my boss lied to my coworker about his firing, insecurity and graduate degrees, and more

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

1. My coworker is being let go for not doing his work — but that’s not what our boss told him

I have a coworker, Fergus, who is being let go because he doesn’t do his job. For example, there was a big project for his client and he slept through calls about it, didn’t do a big task that would usually be his responsibility, and took over a month to complete what he did do (should have taken two days). There have also been days where he doesn’t do his share of our team’s work, or simply doesn’t show up to work without telling our boss. He’s disorganized, unreliable, and–on top of that–comes across as rude in communications with people who are just trying to find out if he’s going to do the work he owes them.

Our boss was clearly going to let it slide because of his past friendship with Fergus, but another manager (who oversees his client) got wind of what was happening and created a paper trail to remove him from the client project, paving the way for his termination. But instead of telling Fergus he’s being fired for reasons related to his work, our boss told him it’s because the client has run out of budget.

Now that Fergus has been told he’s being let go, he’s been confiding in me about his anger over it. It bothers me because I’m the one who covered for him when he dropped the ball on his projects, and he is far from a victim here. I also don’t think our boss is doing Fergus any favors by telling him this isn’t about his work, when it clearly is. I don’t think it’s my place to say something to Fergus about the real reason behind his termination, but I also don’t want to be a sounding board for him when I know he’s being let go for cause. His unreliability made my job significantly more stressful for weeks, and I think our boss should tell him the truth. Is there anything I can do here? Or just wait out the remaining time on Fergus’s contract?

That’s terrible management on your boss’s part, but you can’t really overrule him in deciding what someone is told about the reason for their termination. So yeah, that probably does mean you’re just stuck waiting for Fergus’s time there to end.

That said, you’re not stuck having to hear how aggrieved he feels either. If you’re inclined, the next time he starts complaining to you about being let go, you could say, “You know, you slept through calls about the X project, didn’t do Y, and have been hostile to people who checked up on work you owed them. I don’t want to get into a back and forth with you about this, but I’m not a great audience for what you’re saying now, because I see it differently.”

If that’s more than you want to get into, you could also just say, “Hmmm, I don’t see it that way so I’m not the right person to talk to about this.” And if he pushes to know what you mean: “It’s not something I want to get into. I’d just prefer not to discuss it.”

2. I don’t want my new hire to feel weird about being the only person without a graduate degree

I am a relatively new supervisor of seven people with a new hire starting under my purview this week. At my company and in my industry, graduate degrees are the norm. But the company recently changed the definitions for the levels at which people are hired, and opened the door to hire college graduates. My new employee just graduated college with a B.S. and is literally the only person in my entire department (50+ people) who doesn’t have a graduate degree.

I would like to reassure her that she’s capable of doing the work so she doesn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable for not having the graduate degree, but I don’t know how to approach the subject. It’s entirely possible that she doesn’t realize the situation, so if I were to preemptively bring it up, it might actually cause the awkwardness that I’m hoping to calm. But if I don’t bring it up and she is aware of it, I don’t think she would bring it up on her own and would just possibly sit there questioning herself and her skills. Any advice? If it matters, it was my boss (the department head) who hired her — I wasn’t involved in her interview, but I have no qualms about her hiring.

If you bring it up unbidden, you’re more likely to make her feel awkward than reassured — the subtext will be that it could be an issue, and that you think maybe she should think it’s an issue, but don’t worry, it’s not an issue. It’s not very reassuring, especially since you’re not the person who actually hired her.

And she might not feel any particular insecurity about it! She might simply assume that she got hired so she must be seen as qualified (which would be reasonable!). She might think graduate degrees are overrated. She might have no particular opinion about it at all, but would feel weird that you assumed she did. Or sure, she might feel weird about it — but wait until you see signs of that.

In general, assume that a new hire isn’t questioning themselves or their capabilities unless they show actual evidence that they are — and even then, you’d want to speak directly to what you’re seeing/what they’re saying rather than assuming you know where it’s coming from. After all, if she does start feeling insecure, it might be about something completely different than her lack of a graduate degree (it could be about a project she messed up, or something rude Bob said to her, or so forth), so you don’t want to assume.

3. My ex-employer insists I owe them money, withheld my paycheck, and won’t stop contacting me

I involuntarily separated from my employer several weeks ago for one incident of tardiness due to unforseen circumstances. Before we parted ways, I had a great relationship with my immediate supervisor and the business owner, who frequently praised my performance. Or so I thought. The day I was let go, I was subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse from the business owner. It came without warning, and by phone while I was in public.

A few days later, I was informed by HR that they were confiscating my final paycheck, claiming I owe them for business expenses. These expenses they’ve come up with are in excess of the checks amount, so they’ve asked me to write THEM a check for the remaining balance. I never agreed to these deductions, which are for professional development and travel – not for pay advances, nor unreturned/damaged equipment. So of course, I refused to pay them anything, and filed a wage claim with the state.

While I’ve been waiting for a claims officer to settle the matter, HR has continued to email me asking me for money. At one point, they claimed they called the wage complaint office and that there isn’t any action against then on file. I told HR to check again and to stop contacting me directly… but they haven’t. Just yesterday they sent me a “revised” wages owed document – two MONTHS after I left.

In addition to refusing to pay me for hours worked, they appealed my unemployment claim. To prove their case, my former team under the direction of the business owner assembled a 25-page packet of “evidence” (benign internal emails) that I was a negligent employee who tries to “game the system.” I had to quietly listen to their lies for nearly an hour in front of a hearing officer. My case is still pending.

I am stunned by their vindictive behavior, and even more stunned that they seem to enjoy it, almost like it’s a team building activity. Them vs me. Though it hurts, I’m glad I got to see who they really are and even happier I got a quick exit. I don’t want an apology. Despite what they now say about me, I know my worth as an employee and a person. What I do want, is payment for the hours I already worked, and to be left alone. Any advice?

That’s horrible! Any chance you’d be able to afford a lawyer for just an hour or two, to write them a cease and desist letter and otherwise advise them to stop contacting you? Hopefully the state will take care of the wage claim, but the lawyer might be helpful in getting them to stop contacting you, and might be helpful on the rest of it too.

If that’s not in the cards, there might be some relief in setting any emails from their domain to go to a hidden folder in your email that you check, say, once a month — which would give you some control over when you need to deal with them, rather than them just popping up and ruining your day at random. (You could even just not check it, but it sounds like it might be useful to know if they’re making any other bizarre claims.)

4. Negotiating for more money when you get a promotion

I emailed you last month thanking you for your advice and your column, because I had just gotten a final interview for an internal position in my company. I’m super excited, because I just got my formal offer letter this morning and I’m definitely going to accept!

I wanted your advice, though, because I’ve read your articles on salary negotiation, and wondered if the rules were any different for internal positions. This position is a title and department jump for me, and I’d like to ask for $1,000 more than the offer. From my research, I know our company pays well at the lower end of the average for similar positions, because we’re 1) relatively smaller and 2) in a niche industry, and 3) we have certain perks like flexible vacation and casual dress. Am I out of line to respond to the offer letter accepting, but asking for the $1,000 extra? I’m nervous because the hiring manager is someone I work closely with, and I don’t want to seem rude. Also, I’m fairly certain that there’s an awareness that even this offer is significantly more than I’m making now, and I don’t want to seem greedy.

Don’t accept the offer and ask for more money at the same time; that’s giving away all your negotiating power because you’re telling them you’ll accept the offer regardless. Even if that’s true, you don’t want to announce that. Instead, say, “I’m really excited about the new role. Would you be able to go up to $X on salary?” Negotiating salary doesn’t look greedy! If you ask for something wildly unrealistic, then you look … wildly unrealistic, but “greedy” still isn’t the word that would come to mind, at least in healthy organizations.

If they say no, then at that point you can say, “Well, I appreciate you considering it! I’d like to accept regardless.”

5. Should I relocate with my company?

I just learned this morning that my company will be relocating its main regional office in 9 months, to a city 1,500 miles away from my current location. I’m relatively fortunate to be in a position where I could look at relocating with it – no kids, no home ownership, no family in my current city, no deep objection to living in the new city, a job that will still exist (though likely in a somewhat changed form) after the move. What are the things I need to be taking into account in advance of accepting or rejecting a relocation?

Most importantly, of course, do you want to live in the new city? What lifestyle changes might be involved? Can you visit before you decide? If you moved and then left your job in a year (voluntarily or involuntarily), would you regret having moved?

And do you like your job enough to warrant uprooting yourself and moving to a new city for it? What’s the likelihood you could find a job you like enough (and that pays enough) in the city where you are?

If you do move, how long do you see yourself staying in your current job or with your current company? If you’re going to move on in the next few years and wouldn’t otherwise be that interested in the new city, it likely doesn’t make sense to move.

Overall, would it improve your life? Or just keep you from having to do a job search right now? The latter on its own isn’t a strong enough reason to move.

Other things to look into: the cost of living in the new city compared to your current one (especially for housing), and whether the company will pay any kind of relocation bonus or help with moving expenses.

{ 386 comments… read them below }

  1. CR

    #2, it sounds like you’re the one who’s concerned about the lack of graduate degree not the employee or anyone else. Not having a graduate degree will hardly make the employee the dumbest person in the room, in case that’s what you’re thinking. In fact your employee might not even know because normal adults working in an office generally don’t sit around and talk about their degrees.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I suspect OP is trying to head off anything that could trigger impostor syndrome in their new hire. It sounds like they’re trying to ensure the office is inclusive in light of a major policy change, not that they think the new employee is dumb or less capable for lacking a grad degree.

      I remember being a new grad joining a team of people with grad degrees (or aspiring/applying to doctoral programs), and at the beginning, I didn’t care. But over time there were moments when folks made off-hand comments that made me feel less secure about my capabilities because of my lack of exposure or desire to pursue grad education. At that moment, I really appreciated having a boss who said, “We hired you for a reason. You’ve got this.”

      I agree with you and Alison that OP shouldn’t bring this up at this point. But I do hope that if OP notices the new employee beginning to withdraw or appear like they’re lacking confidence, or if there are weird off-hand comments about formal education, that OP considers saying to their employee what my boss said to me. Those little interventions can go a long way.

      1. Dan

        Graduate degrees are prevalent in my field. I have an MS, but the field is rife with PhDs. There *are* companies that can be a bit degree snobby; the best way to not be that is to make sure those without the higher ranking degrees have equal advancement opportunities. That is, unless they don’t. At my org, senior technical roles tend to go toward the PhD side.

        I’d say the area where a PhD is most often a true differentiation is in academic publishing. I have an applied Masters degree and never published in grad school. One of my coworkers has a PhD (published a bit in grad school) and told me not too long ago that she “has published 100 papers.” While I certainly respect that she knows the paper writing process and how to write a good academic paper, there’s a big gulf between that and a paper that has found and communicated something useful.

        I can hold my own with the PhDs, they don’t intimidate me too much. To OP’s question, this isn’t something she can *tell* the new hire, this is something she has to *show* the new hire. And you show it by ensuring that she’s got the same opportunities everybody else does.

        That said… if the employee came straight out of school with just a BS, depending on the field, the learning curve can take a bit longer. I can say that because as an undergrad, I learned “how to get the answer in the back of the book” and in grad school, I learned “there’s no one right answer.”

        1. Fortitude Jones

          And you show it by ensuring that she’s got the same opportunities everybody else does.

          Well said.

        2. Lora

          In my field there are sooooo many “fifth year Masters” programs that it amounts to a fancified Bachelor’s, and they’re often done by students who didn’t get into medical school on either the first OR second try. There are also a lot of MS folks who concluded after their 7th or 8th year of PhD work with no matriculation in sight (this isn’t uncommon in some programs, either through poor management by the PI or because the department is using TAs instead of adjuncts to run the big lecture hall courses) that they might as well master-out of the program and get on with their damn life already before they’re 40.

          And then I know a bunch of folks who happened to work in a few companies that hired BS/MS level people and treated them the same as PhDs…and those folks went on to discover some of the most innovative biotech drugs on the market. Some of them got their PhDs as an afterthought via company-sponsored programs at local universities, some didn’t. They still performed just as well as the PhDs.

          The real drawback is that in some fields you will not be able to advance quite so much. On the other hand, you won’t have as long a stint of unemployment due to being overqualified for everything and senior management jobs being thin on the ground in any economy. It can be harder to make a career switch too, especially once you’ve done a postdoc and gotten some experience.

          1. gwal

            For what it’s worth, people who participated in the systems you described here have certainly invested a lot of time, money, and effort in getting their degrees. While they’re obviously not *required* for competence, it is not very kind to speak so condescendingly of such degrees when credential creep and a messed-up education system are very substantial problems in the current (US) workforce. I do hope the OP’s employee doesn’t feel inferior, but it doesn’t require demeaning those with graduate degrees to get there.

            1. Must Bring Data

              I appreciate this. I’m a PhD at an institution that has a variety of PhDs, MS, and BS degrees. I have a PhD. Many other people at my level do not, and they often complain of how unworthy they are made to feel by leadership. I can appreciate that and sympathize. But then they also go on to demean the PhDs or even demean my own PhD/experience to make themselves feel better, and it just makes me feel worse. There’s no need to pull other people down in order to bring yourself up.

              1. Sara without an H

                You have lousy leadership. This is a classic example of how to form a vicious circle: 1) condescend to people who don’t have a certain credential; 2) the people condescended to will fight back by denigrating people with the credential they don’t have.

                Do not take it personally, as it’s their problem, not yours.

              2. RUKiddingMe

                Exactly. If I had a nickel for every bachelor’s and/or non-degreed person who days that (advanced or otherwise) degrees don’t matter/count…

              3. Tupac Coachella

                I agree, this hurts. My degree doesn’t make other’s achievements any less valuable. I work in higher ed and have a master’s degree, and I constantly get to hear about how a college degree is “just a piece of paper” as a way of minimizing the importance of college as an option. I worked at a community college for years. I can’t fix my own car or electrical wiring. I *absolutely* believe that there are legitimate, valuable paths to employability, personal fulfillment, and occupational happiness that don’t require a college degree. That said, my degree is NOT “just a piece of paper.” I have a knowledge and skillset that came from my undergrad and graduate degrees that people without one don’t have, the same as people who got an electrician’s license or did a carpentry apprenticeship have a skillset that I don’t have, and now I can get jobs they can’t and vice versa. It annoys me to no end when people act like my long, challenging, and expensive accomplishment doesn’t matter because “tradespeople make lots of money without going into massive debt” (incidentally, I have less than $3000 student debt, total-I made very deliberate financial decisions to earn my degrees). I would love to be able to make $50 an hour as an HVAC tech, but I have crappy spatial reasoning, poor understanding of mechanics in general, and think crawlspaces and attics are hellish. My tradeoff to do a job I love is that I had to prepare for it through formal college education. I won’t diminish the path that led to your accomplishments, you don’t diminish mine. /end rant

                1. Fortitude Jones

                  I love your username. (And kudos to you for coming out of school with so little debt.)

                2. Not Rebee

                  But for some people WITH the degrees the degree honestly can be not all that useful. I don’t have anything over a BA, but I honestly don’t need anything I learned in college for my current job (except that having a BA is a requirement for most entry-level positions, and that having a Bachelor’s or Associate’s was a pre-requirement for the course I took to get my.. I’ll call it a trade certification). So while, sure, the hard work, time, and money I put in are real and shouldn’t be discounted, and my having graduated is indeed a sign of accomplishment (as it would be if I had a masters or doctorate of some kind), functionally it’s just a piece of paper to me that tells you nothing about whether or not I’m qualified to do anything.

                3. IndoorCat

                  I think part of it is, what’s the degree in? What did you actually learn in terms of skills and knowledge?

                  Personally I have a degree in English, and I’m a professional writer. But plenty of professional writers don’t have college degrees, and plenty of English majors unfortunately, graduated without being able to write at a competitive, professional level and wound up unemployed for long stretches on time– and, ultimately, figured out a different skill set to hone and get work.

                  I think the portfolio I graduated with helped me a lot, as did a few professors who helped me learn *how* to learn and encouraged my curiosity and passion. I loved the experience, resources, and support system I found in undergrad.

                  But, in terms of specific writing skills, I taught myself a lot more from books like “Steering the Craft,” inexpensive online courses like Derek Murphy’s, Carol Tice’s Writer’s Den, Skillshare classes and Freedom With Writing. I read widely and practiced writing and sending pitches regularly. I did some contract work with content agencies, and I worked for startups willing to take on an inexperienced writer who hadn’t graduated from college yet.

                  Frankly, a lot of the undergraduate writing courses at my actual college were a joke. Professors weren’t teaching concrete skills, and unpublishable crap was often given a passing grade. The problem is, these students wound up with the same degree I did; they seemed totally unaware that they weren’t going to land any gigs with their suboar portfolios.

                  So while I am glad I went to college, for a variety of reasons, I’m not sure an undergraduate degree in English is inherently valuable, especially if someone paid full price. At least one from my alma mater. I think a lot of people feel misled, or even ripped off, because they received an insufficient education that didn’t teach them the skills to get a job they enjoy that pays well.

                4. Candace

                  Agreed. My husband and I have 7 degrees between us, including 3 Masters degrees and a PhD. The degrees are definitely not just paper. People who say this remind me of people who say that marriage is just a piece of paper. Strangely, the ones who say this seem to be the ones who have a real objection to getting married, and get vocal about it, even if they are living with the same person for ages and have kids. I don’t have any issue with that, and lived with people for years twice. But I’ve been married for 28 years and it definitely is not a piece of paper. And really, tell that to all the gay couples who can at last get married. Any time someone says that, about anything, it signals real discomfort or nervousness or insecurity to me.

