parking space shuffle, coworker is stealing money from my purse, and more

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

1. Should I only apply to jobs in my field when job hunting right out of college?

My friends and I have made it to the most exciting time of year: college graduation! While some of us have work lined up already, others are bracing themselves for a lengthy job-search. The question we all have is about the types of jobs for which we should apply. I realize that it’s not unusual to spend a few months job searching, but how exclusive should we be when it comes to fresh-out-of-college jobs? Should we exclusively be looking for work in our intended field, or is it better to cast a wider net and possibly spend a year or two working outside of what we hope will be our career path?

Just for background, we live in a very large, tech-savvy city. Many large tech corporations are headquartered within the city, so there is no shortage of jobs for those who earned specific STEM degrees. Some of us (myself included) are in fields which are harder to break into or are in lower demand or only hire at certain times of the year, so we are not sure when we can find jobs in our field.

Ideally, you want to find jobs in your field now, if you can. If your degree points you toward a specific path, it’s going to be harder to get back on that path after you have a few years of unrelated experience between graduation and a future job search. However, if your degrees aren’t closely tied to the work you want to be doing (really common with, for example, English or other liberal arts degrees), it’s less of an issue — and it’s really common to take a pretty meandering path to wherever you ultimately end up (and to discover whole new interests / jobs you want along the way).

Of course, you don’t have total control over any of this — at some point, you just need a job. So I’d say really focus on the jobs you especially want in your first few months of job hunting (assuming you’re qualified for them — don’t waste time if you’re not), but be willing to broaden your search as time goes on.

2. Parking space shuffles are taking up too much work time

Our office is located in a downtown area with notoriously expensive rates for parking in underground lots. We’re also located near residential areas with some areas that allow free parking for two hours at a time. Several employees who drive to work have opted not to pay for parking, but to park in a free spot on the street and then leave every two hours to go move their car. Given the density in the neighborhood and the premium for these free parking areas, employees are typically gone from work for a while — likely much longer than they realize — and have to do this at least three times a day. While we don’t have a formal time clock for employees, they’re doing this as part of their work time rather than their break time, thinking, “Oh, it’s just a few minutes.” But a) it’s not just a few minutes, b) it is not fair to employees who have no reason to leave repeatedly during the day, c) it is unsafe, as we don’t necessarily know when an employee has left (what if they get in to an accident?), and d) it is theft of time if they are not using break times for this.

Management has come under fire lately for being draconian about theft of time, but supervisors are now raising this as an issue due to the disruption of work. Any suggestions for how to manage and communicate with employees about this without taking on the persona of Time Cop?

I’d leave the “time theft” language out of it. That’s very adversarial wording and is likely to result in arguments about the fact that people spend 10 minutes on work at home that they don’t log, and so forth. You don’t need to go so rigid with this.

Your employer just needs to say, “If you choose to park in free spaces on the street and thus need to move your car during the day, you need to do that during your breaks.” They could also say, “We’re finding people are often gone for 30 minutes (or whatever) to move their cars, which is more than we can accommodate unless it’s during scheduled breaks.” And then if it continues, managers need to follow up with people individually, telling offenders directly that they can’t be away from work that frequently or that often — the same way they’d presumably handle it if someone was disappearing that often and that long to go do crossword puzzles outside or practice yoga in the lobby.

3. My coworker talks about killing herself

I am friends with a coworker who I initially bonded with over our anxiety issues. Obviously this isn’t the most normal basis for a friendship in a workplace, but we really do get along well. This coworker is known for being negative in general, which is also fine. She also has far more severe medical conditions than anxiety (depression, and also think severe nerve damage doctors can’t find a solution for). Her condition has seemed to get worse lately, and almost every day for the past week she’s talked about how she wants to jump off a building because of it, it would be cheaper than what’s she’s paying for healthcare now, etc.

It’s gotten to the point where it no longer seems she is joking, and I’m not sure what to do. I am good friends with our HR rep, but I’m not sure how she would react if I shared that — for all I know, she might think she’s still coming across as joking. The other thing is that her twin brother works here, and I am considering asking him if he’s noticed it as well.

I am not sure where “my lane” is in all of this, since we’re friends and I’m concerned but it’s a workplace, and it involves health discussions at work. I guess my question is, do I tell anyone? If so, who? Please help!

Yes, please talk to her! You’re right that normally you want to give colleagues privacy about health issues, but when someone is talking about killing themselves, that takes precedence. A potentially awkward conversation is so much better than doing nothing if it turns out she means it.

Talk with her brother too. Even if she thinks you overstepped, that’s better than the alternative here.

Also, for far better guidance on this, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They can listen to what’s going on and help you navigate this.

4. I’m being told to find my own coverage for vacation

I’ve worked at my company for five years. During this time, I’ve never had trouble taking time off. My boss encourages me to use my time and has covered for me with no issues, which is the usual process at my company.

I recently got a new boss and she approved my PTO in the internal system, but when I sent a calendar invitation for my time off, she told me to “make sure I have coverage.” We have another junior team member in who my default can cover (we coordinate our time off) but this wasn’t enough for my boss because this coworker is in another time zone and there would be no “coverage” when he left for the day (amounting to three hours). Then one of the summer weeks I booked off that was approved back in January seems to be a popular week for all of my coworkers, and she asked me to “coordinate” as well. What am I supposed to do, ask them to not take their time off?

I’ve never had to arrange coverage before, and to be clear I’m not doing anything in my role that’s unique and my bosses wouldn’t be able to do. It feels out of line for to me to ask my peers to cover for me when they’re not involved in my projects and have their own. Am I off-base for thinking this should be handled with the help of management? There’s also no way for me to check vacation schedules of people who aren’t on my immediate team so I don’t understand why I’m being held responsible for everyone taking off at once when I booked my vacation plans at the beginning of the year when my time off was approved. Am I supposed to check in constantly with my coworkers who I don’t work with daily to make sure we’re not conflicting? It just seems pushy and rude for me to do that. How should I communicate this with my manager? I’ve held off on it because I don’t want my annoyance to be apparent.

Yeah, that’s aggravating. There are some teams where the norm is to find your own coverage, but in most cases it’s a crappy practice for all the reasons you mentioned. It also puts you in a position where you potentially might not be able to take the vacation time that’s part of your compensation if you’re not able to cajole your coworkers into coordinating with you. It’s fine for a manager to ask you to kick off the process of finding coverage, but it’s not okay to put the entire responsibility on you; if you find you’re not able to easily do that, then your manager needs to step in and help.

I’d say this to your boss: “We aren’t normally asked to find our own coverage; traditionally, we’ve just had the person in your role approve the days off, and they help figure out any coverage that’s necessary. We also don’t have any way to check the vacation schedules of people outside the immediate team. Typically something like three hours without coverage hasn’t been something we scheduled to avoid. Is there something specific you want me to do though?”

If your boss says she wants you to work this out with your peers, you can say, “Is that something you can help with? I don’t have the standing to tell people they need to work on certain days, and because we’ve never done that, I’m concerned it wouldn’t go over well with people.” (Alternately, you can try asking her specifically what it is that she’s proposing you do; who knows, it might actually be less onerous than it sounds so far.)

5. A coworker is stealing from my purse

Can I get a coworker fired for stealing cash from my purse?

I have a coworker who has stolen cash from numerous coworkers. We know it’s him but can’t prove it because we can’t have cameras in our break room. I bought invisible ink to put on my money to catch him. I was just wondering if that is proof enough to get him fired. The ink will stay on his hands for days. I don’t lock my pocketbook up because he has broken locks in the past so not really worth buying a lock. I have been with this company for seven years and never had to lock my personal belongings up. I just want him to get fired or stop stealing. My manager says if we have proof then she will do something, but she can’t unless we have proof.

Your manager sounds like she’s being awfully lackadaisical about this. If money has repeatedly gone missing, that’s something your employer should take seriously and tackle with more vigor than they appear to be doing. And if they truly can’t find the culprit, they should consider other options, like providing locking cabinets for people to store their belongings in.

In any case … I think there’s a good chance that the invisible ink won’t be sufficient proof to your manager, who sounds like she wants to catch him in the act and yet seems to be making no attempt to do so. You could ask her that ahead of time or just give it a shot and see, but you might be better off lobbying (with your coworkers) for the ability to lock up your things.

{ 628 comments… read them below }

  1. HQB*

    OP5, you don’t need your manager’s permission to contact the police. You, and everyone else who has been the victim of thefts, can absolutely report this to the cops.

    1. Gir*

      If there’s no proof though, I’m not sure how far the police report would go. It would just be their word against his.

      1. MK*

        It’s the job of the police to find proof; you call them to investigate, not arrest the person you point out to them. The OP doesn’t have to, and maybe shouldn’t, name anyone as the thief since she apparently has no strong evidence, just report the crime and the circumstances that make her suspect the co-worker.

        1. valentine*

          Naming the suspect is part of the purpose of reporting. Studiously not naming him would be weird. Someone will name him and likely say OP4 agrees.

          I guess the manager’s stuff is safe and she’s not worried anyone will leave over this.

          1. Mary Connell*

            Why in the world would you think you have to know the identity of the criminal to report a crime?

            1. Airy*

              I don’t think they’re saying that you have to know but that if you suspect someone in particular you’re expected to name them; it’s just reasonable. It doesn’t mean the police automatically charge that person but it’s a starting point for their investigation. Not mentioning it when you do have a definite suspicion seems weird. If you don’t have anyone in particular then of course you can tell the police that too

            2. MicroManagered*

              Well because the police are definitely going to ask if you have any idea who might have done it. Deliberately not naming the person you suspect would be pretty uncooperative.

              1. KP*

                Right. Police do tend to ask for descriptions of possible suspects pretty much even as they ask for details about the alleged crime.

            3. Artemesia*

              Why in the world would you think a police department would invest resources in finding a petty thief in a business? They don’t even arrest and then prosecute identity thieves who steal thousands when presented with the evidence. No department is doing to ‘investigate’ this sort of crime.

              1. JM60*

                It’s harder to catch identity thieves because they’re usually good at staying anonymous. The police still may not pursue it depending on their resources and workload (they need to triage), but would be easier to catch someone like the coworker who had a known identity.

                1. AnnaBananna*

                  And they’re likely in a different country. Seriously, the international identity epidemic is impossible to prosecute without a ton of powerful people getting involved.

                  That said, identity theft and petty crime are worlds away from each other.

              2. une autre Cassandra*

                It may be worthwhile to have record of a police report if an insurance or other claim needs to be made. If the thief takes a smartphone or something, having the police report number might be useful in getting the item replaced.

                1. AnnaBananna*

                  My thought was also that actual police may put the fear of god into the conniving little thief too. So far I’m not seeing a negative for calling the police. But honestly, OP’s boss suuuuucks.

          2. Wren*

            When my house was broken into, the police asked if I had any suspicion, even a gut feeling about who might have done it, so indeed, even without proof, they want to hear it. I would expect they’d be professional and give it the appropriate weight in their investigation.

        2. Samwise*

          Call the police, tell them your suspicions. Encourage your co-workers who are victims to do the same.

          Every time.

          And if you can, take your purse with you.

        3. Jennifer*

          If this is a large city, the cops aren’t going to spend a lot of time trying to catch the guy that took $5 from someone’s purse. There will be a record that this was reported which could be a good thing in the long run, but not much will happen.

          Building security or HR might be better options.

          1. Not Me*

            No, but they’ll quickly get pretty annoyed being called to the same location every other day for petty theft and an annoyed police officer might make the thief think twice.

            1. Jennifer*

              They’ll just stop coming. They did it to a few stores around here that were calling multiple times a day about kids still chewing gum and other low-cost things.

            2. Wintermute*

              I wouldn’t call 911 I’d just go down to the PD and ask the desk sergant if I can file a police report. That’s the normal way to deal with non-emergency crimes, they’re not going to send someone around you’re right, but they will let you fill out some paperwork and file a report.

              This accomplishes three things. If a larger theft is suffered then you may need to go to insurance and you’ll need a police record, a long track record of them will assist. Second it establishes a pattern if you need to go over your boss’ head, I imagine some eye-popping will happen if you have to go to a higher-up and show up with a stack of police reports for thefts. Third, it protects you in case people start pointing fingers wildly, “I reported this to the cops, they’re investigating, why would I instigate an investigation if I was stealing things?”.

          2. Secretary*

            The person who’s stealing though will see the police come in, which might be enough to get them to stop.

      2. Brooklyn Nine-Niner*

        The invisible ink may constitute enough proof for law enforcement to make an arrest and for the DA to file charges.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Doubtful. He’ll have plausible deniability about where the ink came from so I don’t think it’ll be enough proof to be legally actionable. (Not a lawyer though.)

          It kind of sounds like they’ve *almost* witnessed him stealing though. Like him walking out of the break room and another employee walks in and finds the lock busted off their locker, or he was alone with someone’s coat for a few minutes while they microwaved a burrito in the kitchen and when they come back all the cash is gone from their coat pockets.

          Personally, I’d love if someone could get one of those exploding dye-bags they throw in with the money to identify bank robbers and stolen bills, except put it in an unattended purse in the break room. That shit doesn’t wash off and it stains everything.

          1. valentine*

            exploding dye-bags
            OP5 needs to avoid assault, vandalism, and destruction of property.

            1. EPLawyer*

              If she puts it in her own purse, that’s not really vandalism and destruction of property. He could claim assault but then he would have to explain why he was in her purse in the first place.

              However, the simpler solution is lock your stuff up. You know someone is doing this. Just because you never had to do it before is not a reason to do it now. If you find your lock busted, then call the police. You have strong proof someone is breaking into things without permission.

              1. KP*

                And it’s evidence in itself, never mind if the person’s fingerprints are on the lock.

                Honestly, if someone is busting locks, call the police. It’s crazy that management finds this acceptable.

                1. Beth Jacobs*

                  To identify someone’s fingerprints, you need to take exemplar prints from them to compare. Unless OP works in a place where everyone has a criminal record (or their fingerprints are in the system for some other unlikely reason), that means the police would first have to take fingerprints from all of the workers. I can’t imagine the police doing so for petty theft: it’s expensive and I imagine they wouldn’t have a strong enough case if someone didn’t want to cooperate (I wouldn’t want my fingerprints in a national database – I’m outside the US, but here I would have to be formally charged for them to be taken against my will).

                2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  If OP has invisible ink, OP should stamp all her bills (with a very distinct stamp) or write their name on the bills that only show up under a black light, then cops/manager can ask to examine the bills from the coworker and run it under a black light. When the bill says “property of OP” or has a stamp that OP described in detail or can show them it is in their possession it will be pretty good proof.

                3. Lollipop*

                  Does America not have their citizens fingerprints on some kind of database? Where I live, everyone who has a passport or driving licence has their fingerprints taken and they are in police datafiles. So that even if you passport or driving licence expires or gets lost you can prove you are who you say you are.
                  Or do you use birth certificates for that? I am kinda confused.

                4. Hats Are Great*

                  “Does America not have their citizens fingerprints on some kind of database?”

                  Definitely not, it would create major Fifth Amendment (you can’t be made to self-incriminate) problems.

                  We have absolutely zero national identification programs (aside from your SSN, which isn’t supposed to be used as ID). It’s a patchwork of state systems and, as long as you don’t want to drive, you can basically opt out. Some fundamentalist religious groups do so, refusing to file birth certificates and never getting IDs or licenses, specifically to keep their members “hidden” from the state.

                  It’s why voter ID requirements are so popular for driving down poor and minority voting — lots of poor people don’t have ID.

                5. Hats Are Great*

                  (Oh, and lots of older Black Americans, especially in the South, don’t have birth certificates, because they were born in segregation hospitals — white hospitals had access to a state clerk who issued the birth certificates normally; black hospitals were denied access and parents had to jump through a billion hoops after the fact to get a birth certificate issued — or else they were born at home and, again, many hoops had to be jumped. So when politicians in the South say “it’s not racially discriminatory, all you need to do is provide a birth certificate and you can vote!” that is an absolute lie and THEY KNOW THAT and they KNOW they’re disenfranchising older Black Americans who grew up under Jim Crow. It’s on purpose.)

              2. Glomarization, Esq.*

                He wouldn’t have to explain anything. He’d be the victim of an assault, whether he was allowed to be in the purse or not. Booby traps are not legal. And last I heard, the actual judicial punishment for stealing cash out of someone’s purse was not physical.

                1. Glomarization, Esq.*

                  -shrug- I don’t make tort law, I just work in it. This kind of commenter fanfic is all fun and games until somebody is injured by an exploding dye pack and sues the person who set the booby trap.

                2. Jennifer*

                  Can a bank robber sue the bank if a dye bag explodes on the money they’ve stolen??? That just doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. More than a stretch.

                  Reminds me of the urban legend about the burglar who sued the homeowner when he fell and injured himself while he was inside their home illegally. Stay out of people’s homes and purses and you’ll avoid this.

                3. boo bot*

                  I think this is like that thing where you can’t poison your own sandwich in order to poison the person you think is stealing your sandwich.

                  Remember the poor guy who almost got fired when the lunch thief ate his extra-spicy food? (Which was extra-spicy because he liked it that way, not maliciously spicy at all!)

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @Jennifer, not an urban legend. But the unclean hands doctrine and the tort doctrine of assault don’t always square.

                5. Glomarization, Esq.*

                  To clarify, “clean hands doctrine” is really part of contract law and patent litigation, not tort law. You may be thinking more of “eggshell skull.”

                6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @Jennifer, ah, thanks for clarifying! I apologize if my comment read as patronizing or condescending. (I realize the tone may have been off.)

                7. JM60*

                  Would the law really see this as an illegal trap of it causes no bodily injury? IANAL, but I would think that the law would only consider something to be an illegal trap if it caused (or would’vellikely caused) an injury. If I was a juror, I would see a ‘trap’ of an ink bomb that goes off on a theif (which many banks use) as very different than poisoning a sandwich in hopes that someone will steal and eat it.

                8. LunaLena*

                  What if it wasn’t exploding ink, or anything physical in nature? Maybe just a really loud alarm that gets people to come running and see? I’m thinking in particular of the part in Beverly Cleary’s book Dear Mr. Henshaw, where the main character’s lunch is constantly getting stolen, so he rigs up an alarm system in his lunch box to catch the thief in action.

                9. Luke*

                  Y’all remember the letter writer from a couple years ago whose lunch-stealing coworker stole her really spicy (but normal for her) food , got sick and actually got her (briefly) fired for “poisoning” him?

            2. Yorick*

              This would not be assault. I guess it could be some sort of vandalism if the dye gets on the employer’s property. You’re probably not going to press charges against yourself for messing up your own purse.

              1. Glomarization, Esq.*

                It sure would be assault. Setting a booby trap is not, in fact, a legal way to protect one’s property.

                1. Yorick*

                  I work in the criminal justice system. Purposely getting a bunch of dye on someone would not meet the definition of even misdemeanor assault in my state.

                2. EPLawyer*

                  You can’t set a man-trap — as in something that is lethal. A dye pack exploding probably wouldn’t meet that. And okay say he does sue and it goes to trial. Jury is going to say “oh yeah you were stealing from the purse and got covered in dye, what are your damages again? “

                3. Tequila Mockingbird*

                  I question whether you’re actually an attorney – because your understanding of assault isn’t even remotely accurate.

                4. IndoorCat*

                  It’s literally legal to shoot someone who trespasses onto your property in my state; don’t see how ink is assault here.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I think it’s important to distinguish between the tort of assault and the crime of assault (although I think we’re really talking about battery, here). Glomarization is arguing that, in many states, setting a trap like this would constitute battery in the tortious sense. At least from a technical legal standpoint, that’s true.

                1. Yorick*

                  Sure, I didn’t consider torts in the original comment about assault, destruction of property, etc.

              1. AnnaBananna*

                I looooved that video when it came out and had to share it around the office. It’s so funny. Though I suggest omitting the stink bomb part. Nobody wants to continue their work day in THAT.

            3. Seespotbitejane*

              To all the lawyers in this thread, I’m curious about what legal responsibility the employer might have if one of their employees pulled this dye bag prank on another and someone got hurt.

              I could see it playing out where the whole incident might be enough for management to fire the thief without the police ever being involved, but I could also see the company come down on OP for causing a liability (and getting ink everywhere), as well as questioning their judgement for resorting to in-office vigilante justice.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger*

            It would have been a much better idea to photograph the serial numbers on some or all of the bills. That would be a lot more probative, I believe. (IANAL, but finding one of those is definite proof that the coworker has something that the OP used to have.)

            1. Annony for this*

              I purchased a couple inexpensive USB charging devices with a video recorders in them. I am not terribly techy. I inserted the micro USB card, plugged them into the outlets and was good to go. The videos were pretty good. I saw what I needed to see to take action and let someone go (personally not professionally).

            2. Annony for this*

              Ixnay on all my camera talk. I, clearly, didn’t realize the OP has to store their personal items there, where cameras are not allowed.

      3. Anathema Device*

        Maybe leave it to the police to work that out, given they’re handily employed to investigate crime?

        1. Ego Chamber*

          For a string of small cash thefts, I don’t expect them to do much investigating. File a report? Sure. Question people who work there? … maybe. Set up the sting operation or good cop/bad cop routine the manager should have done after the first complaint? Highly doubtful.

          (I live in the states in a rural suburb—small population and fairly low crime rate—and the police here won’t do anything about small thefts other than file a report, even if the small theft is a high-end bicycle and you know who took the bike and where they are because you put a GPS tracker in the thing. Hopefully someone will tell me this isn’t normal.)

          1. Flash Bristow*

            I live in a densely populated area of East London (UK); same issue. The police expect us to report thefts, get a reference number so as to pass it on to the insurance company, and then… they file it. Even when I had a bag stolen from my car, and there were clear fingerprints in the dust on the parcel shelf, and we parked under cctv, and we could narrow it down to within half an hour of when it had to happen…

            ..they aren’t coming out for that. Bigger fish to fry.

            The exceptions are: 1. When there’s been a spate of something in particular and it’ll give them currency to spend a week publicly and obviously tackling it – coming out to every X type crime… and 2) if you say the magic words “hate crime”. I had a load of abusive phonecalls, police not interested UNTIL the caller said “and ha ha ha you’re a cripple!” at which point it’s a Disability Hate Crime and a priority! I already *knew* who was doing it and had evidence… finally the police listened, went to his house and gave him a stiff talking to, problem solved. Coulda been solved so much earlier – but their resources are so stretched.

            Oh, 3) come together as a group of residents and speak to local councillor who will badger police for you – that can work too, round here.

            I digress – I’m just trying to share your frustration. Seems police are challenged everywhere, rural, urban… hardly a surprise nowadays, sadly.

            *BUT! OP please report these thefts anyway, preferably in a group. Worth a try! Can’t hurt, right? Good luck!*

            1. Media Monkey*

              oh yes! had my handbag stolen in a busy central london pub. knew within a tiny window when it was and the police never even contacted the bar for their cctv (they did have it)

              1. valentine*

                And maybe someone will want an easy win or it’s a small town. I think the escalation of breaking locks, the suspect, and the inactive manager are in OP5’s favor because this would obviously get worse before it gets better.

            2. Wren*

              Reminds me of how my partner was hit by a car on his bike and the driver did a hit and run, and he learned that unless the accident is fatal (or maybe causes serious disabling injuries,) a partial plate is not really enough for them to put in the work to track down the driver.

              But I still think there could be value in the victimised co-workers filing reports even if it doesn’t spur an investigation leading to arrest. It could push management to view the problem more seriously.

          2. MK*

            They probably won’t launch a full-on investigation, but even one police officer coming to ask questions of the staff might scare the culprit into stopping.

            1. KP*

              Or management to get more proactive. It’s not just theft. Someone is busting locks/destroying property to commit theft. It’s … another level.

            2. kittymommy*

              Yeah, especially if the other workers call as well. If there are multiple reports of the same crime at the same location it’s more likely an officer will come out to take statements (even if that’s all there is), and hopefully the mere presence of a LEO might get management to take it more seriously than they are presently.

          3. Yorick*

            I live in a major city in the US and when my friend’s bike was stolen the police got it back for him

          4. CupcakeCounter*

            Them just showing up and asking around might be enough to freak the culprit out and stop the thefts.

      4. Llellayena*

        The invisible ink might help with the police but you can also take photos (at home, time stamped) of the serial numbers of the bills you carry. Next time they’re stolen, you have proof they were in your possession and you call the police. It’s a lot of work but it might make something happen. (I watch too much CSI)

        1. valentine*

          I was thinking spray, but does the ink require viewing everyone’s hands under a black light? This is giving me déjà vu. This is giving me déjà vu.

          The serial numbers don’t prove theft.

          1. Angwyshaunce*

            Perhaps a super loud purse “alarm”? That may draw enough witnesses to justify action by the management.

            1. Essess*

              That was my thought too. If the thief is taking an entire wallet, there are ’tile’ trackers that you can slip into the wallet. If they are just opening the purses, a little device that sets off an alarm when the purse is opened would catch the thief in the act. Something like this would work if you hook the purse to something nearby so it would set off if the purse is pulled out of your drawer or wherever you are putting it.

            2. Secretary*

              This happened in the children’s book, “Dear Mr. Henshaw” by Beverley Cleary. The main character’s lunch was being stolen so he rigged an alarm on his lunch box to catch the thief. The thief ended up not touching his lunch that day, but when the main character set off the alarm in order to eat his lunch it started a trend and all the kids started putting alarms on their lunches.

          2. Llellayena*

            Not directly, but it proves they were in the OP’s purse and are now in this guy’s wallet and since she will say she didn’t give them to him, how else would he get them? It’s enough cause to investigate and everyone else’s story should back her up, enough to get the guy fired even if not arrested/convicted.

            1. valentine*

              Without cameras, there’s no proof the bills were in the purse in the room from x time until y time, or that only the thief removed them, or that they did so by stealing. The situation is ripe for framing.

