You can do what all good employers should do though, if it’s obvious that they’re not able to meet the demands of the job the kind thing for everyone is to engage in a good-faith negotiation about accommodation and if they still can’t perform you have to let them go.

    2. LGC*

      I mean, I hear you – and this is a really tricky situation because there is no elegant solution that doesn’t push boundaries. But also…maybe I’m jaded (I am jaded), but this is primarily on Sansa. I’m of the opinion that her trauma is an explanation, not an excuse – and that mental health issues shouldn’t be disqualifying from volunteer positions.

      It probably could have worked better if the LW’s nonprofit had a bit more guidance going into it other than hearing that Sansa was a delicate flower and having it left at that. (However, this gets thorny in terms of ethics, to say the least.) Moreover, it seems like…this was not the volunteer position for her! If I had to guess, Sansa is a musician, her therapist thought that since LW’s nonprofit is music-oriented it’d be a good fit, and didn’t see that there were quite a few higher-level tasks involved (like article writing, data entry, and event facilitation). I’m not going to lie, with the follow-up information that LW provided, I feel a bit stressed!

  11. SomePTSDChick*

    Thanks for thanking me OP #3 and thanks for being willing to help Sansa.

    Argh. I gotta say entitlement drives me bonkers. Expecting your colleagues and your workplace to be your “therapy” really, really rubs me up the wrong way. If you’re there to do a job, you do your job.

    Also – a mental breakdown from stress doesn’t meet the scientific, psychological criterion of “trauma.” Trauma is a neurological process rather than a synonym for “something bad happened to me.” In fact the DSM limits trauma to threat of, or actual, substantive physical or sexual harm, witnessing such harm, hearing about a loved one experiencing such harm or seeing the adverse effects of such harm, generally as a first responder.

    There’s currently a lot of mission creep with the term “trauma.” It seems to be being used by more and more people, for more and more things. Everyone, at some point, has had a “traumatic”, colloquially speaking, experience. The sort of trauma that literally rewires people’s brains is different.

    I’d never expect my colleagues to treat me with kid gloves because of my trauma. I’d never put the burden on my colleagues to be my “therapy.” I pay a therapist for that – it’s entitled to expect a workplace to revolve around you. Reasonable accommodations are a different gig, but to literally use a workplace, and the people in it, as your own “therapy” really rubs me the wrong way.

    1. Wintermute*

      You’re right and the “scope creep” does bother me too, but you can’t make a blanket statement that it takes a different level of trauma, because each person is different. I was part of a research project, in fact, as a field researcher, investigating mental resilience and risk factors, sadly I wasn’t able to relocate to the south on a part-time 12-dollar-an-hour salary so I didn’t make it to the actual interview phase, but I did follow the results carefully and it was basically a big “we can’t tell”. I know one person (not in the study, a friend) who has childhood PTSD from being near a housefire, totally uninvolved, no casualties, as a child, and I’ve known people who’ve served multiple military deployments and never give it a second thought. There is no certain level that it takes, and until we’re in that situation we never know what our own tolerance will be. Though there are some traits that seem to correlate to high levels of resilience, some of them aren’t exactly desirable traits and others are moreso, but even with that in mind you can’t really tell. It can be a VERY low bar for some people, and it can also be trauma-dependent, a sex crimes detective who has seen and dealt with just about everything could still have a drastic reaction to a common house robbery.

    2. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      I have to admit, my initial reaction when I first learned what her issue was was a mental “That’s it?” That said, life has a way of knowing different people’s breaking points, then attacking them on those fronts. Also, some info I left out because my initial post was looking too long: Sansa started working with us because her pastor (whom Colleague and I have some… history… with) and mother (!!) came into our office and spoke to Boss about giving her a place to volunteer and some work to as part of her recovery (See any red flags? Me too…). Boss agreed… So in other words, we had an unwilling volunteer, and we were expected to be said volunteer’s therapy by a Helicopter Mother and a bumbling pastor.

      Finally, I agree with you that the term “trauma” is becoming overused, and I apologise if I misled you or anyone else by using that term. I use it because the way Sansa was acting when we first met brought that impression to mind, and the way she was introduced later (original post) drove that impression deeper. If there’s anything not clear, let me know and I’ll clarify below – I think I’m writing a research paper already as it is.

