our laid-off coworker still shows up every day, employer wants a short story that will make them cry, and more

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

1. Our laid-off coworker is still showing up every day

My boss laid off one of our team members one afternoon. There was an organization-wide mandate to make a budget correction, and he chose this measure for our unit.

The next day, the team member showed up at work. And the next. And the next. They’re not working — duties have been reassigned— but seem to be just slowly packing up their stuff and using the kitchen. They’re not doing anything to be disruptive, but people in the office have noticed they’re still here. The boss works in the same office area so he knows this is happening. I suspect he gave the laid-off employee a grace period to get transitioned out, being a long-timer in the organization and all, but this seems like an odd situation. Is this odd? Should I keep my mouth shut and suspect the boss has some sort of plan here?

It’s odd, but it’s not something you need to intervene on. Most commonly, people who are laid off will leave that day (even though they may get severance payments for a longer period of time), in part because companies want their remaining workforce to be able to move forward without the guilt and awkwardness that can come with having laid-off people still showing up. Other times, though, someone will be laid off and given an ending date at some point in the future; in those cases, they may be expected to continue their normal work pace for that time, or they may have lightened workloads and be encouraged to use that time for job searching.

It’s not clear what’s happening in your coworker’s case. Maybe her ending date is two weeks away. Maybe her official last day was the day of the layoff, but your boss told her to take her time in packing up her stuff and she’s taking that far more literally than he intended. It’s definitely odd, and it’s probably keeping her emotionally tied to your company in way that’s not healthy (and keeping her from moving forward). It could be that she’s lonely. It could be that she’s at a loss about what will happen once she fully leaves.

But it’s really between her and your boss, as long as it’s not interfering with your work.

2. Application says to write a short story that will make the reader cry, smile, or stay up all night

I’m considering applying for a position at what seems like an interesting company, but instead of a cover letter they’ve asked for this: “As part of this application, we ask that you write a maximum 300-word short story that has the power to make us cry, smile, or stay up all night thinking about it” … which to be honest has left me somewhat baffled. Do they want a personal narrative? A piece of fiction? Should it touch on work experience or just aim to meet one of their goals of laugh, cry, or haunt their dreams?

Also … why?? This is a creative position, but it’s not like flash fiction is a major element of the role. I was also considering adding a more traditional cover letter as a second page of my resume (that’s the only place on the application page where you’re able to upload anything) to at least give some context for my experience and qualifications. Thoughts on any of that?

My thought is that you should avoid any employer that asks you to invest serious time and effort in a project before they’ve even done a cursory screening of your application. Given that 95% (or more) of applicants for any given job aren’t even interviewed, they’re knowingly wasting the time of a huge number of people — and that’s before we even get into the goofiness of this particular assignment.

As for why they’d do this … they don’t know how to hire well and they think they’ve stumbled on a creative, “fun” way to assess their applicants, without considering (a) how many people’s time they’re wasting and (b) how eye-rolly and annoying this will be to many good candidates. It’s possible that this really does get at some critical skill for the position, but if that’s the case they should be giving clearer instructions and doing some initial screening before expecting people to invest time in it.

3. Founder regularly threatens to quit our start-up

I have an equity stake in a start-up and really need your advice on how to move forward in light of recent events. We are a team of three. The founder works on the start-up full-time, and the original agreement was for the other two of us to stay at our full-time jobs until the company raised funding.

I absolutely love the work (I handle my projects at night and on the weekend), but the founder is emotionally unstable. One day he’s happy with our team, loves the work, and sees a big future for our brand. The next day, he’s down in the dumps, believes the idea won’t work, threatens to quit, and is disappointed with everyone’s work. I’m concerned he has a distorted view of reality, but because I love the idea, I’ve stuck around. Plus, I sympathize with the fact that he left a six-figure, Fortune 500 job to start a business and he’s stressed out from not earning income for 18 months.

I was ready to quit my job and move to a different city with my husband and newborn for this start-up. But why would I try to build a business with someone whose management style I fundamentally disagree with? AND to top it off, he has already fired four people since he started the company. I’m not sure what to do now. I’ve had conversations asking him to be more direct about specific issues with my work instead of passive aggressive remarks. Beyond that though, do you think there’s hope? Would it be dumb to stick around?

Don’t start a business with someone whose management style is toxic. It will be a nightmare that ensnares you more the longer you stay. You have the chance to get out now with far less fuss than it will take later on.

If he doesn’t handle stress well, he shouldn’t be running a business, let alone a start-up. This is highly unlikely to change.

You can find other work you love that doesn’t involve tethering yourself to this guy.

4. Employee called out for snow — but it’s not forecasted to snow until her workday is over

An employee sent me an email yesterday morning letting me now that because of her back problem (not a job-related injury), she is not coming in because of the possible road conditions in the afternoon. But our schedule is 7 to 3 and it’s predicted to start snowing around 4 pm. What should I do? I am an HR manager and need to be on both the employer and the employee side.

Well, first, this is her manager’s to handle, rather than yours as HR. But it would be reasonable for her manager to say, “The snow isn’t expected to start until an hour after we close. If the forecast changes during the day, we can of course let you leave early if you need to, but if that’s the only obstacle to you coming in, I hope you’ll make it in. If I’m misunderstanding, though, please let me know.”

Beyond that, it’s also worth her manager having a conversation with her to make sure they’re both aligned on how this employee will handle snow in the forecast. It’s possible that there’s something about her injury that makes this riskier for her than the manager understands, and that’s worth finding out. (And it doesn’t matter that it’s not a job-related injury.)

5. Including one month of work on my resume

I applied, interviewed for, and ultimately accepted a part-time work-from-home side job. The job was temporary (three months) and required a minimum number of weekly hours. When I accepted the position, I was confident I could do my full-time job and this side job easily. I was excited by the opportunity, because it gave me experience in an area that I am really interested in. In fact, I was doing it 90% for the experience/resume building and only 10% for the money.

The week the job was set to begin (two months later), I switched offices for my full-time job. My position is the same, it is just a different location. It turns out that this location is an utter mess. I spent my first few days fielding angry calls that stemmed from mistakes my predecessor made. As a result, I’ve been working overtime M-F and weekends, and I’ll still behind. I’m also beyond stressed. I simply couldn’t continue my side job at the hours they required. I asked to reduce the minimum hours per week and emphasized my enthusiasm for the work, but they declined and said the minimum was strict — I make the hours or quit. I completely understand their perspective and am not upset by the decision I need to make.

My question is: if I quit, can I still put this position on my resume? I attended a full week training for the position and did the job for a month total. I want to put it on my resume — but am I essentially lying, since I quit prematurely.

Don’t include it. A month isn’t enough to strengthen your resume, and you’re likely to be asked questions about why it was so short, at which point you’ll need to explain you left one-third of the way into a three-month commitment (which is understandable given the circumstances, but also isn’t helpful in an interview).

{ 470 comments… read them below }

  1. Yllis*

    Lw2: do you want to work for a manic pixie dream company? It would drive me nuts but some people like that stuff so just think about it before you put the storytelling effort in

    1. Magenta Sky*

      My thought was that a 300 word story well written enough to make someone cry is worth about $0.20/word on the open market. If I could write something that powerful, I wouldn’t be looking to work for someone *else*.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          But writing isn’t *work*! It’s a passion! You should be doing it for the love of it! And exposure! /s

      1. Richard Williams*

        300 word max? give them a haiku. a bitter vicious heart-rending haiku. if you’re good you can do it.

          1. Marthooh*

            [Bursts into tears]

            This is just the sort of bitterly humorous short-form wordsmithing we value here at Sad Happy Insomniac Writers Incorporated — you’re hired!

            [Blows nose]

    2. AJ*

      I’d “borrow” that one liner from a Reddit user (Two-Sentence Horror Stories) from a few years back:

      “I just saw my reflection blink.” -marino1310

      1. LW2*

        Oh I definitely thought about using the super short story “Baby shoes for sale, never worn” – I also thought of a comedy version “Candy underwear for sale, used once” but felt like that was a fast track to getting blacklisted from this company

      2. Rob aka Mediancat*

        The classic is, “The last person on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door . . .”

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I have another take on OP2’s story requesting interviewer: They may be looking for someone to push back and ask why/what/readership/etc.
      A long time ago I interviewed somewhere that had a “fun exercise” to write installation instructions for a child’s toy. A long time after I was gently turned down for the position, I was training someone else and said they should ask questions about the deliverable — and I flashed back to being so amused by the toy exercise that I _didn’t_ ask the standard project starting questions.
      So I’d say write back to them as if they’re a customer who hired you for this vague of an assignment. Ask the questions raised here too, about time for task, guarantee that they’re not publishing your story, etc.

      1. EPLawyer*

        If they want to know how would you handle a request for a deliverable — they should ASK that. Not play guessing games as to what they really want. If a company can’t be clear in what it is asking for in an interview they won’t give clear directions to the actual work.

        1. Lance*

          Agreed on these points. Frankly, a lot of the best people they might find probably won’t have the time and/or patience to go ahead and ask more about this ‘project’ that should’ve been more clear in the first place, especially for it being before any sort of interview stage.

        2. hbc*

          Yeah, I’ve had those questions in interviews or writing exercises. Lay out the situation, then ask what steps they would take in terms of contacting various people, gathering information, etc.. Those tricks where you’re supposed to second guess the employer are just mean, because for every one that wants questions, there’s at least as many who think they laid it out clearly and just do what you’re told.

          1. Observer*

            No. They are NOT. But that says something about them as an employer as well. If this is what they are expecting then it says that someone in a decision making capacity thinks it’s ok to expect people to be mind readers. That’s a VERY difficult position to be in.

          2. selena81*

            It’s well possible that that was their intent all along: it still makes them idiots who are wasting everyone’s time and drive off most good candidates.

            If they’d want you to ask questions they should include some prominent ‘feel free to ask for more information’ disclaimer: to weed out the people who are too shy to ever ask for clarification on anything.
            And even then a lot of candidates will just assume the company hiring manager thinks the instructions were clear and will be annoyed by questions: it’s a guessing game either way.

        3. LW2*

          Unfortunately, there wasn’t a contact email. They wanted applicants to use a form on their website, so there wasn’t a way to ask a clarifying question without submitting the whole application.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      If a picture is worth a thousand words, send them some cropped picture of a pet. Closeups of cat or dog noses with the caption ‘picture = 1000 words, so here’s 1/4 of my cat’ would make me smile…

    5. n*

      I applied for a job like this once. It asked for a 100-word story, and I was desperate, so I bit. It got me a phone screen with the recruiter, who praised my story. But then he spent the whole interview focusing on how this was more an administrative job than a writing job (then why was it advertised as a writing job?) and he’d gotten a lot of creative people applying, but wasn’t sure they were up to the administrative tasks. Then he spent the next thirty minutes asking me *why* I had picked my undergrad major (philosophy) since it’s such a difficult major and decided that this meant I was far too ambitious for the role and wouldn’t be happy doing administrative work. He turned me down but then had the gall to call me two months later to ask if I was still interested, since they still hadn’t filled the position (gee, I wonder why).

      So, essentially: they were nuts and had no idea what they were looking for so they decided to waste my time while they figured it out.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I desperately want to know who company #2 is. Unless the job position is screenwriter for a children’s miniseries, this request sounds like an ill-conceived college admissions essay prompt.

    1. Geoffrey B*

      …or, the company also publishes/sells fiction in some form, and this is a sneaky way to get free content. They wouldn’t be the first to use recruitment as a cover for free work.

      1. Annette*

        Yes. Some ‘recruitments’ = one big con. Grifters milk free labor from applicants. Glad LW sees through the scam.

      2. boo bot*

        Yeah, that’s the only thing that makes sense. (Although, it’s reasonable to assume that the explanation for this company’s behavior does not, in fact, make sense.)

        1. boo bot*

          Oh, and also – a company that was actually hiring writers for a writing position would want writing samples, but the non-dodgy ones would want things that had already been published (or otherwise used, depending on the kind of writing).

          I have had contracts where the full job is contingent on acceptance of a sample – but that sample is PAID, at the same rate as the rest of the work would be. This is nonsense.

        2. Harvey 6-3.5*

          I actually don’t think they can use the work, without pay, because the copyright would vest in the writer, not the company (i.e., this would not be a “work for hire” because there was no “hire”). While they might be skeevy enough to use it anyway, any applicant could get a takedown notice or sue for copyright infringement if they so wanted. (Of course, the company might be judgement proof).

          1. Persephone Mulberry*

            True, but the kinds of companies that do this most likely bank on 1) the applicants not knowing copyright law; 2) applicants not noticing that their content is being used; and/or 3) applicants not having the time/money/knowledge to enforce their copyright.

          2. Geoffrey B*

            That may depend on what’s in the small print of the application form. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that there was some language allowing the company to publish, if not actually signing over the rights.

          3. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

            I thought of this too. I bet a lot of companies wouldn’t think of the copyright issues, or at least wouldn’t think anyone would make a fuss.
            But I want the LW to submit a piece with (c) Letter Writer 2019 All Rights Reserved at the end

      3. A Canadian*

        Came here to say this! If they get a few dozen submissions, they can use all of them and not have to credit the applicants. Who knows if the job posted even exists.

    2. CastIrony*

      I want to remind everyone that, as tempting as it is, that Alison has discouraged us commenters from finding out which companies other commenters work for in the past, so let’s not gown down this road.

      I, too, will follow this rule. Thank you for understanding.

      1. LH Holdings*

        I don’t understand the need to play hall monitor. Allison is more than equipped to monitor the comments and if she finds something objectionable or not in line with her commenting rules, she will shut it down. Thank you for understanding.

    3. KP*

      These are not even prompts for good flash fiction, nevermind a 300-word article/story that *might* be relevant for a creative job. And this isn’t how to handle “creative” or “talent,” anyway. There is a difference between, say, holding a stuctured standup audition with known boundaries and telling a comedian to make you laugh.

    4. smoke tree*

      As someone who works in publishing, it strikes me as kind of charmingly naive that they expect any of their applicants to just whip up a story overnight that is good enough to make them stay up all night thinking about it, but no longer than 300 words. Some of the stories they receive may make them weep, but not in the way they’re expecting.

      1. Gumby*

        But stay up all night thinking about it is maybe within reach. Personally, I would go for a story showing competent workers with options walking away from annoying applications while mediocre or poor workers spend hours perfecting a story that is misleading about their abilities (they might also cheat). Someone would for sure spend hours on their story and feel like a shoo in but when they didn’t get an interview they would badmouth the company incessantly so that the company’s reputation would suffer, no one would work for them, and they’d go out of business.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, do you work for Elon Musk?? (I would leave. Someone whose management is toxic and who routinely threatens to leave is not going to improve, and I would find the cycle exhausting.)

    1. neverjaunty*

      I’m not sure what “beyond that” there is for the LW to consider. The idea itself might be fabulous, but that doesn’t matter if the person in charge is the Chief Emo Officer. (And he didn’t realize he would be going without income until the business had funding?)

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Exactly. Right now the OP knows that the founder is emotionally unstable, doesn’t have a good grasp on the realities of starting a business, and is prone to firing people. The work may be fun and the idea really cool, but that’s not enough to run a successful business. Right now, she hasn’t risked anything she’s willing to lose. But if she invests any further in this business (quitting her day job, moving her family), she should do so expecting things to blow up messily.

        If you strip out most of the details it comes down to this: Don’t choose to work for someone who is emotionally unstable and has a distorted view of reality. It will not end well.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          The mood swings concern me. One day on top of the world and everything will be wonderful, the next in the dumps and nothing is worth doing. There seems to be an underlying problem there, and this man won’t get better until it’s addressed with a good therapist.

        1. Old Admin*

          “Chief Emo Officer” brilliantly describes the guy who organized a large music festival I worked at a while back.
          Aside from being utterly underfunded and disorganized, from minute one he would flip back and forth between screaming epithets in your face, and hugging you babbling his thanks. The only reason I didn’t walk out after the first iteration was I didn’t want to let the bands down.
          After the horrendously chaotic festival (that included helpers being hospitalized, the non paid cleaning crew not turning up, half the beer being stolen etc.), he was walking the area being forced to pick up cigarette butts by the lanlord, crying and sobbing… he would run to us shouting how wonderful we were… we would flee his grasp and finish the cleanup.

          OP#3, do read the signs on the wall. When the toxic style starts, that’s the way it’s gonna go down, as it were.

      2. Just Elle*

        Exactly. Millions of brilliant ideas fail every year because the people in charge aren’t competent leaders. You need both an idea and excellent management for a startup to succeed.

        1. Orangie*

          And actually, a company can often get farther with excellent management and a mediocre idea than the other way around.

          1. selena81*

            i subscribe to the idea that is it next to impossible to successfully identify any ‘gap in the market waiting to be filled’: starting a boring old cobbler or bakery in a place that has none is a much smarter move than launching an entirely new product from scratch.

            (caveat: find out why there is no bakery, did the old one go bancrupt or is this a new neighborhood and nobody bothered starting one?)

      1. DerJungerLudendorff*

        If it were Elon Musk, I would have already jumped (space)ship.

        And also wonder why this billionaire was wasting his time on a startup.

    2. taffygrrl*

      WAY late to the party on this one. But OP: I could have written this letter last year. I moved to another country for a job with a startup. I decided to stick it out in hopes that it would get better and that was the wrong idea. The founder got worse over time and became bit by bit psychologically abusive. I’m still recovering from it mentally. To quote the movie title, “Get Out.”

  4. Mike C.*

    I don’t see what’s so unreasonable about calling out for snow like this – there are going to be massive variations when it comes to predicting snow down to the hour and folks are reasonably going to want to avoid getting caught in bad weather on their way home during an increasingly cold part of the day. And what about having to deal with other issues related to the snow, say early release from school and so on?

    Also, did you consider that the predictions are going to be different between where the workplace is located vs where the employee lives? Come on now, it’s nitpicking like this that leads to people being out in bad weather conditions when they don’t have to be and rolling the dice.