              If OP does this, however, they should use recent ATM bills.

        2. WellRed*

          But then what? The manager who doesn’t care makes the suspected culprit hand over his cash so the serial numbers can be verified? What if he declines? Yeah, no.

      5. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

        When you make a report, the officer asks for possible suspects as well as other potential victims and witnesses.
        OP if you do call officers you can also ask advice about using the powder.

      6. Seymour Butts*

        Maybe just the fact that the police got involved would scare him enough to mend his ways.

    2. pcake*

      That’s exactly what I came here to say. If management can’t deal with this in a realistic way – and they obviously can’t – I’d contact the police. After all, even well-meaning management doesn’t have the experience to investigate, but police do.

      1. nonymous*

        Even if a PO won’t investigate the specific theft, the police dept. might have someone in their outreach office that can evaluate the work site and provide safety education. While a lot of this might seem like common sense – lock stuff up, if you have to leave it in your car put things in the trunk, lighting/landscape options for greater visibility – just the fact that a city official is taking time to go through this process might make it A Real Problem for management to take seriously.

        My personal experience is that a lot of people get stuck in how things used to be (my neighborhood used to be the kind of place you could leave cars running to warm up in the morning) and the resource officers are really good at providing a reality check that life doesn’t work like that anymore.

    3. Media Monkey*

      agreed. and you could ask them if your invisible ink would constitute proof in their eyes. your manager is being really weird.

    4. Ego Chamber*

      Alternately, maybe just mention to the manager that employees are considering calling the police if it’s not sorted out internally. Make sure to mention that locks have been used and the locks were broken. Suggesting employees waste more of their own money on broken locks isn’t a valid solution for management to come up with (the best worst suggestion along those lines is the company providing the locks, because when they have to replace enough of them, they might start caring).

      Quick reality check: Can one of the lawyers here tell me if whistle blower protections would cover employees from being penalized for reporting this, or do those only go into effect if the company is involved in the crimes being reported? I know people can still be retaliated against illegally, but it’s helpful to know whether the retaliation is illegal or just profoundly unethical in a situation like this.

      1. Observer*

        I’m pretty sure that whistle blower protections are not in place. Which is why I would NOT tell the boos first.

      2. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

        This would not get you whistleblower protection because you are not accusing the “business” of committing the crime, just a specific individual, but it would count as “firing you for exercising a legal right” – the right to report a crime against you.

    5. Karen from Finance*

      Well, often the question is not “can I”, but whether, “would it get me in trouble with my boss, potentially jeopardizing my income” and the answer is “maybe”. I’d try and see if the invisible ink proof works with the manager first.

    6. Black Bellamy*

      Most employers take a dim view of employees who call the police to the premises for a non-life and death matter. I’m not saying that’s right, I’m just saying that’s how some business owners are likely to react. I would escalate this further up the chain before calling the cops on a small-time crook like this.

    7. Polymer Phil*

      If you’re in a quiet suburb where the police don’t have bigger fish to fry, you might be pleasantly surprised. There was a situation at my company several years ago where an employee got her hands on a customer’s credit card number, and took the liberty of ordering herself a bunch of stuff. The victim called the cops, and they came to our workplace and handcuffed her in front of everybody.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        That I think is getting more into the realm of identity theft (I’m not sure) and with credit cards it is easier for people to run up bills that change it from petty theft to a felony. A lot of places have the line set around $500 I believe. I have heard (but don’t know for sure) that a lot of retail stores will wait to bust shop lifters until they hit the threshold for felony so that they get more serious consequences.

      2. Dankar*

        Credit card theft is different, as the banks and their insurance companies are involved. Once a business has stake in a crime, law enforcement are more compelled to investigate, as they can levy more pressure than an individual.

        The Commander’s point above about shoplifting is a good one, and felony minimums truly are that low in some states. If the total amount stolen rises above the felony threshold, there’s also more incentive for police to investigate/respond. DAs/CAs prefer to prosecute crimes with higher sentencing guidelines, as they can sometimes yield higher annual funding for departments and contribute to better records when running for re-election. (All this is dependent on your location, of course.)

        All this is to say that I’m uncomfortable with the suggestion that the police be involved if this can be solved by the organization. Foisting loss prevention onto local law enforcement contributes to an exploitative system that encourages overcharging for minor crimes and larger inequity in our justice system.

        Though if your organization refuses to take action to protect its employees (?!!), then that might be your only option.

    8. No fan of Chaos*

      When I gift money to my young children, I draw a symbol (sun, star, moon) on each bill to prevent the light fingered child winding up with all of the money. I use permanent marker and this is not illegal under the Fed rules. Try it.

    9. goducks*

      I don’t imagine the police will do much beyond taking a report, but if the LW can get them to do it in person (rather than online or over the phone or at the station like some places do), it might help. I can’t imagine too many employers will continue to ignore employee theft after the cops show up about it. Especially if it’s more than once.

    10. Hats Are Great*

      Agree — also, if the cops come in once, top management/owners are going to take notice. If the cops come in five times because of repeated reports of thefts from employees that are also showing up in the local press on police blotters, Questions Will Be Asked of the manager who can’t be arsed to deal with this.

  2. Gaia*

    OP 3 (and anyone else reading this): anytime someone talks of taking their own life, please assume they are serious. Even if you think they are joking. Even if they say they are joking. The consequences of acting as if they mean it if they didn’t are so much less than the consequences of thinking it was a joke when it wasn’t.

    This is very much your lane. And please also take care of yourself. Even hearing something like this can be very difficult. Self care is critical.

    1. JKP*

      I have a close family member who was saved because her coworkers got her help. Definitely tell someone.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        I am so pleased to hear that.

        You feel like you’re jeopardising their job, overstepping, whatever…

        …better to DO that and be wrong, than not and be heartbroken and wracked by guilt. Seriously. I’ve both needed help and fetched it for other people at different times in my life. Always always take it seriously.

      2. Busy*

        A guy at my brother’s job did try to commit suicide AT WORK!!! He kept saying *things*, but no one took him seriously. Until one day he walked up to my brother, told him he just took an bunch a pills, and then collapsed!! My brother is the president of their chapter of the union, so that is why they think he came to him. Luckily the ambulance was able to arrive in time to save his life. TAKE PEOPLE AT THEIR WORD ON THIS!!!!

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. Even if coworker reacts poorly, this is a situation where it’s more important to get in the lane than to avoid it.

      If OP feels comfortable speaking to the coworker, I think it’s worth it. Sometimes it helps that person realize that their health is more precarious than they realized, which may encourage them to seek additional treatment (even though she’s complained about the cost of treatment).

      And of course, if OP’s not comfortable speaking with your coworker about this (which is totally fair), definitely tell someone. A growing body of medical literature is finding that a significant number of suicides take place within 20 minutes of a significant trigger, especially if someone has an underlying, long-term risk factor (e.g., mental health, chronic illness). Anytime someone talks about taking their life, I operate from the assumption that they mean it until something tells me otherwise.

      1. Sea anonmye*

        “And of course, if OP’s not comfortable speaking with your coworker about this (which is totally fair), definitely tell someone. ”

        This isn’t particularly helpful advice. Who is the “someone” you should tell?

        (It’s a little easier in this particular case, since the woman’s brother works in the same office, but that won’t be true in the vast majority of cases.)

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Tell HR, as Alison suggests.

          The point of that line is to acknowledge that it can be a tremendous emotional burden to process someone’s ideation with them, and that trepidation can be so overwhelming that it’s paralyzing. I’m trying to let OP know that even if they’re not individually capable of speaking to their coworker about this, OP should still ensure there’s follow up.

          1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            Yes – having a big serious suicide talk will be hard and take a ton of emotional labor, and we know the LW has anxiety. If the thought of confronting her friend is stressing her out so much she doesn’t think she can handle it (which is fine – don’t trash your own emotional health) then she should give the brother and HR a heads up. There is nothing wrong with that.

          2. Venus*

            I would suggest calling the hotline to ask for advice. I have talked with a couple people about it, although thankfully they were both okay at the time (they had been in a crisis but had sought help by the time we chatted). It’s not easy, but I was also given scripts by experts and didn’t find it that hard once I blurted out my question (please don’t quote me, but the two questions are essentially “Are you seriously thinking about suicide?” and if so, “Do you have a plan?”)

            Based on what I have been told, I would actually recommend that the OP talk with the colleague. If they answer yes to seriously thinking about suicide, then my response would be “I care for you, and want to get you help. The options I know about are HR, your brother, or therapy. I can go with you to these, but either way someone needs to know.”

            The rule with breaking confidentiality is a ‘danger to others or self’ so it is reasonable to ask for help. But I also believe in empowering the person, so if you can help them retain control then I think it would be healthier for them.

            But I say all of this with the knowledge that it’s not going to be the best path for everyone.

        2. Gaia*

          Someone. Anyone in a position to help. A manager, HR, the brother, another family member, etc.

        3. Yorick*

          Well, Alison gave the number to a suicide hotline, if you had no idea who to tell, you could start with getting advice from them

      2. misspiggy*

        You’re so right as always, Princess Consuela Banana Hammock.

        In the moment, OP could also say (if they felt comfortable), your situation sounds really tough, I’m sorry you have to deal with it every day, you’re amazing for everything you get done with all these challenges. That kind of validation very much helps me keep going when I’m in a similar mood (nerve damage = living hell).

        1. Karen from Finance*

          Yes, and to add to that last part. Even before you get the chance to have The Talk with your coworker, there’s small things you can say to her that can help a lot. Like if she makes one of these “jokes” and there’s people around so you can’t have the whole serious conversation with her at that moment, you can reply “well please don’t, we’d miss your (something nice about her)”. Say it light-heartedly but with no irony, it’s meant to be a compliment. Be sure to let her know how much you appreciate her in small ways, small comments made in passing.

          For me, when I’m really struggling, it’s so often those offhand remarks that people say that help me feel good enough. They stick.

        2. AnnaBananna*

          Agreed. Confirmation that her fight isn’t going unnoticed would be helpful (pain patient myself). My own condition also comes with mental health stuff that can get pretty intense from time to time. If I start speaking about offing myself (that is the language I would be using), you bet your sweet petunia that I hope someone notices that something isn’t right anymore.

          I think the question of ‘do you have a plan’ is such a good one. There’s depression/ideation, and then there’s giving up/planning. I hope OP can jump in while she’s still idealizing and save both of them some unneeded grief.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        If coworker is not getting treatment because of cost, someone (OP or brother?) can help her find free or low-cost at a clinic. I’m pretty sure most areas have them. The assistance line Alison mentioned can probably tell you what’s available in your area.

    3. Jasnah*

      I totally agree. Even if you have a dark-humor-filled relationship with someone, there is a difference between someone saying “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that dress” and someone struggling with mental and physical health issues saying “I want to jump off a building because it would be cheaper than what’s she’s paying for healthcare now.”

      I watched a standup bit recently where the comedian told joke after joke about her awful life. Each joke was clearly well-written and told well, but beneath that was this deep, deep sadness that was so clear to see that it was heartbreaking. It felt like a sad clown’s cry for help. As the Hannah Gadsby said, maybe some people process tragedy through comedy but also, maybe that’s not always the best way to do it. I understand that sometimes all you can do is laugh at your pain but I hope when listeners hear that, they hear the whole message.

      1. Feline*

        I have a coworker who has said she would kill herself if I didn’t return from medical leave. Multiple times. In her case. I think she was trying to process things through her own distorted brand of comedy, but it was disturbing on several levels, including the blackmail nature of the statement when I was on medical leave for a serious reason as well as the fact I’ve lost a coworker to suicide in the past at a previous employer. I didn’t seek help for her because of feeling blackmailed and without resources, but if it was a cruel type of comedy, it would have been an eye-0pener for her if I somehow had.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          It is worth repeating as often as needed that if a partner/friend tells you that they will kill themselves if you leave them then that is abuse! It is emotional blackmail of the worst kind and not even vaguely ok. If it happens to you, you should seek help in getting out.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yeah, hearing about that level of emotional blackmail from a coworker is pretty shocking. Why is she so dependent on you? Does she think you’re her friend? Does her work rely on yours? Does she count on you to cover for her, either legitimately (picking up shifts, front desk lunch coverage, handling your clients on her days off, etc.) or not so legitimately (doing her work for her, keeping quiet when she sneaks out….)

            1. Feline*

              I think her workload increased slightly in my absence. My supervisor took on most of my work, so she didn’t have a doubled workload or anything. But I think that’s partially where the threat came from. And partially because she’s a person who functions very transactionally. She has an ongoing habit of saying, “If you do X, I’ll put you on my Christmas list.” This was way over the transactional line into unhealthy, of course.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        There are a lot of comedians I can’t watch because of this. They talk about horrifying or sad things and I don’t find any of that funny.
        In case any readers are looking for recommendations, I like Gabriel Iglesias, Jeff Dunham and Jim Gaffigan.

    4. Thankful for AAM*

      OP#3 please talk to the brother! My son’s coworker called me, which was very hard for her and did make it awkward for her and my son for a time. But he is finally getting the help he needs and things are looking up. If his coworker had not called, his dad and I would not have realized the extent of the problem (he does not live with us).

      Also, many thanks to those who gave me FMLA advice a few weeks ago. It looks like he sorted it out and will be taking mondays off for appointments and to get a break from possible toxic supervisor. Son needs a new job but that is a different story.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        Say to the brother exactly what you said here – I feel awkward about raising this and I want to preserve our friendship but I want the best for coworker and I am worried. I don’t know if you know but she has been saying . . .

        Say the same to HR, especially if the brother blows this off.

      2. Doug Judy*

        My brother also struggles with a mental health condition and there have been a few times his friends/my friends/his coworkers have contacted me out of concern. They always say they aren’t sure if it’s something or if they should even bring it up. I always say yes, tell me. Every time you notice something off, do not hesitate to tell me. I don’t live in the same city as he does either and my parents only live in the state in the warmer months so we don’t always know how he’s doing day to day.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          And that’s only when they’re around him, when he’s likely playing ‘happy’. Ugh, I can’t imagine how frightening this is for you. I’m so sorry. I hope he gets better soon.

    5. ursula*

      I broke a treasured confidence once to tell a person’s loved ones that they were thinking seriously about killing themselves. I’m sure it doesn’t always go this way, but the person was actually extremely grateful (which is not what I had expected). I will never forget hearing the words, “You really helped me by telling someone.”

      Also, you are not obligated to listen to someone’s suicidal ideation as part of your work day – pull in some other folks to help on this. Good luck, LW, and I’m sorry this falls to you.

    6. JenRN*

      I can’t recommend Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training enough. I suggest it to all my third and fourth year students regardless of the area they wish to work. It is for everyone not just health care providers. It is excellent and teaches exactly how to have these conversations with the person with suicidal thoughts/plans and, more importantly, what to do with them to keep a person safe for now. I think every office should train folks up. I’ve had to use it with my students and sadly also with nursing colleagues to help them be safe and plan for continued safety.

      Google Livingworks ASIST training.

      1. JenRN*

        Also fairly global: right now the website lists courses for Australia*, Canada, New Zealand, UK, US.

        *I think it is an Aussie developed thing.

      2. Venus*

        I took a mental health and suicide course a few years ago. It was mostly a list of illness symptoms and a reminder that ill people can get help / improve if they look for help, so only an hour or so was about suicide, yet that was a good amount in this context and overall it was a great course. It helped that we had someone (police officer) who had talked with suicidal people, and could relate their experiences.
        “I asked them about it directly. They answered honestly that they were thinking about suicide, and we got them help.”

        The other thing which I will mention here, because I think it could be POTENTIALLY HELPFUL STATISTICS, is that:
        Talking about suicide decreases the risk for someone who is thinking about it. Ignoring it doesn’t change the likelihood. Being aroung someone who has suicided increases someone’s risk.
        So, please TALK!

        1. JenRN*

          Like mental health first aid or similar? Those are really good too. The thing I like about ASIST is* that it is very concrete and specific skills, scripts, and actions for helping people with suicidal thoughts/plans. There is abstract info and theory, and processing of people’s experiences**, but most of the two days are “here are specific concrete things you can do” & “here are things that are not at all your responsibility”.

          * I do not work/volunteer or receive money from this program
          ** Pretty much everyone in attendance both times I’ve taken the course have been affected by suicide personally (self, friend, family, colleagues, classmates, team mates, etc).

    7. ThatGirl*

      Yes. I also want to add that just asking someone if they’re seriously considering suicide is not a bad thing and will not make them more likely to consider it – that’s a fallacy. I know people are often afraid to bring the subject up but it’s not “giving them ideas” and if someone is already talking/joking about it they’re already bringing the subject up!

      1. AnnaBananna*

        + 1

        Suicidal ideation is like an insidious little worm in your head. It shows up on its own and really does its own damage and is mostly internally affected. At no time would someone asking me about it cause me to get worse. If anything it would be an ‘oh-$hit, it’s time to get serious about my life’ boost.

        Please, people, just ASK.

    8. smoke tree*

      I would also suggest the LW considers whether the brother is a safe person to share this with before going to him. I’m guessing she may have a sense of this based on how the friend talks about him, but if not, HR may be a safer move. I don’t want to be alarmist, but there is always the possibility that the brother may escalate the situation if he finds out. Family members can’t always be automatically trusted to act in the best interests of their relatives, and the stakes are high here.

  3. Fortitude Jones*

    OP #5: Your manager is being very nonchalant about this, and if it were me and I asked for a lock on my drawer and she said no, I’d go to her boss and see what she has to say. I’m sorry, but stealing money out of people’s wallets is criminal – it’s not accidentally swiping a pen off a desk by dropping it in your purse, forgetting it, and going home; it shouldn’t be treated that way, but it is.

    I worked at a company a few years back where one of my coworkers left her headphones on her desk by mistake and came back the next morning to find they were gone. She reported it to management, and management put a hidden camera in the office. Apparently, they caught a member of the late night cleaning crew on tape swiping stuff off people’s desks – dumb stuff like pens, a stapler, notepads, etc. – and they reported him to the building management company, who in turn fired the cleaning company. And that was over a pair of headphones!

    Your manager needs to do better. I’m mad for you, and I’m not even the one getting rolled.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m just baffled that the manager wants cold, hard, proof of someone stealing. That’s just a total abdication of their job.

      This isn’t a criminal trial. OP does not need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the coworker is a thief. All that matters is that money is disappearing and locks are being broken. Management needs to address the security concern and authorize the lock. And since folks have identified the person they think is stealing, management should ask the alleged thief if they know anything about all the money that’s disappearing from people’s purses (which can be done in a non-judgmental way). This situation is ridiculous.

      1. MK*

        It’s perfectly readonable to want to be very sure he is the thief before firing him! I don’t know on what grounds the OP and her co-workers suspect him, and they might be right, but I wouldn’t fault the manager for beginning a search from scratch instead of basically asking him to prove his innocence. The problem is that she is doing nothing.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m not suggesting firing him! I just think her “do nothing” approach is astounding.

          1. valentine*

            I wouldn’t fault the manager for beginning a search from scratch instead of basically asking him to prove his innocence.
            The manager’s doing nothing and I think the suggestion is to treat him as a witness or possible fellow victim.

        2. Ego Chamber*

          That’s exactly the point though? The manager is only demanding proof as an excuse to not act. It sounds like the employees have had ideas, since LW said they “can’t have cameras in the break room” and she doubts the thief being caught whatever-color-the-invisible-ink-is-handed will be enough to prove it.

          I’ve worked with thieves before and usually how everyone knows who it is, is they’re the person who was never stolen from and who’s always conspicuously alone in the room with the money before the money disappears.

          If Penelope said she was missing $20 out of her coat pockets today, and then Lucinda said someone busted the lock off her locker and stole from her too, and then I went to get my bag at the end of my shift and Fergus walked out of the break room as I was walking in and all my cash was missing, I’d have some suspicions.

          1. Massmatt*

            This is true for run of the mill dumb petty thieves, which is the vast majority. There are smarter thieves, who will cover their tracks better, or even make evidence point towards someone else.

            I confess my first thought reading this letter was “why are you leaving money in your purse? Keep it in your pocket!” And then I remembered some discussion here about how lots of women’s work attire lacks pockets.

            1. Turquoisecow*

              That’s kind of bizarre advice either way. A purse is where women keep money, and is generally a thing that polite people leave alone because it contains private things. I’ve always left money in my purse and left my purse at my cubicle/desk when leaving it and have never had anyone touch it, but I’ve also never worked with a thief.

              1. JM60*

                Polite people would leave others people’s purses alone, but people aren’t being polite when they steal. So it’s unlikely that a would-be theif would politely avoid purses. People shouldn’t have to put their money in their pockets rather than a loose purse, but it may be prudent to do so when you’re around someone who isn’t trustworthy.

              2. Massmatt*

                It’s hardly “bizarre advice” when it would mean the LW would not have her money stolen anymore. I agree people put money in their purses and that they should be able to do so without fear of theft, but in this case it is clearly not safe to do so. There are no secure places to put valuables and management seems oddly checked out from taking any action. Not leaving money around to get stolen seems sensible.

              3. Curmudgeon in California*

                Even if their work attire lacks pockets (which I consider to be cruel and unusual punishment) there are around the neck, inside the bra mini-wallets to keep your cash in.

                Yes, it’s inconvenient, but in the absence of management will to deal with the issue, it may be a good way to keep hold of your cash.Search amazon for ‘bra wallet stash’ for ideas.

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              Even if their work attire lacks pockets (which I consider to be cruel and unusual punishment) there are around the neck, inside the bra mini-wallets to keep your cash in.

              Yes, it’s inconvenient, but in the absence of management will to deal with the issue, it may be a good way to keep hold of your cash.See for ideas.

          2. whingedrinking*

            I used to live in a big house (seven bedrooms) with a parade of various roommates. Most of them were fine, but every so often you got a problem one. The worst was, of course, the one who moved in and then stuff started going missing – like my laptop and some cash. The thing was that he was so *stupid* about it. He didn’t pay his rent for the second month that he was there, which of course put the landlord on his trail, and he was routinely caught in other people’s cupboards and fridges in the kitchen. (If you’re in a place that you’re not supposed to be, and someone says, “What are you doing?”, try not to react with, “Nothing!” It’s kind of obvious.) He locked himself out of his bedroom once and wrecked another tenant’s sewing scissors trying to pick the lock, indicating he had no problems helping himself to other people’s stuff. When he was accused, he responded by getting angry and saying, “You’re just hating on me because I’m the new guy!” Well, yeah, when six people have all lived together in reasonable harmony for several months, and then a new person joins the group and the original people’s stuff starts mysteriously vanishing, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure it out.
            He eventually got told by the landlord that he could leave quietly or the cops would be called again, so he left.

          3. Arts Akimbo*


            A theft occurred in my workplace (SunTea Pots) early in my working life, and eeeeeeeveryone knew who did it. The money went missing right before the thief took an expensive vacation. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the thief had made a token effort to frame me for the theft, taking the money from the register that I was primarily running that day. Luckily for me, absolutely no one believed anyone but Thief had taken the money. Weirdly, she wasn’t fired but quit a couple weeks after returning from her vacation.

            Another employee was onboarded shortly thereafter, who coincidentally had worked with Thief at another business, Towering Teapots. According to her, this was Thief’s pattern at every job– money would go missing, Thief would take a trip. Annoyingly, if anyone had ever actually called Towering Teapots to check her references, they would have gotten this lady, who would have told them in no uncertain terms why she was not eligible for rehire.

      2. Busy*

        OMG where i work at, the managers use this as an excuse not to punish ANYONE. Like “Sansa is constantly disrupting others while they work and talking trash on everyone” is met with with “I know, but I haven’t witnessed it personally so I cannot do anything.” WTF kind of mentality is this? No one ever ever ever gets fired here!!!!

        1. Busy*

          * just to add, this coworker literally does this every six months. And by “disrupting work”, she is throwing out people’s lunches, patrolling the bathrooms for *poopers*, throwing things at fellow coworkers, saying awful things about other people Like “I wish Paul would just die already”) – like terrible human being on every level! And this is all she will do all day long. And without fail when she finally does get spoken to about this, she retaliates against a ton of people making their lives miserable! And 6 months later? Back to all of it again. Like just FIRE her.

        2. WellRed*

          Ugh. So if your manager goes home to find her house broken into she won’t report it because there are no witnesses therefore it didn’t happen?

      3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Some headphones can be way more expensive than the amount of cash the average person keeps in their wallet, though.

    2. Swiss Miss*

      I worked at a company a few years back where one of my coworkers left her headphones on her desk by mistake and came back the next morning to find they were gone. She reported it to management, and management put a hidden camera in the office.

      I don’t understand why the company “can’t have cameras in the break room.” That is the obvious solution to this problem.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        It makes me wonder if the person stealing stuff is really the person they think it is.

        Or if the company just doesn’t want to spend the money installing cameras.

        1. valentine*

          It makes me wonder if the person stealing stuff is really the person they think it is.
          Plot twist: It’s the manager.

          OP5: Don’t tell colleagues about the invisible ink or your plans to safeguard your stuff or to report this.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Good point. The ink needs to be a secret to be effective, especially if it isn’t the obvious suspect.

            Also test the ink and make sure it will transfer from paper to skin and that it really works (I’ve bought some before that was for kids I guess because it did nothing).

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            Haha, your mind went where mine did. But considering previous letters we’ve seen here – lunch-stealing boss anyone? – I would not be too surprised.

        2. boop the first*

          The last time there was a theft in a place where I worked, it was the person who kept suggesting it was a specific (innocent) coworker. The thief could very easily be one of the coworkers who is complaining about their money going missing, because of how we deduce suspects as described somewhere above.
          Choosing someone who hasn’t made a claim may not be cut and dry.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        There are some states that limit surveillance in break rooms in order to ensure that workers receive a true break.

        1. Not Australian*

          Then perhaps a camera outside the break-room door would do the trick, as presumably the thief doesn’t do this with an audience; it should be straightforward enough to prove that they were the only person in the room at the time the cash was stolen.

