coworker over-performs sympathy for minor things, employer used the free work I did in an interview, and more

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

1. My coworker over-performs sympathy for minor things

This may be a silly question, but it’s driving me nuts. I have a coworker who is old enough to be my mother. However, she doesn’t really “mother” me or anything. She does, however, show me exaggerated forms of sympathy for the smallest inconveniences. Any time something happens to me that is a little irritating or not so great, she will give me a pouty-faced look and say something like, “Awwwwwww, I’m soooo sorry, awww, awww.” Those are usually the exact words she says, or something close to it. Sometimes she will also say my name in a drawn out manner, like, “Aww, Saannnnsssaaaa, nooooooo.”

I realize how silly this seems, but it really is driving me crazy. Some recent examples of her doing this are me getting a bad head cold and me getting caught in the rain while making an errand for work. Annoying? Yes. Worthy of pity? No.

The thing is, I hate being pitied. I don’t mind if this woman said something like, “Hey, sorry that happened.” But the way she does it, I’m half expecting her to pat my head. I don’t want her pity! And this is for small stuff too, nothing life-changing. How can I convey this to her?

Oh my goodness, this would drive most people out of their minds. Try giving her a confused look and say, “Whoa, it’s not that bad” or “You seem more upset than I am — it’s fine.” It’s possible that doing this a few times will get her to stop. If it doesn’t, I might move on to “I’m not a delicate flower, you know! It’s fine.”

2. Employer used the free work I produced during the hiring process

During my interview for a job recently, I had to rewrite event copy (which I thought was hypothetical). After my third interview, I noticed that they used my material for their event! I was pretty upset because I worked very hard on it and they didn’t tell me they would use it, nor did I give consent. So basically I worked for them. It took longer than three hours with the research, edits, and proofing I did. I don’t know what to do. I am still in the running for the job, but I don’t think I want to work for a company so eager to do things like this.

Yep, that’s horribly unethical (and potentially illegal as well — you need to be paid for your work). You could email them and say, “I saw that you used the event copy I wrote to advertise your X event. My understanding was that I was producing it for assessment purposes, not as work for hire. Did I misunderstand the assignment, and was this work you were expecting me to invoice? My freelancing rate for work like this would be $X.”

I originally had written “I of course charge a fee for work for hire” instead of “was this work you were expecting me to invoice?” But I think asking that question is helpful, in that it allows them to save a little face if you want to stay in the running for the job (although it sounds like you quite reasonably don’t).

3. Frequent farter

I work at a software company where I’m about 10 years younger than everyone. I’m already in a bit of a vulnerable situation because of my experience level so I don’t like to be difficult or make a fuss about trivial things.

However, our director of engineering openly farts … OFTEN. It happens in meetings as well as when we’re in the open desk area (my desk is close to theirs). I seem to be the only one who notices despite multiple people around us opting against the use of headphones. I have considered the possibility that they have a medical condition of some kind that limits their ability to fart with more discretion, but they will intentionally shift their weight to one side to let the gas escape from the side, which leads me to believe it is not out of their control.

More than anything, I worry that this happens during interviews with potential new hires. I just think openly farting and not acknowledging it could send the wrong message. How on earth do I address this? Or do I just ignore it? I haven’t brought it up to anyone else at the company so I don’t know anyone else’s feelings about it.

I actually think it will send candidates the right message — which is that if they take the job, they’re going to be around someone who farts openly and often. Regardless of whether your director can or can’t control it, I’d rather know than not know that when considering a job.

Perhaps more to the point, though, I don’t think there’s anything you can do here. You don’t know that they fart in job interviews, and it doesn’t sound like you’re part of the hiring process. This one isn’t yours to deal with (and that’s something to be thankful for, really).

4. Taking unpaid vacation to “save” paid vacation for later

I wear the HR admin hat for a small business. Recently, a couple of young employees who had never had a job with paid vacation before asked if they could take a few days vacation as unpaid time to “save” their paid vacation days for later. We have a “use it or lose it” vacation days policy so it’s not like they can bank days for future use.