    You say you need to be on the employee side, so why not trust your hiring procedures enough to say that you hired a competent person and if they say they need to go, let them. You also say you need to be on the employee side, so what does your employer gain by having people roll the dice and risk their safety if the predictions happen to be off?

    1. Annette*

      The mystery to me – why take the whole day off instead of leaving early? But I agree. LW should consider all possible reasons for employee’s behavior. People do things for their own reasons. Nickeling and diming employees is a fool’s game.

      1. JamieS*

        There could be a couple reasons. First I thought of is the employee is a parent who expects a snow day and child care isn’t available. Another possibility is if the snow starts early the employee will still have to drive on it even if they’re allowed to leave early which they could be uncomfortable with.

        1. Jules the 3rd*


          A lot of people in, say, the Raleigh NC area are still uncomfortable with snow after 2014’s Snowmageddon (google for fun pics; the AT-At’s my fave) and 2005’s ice storm (4 hrs to go 1 mile on the interstate, and thousands of kids had to stay overnight at schools). The Raleigh area school system closes much earlier now – a 4pm prediction would mean either a 1pm or whole day close. I’d be very cautious about putting requirements on people – isn’t part of ‘trusting your employees to be adults’ letting them assess their requirements for unusual days?

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Not everyone fees comfortable/safe driving in snow, especially if it is actively snowing vs just snow on the ground.

            We get very little snow in the Seattle metro area. A little bit every year but very little. Once every few years we have a Snowpocolypse™…this was just such a year. We had, at my house on the water, something like 8 inches.

            A friend a few miles (15/20?) east had about double that. It didn’t last long and was mostly all gone by yesterday. I spent the entire week of Snowpocolypse 2019 not leaving the house/driving.

            **I know 8-16 inches isn’t much. I have lived where that was common, expected even and where winter snow lasts until May. I hated living in those places, which is why I live back here where it stays green all year and we get very little snow.

            1. Starbuck*

              Oh, it’s certainly a lot for Seattle! Unless you live way up in the mountains, no one here really knows how to drive in the snow or is prepared for it. And for those that are – friends of mine from Colorado, Minnesota, etc – I remind them that while they may know what they’re doing, everyone else on the road likely does not since we don’t regularly get real winter weather, so do you really want to take your chances in that kind of traffic with so many inexperienced potentially dangerous drivers? Best to stay home.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                Absolutely. Mr. RUK had to be out but fortunately he has a vehicle that could handle it. We live at the bottom of a pretty long driveway though so in order to get to the street we had to have a plow come in. Since the world as we know it has basically returned to green, it kinda sucks to still see small piles of dirty snow piled up on the side of the driveway …

              2. TexanInExile*

                Not to mention cars without snow tires and unplowed streets. I have snow tires and they plow and salt and I still hate driving in the snow. I got stuck behind a guy needing a tow truck to pull his car out of a snowbank yesterday on a street where the limit is only 30 mph. Even people with the right equipment don’t always do it right.

              3. Artemesia*

                Seattle also ranges from sea level to over 500 feet and is quite hilly; couple that with no snowplows and salt trucks and people who don’t know how to drive in snow and driving is a nightmare.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Eight inches is a lot in a place where you have barely any. Where I live, I can deal with that. But one year, we got eighteen inches in one day and my employer at the time called me and told me not to come in at all. They had the parking lot plowed–the resulting pile of snow did not melt away completely until well into May.

            3. Burned Out Supervisor*

              8-16 inches is a lot for Minnesota, tbh. It becomes a giant hassle to drive even though plowing is pretty good.

              1. RUKidding*

                I was in Minneappolis in Feb 2004. There was like 3 inches of ice. As a native Californian (Bay Area) who has soent a few decades in Seattle, me and my low top Converse were not prepared for walking.

                Fortunately I was with a whole bunch of native Midwesterner “oh this is nothing” friends who were willing to walk beside me, slowly, as I baby stepped my paranoid of falling way through town.

                1. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  Eh, I think they were trying to make you feel better, lol! We had a rapid thaw and refreeze this winter that created a lot of ice and people acted like it was the apocalypse. Icy conditions at this time of year are incredibly difficult to deal with, even up here, because the ground is frozen and won’t soak up excess water. Any road salt just washes away if it’s applied when it’s too warm (for MN, anyway). Also, lots of people here have all wheel drive, which gives them a false sense of security when driving. AWD is great in the snow, but it does nothing to help you stop.
                  Basically, winter sucks here and it feels like it lasts forever. I totally don’t mind the cold, but the snow and ice can take a flying leap. haha!

            4. Indigo a la mode*

              To be fair, even my cold-climate friends who moved to Seattle acknowledge that snow in Seattle is far more perilous than snow almost anywhere else in America. Chicago and Maryland and Kansas don’t have hills like we do.

              As far as other hilly places where snow happens regularly go, they’ve got way more infrastructure in place (everyone has chains or car-mounted plows, the city owns more than one snowplow, etc.).

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            By the time our university had early-released us during one ice storm, all the cars were already iced over and were starting to slide together in the sloping parking lots, and it took an hour for a 10-minute drive home. In retrospect, it would have been smarter to have stayed home that morning instead of having come in at all.

            Tl;dr Agree with allowing people to assess their own situations in unusual weather situations.

            1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              My university did this too a few years ago- it caused such chaos in town that they’ve been noticeably less “wait and see what happens!” ever since.

        2. thathat*

          Also, the employee has a back injury. Very cold weather can often make chronic pain worse. They may be anticipating that they’re not going to be up to sitting up straight most of the day, if the weather is severe.

          I mean, if they’ve got sick leave and they’re giving their employer notice that they’ll be out…it seems fair? Trust them to know what they’re capable of and comfortable with?

          (then again, I’m from very South, and still deeply resent an employer that made us all go into work during a horrible freeze.)

      2. JSPA*

        Three different weather reports can give three different start times even for the same location. Working off the same raw data. Do you report at the 20%, 50%, 80%, “100%” probability point? At “slick but less than 0.1 inches per hour” or at 0.1 or what? If the employee sees a legitimate risk, they’re going to be checking the weather non-stop if they do come in. One answer might be to spring for a taxi / shuttle / Uber from work to home in the unlikely event that the snow hits early ( and also back into work to get the car once the snow has subsided). If work is sure enough about the forecast to be willing to make that bet–let them take the risk. (This presumes the back problem affects driving on snow, not walking on snow from the car to the house. Which may not be the case.)

      3. Dagny*

        If the employee has a short commute, this may be reasonable; however, an employee with a long commute has the twin problems of being out of the office and unavailable (i.e. in the car) for a long stretch during the workday, and even if s/he leaves when the snow starts to fall, it can be quite bad by the time s/he arrives home.

        1. Dagny*

          Wish I could edit. I am assuming that the employee can work from home (i.e. would prefer to be available all day from home than unavailable for a stretch mid-afternoon as she commutes). Even if that is not the case, the issue remains of differing weather patterns, depending on where she lives in relation to work.

    2. Someone Else*

      I agree with most of what you’re saying but the employee didn’t say she needed to go, she called out entirely. It’s possible the forecast was different enough between the locations that if she left work when it started it’d already be unsafe closer to home by the time she got there…but that’s not really clear here. I think Alison’s suggestion of suggesting she come in and if she needs to leave that’s fine is a very reasonable one (and leaves room for the employee to explain if/why that wouldn’t work). I know forecasts are often not accurate to the hour, but generally, at least where I live, if the bad weather is predicted at “afternoon” vs “morning” it’s generally right within a couple of hours. So I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable for the employer to balk a little at the reasoning, given the earliness of the schedule and the lateness of the forecast. Then again, I think how reasonable or unreasonable this is depends a lot on specifics we don’t have.

      1. Mike C.*

        This has been my life for the past two weeks, and there are times where if you go in for half a day you’re still dealing with a mad rush hour plus rushes at the grocery store or whatever so lots of times it can be more practical to just take the whole day. I did this because I’m not getting up at 4:30am just to work half a day.

        Also, what is so important that it can’t wait a day or two but will get done in just a half work day? If the snow is bad you’re not doing business and if it’s not you’ll make it up anyway, so why risk it? Why cause that much more traffic when things could be dicey?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Lots of things are so important that they really shouldn’t wait a few days but can be done in a half day or less. Important doesn’t always equal lengthy. And there’s nothing to indicate they won’t be doing business that day; in fact, it sounds like they will be.

          I don’t think there’s enough info in the letter to take this hard line. If the employee lives 15 minutes away, this argument would make no sense. If she does live further, then that’s what the “If I’m misunderstanding, though, please let me know” part is for. But it’s really not unreasonable for a manager to have pause about someone calling out in the morning for the full day and citing snow that’s not scheduled to start until an hour after they’d leave, particularly if they live somewhere where snow is commonplace (you, if I’m recalling correctly, do not and I suspect that’s coloring your take). That doesn’t mean the response should be “no, you must come in, period.” But it’s not unreasonable to seek more info and suggest there might be other options.

          1. Anon for this*

            Yeah, “I can’t come to work because it might start snowing tomorrow” is on the extreme end when it comes to bad weather and driving safety. It is much more usual to be allowed to leave work early because it’s actually started snowing, or to not be able to come in because it has already snowed and the roads are bad.

            So for this employee, if she genuinely has an issue where she can’t drive safely when snow is falling (even when the roads are still clear), then I think it’s reasonable to ask her to clarify this.

            1. Washi*

              Yeah, I live in a place where snow is uncommon and people are encouraged to adjust their commutes for weather, and calling out instead of just leaving early would still seem overly precious without any other context. Still, I can think of explanations, so I like Alison’s language that allows for the possibility that the manager and HR are missing some key fact.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                This has been bugging me for a couple of days. Yeah, I know…I’m a little slow sometimes,,, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

                I think calling it “precious” when someone makes a choice about putting their safety at risk during inclement weather (or any other time) is pretty insulting. It’s really pretty prudent to weigh the info and decide “nope, risks way outweigh the rewards.”*

                *Possible massive injuries/permanent disability/death vs job/paycheck.

                1. Jen*

                  I think the issue is when your risk/reward calculation is very far out of line with that of everyone else around you. And if there are mitigating factors that make venturing out in the snow much more risky for you, then you should stay home, and people shouldn’t give you a hard time about that. But if your risk is the same as everyone else’s, then people are just going to judge you a bit.

                2. selena81*

                  I’m with Jen on this: yes, you shouldn’t be mocked or shamed for prioritizing your own safety over any kind of work-requirement. But it can raise questions amongst your co-workers if your safety-calculation appears to be completely out of sync with everyone else’s.

            2. bankerchick*

              I work in a bank branch where employees from other branches (that are closed on Saturdays) help cover our office on Saturdays so we aren’t stuck working every one. One morning a couple years ago, we got a call that the two employees that were scheduled to work on Saturday (This was Thursday) from a certain branch wouldn’t be in because of the predicted snow Saturday. Not could someone else cover, but NO, they wouldn’t be in period. No matter what. I couldn’t believe it. They weren’t even scheduled for 48 hours. Now, if they called up Saturday morning and said how horrible it was, I would understand. Heck, if it IS that bad, we would not open (even though we are very used to snow). And it WASN’T bad when Saturday came. Yet we had to work with half staff (no, we couldn’t have others cover)> Every client seemed to make it in. I am still ticked that when told that no could cover and we would need to work half staff they didn’t at least say , lets see how it is Saturday…

          2. Close Bracket*

            “If I’m misunderstanding, though, please let me know”

            The problem is that for the person receiving that line, it’s impossible to tell whether to take it at exactly face value or whether it’s one of those simultaneously confrontational and passive aggressive lines like, “maybe it’s just me.”

            1. Mystery Bookworm*

              But that problem can never be fully avoided. We can’t control what other people think about us, and there’s no reason to refrain from a straightforward inquiry because someone might read into it.

              And FWIW, I’ve definitely heard people say “maybe it’s me” with sincerity. It’s not a crazy thing for someone to wonder.

            2. ChimericalOne*

              Tone makes all the difference, which is why this should be said over the phone or face to face. Lots of things *can* be misunderstood to be sarcastic, passive aggressive, etc. — but that doesn’t mean you can’t say them in a gentle, direct, sincere way & be understood.

              1. selena81*

                i’d say the way to get the message across it to be the kind of manager that doesn’t flip out when she gets the slightest bit of push-back: ‘am i misunderstanding?’ can be taken at face-value if the person saying it is open to the answer ‘yes’, and can be taken as passive-aggressive when they have a history of belittling employees and putting words in their mouths.

          3. Quoth the Raven*

            particularly if they live somewhere where snow is commonplace (you, if I’m recalling correctly, do not and I suspect that’s coloring your take)

            I was wondering if, perhaps, that is also a factor.

            I don’t drive, but even if I did, I live in a city that doesn’t get snow. I wouldn’t know what to do with it. If I were to move up with my boyfriend in Michigan and was asked to drive when it’s supposed to snow, especially if it’s expected to be heavy, I would probably try to avoid it, too — particularly with an injury that could be exacerbated by braking suddenly, skidding, or any action that may be more likely to occur when driving on snowy or icy roads, for example.

            That’s my life experience colouring my take, as you said, but it might be worth asking about it.

            1. hbc*

              You would have been out at least ten days in the past month, if school closings are any indication, and probably out of a job at this point.

              It’s frankly ridiculous for the employee not to plan to come in for at least a half day, unless both a) they hardly ever have snow and b) she hardly ever has last-minute call-offs. In that case, I’d loosely categorize it as a mental health day and move on.

              1. Anna*

                Right. Which is why Quoth the Raven hasn’t moved north, so why the snark? I’m kind of surprised by Alison’s take on this when she normally tells people who are writing in directly to do what they feel is safest for them.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Because sometimes people aren’t reasonable. If someone called out because it was supposed to snow tomorrow, presumably most people would agree that’s not reasonable. Now we’re just quibbling over where the line is.

                  That said, it’s not at all clear if that’s happening or not with this employee, which is why the advice was to talk about the situation and get aligned on how to handle it going forward.

              2. Janie*

                My (Washington) friend’s kids have been out of school for… I think 9 days? They’ve basically been trapped in their neighbourhood for a couple weeks.

            2. Christmas Carol*

              Find a new boyfriend, or convince your current flame to move south. You’ll never make it up here.
              “How do you know if you grew up in Michigan? Your Little League game was called on account of snow.”

              1. Anna*

                Apparently it’s time for the “my winter is tougher than your winter” Olympics.

                “Find a new boyfriend.” Really?

              2. TardyTardis*

                That’s one good thing about global warming where I live–it hardly ever snows in August any more, and I do not miss it!

            3. Michaela Westen*

              I live in a city that routinely gets snowstorms and occasionally ice storms or freezing rain.
              They put salt (chemicals that melt snow and ice) on all the roads and sidewalks before it snows, at the first indication in the forecast. There are fleets of snowplows that keep the roads and expressways clear.
              Driving is still more difficult than on a bright spring day, but it’s manageable, and you get used to dealing with it. You have your parka, scarf, hat, snow boots and warm layers.
              To me it sounds like OP’s employee lives in a more rural area where they don’t have city snowplows and lots of salt – that would make her hesitation more understandable.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                This city does not clear side streets, but I can usually get out, unless there’s enough ice that emergency management is telling people to stay home. They do that sometimes when conditions are really bad (and we’re prone to flash floods here, so it’s not just winter). I’ve been salting the small incline at the end of my street myself, after I almost slid into the pole.

                A coworker at OldExjob lived at the top of a hill in a rural area, and snowfall/ice were REALLY problematic there. As in, it would take most of the day to clear a big snowfall so they could get out. Even if the highway crews had cleared the way into town, he couldn’t get to the road and therefore was stuck. So he would just call in.

          4. Mike C.*

            You keep mentioning this thing about “snow starting an hour later” but that’s not how weather prediction works. This isn’t a train schedule, it’s a probabilistic composite of several different computer models with an amount of variation that needs to be accounted for that could cover anything from a neighborhood to an entire geographic region.

            The spread here is much, much too large when it comes something like snow. I live in the PNW, and this has been my life for the past two week. Despite having incredible local resources for weather prediction (massive educational resources, newish weather radar since the last storm), weather predictions were significantly changing EVERY FEW HOURS. Shifting winds would change precipitation from snow to rain or freezing rain (or freezing fog, wtf?!) and areas that were starting to melt would be colder than Alaska the next day, despite the tempering effects of the Pacific Ocean.

            Your emphasis on precision simply does t make any sense!

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              And in that situation, what most people do is come in for a half day or for a full day while keeping an eye on the forecast. If this person lives very far away, that could change the calculation. If she lives 15 minutes away, watching the forecast is likely to be sufficient. If it’s not, she can explain the situation to the manager and they can work it out. But given how often the situation the OP is describing would be dealt with perfectly effectively by the person coming in for a half day or so forth, it is not unreasonable for the manager to raise the issue and get more info if it’s needed.

              You are taking a hard line as if we have all the facts when we do not.

              1. Anna*

                I don’t know. I mean, a bus sliding off the freeway is a bit of the extreme, but I suspect I live in the same part of the US as Mike C. and I can tell you, our snow predictions were also very unreliable and it was frustrating. The one snow day we had in Portland, we were told we would get maybe 4 to 6 inches. They cancelled school and because my job follows the local public school’s weather decisions, our classes were cancelled. So I stayed home. By noon everything had melted. The point is, this person may have had bad experiences in the past and normally you support people making decisions for their own safety, so I’m not entirely sure what’s different here.

              2. Tired of Winter*

                My office issues anticipatory closures for extreme weather, and I mean extreme as I live in a harsh winter area. However, employees are allowed to do unscheduled work from home or take unscheduled leave. Employers may want to consider having severe weather policies and procedures in place.

            2. WellRed*

              You do know this isn’t about you? To give advice, particularly with an absence of specifics, one must think broadly.