        2. Observer*

          You can always have a camera outside the break room. Same for bathrooms – you CANNOT (thank heavens) have cameras in the bathroom, even the shared part, but you CAN have one that covers the door leading in.

      3. Feline*

        A company not being able to have cameras in the break room sounds odd. Our office building has cameras that supposedly cover everything but the bathrooms and the elevator interior, and we are in a two party consent state. It turns out the cameras in our building kind of stink, because when we had a large monitor stolen from an office, the perpetrator was unidentifiable on the recording, but I can’t imagine why security cameras aren’t possible.

        1. CoveredInBees*

          If people need to change clothes in there, they can’t put a camera in there.

          1. JM60*

            People don’t usually change in break rooms though. They’re public places (at least to employees), and there’s generally no expectation of privacy.

      4. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        My feeling is that if they can’t have cameras in the break room, then they need to give the employees somewhere else to store their things that isn’t in the break room. Find somewhere else to put cubbies where there is a camera, or even something that locks outside the break room.

        Part of me also wants the LW to get a hidden camera and put it on her purse to catch the thief – but that is probably expensive and legally muddy and really this should be on management to find a good solution, not the LW.

    3. Judy Johnsen*

      She may need a small camera in her purse. They sell cheap cameras on Amazon

      1. Clorinda*

        They sell mousetraps too, just saying.
        (Don’t actually put a mousetrap in your purse, though!)

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I worked at a company a few years back where one of my coworkers left her headphones on her desk by mistake and came back the next morning to find they were gone. She reported it to management, and management put a hidden camera in the office. Apparently, they caught a member of the late night cleaning crew on tape swiping stuff off people’s desks – dumb stuff like pens, a stapler, notepads, etc. – and they reported him to the building management company, who in turn fired the cleaning company. And that was over a pair of headphones!

      Wow, good for your old company. Something like that happened at my old job and the way it was handled was the exact opposite of what you describe. Someone left an MP3 player on their desk and found it gone the next morning. In the next team meeting, our manager told us that it was up to us to safeguard our belongings, and that the company would not care if any of our stuff went missing, unless the missing valuables were company property like a company laptop, in which case, he told us we would be held responsible for the missing company property.

      The sad thing is, all these years, I thought this was how employers typically handled this, until I read your comment.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Well, what may have made the situation I referenced different from yours is that it was an insurance company. They probably thought another employee took her headphones, so they put the camera in to try to catch the person in the act (after that coworker went to management about the theft, others also chimed in with stories of minor things going missing out of their drawers, etc.). I could easily see management thinking, if it is in fact one of our employees stealing from their coworkers, it’s only a matter of time before they try to steal company property or the the property and/or personal identification information of our insureds (e.g. social security numbers, claim checks, etc.), so they had to act on it – the last thing my company wanted was to end up in a lawsuit.

        The company I just left didn’t really care about personal property theft, though, so your company is probably typical of how these things are handled and my old one is the outlier due to the nature of the work.

        1. Lady Blerd*

          “I could easily see management thinking, if it is in fact one of our employees stealing from their coworkers, it’s only a matter of time before they try to steal company property or the the property and/or personal identification information of our insureds (e.g. social security numbers, claim checks, etc.), so they had to act on it – the last thing my company wanted was to end up in a lawsuit.”

          Makes sense.

      2. DustyJ*

        Me too! I’ve only experienced “You should have locked your things away better.” I’m having my eyes opened in this thread!

    5. Roy G. Biv*

      This same thing was happening many years ago at my first real job. Petty cash missing, money taken from people’s purses or wallets, stole a charitable donations envelope; and we were all pretty sure we knew who was the thief. The office manager did not want to get involved, so the business co-owner contacted the police, filed a report, and directed all of us to give statements to Officer Helpful. Mind you, the local cop shop was at the other end of the block from our office. When it was my turn to walk down the block and give a statement, I provided the suspect’s current name, birth name and correct spellings for both. Officer Helpful typed the names in to the computer and immediately swiveled the monitor away from my field of view. He had, as they say, multiple hits.

      The co-owner made the office manager keep the pressure on for everyone in the office to go make a statement. The suspect dragged their feet until everyone else had gone, and office manager was forced to tell them, “It’s your turn. Go now.” Apparently, the suspect cracked almost as soon as they arrived at Officer Helpful’s desk, signed a confession, and yes, the co-owner pressed charges. So I never saw the suspect again.

      I realize I am telling a tale from the pre-internet days, in a small town, where perhaps the police were bored silly and happy to oblige our investigation, BUT at least file a report and get the name of the suspected thief in front of the police. It is possible that person’s name will produce multiple hits, and be of help or interest to the police. And that could help you.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Well said. They should want every incident documented so that when the thief is caught, he won’t be able to blame it on a misunderstanding and the manager won’t be able to handwave it away as just a one time incident.

    6. Curmudgeon in California*

      In their letter they specifically say:
      “I don’t lock my pocketbook up because he has broken locks in the past so not really worth buying a lock.”

      So it looks like a lock would do no good here, it would just be picked/broken.

      This is a serious, chronic thief from how the letter reads.

      Telling the LW to get a lock is not an answer. Asking management to install a camera quietly and temporarily in the break room to catch the thief would be a better idea.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I agree with Alison, but I also want to recommend considering jobs that might fit into an overall career narrative.

    My first three jobs post-college had very little to do with the field I’m in now, in part because I was trying very hard not to become a lawyer. My undergrad degree was in the social sciences, which is not as focused as STEM. But if you look at the (1) subject matter or (2) skills in those first few jobs, there’s a logical thread that connects those experiences to my current work. So even if you don’t stay in the same general field/industry, consider picking up work that will help you build the experiences you want so you can get to the field/industry that interests you. And be open to the idea that as you gain more experience, your focus may change.

    1. Smithy*

      Here to second that! I was an anthropology undergrad major, but my undergrad work-study was in a hospital. Post graduation I had a smattering of jobs either with kids, the medical world, or both. Ultimately this through narrative got me a job on a pediatric research study, I discovered I liked working with grants, and ultimately sought a career in institutional front-line fundraising.

      For me having a few years to try things and hone in on my professional interests was really helpful, but having that “resume narrative” was vital in those early post university years. Early, my narrative was often very simplistic – I like contributing my organizational expertise to healing environments/youth development spaces. That was really it, but it was helpful to think of things in that perspective vs “this is a job that clearly aligns with being an anthropology major”.

      1. AMT*

        Same here! I got an English degree (with a creative writing focus!), worked in human services, got an MSW, became a therapist, wrote a book in my field, and now—if all goes as planned—will start working in federal law enforcement in an investigative role next year. These jobs all have interviewing, research, and writing skills in common. I wouldn’t have gotten near as far in the (lengthy, difficult, exam-heavy) federal recruitment process if I hadn’t taken this path. It looks meandering, but it got me where I am!

    2. Fieldpoppy*

      I agree with the caveat that sometimes those threads seem more obvious looking backwards, and what new grads might end up doing eventually may not exist yet. My advice is to look for jobs that blend what you’re good at, what you care about and where someone might pay you to do it. From that, your work and pathway will evolve.

      I have undergrad and master’s degrees in english from my first round of education; in 1990 I had an entry level job in a PR/marketing company. Today I am a partner in a small consulting firm specializing in strategic change and leadership in academic healthcare. I didn’t know any of those things existed 30 years ago, and I certainly didn’t aim in those specific directions — but looking back, the pathway had a certain logic that reflects a combination of what I was good at and what people would pay me to do, continually inflected and adapted based on what I *liked* doing.

    3. LunaLena*

      I agree with considering the overall career narrative, but I would like to add that even unrelated positions can be used to demonstrate familiarity with workplace norms and other soft skills. I don’t recommend my career path to anyone (it was successful more due to luck and being in the right place at the right time than anything), but I started out with a degree in biology, my first “real” full-time job was as a bilingual customer service rep for a large corporation, and I now work in graphic design. None of those sound remotely related, but when I was embarking on my career path, I managed to work them in as secondary assets. Working in biology labs demonstrated time management, multi-tasking, and attention to detail; customer service experience showed excellent communication skills, people skills (design clients can be difficult and picky!), and a willingness to sit down and work directly clients.

      As I got further into my career, these became less important, but still useful – one of the interview questions at my current job was something like “you will be working with a lot of different people in a large variety of departments; how would you deal with this?” My response (paraphrased): “I worked as a customer service rep for X years, so I am very accustomed to working with and adapting to a constantly-changing and diverse customer base. I have used this experience throughout my career to serve clients, and have often been complimented on my ability to work with everyone while maintaining a professional and friendly manner, especially when working at A and B. I am confident that I will be able to do the same here.”

  5. Lemon Curd*

    #3 I’m sorry you’re in this position – it’s really difficult to hear someone talk about suicide that often.

    On the one hand yes, do take her seriously and do tell someone. Not her brother, because you don’t know what their relationship is like and, well, you wouldn’t tell him if he didn’t work with you because it would be a breach of confidentiality so the fact he does work with you shouldn’t change that. Alison is wrong to suggest this!

    But do tell HR and maybe your manager too. It is ok not to bear this alone.

    As to talking to her, one thing worth knowing is that it’s okay to ask someone if they’re suicidal / if they’re thinking of taking their own life. It WILL NOT suggest it or persuade them. Research and best practice support this.

    1. Sleve McDichael*

      I’m sorry Lemon Curd, but I would have to respectfully disagree with you on not informing the brother. I would absolutely tell the brother if I didn’t work with him, but say saw him occasionally at karate training with the same regularity that LW3 sees him at work. I think it’s better to overreach than to withhold that information when there is potentially a life on the line.

      1. Lemon Curd*

        You’re assuming that a family member will be helpful. That’s a big assumption. Sometimes they will. Sometimes not.

        If you told my family when I was suicidal you would have made things much worse.

        1. Approval is optional*

          But aren’t you assuming there’s a greater than even chance he will be, based on your personal experience?
          Also, a breach of confidentiality isn’t really a consideration when a friend is talking about suicide. Even therapists etc can ‘breach’ if the person is at risk. (Where I live anyway). If the OP’s friend is really contemplating suicide, then the OP should tell whoever is likely to be able to get her friend help – this isn’t blabbing about something trivial her friend told her.
          The OP probably has a reasonable idea about the relationship between her friend and her friend’s brother – she can use that knowledge to decide whether to tell him or not.

        2. Sleve McDichael*

          But this person is known at work for being negative, and is openly making these jokes. It doesn’t seem like it’s a secret they’re trying to hide in a place where their brother could possibly find out. If the friend wanted to make sure the brother didn’t find out about her mental state she would almost certainly be more careful. She hasn’t been quietly confiding in the LW, she’s been making suicide jokes at work.

          Aside from that though, I’m very sorry to hear that you couldn’t lean on your family when you were in that space. It must have been very difficult. Also I’m happy for you that you put suicidal in the past tense just now.

        3. Observer*

          That has nothing to do with confidentiality.

          Obviously if you have reason to think that someone is going to make things worse rather than better, do NOT talk to that person. But that has nothing to do with confidentiality.

          On the other hand, you have zero information here to say that Brother might make it worse, but HR probably won’t. What happened to you happened, but you really cannot generalize from that.

      2. Grrrl Drivrrr*

        If someone told my brother personal stuff about my life and mental well-being, I would lose my shit.

        1. Approval is optional*

          Even if you’d told the person you were thinking of suicide/hinting at suicide or the like? I’d be sad if I lost a friend because I told their brother about the sorts of things the OP’s coworker is saying, but I wouldn’t hold back from doing it just because of the risk to my relationship with my friend.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            My sister would exploit it to make sure I did. Some siblings are not safe. Some siblings are the reason other siblings have issues.

            I wish people understood this.

            1. Approval is optional*

              People understand it – well I do anyway. This is why I said *just* because’: there are obviously many reasons you wouldn’t tell a sibling, fear of ‘tattling’ secrets isn’t one of them though. But to comment with a blanket ‘don’t tell the brother’, rather than suggesting that the OP use her knowledge of her friend’s family to decide whether to tell him, perhaps isn’t the best advice – for every person who has a sibling who would exploit it, there’s a person who has a sibling who would walk over hot coals to help, and the OP is much better placed than any of us to decide which side the brother is on – and anecdotes aren’t useful to her/him in the decision making process.

              1. Myrin*

                Yeah, OP presumably knows what her friend’s relationship with the brother is like. If she doesn’t, it’s probably not particularly hard to find out, what with the brother working for the same place and all. It’s possible OP only brought the twin up because she simply latched onto “brother” because in her mind “family member = help” but it seems much more likely that she knows friend and brother get along and brother would want to know and help his sister.
                Like you say, it’s on OP to determine her state of knowledge and to carefully decide how to proceed, not on us to issue blanket statements in one way or another.

              2. MatKnifeNinja*

                Had you called my family, they’d tell you

                1) why are you telling me this?
                2) let them do x, y and z and quit bugging us.

                Not everyone has family who cares or wants to be bugged. I (and some of my friends) have toxic familes.

                Then would be the screaming of how dare I involve this with this “issue”.

                If I was suicidal before, and a coworker rang up my family, I’d want the sweet release of death after dealing with all that fall out.

                I get the sentiment, call a family member. You assume family gives a shit about that family member.

                I’ve been suicidal, but I never told anyone. I’ve had people do similar statements like OP’s coworkers. I’d dump it in HR’s lap. I was told this information, what do you want to do with it? I’ve also said the exact same thing to the person. “What would like me to do with this information?” I’ve got crisis numbers on my phone. I know where all the local mental health clinics are with phone numbers. I’m willing to do whatever the person wants, but I’m not digging through the phone to contact anyone. If I’m truly that worried, I’m calling the police.

                The three times I involved a family member/spouse because their loved one told me they wanted to kill themselves, it blew up in my face like the Hindenburg. There was no thank you. No gratitude. It was more how dare you get involved with an private matter. This included me driving said person to the ER, calling the spouse, and being screamed at in the waiting room for meddling.

                1. Stardust*

                  Which is why there’s a caveat in almost all comments advising to talk to the brother, namely that LW should first think about what she knows about her coworker’s relationship with her brother. If she knows nothing about the relationship with brother other than that brother exists she obviously shouldn’t immediately come to him with a topic like this. But it’s entirely possible that simply from how the coworker talks about her family she can very reasonably guess whether they get along or not.
                  The way you describe your situation, I doubt you spoke warmly about your family with your coworkers, talked about the great vacation you spent together recently, said how happy you are that your sibling finally found the job of their dreams, etc. But if any of that DID happen, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that you indeed have a good relationship with your relatives and that they’d be thankful to be informed of something as alarming as frequent talk about suicide.

              3. Engineer Girl*

                Toxic people abuse in private. You have no idea what the true relation is like. The risk is too high to take it to a sibling.
                Take it to HR.

            2. Anonymosity*

              Parents too. There is a lot of problematic drama and control with my mum surrounding my mental health, going back to childhood. Several years ago, a friend of hers lost her son to suicide and when she was visiting one holiday and became upset, my mum turned to me right in front of her and said, “See what happens???”

              Thank goodness I have supportive friends.

        2. Paperdill*

          My best friend from primary school suffered long term depression and eventually committed suicide leavening behind two young children. If I had had any idea she was going downhill and contemplating suicide seriously I would have told anyone who I thought had any kind of influence on her at all.
          Friendships can be broken and remade (or not remade), families can break up and reunite (or not reunited). A dead mother cannot be brought back to life.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, agreeing here. The risk of suicide is greater than the risk of bad sibling issues.

            1. smoke tree*

              I don’t think the risk people are raising is necessarily that it will cause a rift between the friend and her brother, but that the brother may make the situation worse rather than better. I’m guessing the LW probably knows her friend well enough to have an idea of whether this is the case, but I would caution anyone against automatically assuming that family are always safe to go to in situations like this.

              1. fposte*

                If I had an idea they *weren’t* safe, I wouldn’t go, but I wouldn’t wait to be sure they were if I didn’t know. It’s not that I’m automatically assuming family is safe; it’s that I’m automatically assuming suicide is dangerous.

                There’s always a risk with any action taken (about anything, not just suicidal ideation). There’s no way to be sure that your action here will be right for everybody in this situation. All you can do is to cover the likely ground of helpful and hope it’s a fit.

            2. Jasnah*

              I agree. I think if you don’t know their relationship is bad, it’s worth the risk to tell the brother, just as it’s worth the risk to tell HR even though that person might be a toxic slimeball, or anyone else who might turn out to be a jerk and make it worse.

              Because the alternative is doing nothing.

      3. Flash Bristow*

        Sorry but you have no idea on the relationship between colleague and her brother. I always acted nice in social situations with my mother – scared to do anything else, and I thought everyone else bowed down to her. (I’ve since read my medical notes and school notes and now know what the doctor she was personal friends with, and the staff and other parents she was on the school board with, *actually* made of her… but at the time I thought they believed her front and I was scared to speak up).

        Anyway my mother was the one who drove me to suicide attempts. If my doctor or school staff had known, I can believe they’d have asked her “is Flash ok, only…” and it would just have made things worse behind closed doors.

        I’m sorry – I hope my experiences are helpful but I’m aware I may be making this too personal so I’ll stop commenting in that way in this thread.

        But I hope I’ve given an example of why you don’t go to the brother, with whom she is – at least ostensibly – friendly. She may well genuinely love him to bits, but then even if he is told in good faith, who knows who he would go on to tell?

        Really, listen to this person in trouble. Get them *professional* help be it through work or other methods. But don’t take well meaning actions going to relatives, when you just can’t know what it may trigger.

        I think the critical starting point is for OP to let the colleague know she’s there and listening and caring. And to really listen. And then to proceed with getting appropriate professional guidance, since this is too big for just a friend to handle.

        I really hope your colleague is ok, OP, and you’re a good person for not just caring, but stopping to notice and take it seriously in the first place. Thank you for being that person.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          The posts talking about the hidden but actual relationships are breaking my heart, OP.

          I do have a suggestion. Before you talk about suicide itself why not ask her if she has anyone around her who she feels is rock solid and trust-worthy. Let’s say she tells you her neighbor is a very good friend. Grab on to that info and ask her, “Can you talk to your good friend about this stuff?”

          Fish around maybe you can find out who is important in her life, who she really respects/trusts, and guide her to talking with that person.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree that OP should not tell the twin unless OP has close knowledge of their coworker’s relationship with their twin brother.

      It’s different when you have an independent relationship with someone’s relative, and you know what the relationship is like between that person and the relative. But if you don’t know that information, it can be dangerous to the person who is feeling suicidal to share that information with a relative.

      That said, definitely tell HR. Try to talk to the coworker if you have the emotional bandwidth. Offer resources and support, like the national suicide prevention hotline.

    3. Marzipan*

      In much the same way as you can’t know whether someone is feeling suicidal without asking, you also can’t really know who in their life might be helpful to tell without asking. So, yes, the brother might not be the right person… or he might.

      So, personally, if I didn’t have the info on which doctor is treating her (in which case, tell them), I’d ask her. Tell her you’re sufficiently concerned about how she’s been speaking about ending her life that you feel you need to tell someone, and then give her a measure of control over who that someone is. ‘I could let HR know, or I could talk to your brother, which would work better for you?’

      1. Marzipan*

        Also, here’s a leaflet about talking to people about suicide (UK based statistics and helplines but the general info is relevant wherever): › UoA2_leafletPDF
        It’s safe to talk about suicide – University …

        1. Marzipan*

          Sorry, that doesn’t work properly as a link. Google “it’s safe to talk about suicide leaflet” and you’ll find it.

    4. Liv Jong*

      I think it’s kind of hypocritical to say it’s inappropriate for a family member to contact an employer and receive employee information, but it’s okay for the employer to contact the family and disclose medical status.

      As a society we have a habit of infantilizing people with mental illness with our good intentions. Running to tattle to family is really pointless unless they are trained professionals. Mental illness is a medical condition and needs to be treated as such. If she were a diabetic the employer wouldn’t dream of asking the brother to monitor her blood sugar, so please don’t do it now.

      Keep it professional and respect her privacy as it will be embarrassing enough for her to have HR know. Stigma has caused a lot of people to avoid therapy so please let her keep it low key.

      Thank you OP for noticing and wanting to help.

      1. Nonny*

        I think pretty much all of the links people have provided above would argue this is very bad advice. It’s not ‘running to tattle,’ it’s putting the wheels in motion for the kind of intervention that has been demonstrated to help prevent suicide.

        1. Liv Jong*

          I am all for intervention to prevent suicide; because it is a life and death issue trained personnel should be the only people her coworkers inform.

          1. Observer*

            Love Reading is correct. Also, the reality is that family or close friends are generally in much more a position to actually intervene effectively (in the sense of pushing someone into treatment or, in extreme cases, getting a necessary commitment) than a work friend.

            1. Liv Jong*

              HR personnel have resources, and are trained in discretion and other “HR” matters. They should be notified so they can discuss mental health care options with the employee, including reaching out to her brother or someone else, but not on her behalf.

              HR should contact a professional themselves and get advice and not just plunge into her life.

              OP 3 and the company could. open themselves up to a lot of liability by trying to help if this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

              1. Hepzibah Pflurge*

                I have never, not even one time, in the history of my working life (25 years and 10 companies) worked with an HR person who was “trained in discretion and other “HR” matters.” For example, at CurrentJob, the HR person is quite knowledgeable about benefits, payroll, taxes, etc., but is a disaster at anything personnel related. It’s been my experience that many people “end up” in HR roles rather than choose them and complete the related training to be not just effective, but actively non-detrimental. I could be really, really unlucky, though.

              2. Jasnah*

                Human Resources is about supporting employees in the workplace, not providing emergency medical attention to people. HR is trained on fair compensation practices and local labor laws, not CPR and first aid. Plus who would HR contact? Probably her emergency contact, which is probably a friend or family member.

                I know people have all kinds of relationships with their families but the general assumption absent evidence to the contrary that family members are closer to you than coworkers is not unreasonable.

              3. Observer*

                HR *may* have training. Or they may NOT. And, in fact, most HR departments, even non-dysfunctional ones – are not trained in dealing with this kind of mental health issue.

      2. Thankful for AAM*

        My son’s coworker called me when she was concerned. She judged I was the right person bc of the way our son talked about us.

        She spent a great deal of time trying to get him to talk to us himself or to go to counseling. She even talked to mental health professionals who all said “he has to come to us” unless you call the police to Baker Act him (thats a law in the US that lets professionals force someone into hospital care for a short time if they are a threat to themselves or others).

        Anyway, he would not be getting the care he needs if she had not talked to us. It still took months for him to start going to counseling, have another crisis, and ffinally get a better diagnosis and start on what seems to be better therapy.

        I agree that family members can be the worst ones to talk to but I also think the OP has the ability to know or find out if the coworker considers the brother a trusted person or not.

        There is also NAMI, the National alliance on mental health. A very good org!

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I don’t think “looking for help for a person” is on the par with “running to tattle”, especially in OP’s setting here.

        OP is not “running” anywhere. She is carefully considering options and asking the advice of others. This is as good as good gets. I am not sure why we use the word “tattle” a lot here. Many things in life are not tattling, they just aren’t.

        I do agree though that unless OP clearly sees that the brother is a safe person in her friend’s life, OP should consider other sources. One of the ways of taking lost power back into people’s lives is through the use of their own choices. Perhaps OP can help her friend pick out trusted individuals in her own life. I have had people help me in this manner and I have also helped people sort through their relationships to find which person is the best one to talk with.

        My father had a difficult medical problem. Long story short we went through a list of options that were parallel to things he had done in the past. He was able to make a choice and proceed to get help with his problem. People maybe distressed, but they can usually pick out things that they are comfortable doing, even if it’s just baby steps to start.

      4. Yorick*

        Actually, I think in this situation a coworker might talk to the brother if they were concerned about diabetes.

        “Have you noticed Jane has quit following her diabetes plan? Is she doing better outside of work? I’m a little worried.”

        1. LW #3*

          Hi, OP here–she and her brother are close, so I think I might start there. I have seen them interact in and outside of work and talked to them separately about each other, so I’m confident they’re close. I didn’t originally speak to him because I was more considered about hurting her feelings, not because I don’t trust him to do the right thing. I honestly think I am, in the moment, going to ask her how serious she is and tell her I’m a bit concerned. I feel a lot better knowing that lots of others thing it’s as serious as I thought at first, and that I’m not blowing it out of proportion.

          1. 5 Leaf Clover*

            LW #3, if you need a script, it is: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” I work in healthcare and we are trained to say this whenever anyone brings up suicide. It is very difficult to get the words out the first time, but make yourself say them. As someone mentioned above, there’s lots of research that shows this is a safe and helpful question to ask.

            1. Blue*

              Seconding this. Some people may not react kindly, but it’s worth the risk, and if she has a medical history with depression, this likely wouldn’t be the first time she’s been asked if she’s suicidal. And if it helps: I was once asked this question by a friend – she was a counselor by training and had recently lost a friend to suicide, so her threshold for asking was lower than most people’s, I think – and I’m very grateful to her for that. I was glad to be able to (truthfully) reassure her that I wasn’t, and it was a wake-up call about how bad my depression had gotten and the push I needed to revisit my doctor and change my treatment plan.

              1. Venus*

                In my very limited experience, based on mine and others, I have never heard of an unkind reaction (I’m sure they exist, but they aren’t most likely). If someone is saying these things, the reactions I would now expect are “Oh, I didn’t realize you felt that way as I’m joking” or “Not now / no / not any more” or “Yes”. I guess I mention it because I expected negative reactions, but the responses seemed surprisingly positive (they seemed appreciative that I cared enough to ask, and the person I met who deals in crises said that they had good responses too).