Is it okay to put in our policies that if employees have paid vacation days available, they are required to use them up first before employees can ask for unpaid time off? Generally, I want to pay people for what they have earned, and it feels really strange to be asked for unpaid vacation when someone has it available!

It’s very normal to have people take their paid vacation days before you consider giving unpaid vacation days.

In fact, in many organizations, unpaid vacation time isn’t really an option except in unusual circumstances; the idea is that the amount of vacation days you provide is the amount of time you’ve planned for them to be off of work and you don’t want people being absent more than that. (Of course, reasonable employers make exceptions when needed.)

So yes, you can require people to use up accrued vacation days first. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to explain to them that while they get X number of paid vacation days, they’re typically expected to be at work the rest of the time (if indeed that’s true for your workplace).

5. How do I pass along my former boss’s resume?

A mutual friend just informed me that my old boss is looking for work and to give them a heads-up if there are any openings at my company. I don’t know for sure if there is an opening, but we were just told that one person in my department is leaving and another is on leave. So there is a good chance that there is an opening. I have worked with my old boss at two different companies and he is wonderful at what he does and is definitely an amazing manager, and I would love to pass along his resume to our director.

However, I’m not sure how to do it, because 1) I’m not sure what the rules are when recommending people for a level above your own and 2) the person I would make the recommendation to is even higher, director of the department. We don’t have much interaction in the day to day but they are generally approchable. Do you have any script on how to go about this?

Email your director with the resume and say something like, “I’m not sure what our current hiring needs are, but I just learned that my former manager, Cecil Mulberry, is on the market. He’s fantastic at X and Y, and I think he could be a great fit here. I’m attaching his resume and would be happy to connect him to you if we might have a need for someone with his background.”

This is totally normal to do! It doesn’t matter that he’s at a higher professional level than your own — the key (as with any recommendation) is just to be specific about why you’re recommending him.

{ 378 comments… read them below }

  1. TL -*

    #1: you can also try, “Oh, sorry if that sounded like I was complaining: it’s really not that big of a deal,” a few times to see if that helps her realize she’s overreacting.

    That’s what I’d start with, at least, and if that didn’t work, I’d escalate to Alison’s scripts.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I’d do the opposite. I’d get a confused look and say “Excuse me?” as though she said something rude.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think it is inherently rude, though–it’s just how this person performs sympathy; there’s no indication it’s only with the OP, after all. She just never learned calibration. I had a relative like that.

          It is still weird and annoying to be on the receiving end of, and the OP definitely has my support in stopping it.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            It may not be intentionally rude, but it’s definitely well into “treating grown adult like a child” territory, which is pretty inherently rude regardless of intentions. And that’s without reading things into the letter that aren’t there; if OP were short, or autistic, or liked sloth-themed supplies, or whatever, there’d have to be a level of willful ignorance for this /not/ to be intentionally rude.

            Then again, I’ve dealt with that sort of thing more than I’d like, so I might just be sensitive.

            1. JSPA*

              You don’t have to be a child to enjoy someone showing you an extra bit of kindness, though, and it can well be meant as such.

              It seems like the OP is feeling mocked (why?) or treated as a child for being treated as someone worthy of empathy and sympathy (why?) or downright enraged at the idea that someone who’d hate having a bad cold or being caught in the rain, would be actively sympathetic.

              Getting bent out of shape by this sort of performative sympathy is, for me, close to being up there with getting BEC about someone’s accent or style of clothing. Granted, it’s directed at OP, but unless it’s directed particularly or uniquely OP, it’s not actually being done “at” OP, it’s being done at all of humanity. And treating it like a personal affront is like treating an accent as a personal affront, just because it’s displayed when that person is talking to you.