              1. WakeUp!*

                Yeah, I agree. The good points are getting buried a bit under the increasingly strident tone. But Mike C. is certainly not the first commenter (on this or any other forum) who has gotten a little carried away filling in details and projecting his own experiences onto the OP.

                1. WakeUp!*

                  I’m sorry but it’s basic grammar–I am addressing WellRed so therefore I refer to anybody besides myself or WellRed in the third person. I don’t see what’s creepy about referring to another commenter by name (maybe you’ve read Gift of Fear a few too many times?)

            3. Mike C.*

              And even taking your “what if it’s only 15 minutes away” scenario, it’s not going to be “only 15 minutes away” for long if the weather predictions are wrong.

              Remember that famous picture of a large bus overhanging Interstate 5? About ten years ago? That same day people were trapped on that freeway for up to eight hours trying to travel just a few miles. You give me a 5% chance of that happening within an hour of me leaving and I’m going to be altering my work schedule.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                In a large storm, yes. In a “1-3 inches” scenario, no. You’re taking one type of situation and assuming there are no others.

                I realize you live in an area that doesn’t normally get snow but just recently got hit, but please listen to people who listen in other places telling you that there are lots of other ways this plays out, depending on location, and lots of times where your stance wouldn’t be rational. You’re not allowing for other sets of (very common) facts, and you need to.

                1. WakeUp!*

                  Yeah, I feel like this is getting into sandwiches territory. IMHO this site becomes less helpful when commenters seize on a faintly possible but not terribly likely situation and write lengthy comments assuming this scenario actually *must* be the case.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes — agreed on it not being helpful (and being derailing). I’m actually going to invoke the sandwich rule here and ask that future comments on this topic allow for the full range of possibilities, not just one type of situation.

                3. Jules the 3rd*

                  Is there something in other communications that indicates this letter is not from a ‘snow is uncommon’ area? Because my impression of ‘snow is common’ areas is that this wouldn’t be a question (you’d find a way to come in safely), or they’d be thinking of wfh strategies.

              2. EPLawyer*

                I’mg kinda with Mike here. My courthouse is famous for never closing for snow. A couple years ago, we were the only ones open in the entire state. Recently, they stayed open because the forecast was for later in the day. Well it came in sooner than expected. So they sent everyone home — just as it was getting bad. If they closed people would have been home safe already when things deteriorated instead of trying to get there, no matter how close, as things were deteriorating.

                I really wish businesses were more accomodating about bad weather.

                1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                  I worked somewhere that did not close for snow. People might want to come! They said.

                  One employee had to wade through 3 foot high drifts and was nearly hit by a plow. Another attempted to go home, got stuck, and ended up spending the night in a homeless shelter because it was the only shelter available. A third walked out of her shift to the conditions so icy, she had to crawl to her car and found it so encased in ice she couldn’t open it.

                  So yes, when you endanger your employees, people call out.

              3. pleaset*

                Weather prediction gets increasingly accurate the closer to the time being predicted. It’s also got increasingly accurate over the years.

                A few days ahead – yeah timing is hard. But when precip will start, say 4 hours out – that’s pretty accurate these days, at least where I live (NE US). It wasn’t always – it’s better every year.

                1. OhBehave*

                  I live in central IL and we have had snow/ice or freezing rain EVERY weekend this year! The forecasts have been spot on.

            4. RUKiddingMe*

              Exactly. I live in Seattle too so I completely get it. I would be reading the weather and standing on my patio at the same time and they did not match. ^5 for “freezing fog” and right wtf?

          5. NerdyKris*

            Yeah, I lived near New York City for a while and would have coworkers who lived in the mountains in Pennsylvania. There might be clear skies for me, but a foot of snow for them. If they leave at three and the snow is starting there at 4, they might be driving into a snowstorm that started at two.

            1. pentamom*

              That made sense as a reason to stay out the whole day 10-15 years ago. But now they can check the weather in their home area and leave at noon if it looked like snow would move in by two there.

          6. Doe-Eyed*

            Allison, I’m not sure what area this employee lives in but I think to some extent the manager needs to trust her to manage her own safety in the snow and not sit and nitpick what she thinks is reasonable. (As long as she’s not calling off for say, a week before the snow).

            In our areas snows aren’t common, and I always clear out very, very early ahead of time. Everyone makes fun of me. That’s fine – I had a serious accident in the snow many years ago where someone else hit me because they couldn’t drive on it. I’m generally a high performer so it’s just sort of seen as my weird thing.

            The last time I called out a day we were supposed to get snow in the afternoon, my manager reamed me out. Well, the storm blew in a few hours early. The people who stayed until a “safe” time got snowed in on the interstate and spent the night in their cars. (this was not a large blizzard, either, we got <1" but it was all ice. It was all over national news). One coworker ended up hiking home in the snow several miles because their kids were at home by themselves — once the snow started, the schools loaded the kids onto buses and sent them out the door.

          7. MrsCHX*

            I hear this but also feel like it’s stated so flippantly, all the time.

            Living in an area that routinely gets snow and/or having a short commute doesn’t automatically mean that a person can’t call out for snow.

            I have a coworker that’s judgy like this and it is so aggravating. I live 7 minutes from work with no snow/traffic which can turn into about 15 in the morning and 45 in the evening with bad conditions. I live in Minnesota.

            When the whether is bad I still stay home sometimes.

            It snowed about a week and a half ago after rain then freezing temps. I had to have my son towed out of a ditch and my daughter totaled her car that day in a single-car accident.
            There were over 800 crashes and 1,000 spin outs. My safety won’t be decided or determined by someone else. And I’m the HR Manager.

            If the employee is a problem, has performance issues, etc then I understand removing some of that benefit of the doubt. If someone has a position or duties that cannot be performed at home or put off until the next day, I understand requiring them to come in but allowing them to leave early, ahead of the storm.

        2. Colette*

          If you live in a place where it snows frequently (which the OP might), why not take off November – March? What’s so important you need to go in when it might snow?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Not really — it’s a response to your argument (but if you disagree, it’s better to explain why rather than just calling someone ridiculous). I’m going to ask you to pull back from this post now.

              1. Mike C.*

                The discussion is about the difference of an hour, not several months. I even bolded this part of my original post.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I assume she’s responding to your comment where you wrote, “What is so important that it can’t wait a day or two but will get done in just a half work day?”

                  You cannot operate like that in an area that gets regular snow.

                  Again, please pull back from this now. You’re taking an overly strident tone that’s derailing the conversation and making reasoned conversation more difficult.

                2. JamieS*

                  Alison, there’s no indication in the letter that taking one day off for snow means taking every day off and Mike never said anything about taking multiple days off nor is that in the letter. There are several reasons someone may take the day off the first day it snows (roads not yet treated, getting supplies, concern over other drivers out of practice driving in snow, etc.) but would otherwise make it to work other days there’s snow.

                  Also while it’s true that there’s a lot of work that can’t wait several days, which again isn’t even in the equation with the facts known, is it really that common in most jobs for someone’s work to be so imperative that it can’t wait a day? If the OP wrote in about pushing back because the employee called out for having a 24 hour bug and Mike commented asking what’s so important it must be done that day would you reply it’s the norm for work to be at that level of importance and time sensitivity? Sure there are jobs like that but generally speaking I doubt it.

                  Finally since the employee cited a back injury is OP even considering the issue isn’t really not wanting to drive in snow but that the employee may be in no physical condition to come in? I know it’s not uncommon for colder weather to exacerbate back problems which is plausibly the employee’s concern.

          1. Wintermute*

            As a lifelong resident of the upper midwest (Wisconsin, Michigan and now Chicago) it’s not uncommon in some industries for people to spend a lot of the winter working from home and for businesses to offer additional flexibility. Some employers are jerks, others take it seriously when the state dept. of transportation says STAY OFF ROADS and assume that they’re not just speaking to hear themselves talk.

            This winter has been especially brutal, twice so far my employer has offered hotel rooms to 2nd and 3rd shifters that may become stranded at the ops center– both occurred on “my friday” because I work the weekend shift and have midweek off, forcing me to white-knuckle it home, my boss worked remotely for one of them and came in the other. But I think part of that is I’m a new employee and he felt guilty leaving me alone to skid my way home from work.

            It’s actually helping with my severe anxiety about ice and snow driving stemming to an accident a few years back that nearly saw me end up sailing over an embankment (I was stuck ON TOP OF the guard rail about 3-4 feet from a sticky end). But when it’s more ice than snow and cold enough salt won’t keep the overpasses clear– I take an uber. My life is worth 50 bucks and being able to strap in, sit back and let someone else handle the ice rink is priceless to my mental health. If I didn’t have uber available I may not have come in some of those days, because I’d be stuck here all weekend living out of a hotel without the ability to complete my errands and chores I need to get done. and living out of the emergency backup clothes I keep in my desk drawer and trunk (I’ve got a bad habit of staining clothing while eating at my desk, we don’t really get lunch breaks).

            For the record this is a bank, and we still offer as much flexibility as we can without compromising our mission, network operations can’t ever just not work, but a lot of our other corporate employees can get away with it and we give whatever flexibility we can. Even when I worked in cellular engineering and people had less flexibility we still would accept work-from-home when it just wasn’t safe to come in.

            It’s about context and keeping people safe.

        3. Oryx*

          I do marketing and content creation — lots and lots of things have a very tight same-day turnaround but may only take a few hours. It’s not that unusual. Just this past Friday I was tasked with writing something that had to be finalized — including proofread and approved by all stakeholders — by end of day, but the actual act of writing it only took an hour or two and then a couple hours/rounds of revisions.

        4. MommyMD*

          I’d get up at 4:30 am under special circumstances to work half day. It’s rare and if you can be at your job you should be at your job.

      2. JamieS*

        Yeah, I think forecasts for snow, rain, storm, etc. are generally accurate within a few hours but the differences between work letting out and it starting to snow is an hour so well within the room for error.

        1. Asenath*

          Yes, but that’s why, if snow is forecast after work ends, you keep an eye on the weather, and if it moves in earlier, make arrangements to leave for home early. It’s very odd to take a whole day in the circumstances described, and I think it’s reasonable to question the request.

          If local experience affects advice (which it probably does) I live in a snowy area. There were tales about someone who’d retired from a long-ago workplace before I went there who was still remembered fondly as “Two-Flake LastName” since he allegedly closed the place down when he saw two flakes of snow, but he waited until the snow arrived!

          1. JamieS*

            Yes but if the employee waits and leaves early they’ll be driving on the snow which is what they’re trying to avoid due to their back injury. Under normal circumstances I agree but I don’t think it’s outrageous for someone with a back injury (of course dependent on severity) to want to take measures to avoid the possibility altogether.

            1. Washi*

              I’m confused – if they leave early, why would they be driving on snow? The point of leaving early would be to leave before the snow starts.

              1. JamieS*

                There’s not a 100% guarantee but generally waiting for the forecast then leaving means leaving when snow is imminent, or has already arrived, so most people would wind up driving in snow if they live 10+ minutes away.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  In my experience, it would mean seeing that snow is forecasted to start around 4 and so leaving at a time that lets you avoid it (which will depend on your commute — if you’re 15 minutes away and it’s scheduled to start at 4, you might leave at 3 to give yourself a buffer).

              2. JSPA*

                It’s not that unusual for the snow to arrive before the forecast changes. Or within minutes of the update. I’m basing this on years of experience in the midwest and mid-atlantic as well as some Northeast & Northwest. It’s one thing when you have a big storm coming at you like a freight train. It’s another when the precipitation is forming locally as moist warmer air hits cold air and the clouds and snow show up on the radar essentially out of nowhere. Add separate swirling motions to those two masses of air, and predictions can very easily be off by hours.

          2. Mike C.*

            It’s not odd at all. If snow is unusual, it’s going to take some time to prepare and wanting that time to deal with it is perfectly reasonable.

            1. WakeUp!*

              Nowhere in the letter does it say that snow is unusual where OP lives. She included very little detail and you’re assuming a lot.

              1. Mike C.*

                It’s not an assumption, it’s simple game theory. There no harm if the snow is common and its a big deal if the snow isn’t common, so you let them take the time.

                1. Anna*

                  Yeah. Everyone is assuming these people live in the place that best fits their feelings on it. How about we just go with the normal advice Alison gives: This person did what they felt was best for their personal safety.

            2. Someone On-Line*

              I live somewhere where snow is unusual, and I think calling out when the snow is predicted for after work is ridiculous.

          3. Dragoning*

            I actually live in a place that gets regular, heavy snow (Hello Northern Midwest)…and I have a coworker who will not drive in snow.

            Not in two inches of snow. Not in one. If flakes start falling, she is already gone.

            This has been a thing since before I started, but since management and none of the other coworkers complain about it or question it, I suspect there’s a good reason for this.

            Granted, we can do a lot of our work from home in this department..but not everything.

        2. Wintermute*

          I’m with you, I also think the HUGE piece of missing context here is commute time and how that time is impacted by their injury.

          I live in Chicagoland, most co-workers have 45min to hour-long commutes, and if EVERYONE is leaving work early to beat the snow, and the roads are already wintry but not icy or chowdery then that 45min turns into an hour and a half.

          It also heavily depends on the exact forecast, is it going to start slow and ramp up to be bad overnight, or is it starting with freezing rain that will cause immediate problems before transitioning to heavy, wet snow as the storm goes on? If it’s a storm that’s coming in with a temperature drop the start of the storm can be the most dangerous as warm roadway surfaces meet slushy snow and overpasses turn into ice rinks as the temperature dips.

          Unless the employee has a history of being unreasonable or there is context here we’re missing (E.g. a new transplantee from the South that doesn’t realize the city doesn’t shut down for 3 inches the way it would back home, because the city has the infrastructure to handle it better and they can keep the roads safe through ice and snow) I’d really be inclined to treat them like a functional adult and give them the benefit of doubt.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      Also consider the length of the drive home. “You can leave if it starts snowing earlier” isn’t helpful if you have a drive long enough that it can go from clear skies to dangerous conditions before you get home. And that can happen *very* quickly in some places.

    4. Beatrice*

      I have an employee who makes strange calls when it comes to leaving early/not coming in because of road conditions in snow. I don’t pressure her. Her job should be something she can do from home, but we have silly policies about WFH that I’m not in a position to change, so that’s what we get.

      1. Rebecca*

        My office is that way. The only thing I’d need to do my work from home would be a decent speaker phone for any conference calls that might come up. I drive 17 miles one way to go to an office to access a remote computer to work with people all over the world. We also have snow and ice here during the winter. One of the new hires won’t drive if the weather forecast calls for even the smallest amount of snow (think flurries) and will ask around for rides to and from work. If we get an actual storm, she won’t drive that day, or the next day, and maybe not the day after or until the roads are completely bare and dry. She’s about 22 miles out. Our options are to call off work, and use vacation time or PTO time. We aren’t allowed to take it unpaid. So it’s either that or go to work in bad conditions.

        In the OP’s case, I suspect with a back injury, and whether it’s work related or not isn’t germane here, the OP’s employee doesn’t want to take the chance of falling on ice or snow once they get home, so they can avoid further back issues. That’s my take on it. Unless this will cause a huge hardship, I’d suggest coming in for a half day, but if this person is too nervous or doesn’t want to risk it, let them stay home.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          This is not really relevant, but I’m curious as to why you need a speaker phone for (being alone at your end of) conference calls. Wouldn’t a (wireless, if preferred) headset with a mic be even better / cheaper / potentially useful for other things, too?

    5. cncx*

      this is where i’m at. i have some gait issues and balance issues, and i live at the bottom of a big hill. I can and will cancel plans or call in even when the sky is blue if i think there’s going to be a strong chance of snow or ice later that day- i physically can’t walk in it, it isn’t negotiable. Luckily my boss understands this.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Yup. I hate driving in the snow but I can if it comes down to it. The primary reason I holed up for the pst couple weeks and only left my house the past Saturday is because of my balance, gait, and arthritis issues. I can get around ok in normal weather, but in snow/ice I just can not navigate, full stop.

        1. Wintermute*

          This may or may not help, and you may or may not know but I dated a woman with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and I bought her some metal spikes that strap on her shoes with elastic cord similar to a ice climber’s crampons. She used to have a serious fall every winter, and would stay home whenever possible but sometimes it just wasn’t possible (having kids and all sometimes you’re needed when you’re needed, or she needed to go to the doctor for medical care, had no choice but to go to the bank or to the store for something essential, etc) and she would end up having at least one fall each year like clockwork. Since I got her those she hasn’t fallen once.

          Just some friendly advice for those situations where you may find yourself going out when you’d rather not be, they’re absolute, literal, life-savers.

    6. LGC*

      So I’m of two minds. Calling out for the entire day for an evening storm would seem overly dramatic in a lot of offices. (I’ve secretly eyerolled at employees who did that!) As Annette said, a half day would generally be more reasonable.

      However…you know what, in this case I agree with you! The employee has a back problem, and if it impacts her mobility I’d be okay with her staying home.

      (The other issue is that this employee called out to HR instead of their manager. Unless you’re her manager.)

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I can explain one reason why employees might call HR. At our company, it’s standard procedure for manufacturing line workers to call HR for absences. Primarily that’s to make sure the information gets through even if a group of line managers are working to solve a crisis that keeps them away from their phone. (When there’s a line stoppage, it’s top priority.) Many of our old-timers have limited English skills that make their voicemail messages hard to follow…at least one is Deaf and uses TDD. Finally, we have an ongoing arrangement with temp agencies — those temps are hired through HR so if a FTE is out sick, HR can often get coverage for same-day if they call right away.
        All of which adds up to really solidly logical for HR to provide absentee summaries to the managers.

      2. Southern Yankee*

        I grew up in snowy weather, have lived in the southeast for a couple decades, and have addressed multiple issues of employees with vastly different responses to bad weather. I also have a mother with major back issues and I would never want her to put herself in a situation that could make it worse (although she often does). So, here’s my reasonably informed opinion.