                LW #3: I think you are so thoughtful and are following the right path. Thank you for talking with her! It is likely to be a short chat, but is a critical one. My suggestion (actually, originally the recommendation of a peer support expert) would be to have other topics to discuss, unrelated to this, so that you can have the discussion and then move on. Try to end on something positive, for the sake of both your mental health, and also so that it isn’t too awkward to chat with her next time. Have the chat, and don’t worry about moving on with other topics (obviously this doesn’t apply if she is in crisis!).

                As another thought – I suggest letting her know that you are always available to help her find resources if needed. In my few cases with this, I often found that someone wasn’t suicidal yet they were too exhausted to find the right resources. Sometimes the ability to say “Can I find you some names of therapists?” or similar is invaluable. I had a friend with a specific problem, and the most helpful thing that I did was call around to find a therapist who was comfortable with their problem.

            2. Natalie*

              You can always practice saying it a few times on your own, just to get over the weirdness. It seems corny but it really does help!

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Thirding this. When we received suicide intervention training, we had to practice saying this often. It’s really uncomfortable, but it’s important to be that frank.

            4. Judy (since 2010)*

              About 3 weeks ago, I took a training called QPR. There was a situation I was tangentially involved in that made us search for a training. Question, Persuade, Refer training does suggest using that exact question. The instructor had us go around the room and ask 3 people the question just to get used to saying it. The persuade step involves giving the person a lifeline, talking with them about reasons to live. (Family, friends, pets, permanent solution to temporary problem, etc as reasons to temporarily delay.) Refer is convincing them to get help from a professional.

            5. boo bot*

              Yes, ask directly. She’s saying it directly, after all! In the best case scenario, she doesn’t mean it, and asking the question will alert her that it’s a scary thing to say when you don’t mean it. (It’s also a scary thing to say when you do mean it, but so is, “Fire!” or “Run, a bear!” or “It may already be too late to prevent a 2 degree rise in global temperatures!”)

              In the other best case scenario, you will give her an opening to talk to you, and let her know you take her seriously, care about her, and aren’t going to judge her.

      5. Bagpuss*

        It thin kthere are a couple of points here.
        One is that LW is not this person’s employer, they are her co-worker. I don’t think it is at all unusual for people to speak to the partner or other family members of someon they know, if thye have concerns about health issues, physical or mental.
        I do agree that if it was theemployer then the situation is a little bit differnt as there may well be legal ramifications, but that isn’t the situation LW is in.

        Another is that LW doesn’t have any way to get a trained professional involved. She can’t force her freind to see a doctor or therapist, so shport of calling an ambulance she doesn’t actually have the option of getting a trained person involved.

        She can speak to HR,but HR aren’t medical professionals either. Andthere are limits on what they can do.

        Telling family or HR isn’t tattling. They are not seeking to cause prblmes for their friend or to get them into trouble, they aretrying to save their life. And yes, it might be embarassing. Embarrased is better than dead.

      6. fposte*

        If I know somebody is going to fall downstairs, I don’t wait for a lift-trained person–I notify anybody who may be able to hold them up.

        If I can access somebody with training, great, but at least in the U.S., my accessing somebody with training isn’t going to get them to the person talking about suicide; only the person herself can solicit that. I’m looking to get somebody to the person herself *before* the law would infantilize her by involuntarily committing her.

      7. Massmatt*

        You make a good point about how medical information should be private.

        But characterizing the idea of informing someone that a family member is talking a lot about suicide as “running to tattle” is ridiculous.

      8. Unacademic*

        Yes, it’s a medical condition, but we rely on people around us to help support our medical care all the time. The presence or absence of social support systems can make a big difference in people’s medical outcomes. Sometimes support means bringing food or doing chores when someone is injured, taking them to medical appointments when it’s a struggle or unsafe to go alone, or yes, helping someone get the help they need in the first place. The mental health system can be frustrating and challenging to navigate even in the best of situations, let alone when life already doesn’t seem worth living. I’ve been in that position, and I don’t think it’s infantilizing at all to recognize that help from loved ones can be a deciding factor in getting adequate care fast enough.

    5. WellRed*

      Coworkers have no duty of confidentiality. If you know someone is threatening to harm themselves, and you know their family, why wouldn’t you reach out to them? I assume she has some idea of what their relationship is like.

      1. Venus*

        Confidentiality is very clear. Any time I have read something about confidentiality related to health, in a legal way, “risk to self or others” is specifically excluded.

    6. Observer*

      Sorry, when you are dealing with a literal threat to someone’s life, confidentially takes seconds place.

    7. Unacademic*

      I think you’d find just as many, if not more, stories in this site’s archive about abusive managers and unhelpful HR people. People get fired over mental health issues all the time (whether that’s legal or not is a separate issue form whether it still happens). But I’m not going to jump to assuming that they’re unsafe people to talk to because there’s nothing to indicate that in OP’s letter, and similarly, I don’t think we can assume that the brother is unsafe either. It’s important to be aware that not everyone’s family is helpful, and that some are actively detrimental to people’s mental health, but that’s not true of everyone’s family, and this is a matter of OP’s judgement call as to who is likelier to be able to help her coworker.

    8. Not Me*

      A co-worker has no duty of confidentiality to a friend at work. What are you talking about?

    9. SenseANDSensibility*

      Who are you to tell Alison (in such definitive terms) she’s wrong in her advice? She’s trying to help the OP help save someone’s life. Confidentiality is a secondary issue when dealing with suicidal ideations.

  6. AcademiaNut*

    For #1 I would also distinguish between taking an entry level job in an unrelated field, where your employer’s expectation is that you’ll stay for a few years, and taking a short term job to cover living expenses while you search for more career focussed work.

    1. JustHereToRead*

      OP 1 here: That’s a good distinction! I hadn’t thought much of that distinction between low-level jobs.

    2. Ophelia*

      Exactly – I did take a job in my field when I graduated college, but I spent about 4 months lifeguarding, babysitting, and stage-managing to cover expenses before I found it. That didn’t raise any eyebrows, and I don’t think it would have even had my search gone on a bit longer.

  7. Engineer Girl*

    #5 A perverse part of me wants to spread a rumor that the manager is keeping large sums of money in her purse. Then se what happens…

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      I’m starting to think she probably does, thus her whole blasé attitude about the situation.

  8. Sleve McDichael*

    LW3 please do talk to the brother as well. My friend’s father saved the life of a boy he was teaching by picking up on some odd statements that the child made and discussing it with another teacher. Neither of them had the full picture, but when put together all the disparate statements and actions of this boy made an urgent picture. The teachers intervened and the boy was saved. My friend’s father told me how important it is to share this sort of information with those closer to the person, whenever we can.

    Your context might be enough to put some things in perspective for the brother and empower him to seek help for your friend, even if it doesn’t seem like much on it’s own to you.

    1. Lemon Curd*

      Your friend’s father discussed it with another of the boy’s teachers which is fine. Telling someone’s family member because they happen to work together is not the same and is not fine. You never know what kind of family relationships someone might have.

      1. Mary Connell*

        It’s easy enough for the LW to ask her coworker about her relationship with her brother. Ask, and then proceed based on the information.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          This makes me uneasy. If I’d been asked about family members, I would be wary about where my response ended up. And if you have to work with them, as WELL as them presumably having influence within the family, you just don’t know what brother – well meaning or not – will say to others. Suppose family member x is the issue, and brother says to them “I’ve noticed sister is struggling – can you help?” Could make it worse…

          Honestly, you just can’t know. The help here needs to be professional not familial.

          1. Colette*

            Professional help is required, yes, but unless the OP is willing to call 911 (which is probably not yet warranted), there’s not much she can do to get her colleague to get professional help. A family member has more standing to influence the coworker.

        2. 5 Leaf Clover*

          This is all moot because LW#3 should talk to the coworker first and ask if she is thinking about suicide. If the answer is “yes,” they can talk about ways to get help, one of which could be, “Do you mind if I talk to your brother about this?”

          1. Temperance*

            Okay, jumping in here to say that it’s absolutely fine if the coworker is really not comfortable taking on this emotional burden of her own. I personally wouldn’t be able to do this, or to handle it, so I would go immediately to HR or to the brother. Without getting permission, because it would be deeply upsetting and triggering to me to have someone constantly talking about offing themselves.

            1. Colette*

              Agreed. This is too much of a burden to put on a coworker; the OP is entitled to hand it off to someone who is better equipped/ in a better position to handle it if she’s not up for dealing with it.

      2. hbc*

        But the person in Sleve’s story also didn’t know exactly how the other teacher would react, or the teacher’s relationship with the boy. People need to use the information they have available and basically guess what the best path forward is. Yes, it’s possible they’ll make things worse by taking any kind of action, but absent other information, talking to a family member is a better bet than a lot of other options when someone is repeatedly mentioning that suicide would improve their situation.

        1. Brogrammer*

          The teacher is still acting in a professional capacity in that story, so it’s not really comparable to contacting a relative.

          1. Unacademic*

            It’s not in the professional purview of most employers or even HR people to get their employees medical or psychiatric care either.

          2. TootsNYC*

            a kid’s teacher talking to another teacher is most analagous to one shift supervisor talking to another shift supervisor, or your colleague from accounting talking with your own manager, or something.

      3. EPLawyer*

        I’m going with OP knows better than we do if they get along or not. She might have observed them in the office or from things the person said about their relationship to know if it is safe or not to approach the brother.

        Also, quite frankly, this is suicide we are talking about. Err on the side of caution of getting help rather than not acting out of fear that the brother might not be helpful. As Alison said the Suicide Prevention Hotline is an excellent resource. Much better equipped to help OP navigate this than all of us who are not trained.

        1. mamma mia*

          I agree with your comment about the hotline. LW3 if you happen to be reading these comments, there are a lot of suggestions over what to do/who to tell, and I certainly have my own opinion about that, but my opinion doesn’t really matter because I have no training in mental health issues.

          My advice is, prior to telling the brother or HR, contact the Suicide Hotline and speak to a TRAINED COUNSELOR about the problem. I wouldn’t rely on random commenters for an issue of these magnitude (I get the irony in this advice given that that I’m also a random commenter but whatever). I personally wouldn’t take the advice of someone who isn’t a mental health professional on how to handle someone having a potential mental health crisis. That’s not very productive.

          1. 5 Leaf Clover*

            +1! this is the best suggestion here, now I feel silly for suggesting anything else :)

          2. Unacademic*

            I volunteered at a suicide hotline (in a major US city). We were trained in active listening and suicide prevention, but we weren’t counselors (some were, in their professional lives, but not most). It’s a good resource for OP to talk through options with, but it’s not a panacea.

            1. mamma mia*

              Of course not and I never said that it was. But it’s absolutely better than listening to random people on the internet. And the national Suicide Hotline (which is what I was referring to) is staffed by trained counselors.

              1. Unacademic*

                If you’re in the US and mean the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, those calls get routed out to local/state hotlines (including the one I worked on). There’s no guarantee you’ll be talking to a mental health professional.

                That doesn’t mean they can’t help! I certainly encourage OP and anyone else who needs it to call, and to weigh their advice more heavily, but it’s a complicated issue, there’s no simple fix, and there’s never going to be one approach that will work for every person. That’s why I think it’s perfectly valid to ask for and consider advice from multiple sources and filter it through the OP’s personal knowledge of the situation. Hearing from people who’ve been in similar situations in particular can be really helpful, and I really disagree with saying peer support (even if it is online) isn’t worth seeking out.

                1. Jasnah*

                  Even someone with training specifically in suicide prevention and active listening is better qualified to weigh in than some random person with ?? amount of training on the internet.

      4. Sylvan*

        That’s true. They might have a very good relationship with a sibling, a very bad or abusive one, or anything in between.

        It’s up to OP to learn about that when deciding what to do. The potential for it to be a bad relationship isn’t a reason for OP to write it off.

        As someone who’s lost two relatives to suicide, I think telling anyone who can help is a good idea. Whether the brother can help, OP needs to decide.

      5. JSPA*

        1. I hear that it would be bad for you. And that by extension, it could be bad for some other people. That in no way means it is a bad choice in the majority of cases.

        2. Family CAN be the source of extreme agony. But in this case, we know that the agony has a physical cause. Assuming an extra, terrible problem isn’t particularly logical.

        3. Family may include jerks. But so can non family.

        4. Even a jerk can save your life.

  9. Editor*

    No. 5 — At an office where I worked, every time there was a theft, employees reported it to the police, in part so there would be a public record of the problem. (We did have folks from the general public roaming through our offices, and there were infrequent thefts.) Staffers were advised to limit the valuables they brought in, but if your management continues to do nothing, having police reports to document the problem might give you leverage if Alison’s advice doesn’t improve security.

    You might ask management if a security consultant could be brought in to help solve the problem. If the answer is no, then maybe you should follow up by asking if the police should be called for each theft to document it.

    I don’t know if management will be upset about police coming into the building or into your parking lot. I also don’t know if your local police force will want to deal with so-called petty theft — I have always lived in small cities or large rural towns, so the cops are more accessible. Call the nonemergency number to report the problem, if you call the police — don’t use 911.

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      As several people have noted upthread, it’s not necessary to ask for the manager’s permission to call the cops. The way she’s acting, I’d bet money she’d just say no. Don’t give her thae chance to tie your hands–just do it!

      Boss lady may not like the cops getting involved–she probably won’t–but that’s okay. Maybe having the police coming around asking questions would actually give her some motivation to get off her ass and DO something.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        P.S. In case it’s not apparent, this situation and (especially) the boss’s lackadaisical attitude is pissing me off BIG time! She’s passisng the buck (pun noted but not intended) on something she should be taking leadership on.

        1. Anonariffic*

          Ages ago, I was working retail and we kept noticing missing money and other irregularities, but the manager never did anything about it or seemed particularly worried. Finally figured out why when we temporarily closed for some renovations and reopened with all new bosses, the previous manager having vanished with all the cash drawers and bank deposits…

          1. Massmatt*

            This happened at a small chain of stores where I worked. 2 separate incidents, actually.

            #1 someone was stealing from the drawers. So drawers were assigned. Theft continued. Thief was dumb to continue stealing but smart enough to do it when she was not scheduled to work. She would come in to visit, and “help out”.

            Many many directives from main office that people not working were not allowed behind the counter. It seemed as though main office thought they had to apply rule across the whole company to deal with the issue with one store. Finally caught her in the act with marked bills. She probably stole several hundred dollars.

            #2 a regional manager came by and took the bank deposits for the stores, saying he would deposit. Did this for several stores over a long weekend when they were busy. Main office finally calls asking why no deposits have been made, and regional manager disappeared. I don’t believe any charges were filed but I could be wrong. This was probably a $60-80k theft.

            Someone told me regional manager had a gambling problem.

    2. Sally*

      It is disruptive to have police come to the office, but if your manager won’t do anything to prevent the thefts, you don’t have many other options. Plus, it should indicate to management that you and your colleagues are tired of waiting around for action from them.

  10. Engineer Girl*

    #4 – Is this a first time manager? You need to push back on this for all the stated reasons. It’s the managers job to find coverage and coordinate schedules.

    That’s not to say that people can’t swap shifts etc. We used to do that all the time when we launched satellites and someone wanted time off to see their kid play soccer etc. But vacations are bigger chunks of time and really need to be worked from higher up.

    1. Lemon Curd*

      I think this is really workplace dependent actually. We send an email to colleagues about covering certain stuff but if you can’t find someone you can still take your leave, you just need to try.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        It’s still not a good practice. A good organization has a strong bench – people who are cross trained in each other’s jobs. It’s good for the employees skill set and benefits the team too.
        I’ve found cross training the members makes for stronger team spirit because they understand each other’s problems.
        And then you almost automatically get coverage.

        I’ve been on teams where this didn’t happen and almost had to miss weddings and other major events. I was not happy that I couldn’t plan my vacation. And the team became exhausted and used up becaue they couldn’t take vacations.

        1. doreen*

          The need for coverage doesn’t always have to do with a lack of cross-training and often has little to do with swapping shifts , etc. Sure, for some jobs that’s what meant by coverage and having the manager/supervisor arrange coverage is probably what works best for those jobs. For other jobs, coverage is different. When I’m on vacation the person who covers for me works their regular hours at their regular location and they only do the parts of my job that are time- sensitive . The reason they are covering for me is that although we do the same job, I handle geographic areas A, B and C and one of my coworkers handles D, E , F and the other handles G. Asking them to cover involves literally saying ” Can you cover for me the week of _____ ? ” and the answer is always yes unless that person will be out of the office. A previous work location had a full-time interpreter assigned – for her, arranging coverage involved calling the agency. In those situations, nothing is added by having the manager work out coverage.

          1. Beatrice*

            This is how it works where I am, too. The manager is involved in setting up and maintaining the cross-training network, and reviewing vacation approvals to make sure coverage shouldn’t be a problem. Then employees coordinate the actual coverage. The only time the manager needs to get involved is if the cross-trained people are unavailable or no one is cross-trained, or I guess if the cross-trained person is part of another team and providing coverage might be onerous, and someone needs to double-check with that person’s manager.

          2. TootsNYC*

            sometimes “cover for me” means “handle any of the really urgent stuff that comes up”; sometimes it means “do this one or three tasks”; sometimes it means “Do all the work that I would do if I were here”; sometimes it means “find someone to take my shift in addition to their own.”

            Speaking ss a manager, I just think it’s lazy in the extreme to ask someone else to find someone to take over their work. They don’t have the authority.

            At our co-op apartment building, which is self-managed, our super has to find their own substitute if they go on vacation. That has always bothered me. And I think we don’t really pay that person, or we pay very little. What happens is that all the supers on the block swap around. But it has never set right with me.

            It feels like bad management. You’re the manager–what IS your job, anyway?
            Choosing and scheduling workers; determining who fulfills what responsibility.
            Do you job!

        2. fposte*

          Cross training is a great idea, but it’s not something every field can reasonably do–it works most effectively in jobs where there’s a pool of similarly skilled workers that have different remits most of the time but can be repurposed. My guess is that the OP *is* in that kind of workplace, but plenty of people don’t work in a situation like that, and it’s not a mark against the organization.

          1. Mockingjay*

            At my job we are cross-trained so we can – theoretically – cover for each other. Availability is the other side of the coin. If my project is on deadline, I’m not available to help another. It’s up to my manager to figure out what to do in that case.

            This actually happens fairly often; our program is still growing and the staffing levels can’t quite keep pace. Fortunately my company management is of the mind, “we’ll prioritize and muddle through – go enjoy your vacation.” It’s nice to have managers who do their jobs.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              It builds loyalty too. My boss is far from perfect, but we stay because he always supports time away for vacation or medical, and he appreciates our work.

      2. Lynca*

        You still need proper standing to be able to do that. And I agree with Engineer Girl that this is really poor management. I’ve had to shuffle projects to other co-workers to cover while I’m out. All of us can do the work but I don’t really have standing to push back if they say no. If everyone said no, I’d have to escalate it with my manager anyway!

        IMO a good manager would take the items that need to be covered and assign it themselves. They have standing to do that. They should also be working with the employees that are there to ensure coverage. It is really striking that the manager expects the OP to do the heavy lifting to figure out how to cover a 3 hour window due to a time zone difference. That kind of stuff is 100% something a manager should be working out.

      3. DustyJ*

        I think it’s really workplace-dependent. In some places, your leave is always subject to minimum service standards, and that comes first.

    2. WellRed*

      I wonder if the manager came from a retail or food service background and hasn’t learned office norms. She is being unreasonable.

      1. mcr-red*

        My daughter works retail, and if she wants to not work a day so she can go out of town, she just leaves a note for the manager that does the schedule, “Hey don’t schedule me for this date, I’m going out of town.” And they don’t schedule her for that day. The only time I know anyone had to look for coverage was when they wanted to take a last minute day off.

        1. Manon*

          Your daughter works at an unusually well-managed retail job, then. All of the food service jobs I’ve worked were terrible about scheduling. One place’s system for time-off requests was to fill out a slip and put it in a box for management. Even if I did this weeks or months in advance and continually followed up, 9 times out of 10 they screwed it up somehow and suddenly I was responsible for finding coverage. Another place had an online scheduling system and even then they put high school students on the schedule for daytime shifts on weekdays.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Sounds to me like maybe the new manager just doesn’t know how vacation and coverage work at the new company. If you ask her again and use Alison’s wording about how “in the past we usually…” do things a certain way, maybe she’ll ask the higher-ups if she misunderstood vacation coverage. If she’s a good manager (and a good person) she’ll realize she has the situation wrong and fix it.

    4. OP #4*

      Thanks all for your input. I’ve had some other issues with this manager so I wasn’t sure if I was just overreacting to this because I was already a little sensitive about her management. I’ve secured backup for one of my vacation weeks, but have left the one with multiple conflicts sitting and will use the advice offered here – thank you!

      To answer some of the things that have come up – yes, we have a number of people in each role who are similarly skilled but working on different areas of the business. “Coverage” has meant something different to certain people so it’s been an issue lately – some people seem to think it means you’re literally covering the entirety of the second person’s job, others are understanding that it’s for emergencies only. I just don’t want people to get stuck doing non time sensitive tasks that I can do when I return, and the expectations are not clear.

      Yes, I believe she’s a fairly new manager, I’m only her second direct report at this company, but I’m not sure about her background in managing people before she was here.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Since people are unclear about what “coverage” really means, that makes it more complicated for you to find your own coverage. Can you ask your manager to clarify for everyone (assuming she manages the others who would provide coverage for you) what it means to provide coverage so that everyone has the same expectations? I imagine it would be far easier if people understood that coverage for you just means being available for the occasional emergency and not like a guaranteed 25% more work while you’re gone. Unless it means the latter, in which case that’s not a great system as others have pointed out.

        FWIW I’m required by my management to have “coverage” when I’m out of the office, but all that means is listing a few names that could answer the rare urgent question that comes in when I’m not available – there is no extra work component so I don’t need to arrange with people specifically, but that is specific to my type of work and understood by everyone (similarly, nobody formally asks me when I am listed as a backup on the limited number of things I can support).

  11. Engineer Girl*

    #2 – Since you live near a residential area you may want to encourage people to rent someone’s driveway on a monthly basis.

    You may also want to institute a sign in/sign out policy. That will help people track their time.

    1. valentine*

      OP2: Pay for their parking (in a way they can’t pocket the money and still play musical cars).

      1. Toodie*

        You know, I don’t even know if this is possible. Where I work, the employees who drive to work (I am remote) get a paid company parking pass for one of the parking structures in the area. There are three of them, I think, and employees are assigned to one of the structures based on seniority. Longest walk from the office is 10 minutes. As people leave the company, your assignment moves to the structure closest to the office, which is attached. And yet. AND YET people who are in that furthest parking structure will pay the meters for a downtown space because they don’t want to make the 10 minute walk. And then they’ll have to run down and pay the meter or move their car throughout the day. Drives me nuts.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I would be ECSTATIC over paid parking and a ten-minute walk. Twice a day, that’s twenty minutes! My usual fitness walk takes nearly an hour. I could cut that in half!

      2. LegalBeagle*

        My work has an FSA that you can only use for parking and transportation. That would help defray the costs, and any non-approves charges are rejected.

        1. WellRed*

          Does your company contribute to the FSA? Otherwise, the employees are still paying for parking, it’s not defrayed.

          1. Dana B.S.*

            For some, the pre-tax component of it is a huge deal. However, I’m guessing these are probably not highly compensated employees who receive the most benefit from pre-tax deductions. And I actually think an HCE would demand a parking reimbursement or stipend.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            Where I work employees HAVE TO pay for parking. The only thing that the university covers is carpool and transit expenses. They even have to pay in areas with plenty of parking. When the built new building off-campus to shove the staff into the deliberately did not build enough parking to force people into lousy, long transit commutes.

            This is actually the first place that I’ve ever worked for where I had to pay for parking.

      3. Urdnot Bakara*

        Yes please, if this is possible. I was basically OP2 at my past job. Triple whammy when it came to transportation–1) monthly parking spaces were crazy expensive, 2) I lived near the end of the subway line so public transportation costs were…. not much better than monthly parking, plus I had to pay to park at the station because it was too far to walk from my house, and 3) rent was outrageous and I was super underpaid so I couldn’t afford to move closer to work. Our work gave us a $50/month untaxable stipend, but that barely covered anything. My current employer allows us to put money pre-tax in an FSA which we can use for public transit or parking, but, you know, I’m still paying for it. Please, please examine if this a benefit you can provide for your employees, especially since it is clearly affecting a lot of them!

      4. designbot*

        That’s what I came down to say too. If how people are handling parking, at this scale not just one or two people, is having such an impact on your business, that means your business has not found the right solution for parking your employees. Don’t just scold them, help them.

      5. Alanna of Trebond*

        Please don’t do that unless everyone at your company drives to work and there are no other options. I don’t know what city this is in, but in places with expensive downtown parking, scarce street parking, and no company parking lots, there are often other options: public transit, carpooling, ridesharing, biking, etc. Paying for parking for people who drive to work alone in their car is a big subsidy for people who do a thing with real downsides for the community and the environment

    2. Linguist*

      Ooooh, GENIUS! Is renting someone’s driveway a common thing? If so, man, I love solutions like that.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Employees may even find folks who would rent lawn space to pick up some extra cash. I know I have had times where I would consider that deal.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I’d recommend any car owner check the local regulations about that — in many places it’s illegal to park on lawns. That is *per property* not per car so if the resident has had problems in the past, local law enforcement might skip the tickets & warnings and move right to towing. !
          The rule was added a couple of years ago in my old town just as I was moving out — and even though I’m pretty lax about political flyers in my mailbox I knew it was coming. But the neighbor with the car-generated gully in his front lawn was outraged at getting tickets. (Reported to me by a third neighbor who was home at the time the ticket was discovered…high volume ranting ensued. But the lawn was filled in later that summer.)

          1. JessaB*

            Well it’s probably because of the water tables, cars leak fluids sometimes and they’re biohazards to the water supply, also they’re not light, and depending on the substrate could cause damage.

      2. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

        I don’t know about the US, but my brother rents out his driveway as parking. He lives just outside of London. It’s very common in his neighborhood.