                5. Tupac Coachella

                  Thanks for the thoughtful responses to my comment. I’ll add in response that one thing I tell my students anytime I think they even might listen is that a college degree and the individual classes that make it up are all opportunities to grow as a learner and thinker, and some people do miss those opportunities. Some people develop transferable skills like collaboration, critical thinking, and written communication in other ways, but college really is a fast track to those skills if you let it be rather than treating anything outside of direct career related content as hoop jumping.

                  It does grind my gears in a big bad way when instructors and administrators don’t recognize their role in that, like in your example, IndoorCat. Students often don’t realize that sometimes the content is secondary, and failing to give real, useful feedback and engage students with real world based learning outcomes makes general education courses a waste of time and money. The student is responsible for making the most of their education, but they need to be taught how, or at minimum told that it’s an expectation that they actually think about the connections. All higher ed faculty and staff have a responsibility to prevent degrees from being “pieces of paper” that can be earned without any real engagement with broader learning outcomes.

            2. Lora

              Apologies, that was not my intention – what I should have said was, the credentials and their value have definitely become muddied because of these circumstances. It’s not a clear-cut discrete value the same way that a JD or MD are definite “you MUST have this to do meaningful work of this particular type and you WILL be limited by not having an advanced degree.” Some people with an MS have put in 7+ years of full time graduate work, often published many papers and are really ABD PhDs, but mastered out due to things beyond their control (my nephew is one of these: his PI changed institutions, he followed the PI to the new institution, but then the PI lost his funding) while some really did do what amounted to a fifth year of undergrad to attempt to strengthen a medical school application (I know because they came through my lab and were very clear about why they wanted the job: “it’ll look good on a medical school application”). There’s just a huge variation in what a MS or PhD even mean anymore, you can’t simply look at it as having a graduate degree or not.

              I agree that it’s a lot of time and money and effort, and the US educational system is severely messed up in many, many ways – and those ways are certainly to the detriment of students and folks trying to get a job or move up in a job. I know my colleagues who spent 8 years stuck in a PhD program years after they’d technically finished their dissertations because the department was disorganized or needed someone to TA Bio101 were EXTREMELY bitter about it, and even angrier that their friends who had gone on to industry jobs were well compensated and had already passed the usual life milestones of buying a house, having children and so on – as were my colleagues who started a company-sponsored PhD and got several years into it, only to be forced to master out when their employer merged with another and the PhD sponsorship was discontinued. I would not consider these colleagues to be equivalent to the folks who did a fifth-year masters, performed technician level work for a year or two in my lab, and then got accepted to nursing or business school when they found out that they didn’t really like doing actual science.

              Unfortunately, I know a LOT of employers who nevertheless treat graduate degrees as if it’s 1985 and there’s been no credential creep, as you put it. Add to that the paper mill schools, and it’s a mess. And definitely frustrating.

              1. epi

                I really don’t think it is that muddy within individual fields, though. If you meet someone socially, sure, you may have no idea what the typical time to degree is in their field or how common it is to leave with a masters. Within your own field, though, you really should know that and the existence of a few talented people with hard luck stories does not mean that no information is conveyed by their degree.

                1. So long and thanks for all the fish

                  I’m in a field where just saying you have a master’s degree in my field means “I did some undisclosed amount of time in academia after I got my bachelor’s”. It could mean 7 years of an unfinished PhD program like Lora describes, or just a year or two more of classes. It’s well-known that it runs the gamut.

                2. Lora

                  epi, here is where I 100% agree with gwal: in life sciences, there really IS no time to degree anymore. There isn’t even a “reasonable amount of time to postdoc” anymore, I’ve seen everything from 2 years to 12 years (yes, as a *postdoc*). And it’s not a few failures, we’re talking about 80-90% of PhDs end up leaving the field they studied in at the very least, and many leaving science altogether – and that’s AFTER everyone who mastered out for whatever reason. I know an awful lot of PhDs who were assured by their PIs that having a PhD == infinite employability…and then they matriculated into a recession, and debated whether they should take the PhD off their resume and tell interviewers they took time off for their kids instead, because the only jobs available were BS/MS level and they needed a paycheck and hey, maybe this would get a foot in the door? I can only imagine being in their shoes, I know it was incredibly frustrating for them.

                  It’s really the reason I bailed for the engineering side of things instead. It seemed like the PhDs I was surrounded with were getting laid off (heck, even the folks who discovered Viagra and Lipitor were laid off by Pfizer in the recession!) and going into writing, sales, finance, anything but STEM because they couldn’t find another PI job despite their accomplishments. Meanwhile the people with an MS who were also very accomplished and had discovered drugs that went commercial, found other jobs with startups as mid-level managers / senior scientists working under a PI, because there were a lot more of those jobs available.

                  It seems to me that the system is very broken, and after having seen so many brilliant, accomplished scientists laid off and unable to find a comparable role with so many mergers and acquisitions that eliminated their jobs, I now think of doing a PhD in STEM as being similar to a MFA in Music at Juilliard. Do it if you must, if you have a trust fund or money just isn’t important to you, or if you go into it knowing that your day job might well end up being something that *supports* your passion. But don’t go into it thinking that it has anything to do with employability or even necessarily your contributions to the field – you can be plenty talented and accomplished and still not win Job / Tenure Roulette. So much of that comes down to nothing but dumb luck.

              2. gwal

                Hey this was the most positive back-forth interaction I’ve had in this comment section :) Thanks for your thoughtful approach! It is a complicated situation (and I’m in a similar field as you are, so I know lots of people in those situations as well!)

              3. gwal

                And the whole “didn’t get into medical school so need a different graduate degree” thing is so bonkers, don’t even get me started. Why can’t a person with a science Bachelors degree go into another part of medicine than being a full-blown MD? Societal constructs of white collar/blue collar labor and the resultant huge disparity in how well-respected/ -paid other medical professions (respiratory therapist, laboratory tech/scientist, etc.) are. PA/NP are becoming more of an option but even that path is weirdly gendered and rife with class-based anxiety, as far as I can tell…

            3. epi

              This. I have my degree because I did my research, and I knew it was necessary for me to move up in my chosen career in the way that I wanted to. My degree really has no relevance to people who don’t want to be cancer epidemiologists. There is no reason for someone who doesn’t want to do my job to be threatened by it, any more than I would feel inadequate about my friend running a marathon when I prefer yoga. I don’t go around making people feel bad, or making them responsible for my personal insecurities, over their professional accomplishments in their own fields, but I rarely get the same respect.

              I’ve also been the BA-level assistant to a bunch of people with doctorates. I’ve been mistreated in some places and treated with respect in others. IME this dynamic has very little to do with degrees, and everything to do with how people are expected to treat one another in that field. If it’s acceptable for senior people to condescend to junior ones, then degrees will be part of that dynamic. And even in the worst and most hierarchical environment I worked in– academic medicine– still only about half of my investigators were difficult to work with on that basis. The other half were great. In most places the ratio is even better.

              In contrast, weird responses to my degree or my research are nearly universal. It’s to the point that I try to just not talk about work with new people until I know I like them. I find it over the top rude for people to assume (and basically tell me!) that I would be mean or look down on them, just because of my degree. And ignorant to boot, because my degree does not prove anything about my intelligence and could not be less essential to most people. US culture is going through a period that is particularly anti-intellectual and anti-science right now. And there are way more people without grad degrees than with. If there are people out there who truly believe that the prevalence and burden of disrespect flowing from us is greater than that flowing to us, frankly, I would need to see evidence of that.

              1. Fortitude Jones

                US culture is going through a period that is particularly anti-intellectual and anti-science right now.

                This is also sadly true.

                1. Busy

                  I am just going to point out that all of these arguments here are circular. Like your life experience shows you that sometimes people make comments about your degrees. But you never stop and think about the full level negative comments people without degrees get from educated progressives? It is really common, and if you don’t believe me, read through the comments on progressive sites. The country isn’t “anti-education”. That is a really narrow argument I mostly see from acedemic lifetimers. As in, people who typically stay in acedemics. And it is expected, because everyone remembers negative comments. But by and large, educated people are not victims and not being made victims by anyone.

                  (Said as a progressive getting kind of tired of listening to people degrade other classes they feel are less than. For the large part, degrees are NOT needed for most jobs and just prolong youth)

                2. Fortitude Jones

                  Busy, why is this a reply to me when I stated further down thread that advanced degrees don’t say anything about someone’s intelligence level or work ethic?

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

        This. I think it’s important for OP to have this in the back of her mind but not to bring it up unless the new hire starts the conversation. Because if new hire isn’t feeling insecure now, if OP brings it up out of the blue, she will most certainly start to feel insecure and doubt herself.

        1. boo bot

          Yes. I think the boss means well, but this is going to come across badly if she tries to lead with it; I absolutely believe her intent is good here, but it will sound vaguely ominous coming from someone’s new boss.

          I wouldn’t feel worry about going into a job without an advanced degree, even if everyone else had one – I don’t have one, so it must not be required for MY job. But if my new boss started dropping hints like, “Now I don’t want you to feel insecure because you only have a B.A…” I would probably hear it as, “I, your new boss, regret hiring someone without an advanced degree, and I’m going to project an assumption of failure onto you.” Or, less likely but equally depressing, “I enjoy petty torments, and will progress to needling you about your weight.”

          The second thing that came to mind was that the OP may be worried that other people will bring it up and try to make the new worker feel insecure. In that case, I still wouldn’t bring it up preemptively, but you can check in with her about the work environment as she settles in, and keep an eye out for this if you know it’s likely to be a problem (and shut it down with the perpetrators if you hear it.)

        2. TootsNYC

          It’s sort of like, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but…”
          or “No offense,…”

      3. OP #2

        OP #2 here – yes, this is exactly what I was going for. Just trying to nip any insecurity in the bud and help my new employee feel welcome and capable. I have a longer response below answering a few other points people brought up. But I will definitely keep an eye on my new employees apparent confidence level. Thanks for the advice!

    2. Dan

      Well… for the sake of conversation, my company (and many of the staff) will use the honorific “PhD” if it applies. Granted, those with an MS do not use an honorific. But the PhD will appear on door nameplates and email signatures. The company also includes degrees in the electronic phone directory. So while the info is waved around, it’s not hard to find either.

      1. Lynca

        Yeah this is incredibly common information where I work and really baked into the job titles. This information is usually in the email signatures or in the personal directory. This includes indicating whether you have advanced degrees, whether they are licensed, official job titles, and generally people have their diplomas on the office walls.

        But that’s usually not what makes people feel awkward or uncomfortable in my experience. Honestly in my line of work it is somewhat expected as you progress in your career that you have advanced degrees or a license. What I’ve seen make people uncomfortable is if coworkers with advanced degrees insist they be addressed by the honorifics or are really condescending to people with less experience/education/etc.

        1. NothingIsLittle

          Mine is the same. The university I work for is mostly health sciences and every department has the full list of degrees and licenses (besides BSN/P/etc) including MSN/P/etc on both the nameplates and the automatic email signatures.

          We’ve actually had three people in the past two years get doctorates, in large part because that’s how you advance. The only time we’ve called any of the four people with doctorates “Dr.” was right after they got it to show that we were excited for them. Of course, we’re on a first-name basis, so it might be different in a more formal workplace, but the people here with the most degrees bring the least focus to them.

      2. SunnyD

        When I first got my Masters, I put it in my email signature. But it just didn’t seem to be done, so I quickly stopped.

        I eventually started to feel like putting a grad degree in email signature comes across as insecurity (like, hey guys I really do know stuff!) in a way that a PhD or professional certifications like PMP don’t. (Both of which I see in email signatures.)

        But it’s possible I’m connecting dots wrong, or just in a different industry.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish

          Ha- I just got my PhD and put it in my signature because my new PI does, and even that feels a bit like demonstrating insecurity. I may take it out soon and just identify myself as “postdoc”, which conveys the same information but somehow seems less credential-y.

        2. Database Developer Dude

          Which is a load of crap. A Master’s Degree is just as strenuous as a PMP certification, and probably more relevant to the field in which the person is working. If a PMP can put their cert in their signature, I should be able to put my Master’s degree in there. Not being allowed makes me think it’s not considered important.

          1. Emilia Bedelia

            They’re not saying they’re not allowed, just that it’s not done.

            But in many fields/employers, a PMP or other industry certification really is more relevant to the job than a master’s, and may actually be more strenuous. Again, completely industry/role/company dependent, but a 1 year master’s degree that was tacked on to your undergrad is really not the same thing as a multi year professional certification.

            When you say “Not being allowed makes me think it’s not important”, you are absolutely right. In some fields, a master’s is NOT important, and holding onto it makes you look out of touch and insecure. The key here, as SunnyD identified, is to pay close attention to your colleagues and follow what they do. Maybe it is unfair… but this is all about perception, and ignoring what the common practice will affect how people see you.

          2. Close Bracket

            I think using the MS depends on the field. Some of the staff in the academic office from whence I graduated had MS degrees that were directly relevant to what they did and gave an extra specialization on a job that really anyone with any BS and good critical thinking skills could do. I perceive those degrees as prestigious and conferring something extra that deserves to be called out. OTOH, I just noticed that one of the PhD students puts his MS after his name in his signature, and I just wanted to say, “oh honey.”

        3. Cascadian

          I don’t have a degree of any kind and work in higher ed, interacting with faculty of all levels. I’ve found that people who insist on an academic title (Professor So&So and/or PhD) tend to be unpleasantly entitled and not terribly functional.

      3. wittyrepartee

        We put the MPH or PhD in our email signatures. It’s actually useful sometimes, because I can use degree + position to guess about how technical I can make the descriptions of data in my email. It doesn’t mean anyone’s smarter than anyone, it just gives me a clue as to training.

      4. Blue Horizon

        I have a PhD. I did it without really having a good reason for it* and realized halfway through that an academic career wasn’t for me. Knowing it was almost certainly irrelevant to my hypothetical future career made it even more of a struggle to finish it. As a credential I consider it mostly a testament to my stubbornness, and also my tendency to jump into things without thinking properly about them. I am not especially proud of it, and it tends to embarrass me when people occasionally find out about it (not least because the first thing they usually want to do is call me Doctor). The one thing I do sometimes find it useful for is as a blunt instrument against people who try an education-based appeal to authority on me.

        * If I’m honest, the reason is that I graduated during a period of high unemployment, and employers had next to no interest in anyone from a theoretical field of study. Grad schools in contrast were falling over themselves trying to convince me to apply (and offering all kinds of incentives). I took the path that offered me emotional validation.

        1. IndoorCat

          “I took the path that offered me emotional validation.” +1 same. I didn’t get a PhD, but my initial career path wasn’t really, um, thoughtful as much as it was an emotional reaction.

        2. Kivrin

          There was a sign posted in my husband’s office in grad school that said, “Grad school is the snooze button on the alarm clock of life.”

      1. Thankful for AAM

        Rose, in my field, this is discussed. Traditionally you cannot have the main position without the grad degree. So any new hire would know.

    3. Al who is that Al

      Reminds me of the old joke:
      Young person starts working at “the Golden Arches”, first morning the manager says “here’s a broom, can you sweep the floor for me”. Person replies “But I’ve got a graduate degree !”, Manager says “Oh I’m sorry, I’ll get someone to show you how to do it”

    4. Feline

      OP2, I’m that person on our team, and in my experience, the education gap is only awkward when we have wider-team meetings where we are expected to go around introducing themselves. Everyone introduces themselves with their degrees, and I can’t do that. Unlike your new grads, I have more — much, much more — experience than my better-educated coworkers, so I can lead with that. So if you want to avoid that awkwardness, don’t do meetings and ask your employees to introduce themselves without guidelines on what you expect in that introduction.

      People don’t talk about their degrees in everyday conversation around the office. Really. If you do your job well, it’s not A Thing.

      1. SunnyD

        Oh my gosh that’s so weird to me, from my industry! So it’s like “hi I’m X, my title is Y, I have a PhD in medieval entymology, and I enjoy baking”?

        In my business field, we would say “hi I’m X, I’m the manager for the widget authorization process in the Operations team” and maybe something specific about this meeting and what we’re looking to do.

        1. Feline

          Yes, SunnyD, that’s exactly how introductions go around the room after new team members join. It feels very junior high summer camp to me. But that’s the level of touchy-feely we’ve come to in an effort to encourage the almighty C-for-collaboration. Our team is a bunch of introverts who really don’t want to introduce ourselves, so I suspect that’s why they fall back on their not-job-relevant MBAs and MFAs.

      2. JSPA

        Eh, you say “my background is in X” rather than “my degree is in Y,” and it won’t necessarily even register.

      3. ellex42

        Hey Feline, I’m like you: lots of people in my industry have a degree in related fields, but lots of people also have a ton of specialized experience and no education higher than high school or a fairly generic AA or BA. Traditionally, my field is one you learn mostly on the job, and a lot of people take their brand new degree and get into this for practical experience. It’s only in the last decade or so that colleges and universities have even started offering classes in it. People hear about my work experience and assume I have a degree, but hardly anyone actually mentions their degrees unless we do meetings with introductions. The only place a degree really makes a difference is in getting promoted into management.

    5. Polymer Phil

      It seems weird that the new hire is a fresh grad with a B.S. In my field, it would be more common for this situation to happen when a highly accomplished person with a bachelor’s degree gets promoted to a level where they’re the only one in the room without a PhD.