        The reason the employee called HR could be related to the back issue – HR might have authority over managing sick time/disability/FMLA which is the case in my company – i.e. where you call in for a day to your boss, but HR determines if FMLA applies. My company’s HR also makes the call on if hourly and non-exempt employees will be paid for “weather” absences without using PTO, so the employee may have been looking for guidance there.

        The OP also did not mention if other employees where calling in which might also impact how “reasonable” this action was in light of company expectations and local norms in response to weather. When I first experienced the typical southeast reaction to snowy weather, I was amused in general but a little hacked off at employees calling in on a prediction of snow. Over time, I realized that lack of experience driving in it and lack of necessary road equipment are real obstacles and can be unsafe. That said, after a few instances, I knew who genuinely had issues and who was milking it. The people milking it always had other issues to be addressed and the weather day was just part of the pattern. The genuine issues would always get the benefit of the doubt – it’s good employee relations and safer.

        Finally, for advice to the OP: if you live in rare snow climate, other people are calling in or expecting to leave after 1/2 day, and the back issue is known, chalk it up to good employee relations and wish the employee a safe day. If not, or even for clarification, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to ask a few questions and/or set expectations. If in a snowy climate and this will continue to be an issue, especially if because of serious back issues, then perhaps a work from home or a similar “setting expectations” conversation is in order. Exempt employees are expected to take their laptops home on the prediction of bad weather, and non-exempt workers might need to work overtime after the storm to make up the work before deadlines, for example. If no other employees have called and it’s the first you’ve heard of the back issue, then in addition to Allison’s script, I might say something along the lines of “help me understand your situation so we can plan/assist now and in future weather events”. Good Luck!

      3. smoke tree*

        I live in an area that does not deal with snow well, and most of my employers have just encouraged us to plan to work from home if snow is predicted. But this kind of thing really depends on region and other context, so if this particular employee’s stance seems unusual for the area I think it makes sense to talk to her about it to get a sense of how reasonable her request is. But if working from home is an option, that seems like a reasonable compromise too.

      4. LGC*

        So, a couple of points:

        1) Yeah, I’m from an area that does get snow regularly, although sometimes it acts like it doesn’t (what up NYC metro). We actually had this situation last week, where I had to reiterate that yes, even though it was probably going to start snowing mid-day this did not mean we were going to close for the day. Some state offices – so the DMV and the like – did close, though.

        For what it’s worth, we also have a lot of employees with limited mobility. So I’m a lot more forgiving of that sort of stuff – even when it’s been clear enough out, Bob might not be able to get back in his apartment because he uses a wheelchair, or it might be dangerous outside later for Jane and her crutches.

        2) I can definitely see some situations where calling out through HR would be valid! (And I’ll admit I did project a bit – I’ve had quite a few issues where people have called out to HR or the like and the message didn’t get passed along to me and I had to go track it down. This is doubly important because all of my employees are 1) non-exempt hourly and 2) a production team, so I do need to account for everyone.) With the call-out, though – it’s one of those things where it might be two separate issues: first, the notification that you’ll be absent (which is what your manager would care about), and then working out the logistics behind getting paid (which is what HR would be there for).

        Again, it might be my own baggage here, and it really depends on how the company is organized. (For me, I generally handle day-to-day absences and sign off on routine PTOs.) And it also depends on the culture – for example, I know that when things happen, people tend to stampede HR (and our counselors), so if I anticipate that I’ll try to give the information I have and then tell them to spread it out. (In this case, we had until last Friday to finalize pay, so I asked everyone to try to defer their questions to later in the week. Which…I understand that this might have affected a lot of peoples’ pay and I was carrying water for my organization not planning ahead, but having 50 people peppering HR and counseling with questions at once would have been way too chaotic.)

    7. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Weather predictions still aren’t entirely accurate. Last week we had a 24 hour storm that began about 3 hours later than the predicted start. Schools closed, businesses shut down early and I had to still go to work because the work still had to be done in spite of weather conditions. I think you need to treat this on a case by case basis and perhaps defer to individual comfort levels with snow. I have no problem driving, my issue is with unplowed roads.

    8. dawbs*

      Maybe bbecause of my own back problems, I assumed the back might be relevant to getting home.
      Shoveling snow is one of the things I sm FIRMLY forbidden from doing. If I must do it. Im to do small amounts for short periods with breaks.
      Given the time breakdown it’s possible she’s worried about getting back IN her driveway. If I worked my old job, I could leave when snow started and get home an hour later and even i try to turn off the plowed road into my unplowed drive, have myself stuck with my car’s bumper hanging out into traffic and no ability to shovel myself out. And a sick car would be far more problematic than figuring of how to plow out inthe stuck in the garage.

      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        Although in an area with frequent snow, having an ability to move your car could be considered the employee’s not employer’s responsibility. I am expected to get to work regardless, and my job doesn’t furnish me with a taxi or anything.

        The employee with the bad back might be reasonably expected by their employer to figure it out – that could mean having a contract for plow service at their home.

        1. Lynn Marie*

          Having a contract for plow service does not guarantee you will never have a snowbank at the end of your driveway.

        2. Marissa*

          I agree with Lynn Marie. I work from home but drive my fiance to and from work. The day of one of the storms, my fiance did not go in because the weather was too bad to drive in, and we spent the entire evening shovelling the driveway. However, the city did not plow the streets until late into the night. When it came time to leave the next morning, we had to remove a 3-foot wall of snow blocking the driveway.

          TL;DR: Even with a plow service, you can get snowed in after the fact.

    9. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I live in a place where snow happens but not frequently enough that we have good infrastructure, so when it starts, chaos ensues. I’m with you here, though I suspect that if the OP’s employee was able to work from home and chose to do that, the OP would be more sympathetic.

      I work with someone who can work from home but dislikes to. He has multiple health issues– including back pain– and he’s terrified of driving in poor conditions. So when snow is predicted for the afternoon, he comes in but spends the whole day freaking out and trying to decide when to go home. He does this because he has sooooo much to do, yet, again, it can all be done from home. Honestly, I would so much rather he called out and used one of his many PTO days.

    10. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Re: Snow
      Not only might there be different weather at her house, the roads she goes through need to be considered. I drive over a small mountain on the way to work, and there are often numerous spinouts when people cross over into the northern weather region. I’ve also had days where weather at my house and my office is simply damp — but the mountaintop driving conditions are an icy mess.
      And of course, with a back issue, she might be in pain at the end of a regular commute — and with snow coming, she has to save some energy to clear her driveway.
      (If it starts snowing when I’m at work, I often worry about getting up the short steep part of my driveway. )

      If she has a long drive, a half-day at work probably just doesn’t pay.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        And if there are kids in the family, schools sometimes cancel really really early. What’s your office policy on kids without snowday-car?

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Sorry for the multiple replies… apparently I haven’t had enough coffee yet to string sentences together. I’m actually taking a vacation day today because of weather and childcare and have a neck spasm. So I’m truly sympathizing for the employee.
        Snow turning to ice turning to snow AND a school holiday — but where my office is, the weather is just a little ice overnight due to get rained away by 9. By which time it’s freezing rain here, so I’m heading out to snowblow in a drizzle right now.
        Oh and the icing on the cake? This HAD been a company holiday until last month. And someone new to management changed it on a five week notice — that holiday is now at Columbus Day. By that time I’d already agreed to take care of the daughter all day and my husband signed up for an all-day training class he can’t do if she’s unattended.

    11. Hold My Cosmo*

      I rolled the dice, as you say, in March 2018, and had to commute home in white-out conditions. I ended up abandoning my car, being transported to an elementary school by a fire truck, and sleeping on the floor of a stinky gymnasium with 50 other stranded commuters. Do not recommend.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        I live in a region that typically has harsh winters so it needs to be really severe for workplaces to close.

        And I have also rolled the dice with not great results. I have been stuck on roads, in whiteouts, done 180s on interstates, been stuck in traffic for hours. I live in a municipality that is not great when it comes to plowing too. There was a point in my life where I would risk it. No more. It’s not worth it.

        OP: I am confused as to why you’re having to make this call for the employee. Wouldn’t it be up to the person’s manager? Or are you involved because the manager nixed it and you’re HR?

    12. Michael Rochelle*

      I have to say that I agree with your assessment here. When I read the question, I thought there were many variables that could be considered such as whether this person has the paid time off built up to use for instances like this, whether the person has a history of repeat call outs, how far they live from the office, etc.

      In some instances, we have to be adults and make decisions for ourselves. I remember being in DC back in 2011 and being at work waiting for the job/government to approve an early dismissal before a snow storm arrived. We were released 2 hours early–at the exact time the storm was expected to start. When I left the building there was no snow, but that was not the case 5 minutes later. Long story short, my 30-minute commute became an 8-hour commute as thousands of us were stuck on the highway as the storm hit with unexpected intensity.
      As people ran out of gas, got stuck, abandoned their cars, etc., it was then that I decided to never again allow the job, manager, etc., to make these types of decisions for me. If I don’t feel comfortable or safe and I have the leave built up, my choice should not have to be qualified by someone else–just like we don’t typically ask people who call out sick how sick they are, or if someone has a busted water pipe, we don’t ask them to prove how much the water is gushing. My “emergencies” may be different than your “emergencies,” and that is absolutely ok.

      That noted, it’s ok to be an adult in this circumstances as long as you are still willing to be an adult when the repercussions hit.

      1. Yvette*

        “Long story short, my 30-minute commute became an 8-hour commute” And picture that if you have a back injury. I don’t have a back injury (just old and creaky) and there are days when trying to get out of my car after my normal 1 hour drive is tough.

      2. Jaid*

        We had something similar in Philly. One of the service center Directors got caught in it and got home four hours after he left. You best believe he had words with the folks who make the decision on when to release employees for the day.

        Myself, I didn’t wait for an announcement, especially since I rely on Regional Rail and I knew it was going to be bad.

        I also remember last year having to take a taxi to the train station because the weather shut down my train. It was fun *koff*

    13. Kathleen_A*

      I feel a need to make a correction here, mainly for the benefit of those who you who don’t regularly have to cope with snow (which I do).

      It’s true that snow forecasts aren’t precise to the hour in the long term – but they get more and more precise as the storm gets closer. So yes, the day before or even at 7 a.m. the day off, you can’t count on a prediction that snow will hit after 4…but you can be pretty sure it won’t hit at noon. And if at noon, forecasters are still saying “after 4,” it actually will probably will hit after 4.

      So back troubles or no, what the person should have done is check the weather forecast that morning, and if forecasters were still saying “after 4,” she should have come into work but kept an eye on the forecast for where she lives and then make adjustments accordingly. And her supervisors should give her and everybody else that flexibility. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and how it usually has worked in my workplaces.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Yeah, a lot of people are talking as though the only options are to (1) come in to work and risk death by hypothermia on the way home or to (2) stay home where it’s safe. But it’s not an either/or situation. At all! It’s actually pretty safe to come in to work so long as everybody stays alert to changing weather conditions – and fortunately, that’s pretty easy to do these days – and acts accordingly.

          1. Anna*

            My issue is the person made a decision for their own health/safety, something we usually support. The assumption has been from almost everyone that this is an overreaction since weather predicted to start at a certain time always starts then…? It feels hypocritical when I suspect if they actually wrote in, they would be told it would make sense to go in BUT they need to do what they feel is best for their safety.

            1. Kathleen_A*

              It doesn’t feel hypocritical to me because sure, you’re supposed to do what’s best for your own health safety, but you’re also supposed to be mature and reasonable. All of those things have to be considered together. It’s not as simple as “I find this risky even though most other people in the region do not, so I’m not going to do it.”

              I have known people who were actually phobic about snow, and for them, staying home when it snows even a tiny bit feels like a decision made because it’s best for your own safety. But you can’t be phobic about snow if you live in Indiana and want to keep a job that requires you to do some sort of travel during the winter months.

              If someone decides that for his own health and safety, they will never fly again – well, that’s OK. So long as his job doesn’t require it. If his job requires air travel, he either has to get over that particular health concern, or he has to get another job.

      1. Clair-eeee-bell*

        That depends on location though. I think your opinion is colored by getting a lot of snow. (This is where I promise I’m not Mike C). In areas it doesn’t snow a lot there are different variables that come way more into play. That’s why we get less to begin with. We had 2-3 inches predicted from 7 to 10. At 5 it started snowing heavy where I was about 30 miles from home. But 5 miles into my commute (no elevation change) it stopped. I went to bed at midnight with nothing on the ground assuming it missed us, but woke up with a couple inches, which lasted a few days. 2.5 miles across town there was a dusting. The area that usually gets hit the worst 5 miles away got nothing. 5 miles the other way got 6 inches.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          There are just as many variables in areas that get a lot of snow – trust me on this. This winter alone I’ve had days when 2 inches were expected but I got 7-8; when 6 inches were expected and I got 0; and one day when “a dusting” of snow was expected but I got a mix of rain, snow and ice. It’s been a very interesting winter.

          But I still say that if you pay careful attention to the forecasts and road conditions for the area you live in and the one you work in, assuming these are different, you can navigate these things safely, thanks to real-time radar, weather apps, etc. It’s actually snowing here right now even though none was predicted as of late last night – but silly me, I forgot to check this morning. Maybe I’d better do that right now! :-)

          1. Clair-eere-belle*

            I also lived in an area with lots of snow, as well as one without. There are more variables without. Not the least of which is there isn’t the data to make as accurate forecasts.

        2. DaffyDuck*

          Exactly where the employee lives can make a big difference. I am a 20 minute drive from town, but due to wind patterns can get hugely variable weather between the two. As in, it is not unusual to get 5-6 inches of snow at my house and maybe 1 inch in town, or vice-a-versa.
          One winter afternoon there were 7 vehicles suck in one section due to an icy hill. Local tow truck won’t come onto the dirt road due to snow (ever – their policy is if we get stuck they probably will also), cops can’t send anyone to help as they were busy with accidents. Finally, a couple folks with tractors made it home (walking) and came back to pull the rest of us up the hill, but this was probably 3+ hours after we got stuck. For someone with health problems, or just plainly unprepared to spend hours in a vehicle, it could be a huge problem.

        3. Rhoda*

          We can get a lot of snow where I live, but we’re expecting it and prepared for it. We buy snow tires in the fall, we keep an emergency kit and jumper cables in the back in a box. I can see where it would be a far bigger problem for someone who lives where snow it not common and there isn’t normally a need to make annual preparations for it.

      2. Memboard*

        If you live with regular snow, say upstate N.Y., then this isn’t even a question as you will have to deal with snow many times every year.

        Yes if it doable work wise saving a commute is worth the hassle for every one. Remember that it takes a while for snow to be an actual problem on the road.

        That said I have personally witnessed cars flying into the ditch when it was just a wet road and slowly falling flakes.
        But this was south of D.C. and clearly these people didn’t have a good handle on snow driving and would likely be a lot more skittish about snow driving

    14. CCM, Ltd*

      I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and my pain gets severely worse on stormy days because of the barometric pressure change – I’m not sure if maybe that could be playing a part in why the employee feels she needs to stay home all day (I know pressure can be an issue with lots of injuries or disorders) and why she reached out to HR. For me, being in that kind of pain makes commuting a non-starter, but I can usually work from home. It’s not clear from the letter whether that’s a possibility for this LW and her employee, but I think Alison’s language is good and leaves the opportunity for the employee to provide information about her injury if that is in fact the cause or contributing to why she can’t come in.

      1. LavaLamp*

        This. I have arthritis and when it’s supposed to do a nasty weather thing I sometimes am in so much pain I can’t function. This might not be about driving in the snow but that the employee is sick in a way they’re having issues explaining.

    15. Autumnheart*

      I live in a location where snow is common, and which has good snow removal infrastructure. I will work from home if there’s snow during commute times. I live about 33 miles from work, and it normally takes me about 40 minutes to drive in. When it’s snowing and there’s accumulation on the roads, it can take at least two hours, and that’s two hours of a slippery, risky drive. Last week, the car in front of me did a 1080 (3 full circles!) across the interstate, when the roads weren’t even all that bad.

      My office has the technology to work effectively from home, and luckily, also has management that recognizes that it’s a waste of time, at best, to spend hours of time in traffic. They encourage us to work from home when the weather is really nasty. And yeah, I’ve worked from home 5-6 times in the last three weeks. Maybe that sounds excessive, but one less car on the highway is one less car in the traffic jam…or the ditch. I wish more employers would invest in the infrastructure to allow this for roles where it would be effective.

    16. D'Arcy*

      It’s pretty unreasonable to call out for snow at all, unless we’re talking an actual blizzard. Way too many people seem to have this huge chip on their shoulder about being entitled to *refuse to learn* how to drive in anything but perfect conditions and then call their willful inability to do so an “emergency” that has to be accomodated.

    17. Genny*

      Amen. I rely on public transit for my commute, so I’m very sensitive to adverse weather conditions, because that might change my bus’s schedule, the bus can be packed because everyone else is getting out early and you might have to wait another hour or two for a bus that has space, and snow/ice can easily mean at least doubling, if not tripling or quadrupling my hour commute. Spend four hours on the bus trying to get home sometime and you’d be skittish about snow/ice conditions too. Please, let me be an adult and manage the risk of the commute with the necessity of being at work.

      1. Marissa*

        I completely agree. I used to take public transit. I only took one bus, and the commute was only 15-20 minutes. However, if the weather was bad, the bus would get packed and stop picking up passengers because of capacity. One time, it took me 2.5 hours to get home because it was raining! Another time, I almost spent the night at the office because of the snow. Needles to say, I became very paranoid about inclement weather.

    18. Janie*

      I agree. Does the employee have time in the 1 hour to get home safely with everyone else probably taking off early? Do they have time to get to the store if they need to stock up on extra food? Are you SURE it’s going to start at 4 and not 3:30? (Because weather forecasts are always 100% accurate…)

      1. Janie*

        Also barometric pressures changes can give me really bad headaches due to sinuses. It snows always here, and has been -30 for like two months, and there’s nothing unusual about any of that, but I’ve still had a few days where I was good for nothing but lying in bed in the dark by noon.