      3. Urdnot Bakara*

        I did this in the US (DC)–I had a car and moved to a building that didn’t have parking, and I didn’t find out I couldn’t get a street permit until it was too late, so I found someone on Craigslist who rented out parking space behind his house. There were like 4-5 people total who parked there. Didn’t know it was a thing before this, though!

      4. TheRedCoat*

        Here it’s pretty common around the shipyard, which has limited parking- usually it’s unofficial and under the table, but it can be lucrative.

    3. Middle School Teacher*

      That’s not legal in a lot of places. I would discourage that. Lots of people will do it to make a quick buck but in my city, and especially around certain areas (sports stadiums, major parks etc) bylaw does check to see vehicles are registered to the owner or renter of the property and will tow those that aren’t.

      1. Lake*

        I’ve never heard of parking enforcement checking that cars in driveways below to the owner of the house. How would they know that the homeowner is charging money for people parking in their driveway vs. letting a friend who is visiting park there for free?

        1. Sharkie*

          In my city it is to discourage car related cash-based businesses. Also shady tow companies don’t really care. I went to West Virginia University and people were routinely towed from their driveways on game days.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Right. How the heck is it legal for anyone to tow a car off of your private property? The tow truck shouldn’t even be looking at your private property. I can see if there’s a car blocking a driveway (as mentioned below), but towing it out of their own driveway is insane.

      2. Sharkie*

        Yep. I work in sports and moved to a building a 5-minute walk from the stadium I worked at. We were in the middle of a 2 week homestand right after I moved in and my car was towed 6 times out of my private spot because my landlord hadn’t registered me and my car with the city. It was a nightmare. I finally had to report my car as stolen and had to write a strongly worded letter to the mayor to get it stopped.

      3. doreen*

        It’s only legal in my city to park a car across a driveway (blocking the entrance) if it’s registered to that address ( and yes, in theory it doesn’t matter if it’s my friend’s car and I gave him permission) – but that has nothing to do cars driveway and entirely on my property

        1. LCL*

          Ha. Here you can’t even block your own driveway legally. I always tell people to think twice before calling parking enforcement, because they will do their job. At least they treat everyone equally.

      4. Sarah N*

        What if you mom is visiting you from out of town?? She’s really not allowed to park on personally-owned property??

      5. Michaela Westen*

        Can’t have people using their own property to make a little money, can we? /s
        The city and parking companies apparently have to take all of it…

  12. Linda Shaver-Gleason*

    OP #2: Can you arrange it so a pair of coworkers go out together and swap spots? It might mean putting something in the spot while the cars are making the swap (like, a lawn chair), but ot could save the time of looking for a new empty spot.

    1. Fulana del Tal*

      Bad idea. Generally you can’t hold parking spots. If this area is really that congested someone else will simply move the cone/chair before the employee could park.

    2. Anon today and tomorrow*

      Space savers are the bane of my existence and I remove them whenever I see them. You don’t own the spot, you don’t get to claim it.

      Some cities also have a ban on space savers.

      1. Cameron*

        What about in the aftermath of snowstorms? In Boston, when it would snow 2 feet, people would save the space they laboriously dug out by putting a chair with a sign on it. One the one hand, no, you can’t save street spaces. On the other hand, it’s not fair to park in a space that someone else dug out.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          In Boston, people also get stabbed over space savers. They are tacky, and not something a city should encourage.

        2. CheeryO*

          Must be regional. I live in a much snowier city than Boston, and spot saving is definitely not a thing here.

          1. Angie*

            Is it Erie? Whenever I hear that nonsense about the spot saving in Boston and the whining about digging out parking spaces I want to laugh. Of course parking is way more abundant Ser but man there’s a lot of whining that goes on. You live where there’s snow. You can’t save a parking space. Get over it.

        3. Just Elle*

          Lol this is exactly where my mind jumped – sheer horror at the idea of moving someones space savers.

          My first snowstorm in Boston I moved the “piece of trash” sitting in the parking space and parked there.

          One very expensive insurance claim later I learned what a space saver is.

          Boston is not somewhere you want to be lecturing people about the legality of space savers.

          1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

            “One very expensive insurance claim later I learned what a space saver is” sounds like the prompt for a short story in a creative writing class.

        4. Grapey*

          Boston native here.

          If you want the spot so much, keep your car in there. It IS fair to park in any legal available spot you see on a public street, especially in an area you pay taxes to live in. Parking on street and shoveling out during a snowstorm instead of parking in a garage is the price you pay to park on the street in Boston in the winter.

        5. doreen*

          I have never been able to understand that. I don’t live in Boston, but I’ve been there and I did not get the impression that it’s the sot of place where every business has a parking lot. So where are you parking in Boston after you shovel out and arrive at your destination if not in a space that someone else shoveled out?

      2. Pretend Scientist*

        Anyone here from Pittsburgh? Parking chairs are fairly common, and pretty well respected. It sometimes seems a bit ridiculous in good weather, but you NEVER move a chair when it’s there to save a space that someone shoveled out for their own car.

      3. Alli525*

        With the exception, I hope, of when you’ve snowplowed a space. You are entitled to the space that you clear, in my opinion. (I’m from Chicago and this is the implicit rule.)

    3. pleaset*

      “It might mean putting something in the spot while the cars are making the swap (like, a lawn chair)”

      Except perhaps for very exceptional circumstances – like needing a spot right in a certain place for moving furniture or something – holding spots like that is so obnoxious. And I’m glad some people like “Anon today and tomorrow” don’t put up with it.

    4. drpuma*

      Depending on city parking ordinances trading spots may not be feasible. I know where I live (Philly) you need to move your car to a different block.

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

      May not work. In my medium-sized city if it’s timed parking like 2-hour, you have to park a certain distance away from your former spot otherwise you get a ticket; and it’s quite a way — like 2 city blocks at least. The parking officers, who seem somewhat laissez faire do take notice of vehicles that frequently rotate too close or routinely go over the time limit. The idea behind 1- or 2-hour parking is so that customers can get in and out of the businesses, not so that employees can park all day.

    6. Angie*

      No. You can not have a publicly available spot. If parking is that difficult to find their then that’s going to cause a problem and possibly end up in someone getting in fight or arrested and that would disrupt the workplace too. This is not a real good idea.

  13. nonee*

    #2 – is there a bigger picture here where there’s not enough public transport to your building, or where the company itself should be subsidising parking? I can’t imagine putting myself through the disruption of moving my car 3 times a day unless I had no other options.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      My company only offers free parking for senior employees and some limited subsidised parking nearby for anyone who applies (subject to availability). We get public transport reimbursed, but I work with several people who have to clock out several times a day to put more money on the parking meter.

    2. doreen*

      You would be surprised what people will do. I have spent over 15 years of the last 30 working on the same block ( at two different jobs). The area is well-served by public transportation – there are 4 train lines , a commuter railroad and about 15 bus lines within walking distance. There is a parking lot across the street that charges $7 per day as long as you enter by 9 leave by 6. Still people park blocks away in residential areas because they don’t want to pay. And get to work late because it’s so hard to find free parking.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        $7 a day sounds like no problem, but that money adds up, and maybe people don’t have it like that.

        1. All the yikes*

          True, but if cost alone was a true concern in most places choosing public transit is even cheaper than driving.

          That said, if driving and searching for a free space is the best option for those folks I’d be fine with it as long as they budget enough time to find a spot. Its like people who are late because of traffic 3 days out of 5… At that point they can’t blame traffic, it’s the fact that they don’t leave enough time.

          1. doreen*

            Oh, I don’t have a problem with it – I’m just saying that multiple public transportation options don’t eliminate the parking issue , even in a city where employer provided parking is not expected .

            1. Michaela Westen*

              It sounds like the problem is unrealistic expectations on the part of the parkers.
              They could take transit or pay, but they apparently think they should park for free and go to lengths.
              I love transit and don’t like owning a car. Your workplace sounds like a transit paradise. :)

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            Public transit is only cheaper in cash cost, but it’s twice to three times as expensive in time.

            It takes me between 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes each way to drive to work. It takes from 1.5 to 2.5 hours each to take transit – IF I come at the “right” times for the shuttles. Otherwise I end up walking over a mile on the way home, and I’m disabled.

            So that’s 1.5 to 3 or more hours I lose EACH DAY, unable to actually do work due to crowding and multiple transfers. My employer doesn’t pay me for that. They don’t make transit that works well for disabled folks, or people with a busy life. I’m not wasting 7.5 or more hours a week, plus the added fatigue, to save a couple bucks by taking transit.

            Essentially, when you calculate the true cost of a commute, you have to include the time at the person’t salaried rate as well as parking, mileage, fares, tolls, etc.

            I will take transit when it breaks even on time or is faster than driving, because my time is very valuable to me. I’ve done so in the past.

            Sorry, rant over.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Right? Figure there’s usually 20-23 working days in a month, that’s $140+ for parking per month. I’d walk a few blocks instead!

      2. Koala dreams*

        Yes, some people have strong preferences for taking the car, even when it’s more convenient to take public transport. Many people also want to avoid paying for parking space or paying more for a dedicated space, and are willing to spend a lot of time. It’s like a challenge for them.

        That being said, I wish more employers would consider transportation when they choose locations. Sometimes there simply isn’t a good way to get to work, especially if the job is low pay.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Whenever I’m job searching, being in a downtown type area where parking is difficult and traffic is slow always counts against the job when I am making decisions – the busier the area the more it counts against it. I would rather have a longer commute if I don’t have to worry about parking (or parallel park every day – ugh).

        2. Michaela Westen*

          The way I see it is, employers who locate far from transit will not get any interest from me. Life is too short for a nightmare commute to the suburbs, even if I owned a car.

      3. Midge*

        I have seen this happen in an office where the organization paid for parking hang tags for employees at a lot a couple of blocks away (very short walk). Parking was thus FREE. People would still park out front at metered spots with 2 hour limits. And then waste time and mental energy dealing with feeding meters, getting pissed off at the parking enforcement officers when they’d chalk tires and/or give tickets, asking secretaries to feed their meters, etc. And of course local businesses were not happy that spots meant for their customers were being taken up by these people. (And rightly so. It’s the kind of downtown where it’s not unreasonable to find on-street parking near a shop or restaurant you’re going to. Unless they are hogged for 9 hours a day by people who don’t need them.)

        These were all able bodied people. I know because I worked closely with them and knew them well. I worked there through a difficult pregnancy and a major long-term illness and still managed to park in the freaking parking lot.

        1. Midge*

          Obviously I get unreasonably pissy about that whole experience. I don’t think it would have been as bad if people didn’t talk about their meter status all the freaking time.

          I don’t work there anymore, but I get some petty joy out of knowing that the meters are gone, replaced by a kiosk. I think that makes it harder to park there for two hours (you might need to move to a different area, not just a different spot), and makes it impossible to park for more than two hours if you are using the convenient app instead of the kiosk. (There is all day parking in town, cheaper by the hour than the two hour parking. But the most convenient lot is right next to the “free” lot for that former employer. LOL) So many people in town grumble about the kiosks, but appreciate being able to pay for parking without digging for loose change.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP2 it’s also worth seeing if your state/region has a commuter van program. In our state there’s a pretty active ride-sharing program — with financial incentives to employers to designate vanpool parking spots, and to employees for gas & paid parking if there’s no lot at their job site. The state maintains a carpool match-up website too.
      (Which reminds me I haven’t checked that website since moving — heaven help me I want a vanpool!)

    4. Washi*

      I was also confused by this – if there’s decent public transportation and the office didn’t recently move and disrupt people’s commutes, I’m not that sympathetic to needed to move your car every 2 hours in order to not pay for parking. I worked in exactly such an area for a long time (expensive garages, 2 hour street parking, good public transit) and people were expected to either take the train/bus or pay for parking, not spend 20-30 minutes 3x/day circling the block looking for a new spot. This is just part of city life, I think this is something the employees should have taken into consideration when taking the job.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Yes. Just like I don’t apply for jobs in car-dependent suburbs because I like the city and transit.

  14. Nini*

    LW2: The real issue here seems to be that parking is so expensive your employees feel they can’t afford it and are using the free parking instead, despite the disruption to the work day. I’d bet no one *enjoys* leaving every 2 hours to go hunt down a new parking space (unless they just hate their jobs or something…) If it’s truly become this big of an issue in the office, and with management, then it might be worth looking into having the company offer some incentives to make purchasing monthly passes more affordable and therefore the more attractive option. Sure, you’ll still have one or two hold outs, but I’d bet more people opt for the convenience. There might even be group rates and discounts your company could look into. (My company is in a similar situation and offers to reimburse half of our monthly parking passes.)

    1. Chris*

      That’s what I was thinking, too. Going to your car and finding another parking space isn’t free time and I am pretty sure people are not enjoying doing it. Even if they clock out, getting back into the right mindset takes time and costs the company money. Using some money to subsidise parking would fix the problem and would create a lot of goodwill on the side of the employees.

    2. cncx*

      yes, this is what a company of mine did when they moved from an office with its own parking lot to one with city parking- employees who drove were given the choice of having x hundred dollars a month towards either a monthly train pass or monthly parking at the public garage a ten minute walk away, and employees who had strict butt in chair times (reception, mail, some assistants) were given paid assigned slots closer to the building, our receptionist parked next to the ceo. The company could do more here other than complain about people taking time to swap. People wouldn’t have to swap at all if the company helped with the parking issue.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Annnd… from personal experience, the company is ticking off the community by not providing space for their employees. This can play out badly with random people reporting the company for this and that, just to make things difficult for the company.

      In my example that I am thinking of, the company eventually folded. It was a steady stream of complaints by the people in the area around the company.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        Yep. I work for a University who has a campus located in the suburbs. A lot, and I mean a lot, of people and students park in the neighborhoods because the monthly parking pass is prohibitively expensive for a lot of employees (and students!). I have a friend who lives in the neighborhood surrounding the University and she’s told me that a lot of their community meetings talk about this issue, but a majority of the irritation is towards the University for not providing affordable parking for their employees, not at the people who park in the neighborhoods.

        1. WellRed*

          We have a university that expanded it’s programs (pharmacy, very hot right now), but opted not to add expanded parking in a small city and suburb where everyone has a car. Students were parking in the nearby cemetery. Even after gates were closed. That didn’t last long.

      2. Too Old For This Nonsense*

        Oh, the effect on the neighbourhood is a good point! My children’s school definitely annoys the neighbours with the (ahem – parents’) inconsiderate parking and driving, AND the teachers and support staff all have to troop out at break time to shift their cars (like many London neighbourhoods near a station, parking is restricted for an hour in the middle of the day, in order to thwart the commuters).

    4. All the yikes*

      I’m not sure how big of a city the original poster is in, but in my city there’s no expectation that parking is paid by or subsidized by the employer.

      People are expected to make all of their own arrangements for transportation and bear all the costs. This is across all industries and most seniority levels (even many C-level folks pay for their own parking in small to medium sized companies).

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, in my city it would be laughable to expect an employer downtown to pay for your parking if you’re able to take the train/bus. The city has strongly incentivized taking public transit and the attitude is kind of like – if you make the choice to drive, you need to deal with the consequences.

          1. boo bot*

            That’s true where I live as well, but this varies so wildly across the US that I don’t think it’s possible to draw broad conclusions from one region to another.

            In this case, it seems like the high cost of the parking lots is disrupting the business, and they need to solve for that rather than debate about what should or shouldn’t be subsidized. Maybe the business could negotiate a lower group rate for parking passes, or something, that the workers could buy into?

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          In the major metropolitan downtown near me it is both often dangerous, and has one of the saddest public transportation systems for a major city in the US. I don’t think there is any possible way to get from my house to downtown without using a car that wouldn’t at least triple the travel time. And I certainly wouldn’t feel safe doing it early in the morning or late at night. Sometimes a car is just your only option.

      2. BRR*

        That has been my experience as well. Getting to work is an expectation of the job. Employers have varying levels of parking benefits similar to how health insurance or retirement matching varies but parking in downtown is often “it’s your job to get to work.”

      3. TheRedCoat*

        And in my city, I would have to leave at 4am and pay $45 a trip to get to work at 8am. Good public transportation is not universal.

    5. Colette*

      Lots of people believe they shouldn’t pay for parking even when they could afford the money, though. It’s a weird blind spot – they’ll buy a $15 lunch every day but balk at paying $10 for parking.

        1. Washi*

          I think the reaction to this really varies by city, because in my area, driving/parking is a choice. By far the majority of people take public transit rather than attempting to drive into the downtown. So I think it really depends on the norms of the city and what other options are available. If public transportation = one bus that comes every 30 minutes, then yeah, the employer should pay for parking. If there’s safe and reliable public transit, then it seems like the employer doesn’t need to subsidize employees’ choice to drive.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Safe, reliable, and covers enough hours.

            Where I work, my coworker has to leave by 6:15 to catch the last shuttle to the train station. It doesn’t matter whether he’s finished with what he was doing or not. He has to leave by then or pay $$$ for a rideshare.

            I’m not about to ride transit here – too many transfers, a lousy schedule, and too much walking for me (I’m disabled.)

        2. Colette*

          So you should prioritize paying for parking over paying for lunch, if that is the case.

    6. Chatterby*

      I totally came to the comments to say: Just pay for parking.
      Unless you’re based in a city where owning a car is truly unusual, providing parking should be a standard business expense.
      I’m betting this parking thing is costing them more than they know, in terms of actual money, damaged morale, and missed opportunities.
      Think about it: if they’ve got just one employee paid in the $30 an hour range ($60k a year) spending 30-40 minutes a day on this, that’s at least $300-400 wasted a month, more if the time to readjust is factored in, which is enough to buy two+ spots in most cities (according to Google). And if they’re paying less than that, it really isn’t fair to shift that cost onto their employees.
      Let’s not forget to mention all the time spent complaining about the parking and being resentful. Because they are resentful and complaining.
      I have also had several friends nope right out of jobs that required them to pay for parking. Doesn’t matter how great everything else was, they didn’t want to pay to go to work everyday. And ones who did, noped out the second a job which did provide parking offered. Then made us all listen to months of crowing about their new, free parking.
      If they call out employees on this, they’re going to get a lot of head nodding, followed by people sneaking out to do it anyways, and a ratcheting of stress levels and disgruntlement. A stern talking to is not going to resolve the reasons driving them to wander the streets. It will make them hide it though, and then look for a new situation when that stops being an option.

    7. Art3mis*

      This is what I was going to say. Offer some kind of parking, carpool, and/or mass transit (if available) incentives. Could even be a recruitment and retention benefits.

    8. Allison*

      I agree. I get that long-term parking is expensive in the city, but employers need to provide parking that their employees can afford – all of them, even the assistants and coordinators – especially if public transit isn’t a viable option!

      1. Friyay*

        I dunno – I feel like this is a slippery slope. Should employers have to pay for business casual clothing if it’s required to wear to work? Should they have to pay to provide lunch because it takes up work time to go buy or prepare a lunch and is inconvenient? I might be biased because I work at a large university where it would be laughable to ask for your parking to be paid for – it’s just part of the deal you’re signing up for if you agree to work there, as it probably would be with any gov’t agency or gov’t office. People get creative with parking in non-two-hour spots and busing in, etc. To live on the bus lines, you’re going to pay way more than rent, so it’s sort of a wash to live out in the ‘burbs and have way cheaper housing but pay $100 a month for parking.

        1. valentine*

          Should employers have to pay for business casual clothing if it’s required to wear to work? Should they have to pay to provide lunch because it takes up work time to go buy or prepare a lunch and is inconvenient?
          Yes & yes. Because the money’s nothing to the company, horrid WASP rules constitute a uniform and businesses should purchase those, and finding food takes up break time. (Also, it ensures food access for at least one meal.)

          A catered workday, nap pods, and more offices with locking doors would do so much good.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I <3 this.

            IMO, if your employer has a strict dress code or mandated colors, then what they are asking for is a uniform, and they need to pay.

            Most companies in my field don't have a strict dress code.

            Unfortunately, most also don't have offices for anyone below director level. (I hate open plan.)

        2. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

          My husband’s job reimburses workers for the steel toed safety boots that are required wear, and provides them with company branded shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, even jackets on a regular basis.

  15. atalanta0jess*

    I can’t imagine it’s unsafe for folks to be moving their cars, anymore than it’s unsafe for them to leave at the end of the day, or stop at the grocery store, or do any of the other multitude of things adults routinely do without someone knowing exactly where they are and when to expect them.

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      Using the phrase “unsafe” might be a bit misleading then, in this case.
      However, knowing where someone is and when to expect them should be routine as part of the middle of the work day.
      If I’m waiting on someone for a meeting to start and they’re late, do I know they’ve gone to move their car, been interrupted by a colleague with an urgent request, or slipped on some spilled coffee because facilities management hadn’t been able to put a cone out in 0.3 seconds after the spillage?
      It could be argued that last one is “unsafe”, but can be an all too common occurrence in an office with tiled floors in the common areas.

      1. Observer*

        If that’s what the OP meant, that’s what they should have said. Calling it a safety issue is just silly at best.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I think the LW was referring to a situation where there’s an emergency at work – a fire or something similar. You could end up evacuating and not being able to tell emergency service if John and Jane are trapped somewhere in the building or just out moving their cars. Even some retail stores have sign in/sign out protocols for this reason.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        This is a real thing! At a call center where I worked, whenever there was a fire drill or other practice evacuation, it always ended with an extra 15 minutes of managers going back into the building to look for the people who hadn’t come out but were supposed to have been in the building.

        I think LW might have also been talking about the increased danger of driving in congested traffic multiple times a day when spaces are scarce and what happens if someone is injured while driving and not at work but also not on a break—most jobs I’ve had have rules about not leaving the building unless you’re on an unpaid break (or clocked out for the day) because they don’t want to risk being liable for things like that.

        1. drogon breath*

          Were people required to swipe out? I never understand this because I’ve worked in places that needed to know if you were going to work from home in case there was an “emergency” but everyone freely walked in and out of the building all day.

      2. Observer*

        So, have a sign out sheet. That’s a simple and sensible solution. And a LOT easier to enforce than trying to keep people from moving their cars.

        But the OP explicitly claims that it’s unsafe because “what if they get into an accident”.

      3. Sarah N*

        This is so dependent on workplace. At my workplace (university) no one signs in/out and if there were a fire the most we could say is “I think Jane might have been in her office this morning?” But she could as easily have gone for coffee or decided to work in the campus library that afternoon.

    3. LaurenB*

      Yes, “unsafe” seems a bit of a stretch. There’s nothing more unsafe about the parking maneuver at 11 am than there was at 8:30 am or will be at 5 pm. If someone ran out at 11 am to run a quick errand on their break and in the course of that moved their car from Point A to Point B, one wouldn’t accuse the coworker of “doing something unsafe.” Drop that one from the litany of why this is a bad idea.

  16. Brooklyn Nine-Niner*

    OP #5, contact the police. And if you want to get more evidence, I recommend when he goes to the breakroom, follow him once he goes in, with your phone recording the whole time.

    1. Brooklyn Nine-Niner*

      Oh, and if the door to the breakroom has a window that faces your belongings, record through the window. If not, open the door slightly and listen to what he’s doing, and if you hear a purse open, open the door and point your camera at him.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        This is a good idea if you could do it stealthily but the lockers with optional locks and the one person at a time in the break room has me thinking this sounds like a lot of coverage-heavy jobs I’ve had where you can’t just leave what you’re supposed to be doing like that.

        What about a small camera in the locker? Next to the bag or otherwise hidden at eye level? Locker opens: good shot of the person stealing. (As long as there’s no audio, it’s not wiretapping!) Or maybe just one of those fake mini security cameras with a blinking red light—that might be enough for him to run to the manager and confess or something.

        1. Batgirl*

          This is a really good idea because you’re not recording the break room, just your own locker.

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

      Por, please check your company handbook. Depending on certifications and regulations, filming could be considered a fireable offense without exceptions.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Videorecording without mutual consent is illegal in a lot of states. And even if it were legal, this is very adversarial and risks switching the focus of the conflict from “dude is thieving my cash” to “LW#5 is harassing me.”

      1. seahorsesarecute*

        I’m the kind of person who would start storing mouse traps in my purse….

  17. Zane*

    OP#3: I struggle with some fairly serious mental health issues and I’ve been That Person Making Scary Comments before. My coworkers ended up talking to our boss about it. I ended up taking a few days off and getting my psychiatrist to switch my meds (my antidepressant was exacerbating my anxiety which caused a feedback loop). Even without the change in meds, the time off and the knowledge that my coworkers realized something was Very Wrong and wanted to help me… did actually help a lot. I can’t promise your coworker will feel the same way; I was also really embarrassed, and my boss was kind of amazingly understanding, but it made me realize how far my brain had wandered into the dark places. You really should consider telling HR or your manager (whoever you think is best suited) about your concerns. I don’t think you should tell the brother, at least not right now, because –from experience–family can be emotional about this topic in a way that’s unhelpful at best and harmful at worst. I wish you and your coworker the best of luck here.

    1. Tardigrade*

      This is a really helpful perspective for OP to read. I’m glad your coworkers were able to help you.

      1. LW #3*

        Hi, OP here–so there is another coworker the two of us are friends with. I wonder if it would be helpful to talk to her and see if she’s seen the same time of behavior, so then I don’t have to help her alone (selfish, but it’s the anxiety talking). Good thought, thank you!

          1. A tiny pastry builder called Neville*

            Seconding this, emphatically. It’s obvious how much you care and want to help this person – but you won’t be able to do that if you’ve burned yourself out trying to do it all solo. So I’d argue that taking good care of yourself and finding some backup (people who can support your coworker, and people who can support *you*) is the exact opposite of selfish. It’ll help you be able to continue being there for your coworker/friend in the long term. (Good friends have said this to me, when my anxiety is pushing me to take on more emotional burden than I can handle, and it’s helped put things in perspective.)