    6. Liz

      Totally agree with this. I’ve known plenty of people with multiple degrees, who, shall we say were not the sharpest knife in the drawer; and others, who maybe didn’t even have a BA, who could run rings around them. Of course I’m generalizing, but i don’t see any reason to say anything to the new hire. She may be very confident in her abilities, and very capable once she gets into the job. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    7. Phoenix Programmer

      I was in the exact situation as employee at my first post-college job. Here’s what happened:

      1. I was quickly seen as one of the most talented and bright people in the department.
      2. I was promoted 6 months after starting, I think partly due to the company underestimating what a bachelor’s can prepare you for.
      3. I never felt nervous or concerned about not having a master’s.
      4. On the odd occasion when degree was brought up, people would encourage me to get an MBA or something similar out of a sense of mentorship.
      5. I am one of those people who thinks most masters degrees are over sold and not particularly useful to the vast majority of folks in business who have them.
      6. For the MS’s I do think are worthwhile, I am still not getting one because the cost of the degree will not be offset much, or some cases at all, by the jobs this would open up for me (US).

      Hope this helps set your mind at ease.

    8. Blunt Bunny

      Yes I agree, I think the employee like most recent graduates is probably just relieved they got a job in their field and soon after graduating. I work in STEM and in my company there is a mix of educational backgrounds from students doing undergraduate placements, apprentices, graduates with BSc, masters up to PhDs and some of the older folks didn’t need formal education 30 years and go and learnt on the job. Everyone’s voice matters here it isn’t hierarchal and since we refer to each other by first names someone’s educational background isn’t really brought up.

      I think you need to consider why you believe it would be an issue. It maybe on paper that you accept people with out advanced degrees but is that the same in practice.

      1. Blunt Bunny

        Also the fact that the department head higher them shows that they believe they are suitable for the role. I don’t think anyone else will question that decision. I think the employee may notice that they are the youngest person in the department quicker than they realise they have the lowest qualification.

    9. BananaPants

      Exactly. I have colleagues with PhDs and didn’t know it for a while, because it’s not something that comes up often in conversation. It’s considered pompous around here to put “PhD” or “MBA” in one’s email signature or on business cards.

    10. epi

      If this employee is in a field where most people had graduate degrees until recently, they will know because they aren’t ignorant. My field (public health) is one where graduate degrees are nearly universal, and there were no undergrad programs until relatively recently. Someone who worked in the field for any amount of time without knowing this would have to be living under a rock. It would come up in anything they would ever read about our field, the degree would show up in people’s signatures and conference bios and professional profiles, people would mention knowing other people from grad school since they all went, etc.

      I think it is a good thing to have more opportunities in fields like mine for people without graduate degrees. It gives more people a way to get involved in the work without taking a big financial risk. It can help address shortages of qualified workers. It can increase diversity which will make the field as a whole better at serving the public. If the job can be done by someone without a graduate degree, then apparently it was unfair to require them before. There is no shame in being among the first people not to be harmed by unfairness.

    11. Zennish

      This. In fact, it will probably only be a thing if you (or your institutional culture) make it a thing. I once took a non-degree job in my field, where a particular graduate degree is standard. (I actually had the degree, but recession…). The boss made a big deal out of giving me a “Oh, we’re all colleagues here, don’t worry about it.” speech. I soon discovered that everything from whether it was okay to speak in meetings, to how inconveniently located your mailbox was, depended on your status and rank. As long as it isn’t one of those situations, it will probably be fine.

      1. Hope

        This. I’ve worked in two places where a particular graduate degree is common, but you don’t technically need it to do the work. In the first, I only had a BA and was working on getting a similar degree. I was treated like everyone else and no one could tell who had what degree unless you looked them up in the employee directory. It never occurred to me that I was considered “less than” my coworkers, other than in the sense of being new to the job. Years later, after I got a second degree (but not in the particular field that is standard), I moved and I came to work at the second place. Employees are dealt with VERY differently depending on who has what degree–and if you don’t have it in the “correct” field, you might as well not even have a graduate degree.

        It’s very much a culture thing (interestingly, the place with higher/better prestige was the first place I worked, not the second; I think the “correctly degreeed” people at the second place might suffer a bit from knowing their workplace is not quite as prestigious as other places).

    12. Kelsi

      Definitely agree. I’m the only person in my office with no degree (not even undergrad)–the hiring requirements changed after I got the position I started in, and I’ve been promoted into roles based on my experience after that. It almost never comes up. If my new boss had started assuring me that my lack of a degree didn’t matter when I moved to this department it definitely would make me suspicious–because I’d think “Of course it doesn’t, why would you hire me if you didn’t think I was qualified for the job?” and then wonder what she was actually trying to say.

    1. Avasarala

      Back when my internet usage was rationed as a child, I discovered Hearts on my computer. And it was so hard!! I couldn’t manage to beat ANY of my opponents at my table and lost every time. In my frustration, I figured out how to change my opponents’ names and picked things that made me laugh, like Buttmuncher and Armpitwhistler. I still lost, but it took the edge off because I could say, “you may be good at hearts, but you’ll always be Buttmuncher!”

      That is to say, I don’t know how OP can actually make the situation better, but maybe rename that folder (or their contacts in your address book) something that makes you laugh, like “Vader Noooooo” or “bUsInEsS oWnEr” or the poop emoji or something. At least then it won’t be ass stressful to get those emails.

      1. Gazebo Slayer

        I LOVE THIS.

        I once had an obnoxious friend – really one of those one-sided friendships with someone very clingy – whose calls I assigned a ringtone with an “evil doll” voice and horror-movie music. He’s the one I later ended up ghosting because he whacked off in front of my mom….

        1. Jadelyn

          “Haha, that’s funny WAIT WHAT.”

          In other news, during the final days of my (awful, stressful, abusive) relationship with my father before I finally cut off contact for good, I set up his ringtone to be that nuclear station meltdown alarm sound that you hear in the movies. I figured at least that way I’d be forewarned of impending catastrophe if he called me.

  2. Laura H.

    On #3: What about the paycheck?? Isn’t that illegal?? (At the very least it’s in bad form/ poor taste). I’m assuming that this isn’t the former company’s usual M.O. in regards to former employees?

    Good luck LW 3.

    1. Perse's Mom

      I think it is illegal, yes, but that’s not going to stop an employer as petty as this one seems to be. See also the pressure tactics and general shady behavior that’s all designed to wear OP down. I suspect a lot of people wouldn’t think it worthwhile to deal with a wage claim case, and plenty of people might simply pay whatever the bees are demanding just so they’ll leave them alone.

      1. Alternative Person

        Yes on the pettiness. I had a toxic employer try to wriggle of out paying me my final paycheck, but I had records of days/times and kept all the e-mails/texts exchanged (and never spoke with them on the phone). It might have gone to employment court but I was fortunate in that they didn’t want to be investigated in-depth (they were having staffing problems and there was possibly tax shenanigans involved). If I hadn’t 120% needed the money and had a relatively smooth process to making a claim it might have been a different story.

        The fact that for the OP they’re withholding the final paycheck, demanding business costs, with the harassment on top is way over the line though, they’d be better of pro-rating the final paycheck and calling it done, not dragging the whole thing out and sending missives that would only make the employer look worse.

    2. diplomat

      Yes, it is illegal to withhold pay for work done, but the employer is claiming that OP owes them more than they owe the OP. I suspect there is more to the story than OP is telling us. One incident of tardiness doesn’t typically lead to immediate termination, a torrent of verbal abuse, and unwarranted demands for money.

      1. Airy

        Or their overboard reaction could well indicate that they’re the kind of unreasonable people who would fire an otherwise good worker for one incident of tardiness.

        1. Lance

          This. This kind of behavior leads me to believe that the people at that company are in fact horrible, because even if they had a reasonable case for any of this (I doubt it), they’re going about this in all the wrong ways. Never mind the sheer illegality of withholding a final paycheck.

          I feel like there’s nothing remotely reasonable that OP would actually owe them money for.

          1. Phoenix Programmer

            Yep. We deal with this all the time. First we call the employee a few times. Then we send ONE letter saying something like – your check is available at office pending the return of your equipment. If the equipment is not returned by “date” the cost of the equipment will be deducted and any remaining pay will be mailed to the address on file with HR.

            And that’s it. We don’t fight unemployment, we don’t emails 3 months later. We don’t send invoices if equipment is more then the final check.

            I get so tired of the idea that person experiencing unreasonable behavior mist have deserved it.

            1. Busy

              I find the best thing to do is to explain this to people in first paint the victim in the worst light and then show that even given that scenario that the other party (perpetrator) is behaving in a way disproportionate and uncalled for.

              So, lets say what “actually” happened was OP rage quit and then out of spite killed at of their goats. They are a goal milk farm, so this is pretty much the worst that they could do. Even then, harassing emails? Trying to get back charges this way? Nope. Still a pretty illogical response.

        2. Busy

          Yeah, I have seen this play out before – particularly is small business with extremely vindictive people.

          I can just picture it in my mind: OP called out. They said noooooooo. You must come iiiiiiiiinnnnnnnn. OP put their foot down – its an emergency. They said BUT I AM IN CHARGE OF YOU AND YOU DO WHAT I SAY AND HOW DARE YOU EVER THINK YOU CAN TELL ME NO. And then, the proverbial pissing battle begins and they are not going to back down now! How can they? THEY ARE RIGHT!!!!!!

          1. Minocho

            Omg, you’re summarizing this so well, it’s giving me flashback and my heart rate kicked up a notch.

            Thank heaven that my current employer is run by reasonable adults.

            Also, today is Safety Day and we got “Safety Gifts”. The lunchbox and eraser pick up trucks are okay, but the mini led extendable flashlight with a twisty head is _amazing_.

            ::plays with flashlight until heart rate returns to normal::

              1. Minocho

                We got transitions safety glasses last year! I like the flashlight more (shiny all steel body!) but those were pretty cool too.

                I really like this employer. Work is still work, but it makes _such_ a difference being at a place that expects human to be…human.

              2. Minocho

                OMG, the flashlight is also magnetic at the end to pick up dropped screws and nails and stuff. This thing just keeps getting cooler.

            1. Michaela Westen

              This whole thing reminds me of the woman I worked for. Also a small business and she was the sole owner.
              She really seemed to believe she could treat her employees – and pretty much anyone – any way she wanted. She had no concept of respect or human decency. Before I worked there, she had actually forced her staff to have lunch with her every day. She pretended her employees were friends because she didn’t have any actual friends. But that didn’t stop her from verbal abuse, threats, and trying to start fights when she felt like it.
              She eventually laid me off (yay!) and after two months protested my unemployment. She wouldn’t have cared if I starved – she just didn’t want her taxes to go up.
              (I don’t know if her taxes would have actually gone up, but she thought they would.)

        3. Jadelyn

          Yeah, that’s my guess. The Venn diagram of “the kind of employer who fires an otherwise good employee over one unavoidable incident of tardiness” and “the kind of employer who spends months harassing the everloving shit out of a former employee” is a circle.

      2. SunnyD

        Well, when you have reasonable sounding folks on one side (like OP) and folks acting like evil bees on that other (like the employer), it’s actually pretty reasonable to assume that the reasonable one is telling the truth. (Unless you’ve never dealt with vindictive loons, which lack of experience might color your probability analysis.)

        1. Rugby

          Well, when you’re only getting one side of the story and it makes the other side sound vindictive loons and the OP sound completely innocent, it’s actually pretty reasonable to assume that there is more to the story.

          1. Alli525

            Agreed 100%. “I involuntarily separated from my employer several weeks ago for one incident of tardiness due to unforseen circumstances” is overly formal and ergo signals a little yellow flag in my mind. Not saying OP is lying or that their employer’s reaction wasn’t over the top, but I think there’s definitely more to the story than we get to read.

            1. OP3

              OP3 here. I intentionally used vague language to not give any identifying details – not to paint myself in the perfect light. I’m far from perfect! Plus, I have nothing to hide. I very much cared about my job and received positive feedback right up until the day before I was let go, which is why their sudden rage is so bizarre. But looking back, there were little yellow flags as you’d say. Like the CEO made a typo in an itinerary once, blamed it on me, and emailed me past 9 pm on a Sunday to rage about how he looked like an idiot. He’d accuse all of us of making him look bad pretty often and would give feedback on every email we sent to a client.

              1. Fortitude Jones

                Oh yeah, that’s weird as hell. This firing was a blessing even if it doesn’t feel like one now.

              2. Zelda

                Many years ago, my brother had a boss (owner of a small startup) spiral out in a similar fashion. It eventually transpired that the boss was in an advanced stage of cocaine addiction. So yeah, sometimes people really do lose contact with the road.

                Best of luck to you, OP3.

          2. M Bananas

            At first that was exactly what I assumed, that we were getting only a partial view and there might be more to this that even OP doesn’t know….then the benefit of doubt went out the window when Vindictive-are-Us illegally withheld pay from OP.

            Even if they felt justified in demanding money from OP, it does not justify using *illegal* means to procure it, and definitely undermines any potential for ‘there might be more to this’ assumptions.

            1. AKchic

              Nobody ever wants to come out and say “my dog locked me out of my house and I was naked on my back porch at 5 in the morning so I was late to work and my boss whose wife left him for infidelities on his side was in a bad mood decided that was unacceptable fired me because he didn’t get his coffee on time; and because he didn’t have his coffee on time, he refused to get the reports done on time and blamed me, which made the owner mad, who decided the whole chain of events was my fault.”
              Really, it’s easier to just say something vague, even if it sounds formal (yeah, I made all of that up, but I’ve seen similar issues). Small businesses can have… quirks as well as extremely toxic issues.

          3. NothingIsLittle

            Yeah, I’m sure there’s more to the story, and sure it may slightly change the advice herein, but let’s be realistic here, how much is actually going to change? Even if it was actually a case of the employee being perpetually awful and finally being driven out, does that actually change anything beyond how sympathetic the employer is?

            Even if you give the employer the benefit of the doubt and assume the OP is grossly exaggerating (which seems unlikely, even given the formal phrasing, and against the spirit of this website), the company has still garnished their wages (illegal) and attempted to pressure their ex-employee for money they aren’t due (immoral and possibly illegal depending on the circumstances). Even assuming that OP was fired with just cause and shouldn’t be getting unemployment (which seems pretty unlikely), does that honestly change the situation in any substantial way? This just doesn’t seem worth discussing, especially since it’s not like we’ll come to a productive conclusion.

            1. Dwight

              In my jurisdiction (Canada), you can’t collect for unemployment if you were terminated for misconduct, and they spell out directly that tardiness is considered misconduct. Not totally relevant as advice to the LW, as you should always try to collect anyways, but yeah. Here they shouldn’t be getting EI.

          4. Tinker

            Well, and again: having dealt with behavior patterns similar to “vindictive loon”, I might remain open to the possibility that there is more (that is relevant) to the story, but it doesn’t seem reasonable anymore to me to *assume* that — except in the sense that “it is common for people who lack certain experiences to do that, even though it is incorrect”.

            It puts me in mind of the letter a bit ago where LW had a complaint about a fast food cashier and it turned out that the underlying issue was that LW was shockingly racist — there also, there was an initial reaction from some commenters that the cashier must have done something that corresponded to the complaint because otherwise making the complaint wouldn’t make sense. Except, as it turns out, the basis for LW’s position was more like “the cashier was from a certain ethnic background, and all of those kind do the thing I complained about all the time, it is known” — they stated this outright to clarify, seemingly because they saw this as a fact like any other fact that would support their case.

            It’s shocking to one’s sense of reason to see someone baldly and shamelessly do a thing that is commonly viewed as beyond the pale, and it is very common (and in that sense understandable) to resolve the resulting cognitive dissonance by concluding that something must have happened that most people would view as approximately justifying such a reaction — but there are people out there whose worldview justifies doing fairly messed up things for reasons most people consider trivial, and there are enough of them out there that encountering one is actually not an outlandish explanation for an incident.

          5. Kelly L.

            But the “more to the story” could be that the employer is even worse than we thought, not necessarily that the OP is worse than we thought. I worked one place where a woman got fired for absenteeism and was scapegoated for supposedly stealing from the till (socially, anyway; there was no police report or anything)…to cover up for someone else who turned out to have actually been stealing from the till. There might well be missing money, and it’s for another reason, and pinning it on OP is handy for someone.

          6. OhBehave

            The rules of the page expressly direct us to give writers the benefit of the doubt. So let’s not make assumptions based on what we don’t know. I believe the wording used is an attempt to be as vague as possible so as not to be exposed.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

        Based on the actions of OP’s company I don’t think there’s any more to the story, at least from OP’s point of view. She said they unleashed a torrent of crap over the phone after she was let go so they were clearly holding back on something. And they’re being 100% unreasonable. If the money OP “owes” them was for professional development and travel, that’s part of the job, and not money owed back to them after they decided to let her go. If there’s more to the story, I suspect it’s on the company’s end and stuff the OP has no knowledge of.

      4. Mazzy

        There very well might be, but at the same time, at any place I’ve ever worked, expenses that roughly equal someone’s paycheck would be seen as too petty to pursue. If they didn’t like the OP, they’re already getting rid of them. But if they’re dragging it out like this, they’re not actually getting rid of them. They need to think about what they’re larger goal is.

      5. fhqwhgads

        The whole thing is bizarre because it’s odd to me it would even be possible for an employee who has not taken a salary advance to actually owe the company money, let alone more money than the paycheck. Unless this was some sort of “you got moving expenses but have to pay them back if you don’t stay X long” but again usually if the person is fired rather than leaving on their own…I wouldn’t expect that paid back either. There just aren’t a ton of things that are not business expenses, and thus on the employer to pay anyway, that could result in the employee owing them a ton of money. It’s possible there’s more to it but we’re taking the LW at their word that the employer is doing this for reasons they cannot make sense of. Add to that the nature of the way the employer is going about it is nonsensical. Even if the employee had done something horrible but didn’t think it were horrible and thus hasn’t mentioned it – the way the employer is going about this is not the way a normal reasonable employer should be doing it. Either way the employer is being ridiculous.