  5. Annette*

    LW3 – Boss is a drama queen. Don’t hitch your wagon to a dying star. You will be tainted by association if his antics are known in the biz.

    1. Marthooh*

      But first, give the other partner a head-up. You want to leave as smoothly as possible.

      Definitely leave, though.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      While I agree with your comment in general, can we not with attributing the negative behavior (i.e. draaamaaa) as a female thing. Boss is male. Male person is being a drama king.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        Or, as a genderless version entirely, may I submit “drama llama”?

        To add to your comment, drama is virtually always a gendered insult – when’s the last time you heard someone affectionately roll their eyes toward a group of men chatting and say “Oh, boy drama” or refer to a man who raises his voice as being dramatic?

        Maybe temperamental, mercurial, or erratic could be suitable and genderless. Unfortunately, the very accurate “emotional” or “irrational” options are also often thought to be womanly traits.

    1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      A shocking number of employers seem to want that, though – from ‘Please fill out this personality profile in order to submit your application online, it takes like an hour and asks basic morality questions’ to ‘Please write an essay on your philosophy/approach to X aspect of the work.’ Even ‘good’ employers, sometimes. I have several friends in academia, the application process sounds quite brutal at some schools – these positions are receiving hundreds of applications from highly qualified people (like, absolute bare minimum requirement is a PhD) yet the application process will include nonsense like “Please respond to our qualification criteria, explaining how you meet each individual criterion” and “List all of the same information from your CV, but put it here in a plain-text box.”

      1. Cueball*

        There’s a company here that asks for 15-25 essay questions as part of the initial application. I got annoyed at it one time and submitted an application answering questions with their validity ( e.g. for how many years experience in the teapot industry I’d put duplicate of resume information, others were relevant for other positions they hire for, but not this one and I’d write that, some were too much to be answered well and should be saved for the interview). They reposted the job with an added section about how important the long questions are.

        Likely not coincidentally, there’s a similar company here who’s gone from niche in that same industry to the dominate company, replacing the first company. If you have talent/field experience there’s no reason to apply to the first company.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        “‘Please fill out this personality profile in order to submit your application online, it takes like an hour and asks basic morality questions”
        This is why I stopped applying to retail jobs. Around the mid-2000’s I was thinking of getting a second part-time job, but I don’t have that kind of time.
        They were screening for people who wanted a low-wage job bad enough to spend 1-1/2 hours on each application.

    2. Oranges*

      My favorite was when Health Partners got me to watch a training video/quiz before submitting my resume (hey, I was desperite). I loathe those things with the heat of 10,000 suns normally* so making it required for a resume submission was soul crushing.

      *I will yell at my screen “go faster and assume I’m smarter than alegea please” and “Oh gods you’ve already said this 6 times already” and “I can feel my brain cells dying”. It’s the only way I can get through them.

  6. Leela*

    LW2 I can’t stand application stuff like this! I did one a month or two ago that had three separate sections:
    1) tell us things about you that we don’t know from your resume (they already had a separate cover letter section)
    2) tell us why YOU are awesome
    3) why should we hire you?

    Three separate boxes, all of which I was expected to fill out with…different information I guess? Even though they all seem like basically the same thing and that my cover letter should cover that for them. What the hell am I supposed to put there, “I tapdance like nobody’s business! I have a kooky hat collection! You’d never guess it but I just love jazz!” Even if it’s more work-related stuff that they’re expecting there, or things that could indicate work (like volunteers or organizes things outside of traditional work), it was an enormous pain to come up with why *I* am awesome, and then the other two separately.

    I’ve seen this more and more at *cool* companies, where they seem to feel like the application as well as every little tidbit about them has to radiate awesome, innovative, not-standard, even for things where standard works just fine and is probably standard for a reason. I’m all for companies trying to innovate but not in ways that are unnecessary and a pain to deal with, and honestly I think that asking me these three questions was a huge waste of my time (and probably theirs too).

    1. Magenta Sky*

      “1) tell us things about you that we don’t know from your resume (they already had a separate cover letter section)”

      Well, I have little tolerance for companies that want to know something about me that’s not on my resume, because if it’s not on my resume, it’s not relevant to the job.

      ” 2) tell us why YOU are awesome”

      Same answer as #1. My common sense and refusal to put up with game playing makes me the most awesome person in the world.

      ” 3) why should we hire you?”

      You shouldn’t. I wouldn’t last through orientation, if your application is any indication of the work environment.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        Actually, I only have a problem with Qs 2&3, because technically, Q1 could be determining how well you’d fit into the office culture – not really something that *would* go on your resume.
        For example, when I was little, there wasan incident and now I really can’t stand to be around balloons, which would make me a bad fit for a culture that celebrates every birthday/ big office celebration/ charity event day with 150 of the squeaky-popping things. Totally inappropriate for a resume, and I’m not sure I could find a reasonable excuse to put it in a cover letter either.

        1. Jasnah*

          Would that be something you’d want to put in a comment box in an application, though? That sounds like counting your chickens before they’re hatched. I wouldn’t inform someone of my dietary restrictions or WFH requests before the company had even agreed to meet with me.

          The only thing I can think to include is other skills/attitude you could offer to benefit the company or otherwise stand out, like “I also speak conversational Klingon” or something… but there is a limit to what any one human can include.

          To me these questions sound like, “We don’t even want to do the work of interpreting your resume/cover letter. Boil it down for us, and make it peppy.”

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            “…and make it peppy.”

            Right? Why can’t people who are not applying to jobs that require peppy (e.g. motivational speaker) be allowed to just be normal worker bees?

            1. Rhoda*

              I suspect that a lot of HR types take training that is basically aimed at hiring sales people. It’s like the advice to make your resume point out all the ways you’ve made money for your previous companies instead of listing your duties. Sure, if you’re in sales and made $X in one quarter, that’s the way to do it. But if you worked in the drafting department drawing schematics and fabrication drawings, how the heck would you word it?? There is way to directly influence company finances in some jobs, and outgoing extrovert personalities aren’t necessarily what you need for some positions.

              1. selena81*

                …I suspect that a lot of HR types take training that is basically aimed at hiring sales people…

                Sounds about right.
                And then they are stumped when this makes for TERRIBLE matches in ‘nerd jobs’

                I’m on the job-hunt now and i get annoyed when my coach insists i make a long list of subjective traits and hobbies and achievements when i just want to list my diploma’s and work-history and keep the personal stuff to a bare minimum: sure i can say i am committed or curious or contributed to a project that saved x amount of manhours, but it doesn’t *mean* anything as far as i’m concerned, any idiot can claim any trait they want as long as they are good at fooling themselves.

        2. Liane*

          “[D]etermining how well you fit into the office culture” is part of the *interview process* at reasonable companies. Also, like all aspects of applying, it goes both ways. I am allowed to decide that I am not a good cultural fit for a company that thinks Gimmick is a great hiring tool.

    2. Lena Clare*

      These questions are definitely weird as additions to cover letters where presumably good candidates address then anyway, but can I just say I’m loving the additional skills people are putting down! Conversational Klingon is my favourite.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’d probably say something about juggling… balls, clubs, and projects. At least that ties it back to work.

    3. Lena Clare*

      LW2 I would avoid. If it’s for an artistic company you’d have a portfolio of work anyway but if not it’s just a gimmick!

    4. Doctor Schmoctor*

      Ugh. I’m already a bit disgusted when people use the word “awesome” in a supposedly professional environment.

      The company I work for have this survey thing they do every year. It’s about the work environment, employee engagement (whatever that means), etc. Recently they sent a company wide email about the results of the survey, where they used words and phrases like “awesome” and “super excited.” Sorry, I’m not, like, super excited about this totally awesome survey.

      1. Leela*

        I only worked on the employee satisfaction survey for one company so I have no idea how universal it is or if it was just this particular company, but I know that the HR head was very adamant that we remove any questions that could actually be useful or lead to change. She didn’t say it like that, but any question we posed that fell along those lines was removed from the survey, leaving us with bland, unimportant questions like “How happy are you with the snacks here?” Without any space to even say what in particular would be up with the snacks if they did feel like commenting on that. With that in mind, I find having to answer questions with things like “awesome” and “super excited” particularly cringey. Even if it was a very serious, helpful survey though, I wonder about it. I think it’s one thing if that’s just how people where you work talk, I’m no prescriptive linguist, but it does come off like “this will make it more fun!” when no, it definitely won’t

      2. Artemesia*

        ‘amazing’ and ‘awesome’ sprinkled several times in a conversation or review or publication are my signal to forget this one.

    5. LondonBridges*

      Ugh, I just submitted an internship application that was like this. Four separate boxes I had to fill out with “What skills do you have that would make you a good intern?” “In 2 or 3 sentences, explain why an organization would benefit from having you.” I already had to submit a super specifically formatted cover letter and a resume, why am I rewriting this for you again?

      1. pleaset*

        I applied for and got a great internship a few years ago where they asked for the cover letter to include answers to three questions – my approach to lifelong learning, general goals and something else. I thought that was great – it directed the cover letter in a way that I assume was helpful to them and was not burdensome to me.

        1. Leela*

          Those seem like good questions to ask, but I have to wonder, did you feel like it was difficult to crunch these into a one-page cover letter and also get out the stuff you’d normally put in a cover letter (skills you bring in that don’t go on the resume, why this particular company is a good fit, etc?) I mean I can see that there would be some overlap but I feel like my cover letter would only answer these three questions and that I’d have trouble doing that effectively with one page.

          1. pleaset*

            No, it was easy. Less is often more in writing – conveying less information draws attention to what remains. So since that’s what they asked for, that’s what I gave them, with perhaps a paragraph of other stuff.

            1. selena81*

              that sounds like a good way to guide inexperienced job-searchers: helping them write a decent cover letter, see if they can follow directions, get an answer to important questions, allow room for their own input beyond those questions

    6. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I had one once that was ‘tell us who your favorite Muppet was and why’ which sent me into a spiral of self doubt. My favorite Muppet was Miss Piggy, but she is very high drama and I am not – so I didn’t want to send the wrong message that I would be like Miss Piggy, she was just the only really girly girl Muppet back when I was a super girly little girl – but I can’t put that on a cover letter. Then I tried to decide what the best Muppet would be to pick to be hired, but then I would be creating a tangle of lies I would have to live buy every day. I eventually gave up on the whole thing because being whimsical on command was stressing me out. It was a job for an administrative assistant by the way.

      1. LW2*

        Thanks everyone on this thread and elsewhere! This is just the level setting I needed. I was torn, because on the one hand…what??? but on the other I’m a professional writer and a 300 word story really wouldn’t take me that much time. (Even less time if they had given any indication of what they were looking for….) This has been such a helpful reminder to always remember that my time is actually valuable and worth something. Working in a creative field sort of blends business and pleasure, so sometimes that can be easy to forget.

        1. Sith in the City*

          Oh goodness, if you’re a professional writer there is even less reason to put up with nonsense like this! I spent quite a number of years writing professionally, and a brief like that would set off a whole row of red flags for me. Not only is it disrespectful of the writer’s time, it’s so vague and disconnected from the job as to be pointless – how does a piece like that demonstrate your relevant skills or illustrate your suitability for the work? It’s like assessing an engineer by their ability to arrange circuits decoratively! What’s more, in my experience, people who come up with assessment methods like this shortly evolve into clients from hell. The sort who have no idea what the job entails or what they want you to do, and who impose ridiculous demands as a result. Give this one a hard pass.

          1. JessaB*

            I never even thought about the CFHness about asking for such an assignment. You’re right, they probably have no idea what can be done on what timeline.

      2. Leela*

        Ugh god what did they think they were getting out of this that would help them make a competent hiring decision. Unfortunately I think you’re right…they were probably going to go “Oh Miss Piggy well she might be a drama queen!” but that’s an enormous leap in logic and even if they aren’t trying to make such a leap in logic, why ask this question at all? I was once asked in an interview what kind of bear I consider myself to be. Who cares? And I don’t generally walk around wondering what kind of bear I am, so I had to come up with something at the last minute and bs an answer about why it applied to me. I think I said “I’m a Polar Bear because I thrive in harsh conditions” but it sounded so cheesy and awful and I hated saying it, and I’m not sure that’s what I’d have said if I’d had time to think about it (but even if I had had time to think about it, I almost certainly would have used that time thinking about something else).

        1. selena81*

          given that miss piggy is pretty much the only ‘girl’ on that show i am left with a vague impression of misogyny: ‘all these women went with the dramaqueen, and _that’s_ why we did not hire any of them’

      3. Dragoning*

        I…I’ve never seen The Muppets really, because I’m too young for that, really–I would be wondering if I could just paste a shrug emoji into the box.

      4. smoke tree*

        I’m also struggling to decide which muppet would indicate you’d be a good employee. Maybe they just want to make sure you don’t self-identify as a chaos muppet. Kermit seems like a solid choice, but you really don’t want to sign up to be the sole Kermit in an office full of Gonzos. Maybe Rowlf would be a good middle ground. I’m going to be up all night thinking about this now.

        1. Frea*

          Pepe the King Prawn. I’m small but mighty, usually in a turtleneck, and would make a ‘royally’ good employee. Another good answer is Beaker, who is VERY concerned with workplace safety—and rightfully so. Dr. Teeth for all the lovable spirit and creativity of Animal but none of the chaos?

          1. smoke tree*

            Statler and Waldorf, because of my passion for quality control? The Swedish Chef, because of my unusual manual dexterity? Mahna Mahna? I think I would quickly make them regret asking this question.

            1. Frea*

              Statler and Waldorf as Quality Managers might be everything I want in life now.

              But really, we all know it should be the yip yips, who are powerful enough to cross over from Sesame Street AND should be valued for their out-of-the-box thinking. Not gonna pie, this might be my dream question. SO MANY OPTIONS.

        2. Rainbow Roses*

          Yes. Do you answer with how you really feel or the answer you think they want?

          It’s not easy being green.

        3. Oranges*

          I’d say Gonzo not even thinking about the fact he’s a blue fuzzy chaos machine. (The chaos is what I like about him).

          I’ve always said that a world populated by people just like me would be… special. Very very special and non-existent because we’d manage to blow it up somehow in the first micro-seconds.

      5. Chriama*

        That question is almost certainly discriminatory. People who are too young, too old, or from the “wrong” culture won’t get the reference. I personally know that Kermit the Frog is funny to a lot of people for some reason. It’s like how a lot of older IQ tests were unwittingly based on cultural knowledge and that skewed the results. If they want to be friendly and whimsical (and I don’t think they should, but if they want to) there are better ways to go about it.

    7. Anja*

      I had one asking for a song that describes your personality. I googled “which song am I online test”. I got something from Katy Perry. Saved the results in a note for myself and used the silly test’s proposed song on the application. I was invited for an interview!

      1. Leela*

        How did you feel about this? I find that “let’s make it fun!” hiring/interview practices rarely actually make it fun for the prospective employee, because there’s an enormous amount of pressure to choose something “right” and you don’t know what the hiring manager/hr person is going to think about “hallelujiah” for example…are they religious? Do they just really resonate with acoustic songs and think that softer melodies represent them? Do they feel that songs that get covered all the time represent them well because they’re trend setters? Like..what are they supposed to pick out of there? And the prospective employee has every possibility running through their head about what light it could cast on them, and if they’re taking themselves out of the running by choosing a seemingly innocuous song. Maybe it’s fun for the reviewers of your application but even then, I don’t think they’re learning anything relevant enough to bother asking.

        1. Anja*

          I hated it and I decided then that I wanted to send the application since I spend some time filling it but I refused to seriously come up with an answer at that time. The organization wants to be hype and fun so the Katy Perry song was a good choice after all.

        2. selena81*

          I think a big problem is that nobody ever explained to them: ‘think back about when you were hired, would _you_ have thought this was cute or would it annoy the *** out of you?’
          I have the theory that the vast majority of terrible hr-people have intruder syndrome, and in order to impress their peers they feel pressured to come up with ‘the latest mind trick to play on applicants’ instead of using common sense.

    1. ChemPlantPrincess*

      The short story about LW1 has already been written in 1853 — Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener”.

  7. CastIrony*

    #2, it’s time to leave your start-up. It’s going to hurt you in the long run, even if you care so much about your job. I agree with Allison.

  8. thankful for AAM.*

    Can we crowd source a scary story that begins, dear ask a manager, on a job application I was asked to . . .

    1. Continuing the scary story...*

      The storm brewed outdoors, the tree branches scraping the ancient dormer windows like gnarled fingers in the bitter wind, as I sat in my tiny garret, only the feeble candle as light, to write my job application. Suddenly a chill blew through the room, as though a terrifying presence had entered, and the candle guttered out to darkness….

              1. 653-CXK*

                Bob the accountant came rushing in, clipboard in hand, scribbling something down. “Ducks are a huge expense, much bigger than guacamole!” Then Wakeen came in and collected the duck, but not before telling Bob, “Are duck turds and expense too? Doesn’t look like it to me…clean this up before the real CEO comes in!”

                1. Kat in VA*

                  …then came the dreaded email, the one we all know will come and fear its arrival, but hope it never appears in our inbox…

                  “MY BROTHER NEEDS A LIVER DONOR.”

            1. Lena Clare*

              It that’s directed at me, thank you. I need a win today – I just had a HORRENDOUS interview >.< If it's not directed at me, can I pretend it is please? : D

      1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        …and everyone gathered in the conference room for a 2 hours therapy session on how they were processing their feelings.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            But some sandwiches were in the office fridge and were STOLEN so the office manager posted a sign.

            1. Jaid*

              The next day, an employee came in claiming that one of those sandwiches made him sick and demanding an investigation.

    2. KP*

      Okay, see, that’s an actual writing prompt, which is one critical step beyond what this employer is even providing.