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          You’re not being selfish at all. Enlist help, including the coworker if that’s appropriate. And as others have mentioned, the national hotline is incredibly helpful. I always tell folks it’s like the emergency oxygen on a plane—you have to secure your mask before you can help other passengers. That’s not selfish; it’s survival.

          Thank you for thinking through this and taking this on, despite the effect it’s having on your anxiety.

  18. Auntie Social*

    OP5: Use a small crossbody bag or travel waist wallet. I’d either put a mousetrap, an alarm and an ink pad in your bait wallet. There are inexpensive purse alarms that make a 100db noise if the purse is moved or touched. Combine that with a picture frame nanny cam.

  19. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    OP5 – I knew of someone in a similar situation who filled their coat pockets with razor blades…..

    1. JustAThought*

      OP, do not do this! You could get in legal trouble even if it is a thief who gets injured, you will get in legal trouble if an innocent person ends up getting hurt by this and god forbid it is a child that gets hurt, you could absentmindedly injure yourself.

      1. Zephy*

        What reason would an innocent person have to be rummaging in a purse/coat pocket that isn’t theirs, though?

        1. The Supreme Troll*

          I was (somewhat) joking with my poison ivy response, but JustAThought is correct. No only that, remembering where you placed the booby-trap, what revenge tactics you’re taking (for lack of a better description) can maybe become even more emotionally training than to be the victim of a theft.

          A lot of other comments rightfully pointed out that the best course of action is to contact the police with thorough information of what OP#5 and her coworkers have observed. This is a time where she should ignore her manager’s wishes, as there is definitely something criminal going on.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          Whether their reason for rummaging is innocent or nefarious has no bearing on the liability of the person who put the razor blades there in the first place. You cannot claim self-defense if there were not immediate threat of harm to yourself. Setting a trap = you’re not there = there was no threat to you. Basically, humans are valued more than property, so you can’t set a trap to injure someone for going after your property because that is not a valid reason to injure them. If they posed a threat to you, you could injure them to defend yourself, but you can’t injure them to defend your stuff.

  20. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I’ve been suicidal in the past. I know several people who killed themselves.

    I joke about suicide in the sense of ‘Ha, demon, you can’t get the best of ME!’. It’s an act of defiance.

    I only do it when I know the audience, though.

    The rest of the time you’ll only get ‘I wouldn’t be caught dead…’ or ‘That’s not reason enough to throw myself BEHIND a train’*.

    *This one makes more sense in German (Deswegen werf ich mich jetzt auch nicht hintern Zug). It’s a response when someone makes a mountain out of a molehill and is being very dramatic about it.

    1. Slewp*

      I did too! I thought it was going to turn out to be the new “teapot production.”

  21. Still Alive*

    Alison, any chance of a content warning at the top of this post? The comments are becoming detailed which I am finding triggering. Other readers might appreciate an opportunity to skip today’s letters altogether.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      The idea of a trigger warning before Letter #3 isn’t off base and I support it, but I’m wondering (in all sincerity) what you expected to find in the comments discussing that letter?

      1. Still Alive*

        I’m not sure what I expected. Each comment on its own isn’t difficult for me, just the volume of them. If I’d seen a content warning I don’t think I’d have started reading.

        As it is, I’ve stopped, and used Ctrl-F to get back here to see if Alison had commented.

    2. valentine*

      Would it help to click “Collapse/Expand all threaded comments”, check the box for “Select collapse all as default site-wide”, and scroll past anything marked 3? (Though not all the relevant comments are so marked.)

    3. mcr-red*

      I’m just scrolling past the ones that I see mention #3. But I’m a fairly good skimmer, so I quickly look and see if I should read it or not.

    4. Tinker*

      I also maybe could have used a content warning for the discussion around notifying the brother, in the sense of disclosing alarming information about someone’s mental health to someone on the strength of their being a biological relative. I came in here to see the discussion of question 1 having seen the general subject of question 3 in passing, and I didn’t anticipate the family relationship component or the extent to which it would be debated.

      1. Stardust*

        Most of that discussion–which i honestly didn’t anticipate to be debated in that much detail either–isn’t about talking to the brother “on the strength of their being a biological relative”, though, it’s about talking to the brother in case LW can assume or even know her coworker and the brother are close. I don’t see many comments saying LW should talk to the brother no matter what but rather saying that it’s quite possible the siblings have a good relationship–which LW has indeed confirmed by now further up the thread–and that lw should react depending on what she knows about that relationship.

        1. Tinker*

          Let me clarify: I could have used content warnings around that subject because it is one that is triggering to me. I intentionally chose to mention that I could have used a content warning about this subject in the thread about content warnings instead of debating it in the threads about debates because getting into a detailed and completely systematic analysis of the thing rather than trying to summarize it causes me to experience inconvenient trauma symptoms.

          I am sorry you do not like how I described the subject that I do not want to engage with I continue to not want to engage with it.

          1. Still Alive*

            I’m sorry that this has caused discomfort for you too. Trauma is a difficult and unpredictable beast.

    5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I would appreciate it if things like #3 could be in separate posts in the future rather than combined in multiple-letter posts like this. I’m skipping the #3 comments but interested in reading/commenting on the rest of the letters, and it’s kind of rough for me to keep getting ambushed by more comment threads it’s best for me to avoid as I scroll.

  22. Carlie*

    OP2: Your company is already paying for parking in lost productivity. Either pay for parking as part of the benefits package or move the business somewhere that has better parking. The company might even be able to negotiate a lower group rate from the parking garage. But you can’t be mad at your own employees for not being able to afford to park at the location you chose on the salary amount you decided to pay them.

    1. Rebecca*

      This is something I dread – our office space came up for renewal several years ago, and there was talk about moving downtown, which means, metered parking or a parking garage, plus a longer commute, both in time and mileage due to traffic. Thankfully it didn’t happen, but if it did, we were not going to be compensated for the extra cost, nor did the company plan to pay for our parking. Basically, it meant I would take approximately a 12% take home pay reduction. Will look for another job if that happens.

      1. Antilles*

        My last company had actually done the reverse about a year before I joined – they formerly had a HQ downtown, but gave it up to move to the suburbs.
        It was near-universally regarded as a fantastic move. The mid-level and senior employees loved it because they mostly lived in the suburbs anyways. Junior employees liked it because they could either (a) live in the suburbs which were significantly cheaper than downtown apartments or (b) have a reverse commute. And while I wasn’t privy to the office financials, I’m 100% certain that the company saved quite a bit in rent.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Reverse commutes are often not a good thing – train and bus schedules are designed for people going the other way, which means a long wait, and many suburban locstions have really slow, inconvenient, and unreliable public transit or none at all, making them prohibitive for city residents who don’t have cars. I had a “reverse commute” job once where I had to wait around after work for an hour and a half before the train back into the city departed – and it would take me another hour and a half on the commuter train and subway to get home. I’ve had other reverse commutes which were fine – it all depends on location, and the company should take that into careful consideration.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        I’ve seen one or two instances of this when it seemed like a power play.
        I’m thinking of one where I was temping at a big, household-name company in its downtown skyscraper when it announced it was moving its headquarters to the suburbs. It had always been downtown and long-term employees had arranged their lives for the commute, usually with transit. I remember one lady, an engineer, who had worked there 20 years and she had a condo in the city and took an express bus to work every day. She didn’t have or want a car. Going to the suburbs would be a huge inconvenience for her.
        When it’s this egregious it really sends a message of not caring about the lives of the employees. I’m sure the company was happy to lose valuable long-term employees in return for whatever they got by moving. :p

    2. All the yikes*

      I have commented on another sub-thread but this is so location dependent, in my city there are no employers who pay for their employees parking even in very expensive areas (like our financial district) employees have to make their own decisions about what they can afford… For some it means they take a bus to work and for others they she’ll out for parking. It’s truly unbelievable that an employer would bear the cost of parking.

      Don’t get me wrong, if they did I’d be quite happy for all employees (myself, I take transit) but i don’t think this suggestion will equally fly in all regions/cities.

    3. Colette*

      I work at a location directly on the major bus routes. People still drive, and pay for parking (or constantly move their cars). They are paid reasonably; they just want the convenience of driving without paying for it.

      In the OP’s case, the employees presumably knew where the office was when they accepted the job. I don’t see that the company has any responsibility here.

      1. paperpusher*

        I’m not saying this IS the case here, but it absolutely can be. It’s the same as the free food phenomenon – just because people run like bats out of hell to get to the free bagels, it doesn’t mean that they otherwise couldn’t afford to eat that day.

        I don’t see why employers are morally obligated to provide free parking any more than providing transit passes. Both are perks that may attract employees, but also may not make business sense.

    4. Samwise*

      Sure you can be mad at employees wasting a lot of worktime because they don’t want to pay for parking. That’s a decision the employees made: the employer offers a salary, it’s up to the employee to consider the costs as well as the benefits of working for that salary.

      I work for a large university. You better believe we pay for our own parking– $30/month is deducted from my salary. I’ve worked in the downtown of a very large city: I owned a car which I left parked in front of my apt building; to get to work I took a bus or train. Literally millions of people either pay for their own public transit or pay for their own parking. If an employee wants to help subsidize parking or transportation, that’s awesome, but it is highly unusual. Transportation is a cost people need to factor in when deciding whether to take a job.

      1. Academic Addie*

        I agree with this. My husband and I have always been a one car family. I also work at a university, and live close enough that I don’t drive. It’s always been this way, and we planned our lives so that this is possible. In his career, he does frequent local travel (court, jail, home visits, etc). While he can ask for mileage and parking when doing that travel, not for the office proper.

        Subsidized transit or parking seems like a cool perk. I think it’s worth thinking about if this might help you retain or recruit employees, OP2. But ultimately, you should know that it is really, really normal to expect employees to get themselves to work, and it’s not unfair to ask that long personal interruptions be kept to breaks.

  23. Koala dreams*

    In addition to the other answers, I want to add that you can talk directly to the coworker. They know best if they are serious and what help they want, so ask them.You can try an open-ended question:
    The last few days you have mentioned suicide several times. It makes me feel worried about you. What is going on?

    Another option is to offer specific help. Sometimes we don’t know what we need from others, so it helps when someone offers it first. I’ll write some ideas and you can consider them and see what seems doable for you, or come up with some things on your own if nothing fits your relationship.

    That sounds awful for you . Can I …. for you?
    Call the emergency number?
    Give you a ride to the psychiatric hospital?
    Call a family member? / Talk with your brother?
    Be a listening ear?
    Bring you some food tomorrow?
    Would you like to go for a coffee and a chat?

    Your questions about what would help catch the thief are better asked of the police and not your manager. Usually the police has a non emergency number where you can ask questions and report crimes. I also like the idea of safe locked drawers. Maybe you could go together as a group to your manager, or your manger’s manager, and ask for it. In the meantime, there are small traveller bags for money that you can put under your clothes that you can get. They are pretty cheap, but inconvenient if you actually need to pay for something. As a short term solution for the next few days it might work, though.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      I’ve had the best luck with, “I got the crisis line/mental health support number on my phone. I can dial it and you can talk to them (in a more private area).”

      Two people have taken me up on the offer. It’s not their phone. I’m not hanging around listening. It gives them some control of the situation.

      1. Pommette!*

        That’s brilliant – I really love that approach!

        Even small hindrances can become prohibitively difficult for people struggling with suicidality. Having to look up and dial a number can make the whole act seem too momentous, forbidding, or complicated – something that you’ll do later (or not at all). Creating circumstances where someone can simply (maybe even impulsively) call for help, and in a risk-free way at that, is really ingenious.

        The fact that you have the number saved on your phone also helps to normalize the line: yes, this is a useful service that people might want to have on their phone.

  24. Harper the Other One*

    OP #3, I want to echo what other commenters have said. I think the order I’d suggest is this:

    -talk to your coworker, even if it’s just to say, “hey, are you doing all right? I know things are tough right now and you’ve seemed really low. I’m worried about you.”

    -if you know the relationship is a supportive one, talk to the brother.

    -if you know it’s not, or if you’re not sure, talk to HR.

    The one addition I want to make is this: if the worst should happen and your coworker attempts or completes suicide, please remember that it is not your fault. I had a family member who was suicidal, although he never actively hurt himself, and I felt a lot of guilt for not “helping” enough. But I’m not trained, and suicidal ideation is complicated and difficult to manage, even by professionals and by people who are desperately trying to recover.

    I think you should say something, and even something small can be life saving – but sometimes it’s not, and that’s not necessarily because anyone did it “wrong.”

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I’ll echo this.
      Talk to coworker
      Talk to brother if you think coworker finds him supportive
      Talk to HR or someone else

      And it is not your fault if the worst happens.

      Thank you for looking out for your coworker this way. It is not easy to do and it might make things awkward for a time, but it is important!

    2. blink14*

      100% agree with the above. Also, another thing to keep in mind is once you speak up, whether directly to the person or their brother and/or HR, your coworker may be angry at you, but that’s ok. It’s worth reaching out and/or sharing your concern with the appropriate people, because that could be the chance to really help your coworker.

      The National Suicide Prevention Hotline also has a website that has some talking point suggestions and a list of signs to look out for. Really helpful information.

  25. Guy Incognito*

    Allison, I’m very concerned with your response to 5.

    While yes, it seems like the manager is not being as concerned about this, I’m more concerned that the OP just “knows it’s him”, despite there not being enough proof to do anything about it. How do you know, 100% for a fact it’s him? It’s not wrong for the manager to want proof before acting on it. Now, yes, the manager should be looking for it and doing more, but randomly blaming someone you just “know” did it is very concerning. Nowhere in the letter do you point out how you know its him. If you have that proof, please let us know, and let the manager know as well. But what it sounds like right now is that you have a speculation it’s him, and that shouldn’t be enough to get someone fired. I’m glad your manager is at least following up on that.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      The manager doesn’t want proof. If she wanted proof, she would have authorized putting a camera in the break room facing the lockers or she would have talked to all the employees about the thefts to try to find out what’s going on. She’s done nothing except kick it back to the victims of the crimes to solve themselves before she’s willing to act.

      There are a lot of ways to know (or at least strongly suspect) someone is stealing from you without literally catching them elbow-deep in your wallet. It’s usually a pattern of coincidences (like the coworker being alone in the break room when you go in there to get some cash and discover it’s missing—repeatedly) and then talking to your other coworkers about the thefts and it turns out everyone has been stolen from except one person.

      I trust the LW has reasons for her suspicions and didn’t detail the reasons because none of this would matter if the manager was willing to do her job in the first place, by which I mean do anything more than nothing to prevent more thefts.

    2. Asenath*

      I agree – this is exactly why proof is essential, and also why, if the boss is not willing to find/look for proof and the police are unlikely to do more than register a complaint, not much may be done. Of the times I’ve had to deal with theft, two incidents stand out – one, when I was a teenager, a group of us were convinced that one person had stolen something and made that clear. But she hadn’t. The missing item turned up. In the second, it was clear that there was a thief – money and small objects were definitely missing. There was a lot of suspicion focused on one person who appeared to be unaccounted for when some of the money went missing (the money was generally in purses tucked away in drawers or otherwise out of sight in an unlocked office which was empty some of the time when everyone in the building should have been elsewhere). The suspect slipped up when I spotted my lost calculator on his desk, but I just stole it back since it was clear by then management wasn’t going to deal with a messy situation. I’d have liked to have gotten my money back too, but all I got was criticisms for having it in my purse to begin with. Tempting thieves, etc.

      Anyway, the first incident taught me the risks of assuming you know someone’s a thief on little or no evidence. And the second taught me that there will probably be at least one petty thief in any largish group of people, and that sometimes no one wants to deal with the fall-out of trying to make them stop thieving.

      1. sled dog mama*

        Exactly where did they want you to keep your cash besides in your purse? I’m baffled as to how keeping cash in what I would consider the appropriate location is tempting thieves.

        1. Asenath*

          That was my point of view, which I expressed strongly. It wasn’t the boss, but a co-worker who said I was at fault for that particular theft because I allegedly tempted the thief by having my bag tucked away on a shelf out of sight of anyone who didn’t actually enter the room, go around the corner with the bookcase, and hunt around a bit. The co-worker would have changed his tune if he’d been one of the people who had had their money stolen!

          Not that I’m still really angry about that reaction!

    3. Ego Chamber*

      Shit. I just recognized your screen name. Aren’t you a known tr0ll around here for your lazy devil’s advocate bit?

      1. Guy Incognito*

        No, for a while I was actually pretty scared to post here, because of the toxic environment here. I started to feel a little better, but then I see things like this.

        My point stands. “We just know this guy did it” but you have no proof says to me that they are looking to someone… why? point out proof. Why is wanting “proof” so controversial?

        1. WellRed*

          It’s not that wanting proof is controversial; it’s that the manager is doing nothing and hiding behind the need for “proof.”

        2. fhqwhgads*

          The issue the manager is saying “give me proof!” in order to do anything at all. There’s a huge world of stuff between “do nothing” and “take victim at their word of whodunnit and fire that person”. What the manager should be doing is any of the thousands of options in between…such as….looking for proof…or even…speaking to everyone in a group and saying “X has been happening and needs to stop and we will investigate”. Just the outloud statement of “hey we know what’s going on” from an authority figure might put enough fear in the culprit to stop. It also might not. Some might be spurred on by the challenge…or know it’s an empty threat and nothing will happen. But the problem is if you still there and say “I will do nothing without proof” and then actively hinder anyone’s ability to get proof, that’s not helpful. They shouldn’t go directly after the suspect without proof, but they should DO SOMETHING.

      2. President Porpoise*

        Pretty sure Alison asks us not to accuse other people of being trolls, because it’s kind of a nasty thing to do.
        Guy, you do you – not everyone’s opinion needs to be the same, and it makes the comment section so much more interesting if we’re not all practicing the fine art of repeating the same advice in new wording.

    4. Stranded in the dog park*

      The LW specifically says the manager is doing nothing. It’s not that they aren’t going after the suspect named due to lack of proof, it’s that they are going after no one at all. Just throwing up their hands on the whole thing.
      Alison’s advice was to go as a group and lobby for a better system of securing their belongings. That’s absolutely something that the manger needs to address. If the breakroom is the only place they are allowed/able to store their belongings then it falls to management to ensure the breakroom is a safe place to do that.

    5. Glomarization, Esq.*

      I share your concern about OP’s certainty that they’ve identified the thief.

      I’m also disappointed at the commenter fanfic about installing surveillance around the purse, which is illegal in a lot of states, and very possibly against the workplace’s rules. And suggestions to put various booby traps (exploding dye packs, mousetraps, razor blades!) in the OP’s purse? OMG, people. “Home Alone” is not a how-to.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        I read the mousetrap bit as “just stick an unset mousetrap in the bait purse as a message to the thief that you caught them.” I would definitely not recommend actually arming the mousetrap!

      2. Delta Delta*

        I feel like a mousetrap in the purse is a good set up for a law school torts exam. So, yeah, don’t do that.

        Rubbing one’s wallet with a sliced jalapeño, on the other hand, might be more instructive and possibly somewhat less tortious. Possibly. This is absolutely NOT legal advice.

      3. Yorick*

        I don’t think suggestions (even bad ones) can be characterized as “commenter fanfic.”

        Sure, OP should not booby trap their stuff and it’s probably not wise to install surveillance either. But I think a lot of these comments (especially things like the mousetrap) are jokes anyway.

      4. Essess*

        Several posts about placing purse alarms aren’t far-fetched. Especially alarms that are a trigger cord that sets off loud alarms when the purse is pulled from the cord. The purse could be placed on an upper shelf in the locker so the unsuspecting thief would pull on the unseen cord and cause the alarm to go off. Those are not fanfic at all. I agree that the mousetraps and razor blades are not helpful comments.

  26. Thankful for AAM*

    Re OP#3, I find the “only tell professionsals” comments frustrating. What do you think will happen if someone tells a “professional?”

    If you tell a mental health professional they really cannot do anything except Baker Act someone if needed. The coworker has to want to get help.

    If the boss is good, like the story above, or HR is good, they can suggest the coworker take time off to address the mental health issue and suggest resources. They cannot make the coworker go to therapy or use the resources. All they can do is call the police in a crisis. And hope the police have been through training for dealing with mental illness because the statistics are not great if they are not.

    All too often though, we know that bosses and HR are not even good at managing/HR work so I don’t hold out much hope that they do anything at all and I’d worry that telling them will make things worse at work.

    This is a lot harder to navigate than the “only tell professionals” responses seem to suggest. The practical side of this was very difficult for my husband and I to navigate with our almost 30 something son even once he wanted to get help – and we have been through NAMI family training and have counseling contacts and support.

    OP#3 I don’t know who is best for you to contact in this situation but I hope you will talk to your coworker and someone else. I trust that you can figure out if the brother or another family member is a trusted person in your coworker’s life (you might not know if they don’t trust family bc ppl don’t often make that clear but you can tell if they do make statements that they do trust them).

    In any case, erring on the side of saying too much is better than not saying something.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I’d be especially wary of calling the police if your coworker is black. Many police departments are horrible at dealing with mental illness, as Thankful said – and that’s especially true if the person is black. There are too many cases where police have shot black people having mental health crises.

  27. hbc*

    OP4: I think there might be a mismatch on what OP and the manager are thinking of in terms of “coverage” and possibly also with what is required for the position. Because if I was told to find coverage, I wouldn’t find it nearly as onerous as most of the commenters seem to be thinking, and I definitely wouldn’t consider it my manager’s responsibility. As in, a single conversation or email with “Jane, Fergus, you’re in the week of the 28th, right? Fergus, can I set my out of office stuff to contact you for urgent needs? Jane, can you go to the weekly grooming meeting and make sure they don’t make any decisions without considering the new alpaca standards?” At most, I’d have to talk with a couple more people if this was prime vacation time.

    The amount of work I’d be shuffling is well within the tolerance of what someone would expect to deal with in an average week–an extra meeting, a few extra calls and emails, seriously no big deal. I wouldn’t blink about being asked to do the same from a junior employee, never mind a peer.

    So it couldn’t hurt to clarify what Manager thinks needs covering and making clear that, say, 99% of customers aren’t looking for an immediate response when they call, or that you’re not near any important deadlines for your event planning.

    1. Princess prissypants*

      This is how I read it too.

      OP4, the boss means to make sure that any projects with deadlines during that time are completed or covered, some one is set as your backup for any emergency items that would normally fall to you if they happen, you’ve found and filled in a substitute for any meetings you’re to attend during the time, etc.

      Find a friend or trusted colleague who can fill the gaps that the three-hours-away person can’t, and offer to be that person’s backup the next time they are out in exchange.

      This *IS* well within the range of an employee’s normal function, and your boss doesn’t need to make these decisions for you, or tell you how to make them. In fact, she’s outright stating that she’s fine with whatever arrangements you make.

    2. Ophelia*

      Yes, this. We don’t need “coverage” per se, but always put a one-line “for urgent questions, please contact X in my absence” note in our away notification. In approximately 15 years of working, I have only had ONE person actually contact me when I was someone’s backup, because it turns out almost everything can wait a few days.

    3. sofar*

      See, I read it as the manager is being unreasonable because the OP says she does have someone who can cover for tasks that come up while she’s gone. But the manager wants someone to cover for the exact same hours LW is gone.

      I guess it depends on the type of work we’re talking here. But, when I take vacation (office job), I have a couple people I ask, “Hey, Bill, can I put your contact info on my out-of-office email? And can you handle XYZ if it comes up? And push ABC live on X date?”

      That, to me is reasonable. If my manager (like the LW’s manager) came to me and said, “Well Bill only works until 4 pm, and you usually work til 6. You need to find someone who can be available from 4 to 6,” THAT would be unreasonable.

      1. OP #4*

        Yes. If she had said “can you ask around and make sure that someone is in to handle emergencies” I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. But that she’s nitpicking over 3 hours, when she herself is actually best positioned to “cover,” seemed to me like she was asking for more. I think you’re all right that I should clarify, though, because maybe it really isn’t as onerous as it sounded to me initially!

        1. valentine*

          Can you casually ask if she can cover the three hours? (I think she’s announcing she’s not an option, but, still.) Or ask if someone can cover emergencies during those three hours.

  28. Adlib*

    OP#4 – Is it possible your new boss is saying this out of habit from a previous job she held? You didn’t mention whether she was an outside hire or an internal transfer. Alison’s advice is great here. It’s very odd that she keeps talking about coverage.

  29. peakvincent*

    #2, I’d also see if there’s any support you can provide to encourage public transit or subsidize parking. (I don’t know anything about WageWorks on the employer side but really value it as an employee). The parking shuffle sounds rough for the office, but depending on where you are, the cost of parking could also be a genuine hit to someone’s day to day budget.

    1. Forget T-Bone Steak, Let's Eat T-Rex Steak*

      It’s not like paying for parking in a downtown office setting is sprung on you, though. You know before you accept the job that you’ll have to pay for it and it’s usually pretty easy to find out what the nearby garages charge. It’s like taking a job with a 120 mile roundtrip commute and not factoring in the cost of gas in your budget. It’s not the company’s problem that you didn’t do your due diligence.

      1. peakvincent*

        I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of an employee not doing due diligence. An employer has more power to negotiate deals with parking structures or set up WageWorks or whatever than an individual employee does. If it’s feasible for the organization to provide a benefit to its employees they could not orchestrate on their own, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable assumption.

        1. peakvincent*

          Meant to say suggestion, not assumption! Either way—you couldn’t pay me to drive to work regularly in my area and I’d have to buy my monthly transit pass regardless, but I like that it’s pre-tax through my employer. I think that’s a benefit that could help with OP2’s office situation.

      2. Joielle*

        Agreed. I guess I’m biased as someone who doesn’t drive to work but I find it ridiculous how many people insist on driving and then complain about the cost of parking. It’s not a surprise to anyone that parking is expensive in a downtown area. If not paying for parking is important to you, then you need to either only look at jobs with free parking (probably in the suburbs), or take transit/bike/walk to work… in which case you’d have to look for jobs close to home or move closer to your job. I get that people don’t want to move, or limit their job search, or (god forbid) mingle with the unwashed masses on a bus, but that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to free parking. Driving is a choice you make, with pros and cons, same as any other choice you could be making instead.