        1. Sarah N

          The OP actually says what the expenses are for — professional development and travel. Given how unreasonably/illegally this employer is already acting, I’m guessing this is something like “Hey, we paid for that certification for you two months ago, but now you’re fired — pay us back!!! Oh, and that conference you attended in May — we want you to pay us back for your plane flight now that you no longer work here, too!” Obviously this is totally ridiculous, but I’m guessing that’s what they’re trying to say.

          1. Iris Eyes

            I’d think it slightly more likely that it is future dated training that has already been paid in advance.

          2. fhqwhgads

            Right that’s my point: professional development and work travel are business expenses. The company has no standing to try to recover that from OP. Those are not examples of an employee “owing” the company. Possibly if the professional development were thru something where they pay tuition so they’re now saying “you have to pay back the tuition we paid for” I think that’s allowable? But if it’s “you went to this conference” or “you got this certificate”, if it’s in the past it’s too late. There isn’t any sort of “you have to stay X long after going to a conference or else it suddenly becomes a personal expense.” That’s not a thing. If it’s a conference they’re now not going to, I’ve always seen even things that were supposedly non-transferrable be transferrable in these cases. So send a different employee. The leaving person in no way “owes” for that. The commenter above seemed to be suggesting the company might be correct that the OP “owes” them money and I was saying given the info we have, I can’t see how that’s possible.

      6. Tinker

        Alison probably doesn’t receive letters about all the incidents of tardiness that don’t lead to immediate termination, a torrent of verbal abuse, and unwarranted demands for money, because the people involved mostly don’t think “this is an unusual and distressing event that I am not sure how to handle, so maybe I should write an advice columnist”.

      7. OP3

        Nope, nothing more to the story, except a few identifying details that I withheld. I understand the skepticism though, because their reaction definitely is typical.

      8. Working Mom Having It All

        I was thinking that maybe this person had just recently done professional development (either tuition reimbursement or paid travel to a conference) which the employer didn’t feel should be covered now that they were firing the person such a short time later.

        But then, that’s why most employers who cover this sort of thing also don’t have a policy of firing people for one incident of tardiness, and if there are legitimate performance issues they would normally start with a PIP rather than immediate firing. Because, yeah, if you are investing in people, you have to take this sort of thing into consideration. You should only invest this money in reliable workers you don’t think you’re going to fire on the spot anytime soon, and if you have just invested money in someone who seemed otherwise reliable at the time, you may want to stop and think about whether immediate termination is the right choice.

      9. FrivYeti

        One of my friends and roommates once worked for a company whose owner was effusive with praise, gave them numerous bonuses, and was in the process of fast-tracking them to management. Then my friend got sick and had take a sick day (their first in the two years they had been working there) and the boss responded by suspending them from work for a week without pay, and told them that they were sick because of their terrible lifestyle choices and that they had better shape up or they’d be fired.

        My friend went in at the end of the week and asked for an apology, saying that if it was not received, they would be giving notice at the end of the holiday season (it wasn’t the busiest time of the year yet, but it was about to be, and my friend was entirely too nice.) Their employer responded by firing them on the spot, with no cause, no severance, and no notice, and then also by firing their significant other who also worked at the business because ‘it would be awkward to work with them now.’

        What I’m saying is, never underestimate the ability of an abusive workplace to turn on a dime the instant you don’t toe the line.

    3. Stitch

      If LW can’t afford a lawyer, I might see if there is a legal aid or law school clinic. When I was in clinic, we handled a lot of unemployment claims because they were quick we got to do hearings, and the clients tended not to ghost us as much.

      1. Sara without an H

        Yes, this. OP should definitely start checking around for legal advice. It might be more affordable than you’d expect — one crisply-worded letter on law firm letterhead might be enough to stop the harassment.

        If an attorney really is out of OP’s reach, law school’s often sponsor clinics.

        In any case, OP needs to save all that email, although not necessarily read it — just start saving it in a folder for future reference. Or legal action.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Especially for the administrative hearings. Lawyers are less likely to take the admin case unless they think there’s a good chance of recovery or lit, but law clinics and legal aid providers with employment law practices will often represent qualifying individuals in the pre-lawsuit administrative hearing / wage claim process. The only catch is the income criteria .

      3. Holly

        Came here just to say this. Law schools in my area have free unemployment action center clinics to help with this exact thing.

  3. Engineer Girl

    #3 – I think a lawyer might be the best route. You want them to stop harassing you. You also want to make sure they give you honest recommendations and don’t try to interfere with your next job (tortuous interference).

    This all has a funny smell to it. I’m wondering if the supervisor wasn’t doing something funny with the books and blamed you.

      1. Engineer Girl

        It doesn’t matter. The important part is to lawyer up to protect her future employment.

        1. MK

          It does matter to not burden the OP with speculation about things they can do little about. Especially if they can’t afford a lawyer for anything more than a desist letter. And there are limits to what a lawyer can do: e.g. I see why the OP is feeling harassed, but it’s not illegal for someone who claims you owe them money to email you asking for it, even repeatedly. A lawyer could ask that all communication should go through them, which would be expensive. A lawyer is unlikely to be able to uncover fraud at the employer, nor is there much to be done preemptively about future references, except giving a warning.

          1. Stitch

            On the other hand, if LW qualifies, law students love to chase down mysteries (one of my big projects in clinic was explaining how a landlord, in detail, had violated their escrow account order, it took days of comparing paperwork and doing math). Sometimes lawyers love puzzles.

          2. EPLawyer

            actually if you can afford it, a lawyer CAN uncover the fraud going on — if any. And CAN make a good reference or at least a neutral one part of any settlement. I have a good friend who does employment law, the things she has found in emails from the employer are AMAZING. Good reference requirements are pretty much standard for her.

            This sounds like a small company who is FURIOUS that the employee acted like an employee and left instead of remember “We ARE FAMILY HERE.” So they are acting out because she dared to act in her own interest and leave a bad situation (seriously ONE tardy is cause for a discussion about termination?). After all the time and money they spent training her, she dares to leave? Well they will show her. She is going to reimburse them for leaving that’s what she will do. So there. Except yeah, that’s not how it works.

            I would be curious to find out what happened to either employees who left. A good lawyer could dig that out too.

            1. fposte

              That’s going way beyond a cease and desist letter, though. What you’re talking about sounds like an expensive proposition that’s only worthwhile for higher-level jobs or behind-the-scenes financial support.

              1. fposte

                Oh, it sounds like contingency is more common than I realized in this area. I suspect the OP isn’t owed enough to make a case super-appealing, but who knows?

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  It depends on OP’s state, but in pro-worker states, there are usually double or triple damages and penalties for employers who do illegal things like withholding your last paycheck, messing up your timesheets, etc. Because the chance of recovery is more than the wages owed, plaintiff-side employment attorneys often take their contingency out of the non-wage-replenishing part of the award.

            2. MK

              I would guess it depends on jurisdiction, but in mine an lawyer hired by an ex-employee about employment claims would not be given access to the company’s books, unless they could cite a specific reason potential fraud wss relevant to the case.

          3. RUKiddingMe

            According to the Federal Trade Commission “fair debt collection,” if you tell them yo stop contacting you they are required to stop.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I could be wrong, but I don’t think the FDCPA applies to the creditor—it covers third-party debt collectors. The creditor isn’t considered a debt collector in that context. But there are some states that extend the federal FDCPA provisions to creditors, as well.

            2. Massmatt

              The Fair Debt Collection Act applies almost exclusively to 3rd party collection companies, not the original lender/creditor. The consumer is required to tell the debt collector in writing, and can request they stop calling, not emailing.

              But I think the company is awful and I hope the OP wins the case and collects triple damages!

          4. Decima Dewey

            What the OP knows is being done to them is bad enough. Speculation on how this may be the tip of the iceberg isn’t helpful

      2. Not So NewReader

        Speculation might not be helpful. However, without getting down in the nitty-gritty of things it would be wise for OP to really think about what could motivate these people to behave in this manner. They could just be mean people and that could be the answer. Or it could be that OP saw something or knows something they are afraid OP will reveal and that revelation will cause the company major problems. The company could be saying “The best defense against OP is a good offense.”

        I know of a couple of times (rare!) that people stumbled across something and did not realize it was the tip of a very large iceberg. Again, this is a rare thing. But it would be wise for OP to keep their eyes wide open to see what else is going on.

        Eh, I had a situation where I unwittingly said something not realizing my company was involved in that story line regarding that particular problem. The next thing I know it’s raining in my work life, as I am facing fake charges etc. To the casual observer it looked like to unrelated things. It was my wise friend who pointed out that I had kicked a hornet’s nest and I never even realized.
        My wise friend connected the dots for me and saved my butt because I was very down in the dumps about the whole mess. This reframing helped me get my chin off the floor.

        Punchline: OP, if we take a stand there can be fall out. All I did was say, “X is happening and it should not be happening.” And the witch hunt began. Ironically, X was an easily fixable thing, it never occurred to me that people would chose to cover it up rather than fix it.

      3. Gay Tridentine Catholic Rastafarian

        In this case, speculators are very understandably going to speculate because like Engineer Girl just said — OP#3’s description of events is extreme. Before the single incident of tardiness, OP describes a mentally-healthy soubding workplace where he or she felt appreciated. Do normal-appearing people & workplaces ever abruptly go toxic. Yup absolutely. But all this over one incident of tardiness?

        I’m not accusing OP#3 of being untruthful! I am wondering whether there’s a lot more that they don’t know about.

        1. Paulina

          A sudden switch like that can result from an in-group mentality, where everything is great until they figure out you’re too independent to fall into line to the extent that they want. It can also be doubling-down and redoubling-down on the part of the owner; once the firing’s done they want to justify the harsh extent of their reaction.

        2. Anon for this

          I currently work for someone who appears normal and supportive right up until the moment she isn’t, which is why when she turned on me I was shocked. Every person who has had that experience with her (save the one or two who witnessed it happen to me) have been surprised. So yeah, everything can appear normal and then suddenly not be normal.

        3. OP3

          OP3 here. There were definitely signs that some of the people I worked with were toxic, but I never witnessed anything that could’ve predicted this.

        4. Tinker

          A thing I’ve noticed after I’ve left situations that were in retrospect definitely toxic is that I have found myself saying “don’t get me wrong they’re a great person but there’s this one thing” right up until I realize something or until a particularly outrageous incident happens that causes this to flip to “oh wow, no, they are extremely far from a good person and also they are employing strategies to conceal that”.

          The previous statements come out of a process to resolve cognitive dissonance — I’m saying in words that I think they’re great because there’s a vexing data point that I can’t reconcile with my perception that they’re great. Sometimes that data point gets resolved in a way that is benign — “this person is great, and also their executive function issues drive me nuts so we both employ strategies to mitigate that”, but sometimes it does not and the result ends up “this person is good at their job and skilled in interpersonal interactions, and one of the things they are using that skill for is to pressure me into ‘loaning’ them money that they then do not pay back”.

          And then also sometimes there is no vexing data point, and the issue is that the person isn’t running their bullshit in front of me, or they haven’t yet made their move.

    1. Socratic Method

      Strongly agree. If the company is this crazy now, even with a pending wage and unemployment action, you are probably going to need attorney assistance to collect from them once you (probably) win both cases.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    Holy crap, OP#3, your old employer sounds incredibly vindictive and vicious. I have no idea if this is their normal, but I suspect it’s costing them more in staff time to try to stick it to you than to just do the right thing (which includes timely paying you your final paycheck and not contesting unemployment if you did not act in malfeasance).

    I’m glad you’ve filed a wage claim with the state, and if your state allows it, I hope you ask for treble and punitive damages. I second Alison on hiring an attorney to write a cease-and-desist letter. If you think situation will escalate to litigation, it may be worth hiring a plaintiff-side employment lawyer, as many of them work on contingency. But if you’re in the interstitial space between litigation and administrative hearings, you may qualify for assistance from legal aid or from a nearby law school clinic that focuses on workers’ rights (this assumes you meet their income criteria)—they often represent folks in pre-litigation administrative hearings and proceedings.

    This sucks, and I’m so sorry.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      I have no idea if this is their normal, but I suspect it’s costing them more in staff time to try to stick it to you than to just do the right thing

      Not only this, but how many of the staff is now frantically job searching behind the scenes after being pulled into this scheme against the OP? I know I’d be job searching if my boss tried to deputize me to assist in building a false case against one of my former coworkers just because they don’t want to pay her what they owe her in unemployment. This is an absurd abuse of power and highly inappropriate – OP, be glad you no longer work for these weirdos. And yes, please get an attorney. These people cannot be reasoned with; they are unhinged.

      1. Anastasia Beaverhousen

        I can’t help wonder what this employer has told their staff about OP? Because yes, either it’s clear to the staff that the company is up to some shenanigans here, or they’ve told the staff some convincing lies… of a variety that might *also* cause the staff to start frantically job-hunting. Not sure their actions make a ton of sense, unless there’s something shady going on that OP doesn’t know about.

    2. MsM

      Yes on the “wasting more wages chasing this down” point. I definitely think a lawyer/cease and desist letter is the wise move, but if I were OP and more annoyed than worn down, I’d be awfully tempted to send them an invoice for all the hours spent on this nonsense.

    3. OP3

      I so appreciate the validation and the legal tips! Sometimes I ask myself if any misstep I made while working there justifies their behavior. But hearing from Alison and people like you reassures me that this situation is indeed as crazy as it seems.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Of course! No matter what you did or didn’t do, their response is absolutely inappropriate. Even if they had valid complaints, withholding your paycheck is illegal. Trying to retroactively claw back travel reimbursement and professional development from that paycheck is illegal. Unless you were terminated for cause, opposing your unemployment request is not ok. They’re being wild enough that I want to reiterate that it may be helpful to get an attorney, whether that’s a private attorney who’s working on contingency, or if you qualify, a legal aid provider or law school clinic with a workers’ rights / employment law practice. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

  5. lyonite

    OP5 I recently went through a similar situation, and one of the reasons I turned down the move was because, while I would have a job in the new city, the wider job market there for my field was much more limited than it is here. So that might be worth looking into; no job is forever, and you don’t want to find yourself in the same situation down the line, only with fewer options. (On the other hand, maybe the job situation in New City is better! In which case that could inform your decision too.)

        1. Lora

          Thirded. I worked many years for a company that was notorious for relocating people to East Nowhere, US, keeping them for all of six months after the relocation, then laying them off – often when they were still juggling two mortgages waiting to sell their old house while they made payments on a new house or paid exorbitant rent (rents going up due to the influx of demand from relocated employees). Combined with a strategy of mergers and acquisitions throughout the industry, now nobody with >10 years of experience is willing to relocate, most of the surviving employers are concentrated in only a few major metro areas where if one job doesn’t pan out for some reason, you can get a job a block away at the competitor’s facility.

          It’s definitely good for employees to be close to major hubs rather than diffused around the country – there’s much more competition between employers, salaries go up a LOT, and there’s often small towns within commuting distance that aren’t hideously expensive. Plus you can develop a network that helps you get other jobs much more easily; the first time I didn’t have to actually apply for a job, when an old colleague just happened to know of an opening and just like that I had an interview, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

          1. Mr. Tyzik

            Would this be a certain three-letter tech company with an office in VT, out of curiosity? Sounds so similar.

    1. Zombeyonce

      I’d also make sure I knew the exact reasons the company is moving, which might not be exactly what they say. My first thought was that they might be having money trouble and moving to a lower cost of living area to try and stay afloat. While that’s just speculation, OP needs to be sure the reason isn’t something that could mean loss of job in the future because of company instability.

      1. Guacamole Bob

        I assumed OP worked for the USDA and was trying to decide whether to move to Kansas City.

        1. Guacamole Bob

          Though I guess whether that move counts as “something that could mean loss of job in the future because of … instability” depends on your view of national US politics.

        2. Lora

          Sometimes it’s that they bought another company and want to bring in their own management, or are building another site out for logistics reasons and need experienced people there to run things. It doesn’t actually have to be bad, my CurrentJob is fussing that they need people to move to two countries where they are doing major site expansions and build-outs.

          1. Working Mom Having It All

            Yeah, this happened at my company due to a merger and they moved the head office from Major US City A to Major US City B, while also keeping the other company’s head office as a regional hub in Small US City C for the sake of optics. So all the folks working at the original head office had the choice of relocating either to a different major city a few hours away (think Houston to Dallas, but not those actual cities) or to a small regional city (think Providence, Rhode Island). And, in some cases, your department, team, or job description determined your choices. It wasn’t for anything nefarious, just, huge megacorporations gonna megacorporate.

        3. OP5

          Ha! No, I’m not part of the USDA move. But for the record I would definitely not have taken that one if I had been.

        4. calonkat

          For the record, Kansas City is a wonderful place with affordable housing and low living expenses. Come to the Midwest and own a nice home for what you pay in rent for a one bedroom apt in the East!

          1. Laurelette

            Kansas City has one of the best ballet companies in the country! (And all sorts of other culture and things to do, but that’s what I miss most about living there.) The Midwest is not all podunk towns in the middle of cornfields.

            1. Former Employee

              I don’t think that makes up for raising your kids without their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins being close by or selling your house at a loss because you were given 30 days to do everything.

              While it is certainly possible that any number of people would have gone to work at the USDA had it been located in KC, many might not have done so.

              I saw someone on a show shortly after the announcement was made and he said he was from the area, went to school in the area (maybe UMKC), etc., and he still doesn’t want to move there.

      2. Fortitude Jones

        Yeah, my mom’s former company had been bought out twice by other companies before they decided to move headquarters to the Midwest. My mother, having worked there forever and not wanting to take the risk of going back on the job market with two young kids she had to support on her own, decided to go with the company and she moved us 600 miles away from home. A year later, her company was sold again and her position was made redundant shortly thereafter.