      1. fieldpoppy*

        This is the best thing ever. If we could add something about NO BIRTHDAY FOR YOU! Leap baby, we’d have all bases covered.

        1. StellaBella*

          And we’d need all the input from all the stories from the commenter “I work on a hellmouth” too.

  9. Beth*

    #4: Weather predictions around things like exactly what time snow will start are notoriously inaccurate. Maybe the snow will start at 4 as predicted; maybe it will start at noon; maybe it won’t snow until midnight. Maybe it won’t snow at your workplace at all, but the roads a mile north will be an utter disaster. That kind of unpredictability is just how snowstorms are, in my experience. If this employee really can’t drive in poor conditions, and poor conditions are predicted for that day, I think it’s understandable for her to want to stay home.

    It’s worth clarifying what her actual needs are, though. Maybe she’d be able to come in if they know for sure they’ll be allowed to leave early if it starts snowing in the area. Maybe she’d be comfortable coming in for a planned half day as long as she can leave several hours before the snow is predicted to start. Maybe you can make special arrangements for her to work from home on days where poor road conditions are expected. Maybe this is a one-off thing due to a recent injury, and two weeks from now she’ll be better and it won’t come up again; it might not be worth making a fuss over, if that’s the case. You won’t know whether there’s any kind of compromise possible, or whether she might even be able to come in under the right circumstances, unless you talk it out.

    1. MK*

      In my experience, bad weather rarely comes earlier than predicted; usually, it starts long after the predicted time, around when you start believing the forecast got it wrong and it won’t happen at all.

      1. Writing Used To Pay The Bills*

        I’ve seen it happen both ways. I’ve also been stuck in traffic for two hours driving 15 miles. The snow began hours earlier than predicted and everyone hit the road. Then it got more slippery as the minutes passed.

        It’s a good thing I had already picked up my child from daycare before they closed.

      2. stump*

        Surprise snow squalls exist. We got hit with that one day during the morning commute last year. I had coworkers who were hit with sudden white out conditions while they were driving to work. I started my drive to work after that and thought I’d be fine since the weather had calmed down, but what’s normally a 20 minute drive took an hour and a half. Weather can definitely go either way of a forecast (or just straight up come out of nowhere).

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          We get snow squalls and lots of lake affect weather (because we live by a lake!). The weather can range from white out conditions to sunny skies with 10 minutes. They’re scary but luckily don’t last long.

        2. Lucille2*

          That’s not unheard of where I come from either. And it’s not unusual for one part of the city to be hit with a foot of snow, where another part 50ish miles away will have little to no snow at all. Lake effect snow can be isolated to specific areas and not others within relatively close proximity. It’s not unusual for people who work in the same city center location to have vastly different weather-related driving experiences in the same morning commute.

      3. blackcat*

        Shortly after I moved up north, there was a major snow storm in the south where I had lived.
        It arrived 2 hours earlier than expected.
        It took one of my former coworkers 7 (!!!!) hours to drive home that day.

        And now that I’m in Boston, I definitely remember that one of the 2015 storms was supposed to be like 8 inches, falling steadily, and ended up as a 24″ blizzard. I had to go out in one of those 2015 blizzards and all was well until I got to my own street. I had only been gone about an hour, but in that time, the snow got deep enough that my car really, really struggled. It was just too deep in blowing powder for a sedan to deal with. I can see someone with physical limitations not wanting to risk getting home after snow starts (my worst case scenario was getting neighbors to help, but I live in a pretty urban area with very helpful neighbors. It’d be a whole different thing if I lived another 5 miles further out).

      4. Samwise*

        Yeah, well, then there’s “we’re gonna get rain, no worries” and at noon we’re all trying to get our kids from daycare, sliding all over the road because no one predicted FREEZING rain. BTDT

      5. Beth*

        My experience is from growing up in an area with weather that was prone to changing on a dime, so maybe this is region dependent! But I’ve definitely seen snow start earlier than expected, probably just as often as it started later. I’ve also seen snow patterns where one place got none, and three blocks down there were several inches on the ground.

    2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      It’s really hard to judge what’s an appropriate response here without more information – what kind of work it is (is working remotely an option?) and what’s normal weather where they are. I attended a school that was atop a large hill on the outskirts of the city; there was literally different weather patterns on the top of the hill than the bottom. This wasn’t a mountain or anything, literally just a hill, but it would be raining at the bottom of the hill and snowing at the top. It’s possible that where the business is located has different weather than the employee’s home, even if they are relatively nearby. It also kind of depends on how common snow is there – if you’re living somewhere where you can expect snow on a regular basis for several months (that same city did not experience major snowfalls often, but it was cold enough that any snow that did fall would not melt away until spring), it’s not so reasonable to say you’ll call out any time there’s snow on the road. It’d also depend on how well the city prepares for/reacts to snow – are the roads salted? Will it be plowed in a reasonable amount of time? Does it now often enough that everyone’s used to it and has snow tires on their cars? If the employee takes transit, is transit still working in the snow?

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone to want to take an abundance of caution about driving in poor weather, but it does also depend on a lot of factors that we just don’t know from the letter. If you’re in a location where snow is a frequent possibility – or certainty – you might need to have a conversation about what’s reasonable on a long-term basis, not just the one instance.

    3. Sara without an H*

      Beth, you have several very good solutions here. But OP#4, really needs to punt this back to the manager, and I’m kind of puzzled as to why the HR person has been pulled into this situation at all.

    4. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Eh, yes & no re: snow predictions. Any meteorologist worth their salt (and all the ones I work with) will tell you that snow tracks are rough estimates until 6-8 hours out. The dry line can shift a couple of miles and move the snowfall totals and timing significantly. Meteorologists are constantly updating and refining their forecasts based on updated models.

      Beth has a great list of considerations and I’d add that checking the hourly forecast updates would also be a wise idea, that way if the track shifts your employee can still leave ahead of it.

      1. pleaset*

        “will tell you that snow tracks are rough estimates until 6-8 hours out. ”

        I take this as snow tracks become increasingly accurate a few hours out.

    5. kittymommy*

      #4. I don’t have much familiarity with driving in snow, the few times I lived in places that had it I was able to avoid really driving in it, but the LW seems to indicate that the employee is somehow stating she can’t come to work as snow is expected and relating this to the back injury. “An employee sent me an email yesterday morning letting me now that because of her back problem (not a job-related injury), she is not coming in because of the possible road conditions in the afternoon.”

      Why would a back injury impact avoiding bad road conditions? Am I missing something here?

      1. Washi*

        I was assuming that the employee is worried about some combination of needing to make sudden stops while driving and walking from the car to her house in snowy/icy conditions. Which makes sense and I think the employee should be allowed to leave early if needed, but absent some other information (does the employee live 60 mins and a mountain range away?) I don’t understand the need to preemptively take the day off.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          Also, a back injury that permits one to drive for, say, 30 minutes without problems could become quite a painful ordeal, and possibly make the injury much worse, if that uncomfortable but tolerable 30 minute drive turns into 3 or 4 hours or more sitting in one uncomfortable position and likely unable to get out of the car.

          Also, also, the risk of an accident is so much higher in snow and for one with a back injury, even a minor accident could have much more serious consequences than would be expected for someone without an injury. This rather changes the risk calculation. A non-injured person may be willing to risk a bumper tap or a slide into a ditch, minor accidents that wouldn’t cause injury, but someone with an existing back injury understandably might not be willing to risk even a minor accident.

      2. Beth*

        I can think of several possible reasons. The employee may have a limited range of motion due to her injury, and may be unable to shovel a car that’s been parked inside out of the snow, or effectively wipe off snow that’s fallen on the car. She may not be able to walk from the door to her car (or her car to her home) on uneven or slippery terrain. Her condition may put her at high risk for serious injury in an accident (which is much more likely in snowy weather; roads get slick and icy, spinning out can involve some jolts even if you go harmlessly into a ditch, inability to brake can lead to collisions, and even if you’re very cautious, other people are more likely to hit you due to conditions) and she may have been instructed by her doctor not to risk it. She may simply feel unable to react quickly enough with her injury to drive safely in poor conditions.

        No matter how much it’s become normal and everyday in modern society, driving a car is still functionally operating heavy machinery, with all the associated risks. It’s generally understandable–smart, even–for someone with an active injury to be more cautious about it than someone in good health. That goes double in adverse conditions.

    6. fieldpoppy*

      As many commenters have posted, how your municipality handles snow really depends on how much snow you normally get. I live in the city where the army got called in 20 years ago because we were overwhelmed — it seems crazy — it’s Canada! — but we literally had no place to PUT the snow. My back gate was snowed in for weeks because there was no place to move the snow in tiny urban laneways that wouldn’t have blocked in someone else’s garage or gate. Streets were the same — if you cleared the sidewalks, you couldn’t drive on the street. I don’t know if the army was the answer (that mayor was nuts), but we definitely needed some resources we didn’t have to deal with it.

      That said, sometimes people are super alarmist about driving in snow, and anticipatory panic can take over. I think Alison’s answer is bang on, and the HR person should be thinking about what kind of WFH options there are for days like this. We had our second ice storm in a week last Tuesday, and we managed to convert an all day meeting to Zoom at the last minute… and lo and behold, got through the agenda two hours faster than if we’d been in the same place.

      1. Dragoning*

        I find the same thing–no one wants to make “how was your weekend?” chit chat on a conference call.

    7. Kathleen_A*

      Actually, predictions aren’t inaccurate these days – so long as they aren’t too long in the future. Can a forecaster predict when a snowstorm will hit the day after tomorrow? No, not really. Can she do so 24 hours ahead? Well, sort of. Can she do so 4-6 hours ahead? Actually, yes, she can, and usually pretty accurately, too.

      Both employees and employers need to differentiate the degree of risk. If it’s 7 a.m. and the forecasters are predicting snow after 4, chances are really good that the snow won’t hit until the afternoon, though possibly not right at 4. If it’s 7 a.m. and the forecasters are predicting that the snow will start around 10, chances are really good that the snow will start right around 10.

      From the information provided, it sounds to me as though the employee jumped the gun, snow-wise. It’s possible there are mitigating circumstances, of course, but I would say that generally speaking, if snow isn’t predicted to start until 4 (at both the workplace and the employee’s home), that employee ought to be able to work at least part of the day.

  10. Johanna*

    I worked for an extremely dysfunctional organization a few years ago, and two workers got into a fight and one pulled a knife. He was immediately fired, but kept coming to work and eventually they just started paying him again.

    1. Scott*

      Wow! That’s crazy. Interestingly, I was getting on here to say that I would feel uneasy about working in a setting where a laid-off employee kept showing up, because people can have very unpredictable reactions to losing a job.

      1. Margaery Moth*

        Yeah, same. With all the workplace shootings I would be really distracted by a loitering ex-employee.

      2. Pomona Sprout*

        Ugh, me, too. Here in the Chicago area, there was an incident a few days ago where some glass bowl got fired and returned later the same day with a gun. Killed 5 people, AND 5 cops were wounded trying to stop him. (The shooter ended up dead, btw, because that’s what tends to happen when sonebody decides to engage in a gunfight with law enforcement.)

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          Yes, that stuff is horrifying. I thought an OldJob was being paranoid because every time they fired someone, they hired extra security for a few weeks and told everyone to notify them if they saw that fired person on the property. I don’t feel that way anymore.

        2. I'm A Little Teapot*

          off topic, but thank you for the drama free summary of what happened. I haven’t been watching the news lately and knew there’d been a shooting, but not more.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            And he wasn’t supposed to be a gun owner because of something in his past, but the first time he applied they didn’t do a fingerprint check and missed it.
            When he applied for concealed carry permit they caught it and told him to return the gun, but he didn’t.

            1. Observer*

              Yes, he had a conviction for aggravated assault and several domestic violence arrests on his record. How they managed to miss that is mind blowing.

      3. Crivens!*

        This was my first thought. After a couple of days (normal time to finish packing up stuff) this would really start to worry me, if I knew for sure they were there past their last day.

      4. Booberry*

        LW1 here: ex-coworker doesnt’t strike me as a pull a knife/gun type. No one here senses a safety issue. Ex-coworker is gone now, and in hindsight it does just look like they took their dear sweet time getting out (which is how they did some other tasks on the job, to be honest).

        1. Kathleen_A*

          This is a somewhat different situation because the guy wasn’t laid off and actually gave notice, but I did one time have someone give notice and take more than a week to clean out his desk. It was a little odd, but then again, so was he. This was partly because he had the time (his new job wasn’t starting for a while), partly because he talks so much that it can slow down his work, and partly because…well, his was a desk that needed a LOT of cleaning. Let me put it this way: After he finally “finished” and left, I went to his desk myself and threw away several litter baskets full of even more stuff – the poor guy apparently just couldn’t bring himself to throw away anything in a binder.

          So that’s the first thing I thought of when I read Booberry’s letter. Odd, slow and cleaning-impaired people are more common than shooters, thank goodness!

        2. Important Moi*

          Since you responded, I have a question. When you said should I say something what did you envision saying? Did you not trust your boss? Were you asked for your input? Your question implied participation but nothing you mentioned suggested your participation would be required.

    2. Myrin*

      I love that this could be a comment on both #1 and #3!

      (Also, that takes “gumption” to a whole other level!)

    3. Electric Sheep*

      This is just to say

      We have rehired
      your coworker
      who we sacked
      for stabbing you

      and who
      you were probably
      would be made to leave

      Forgive us
      for this decision
      so strange
      and so bad

      (Hat tip to William Carlos Williams).

    4. WakeUp!*

      That’s unbelievable. Is “not around people fired for stabbing others with knives” not included in your right to a safe workplace?

    5. ElspethGC*

      This sounds like a Hellmouth-level workplace. Actually, no. I don’t think the Hellmouth boss would even fire them in the first place. But still – *yikes*.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Hmm, I know people who are dysfunctional like that guys’ bosses.
        They’ll start a fight over something minor and not speak to you for a while, then start being friendly again… never talk about the problem or try to resolve it, they just wait till they’re not mad anymore and go back to how it was.

  11. RG*

    OP #3 do you really trust this person to continually make good decisions with the funding you’ve given them? Read your letter again but imagine someone saying that to you – wouldn’t you tell them to pull out?

  12. mark132*

    @LW4 one thing to keep in mind when talking about snow, is that just because it isn’t snow at the place of work, doesn’t mean it isn’t a total mess where the employee lives. It sounds like this likely isn’t the case here, but I’ve found sometimes that where I live it will be a utter mess and where I work 2o miles away is dry by the time I get to work. Also the forecast is usually for the “valley” and not the benches or canyons. They can often get quite a lot more snow sometimes both earlier and later than the valley gets snow.

  13. Close Bracket*

    But our schedule is 7 to 3 and it’s predicted to start snowing around 4 pm.

    Forecasts are not so precise as to be down to the hour like that. That’s not how weather works. It could start snowing at 2, at 12, or at 6. If she has the PTO or is taking the day without pay, respond with, “Thanks for letting us know!”

    1. londonedit*

      Definitely, there can be a huge difference between how snow affects different areas. We don’t get much snow in the south of the UK, but every now and then (like last February) we will have a few days where we get maybe 6 inches of snow in London. And then the Underground will be disrupted, and people will moan about how ‘everything comes to a standstill for a couple of inches of snow’, but what they forget is that most London Underground lines are above ground at their furthest reaches, and they also forget that staff and train drivers often live outside London where there’s often a lot more snow. If the train drivers can’t get to work, the trains can’t run!

      1. Cat Wrangler*

        We’re also not really geared up for snowy weather in the UK or at least in the SE which is why we tend to look a bit hopeless at times of extreme weather.

        1. Lucy*

          Also during British snow the air temperature tends to hover around freezing rather than getting very cold, so the snow continually melts and refreezes – slush lying on ice is far more dangerous than powder, after all!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      … That’s how forecasts often do work here (with roughly accurate start times down to the hour if we’re talking about day-of forecasts). I think there are a lot of regional differences on this one. (That said, I’m not basing my answer on that assumption. It’s very normal to just keep an eye on the forecast. In many places, calling out for a full day because of snow scheduled for late afternoon would mean missing weeks of work that year, and for utterly dry roads for much of it.)

    3. Ethyl*

      Sure, but it’s probably not going to start at 7am or 10 am. Snow predictions for the late afternoon to evening are usually accurate enough to assume you can come in for a half (morning) day. At least that’s the case where I live, a place with over 100″ of snow on average yearly.

      I understand there are lots of factors involved in making these kinds of decisions, but where I live you simply can’t take off 5-20 days per month from October through May just because it may snow sometime during the day.

  14. Sam Sepiol*

    Round here, it’s said that if there’s a flake of snow in Newtown, there’s three feet in Cindale.

    If this is an otherwise reliable, hardworking employee, I’d let it go. If not, there are other things to focus on, no?

  15. Grand Mouse*

    LW #2- That seems impossible, because I don’t think of myself as stone-faced but almost never does something I read brings me to cry, laugh out loud, or keep me up at night. The stuff that does is so rare I remember it, and it’s on the level of great literature. Or r/nosleep

  16. Anon tmi*

    Once upon a time, there was a company who wanted to hure the best employees. But a wicked sorceror told them that gimicks worked, so all the best employees never even approached the castle. They had to settle for second best forever. The end.

  17. Anon4This*

    I’ve been in a similar situation as #3, right down to the newborn baby and willingness to move for the job.


    Seriously. This is not someone who will keep investors and good employees around. And that will lead to more stress (for you) and failure (for the business and possibly your professional reputation).

    And don’t blame the founder’s behavior and mood swings on stress. We all have stress, how we deal with it says a lot about who we are.

    You sound like a very loyal person. But you need to look after yourself and your future, for your family’s sake if not your own. I strongly suggest you leave and don’t let him try to guilt you or suck you back in.