        I think the company should have free parking spots for people with disability parking tags (who presumably can’t transit/bike/walk), and everyone else needs to figure it out.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          People don’t always *insist* on driving to work, though. Some places legitimately have no other way of reasonably getting around besides driving- even some major US cities- because the mass transit is too infrequent, has coverage gaps, starts/ends service too early/late, or is set up so as to be wildly impractical (doubling-back for transfers, requiring a walk along a busy road with no sidewalks or streetlights, etc.)

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          “mingle with the unwashed masses on a bus”


          The downsides of transit, especially for the disabled, are well known: longer time, frequent transfers and waits, crowding, increased exposure to illnesses, discomfort (transit seats never seem to fit anyone right), slow/broken down buses, rude people, etc.

          I might like it better if “mingle with the unwashed masses on a bus” didn’t take so long and end up with me in pain, exhausted or ill.

    2. Rainy days*

      My office had a lot of people asking for parking reimbursement, so to be fair to everyone (including those who don’t drive), the organization provided a “transportation stipend” across the board to be used for any form of transportation. Employees were free to keep the extra money if they spent less than the stipend amount. Magically a lot of people who had been driving and parking decided to take public transportation instead and keep the difference.

      If possible, give people some amount of money and let them decide how to spend it. People who are missing work because of parking issues will also look very foolish if they’ve been provided with money for it.

  30. MuseumChick*

    OP 2, adding my voice those saying your company should find some way to ease the burden of parking for your employees. This include incentives for using public transportation instead of cars, negotiating a lower rate for your employees at a local garage, or some kind of company car-pool system.

    I promise you, nothing is more stressful to me then having to hunt down a parking space that way you have described.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      It’s also worth asking employees if they are able to use public transportation. My work encourages public transportation and a monthly bus pass is much, much cheaper than what they charge for a parking pass. Both their locations are on the bus line, but not a lot of the city is.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I live in a city with decent transit and a monthly transit pass is about 1/6 what I would pay to keep a car.
        Car payment, insurance, maintenance, city taxes and fees – 1/6 is conservative. It’s probably even less.

  31. SigneL*

    OP #5, you can call the police and ask their advice. My concern is, if it’s small amounts of money that are being stolen, they will tell you it isn’t a matter for the police.

    If I had to have money with me, I’d get a fanny pack or something similar so it never left me during the work day.

  32. Samwise*

    OP #2. I live in a residential neighborhood with this kind of parking on some streets. We called parking enforcement when we saw this going on. Watching the ticketing was very very satisfying.

    The two-hour free parking used to be on a lot more streets, but all the hogging of the free parking drove residents nuts (couldn’t park near their own house, streets clogged up with people ineptly parallel parking and driving around looking for parking and slamming on the brakes when it looks like someone’s about to leave a space and then standing there waiting while that person does not leave their space). Result: pissed off residents complained to the city and many of the streets now require a permit available only to residents.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes, I don’t know if this is something that has worsened for some reason, or it’s always been like this at this office, but it’s not unlikely to become a bigger issue in some areas when people are encroaching on parking in residential areas (and yes, I realize there’s no “right” to park in front of your house).

    2. Silence Will Fall*

      We’ve started moving to this model in my city as well. They’ve also been converting meters to zoned parking that you pay for at a kiosk or via app. The time limit is now per zone, not per spot. Ridership has been rising on our public transit each month and rush hour congestion has eased the tiniest bit. It’s delightful!

  33. quirkypants*

    It’s fascinating how many people are encouraging the company to take responsibility for easing the parking burden. That sounds lovely but is just so outside the norms of every place I’ve worked in large cities.

    While the company could ease the burden (and by the overwhelming response here, in some places that would be a fair expectation) the part that I’m puzzled by is why the employees think its reasonable for this to happen during working time.

    If someone chooses a less expensive commuting option that takes longer (ie a toll freeway vs a meandering route with no tolls), no one would think it reasonable for the employee to come in 30 minutes late each day or the employer to bear the employees commuting costs on the toll road. If I choose to go home for lunch each day because it’s cheaper, no one would think it’s ok for that to eat into working time or start demanding the company feed me each day. If my child is enrolled in a more affordable daycare but it’s farther away and I need to leave 30 minutes each each day, it wouldn’t be acceptable for me to get paid for those thirty minutes every single day and no one would expect the company to subsidize my child’s daycare.

    I think the arguments here are all fascinating…

    1. MuseumChick*

      I think this falls into the weird category of work place stuff where, while it doesn’t make 100% logical sense when you think about it’s still a work place norm. Another example would be, why are skirts acceptable but shorts are not when it comes to “appropriate workplace attire.”

    2. Gaia*

      Agreed. I live in a town no one would consider a metro but we’re growing quickly and are exceedingly crowded (although we only have a few hundred thousand people we’re often the fastest growing population center in the region and in the top for the country). Because of this parking is a disaster – especially downtown. Where nearly all companies are (and because of green belt regulations, they have no ability to move out of the core). I’ve never heard of a single company subsidizing parking. Heck, many workers can’t even buy monthly passes because the lots are sold out. So they park at meters or pay daily rates for lots or take the bus. Or walk. Or ride a bike. Or try to find a free spot. I have several old co-workers in Boston/Cambridge who said the same thing there: parking is a nightmare and expensive and many employers don’t subsidize because there are other options.

    3. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

      Many people have actually argued for subsidizing child care.
      I see the parking as different. Just as a business should supply space to its workers (a desk, office, etc.), it should supply parking. EIther giving out public transit passes, pay for a lot, etc. If you want your workers not to move their cars every two hours, have a place for them to park.

      1. Joielle*

        I think subsidizing child care is great! Having a safe place for kids to go during the work day is a universal good. Driving, on the other hand, is not – in fact, rather the opposite.

        Things that are good for society are subsidized; things that are bad for society are not. There’s certainly an argument about which things belong in which categories, but I don’t think anyone would argue that more people driving to work is a good thing.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          It’s not, but large parts of America are car-dependent and there’s no other way for employees to get to work. In that case the employer should have a lot for them to park in – or make some kind of arrangement for parking. Failing that, we get the situation at OP’s workplace.

        2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          Considering world overpopulation and climate change, you really can’t say kids = universal good. I think great public transportation is wonderful. Many places, in fact most, especially smaller towns and /or rural=no public transportation.

      2. Grapey*

        +1, places often don’t “have to” do anything, but increasing employee morale is usually a good thing in the long run.

    4. annalisakarenina*

      I’ve lived and worked in a large southern city where public transportation is almost limited to the immediate downtown area, so the city (and larger metropolitan area) is dependent on personal vehicles. Most companies downtown have underground parking, and many will subsidize parking because otherwise…where else are you going to park?? And how else will you get to work?? I worked at a staffing firm, and clients would even pay for contractor parking.

      So, I guess it depends on the city and the availability of alternate transportation, but I see it as a cost of doing business. Employees can choose to leave their homes earlier to make it to work on time, or to pick up their kids on time, but they have to be at work. And if they have to have a car to get there then…that’s that.

  34. Sleeplesskj*

    #5 is it possible to set up a nannycam in the room? Even if a hidden camera is against the rules, a visible one could act as a deterrent.

    1. LifesizeLawyer*

      While it’s tempting for OP to set up a functioning camera, there’s a high chance doing so is illegal. Many states and municipalities prohibit recording someone without their consent, especially on private property (i.e., in an office). And setting up a dummy camera as a deterrent could cause other internal issues. Even if the OP isn’t recording folks, making their co-workers think they are could make it seem as though OP is harassing others/being creepy. The root of the issue is that the manager isn’t willing to address the theft in any way without concrete proof.

      1. Sleeplesskj*

        Yes but a LOT of businesses have surveillance/security cameras in place to discourage theft, etc. If the manager announced that due to an ongoing issue a camera was going to be placed in the area , and a sign posted, that should be perfectly legal.

  35. Bekx*

    As someone who lives on a residential street with 2 hour parking limits and street parking is my only option — this is the bane of my existence. We live 5 streets away from the big employer that makes everyone park on my street, and I often cannot find parking in front of my own house.

    Our neighborhood ended up going to the city and they are implementing permit parking only between 7 am and 6 pm due to this reason. Of course, now I have to pay for a parking permit, too.

    I think others suggestions are good — see if the company can subsidize parking or put down the hammer and make people stop parking in the residential areas. It’s a PITA for residents.

  36. Quickbeam*

    #4: Having to arrange coverage for my own PTO is the biggest concern I have with my job. I feel like I have to ask personal favors to take a benefit I earned. We have buddies…but when everyone wants summer Fridays off, its an enormous problem. I had a 2 week vacation arranged and after begging people to cover, someone reneged on a day in the middle. I asked out group 3 times and them took the results to my manager who then ordered someone to cover the day. Made me feel awful.

    It’s an ugly process and I feel your pain. I’m nearing retirement but it will be the #1 thing I bring up in my exit interview. My efforts to change the policy have gotten no where. Good luck.

    1. OP #4*

      This is exactly it. I don’t feel right about asking other people to be around, especially in the summer if they don’t have their vacation plans firmed up yet, “just in case.” I’m not clear on what my boss’s expectation is in terms of how much she wants covered. And across the org it’s not consistent.

      I think it’s a great thing to bring up in your exit interview.

    2. LifesizeLawyer*

      What an awful system! When my lateral or I are OOO, the other person serve as the back-up. That’s the process our manager implemented way back when, and it works well because there’s no ambiguity. When we’re both OOO, our boss provides the coverage himself. A good manager should provide clear guidelines and when there’s no other employee to serve as a back-up, they should step in themselves.

  37. pleaset*

    Regarding AAM’s response #1: I think the term “liberal arts” is being misused to mean something like “humanities” or something else.

    Liberal arts includes math and sciences, and (at least where I went to college) people got liberal arts degrees with majors in fields ranging from literature to computer science to East Asian studies to applied mathematics.

    1. nnn*

      That’s interesting! I’ve always heard it used as synonymous with “humanities” (and have never had cause to question the scope of the term because I’ve never had to use it to convey a nuance myself).

      Can you give me an example of what isn’t liberal arts within this context?

      1. Clisby*

        I’ve never heard of computer science being considered part of the liberal arts, but for sure mathematics and physical sciences are. I’d have said computer science, engineering, business aren’t liberal arts.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          My family is rife with hard science degrees and I don’t think most people identify their (or their kids’) major as liberal arts. That the degree from the College of Arts and Sciences is a BA doesn’t mean most newly graduated physics majors would say they majored in the liberal arts.

          1. Southern Yankee*

            I just tried to make the same distinction between “BA” and “liberal arts” below – your comment is explained well, and I agree.

        2. WellRed*

          But science and math are nowadays, at least when talking about the working world, STEM degrees, are they not? So, maybe not an actual university designation like liberal arts, but they are understood to be different than humanities.

          1. pleaset*

            “But science and math are nowadays, at least when talking about the working world, STEM degrees”

            I think so, but my point is not that liberal arts is one thing and STEM is another. It’s that some people, such as where I went to college (Harvard), can study STEM topics as part of a liberal arts education. EG they can get a bachelors degree with a concentration in, say, computer science. And in the job market would do great.

            Liberal arts doesn’t mean no STEM. It might mean only a little – if you majored in English. Or a lot if you majored in a STEM field.

          2. Clisby*

            Yes, science and math are different from humanities. Humanities is just a subset of liberal arts.

        3. Yikes*

          Pleaset is correct. “Liberal arts” refers to the concept of “liberalism,” not as a political concept but as the philosophical opposite of “illiberalism.” I attended a liberal arts college that only issues B.A. degrees, but you can major in a hard science and many do (and indeed go on to science PhD programs or medical school). However, the “arts” degree reflects that the student was also subject to a core curriculum that includes things like writing, history, and world languages.

        4. pleaset*

          In antiquity, when the concept of liberal arts emerged, there were no computers. Computer science is not one of “seven liberal arts.”

          But there are certainly liberal arts programs in which students study computer science, and even major in it. So it can be part of a liberal arts education.

          Here is a list of concentrations (majors) at a top US school where the whole undergrad education is liberal arts:

        5. Pescadero*

          At the university where I work:

          Hard sciences = liberal arts (departments of the college of liberal arts)

          Computer Science = your choice. Both the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Engineering offer a CS degree.

          We have: Electrical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science Engineering, and Computer Science (liberal arts).

      2. pleaset*

        “Can you give me an example of what isn’t liberal arts within this context?”
        + Studying only one subject and related supporting subjects – for example perhaps chemistry with plus a bit of math, physics, etc to help with that.
        + Study with the objective of a specific profession or field of work. Undergraduate business degrees are an example.

        Heck, if such a thing existed as ONLY taking English and literature classes, that would not be liberal arts.

        The Wikipedia page on liberal arts seems pretty good to me.

        1. nnn*

          Oh, I see what you mean! I didn’t realize it was the scope that caused it to be “liberal arts” – I always thought, for example, taking English and literature classes would have been a subset of liberal arts.

          I love learning random new things from comments threads!

        2. Close Bracket*

          + Studying only one subject and related supporting subjects – for example perhaps chemistry with plus a bit of math, physics, etc to help with that.

          Is that possible? I thought all colleges and universities, at least in the US, had broad gen ed type requirements for undergraduate degrees. I went to two state research universities for undergrad, and both had liberal arts, in the seven liberal arts sense of the term, requirements for all degrees. STEM majors had to take humanities; humanities majors had to take STEM classes.

    2. Southern Yankee*

      I think it’s a pretty broad umbrella term that probably takes on different meanings depending on the context. I went to a liberal arts college, so there were no B.S. degrees at all. I definitely had to take the broader courses “unrelated” to my major such as pleaset describes. As a result, I have a BA in Accounting. However, since my degree is for a very specific career path, and I am in fact a CPA, I would not really describe my degree as liberal arts, if that makes any sense at all. I think for the purpose of this discussion, it may be more clear to think about it in terms of if there is a fairly defined career path. For accounting there is, for history, not so much.

    3. Sara*

      At least where I’m from, it’s very common colloquial usage to say “liberal arts” to refer to english, history, languages, and other degrees that aren’t math or hard sciences.

      1. pleaset*

        “Humanities” is a more accurate way to describe those topics in distinction from math and hard science (and from social science too).

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I went to a private liberal arts college and have a B.S. in English. And an A.S. in Criminal Justice.
      It’s confusing.

      1. Pescadero*

        I have an Engineering degree… and when I got my diploma – it was my CHOICE whether I wanted it to read B.S.E. or B.A.E.

        Same classes. Same degree. You choose whether it’s a BA or BS.

  38. Glomarization, Esq.*

    OP#5: Booby traps are illegal. I can’t believe people are suggesting things like exploding dye packs, mousetraps, or razor blades. I understand some of these are in jest, but even invisible ink is problematic. There’s a reason why Alison didn’t suggest going further than the invisible ink.

    1. PB*

      This x1,000. Of course your coworker shouldn’t be stealing from you, but if you knowingly leave something that will cause injury, now you’re on the line for assault.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Same with poisoning your lunch that you expect your coworker to steal.

        A purse that snaps open can be rigged with a loud alarm.

  39. Rebecca*

    #5 – I think at this point, I’d lock my wallet, essential things in my car’s glove compartment and then lock my car, and bring other things I might need for the work day in my purse. If I needed money during the day, I’d put it in my pocket or get a run buddy if I had no pockets. This must be so frustrating for everyone – there is no excuse for stealing from coworkers. None. Zero. And it should be stopped. It makes me wonder why the manager won’t allow a camera in the break room that could certainly solve this mystery, almost as if the manager doesn’t want to solve it. Could it be the manager is the one doing it, or a good friend of the manager’s? We’ve seen stories here before about bosses stealing lunches of all things, when they are paid so much more than the employee who brings a lunch to work. Some things defy logic.

    One thing you could do – maybe when you’re talking among yourselves, just say something like “wow, so glad they decided to install hidden cameras in the break room so we can finally catch the person who’s been stealing money from our purses”. Of course, there are no cameras, but the culprit won’t know this for sure, and would have no way of finding out whether it was the case or not without outing him or herself.

    1. Dusty Bunny*

      I like this: maybe when you’re talking among yourselves, just say something like “wow, so glad they decided to install hidden cameras in the break room so we can finally catch the person who’s been stealing money from our purses”.

      No doubt, the fellow employee who then splutters “but-but-but it’s illegal to video in our state and against company policy!” is your culprit. I’m sure I have seen a similar ruse work in movies!

  40. Phony Genius*

    For #4, if I had asked a co-worker to cover for my vacation, then they came to me a couple of months later to do the same, I’d feel obligated to do so. Even if it meant I had to miss some other important event that I was planning to take a day off for. This is why this is a bad policy.

    1. londonedit*

      In my industry/experience/country, it’s rare that ‘covering’ for someone’s holiday means you actually have to *do their job* and can’t take holiday yourself. Often employers will have rules about how many employees in one role/department can be off at the same time, but if a co-worker asks you to ‘cover their holiday’ they just mean that they’ll try to get as much done as possible before they go, but there might be some work that needs to be sorted out/followed up on while they’re away, and would you mind just keeping an eye on that. It’s very much expected that if I’ve helped a colleague by sorting out a few things on their to-do list while they’re away, then they’ll do the same for me. It’s just the way things work. It’s very usual for people to take a week or two weeks’ holiday, and their colleagues will pick up the slack while they’re gone. Nothing too onerous, just things like ‘I’m expecting the report on Llama Herding to be complete by Wednesday; the CEO needs this for his meeting next Monday morning, so would you mind giving it a quick read-through and sending it to him?’

      1. Asenath*

        Covering isn’t a big deal in my neck of the woods. There might be one or two things – not time-consuming – that really must be checked, so you’d need to make sure the person covering collects the Llama Food Consumption forms since you both know if they aren’t collected on time, it’ll take weeks to track them down. And someone keeps an eye on the email inbox (or instructions are left on the out-of-office notice as to who to email) in case something urgent comes up. There’s nothing really urgent most of the time. The only disadvantage is that there’s a pile of routine but not urgent stuff accumulated when you get back, but people seem to understand that if you don’t have someone actually filling in for you, they will have to wait for the regular requests. Obviously, workplaces and jobs will differ, though.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, right now there’s one woman in my office who’s “covering for” another, but neither of them are actually physically here! It’s just that Jane is on leave, so if we have a question we’d normally ask Jane and it can’t wait till she gets back, we’re supposed to email Mary instead. Mary, meanwhile, is primarily working from home.

  41. Observer*

    #2 – Allison gave you good advice. But you really need to back away from claiming a safety concern. It’s not. No one is going to believe that you really mean it, even if you really do.

    And, if you do really believe that it’s a safety issue, you need to rethink your attitude. Because besides being unrealistic, it also comes off as very patronizing and paternalistic.These are adults who are capable of driving to and from work without serious concerns about getting into an accident. Why does the fact that Management hasn’t given the blessing make it more likely that they will get into an accident during the day? Do you also want them to only cross the street when the school crossing gaurd is outside? If you think that question is overly snarky, I can assure you that it’s quite mild relative to what your staff will be thinking if you tell them that you don’t want them to go park their cars because you can’t keep track of their comings and going and they might get into an accident.

    1. Zephy*

      It’s not a safety question as much as it is an insurance and liability question. OP2 isn’t worried about their adult coworkers hurting themselves, they’re worried about the company being held liable in case of an auto accident on company time.

          1. Observer*

            Well, if they meant something other that what they said, they actually need to say what they mean. Because if they stick with what they have actually said, it’s going to be a real issue for them. Management already has a an issue with being seen as draconian – what do you think is going to happen when they come up with some piece of nonsense to justify more / new / different restrictions?

    2. LCL*

      Maybe the safety concern arises because some employees manage their parking issues so poorly, which causes OP2 to question the parkers’ judgment in other areas. The big safety issue is someone off premises being sick or injured, and nobody thinks to look for them. This is a tough one because people are always free to leave, yet the time loss is an issue, and the workplace doesn’t track time. The needs of the workers to get cheap parking is in direct conflict with the needs of the job to have people in the office.

      Unfortunately I can see this situation happening in our city. Our local roads department is on a mission to restrict parking and eventually make driving to work impossible. If any of the affected people in OPs letter feel strongly about it they can start some political advocacy, but that can be swimming against the tide. I am not exaggerating, our city is having bitter, bitter fights about driving and parking and it is only getting worse.

    3. Courageous cat*

      I agree, this is a very weird angle. All you need is the “it wastes time” angle, so I don’t get this one. I would think the only way it could be a safety (aka liability) concern is if they were explicitly on the clock when they did it. Otherwise it sounds very disingenuous.

  42. Polymer Phil*

    OP 1 – watch out for crappy sales jobs where they recruit new grads from any major; a lot of them are scammy. Especially if there’s a cattle-call group interview. The ads are easy to spot because they’ll have a bunch of irrelevant keywords, like “this job may appeal to recent grads majoring in meteorology, theology, anthropology, art history, etc.” It always irritates me when I’m searching for jobs in my field and I have to wade through a bunch of ads looking for 21-year-old kids to be door-to-door salesmen for shady home remodeling companies.

    1. JustHereToRead*

      OP 1 here: Thanks for the advice as to what to avoid in job posting descriptions ! I’ve had a handful of friends end up at those jobs and they all hated it.

    2. Southern Yankee*

      I would also caution to be careful with “non-professional” jobs in your chosen field. I’m sure it depends highly on the field and industry, but what can seem like a way to get your foot in the door can instead trap you into being perceived as without the higher qualification. It can certainly work, and may be better than an unrelated minimum wage job, but is worth thinking about. If you do get and take such an opportunity, be sure to emulate the professionals around you so you can manage the possible perception issue, and find a mentor to help steer you through finding a path forward.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Yes, this. I graduated into the recession and, well, had no choice but to accept a job similar to the one I’d had in high school.

        10 years later, it’s very hard for me to get jobs, because “that’s not a professional workplace” or “that’s not a real job,” or “that’s an unrelated work environment, things are DIFFERENT here” and my job titles get auto-rejected by applicant tracking systems for being unrelated. Even though I’d been promoted and was doing a significant amount of actual, professional work.

  43. Zephy*

    OP3 – look up mandatory reporting laws in your state. You may have a legal obligation to notify someone if you think your coworker may be in danger of hurting herself – and if you don’t, and she does, her family would have grounds to take legal action against you for not stopping her, if they so chose.

    1. Sylvan*

      Do mandatory reporting laws apply to suicidality? I thought they mainly concerned abuse.

      1. Zephy*

        It varies between states. In the mandatory-reporting training I went through for a K12 instructor job, comments about suicidal ideation and evidence of self-harm fell under the umbrella of reportable things. I also live in a state with an involuntary-commitment law, though, so that might have been why they mentioned it.

    2. fposte*

      I don’t know any state that mandates that for the general populace, though; it’s associated with professions, like health care or education.

  44. Governmint Condition*

    On #2, where I work, we have a similar issue. In addition to the people who move their cars and/or re-feed the parking meter, we have people who take a commuter railroad to work. The problem with the railroad is that the train’s schedule is such that people have to leave 3-5 minutes early to take it, or wait a half hour. Our department’s headquarters is in another city, and they have become very strict about attendance times. They have specifically told us that we cannot allow people to shift their schedules a few minutes in the morning to make the train in the afternoon. Since the workforce is unionized, they have to collectively bargain for the right to do this. And because most of the union members who don’t work at this location don’t see this as an issue, the union will not fight for it. It causes animosity between workers and management, but also within the union.

    1. Gymmie*

      I can’t believe people care about a few minutes here and there or even shifting the schedule slightly. This is infuriating to me, just make it easy for people to do their jobs!

      1. WellRed*

        Seriously! This is such a low to no cost thing the company could do but it would reap goodwill from the employees.

    2. SenseANDSensibility*

      I used to work for a company like that, that monitored our every minute, down to how long we spent in the restroom. It was demoralizing and dehumanizing and just plain bad management. It’s places like that that can cause workers to “snap” under the stress.

  45. Observer*

    #5 – The invisible ink is not going to be much use to you, because your manager would need proof in order to ask to look at his hands.

    Your boss is either lying or fundamentally misinformed. You don’t need definitive proof to take action in a case like this. But, if your boss won’t do anything, go to HR or your Boss’ boss. And in the meantime push for a place to lock your stuff up.

    You could go to the police but I wouldn’t do that unless you can’t get anything going with your office. And realize that unfortunately, they are likely to not do much.

  46. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

    #1 — while it’s ideal to find a job in your field, depending on your field that may not be a possibility. So I would encourage you to think about the type of role that you are most interested in within that field, and see if there are other industries that might help you gain the skills you need for that role.

    I would also not be afraid to apply for more clerical positions if you can get into a company in your field that has a history of promoting from within. I’ve worked in several places where we’ve promoted people from administrative assistant and coordinator roles if they are terrific. However, I’ve also worked for places where if you accept a clerical position of that nature you are stuck there almost forever. So if you go that direction, it will be critical that you are sure that you are in organization that has a history of promoting from within. Because it’s easy to get stuck in types of positions.

    Good luck!

    1. wafflesfriendswork*

      Agree wholeheartedly with your second point! I’m about to change jobs and take kind of a step back into something more entry level, but it’s with a company that has a history of promoting from within and doing a lot for their employees with regards to professional development. I would suggest doing a lot of research on the companies, and if you can pay attention to the people working there: I’ve done some light LinkedIn stalking of employees at companies I’m interested in to see what their trajectory is like, if they have been promoted and within what time frame, etc.