        1. Willis

          Yeah, my family moved from a pretty poor job market to a much better job market (and bigger city) due to a company move by my dad’s employer. About 2 years later the company was planning to move again…but that time my dad quit and we stayed in better-job-market city. All that to say, Id consider the market for whatever OP does in both cities, not just the one they’d potentially be moving to.

    2. OP5

      OP5 here! The general job situation in my industry would be better in New City than Current City – Current City is a minor hub for Industry, while New City is a major one. If the position didn’t pan out I would have options in New City.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Well, that’s good to hear. At least you’ll have options should this move be the result of possible financial troubles.

      2. C

        Have you spent enough time in New City to know if you like it there? Or do you have the ability to spend at least a few days there to scope it out (including visiting the office and assessing where likely living spaces would be relative to the office and other stuff)? If you get there and the culture of the office seems good and there are reasonable living options nearby and stuff like that, it might help you feel better about a move? Or not, obviously, if there are huge red flags about the place or whatever that would help make the decision in the other direction.

      3. Lora

        Definitely check it out first if you can then! Get as good a sense you can for cost of living while you’re there.

      4. tangerineRose

        A company that does this kind of move probably doesn’t have the best interests of the employees in mind, so I’d be careful.

  6. Fortitude Jones

    And she might not feel any particular insecurity about it! She might simply assume that she got hired so she must be seen as qualified (which would be reasonable!).

    Once again, Alison perfectly articulates what I was saying in my head while reading letter #2. I can’t speak for the new hire, but I know that if I were in her situation, I wouldn’t be feeling any type of way about “just” having a bachelors. I’ve worked with a lot of lawyers and MBA holders, and very few of them were smarter than me or better at the jobs we were hired for when we had the same titles (thinking of the claims world). Hell, when I worked in claims, I remember our claims counsel said the smartest people he worked with in our company only had bachelors degrees and were non-lawyers, and he was right.

    Basically, don’t project onto your new hire. She could be quite confident coming into this role, and who knows – she may already know she’s the only one without another advanced degree, and that may actually boost her confidence to know that even though she doesn’t have those extra letters behind her name, she still managed to get the job over people who probably did.

    1. Dan

      Not only that, but unless everybody runs around calling each other “doctor”, it’s going to take her awhile to figure who’s got what degree.

      Speaking of which, my company operates on a first name basis. We don’t use honorifics. A couple of years ago, one of my colleagues was assigned an intern. As the intern was giving an update at a department meeting, he introduced himself and said he worked under “Dr. X” at the office. For the rest of the day, every time we’d walk by Dr. X in the hall, we’d snicker and smirk as everybody said hi to “Dr. X.”

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Same. I don’t think I ever worked in a place where honorifics or last names were used. Everybody seems to prefer first names these days, which was weird for me because I was always taught to address people who were older than me or in positions of power over me by their last names.

        That said, I do work with some people who use honorifics in their email signatures, but again – it’s never a big deal, and they typically still go by first names.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

          Same here – I’d get an email from Dr David Surname (and a bunch of letters, I can’t remember them all), but he’s still just Dave when we speak face to face.

    2. londonedit

      Back in the mists of time when I graduated from university, it was still fairly unusual for people (especially in Humanities subjects) to go on and do a Master’s unless they wanted to go into academia, or unless they specifically wanted a Master’s for another reason. I happily got a job with ‘just’ my BA. Then, the recession hit, and all of a sudden ‘just’ a BA wasn’t good enough to distinguish you from the thousands of other people in the job market, so more people started getting Master’s degrees. Especially in my industry, where ‘MA in Publishing’ courses started springing up and became the (more expensive) way to try to get a foot in the door of the industry. I assume most of the younger people I work with will have Master’s degrees, but no one has ever asked me whether I do, and it’s never been an issue whether someone has an MA or not.

    3. Emilia Bedelia

      I think this probably seems like a bigger deal to the OP than it will to the new hire. To your point, she won’t really know who has a degree or not. But for the OP, it’s a big culture shift. I don’t think it’s bad that the OP is worrying about it, but I think the new hire will not be coming in with the same perspective.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      Exactly. Not to say that it doesn’t take hard work and dedication to get advanced degrees, but it’s just a piece of paper. And in most cases, that piece of paper doesn’t make someone smarter or better at their job than someone who doesn’t have it.

      1. Pippa

        Er, no. It’s not just a piece of paper, and it’s not just an indication of a person’s dedication. It’s a certification that someone has accomplished advanced training in a particular field. It’s not a guarantee of the *quality* of a particular program or the intelligence of the individual – we probably all know one or two degree-holding idiots. But saying that degrees, or advanced degrees, are substantively irrelevant is a weird way to argue against social snobbery.

        My friend is a lawyer; I’m a social scientist. I couldn’t do his job and he couldn’t do mine – we don’t have the training necessary to do the work. It’s not a question of status. Anyone telling a non lawyer in his office, or a non-social science PhD in mine, that postgrad training doesn’t matter would just be patronising them.

        Our degrees don’t make us better people, but they do make us more qualified for our jobs. Not every aspect of every job – I know people like Blunt Bunny mentions above, who entered tech fields 30 years ago and were (and remain) largely self-taught and still hugely accomplished. But all the ‘degrees don’t mean anything relevant to the workplace’ comments here seem a little overstated to me.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

          I never said having a degree was irrelevant. Yes having an advanced degree is needed for certain professions. But having a masters doesn’t automatically make you better at doing a certain job.

          1. Pippa

            As I said, it doesn’t make someone more qualified for every aspect of every job. Whether the advanced degree matters or not in a particular context depends on the context. Saying it’s “just a piece of paper” implies it’s irrelevant because, as you said above, “in most cases” it’s not correlated with job skill. That’s the part with which I disagree.

            Having a master’s in history probably doesn’t make someone a better accountant, but it generally makes them a better historian.

        2. Humble Schoolmarm

          I think it depends. In my area, everyone has two degrees (bachelors of whatever and a bachelors of education) but the only way of getting a substantial pay raise is to get a masters, so many of my colleagues have them. Whether they are important for their work or not depends. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to try to be a councillor or special ed teacher or principal without that specific masters, but I can still be a successful teacher and build my skills through professional development even if I don’t have a masters in, say, literacy or technology integration.

        3. Jadelyn

          “Our degrees don’t make us better people, but they do make us more qualified for our jobs.”

          To put it bluntly, that has not been my experience at all, in any company, for any job. My experience has very much been that advanced degrees (anything beyond a bachelors) are more “social currency” than “job skills”. It seems to me that in most cases, a grad degree is less of a qualifier for the working world and more of a qualifier for continuing in research and academia.

          1. Pippa

            Well, I did say “qualified for *our* jobs”, meaning the examples I was describing. But I suspect we just have really different samples – I can think of lots of fields where advanced degrees are substantively important, but I know that there are fields where they’re less relevant and less correlated with job skill. And they’re definitely *also* social currency even for people for whom they’re job-relevant. My original point was just some mild pushback against the “advanced degrees are just a piece of paper” generalization.

            Also, research and academia is part of the “working world,” you know. Just a different part from business.

            1. Anna

              I think even in academia and research it can go both ways. I have known a few PhDs who weren’t very well versed even in the subjects they were supposed to be experts in. Would that be the majority of them? Definitely not, but leaning too heavily on a degree as proof of ability is a good way to get crappy people hired.

    5. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy

      I’d guess she’s more likely to be still excited that she finished her degree! She’s a college graduate! Finally no more school! She’s an adult in the work world! than distressed by the fact that other people have fancier degrees.

      Since this is her first post-college job, she’s probably already expecting everyone to be older and more experienced, so one more way her colleagues are ‘better’ than her is likely not going to change anything.

      If I was her, I’d be more intimidated by the fact that I was (likely) ~22 and brand new to the work world, while everybody else was older and already knew their way around the place. Average age of a new Phd is early 30’s, right? But ‘eep I’m new’ jitters are totally normal and outgrown with a bit of experience.

      And if I was hired in as a baby bachellor’s grad at the same time as a baby Phd grad, I’d be more likely to feel sorry for them, just a bit, for spending all that time and money on a degree that didn’t actually make any difference.

      1. Clisby

        “And if I was hired in as a baby bachellor’s grad at the same time as a baby Phd grad, I’d be more likely to feel sorry for them, just a bit, for spending all that time and money on a degree that didn’t actually make any difference.”

        That’s assuming the degree didn’t make a difference. That would REALLY surprise me. All the OP is saying is that a post-secondary degree is no longer required – not that a person with a BS is going to get hired in at the same pay as someone with a PhD.

        1. Clisby

          Two examples: In my public school district, a teacher with zero experience would get about $20,000 more per year with a PhD vs. a bachelors.

          At the job I had before I retired, a lot of employees were chemists. Just because Chemist 1 with a BS and s Chemist 2 with a PhD were hired on the same day did not mean they’d be paid the same. That would be insane.

    6. HannahS

      Don’t forget the possibility that she may even feel proud or affirmed to have been hired to a group where everyone has advanced degrees without having one herself. She might feel like, oh, they recognize that I’m intellectually equal to these people without having the same formal education.

    7. The New Wanderer

      I was that person hired in with a lower degree than the rest of the team, because they had recently changed the policy to allow people with “just” a master’s instead of requiring a PhD. Outside of the people who interviewed me, no one knew, the point where I was mistakenly introduced at least once as “Doctor.” I never once felt out of place or not capable – I very much doubt the interview process was changed in the slightest.

      Hopefully the OP’s office will be the same. No one will care, no one will make a point of edu-shaming anyone or implying the lack of degree means anything at all for the job this person was clearly qualified for, and the person can feel quite confident they can do the work they were hired to do.

  7. All Outrage, All The Time

    OP#2 It comes across as elitist to assume someone will feel inferior because they don’t have a graduate degree. Let it go and don’t bring it up. It’s not your business how she feels about it, and it would be weird to bring it up. She’s a recent grad. Your company has a new policy. It’s not a big deal.

    1. SunnyD

      Yeah, it really feels like projecting. Which is fine, we all catch ourselves doing something sub-ideal, but now it’s been pointed out, you can do a little work inside on your thoughts about degrees and the value they confer.

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management

      I work in an industry where most people have PhD’s. I don’t. I never cared, but oh boy, a few of the PhD’s did. They cared even more when I became their boss. Because they let their degree define their value, they were threatened when a less-educated person (I “only” have a Masters degree) could leapfrog them.

      OP2, please reflect on why you are concerned and please don’t say something that inadvertently has a negative impact on your new hire.

    3. Parenthetically

      An unprompted “You don’t have to feel inferior because you don’t have a graduate degree” is in exactly the same category as other unprompted reassurances, i.e. condescending and potentially offensive. “Don’t worry, some men LIKE bigger girls, you’ll find someone I’m sure!” *giant eyeroll*

  8. mark132

    OP1, I would be curious if Fergus is the person telling you this? If so, I would personally take anything you hear from a person like this with the proverbial grain of salt. I still remember one of my former coworkers who was fired from a job because he was “too good”.

    1. TechWorker

      Such a good point. Being fired *is* horrible and I can imagine the Fergus’ if the world making up a less embarrassing reason to spread around rather than ‘I’m not good enough’

    2. Bagpuss

      I wondered that.
      But euither way, I think that Alison’s advice about how you respond to Fergus is spot on – you don’t have to be his soundinf board, and it is fine for you to push back when he moans to you.

      I might be tempted to say “Fergus, you slept through important calls, failed to do your job and didn’t show upo on multiple ocassions -most places any of those things on their own would get you fired – I don’t think you’re got any grounds for comaplaint”

      It probably won’t make sany difference to his attitude or behaviur at work but it may well be wenough to stop him complaining at you.

      1. boop the first

        Yes! I really don’t see why OP should be forbidden from saying it so simply?? They’re clearly just asking for outside permission to do so.

    3. TooManyEmails

      Yes. I think Fergus’s boss was being kind. Fergus lost his job. There was no need to kick him on the way out as well.

      1. AdAgencyChick

        I don’t think he was being kind, if Fergus is indeed telling the truth about the reasoning the boss gave him.

        Lying and saying the client has no budget, when the client DOES have budget, means that if the company then hires a replacement and Fergus gets wind of it, he might decide he must have actually been fired for an illegal reason, lawyer up, and cause the company an awful lot of trouble.

        1. Lance

          Yeah, there’s nothing ‘kind’ about the explanation, and the fact that it’s been allowed to go on this long is completely ridiculous. OP suggests a past friendship between Fergus and the boss… but I’m not so convinced that’s just been left in the past. The boss has totally failed in their duty to manage Fergus.

          1. Elizabeth West

            This, and it might explain why he’s still there instead of having been perp-walked out. I’ve been fired and seen other people get fired and nobody stays long enough to complain. Boss may be framing it as a layoff to ‘help’ Fergus, but it’s not particularly helpful and I suspect it’s more about avoiding confrontation.

          2. AKchic

            The boss may have told Fergus “look, with all the complaints, the client doesn’t have room in the budget… for you… anymore.”

            It’s the truth. The client doesn’t have the budget for Fergus specifically anymore. They want him gone. They are not allocating anymore funding to be spent on Fergus working on the project. They will allocate funds for others to work on the project, even a *new hire*, but not another penny for Fergus.

            It’s not an untruth, but it’s not the actual full truth either. I don’t actually like it because it doesn’t give Fergus the feedback he desperately needs to better himself in his next role, but that is between him, the boss, and the next employer (unfortunately).

      2. Colette

        If the boss were honest about the reason, Fergus might improve at his next job. Telling him it was nothing he did (which is what “budget reasons” does) is doing him a disservice – even if it’s easier in the moment.

        1. Kathleen_A

          Exactly. When you screw up professionally, you need to know that you screwed up professionally because otherwise, how are you going to learn?

          It could of course be that in his heart of hearts, Fergus knows exactly why he’s been “let go,” in which case he may already know exactly how he screwed up. But chances are really, really, really good that he’s believing what he’s being told, and that’s a disservice to Fergus and his future employers.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

        He wasn’t being kind, he was being a coward. OP said they had a personal relationship in addition to being boss/employee and boss was being forced to fire him when another manager got wind of what was happening. If you’re a poor performer, it’s your boss’s job to help you improve. This boss did none of that and then lied about why he was being fired on top of that. Which means he’s going to go to his next job thinking he’s awesome, and repeat the same behavior. Being kind would be telling him the truth.

      4. Librarian of SHIELD

        Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for a person is tell them a truth they don’t want to hear. In this case, it’s far less kind to let Fergus believe his behavior had nothing to do with losing his job than it would be to just tell him the truth.

    4. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, fired people can weave a story line sometimes. It’s a good rule of thumb not to get too invested in what a fired person is saying as others have pointed out.

      If you can’t find the voice to say what Alison suggested, OP, you can go with, “Fergus, I don’t know anything about that. You will have to talk to the boss. I can’t help you.” This lays the ground work for the next time and you can give a shorter response the next time, “Fergus, I don’t want to talk about this. Go see the boss if it is bothering you.”
      What I like about redirecting to the boss is that the boss has to then deal with his own mess that he has made. If the boss says anything to me I can just say, “Hmmm. I told him I don’t know anything about that and he needed to talk to you.” Generally the boss just wanders off after I say this.

      When people are fired, it is too late to try to correct all that was wrong there. It’s probably more to the point to just pick up the pieces and get back on track.

      1. Cat Meowmy Admin

        THIS! This has always been my “go-to” response whenever appropriate.*
        YMMV – “I’m sorry, but – I don’t have that information / don’t know any details on that topic / (or if needed) it’s really not my place to know – please ask the Manager.” This has saved my a$$ countless times.
        Lather, rinse, repeat.
        (*Of course, different scenario if I do, in fact, have the authority to respond.)

      2. OP 1

        Thank you — this is great advice. From now on I’ll just ask, “Have you talked to Boss about it?”

        1. Rosalind Montague

          “Gosh, Fergus, I don’t think I’m the right person for you to talk to about this. Have you talked to Boss?” has helped me forestall so many toxic and uncomfortable conversations.

        2. Cat Meowmy Admin

          Good luck, OP 1! I totally understand your frustration. Yes, it’s empowering to redirect this back to the boss, where it belongs. A gentle suggestion- maybe *Not* ask Fergus an open-ended question “Have you talked to Boss about it?” It could continue Fergus’ dialogue with you, instead of nicely shutting it down on that topic. If you reframe that as a *statement* (“I really don’t know, you should talk to Boss about this”) would serve you better. :)

        3. PollyQ

          And if Boss actually did lie to him, and Fergus does go back to Boss with the question, then this will at least make Boss uncomfortable (which he should be), and carries the small possibility that Boss will actually be honest with Fergus and give him the feedback that he needs.

    5. Environmental Compliance

      Yep – Husband’s former coworker was being led through a very serious PIP, and by the end of it (and still refusing to do any work, which is why they were on a PIP) Coworker was vocally flaunting to anyone who they could pretend was listening that they had a Brand New Job wayyyyyy better than this Old Cruddy Place with like a 75% pay raise, Great Bonus Structure, yadda yadda yadda. Really just self-soothing-esque behavior…. “I’m not fired because I didn’t do XYZ job tasks, and my metrics are horrendous, I’m gone because ya’ll can’t afford my awesomeness!”

    6. Kathleen_A

      It’s really hard to tell where the story about Fergus being “let go” comes from. Is the supervisor softening the story in a misguided effort to be kind or is Fergus telling a lie to save face? Or is it a combination of both? From the outside, both stories sound pretty plausible, and really only the OP can tell is which is more likely to be true.