    1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      Yup. It’d honestly be less of a big deal if he was just stressed and sometimes grumpy, but not threatening to quit and taking his stress out on others – that’s much more alarming. Everyone gets stressed sometimes – including LW, I’m sure – but it’s how he handles his stress that is the problem. While you’re sort of used to his outbreaks, just imagine how stressful and scary that must be for new employees – or even investors! – to hear him talk about wanting to quit and shut down the company every time anything goes wrong. The fact that it doesn’t even seem to occur to him that he should keep his panicky ‘What if this was all a mistake’ thoughts to himself is a big problem; while people often gripe about companies not warning employees about layoffs until they happen, there is a REASON for executives keeping those kinds of discussions to themselves until the decision’s been made. It’s just not good management to panic people unnecessarily and keep them guessing about what’s going to happen.

      It takes more than a good idea to make a business work, and no matter how great the idea is, this guy is just not cut out to run the business. GET OUT.

    2. Just Elle*

      It almost sounds like LW is hoping that if she changes her whole life to give it her best shot, if she really *believes in the vision enough* and *works hard enough* and is *good enough* etc etc… she can make up for his shortcomings.
      But, I’m sorry to say, that’s not how this works. Even if you can make up for him in the short term, its going to be exhausting and unrewarding and unsustainable. Get out!

    3. selena81*

      He is not just unstable, he doesn’t appear to care how it makes him look and how it makes the employees feel.
      It doesn’t matter how impressive his last job was, this guy will eventually crash and burn. And in fact his past succes may be a hindrance in that it has made him spoiled and entitled (did he even set aside 18 months of savings, or is he living on debt?)

  18. Cat Wrangler*

    We’re also not really geared up for snowy weather in the UK or at least in the SE which is why we tend to look a bit hopeless at times of extreme weather.

  19. stump*

    Re #2:

    I have the perfect short story to make them cry if they aren’t set on something original. It shouldn’t take too many words to summarize the Futurama episode “Jurassic Bark”, right? ;)

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        Have you seen the Simpsons/Futurama crossover episode? There’s a shot of Seymour waiting for Fry in that which absolutely breaks my heart.

      1. Stacia*

        And while I would be upset and possibly embarrassed, I can’t imagine not telling my partner (or whoever has a need to know) right away!

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          my ex-husband had a long and glorious history of losing jobs (sometimes they fired him, more often he just quit, at least one he ghosted, and that one was while I was out of state at my grandfather’s funeral) and not telling me for a few days. (He’s ex for a reason. :P )

    1. Thrown into the fire new manager*

      It happens. A family friend kept the charade up for at least a year. His wife didn’t do anything with the finances

    2. media monkey*

      like Gerald in The Full Monty (excellent british film from the 90s – if you haven’t seen it already you really should watch it!)

      1. Michaela Westen*

        There was also a good episode of Barney Miller with this story. IRRC, the same character came back in a later episode too.

  20. Annonymouse*

    Answer to #2. Once upon a time I came across a really interesting job at a company that I had always admired.. I was really excited about applying because the role aligned with my career goals.. However in the initial application I was sad to find out that I was compelled to write a 300 word short story without knowing anything more about the organization and role. I decided to pass on the opportunity and look at other companies that had a better hiring process.. The end

  21. Lynca*

    OP4- I just want to weigh in that depending on where your employee lives will have an effect on when snow arrives and also how bad road conditions might be after it’s been snowing. I live in an area that’s an hour away from where I work and doesn’t get any road treatments except interstate/select state routes. I have to go down multiple winding county roads to get home. The snow will always hit my area before it gets to where I work and the roads are typically icy/dangerous fairly quickly after snowing starts. Also I live outside the metropolitan heat island but work inside of it. Meaning when it’s cold enough to snow where I work, it’s 10 degrees or more colder where I live. Most of the time it’s have been snowing for hours at my house, before it’s cold enough to start snowing at work.

    I can completely understand not wanting to even deal with that while recovering from a back injury. And if this person generally would not have a problem coming in- I would chalk it up to the injury and let it go.

  22. Lynn Whitehat*

    Even in Austin (where it snows maybe every five years), most people wouldn’t call out in those circumstances. Mostly people would come to work and keep an eye on the forecast, and be prepared to leave early. Or plan on a half day ahead of time. It seems a little overly cautious to me.

    1. Shiraze*

      My carpooler tends to err on the side of caution. Not having grown up around it, as I did, she has no confidence in her driving in bad weather. If it might get bad, she will always ask me to drive, which doesn’t bother me since I grew up in NE Ohio. Living quite a bit further south now, though, where the forecast of snow often closes many schools and other govt agencies, so the decision is often mad for us.

  23. AliceBD*

    Today is my first day not at work after a mass lay off. We were told individually in meetings on the same Monday (with a few spillovers to the next day for those who were out sick or on vacation) and everyone’s last day was the same Friday two weeks later. They wanted us to have time to do knowledge transfer, go thru our desks to get rid of outdated stuff, etc.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’m reading the LW’s letter differently than that, though. That sounds like a layoff with notice, like, “You’ll be working here for two more weeks.” I’ve seen that happen, and it’s usually communicated as, “This group’s last day will be X.” LW #1’s layoff strikes me more as, she was laid off on Wednesday and Wednesday was her last day, yet she keeps coming back. Very different.

      Years ago, a colleague of mine was laid off and told to pack up her desk, that her last day would be that day (I believe it was a Friday). She said no (!) and came back Monday and Tuesday to get her things. That’s closer to what I’m envisioning for #1. It was kind of strange and uncomfortable, to be honest.

    2. sam*

      So sorry about your layoff and good luck in your job searching!

      When I got laid off (ten years ago this week!), I worked for a law firm, so it was a bit outside the norm, but I got SIX MONTHS notice, with full access to my office/computer/etc. for that entire period. I could come and go whenever I wanted, but I could basically still present myself as “employed” for that period (didn’t help – the massive financial recession was a real doozy for the legal market). I would come in 1-2 days a week and use my computer/phone/printer/etc. to write resumes, cover letters, etc.

      And I spent a lot of time cleaning out my office. Ten years of legal files is… a lot. I filled two shredder bins and an entire dumpster. And that’s not counting the six bankers’ boxes of “personal” stuff I shipped home, or the bound volumes of closing documents I pawned off on other lawyers. I am much better about shredding things regularly now.

  24. Not the Bumper Sticker Police*

    Toxic Start Up:
    RUN. Do not walk. This sounds like a mess and your boss is not someone you want to be tied with in the long run.

    1. Rhoda*

      The behaviour of the founder in LW3’s account sounds seriously unstable. Maybe it’s some mental health problem such as bipolar disorder, maybe he’s addicted to something, but this is definitely a dead end opportunity.

      1. Grand Mouse*

        I have bipolar disorder, please don’t connect it with people like that- we already have enough stigma! and that’s not how it works in the vast majority of cases but even when it does, we’re responsible for our own behavior and don’t act “unhinged” like a lot of people think. I’ve had people think I’m dangerous for having bipolar so it doesn’t help.

  25. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I worked for someone like the founder in OP #3’s letter. I strongly urge the OP to run away. The guy I worked for was volatile, often abusive– even to his partners– and absolutely horrible to work with. I left a few years ago and the company has turned over twice. One of his partners had to take on all of the damage control, intervening when the founder was inappropriate and calming angry staff. He could be the nicest guy in the world one day, the most enthusiastic… and then turn on a dime and fail to meet his commitments to his teams. Sometimes I think I’m still recovering from it and I wasn’t even there for 18 months.

    You see the writing on the wall, and I urge you to read it. Things may be ok now, but once you go full-time with this, these issues will intensify.

  26. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #4 – I think this is one example where if you have a reliable employee, you treat them like an adult and let them make the decision that’s best for themselves. Weather is tricky, and while they could predict the snow is starting at 4pm, it could really start at noon, and then you’re leaving in the middle of it with a bunch of other drivers and the situation has the potential to be dangerous. There are so many factors at play here and things we don’t know that aren’t in the letter – how far does she commute and does the area she lives in get more snow than where the office is located, what are her physical limitations, can she work from home at all, etc..

    Example…My husband and I both work 35 miles away from where we live. Last week, we got sleet and snow on Monday into Tuesday. He works for the government, and they get snow days if the weather is bad. Monday they got a delayed opening, but it was icy so he stayed home. Tuesday it was still icy, and we had a significant amount of snow, so he stayed home again. When he got to work on Wednesday, they didn’t understand why he didn’t come in, because where his job is located, it only rained.

  27. ssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    If snow is a Thing in your area and if you are HR, it might be time to sit with managers and the health and safety committee and draft up p0licies around snow, bad weather and calling out with some leeway for those with serious issues.

    I wish we had one.

    Snow and freezing rain is very much a Thing in my area and while it varies from year to year, this year Mother Nature has blessed us with lots of both. Despite a collective agreement that covers 96 pages of blah blah blah there’s nothing about the weather. And there’s no global policy about it either.

    Last year we had a bout of freezing rain bad enough that some people could not safely leave their homes (think downed power lines, police blocking roads, etc.) so they could not come in and they used a leave code in the collective agreement to pay for the day as the office was not closed. They were denied the use of the code, creating grievances. This is not a good use of anyone’s time.

    This year, when the threat of snowmaggedon was announced last week, after much delay and pondering, the employer closed the office for the next day, buying a lot of goodwill from their staff. Plus schools closed, other businesses closed and the city seemed prepared for this one (compared to the last huge dump in 2016… that was awful) and people who had to go in, could with so many less people on the road.

    But we still don’t have a policy. Snow ain’t going away. Think I will raise this with my own H&S folks.

    1. Oxford Comma*

      I second this.

      Once you have this policy, you might remind everyone about it at the start of every winter.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This 100%. There are so many factors at play when it comes to weather. Distance from work, place you live vs. place you work (since the snow/ice totals can vary widely per county), do you have the ability to work from home, how your city handles snow prep and clean up, etc. And then this person states they have a physical limitation that is affected by bad weather.

      Bottom line is that companies that are located in places and have regular bad weather need to provide some level of expectation to their employees, with additional flexibility as needed. If you have reliable employees, that aren’t going to take advantage of policies, trust them to know what they can handle. Driving when completely unnecessary in poor weather conditions just causes more problems for everyone. Nobody should feel like they have to risk their life to drive in to work for fear of (at best) getting chewed out or (at worst) getting fired.

    3. Southern Yankee*

      So much this! After years of employees not really knowing what to do in bad weather, and after a snowpocolypse event, my company drafted a policy and started a “weather hotline”. The hotline was to advise employees if the office was open or closed, or would close at noon, etc. The policy is a very large helping of “evaluate your specific conditions and make an appropriate decision” and “please don’t put yourself in danger”.

    4. Perse's Mom*

      We have such a policy at my job (I’m not the LW), we’re Midwestern and thus very familiar with snowy weather. It basically amounts to HR will pay attention to the weather and if there’s a major storm predicted in the area, it will be posted on the website*, and you make the decision that’s best for you. People who can work from home who would otherwise be in the office are encouraged to work from home.

      *this is generally only posted a day in advance if we’re expecting polar vortex or snowmageddon sort of weather, otherwise it goes up a few hours in advance of the when the weather advisory says (a standard couple of inches of snow or flurries does not qualify, that’s normal winter weather here), so it’s highly unlikely the LW’s coworker’s decision would fly here, but a reasonable manager would be fine with her leaving at 1 or 2 rather than 3 to give her more buffer time to get home safely, and if the weather front moved in faster than expected, they’d adjust for that, too.

  28. Quackeen*

    I was in a similar situation to LW #1 a few jobs ago. Co-worker was laid off and the boss at the time was too gentle in her delivery to give a firm date by which he needed all of his stuff out. “Take whatever time you need” seems kind in the moment, but is overall awkward and not direct enough. As a coworker, it made me uncomfortable, but the situation was my boss’ to handle. When it got awkward enough for her (and I was in a meeting with her when he came into the office for the 3rd or 4th time, and saw the look of pain on her face), she addressed it.

  29. Quackeen*

    The snow thing is going to vary so much, depending on region, industry, ability to work remotely, and most of all, boss’ approach towards flexibility. I am lucky enough to have both the technology and the flexible boss that allows telework, but in a few of my jobs I didn’t. It was not unusual for one of my bosses to take the stance of “If I made it in, everyone can make it in”, which was unhelpful because she lived in a different area and had an SUV.

    My advice to the LW is to have a discussion with your higher-ups about what the official policies are and whether they are as flexible as possible for people to make the decisions that work for them.

    1. Anonforthis*

      I’ve had that manager, too. But she was terrible in general, so that was just part of her overall horridness.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Same here. Did we work for the same manager?? Her snow policy changed every time there was bad weather, but we came to understand that it depended on if she drove in or not.

    2. Independent George*

      I had that manager too early in my career. Only my shift started at 6am and my manager came in at 8 or 9. Even though my city is pretty amazing about snow removal, being out on the roads at 5 am means you’re out on unplowed streets. And when your income only allows a 4-cyl front wheel drive, well, commutes on unplowed roads are an adventure. I guess those were character-building moments, but I never require my staff to do the same.

  30. Gazebo Slayer*

    OP3, DON’T DON’T DON’T quit your day job and move your family for a company run by someone who fires people a lot (and is otherwise also a mess). You could easily be next, even if your work is good – and it sounds like nothing is good enough to consistently please this guy.

  31. Kiki*

    #4: If the employee has a history of good judgment and hasn’t had issues with calling out often for strange reasons, I would accept their reasoning without questioning it. There are plenty of factors that could have gone into their decision that would have made for a long, overly-detailed email or just aren’t necessary for you to know.

    If the employee does have a history of poor judgment or calling out for reasons that don’t seem to make sense, it may be time to have a discussion with them about that. Even then, I would start by asking them if there’s something you don’t know about the situation with the weather and their back injury— give an opportunity for them to make their position clear before you suggest they may be wrong.

  32. Cautionary tail*

    Op1, I don’t know the details if your laid off person’s situation, but I can share about when I was laid off.
    It was a complete surprise to me that I was being laid off but what was worse was to get severance I had to report to my desk in the office every workday for the next three months and do nothing. I could not perform work, I could not do anything in the computer, I just had to sit there and seethe as my soul was repeatedly crushed, which is exactly what my vindictive boss wanted. If I told anyone I would lose my severance; if I left before three months I would lose my severance; if I did anything on the computer I would lose my severance. He wanted me to fail so he wouldn’t have to pay severance but I stuck it out. I am permanently mentally scarted from this experience.

    1. Severance Package*

      To get my severance package I had to work in the office for 2 weeks , with no work and was not allowed to tell my co-workers I was being laid off. Then For the remainder of my 3 months I had to work from home with no work (not even access to do work) but with only email to answer questions and about the transition of my work that was not allowed to happen my 2 weeks in the office.

    2. StellaBella*

      Wow. So what did you do, like if a colleague came by – was your computer off and you were on your phone all day? How were you so isolated that others would not notice this? Your boss was (is) bonkers. I am glad you stuck it out. Did you job hunt all day? I am sorry I have so many questions.

      I was laid off in April 2017 but last day was 31 January – so got my severance package but had to go to therapy for 6 months because the boss was nearly as bonkers as yours for other reasons.

      I am glad you are so strong! Amazing!

    3. Close Bracket*

      Wow. I’m so sorry. How did you handle that? What did you do all day? Did you make a little game of it in your head where you got points or something every time you made it through a day?

  33. Nervous Accountant*

    I’m just amused at the HR manager in #3, at least she’s being considerate. Last week our HR person told only 3 people (in an office of 100+) that they can work from home due to snow forecast and boy oh boy were the managers not happy about that.

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        That’s exactly why they weren’t happy. Plus why only give “permission” to 3 and not the remaining 97 ppl? It’s not like only those 3 live in some remote part of the city that travel would’ve been dangerous. The director & managers know their team better and need that autonomy to make these decisions.

  34. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I ‘m giggling at the snow question and I’m not sure why either. Who would have thought that snow garners such strong reactions in people.

    Here’s my take on it…

    -I tell all my employees that they are adults who have to make their own decisions when it comes to inclement weather.
    -I personally think the employee was being ridiculous*, but see above
    -If they are able to then I remind them before a storm to take their laptops home or to use a PTO day.
    -Our offices rarely close for weather and 95% of the employees are able to work from home if needed.
    -Has nobody here ever heard of radar? It’s pretty darn accurate and all of these “but the snow could start 6 hours before it’s forecasted” don’t really hold much water with me. It’s pretty easy to check the radar every once and awhile to see where the snow is and plan a departure accordingly.
    -If an employee wants to waste a PTO day on the ‘storm that may or may not come’ that’s on them. If attendance becomes a problem otherwise then it’s dealt with as a general attendance problem.

    *I live in a place with lake effect snow. So 20 miles could mean a sunny clear day or 6 inches of snow. I’ve also had an employee who was an otherwise great and dependable employee, but he wouldn’t drive in snow. He was from a middle eastern country originally, and wasn’t used to or comfortable driving in snowy conditions. Honestly, he was even dependable when he called out for the snow. I offered to include him in our company’s defensive driving course if he wanted to take it to learn some snow driving pointers (which he took me up on) but other than that, he would call out if it was snowing. Since he was hourly and a temp, he didn’t get paid if he didn’t work, so I figured the decision affected him more than anyone else.

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, I get that weather forecasts can be unpredictable, but a blizzard doesn’t just suddenly crop up out of nowhere with zero warning. The employee should come in, keep a weather site up in a tab and check once or twice an hour, and leave if snow starts to look likely during the workday.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        Sigh. Blizzards can crop up out of nowhere with very little warning. It happens. Meteorologists are wrong on occasion. It happens. At least it happens where I live.

        Also, people’s situations vary. Where I live the weather can be markedly different from suburb to suburb. We’ve had snow storms where one part of the city has nothing and the other part is buried.

        I also worked for an employer who told people that if they left early, on a day with what turned out to be a massive crippling and largely unexpected blizzard, they wouldn’t have jobs the next day. People ended up sleeping on desks.