      1. SomePTSDChick*

        No worries. Of course she might have had other trauma… But yeah.
        Wintermute, the house fire thing would qualify as Criterion A trauma. Threatened violence and all that, same reason a car crash where no one is injured could cause PTSD.
        I’m not a big fan of blanket statements in general – of course there’s individual variation, and I’d never suggest what happened to Sansa wasn’t traumatic after a fashion. Also, I’ll never know if there was other trauma pre-breakdown.

        However, the studies and research do actually show significant neurological differences between brains of people with PTSD and brains of people without. The MRIs in particular are fascinating. Brain imaging differs also depending on the “type”of trauma – emotional abuse Vs motor vehicle accident for example. People with traumabrains think differently, which does get me weird looks at work for being quite risk-aware/proactive about things unrelated to trauma – like cybersecurity and legals. If we start using “trauma” to mean adverse event, then people stop understanding trauma-based reactions as neurological phenomena and we’re back to square one being hit with the “get over it” stick.

        Depression, stress, all those things are awful. It’s not a matter of trauma being “better” or “worse”, it’s a difference in the symptoms – no point treating me for pneumonia if I have a kidney infection. Or, to labour the analogy, a cough is an expected symptom of pneumonia – if I jump or shake and people know I have PTSD, they can write it off as the condition rather than me and not worry, like if they knew I was recovering from pneumonia and had a coughing fit in a meeting.

        I guess I do get a bit defensive about it, largely because using “trauma” in a non-clinical sense, especially the term “triggered”, makes my life more difficult. Eg my dog died and it was awful, but not “traumatic”. People are largely weirded out by the anxiety symptoms of PTSD, not the depressive ones…. Had a conversation today where a work colleague, in response to my suggesting we put a policy in place, suggested our approach should be “man should trust other man”…. Which is all well and good, really, but it’s a non-profit that needs legal cover. If people think that, for example, my dog dying is trauma, they’re a lot more puzzled by my watertight approach to things – if trauma equals “awful thing happened”, not “my brain is literally not the same, structurally, as yours, so my perceptions of what’s safe and unsafe are different”, then they start to wonder why I’m such a paranoid so-and-so, because everyone has trauma and it doesn’t effect everyone like that.

        The other thing is that PTSD is quite a physical illness – I like being able to explain my tremor on a bad day or my super sensitive hearing, or a startle response, as a quirk of my medical condition rather than have it put down to rudeness or nervousness on my part. It also helps people not to worry, if I can breeze over something noticeable with a “oh, just a medical condition, not life-threatening”and a smile, people don’t have to worry that they’ve upset me or that I am nervous because I’m unskilled or underconfident professionally.

        The other thing about trauma and PTSD, is people genuinely want to help and avoid upsetting you. Which is lovely – but I’d much rather a colleague think that I’m acting weird because I have a medical condition than because they’ve done something wrong. I don’t generally disclose my PTSD professionally, but the “medical condition” phrasing is a good one and also not a lie. As a person with some level of basic empathy, I don’t want my colleagues worrying that they’ve done the wrong thing or inadvertently exacerbated my Tragic Backstory™ by an innocent action that would be fine around 99% of people. It’s not a nice feeling to be the person that makes someone flinch, and no one actually wants to do it to someone else – so blaming it on a medical condition instead of either a colleague’s behaviour or mine is much better.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          Ugh. I HATE HATE HATE it when people use the word “triggered” to mean “annoyed or irritated or mildly offended.” It’s so disrespectful and there’s nothing funny about it.

  12. Karmacat*

    I’m almost 60 and in my decades on this planet have slowly come to the realization that life rarely treats people fairly. Crazy jerks who make other people miserable can become billionaires (or even President of the United States) with everything their cold twisted hearts desire, while really wonderful people can be faced with awful circumstances. So when I read that a truly terrible person had their comeuppance, as happened with Winifred, it makes me feel that maybe the world isn’t entirely unfair.

  13. Hornswoggler*

    > our angels couldn’t deal with her demons

    I am totally stealing this. I am sorry to say that I know I am going to need it.

    1. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      Damn, I totally should have trademarked that… I do hope you’re doing well though!

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