      But whichever is true, I think the approaches suggested by Alison – either the “Fergus, you and I both know that you’ve made some mistakes here” or the “You really need to discuss this with supervisor” – ought to work fine. There’s no reason she should have to listen and watch as the BS starts to pile up.

      1. OP 1

        Knowing both of these people, I think it’s extremely likely that Fergus is telling the truth about what he was told (though I also think there’s an element of denial at play and deep down he knows it’s not true).

        1. Kathleen_A

          Well, that’s too bad – just because it just makes the supervisor sound so cowardly and wimpy. Ah, well. Humans. Whatcha gonna do?

        2. Autumnheart

          Maybe it’s just a face-saving “It’s not you, it’s me” explanation so that Fergus leaves peacefully and uneventfully. Once the door shuts behind him, then you can tell the truth.

  9. Rich

    OP#5, I went through a similar move. I was working for a company while I lived in a very large (in the “big 5”) US city. Restructuring led to me moving to a very nice, but considerably smaller city, around 20% the size of the original.

    All the advice about whether the new city is a place you want to live is spot on. I’d also suggest a specific focus on whether it’s a place you want to _work_. I spent a little over a decade in the smaller city, and there were some real positives to it. But I’m now back in a different Big 5. The professional opportunities available are shockingly different.

    I’m experienced in an in-demand field, so I was fortunate to be able to find good work that suited me wherever we lived. But the upper limit on what constitutes good work in a major-market location is, for me, vastly different than the top end of the potential for a smaller market. I think for me it was largely about density — cramming millions more people into a single metro area than we had in the 5 adjacent states means there’s a lot more business being done, and for my field, more business means more options and more upside.

    The specifics may be different for you and your move. But a useful way to think about it might be this — How many times could you change jobs in the new locale before you’d have to start to make disappointing choices? I’m not suggesting you job hop, but options can be good, and if the move leaves you with few good ones it might be a bad idea, at least for the long term. A wealth of options could make it even better than it looks initially.

    1. Jadelyn

      This is a great point.

      I’m in HR. Companies above a certain size need HR literally everywhere, so short of a hamlet where the biggest business is <20 employees, I can find HR work pretty much wherever.

      But the type of HR work will be very different if all that’s around are smaller business who just need a generalist, as opposed to a city full of larger businesses with specialized HR sub-functions like analytics, a dedicated HRIS function, etc. So that’s something I’d want to consider if I’m looking at moving – not only could I find work, but could I find the specific sub-type of work that I really want to be doing, and how far up the ladder can I get doing it?

  10. HA2

    #1 – there might be a sneaky reason the boss is saying Fergus was let go for budget and not performance reasons. That could mean he classified it as a “layoff” rather than “firing for cause”, which is better for Fergus.

    #2 – another point is that as a new graduate, the new employee probably *expects* to feel junior to everyone else around. Not necessarily because of graduate degrees, but because new employee is fresh out of school and everyone else isn’t. I don’t think the graduate degrees change the dynamics very much.

    If anything, it would be more likely to be an issue in ~5 or so years, when the new employee isn’t so new anymore, is looking at what they need to do to move up in their career and get promoted, and starts wondering about a graduate degree. But first few years, I wouldn’t expect the graduate degrees to be on new employee’s mind at all.

    1. WS

      #1 – yes, I agree. It seems that the boss didn’t want to fire or even discipline Fergus at all, so they may well have managed to soften the firing as much as they possibly could. Just look forward to the day he’s gone and you won’t have to put up with any of this!

      1. Lucy

        Where I live, you can’t backfill a position if someone is “let go” (here, “made redundant”) for a certain period – is it the same in the US?

        That is, if a company claims to have let someone go, but immediately advertises and hires for their position, they are breaking the law.

        If there is genuinely less work now (because the client got so annoyed with Fergus they have taken their business elsewhere, by the sounds of things) then that’s one thing, but if the department is still busy and/or pitching for new business then it could be shady.

        1. WS

          Same where I live, but at the same time a lot of companies work around this simply by making a different position, so the same number of people are working just with slightly different titles. As long as no-one directly complains (which neither Fergus nor the boss are likely to do in this situation if it’s to both of their benefits) it’s very rare that there’s any problem for the company.

          1. Lucy

            Thanks for clarifying.

            I’ve known this happen kindly, where the company let someone go with generous severence-equivalent and then just spread their work over other remaining employees for precisely the statutory period before hiring someone else.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever

              In the US a company can usually do what you described, lay someone off and then hire a new person in that position, unless the reason for the “layoff” is to get rid of someone based on a discriminatory (race,age, sex, religion etc…) reason.

                1. Lucy

                  We can do this if we’re getting rid of them for not doing the job (ie getting rid of that individual) but not if we’re saying that the work is no longer there (ie getting rid of that position). I had thought that US “layoff” was more closely equivalent to UK “redundancy” but today I learn there’s far more nuance than that. Thanks!

        2. Venus

          I don’t know the laws or location, but the last line says “wait out the time on Fergus’s contract”. If Fergus is doing contracted work for a particular client then it can likely be justified quite differently than with an employee. Fergus may not technically be fired, rather he may not have his contract renewed (if the company almost always renews contracts then it may feel like a firing which might explain the variations on LW’s wording)

        3. Antilles

          That’s not really the case in the US. As a general rule, you can basically let people go for any reason whatsoever, at any time (outside of a few very narrow circumstances like age discrimination). Then you can re-hire for that same position for any reason.
          If the employee is part of a union or has a formal contract, the rules can be different, but that’s a fairly small proportion of US workers, about 11% per Wikipedia.

    2. Antilles

      #1 – there might be a sneaky reason the boss is saying Fergus was let go for budget and not performance reasons. That could mean he classified it as a “layoff” rather than “firing for cause”, which is better for Fergus.
      Maybe so. I’ve actually had people request this of me when I let them go. If the firing was due to a run-of-the-mill reason (poor fit, technical skills just didn’t develop like we hoped, etc), I’ve even sometimes agreed to it.
      That said, if you’re going to do him a favor by calling it a “layoff”, part of that favor needs to include a quiet explanation that it’s purely semantics – it’s actually a firing and you need to understand it’s because of X, Y, and Z.

  11. Brooklyn Nine-Niner

    Regarding #3, I would make a similar suggestion; if you have a lawyer, tell them to stop contacting you and if they must do so, then to contact you through your attorney instead. If not, I think there are lawyers that offer employment legal aid pro bono or at a relatively low cost. You definitely should talk to a lawyer though, and be aware that the company could potentially sue you to recoup the funds they claim you owe them (although given the absurdity and apparent lack of merit of their claim, I find that unlikely; but they could if they think they’ll either win somehow or if they think you won’t contest their claims in court).

    1. Engineer Girl

      There’s a certain class of people that like to terrorize others through threats – until they are held accountable by someone with real power. A lawyer has the ability to make them accountable. Right now they think OP is vulnerable.

      1. Stitch

        If they are using a lawyer to terrorize her, once she lawyers up herself their lawyer isn’t ethically allowed to speak to her without her own lawyer present.

  12. Alternative Person

    OP5
    If you have the time money, could you take a short break to the city, get a little feel for it and see if you like it?

    1. jDC

      I’d say ask them for some money and time toward the trip. It for sure could be denied but it is a pretty reasonable request and likely a lot cheaper than hiring someone new.

    2. Lance

      I like this suggestion. OP, you say you have no ‘deep objection’ to moving to the new city… but that’s not saying much. Wouldn’t you rather want to make sure it’s a place you could enjoy, and not something you might end up regretting if you do end up moving? Don’t just look at the job; look at your own personal circumstances around it, because those are more important.

      1. OP5

        OP 5 here – I’ve actually visited New City a couple of times before so I do have something of a handle on it! My endorsement was lukewarm just because I’m quite picky about where I live. From a lifestyle perspective, I love Current City and would be deeply sad to leave, but I’m in my mid-30s and needing a career boost as I was a slow starter. New City’s not quite as good from a lifestyle perspective for me personally, all else being equal, but if a move gave me more career advancement and financial stability… that can buy a lot of lifestyle improvements.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever

          You said “if a move gave me more career advancement and financial stability” will you stay in essentially the same job after the move? You know your job and company better, but I would not put too much stock in your willingness to move being valued by the company very much after the move for future career advancement purposes. Moving with the company could be helpful because certain positions higher up could become open if those people decide not to move to new city.

          If you know they are moving in 9 months and don’t have to commit to move yet, you could start looking for a job now that would be an immediate career advancement and give you more financial stability right now.

        2. CM

          Seems like you have the luxury of choice here, since you said New City is a good job market for you.

          I feel like there are people who care more about where they work than where they live, and they don’t mind moving for work; and people who care more about where they live, and for them moving for work is more risky. I’m in the latter group; I feel rooted where I live and it would feel like a major upheaval if I moved for work. But most people I know in my industry have moved at least once for work and don’t think it’s a big deal.

          I think the other thing to keep in mind is that a move to New City isn’t necessarily permanent. If you’re open to trying it, you could also have a Plan B if it doesn’t work out.

        3. jb

          IMO, you should strongly consider the financial stability / cost of living aspect, especially if you’re single.

          My situation is the opposite of yours. I have chosen to remain in my current location rather than transfer to another city. I live in a major city with a low cost of living. I’ve been offered transfers to other cities I would love to live in, but the cost of living is too high for my comfort level. This is an extreme example, but one of the cities is San Francisco. Yes, I make decent money, but the longer commute, higher rent, and higher taxes were not worth the trade. From my current city I can afford to visit San Francisco when I want to. In the meantime, I have been able to buy and pay off a mortgage in 15 years, save for retirement, and buy shoes when I feel like it. If the move gives you the freedom to accomplish all your goals, not just your career goals, it may be a worthwhile leap to make.

  13. ceiswyn

    “the subtext will be that it could be an issue, and that you think maybe she should think it’s an issue, but don’t worry, it’s not an issue. It’s not very reassuring”

    Can I have this on some kind of stamp that I can apply to people’s foreheads? As someone who suffers from anxiety and impostor syndrome, the sheer number of times that I have been thrown into a panic loop because someone tried to reassure me about SOMETHING I WASN’T WORRIED ABOUT is… well, if I had a pound for every time it had happened, I wouldn’t have to deal with that style of management anymore :)

    The best one was my personal tutor way back during my first undergrad degree, which had been affected by some serious mental health issues. He actually dragged me away from my revision to spend an hour reassuring me that if I revised really hard I could still get a 2:2. For bonus ‘I was not worried about this so I MUST BE MISSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT’ anxiety, I was predicting myself a 2:1 at the time.

    I came out with a 2:1. LW2, do not be that person. Deal with the issue if it actually comes up; do not start right off the bat by undermining your new hire’s judgement by, essentially, telling her she should have been worrying when she wasn’t :)

    1. Avasarala

      Oh man I feel this. It’s like when YouTube recommends “how to style seashell ears” and you’re like wtf are seashell ears? And the cheerful beautiful blonde sitting on her bed tells you that seashell ears are when your ear has this certain shape like a seashell, and it’s different from normal ears. Don’t worry, it’s totally OK to have seashell ears! Loads of people have them! You can hear fine and some people don’t think it’s a problem! But some people do and here is how I make my seashell ears look pretty, and kind of disguise the seashell shape so they look more like normal ears.

      And now you’re staring at yourself in the mirror at 3am wondering if you have seashell ears, or maybe ears just always look weird on everyone, and are there any other parts of your body you didn’t know to hate. And where you can get those fancy earrings so you can disguise your shame.

      So I agree, LW, no need to inception this anxiety into her head!

      1. SunnyD

        Ha ha ha this is the perfect example of tasty spiral.

        Are seashell ears really a thing or made up?

      2. londonedit

        So true. Did anyone worry about whether their thighs touched or not before people on social media made ‘thigh gaps’ a supposedly desirable thing?

          1. Not sayin'

            I actually HAD thigh gap in the ’70’s. I was so self-conscious. I thought there was something wrong with me.

        1. Eeyore's missing tail

          But if your thighs touch, you’re one step closer to be being a mer-person. Who’s the real winner here?

          Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find a pretty tail and grow my pixie out. :)

    2. Anonymous 5

      Yes! My undergrad orientation week included *multiple* activities’ worth of “how to deal with being feeling out of place” and related. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the College (though if they really wanted to support students who felt/feel out of place or overwhelmed, they’d pony up for better mental health services on campus). But overall, it not only made several of us feel anxiety that we hadn’t been feeling up until that point, but also turned the sentiments of “okay to need help” into such a source of snarky jokes that it stigmatized everything from intermittent stress to major mental health crises.

    3. Cat Meowmy Admin

      I would have that phrase emblazoned on a tee shirt, for all the world to see. ;)
      Or on a needlepoint.

    4. batman

      I’m the same way, ceiswyn. I still remember that the night before my first day of high school, which was way back in 1998, my mom asked me if I was nervous. I said, yes, and I assumed she was going to just give me a generic “that’s totally normal, I was nervous my first day of high school, you’re not alone” reassurance, but instead she said “that’s good, it means you won’t do anything embarrassing.” I’m not sure if that’s exactly how she worded it, but that was her meaning and I freaked out that there was something about me that would make me more likely to embarrass myself, so I said “do you think I’m going to do something weird/embarrassing/etc?” and she was like, “no, I was just saying.” and I was like “what the hell kind of reassurance is that??” (in my head) and I was even MORE nervous. And I already had pretty bad social anxiety at that point!
      And I still remember it, 21 years later.

  14. Alice

    #3, this is horrid! I would strongly recommend talking to an employment attorney. I have no idea how it works in the US, in my country there are centers that offer free legal aid to workers — a few years ago I had a lawyer write a letter to my former employer who tried to withhold my final paycheck (although they were not even remotely as vicious as this!). At the very least see if you can go for a free consultation.

    1. Anne of Green Gables

      In my state (North Carolina), the state bar has a lawyer matching service; you find it on their website. You select from a list of general categories of law and enter your zip code, and it suggests a lawyer close to you with that specialization. If you go through that matching service, your initial 30-minute consultation is $50. It’s a good way to at least know what you are looking at in terms of time and monetary resources without spending a lot (relatively) to start. I don’t know where OP #3 is, but perhaps other states have a similar service.

      1. Sir Lurks-a-lot

        Just another thought on the illegal money situation: I’ve always been taught that it only takes one phone call to the Department of Labor (which is free) to report illegal pay practices. They send investigators quickly and companies are fined heavily, especially for willful violations. It can be quite an ordeal for a company because it opens the door for the DOL to interview other employees and essentially poke around to see what else might not be quite above board. It’s a scary proposition for an employer because it doesn’t matter if a company is small or large. (I think lots of small companies think they couldn’t possibly end up on the government’s radar.) If the company is doing this wrong, who knows what else they’d find.

        I realize that may not help with the cease-and-desist portion of the issue, but it could certainly help with the pay issue.

  15. Ethyl

    LW 5, you say “no deep objection to living in the new city…” I would really caution you about that, and encourage you to spend some time in the new city if possible before making your decision. I know several people who got burned on this type of move, figuring “eh, I’m sure it’s fine, one city is pretty much like any other,” but cities can be realllly different from one another. You may not have an objection in theory but in practice it may be totally different.

    1. Half-Caf Latte

      Yeah. I *know* I wouldn’t do well in NYC, and I have friends in DC and it seems … fine? but I’d have to carefully scout neighborhoods, and I’m in Philly and love it!

      From the outside- they’re big cities on the east coast with the worst of both worlds, weather wise. Lots of ice and snow in the winter, and this muggy mess in the summer.

  16. jDC

    #4. I feel as though I may be the only person who doesn’t find casual dress to be a perk.

  17. MommyMD

    Lazy, incompetent, sleep through work employee WILL get his comeuppance. Just grit your teeth and bear it while answering with an occasional “him”. Next employer will not be so forgiving. In this day of workplace violence and disgruntled employees, it is not wise to start lecturing him or calling him out. There’s really no positives for you. The universe will teach him a lesson. Just count down the days until he’s gone.

    1. Arctic

      He already has had his comeuppance. He’s still being fired regardless of what he thinks the reason is.

      It’s annoying that he thinks it’s unfair but she should definitely let it go.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      Disagree. OP shouldn’t have to listen to him complain about his firing when he made her job a nightmare by not doing his own work. I wouldn’t mention why he was actually fired because it’s really not their place, but I would say more than just hmmm when he starts it up again. Alison’s suggestion for a response is perfect.

    3. Heidi

      I agree with this. Just let the clock run out and look forward to the future. It’s only going to a couple of weeks at most. Now, if it were me, I might write all of my more uncharitable thoughts in an email or document that I never send. “You know what, Fergus? You got fired. The boss is lying to you to spare your feelings, but the truth is you were a terrible employee. You never did any of your work, and I had to do all of the work you didn’t do. I’m glad you finally got what was coming to you. My life is going to be so much better when you’re gone. I will celebrate the anniversary of your firing every year with a lantern festival.” Obviously, never actually say this. But you can think it while he’s complaining and smile to yourself as you count down the days.

      1. merp

        A lantern festival! What a wonderful image, now I’m imagining the days in my life I could mark the same way. But yeah, good advice.

  18. Anon who says ni

    LW3 make sure both unemployment and wage claim folks know about the harassment.

  19. Harper the Other One

    OP #1 – if you feel like you must say something for your own peace of mind, perhaps you could point out that when budget is an issue, low performers are often first on the list to go? You could even gently say that this might be an opportunity for him to think through why/how that project went off the rails for him so it doesn’t happen again with a future employer.

  20. SezU

    Sheldon might bring up the employee’s lack of advanced degrees, but I don’t anticipate others will as long as OP doesn’t make it a thing.