    2. Independent George*

      I also live in a place with lake effect snow, and agree that 20 miles can vary between a foot of snow and sunny skies. I’ve also come to the realization that snow removal can vary from suburb to suburb. Especially when crossing county lines to commute to work. My last job was in another county than where I live and have worked historically. I was amazed at the lack of snow removal on city roads. It makes a huge difference in how your city handles snow removal and the ease of snowy commutes.

      1. Oxford Comma*


        Some of the suburbs here plow down to the pavement and salt regularly. Others have streets that don’t see plows for days. Don’t get me started on the city.

        I keep coming back to the need for a policy. It’s one thing if the workplace is located in some place where it snows once every 20 years. But everyone else should have some kind of policy.

        That might include: specific radio/TV stations to consult, how to proceed if there’s a travel ban (and with that you also need to consider how it works if someone lives in one locality and has to travel to another that may be under different travel restrictions), working remotely, whether the employer will cover the day or if the employee needs to use a vacation day, etc.

        1. Lynn Marie*

          I live in a place that gets lots of snow and I think employers here understand there is a range of driver comfort with snow or forecast and are willing to make adjustments for it. When I was 18 I drove 15 miles to get to work through anything and just took it for granted that I’d occasionally get stuck and was confident I’d be able to drive myself out of it or survive a night in the car if need be. NBD. But now I’m 65 and I don’t want to take the chance – and I find that I start getting wound up at just the thought of snow. It’s not worth it to me, my employer understands and supports me, and I know the plow drivers, tow truck drivers and cops are all just as happy to have one less nice, gray-haired lady out on the road if it’s a mess out. And employers and their families face the same issues.

  35. T*

    LW#1 I had something similar happen, a coworker in another department was laid off, and she was made to leave within 20 minutes of the firing. My workplace was holding a biggest loser weight loss competition where people competed in teams, and we were all pretty shocked when she showed up a week later to do the weigh-in. Everyone was polite but it was incredibly awkward. I think her ex-manager ended up having to say something after she showed up a second time. Not sure if this is the same situation and your coworker was given a day to clean out their desk, but this does make for a super awkward situation.

  36. Anonforthis*

    Snow: I live in an area that gets snow in the winter. The weather forecasts aren’t always accurate – back in November, they were calling for a “light dusting” that turned out to be 6 inches and traffic getting home was a nightmare, even though I left early. I’ve had instances where I’ve been stuck on the road for 6+ hours because the weather people got it wrong. So I just try to use my best judgement. Fortunately I now work in a job where I can work from home if needed, and my manager has been very flexible about allowing me to do that if the weather isn’t great. I do agree that managers in general need to be more flexible about people driving in bad weather – no job is so crucial that it’s worth risking your life – but some employees just hear the words “snow” and immediately freak out. The reality is, if you live in an area that gets snow, sometimes you will have to drive in the snow, but the employee and manager should really work together on a solution.

  37. If you're willing to burn a bridge to nowhere...*

    For LW2: It looks like your question and Alison’s response combined are about 300 words. Properly cited, it would make a great story. Probably won’t make them laugh, but they might stay up all night. I imagine that the hiring committee decided they were sick of reading the same old application materials and wanted to spice it up for themselves. Or this is the work of one person higher up who thinks it’s an awesome idea and everyone else thinks it’s not helpful but can’t override it.

  38. Never*

    #2 sounds like my calculus professor in university who gave us bonus points for writing the answers to our homework into a story. Didn’t help me to understand calculus any better.

  39. Jennifer*

    #4 I understand why the employee called in. In my city, we had an event many call Snowmageddon. There was snow in the forecast but not predicted until late in the afternoon so many of us went to work. It started snowing around noon and EVERYONE in the metro area tried to leave at the same time. It was a huge mess. People were stuck for hours. The world was laughing at us because we were shut down for 2 inches of snow.

    Now when there is snow in the forecast, many people just stay home to play it safe. We are traumatized lol. Forecasts can change throughout the day. But Alison is right, this is between her and her boss.

  40. M from NY*

    NYC is used to snow.

    This past November a storm hit that was originally forecasted to start in the late evening hit just at rush hour and everything that could go wrong did. NYC was shut down. People were stuck on highways for hours trying to reach other boroughs and on commutes to NJ or CT that usually took 30 minutes. Commuter trains and buses were also affected because roads had not yet been salted and rails were scheduled to be treated after rush hour.

    When the forecast changed, many had already driven into work for the day and had no choice but to drive home (normally word would have gone our earlier and some commuters would have stayed home or taken train and bus). The plows couldn’t get out to salt streets because they were packed with rush hour traffic. If you lived and worked in Manhattan you may have been inconvenienced but it was nothing compared to what those trying to leave the island had to endure.

    Weather forecasting is no where near as reliable as some have presented here. If someone calls in and has time let them be off. If its an actual issue ask follow up question to see if its a one time thing, recent accommodation or long term that needs to be documented. But in no case should HR insert themselves on this unless the manager said it was an actual issue.

    Also even if you’re in the city, how one preps differs whether you live in a home or an apt/condo. My non home owner friends never understand why I have to rush home even if its just 2 inches so I can shovel before the rush hour crowd starts walking from bus and train stop near by.

    1. Jennifer*

      This letter is why I don’t give a reason when I call in, or email in, in this case. I just say, “I need to take a personal day tomorrow.” If I have the time and I don’t have a bad attendance record, let it be. We don’t know what extenuating circumstances are involved, beyond the injury. She may have a kid in school an hour away that she anticipates having to pick up early. She may have a longer commute than others. Who knows?

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This is the perfect example of why people should be treated like adults and not made to feel like children. There are way too many factors when it comes to bad weather to judge how others handle it. I live in MD, and we get snow, but the type of precipitation can vary by county and where you fall along the I-95 corridor.

  41. Kevin*

    Re: LW1, once we let a temp go via the staffing agency they were hired through. She was let go because her performance was substandard, but I don’t think the staffing agency communicated that to her. The temp showed up at our office the next day and told the receptionist she loved the opportunity here and she would love to work for us again in any capacity. Then she showed up the next day and asked if we had found any other roles for her! It was nuts, some people can’t take a hint. This was right around the time (unfortunately) of a lot of mass shootings and some people were concerned she kept showing up at our building, but I think she was just desperate for a job and wasn’t told by the staffing agency she had been essentially fired.

  42. Jana*

    OP2: Unless you’re especially interested in this role or don’t mind doing the assignment, I’d suggest steering clear. First, it makes sense to question an organization that requires significant original work (aside from a cover letter) at the application stage. Second, MANY employers already have specific people in mind for positions they advertise (I once applied for a job that requested an original press release and outreach strategy with the application. The job was filled within 2 days of the closing date: they already had someone they wanted to hire.)

  43. reeb*

    LW3, I was you several years ago. The cofounder of my nonprofit organization was a highly demanding and irresponsible person: she would turn up late or not show up to our meetings (and never logged into our online workspace), lied frequently (including about having completed paperwork that needed to be turned in to get our organization started), and verbally harassed and abused the staff, including me. Despite all the red flags, we kept going with her: two months after we opened, I told the other co-founder I would quit if I had to work with her another day. Luckily, the rest of the organization had realized how toxic she was: we documented evidence of her lies and forced her out. We are now a small but thriving nonprofit. Five-plus years on, she is still unhealthily fixated on us, will attack the other cofounder by name on Facebook, and has tried to sabotage our volunteers and press opportunities. Don’t work with this person.

    Don’t do it. Do anything else. Read Noam Wasserman’s “The Founder’s Dilemmas” for more case studies on how people with great ideas can be terrible with start-ups, or “The Emotional Vampire” for how this is a common type of personality in the workplace. Avoid.

    1. LW #3*

      Thank you for the book suggestions. I submitted my resignation yesterday, and believe I am experiencing actual heartache. My two other partners said they feel blindsided and the partner I’m close to said the founder is in a much better place now. I know this is gaslighting, so I’m just going to power through and hold firm to my decision.

  44. Tupac Coachella*

    OP 4/manager of OP 4’s employee, I say let her stay home. I totaled my car earlier this winter because I had in my head that it was a workday, therefore I had to work, despite the nasty conditions. I didn’t have anything on my plate that couldn’t be postponed, as proven when I ended up taking the day off anyway to manage the situation. A week or two ago, I turned around and went home on my way to work because of similar conditions; at least 5 cars slid off the road just on my planned route that day (a stretch of highway that is well traveled and usually quite safe even in winter). And my boss understood completely, just like I’m 99.9% sure she would have the first time. Trying to come in against my better judgement because teeeecchhnically I was supposed to be at work literally almost killed me for NO REASON.

    Anecdata aside, unless this employee has a history of excuses, which is its own problem, trust her when she says she’s not safe. A lot of factors tie into someone’s ability to safely drive in winter weather. My advice is to work with her however you can, and if there are other problems as a result, address those separately.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      My dad’s ex-boss kept turning up at his old workplace – ex-boss was the temporary headteacher at a primary school that had survived a threat of closure once, and a new person had just been appointed permanently. Not long after she was appointed, the decision was taken to close the school after all, and this guy kept hoping that the new woman would cut her losses and run, leaving him to remain in post for that final term. (She chose to take up the post.)

      After she started, ex-head kept turning up on flimsy pretexts such as to return some old book he still had, and no one was quite sure how to respond to it.

      What stopped that in the end wasn’t actually any action taken by the staff. Ex-head had turned up on one of his pretexts one day, and for some reason best known to himself had parked on the school field rather than the car park. It had been raining, was very muddy, he got stuck in the mud and had to be towed away with the entire school laughing at him out of the window. He couldn’t face going back after that.

  45. Brett*

    LW #3
    Just thought it was worth pointing out other red flags:
    Founder is not paying themselves.
    Employees are being paid in equity only (I assume, based on the full-time jobs part).
    18 months without funding. This also likely means that the company has no mentors to help it.
    The company is firing more talent than it is recruiting.

    I worked for a startup with great ideas where the founders did pay themselves, employees were always paid paychecks, they had funding and were able to get follow on, they were geniuses at recruiting and retaining talent, and the startup still had to go into hibernation and lay off almost everyone. Why? Scaling up ended up being too difficult. The company LW#3 is describing is likely never going to be able to scale up, and that is where startups fail.

    That company needs a recruitment strategy, a scale-up strategy, management mentors, and both revenue and funding. A great idea is not going to be enough. Don’t stick around without those, and definitely don’t move.

    1. Cedrus Libani*

      Yep. Most startups fail. Even those with great ideas, great talent, and great leadership. If the leadership is bad, the odds take a nosedive from there.

      Equity is basically Monopoly money. Don’t factor that in. Look at your current paycheck (non-existent?), plus the experience you’ll be getting (with an eye towards your future paychecks). And frankly, I would require significant “hazard pay” in this case, because I’ve worked for unstable jerks and it was profoundly unpleasant. Still worth it?

    2. LW #3*

      I agree these are all red flags. I originally came on to help with the launch of the product, as a contractor. They paid me well for about 8 weeks of work and I absolutely loved it. This is when I decided to stay on as a partner for an equity stake. Around that time, we were talking to investors and it seemed like an awesome opportunity, but we started hitting some major roadblocks, two part-time employees were let go, funders offered very little money for huge stakes (think $200K for 60% equity) and the founder started to seriously spiral. I thought the funding would solve a lot of our issues, but his remarks started to get personal. He would make comments about me being at the park with my daughter on the weekend and not working while he was “working nonstop, night and day.” Or he would ask if me being at this startup was a burden on my family. He would try to position it from a place of “genuine” concern.

      I spoke with him yesterday and officially resigned. He said he felt blindsided and I feel pretty horrible, but I know for me long term, this is for the best decision.

  46. Koala dreams*

    You know already what you need to do about the part-time job, but consider pushing back against the expectations to work all the time at your day job. Overtime every day and work every weekend is a lot! Take care of yourself, and make sure you get the rest you need to keep going. Working that much isn’t sustainable in the long run.

  47. dumblewald*

    I’m surprised OP 3 is even considering quitting their job AND uprooting their family and moving for this startup! There are red flags all over the place. Don’t quit your day job for this, OP!

  48. em*

    Should LW5 include that job in the employment history section of applications, or would it be left off there as well?

  49. Rhoda*

    I once worked in a company in which a laid-off employee came in several times a week and sat in our supervisor’s office chatting. He was a nice man who didn’t quite know how to tell her to stay away. I think she was hoping that showing her face would get her back in, and it actually did for a very short period of time during a busy period.

    I think he’d have told a laid-off male employee to get lost, but and older woman no doubt reminded him of his mom and he felt uncomfortable being firm with her.

  50. JessicaTate*

    LW#3 — I will add to the advice of others, this tidbit that came from a friend who had just emerged from the long process of disentangling a co-founder business relationship: “You should be as choosy about committing to a business partner as you are for a spouse… Actually, you might want to be MORE choosy about the business partner.” I watched two friends go through hell (and a lot of time and expense) to get out of business relationships where they and the original founder rushed in and then they found the other founder was kind of a mess as a leader. You can see that you’re not a good fit with this guy. So, before you get further invested in this company, make a plan for extracting yourself with minimal pain and financial hit.

    Then take all of this great experience, and position yourself for your next opportunity / start-up that’s not being led by a mess.

    1. LW #3*

      Excellent advice. I decided to resign yesterday and have been so sad today because I personally really like the two people I worked with. This is an eye opening take. Thank you very much.

  51. suebe has a cat named ZuZu*

    LW#1 – I’ve been part of corporate wide layoffs before. Sometimes situations are different for other people.

    Once I was in a management position with two staff members. One of my staff and I were called down to HR at the end of the day on Monday to learn our fate. We were told to take the next day to transition work and clear out our desks. I needed two days (Tuesday & Wednesday) so I was able to transition projects to peers in the same department and clear my office. My manager was located in another nearby state, and was planning on coming in Thursday morning to do a final transition with me. An executive VP in another division, who had hired me, asked me out to lunch on Thursday and I was very clear with my boss that I was free during the morning, but leaving after lunch with the EVP. He took a later bus into the city and showed up just as I was leaving for lunch. I talked to him for about 10 minutes when I got back and left.

    That was one of the best lunches I ever had.

  52. Gatomon*

    Re: snow.

    Does the employee frequently call in due to forecasted snow or weather conditions that other employees don’t? Is anyone else expressing concern about the forecast? Is this an unusual event in some way, or routine? I think it’s better to look at it from that angle. If they’re an outlier then there may be something worth looking in to (and it could be explained by the back injury too, I can’t guess how serious the injury might be.) If they’re generally tracking on the “cautious but still in line with everyone else” end of things, then I wouldn’t be worried.

  53. Richard*

    #2 I do like it when job postings ask for something in particular for a cover letter. I once worked for a company (teaching English) where they asked to work in a story about learning a new word in the cover letter. It made the cover letter writing (and likely reading) process more interesting and less monotonous. I think this ask is obnoxious, but I’m all for companies asking for something unique and specific (and job-related) in the application.

  54. dumblewald*

    Re snow day: So this might have to do with the fact that my company has built-in teleworking capabilities, but my company allows employees to interpret their comfort on snow days/potential snow days, and make decisions to work from home accordingly. In general, people are reliable and try to come in when they can, but might stay home if they have a long commute, an old car, or kids who got a snow day. They were even understanding one day when I stayed home because I was overly paranoid that public transport wouldn’t work. I grew up in the tropics and don’t correctly assess risks related to snow!

  55. AhAhAhAhStayingAlive*


    Short story to make you stay up all night:

    I’m a serial killer and I know where you work.

    Add more details if you wish.

    Hey…they asked for it.

  56. Dinopigeon*

    I’m the odd one out, because I once applied to a company that asked me to write an essay on why I felt space travel is essential to humanity’s future (which was relevant to the job), and I loved it. Belief in their mission was a huge part of why I applied, and I was excited to be able to express that before hitting the interview stage.

    If asked to write a short story, I’d at least be intrigued enough to want to continue, though I agree this is not a productive screening tool. (Admittedly, I enjoy writing and it’s not a source of income for me, so spending my time on it without compensation is just business-as-usual. I’ve never worked for a company that even faked an interest in my hobbies and it sounds kind of nice…)

  57. EvilQueenRegina*

    My dad’s ex-boss kept turning up at his old workplace – ex-boss was the temporary headteacher at a primary school that had survived a threat of closure once, and a new person had just been appointed permanently. Not long after she was appointed, the decision was taken to close the school after all, and this guy kept hoping that the new woman would cut her losses and run, leaving him to remain in post for that final term. (She chose to take up the post.)

    After she started, ex-head kept turning up on flimsy pretexts such as to return some old book he still had, and no one was quite sure how to respond to it.

    What stopped that in the end wasn’t actually any action taken by the staff. Ex-head had turned up on one of his pretexts one day, and for some reason best known to himself had parked on the school field rather than the car park. It had been raining, was very muddy, he got stuck in the mud and had to be towed away with the entire school laughing at him out of the window. He couldn’t face going back after that.

  58. Cary*

    LW 2 How about a story where faced by a bizarre request from an employer an applicant seeks advice from a well known columnist with a work related blog? The columnist and the commenting community confirm this is a waste of time, and the company don’t know how to hire. The end.

  59. Orange You Glad*

    Re: Weather predictions – if someone called out like this, I would respond that they needed to use their PTO time if they were calling out for the entire day. We allow for working from home due to weather issues and only close the office for extreme weather (rarely happens). Even for working from home, we try to take into account how affected the employee actually is (do they live on a hill?, are they walking in?, is their train line down? etc.) and have reprimanded employees that have abused the flexibility in the past. Generally anyone abusing our weather policy already has other performance issues so we generally look twice at their call outs anyway. We had one person who called out every time there was a major event in the city where our office is located “since it might be crazy downtown” who had to be explicitly told that was not acceptable and no work from home time would be approved for that situation.

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