    2. Southern Yankee*

      For clerical positions in your field, I would second the advice to make sure a company promotes from within, and be sure that includes from clerical to professional roles. I also would advise paying a lot of attention to being “terrific” as Anon Today put it. I’ve promoted clerical employees that were great with a lot of success, but there are some that I would not promote even though they were great at their clerical jobs. It always comes down to mindset – did they think like a professional (big picture, takes ownership, responsibility vs. task outlook) or not (task mindset, great detail but no big picture, watches clock, etc). Generally, if you think and act like a professional, the title of the job you take matters a lot less than your actions and accomplishments.

    3. londonedit*

      Yes – it feels like a million years ago now (and it was well before 2008 came along and changed the working world…) but I started off, with an English degree, on the reception desk at a small company in the industry I had an idea I might like to get into. It was well known that people routinely started their careers working on reception – which was a brilliant way of seeing the general comings-and-goings of the office, and getting an idea of what everyone was doing on a day-to-day basis – before moving on to an entry-level specialised role within the industry (either with the same company, or elsewhere). And that’s exactly what happened with me – after about a year, they were interviewing for a new assistant position, and because I was sitting at the reception desk I heard the hiring manager remark one day that they’d interviewed 20 people and no one had been suitable. I asked whether I could give her my CV, she said yes, and I ended up getting an interview and getting the job.

      Obviously in some companies there isn’t that sort of scope for moving around, but in others it may well be a really good way of learning about the company and the industry, and getting a first step on the ladder.

  47. Jules the 3rd*

    OP1: Make sure you are using your college resources, like the placement office and job fairs. I didn’t after my undergrad degree, and I kinda regret that. I think I could have skipped 1 – 2 years in less-than-optimal jobs if I’d used the undergrad resources as thoroughly as I used the grad resources. My understanding is that you can participate in your school’s job placement programs for a while after you graduate, and that there are often job fairs throughout the year. Check in with them to see.

    On the plus side: even with that year or two in a non-linear career path, I’m very happy with where I am now, 20+ years later. You’ve got lots of time.

  48. Kiki*

    LW 1: I would take the amount of time you are able to not have a job and divide the time in half. For the first half, apply only to things that fit in exactly with your field of study or that you are incredibly excited for. In the second half, apply to anything you could do well and could be a stepping stone to something more inline with your long term trajectory.

    1. Bananatiel*

      This! Scrolled down just to see if someone had a recommendation along this line. My family couldn’t support me financially after graduation so I knew I had a limited time to find a job. Because I was on a very limited budget and only had a part-time job I pretty much gave myself until the end of the summer to find something. It meant I took a less flashy job than some of my peers at the time– but I’m in a great job now 8 years later that I really enjoy so it all works out in the end. There’s no shame in creating a timeline based on what makes sense financially for you!

  49. mcr-red*

    #4 – With my old manager, it got to the point where I only had certain days of the week I could ask for off, basically Tuesdays and Thursdays. That’s it. I couldn’t take a week off, I couldn’t take a three-day weekend and take Friday or Mondays off because, “We don’t have enough people and there’s no one to do your job those days.” My mom was my child care provider, and one time she scheduled a week’s vacation like in January for the summer, so I asked for a week off, so I, a single mom, could be home with my kids, and they were given plenty of notice. Fast-forward to the time of vacation, and was told like a few weeks before that I could only have Monday through Wednesday off. My mom offered to cut her trip short so I could be at work. Then, my grandmother had to be hospitalized, forcing my mom to cancel her trip and be at the hospital with her mom. So now I still don’t have childcare and still need the week off. It was horrid. I managed to work out something with some of my kids’ friends’ parents, but I was so angry.

    Fast forward to now: New boss forces people to just do the extra tasks or does the extra tasks. No more problems.

  50. HR*

    OP #1 – Unemployment is *really* low right now in the US and some employers are desperate to fill roles. You do have a chance to be a little picky. It depends on your situation. Can you afford to be unemployed for a bit while you find your unicorn? While I try not to be, there are lots of people in HR & hiring managers that pigeon-hole people based on what is on their resume, so it could make your long-run easier if you start where you want to be.

    However, I will say that it might be true that you don’t actually know what you want to do. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do until my first job out of college. I graduated when unemployment was quite high. I was also trying to find work in the area where my fiance was living where there was Major University and lots of competition from recent grads with my same qualifications. I got Retail Job, worked very hard, got promoted and then learned how much I like to help develop employees. I’m actually still not quite there yet, but it’s my journey. I wouldn’t take back any job that I’ve done because I learned so much every step of the way.

  51. Jennifer*

    Re: Parking
    This kind of reminds me of the people who complain about smokers getting extra breaks. I couldn’t bring myself to care about either situation. They aren’t out there dancing in the streets they are ruining their lungs or moving their car. They aren’t getting to have fun at your expense or something. Yes, they should be doing it on their own time, but if you are their peer and not a supervisor or manager, I wouldn’t stress about it.

  52. Been There*

    I have to disagree with everyone saying to tell HR about the possibly suicidal coworker. Having been suicidal myself HR is the very last group I’d want knowing! Mental illness is heavily looked down upon in the work world. Talk to her yourself. As a friend. You can google scripts or call a suicide hotline and ask about it, or just talk to her as a concerned friend. It means a lot to me when a friend expresses concern. When a “friend” has gone behind my back to tell others about my mental illness it has been incredibly hurtful. And I’m definitely not the only occasionally suicidal person who feels this way. There’s also something called passive suicidal, where you think about it but you’re not going to do it. If I had to try to explain that to HR, jesus. Talk to her yourself first. Tell her how hard it is to hear. Tell her you care about her. Ask if she has a plan. Ask if she has a therapist or a doctor to talk to. Don’t tell the people who control her livelihood. That often does not end well for the mentally ill person.

    1. Princess prissypants*

      FOR REAL.


      They are not the friend’s friend. You’re “outing” the friend to the group of employees whose primary mission is to serve the company’s best interests. Absolutely do not do this, *especially* in this case where OP knows the brother.

      1. HR*

        Okay, this is a bit of an overstatement, but that’s a topic for another time.

        However, I’m not trained to do anything about this situation. As I do have past experience working in mental health treatment and have professional friends/family that I could ask for advice, I would like to know about it. Even so, there’s not much I can do. But most people in HR could only provide EAP information.

        1. Princess prissypants*

          it’s really not an overstatement generally, and even moreso in this case. neither OP nor the friend gets anything at all out of reporting this to HR. The situation can only get worse – not better – if HR is in on it.

  53. Gymmie*

    OP3: I think people are afraid to act in cases like this because they don’t want to be seen overstepping. But you should overstep. Even if it turns out to be nothing. Even if coworker never speaks to you again. Lots of people have regret after a suicide and “wish they would have known something”. Please treat this as if the threat is real.

  54. Sarah*

    #5 – Too bad there’s not a way to put a GoPro or something similar INSIDE your purse, so it would only be recording the culprit if they opened your purse. Of course, they’d probably take it too. It would only be worth it if you had a way to be saving the footage instantly to the cloud or something.

  55. Yikes*

    I’m interested in so many people saying that it’s completely beyond their regional norms for an employer to subsidize parking or public transit. I’ve worked in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the deep south, and Texas, in cities of all sizes, and this has been common practice in all of those places. Where is this not common? Someone above even cited Boston as an example of where it’s not common, but my T pass was definitely paid for with pre-tax money arranged through my on-boarding paperwork. Honestly, the letter is a great example of why this should be common anywhere that it’s not! The employer is clearly losing money and productivity to this, but can’t expect anything to change from the status quo without providing some sort of solution. I’m also intrigued by people saying the availability of bus routes means employees don’t need to drive. I currently work by a transit hub, though in a city with kind of crappy public transit, and whereas it takes me less than 15 to drive home in rush hour, it takes me over an hour (plus I have to leave work early) to take public transit. (Plus I have to get my kid from daycare, which would essentially be impossible for me in my city on public transit.) I think unless you have specific knowledge of transit schedules, it’s not safe to assume this is good solution for people.

    1. WellRed*

      I’m guessing there are a few regions/cities where it’s so common to take public transport it might be strange, but otherwise, as someone posted above, an employer should make some effort with parking solutions. You provide desks, after all.

    2. HR*

      Depends on the size of the company and how deep they have gotten into benefit offerings. Commuter benefits can be an add-on when using things like a PEO or having a large benefit package from a major broker and requires zero administration work from the part of the company. However, some companies may do all benefits in-house and don’t want to add another piece. Whether it’s through a vendor or handled with A/P, it can be just too messy to even broach the subject. In this case, it’s likely not an intentional item that they don’t want to do, but just something that hasn’t been considered seriously.

      For this example, I do think that senior leadership should look into finding parking discounts because it sounds like a severe imposition on the work day.

    3. Art3mis*

      I live in Omaha and it’s not common for employers to subsidize parking. Which to me, is crazy because finding a job out in the “suburbs” where parking is free and plentiful is not hard. It’s not like you have a city core that’s hard to travel outside of and a lot of people who live close enough to just walk to work. And our public transportation is unreliable at best. But it still happens. Mutual of Omaha charges it’s employees to park in their own company owned parking lot and oh, you don’t drive? Too bad it’s payroll deducted.

    4. Grapey*

      “takes me less than 15 to drive home in rush hour, it takes me over an hour (plus I have to leave work early) to take public transit.” is only a downside if you don’t consider dealing with other drivers a plus. I LOVE my 2x a day uninterrupted 45 minute bus ride to read a book or listen to music. Point taken for daycare pickups though – I chose not to have kids since precisely because of the time suck.

    5. Curmudgeon in California*


      Most people pushing for transit assume that the extra time it takes is “free” to the person, and that they have nothing else they’d rather be doing than sitting on a bus.

    6. Candace*

      It was subsidized when I lived in NYC and Boston, but I now live in ND and public transit is not subsidized by my employer, though it is free for students.

  56. WellRed*

    For the purse thief letter: glitter. Lots of glitter. Even the most negative naysayers here can’t consider that assault or vandalism.

    1. LifesizeLawyer*

      *Psst* glitter-bombing someone is legally considered battery, and in some jurisdictions, would rise to the level of assault. A good rule of thumb is: don’t touch, or cause something to touch, other people without their consent. As tempting as it may be to see the thief covered in glitter, it ain’t legal.

      1. fposte*

        WellRed isn’t talking about glitter-bombing; the assault charges associated with glitter bombing are based on people flinging them at a victim. She’s talking about a purse passively filled with glitter. The law really isn’t going to care.

        1. WellRed*

          Thanks, fposte.

          I do agree with lifesizelawyer that a good rule of thumb is don’t touch. Don’t touch my lock, don’t touch my purse, don’t touch my money.

        2. LifesizeLawyer*

          Oh, fposte, you’d be surprised by the inane things the law absolutely does care about.

          1. fposte*

            If you can find me an instance of prosecution of somebody who kept glitter in their own purse, I will freely admit my error.

      2. Elsajeni*

        It seems like quite a stretch to describe “having glitter in your purse that someone else put their hand in without your permission” as “touching someone [with glitter] without their consent.” Am I also at risk for prosecution because my phone touched their hand (as they were reaching past it to get into my wallet) and people have been prosecuted in the past for hitting someone with a phone?

  57. Wherehouse Politics*

    I know this isn’t going to be a fit with some jobs for whatever reasons, but there are cross body strapped (thin strap) smartphone and wallet combos that are unobtrusive if there’s no safe place to put them. I use them for my outdoor job very physical hands-on job, but I find I use it going out too, even when dressing up. I can mention a brand I use but not sure if I’ll look like I’m advertising or not. I’d think they’re unisex enough too.

  58. metageeky*

    One thing regarding OP3: do not just give a hotline telephone number. Phone anxiety is a real thing and can be further exacerbated when in stressful situation. Many suicide support systems have finally woken up and started offering text and online chat services. The link provided by Alison does have such a service but it’s not immediately clear from context. The word “chat” doesn’t always suggest text-based communication, especially when one’s brain is in a messy state. Here’s the direct link to the chat service:

  59. Leela*

    LW #2 – any way to frame it this way?

    The people in your office who aren’t leaving to move their cars are most certainly noticing that those people are getting extra break time that they aren’t getting, and they’re most certainly not happy about it. This is likely causing a much more serious morale problem than being time police would be.

  60. Lizzy*

    OP #3, besides echoing what other have said, I also want to add on to it. People in chronic pain have higher suicide rates than others. Add in time off work for appointments that can endanger your job, high deductibles, and insurance limiting certain therapies or treatments, it’s hard to face everyday knowing you are not ever getting better. If she also doesn’t have a good team of physicians that are listening and working with her depression can just spiral downwards. Also for everyone that might need to know there are specialty psychologists that deal with chronic pain, who help you learn to live with the pain; rather than keeping you thinking about how if you died the pain would finally stop.

  61. CustServGirl*

    OP5- can you file a police report, or set up a little hidden camera in your locker? I also like the glitter bomb idea someone else on this thread proposed…

  62. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    OP #2, this is an issue at some of our offices as well (right down to the 2 hour resident parking!), and in fact I would think you were employed where I am, except that, in our case, parking IS subsidized, but there is a waiting list (which goes by seniority) for downtown/underground lots that are close by, and new employees must park in a satellite lot and shuttle in. The shuttle lots are > 5 min drive and drop you at the door, and during peak hours shuttles are offered continuously. It also didn’t add onto commuting time the way you would think it would, as they are on the outskirts of downtown, so any time spent waiting for/on the shuttle is made up by not having to navigate downtown traffic yourself AND not walk from a garage/lot downtown to your building, as you’re dropped out front. Midday shuttles ARE available, however they are at very limited times. I wish I could say it was just, for example, parents of young children who needed easy access to their vehicles during the day *just in case* who took the most issue with having to subject themselves to a shuttle lot, but this is not the case.

  63. Southern Doc*

    LW #3: When I was in college, before I became a psychiatrist (Disclaimer: No medical advice specific to your situation offered here! Just some general thoughts about suicide in the workplace) and it became normal for me to ask tough questions about self-harm, I participated in an extracurricular team activity. I noticed one of my teammates was not eating normally…had lost a ton of weight, would eat half of a clementine for lunch, etc. I remember dwelling on it for at least a week, with lots of anxiety about wanting to do the right thing for my friend/teammate but not wanting that person to feel like I was overstepping a boundary in asking about anorexia. I finally brought it up to one of my other teammates, who it turns out had been thinking the exact same thing! And once we were talking about it openly, it was much easier to form a plan to go to the teammate and a person in a position of authority (in this case one of student body deans) and say, “hey we’re worried and we don’t know what to do.” As it turns out, the relevant folks were already involved and knew about the situation, which came as a great relief to all of us. The teammate received the right resources and made a recovery.

    So, the points of the story are a few:
    1. If you’re feeling this way, chances are other people in your workplace are too. A good rule of thumb in most human interaction is if an interaction gives you a gut feeling that’s “off,” someone else has had that gut feeling as well. So I like the idea you mentioned above in the comments of talking to your mutual friend as opposed to the brother (though the brother isn’t a bad idea either).
    2. There’s strength in numbers bringing this to someone your organization letting them know it’s a concern. I agree with Been There’s concern that MI carries stigma that definitely plays out in the workplace so ideally you’d be able to sit down with your coworker and have this conversation with her directly, and let her disclose only if she wants to. But also let her know you are worried enough that you’re thinking about telling someone else even against her objections, that why you’ve been honest with her about what you are and are not willing to keep secr. If and/or when you go to someone in an authoritative position, try to suss out whether they’ll be an ally before hand. And remember that mental illness is protected under the ADA so your coworker can’t be retaliated against if you do bring this to your HR rep.
    3. You probably don’t have an obligation to report unless you’re a mental health professional, teacher (and in a school setting), public peace officer, and in some places clergy. There’s no federal law about this, so it varies by state and you’d need to look it up. That said, anything you do in good faith really is a good deed (and may be protected by good samaritan laws).
    4. Allison et al.’s advice to look at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or to call the hotline is very good. You might also look up your local chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI).
    5. Asking about suicide doesn’t trigger suicide, so if you feel comfortable asking your coworker about her thoughts (the how, when, where, and why of it), you should feel free to do so. This might help you know whether a 911 call is warranted. The relevant script (which attempts to be non-judgmental, and is framed for when you don’t already know there’s talk of self harm) is:
    – “Are you having thoughts about hurting yourself?” If yes, “Why?”
    – “Are these thoughts about hurting yourself in order to die?” (if they didn’t already say that) If yes…
    – “Do you have a specific way you would try to hurt yourself?,” (Plan)
    – “Do you have access to _______?” (Means) (based how they answered the question about method).
    – “How likely do you think you are to go through with it?” (Intent) (Avoid asking if they’re “serious” about it).
    Modify accordingly for the person who you already know is having thoughts of self-harm (I.e. “when you say you want to jump off a building, it worries me and I wonder how likely you are to do that. “) If you get “yes” answers to all of those questions, don’t hesitate to break this person’s confidentiality in order to call 911; a suicide attempt is imminent.

    The trickier question is what to do if they’re having thoughts of self-harm but are not imminently planning a suicide, since sometimes these statements are expressions of frustration, or desire to reach out for help, etc. And that’s where you need to have the tough conversation with the person about why they’re saying these things, whether they’re connected to a mental health provider, and decide whether you want to recruit an authority figure. Keeping an air of curiosity to their experience and genuine concern for their wellbeing will make the conversation go smoothly. And definitely ask about who you can and can’t reach out to about this (since you never know for sure who is an ally to this person and who isn’t).

    1. Venus*

      Thank you for this detail – you addressed points that I didn’t remember, but completely agree with.

    2. LW #3*

      Thank you! This is all extremely helpful. I actually reached out to her earlier today to chat but there were several other people around and she was running to a meeting. I had some confidence from earlier commenters and was going to ask, but didn’t get the chance. I plan on doing this daily so I can work up the courage to ask her, and because I’m guessing it will come up in conversation again. The worst part about this is that since I also have anxiety, it makes this whole interaction 10x more stressful for me, and then I feel guilty because her issue should be the focus, not mine, etc…and rinse and repeat.

      1. Koala dreams*

        Take care of yourself! Do what you can, and let the other things go. You have the right to put your own health first. Also, even small gestures that show caring matters. You don’t have to find the perfect response.

  64. Jennifer Juniper*

    Alison, I have a question. OP5 said the thief has broken locks in the past, so locking her purse up wouldn’t be worth it. How would a locking cabinet stop Mr. Sticky Fingers?

    1. Observer*

      A good locking cabinet is generally going to be harder to break than the dinky locks you get on most purses.

  65. Anon because personal*

    Re OP#1, I know of an extreme case with someone who is indeed a friend, with many good qualities, but has generally managed to avoid working for the past 25+ years after graduation, because the jobs in question don’t “speak” to them. The longest stint has been 6 months. Their family financial circumstances allow this. I very much doubt you plan to hold out that long, and most people just couldn’t anyway, but it’s always good to think of what experience you might glean from a relatively low-level job that might help you elsewhere.

  66. Greg*

    OP#5: It feels like your boss is weirdly hung up on whether you can prove this one person is guilty while being completely passive about the fact that the office has been victimized by repeated instances of theft. If this were happening in my office I would raise holy hell until the matter was resolved. My message to my manager would be, “I don’t care what we can prove or whether anyone gets fired/arrested. This is unacceptable and I want to know what you are doing to stop it!” And I would continue pestering her until you get an answer.

    Meanwhile, you don’t necessarily have to wait around for her. If you feel comfortable, you can ask the suspect directly. Even if he denies it, it would at least put him on notice and hopefully cause him to curb his behavior. If you feel like that’s too direct of a confrontation, you can be a bit more passive and send notices around the office, put signs in the breakroom, etc. The goal is to make it a salient issue for everyone, so that the innocent people keep their eyes open and the guilty people worry about getting caught.

    1. Greg*

      One more point: Whoever is doing the stealing, it sounds like seriously sociopathic behavior. This isn’t a case of seeing a $20 bill on the ground or even in plain sight; the thief is planning his/her crimes in advance, busting locks on purses, etc. If I were in charge of that office, I would be very worried that someone like that was in my employ and would want to do everything I could to figure out who it was.

  67. Noah*

    I don’t think OP2 could prohibit an exempt worker from doing this parking shuffle, though.

    1. valentine*

      Sure they can. Exempt doesn’t mean extra break time or any time doing something your employer doesn’t want you doing.

  68. SenseANDSensibility*

    OP#2: I don’t see many comments here addressing the poster’s concern of time theft, which can really add up quickly. I work with someone who, due to time wasting & time theft, is getting paid a full time salary for only working about 15-20 hrs/wk. When I brought it up to mgmt, I was told not to worry about it. It’s not that simple. When you are working your tail off and have a strong sense of ethics & integrity, seeing someone get away with this and mgmt doesn’t care enough to address it or implement any consequences, really brings down morale at work for those that are doing what they’re supposed to do.

    1. valentine*

      They shouldn’t have to work more so you can feel better about working so hard without adequate compensation. The colleague is not the enemy. What can management provide that will stop you monitoring your colleague?

  69. Oh So Anon*

    OP #1: A job searching trick that can work if you majored in a social science is to search for jobs using skill or software keywords rather than college majors they’re looking for. When I graduated I worked in a field where entry-level positions were often looking for a skill set that someone with a reasonably rigorous geography, sociology, or psychology degree may have but the postings often asked for business and economics degrees. Yes, an ATS system might toss your application if you have the wrong major, but you might get an interview if your coursework/internship/research experience demonstrates the skills they’re looking for. I’m pretty sure that at one point I just applied to every job in my city that looked entry-level and listed SPSS experience as a requirement, which covered a few different industries.

    Sure, that market research analyst job isn’t looking for an International Relations major specifically, but they are looking for someone who has a few semesters of stats and research methods and knows statistical software pretty well – that might be you!

  70. AnonForToday*

    Re: Coverage.

    Ugh. Our department went from admin assigning coverage to us having to figure it out for ourselves.

    Result is the part timers never cover for the full timers but we always have to cover for them. The people who always say “no” or never reply stop getting asked, and the same helpful people get completely overloaded over and over and it is one more thing that has tanked morale in our department.

  71. Retail*

    Letter 1 – I’m a year after graduating and the first job I got ended after 4 months due to a mental breakdown. It was in my career field, great reference potential, etc. terrible terrible pay but will look good.

    My current job is horticulture at a zoo. It is a great bridge and has helped me get my head on straight. It’s tangentially related in that tourism is important to my goals but nothing else is relevant.

    I hope I’m not shooting myself in the foot but it’s full time with health insurance and I get to see animals every day.

  72. Jenny Hamilton*

    OP3, I’m trained in suicide intervention, and I want to echo what others have said: If someone says they’re thinking about suicide, even in a jokey way, it’s best to check in with them. Being suicidal can feel like you are begging and pleading the people around you for help while you slowly drown, and they’re like “la la la swimming is fun.” Your coworker absolutely is not joking; she is having thoughts of suicide.

    Venus is correct that the two most important questions are whether the person is having thoughts of suicide, and whether they’ve thought about how they would do it. You will not “put the idea in her head” if she’s not already thinking about suicide. Here’s a script for the next time she makes a jumping-off-the-building remark: “Hey, you’ve said stuff like that a few times now. Are you having thoughts of suicide?” If she says yes, you can say “Have you thought about how you would do it?”

    This is going to feel REALLY AWKWARD, but I promise it’s the right thing to do. Once you get answers from her on these two questions (and I think the answers to both will be yes), ask if you can talk with her brother or someone else in her life about what’s going on with her. Your script can be: “I feel very worried about you, and I want to make sure that there are people in your life who know what’s going on with you and can work to get you help. Would it be okay if I shared what you told me with [Brother]?” I think it’s very very likely that she’ll say yes — being suicidal is frightening — but if she doesn’t, you can ask if there’s someone else in her life that you can get in touch with for her, or who she can commit to telling that she’s having these thoughts.

    I hope that helps! I know it’s a crappy, hard situation, and I am mentally sending you all the support in the world.

  73. Candace*

    Re the thefts – can you buy a small webcam and install it? We did this at my workplace when we had a problem with someone vandalizing a coworker’s office, and it worked. We were able to fire the culprit. She had no expectation of privacy in someone else’s office (her boss, as it turned out.)

  74. Rita Meter Maid*

    Letter writer #2 here. Thank you all for your comments and suggestions. A few points of clarification:
    • Our office has been in the same location for nearly 20 years. The average tenure of current employees is >10 years, so the parking situation, rules and requirements are not new or surprising to anyone.
    • We are not a for-profit business but part of a not-for-profit research centre, located in the downtown area of a major metropolitan centre. Paying for employee parking is not possible in our organization – no one gets free parking.
    • The worksite is within 2 blocks of several major transit corridors, including a subway/train connection to the suburbs. So lots of transit options. Employer support for transit costs is available.
    • There are approx. 120 personnel at our location. The parking shuffle is done by 5% of these people. While this is only a small number, the issue affects 20% of the staff – meaning the co-workers who are repeatedly expected to take over the tasks of the parkers while they “slip out”.
    • The safety issue – apologies for not being clearer about that. I meant safety in the sense of not being able to account for them in the event of an emergency.

    Thank you, AAM, for your advice. The approach agreed upon by the leaders is to have the supervisors remind the parkers that they need to be more respectful of the workplace (both the time their being paid to be working and their co-workers who should not be expected to do their work for them). If the situation persists, we can take additional time monitoring steps with the parkers as needed. We’ll also be implementing some kind of sign out/in system such that we can account for people in the event of an emergency.

    We have the flexibility to adjust any employee’s paid working hours by up to an hour, increasing their unpaid lunch or coffee breaks such that their overall work day is longer and the amount of unpaid time in the day covers their frequent departures. In other words, instead of being at work for 8 hours with a 30-minute unpaid lunch, they could be at work for 8.5 hours with a 60 minute unpaid lunch, with the flexibility to use that 60 minutes throughout the day to move their car. We’re looking in to whether/how our timekeeping systems might accommodate this approach.

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