    As to asking for more money before accepting the final offer… I just want to share that I talk about the great stuff from AAM all the time and Baby Girl used this information to do exactly this. She was offered a promotion and she used the opportunity to ask for more money than they offered. She was able to leverage her newly acquired advanced degree (which very few have in her company) and get a pretty good bump. She was taking the promotion either way, I think, but the extra cash never hurts!

  21. Tomato Frog

    #2 If my boss told me that I shouldn’t feel bad for not having a certain degree, apropos of nothing, I would legit wonder if they were passive aggressively trying to make me feel insecure. “Don’t feel bad about [thing the person never thought to feel bad about]” is a super effective undermining tactic!

    Something you can do pre-emptively for your employee is watch how assumptions about degrees might come up in your language and conversations. Things like a joking “We should all be able to figure this out, we all have master’s degrees!” or referring to employees with a general term that only applies to degree holders (calling everyone “doctors”, “librarians,” etc.).

    1. Half-Caf Latte

      Oooh yes. Great point about titles/terms. I’ve said this here before, but this is a real problem in healthcare where we use honorifics with medical doctors but not with other providers who are advanced degree holders.

      Leads to lots of these interactions:
      This is Dr. Stevenson, our new resident. And this is Peggy, the nurse practitioner.

  22. SunnyD

    #4 – $1k is not a huge wild thing to ask for. In business terms that’s eensy weensy, like $10 for you. It’s only $19 per weekly paycheck (more like $14 after taxes, less after insurance etc comes out). Readjust your internal lenses – $1k at home is a lot, at work just isn’t. (Personally I’d ask for $3k-$5k more, but not $10k more.)

    Also, casual dress and flexible vacation – please don’t talk yourself into discounting your worth over things that are fairly standard in a lot of jobs. It’s great to appreciate them, but you’re not exactly working for a shining beacon of job awesomeness because of those two traits, so don’t let that instill a sense of obligation or ‘I shouldn’t rock the boat, where could I find such an incredible situation again??’.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      I was wondering the reason for $1K myself. If this promotion provides a significant pay bump, an extra $1K isn’t going to make that much of a difference. I’m not saying you should never negotiate, but it seems a bit odd to me to only ask for $1K more.

      And yes, casual dress and flexible vacation aren’t the highest of job perks, but we don’t know what OP has experienced in the past with job benefits, so these things may be important to them. IME these things are standard as well, but reading this blog I’ve read many examples of people who have little to no benefits.

      1. SunnyD

        Totally get that! I suspect that’s exactly what’s going on. I know after a toxic situation I feel overly grateful for routine stuff too, and sometimes lay myself feel stuck with mediocre because at least it’s not awful.

        Just trying to help jump them out of what seems like excessive gratitude for routine things (in a way that may be chipping away at their belief that they can self advocate, or that they can find a similar work situation again), and a lack of business vs personal finance perspective.

        All for the purpose of encouraging them to self advocate more and feel no guilt, because it’s totally no big deal. You can do this, OP!

      2. Just Elle

        Yes, I was wondering the same thing. I was actually just in an identical situation. I was offered an internal promotion, and was expecting (for example) $20,000. They offered me $19,000. This was still a huge pay bump over my current position – over 10%. But I had that nice round factor of 10 figure in my head, and I was unreasonably disappointed they didn’t hit it.

        I considered going back and asking for the $1k, and the advice (not sure if good bad or indifferent) from family was that it would seem petty. Like, they give you a 10% raise and you’re going to quibble over what equates to a few meals out after tax? It would be one thing if I felt the pay was really below average – if I had wanted $25,000 instead of $19,000. But for $1,000, quite honestly, the stress of negotiation just didn’t seem worth it to me.

        And I third the feedback about not being grateful for being treated like a human or ‘better than industry average’ when industry average probably isn’t that great. Contrary, I almost wonder if there’s a perk you want more than the $1000? Could you ask for extra vacation, parking or transportation reimbursement, X number of work from home days a year? Creative things that cost the company little but make you happier than $14/paycheck will.

      3. Cat Meowmy Admin

        I can *directly relate* to your statements (copied below). I’m one of many people who have little to no perks in my job. Not for lack of trying to do better for myself; sometimes you have no other choice (*for the time being* – key words here) but to work at a “survival job” while looking for better opportunities. The thing is, not to talk yourself into rationalizing with the mindset that “take whatever you can get” is always “as good as it gets”. It doesn’t have to be, at least not in the long term. We each deserve so much more.

        And this is one of the many reasons why I love AAM and the Commentariat! >>

        “And yes, casual dress and flexible vacation aren’t the highest of job perks, but we don’t know what OP has experienced in the past with job benefits, so these things may be important to them. IME these things are standard as well, but reading this blog I’ve read many examples of people who have little to no benefits.”

        “Totally get that! I suspect that’s exactly what’s going on. I know after a toxic situation I feel overly grateful for routine stuff too, and sometimes lay myself feel stuck with mediocre because at least it’s not awful.”

    2. Mr. Bob Dobalina

      I was going to respond the same… $1,000 is very little, although I suppose it depends on what percentage of the salary it represents. I would go for $5,000.

      1. Cat Meowmy Admin

        Can I just say… Totally dig your username! Ahh takes me back in the day to early 90s hip hop. Now I’m singing that song in my head:
        “Mistadobalina*, Mr. Bob Dobalina- wontcha quit, you’re makin’ me sick witcha fraauuudulent behav-iaahhh”! ;D
        (* Del The Funkee Homosapien)

    3. Samwise

      Well, $1K doesn’t sound like that much at $19/week, but it could very well be a lot for OP’s employer — it may be more than anyone/most people get as a raise.

      I think also OP is getting more money in this new position and is thinking of asking for an additional $1K on top of whatever else they’ve offered? So, more than $1K all together, if I’ve read it correctly.

    4. Half-Caf Latte

      I like your point about not discounting her worth.

      Not saying this is the case here, but I’ve seen enough people misunderstand how tax brackets work that I would want to make sure the OP knows that a raise that juuust bumps you into a higher tax bracket does not mean you have less takehome at the end of the day than you would at the top of the lower bracket.

  23. Jesse

    #2 – I am that person too. The only time it is obvious to me is during events with academic dress (my gown “ranks” lower without long, cut sleeves for MAs or Harry Potter-style for PhDs).

    It’s all good! I agree and I wouldn’t make it a problem unless it becomes a problem. If I was that insecure about my degree status, I would already gone back from my masters by now.

  24. WellRed

    For LW 3, the boss is an ass and there’s all kinds of problems here. I do wonder, though, if HR has gone a bit rogue. I can’t believe there were no warning signs if the whole company is this batshit.

    1. OP3

      HR is the messenger; this is 100% the CEO’s doing. Yes, there were signs that I was working with a few narcissistic personalities, – CEO included – but like I responded earlier to someone else, I never saw anything that hinted he was capable of this level of aggression.

  25. blackcatlady

    About graduate degrees: I work in science where yes, most have a PhD. I have a BS with some masters classes BUT I’ve been at this job for 33 years. It’s the longest running continuing education program on record! I train incoming postdocs and give department seminars. I have numerous patents and publications in peer reviewed journals. Your new hire should be encouraged to grow – can you set up a good mentor? If she has critical thinking and intellectual curiosity she will flourish in the job and gain knowledge equal to a formal degree.

    1. epi

      Yes, this. I think the new hire is actually in a good position. They get to break into this field and see if they like it without having to get a degree in it up front. In fields where the advanced degree is not absolutely required, it is smart to see how far you can get and how happy you can be just skipping it. Maybe it will never be needed, which would be great. If they need or want the degree later, it will always be there.

      This is what I did and my professional experience made everything about grad school way better. I had a better resume, more relevant stuff to talk about in my applications and later in class when most people did not have research experience yet, and that sort of vague ability to act and see myself as a professional rather than a student. I’d recommend that path to anyone if they can find suitable work without the degree.

  26. Environmental Compliance

    I am the opposite of #2 – I’m one of very, very few with a graduate degree (MS) at my facility. Because my program required me to print out 5 copies of the bound thesis, and then most of my mentors were happy with digital copies only, so I have 3 extra copies of my thesis. One sits at work on a bookshelf. One of my coworkers was perusing the shelf recently and was entertained that there was a book there with my name on it, and asked who I bribed to bind it, lol.

    My boss knew when I was hired. Every now and then he’ll come ask me questions about the process of getting the degree. But I would have been very, very weirded out if when I started he would have sat me down and told me that while I’m one of the only ones with (XYZ – degree-having, female management, significantly younger, etc), it’s *tooootally okay*. Um, well, I wasn’t worried about it or really even thinking about it until something was said!

    It’s like telling someone wading in a river in Wisconsin that don’t worry, there’s very rarely alligators here. Well, duh, it’s Wisconsin, not know for alligator-infested waters, but now you’re making me think about but what *if there was* an alligator? Or a Hodag? Am I going to lose a foot to something with giant teeth?

  27. Me

    #5 Haven’t read everyone’s so maybe this was mentioned already. But how about you start job hunting now? You know the current job is relocating in 9 months but you don’t know if you want to move. Job hunts can take a while, so start looking. Maybe you will find a wonderful opportunity and that helps make your decision. Or maybe you find the job market is super tough there right now and moving might be you best option.

    Also – moving doesn’t have to be permanent. Yes there’s a costs associated and all that, but if you really hate it you could always relocate. Sometimes just realizing that whatever choice you make there’s always another chance to do something differently can help make a decision easier.

    1. Me

      Oh also, any chance remote work is an option with this employer, even for just a transition period, and something you might be interested in?

    2. OP5

      I’m definitely starting the job hunt early! I’m far from having enough info about what a move to New City would entail, so I’m starting to take the actions I would need to take to find another job in Current City.

      My boss is extremely friendly to remote work and has gone to bat with the company before to staff “non-remote” positions as remote to get the right person in the job, but is also being asked to relocate and may or may not do so. I would certainly be open to contracting through a transition period though.

      1. Gene Parmesan

        I feel like this could be an appealing opportunity if you don’t feel like you’d be leaving a lot behind in Current City. Worst case, you move to the city. You don’t like it. You decide to leave after less than a year. Big hassle? Yes. But damaging to your resume? No. To me, that’s at least an interesting element to consider. I would be very hesitant to move to a city and get a new job where I know I needed to stick it out for a while for the sake of my job history, but I love the idea of trying somewhere new for a bit. This has to be considered in the grander context of everything you’d be giving up with the move and your willingness to try something you might not like, but it definitely has some allure.

        Have you been interested in living in New City (or any city) in the past?

        1. OP5

          I love Current City and there are many things I’d be sad to leave. New City has a lot (but not all) of the things I love about Current City, plus serious potential career upsides.

          I guess my worst case scenario would be that I would move to New City, totally hate it, and take a financial loss in the moving-there-and-back process. But many of my colleagues will be taking other jobs in Current City and greatly improving the breadth of my local network, so it wouldn’t be unmanageable. I think it will depend on the details of the revised position.

          1. Gene Parmesan

            That makes sense. It becomes far less appealing if you’re sad to leave Current City. Trying to find a new position in Current City seems like a good option for now since you have some time. Best of luck! Hope you love wherever you end up.

  28. Joie De Vivre

    #3 – I am in the US. My husband had an employer who did something similar. After my husband finally got his last paycheck, we requested his earnings statement from the Social Security Administration. Turns out the employer hadn’t been reporting wages (or paying taxes) to the SSA. We got my husband’s SSA records corrected. We found out later that the owner of the company went to jail because of the tax shenanigans.

    If you are in the US, it would be a good idea to check your SSA record.

    1. Don't Block the Door

      And your state/county/municipal payroll withholding taxes, too (if that applies to your location).

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House

      I’ve worked for several shady employers over the years and I haven’t even thought to check these! *adds to to-do list*

    3. LadyMac

      Yep. Happened to me, too. The owner didn’t know about the fraud but the office manager did. After I left (on good terms) I wondered why she went out of her way to continue the acquaintance/friendship as we weren’t really that close. All was revealed when I got my SSA statement about 6 months before she was arrested and convicted for embezzlement.

  29. ATX Language Learner

    #2 A Master’s degree really doesn’t hold its weight like it used to. I work in an industry where some people have it, some don’t, and the ones who don’t – it does not hold them back in any way. I don’t have one and whenever I hear people who do or who are pursuing one, the first thing that comes to my mind isn’t “wow they must be very smart and I’m intimidated,” its “dang that’s a lot of money and not necessary these days”

        1. Casual Librarian

          Preach. If I had a dollar for every time I read “Must have an MLS from an ALA accredited institution,” I wouldn’t need to look for jobs in the first place.

          I do feel like I should put here, though, that I live in a very rural state, and many of the small-town one-man libraries have Librarians without any sort of MLS background (more than likely, their last job was at the local bank), so it is possible.

        2. Soon-to-be Former Academic Librarian

          Right? At my soon-to-be former institution, a lot of us subject specialists have 2 master’s degrees – the MLS to get our foot in the door, and one in our subject area.

          There are several professions where you have to have a master’s degree to just get started. It is a lot of money, but for many of us it is absolutely necessary.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Yup. There are still many careers out there that require additional advanced degrees beyond a BA/BS.

      2. Samwise

        Yes. We’ve had excellent interns (graduate students) that we’d be thrilled to hire when a position comes open, if only they had the grad degree in hand — the degree in hand doesn’t make them *better*, but it’s a hard minimum.

        1. ArtK

          In that case, though, the degree is an artificial filter. It doesn’t really mean anything in terms of whether the intern would be a good employee.

        2. Michaela Westen

          *Briefly* getting on my soap box to say the insistence on degrees that aren’t physically or legally necessary for the job (like lawyer or doctor) is one of the things bringing the economy down.
          Employers decided to use college degrees as screening tools – because it’s easier, or because they think (wrongly) that people with degrees are more competent – and colleges took full advantage of this by promising fabulous careers to everyone, and this spiraled and became a a craze where people think they have to have degrees (or more degrees, if they already have one) to get a good job, and they take on massive debt to get these degrees, and then they find they can’t get a good job – because there aren’t enough jobs for everyone who holds the degree, or because the degree never was a requirement for the job they want. And now they have all this debt, which means they can’t buy homes or cars or other things, which is bringing the economy down…
          An employer who requires an unnecessary degree instead of doing a real evaluation of each candidate as an individual is contributing to this.

  30. ThisIshRightHere

    OP #1, this exact thing just happened to me. I was prepared to terminate someone for cause; she had objectively been doing a genuinely terrible job. However, HR was very hands-on with the termination and insisted they be the ones to write the separation letter (which was odd, but fine). And then at the last minute, they scrapped the entire termination package and decided we’ll be terminating the problem employee “not for cause.” Now she’s walking around telling everyone she was laid off and I’ve been doing nonstop damage control because other staff are worried it will happen to them too. I think it would have been very important and helpful to let this employee know the real reason they were fired, but HR said no and even as the manager, I wasn’t in a position to overrule them.

  31. Effective Immediately

    Pursuant to number three, how would you explain this in a job hunt? Clearly, no one at this company is going to be able to be used as a reference, and I’m not sure how: ‘I was fired because everyone at the company was unhinged and can’t be trusted to accurately and objectively assess my work’ can be communicated in an interview setting.

    I really empathize with OP3.

    1. Minocho

      This is the real reason I would consider a lawyer – the wage claim may resolve the other difficulties, but a lawyer would be likely to get an agreement that the company could not give a negative reference.

    2. OP3

      Thanks for the support. I’m not too worried about this honestly. Because I’m job searching in another state (gotta get out of this hell hole lol), I’ve framed my departure as just wanting a change of pace and so far hiring managers have responded favorably.

  32. Just Elle

    LW $5 – I did want to add that sometimes companies require you to work a certain period of time (1-2 years usually) in exchange for relocation assistance, or else you have to repay the relocation immediately upon quitting. Just something to factor into your decision making, since it does make the risk of moving and then not liking the changes to company culture a little higher.

  33. Buttons

    Relocating; I am a big believer in living and traveling to as many places as possible. If financial it is doable- do it! I have found that living in multiple cities and multiple countries has helped me have a broader global vision, which has been invaluable when working for a global company. This is the time in your life to do it- you don’t own a home, aren’t in a relationship, and don’t have kids. Of course, consider all the things Alison said, but also remember that the experience of living someplace new has value too.

  34. boop the first

    1. *sigh* So office workers can’t talk freely? Suddenly, I don’t envy you guys.
    As someone who is taking a risk by dumping my boss for a myriad of reasons that I will probably never share with him if asked, because he is unable to handle criticism and would just turn it into an hour-long defense, I understand why OP may not want to have this conversation.
    But it sounds like OP kinda does? It’s not like coworker is going to get any angrier.

    1. boop the first

      By that last bit I guess I mean that by his “initially friend” telling him that the firing was based on budget is turning it into a Huge Company vs Small Worker battle, when it should be a Small worker vs Himself battle. The company shouldn’t have allowed this excuse to be given, as it’s unfairly speaking for them. That’s why I think OP should be granted a little freedom in this case.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger

        “So office workers can’t talk freely? Suddenly, I don’t envy you guys.”

        I’m confused where this conclusion is coming from.

        Fergus’ boss fired Fergus and is lying to Fergus about why. OP1 just doesn’t want to hear Fergus’ complaints, nor does OP1 want to deal with the fallout of explaining that Fergus was a terrible employee. OP1 was asking how to stop the complaints without having to deal with said fallout of being blunt and honest.

        I don’t see anything in the letter, AAM’s advice, or comments restricting anyone’s right to say something.

  35. Mr. Nobody

    OP#2: I think the primary issue is how you, as her manager, will be approaching growth opportunities and promotion opportunities for your one direct report who doesn’t have a graduate degree, and whether your company has thought that through, to ensure that employees without the graduate degrees have sufficient and fair advancement opportunities. Will this new hire have the same career opportunities and salary growth potential at your company as the employees with graduate degrees? Will the lack of graduate degree be a disadvantage, even from a perception perspective of other employees, that you need to be sensitive to, in your supervisory role?

    I deal with this issue daily, in a more extreme way. I am a very experienced professional in the legal arena, with expertise in several areas, but I am not a lawyer. In the legal field, this difference (JD versus non-JD, and bar admission) is extreme and regulated of course, and it makes a difference in every single way possible. The blunt reality is that I do the exact same work as an experienced attorney–yes, exactly the same, whether people like it or not, and whether it is legal or not! But I make less money and have limited promotion opportunities because I am not an attorney. Some companies do promote people like me to director level positions (in my industry, director level is the next step above manager level), but that is easier to, um…justify… if the person has a graduate degree (Masters or MBA) to support the promotion in the absence of a JD. But it will be challenging for me to move into the director level, regardless of my decades of experience and subject matter expertise.

    I also work in an industry that is definitely snobby about graduate degrees. At my prior employer, getting a PhD meant an AUTOMATIC salary raise under company policy.

  36. StaceyIzMe

    LW1- it sounds like your manager failed to manage and is relying on an act of deceit to get rid of the problem. Your soon to be former colleague also sounds like he has been so much in the habit of avoiding work that he has deceived himself with respect to what the problem really is. You also seem oddly complicit- you’ve covered for him on prior work related issues. I think that the peace your ears crave is not just the absence of his actual complaints but a desire for the truth. However, due to the fact that he hasn’t been managed effectively and isn’t invested in self-managing well, I doubt that the resolution of a spoken truth followed by an absence of recriminations directed at others will transpire. It’s tremendously ironic that he’s going to spread his negativity and misinformation around the workplace in the same way that he managed to “infect” the space the effects of his work avoidance. He’s leaving but the impact of his actions (and your supervisor’s inaction) are going to remain, to some extent.

  37. Dust Bunny

    LW1: This boss sucks and isn’t going to change. Fergus’ manager was going to let it go until somebody else did his job for him; he’s apparently Fergus’ friend socially; so it’s hardly surprising that he’s lying about it now. Tell Fergus you can’t be his audience any more and then count down the days until he’s gone.

  38. Dust Bunny

    LW2: Let it go. Focus on what she does well. I’m in a library but I don’t have an MLIS, *but* I’m the go-to person for a bunch of things because of skills and knowledge I have from previous jobs and outside hobbies, that happen to be useful for work. Nobody brings up the fact that I don’t have the Master’s. If she brings concerns to you of her own volition, then you can address it, but don’t set it up from the start.

  39. animaniactoo

    OP#1: You could go with something like “You know, it get that this sucks for you. But you slept through phone calls, just didn’t show up for work some days, and created problems for a lot of people including me. If there’s a budget issue, I understand why letting you go was an option on the table.”

  40. Jerk Store

    #1 I would keep in mind that Alison’s wording is good if what you are trying to accomplish is getting Fergus to stop complaining to you, but there’s probably nothing you can say to get him to agree that he was a problematic employee and his termination was justified.

  41. RussianInTexas

    LW2: It’s somewhat presumptuous to think she is feeling awkward, and makes me think you believe having the degree makes you a better person. Because you know, if you don’t have one, you must be feeling insecure.
    What is she is perfectly aware and simply does not care?

  42. Cartographical

    OP #1: my concern would be having a script for existing employees with degrees to address any talk in the office that denigrates people without them.

    Even if you didn’t have a new degree-less employee, allowing one-up-manship in a workplace is problematic and it’s good to foster an environment in which people are respected for their work and not their paper, including maintenance staff. Of course having an advanced degree is impressive, not because it’s a degree but because of the work, time, discipline, dedication, and specialised knowledge it represents. Your employee is new and will develop her own skill set and value to your department as she grows. Everyone benefits from a manager who values their work and personal contributions, including treating their co-workers with respect and kindness, no matter what the paper looks like.

  43. The Man, Becky Lynch

    Unless you all sit around talking nonstop about your level of education, this isn’t much of a thing even. I have no degree at all yet field questions and advise people with impressive stacks of degrees all day long. I didn’t go to school because of money and life not because of lack of intelligence. Why would I ever feel bad about that? That’s such an odd thing to proactively worry about.

    1. Cartographical

      I pretty much grew up in a university, so I can totally believe that there are places where there’s an unreasonable focus on the paper and the letters you get to put after your name. You have the right attitude, though. At the end of the day, relying solely on degrees as a shorthand for positive qualities is going to be hugely detrimental. Your abilities may
      not have been rubber stamped by an institution but that doesn’t mean you deserve less respect or should feel inferior. Personally, I have huge respect for people who make their achievements outside the structured setting of an educational institution — I really relied on the framework of the degree programs to keep me focused and motivated.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Yeah, that’s another kettle of fish for sure.

        If it’s academia, your world revolves around those degrees since they’re the whole concept in which the institution is created upon!

        I’ve out hustled and had to even fire people with advanced degrees because of their inability to do certain jobs, so I just can’t be bothered with placing that much stock in them.

        I have friends with PHD’s and MD’s at this stage in life, their opinions of me outweigh any of the casual snobbery that can be found in the world as well ;)

    2. Anon, my co-workers know this story!

      Depends on the field and the employer. Academia is notorious for this sort of caring-about, but it does vary by institution.

      True story: I joined a university-wide committee stocked mainly w faculty members (all Phds). Several of the members were overtly middling-contemptuous when we met at the first meeting because of the department I work in (academic-adjacent). Someone who knew me made a point of calling me Dr. Anon; one of the snobs said, “Oh, you have an Ed.D?” [ugh] To which I responded, “I’m not sure what’s wrong with an Ed.D?? But anyway, no, I have a PhD from Very Impressive University, where I was also a Very Impressive XYZ Fellow and also a Very Impressive ABC Fellow”

      I’m sorry to say, that’s what it took for the snobs to take me seriously. And they were not the only snobs — they were unusual only in how very rude and obvious their snobbiness was.

      1. This is not my usual username

        I have legitimately heard multiple people say that Ed.D’s aren’t real degrees because:

        (a) they’re education degrees
        (b) education apparently isn’t a real discipline
        (c) sometimes they’ll invoke an example like “well, even Shaq has a doctorate in education” to drive their point home

        And this is from people *not* in academia, sometimes even people who have not been to graduate school themselves. Ugh.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Academia is the one place I would expect and be able to accept this nonsense, only because it’s what your entire world revolves around.

        It’s one of the few reasons I have no desire to ever be employed by any kind of academic entity. Years ago a friend’s mom really pushed and wanted me to apply for assorted positions at the local universities. I told her that it wasn’t ever going to happen and that I wasn’t going to allow myself to start a career path that would block me midstream when I was unable to advance due to my lack of a degree, since they often do not have the ability to substitute experience for the education level requirement.

        I heard stories of medical students heckling nursing students as well, yuck. I totally get that aspect and snobbery levels.

  44. randomcomment

    I wouldn’t get that detailed with Fergus. I’d say I needed to make a call or do a task so I wouldn’t have to listen to him. The responses Amy suggested would be fine, were it not for the boss’s friendship with Fergus. It sounds like the boss was going to cover for Fergus and Fergus only got fired because the contact for the client got involved.

    It sounds like Fergus and the boss are going to continue to be friends. So I wouldn’t alienate Fergus, but I’d keep the conversations short and have polite excuses to get out of them.

    While what happened wasn’t right or fair to the letter writer, it’s best to stay out of that. If Fergus trashes the letter writer, it may influence how the boss acts. And the letter writer still has to work with the boss, who is a friend of Fergus. Handle diplomatically.

  45. Spek

    Moving to a new city while you have a job in hand can be a great experience, and you really should look at it as an opportunity to broaden your horizons. That being said, I think you need to give whether the company will pay relocation a lot more weight in your decision.
    Moving 1500 miles is no small undertaking, even if you are not a home homeowner. It will cost thousands of dollars at a minimum, unless you are prepared to really pull up stakes, leave all your possessions behind, and show up with a few suitcases. If you are moving your household, you have to figure in moving trucks, hotels, cleaning fees, new apartment deposit (while you wait for old landlord to refund your previous deposit, if any), gas, boxes, movers, etc. If you can negotiate $$ in advance for all this, it will really relieve a lot of the moving stress. If they are a huge company, you can even look at negotiating a turnkey move where they will pay to have all your stuff packed and moved, including your car, so you can just hop a plane to your new location and not have to spend two days driving. Either way, negotiate for some PTO for moving, unpacking, househunting, so you won’t have to spend long days at the office learning your new job and then countless night and weekend hours finding a place to live and organizing your new life.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      If they are a huge company, you can even look at negotiating a turnkey move where they will pay to have all your stuff packed and moved, including your car, so you can just hop a plane to your new location and not have to spend two days driving.

      This is what my mom’s former employer did for her, and it made the relocation much easier for all of us. In fact, I believe they did it for everyone who decided to move with the company.

    2. Sarah N

      Yep, our last long-distance move of a one-bedroom apartment to another one-bedroom apartment came out to around $5,000 all in. I was very lucky to have relocation assistance! Of course you CAN do cheaper moves if you don’t have the money, but paying less money for a move pretty much always means doing more yourself, which is time-consuming and generally an unpleasant hassle. If your company can cover the cost, definitely go for it!

  46. BeeGee

    For #3: Have you reviewed what the work policies are for tuition reimbursement? Upon leaving my first job, I had to pay back what my employer covered for a certification course I took which was required if I left the firm under x years of taking the course. This was taking out of my final paycheck. Your prior employer sounds extremely petty so I doubt that is the case (especially given wanting reimbursement for travel expenses!?) but I know from personal experience that in the case for tuition/education policies it may not be too strange.

    1. Sarah N

      Would this be the case if you were fired, though? I understand this sort of policy if you voluntarily choose to leave for another job, but it would be pretty bad form if the company gets to decide at anytime “We’re forcing you out of your job AND you owe us a bunch of $$”

      1. BeeGee

        In my case, I was fired from that job and it was still an enforced policy. There were things I was bitter about that job but I don’t think it was unfair for them to enforce a known, written policy (which when I applied for reimbursement for the certification materials I filled and signed a relevant form). It would be a different story if there was no clear written or discussed policy and they slapped me with it upon leaving, like they did with OP.

    2. OP3

      I have. They don’t have a tuition reimbursement program, or policy. My employer volun-told me to apply for the program, of which he is a former board member. Once I got accepted, he proactively – and gleefully – told me he would pay for it. The program was paid for in full at the beginning of the year. Since he can’t get a partial refund from the organization, he’s trying to get it from me.

      1. BeeGee

        Well that’s just terrible then, I can’t see how they have a case to claw back those funds.

  47. Kiwiii

    OP 4 – As long as your employer is reasonable and doesn’t get bent out of shape about small changes in course for other things, I don’t think there’s any harm in asking. It could be as easy as being like “I’m really excited about the position/opportunity and look forward to stepping into this role; is there any chance you could come up a little/come up to Number?”

    I prefer “come up a little” to asking for a specific amount more, especially if the specific amount more I want is less than 2k. They’ll often suggest a number roughly about where I’m thinking anyway and it sounds better to them because they’re suggesting it.

  48. Budgie Buddy

    There is a lot going on with number #3. It’s not a good look to try to be coy about “I was fired because I was late (but it was like just that one time).” But even if OP was fired for reasonable cause, the company has gone completely off the rails. I hope OP can get some sanity soon.

    1. OP3

      You say coy, I say cautious. It would be foolish of me to share specific details of an ongoing conflict with such a large online audience that could include the instigator of that conflict, no? Plus, I find too much nitty gritty tends to cause tangents in the comments.

  49. Michaela Westen

    #1 – to me Alison’s first script seems a little like correcting Fergus, and you don’t have authority to do that. I would go with her 2nd script and maybe add a few words about him causing problems in your workload.

    1. Me

      I hear that, but I think that as a colleague drectly affected by his actions she does have standing to tell him – hey your crappy actions xyz resulted in abc for me.

      1. OP 1

        The thing is, he knows! Even though he’s in denial now, he apologized to me on a couple of occasions for dropping the ball. So it’s not like he was totally unaware of what was going on. And yet he would get annoyed with the client lead for following up with him on things he didn’t do. It’s a weird dichotomy of victim mindset vs. knowing deep down he’s at fault.

  50. This is not my usual username

    OP#2: I think the reality is that managers really need to defend their “undercredentialed” employees in settings where a certain credential has become the norm for a position. Even when they’re very good at their jobs, their lack of “normative” credentials is sometimes going to be confusing to people who’ve been socialized to believe that you need a specific credential to develop the skills needed for that job.

    I’ve definitely experienced weirdness around being the only person in an office without a graduate degree. In my case, it was when I worked in as a research analyst in a consulting firm, so everyone’s resume and bio that went into RFP submissions had all their post-nominals, so people would commonly be all like “BA (Hons)? Did you make a mistake on your resume?” The other thing that happened is that there were often concerns about whether it would be a liability to add me to a project team because it might make our firm look less credible. This crap came up all the time, despite the fact that my manager hired me and was confident in my skill set. I remember having to write bios for professional (not academic!) conference presentations that obscured how many degrees I had. Even when I sat on hiring panels for new entry-level staff, there’d always be some discussion about how so-and-so might not be worth an interview because their lack of graduate school experience was disconcerting. And these were nice people I was working with!

    Long story short, I went back to school for a graduate degree because I got sick of the constant implication that my lack of credentials were a liability. My graduate school experience was valuable beyond that, sure, but it’s nice knowing that I have a completely unremarkable credential for the work I do, which helps with job interviews.

    FWIW, I’m in Canada, where you don’t directly enter a doctoral program in most fields, so “terminal” masters degrees in the humanities and social sciences are common and don’t carry the same sort of “you flunked out of a PhD?!?” stigma as they might in the US. Also, graduate education here is cheaper than in the US and often fully-funded if you’re in a research-based program, so we’ve got a lot of people with masters degrees. So many people that in some parts of the country, a social sciences MA is nearly the de facto entry-level credential for some jobs. I’m long out of consulting now, but afterwards I held jobs in a couple different industries that asked for a BA and several years of experience, but due to credential creep rarely ever employed anyone without at least some graduate school experience.

  51. Another Allison

    op#1 So I was in a manager role with no ability to fire an employee. I brought my concerns of the employee to the GM we decided to fire the employee…..So instead of telling her it was due to performance/attendance he lied and said it was because we hadn’t received some funding we where expecting so he was having to let her go to lack of funding…. this led to the biggest sh!t storm ever! She was upset (and dramatic to begin with) she stormed out of his office and told everyone to pack up because they where going to fire everyone cause the company was going under and that the company had no money to pay anyone so that everyone better get ready to be fired…This lead to one of her friends in the company to not show up to work for a week, we called and finally on the seventh day of not showing up sent a text that he was being let go for no call/no show. He proceeded to call the GM and Owner and blackmail them into giving him about 4k.. for reasons unknown to me they paid it and that was that… So conclusion dont lie to your employees about why you are letting them go cause it could blow up in your face.

  52. OP #2

    Hello all – OP #2 here:
    Thanks much for all the comments so far (and thanks to Alison for answering my question!). Yes, it seems that I am way over-thinking this situation, so thank you all for the reality check.
    A few things in answer to some of the comments above:

    – I’d like to think I wasn’t projecting or anything. I don’t think degrees are the end-all-be-all by any means. I really was just trying to think of if I needed to head off any sort of impostor syndrome for my new employee. But I appreciate people pointing out how it could come across as arrogant/condescending/etc.. I hadn’t realized that, and completely not my intention.

    – I didn’t mention it originally, but there were a few examples in the past that led me to have the thought in mind that this could be an issue. 1) One of my other employees had, in fact, felt insecure at not having a PhD when others in the department did. He didn’t tell me this until after he was more comfortable in the role, though, so it made me wonder if my new employee would have similar thoughts. 2) I, myself, had worried a bit when I first started because my degree was only in a tangentially-related field, while almost everyone else had degrees specific to our work. It took a little time to convince myself that yes, I can do this work just fine.

    – Degrees aren’t explicitly talked about in conversation or anything, but the company internal website has pages for all employees, and usually one of the first things new employees do is look up their new coworkers, and on those personnel pages it lists educational background. It’s how I discovered myself that most of my coworkers had degrees geared specifically toward the work our department does, while mine was only tangentially-related.

    – We also had two other new employees start around the same time, both at the same entry level that my new employee is at, but both with Masters. So I thought that just discussions among our new employees could maybe lead to my employee feeling a bit insecure. But this is me still just over-thinking it.

    Thanks again, all! Most appreciated, and helping me learn in my relatively new supervisor-y role that there are times to be proactive and other times to not.

  53. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo

    OP #2: Read the letter here with the title “My coworkers treat me like I’m not very smart” (it’s the second one in the “jerks” category). This is exactly how not to treat this employee. (Seriously, when I read your letter, I thought it sounded almost like the opposite of that one.)

    OP #3: Wow, that’s horrible. I have a friend who had such a similar situation with her ex-employer that I wondered if it was the same company! Her wage claim is still pending with the state as far as I know. (This is in a very niche field, which made it even worse for my friend.)

  54. willow19

    OP#5 – Are you absolutely sure that if you relocate to the new city, you will still have your job with your employer? This seems lie the first thing you should nail down.

  55. Candace

    This isn’t that relevant to the discussion, but I think some might find it funny. Please remove if not appropriate. A friend has a PhD in English lit and jokes that if she is ever on a plane and they ask “Is there a doctor aboard?” she will say “Here! Who needs a poem analyzed?”

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