              “No big deal” or “it’s just a cold” or “nah, I kind of like the rain” may tamp down the response, but if it doesn’t, treat it the way you would someone with an accent that’s the same as the accent of some childhood tormentor–something that’s landing differently than how it’s intended, though no fault of the person on the sending end.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Perhaps it’s because I’m going off of what I’ve experienced when people overperform sympathy like that, but that’s not how I’m reading the interactions described by OP. To me, it seems less like an act of sympathy/empathy/kindness and more, well, performative. It comes across not about actually having any genuine feelings about OP being caught in the rain or having a cold, but as trying to make some minor inconvenience OP experienced into a production to show off. just how nice and wonderful they are to be kind to OP- in a sense, the fact that it’s so important to them that they get a cookie for interacting kindly with OP signifies that any expression of kindness is something they’re going a great deal out of their way to do, which doesn’t come across as very sympathetic to me!

              2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

                Just because someone’s intentions are well meaning does not make them any less rude. Based on the way OP described it, this person’s reactions are condescending, and well, rude. It would piss me off too and I’d be way more direct and less apologetic when telling her to knock it off.

          2. ChimericalOne*

            I agree that you’ll get farther by treating it like a well-intentioned overreaction (“Oh, I’m not complaining!” or “Oh my gosh, you seem more upset than I am! It’s really okay,”) than by treating it like rudeness. If she’s really just not calibrated her responses appropriately (and it seems most likely that this is the case, unless she’s treating OP differently than everyone else), she’ll just be puzzled & hurt that you’re treating her like she’s being rude when she expresses sympathy. You’re more likely to damage the relationship vs. just teaching her to rein it in.b

        2. Eukomos*

          It might just be how she talks, though. Not everyone reserves that kind of tone for people who have less social status than they do; sometimes they just have grating speaking habits.

          1. DJ Roomba*

            I have a coworker EXACTLY like this (I’d question if we were talking about the same person, but she’s def. not old enough to be any other employees’ mother).

            It drives me INSANE. With my coworker I think it’s her way of showing engagement/active listening. For instance, she doesn’t only do the pity noises, she also makes noises of agreement while having conversations (both on the phone and in person – and she is on the phone 50% of the time). I hear a lot of “mmmmmm”s, “ahhhh”s, “yeah, yeah”s, “ah-ha”s and “mmm-hmms” as well as plenty of forced giggles.

            I don’t really have a coping strategy, beyond putting in headphones. And trying not to complain to her too much. But yeah, this is how she talks.

      1. CheeryO*

        That would be a weird escalation if their relationship has been friendly so far. No reason not to go with something softer at first.

      2. Sunflower*

        I work with someone like this and I’ve noticed she’s not rude, shes dramatic. I’d be curious if the OP sees dramatization of other situations from this person. For example, my coworker reacted as if my dog had died when I vented to her that I had an 8am call that morning.

        1. OP1*

          Hey, I wrote in the first letter. And yes! Now that you mention it, this person does have a tendency to be overly dramatic about a lot of things. I should also point out that I have witnessed her doing this to other people–not just me–but I do feel like it happens to me the most because it’s so often (I’m the youngest person in the office).

          1. Willis*

            The first office I ever worked in, the receptionist was like this. If I mentioned I misplaced a file folder, got caught in the rain, or some other random minor thing, she would respond with something like “Oh no, I hate that for you,” “Aww, isn’t that the worst,” etc. My first inclination was along your line of thinking, that she seemed to be babying me. But then I saw her reaction was the same if the owner or the attorneys working there mentioned something little too. It was just her way of acknowledging people and expressing (albeit over-the-top) empathy. All that to say, sure, try Alison’s scripts but if she’s not doing this particularly to you and treats you normally otherwise, I wouldn’t read too much into it or spend too much effort on getting it to change.

          2. JSPA*

            This is almost certainly just style, then.

            It almost certainly launches with good intent. Or at least, that’s the healthiest, happiest way to deal with it.

            It lands in part based on your expectations of what it means. “Oh, you’re sweet to care, but actually, I’m doing fine” is probably going to make both of you happier than trying to modify someone else’s verbal tics and natural drama.

            Anyway, better it be sympathy than anger or pouting, right?

          3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            Just because it’s the way she is doesn’t mean you can’t address it. I see lots of people dismiss certain behaviors because someone’s intentions aren’t bad, but that doesn’t make it okay. If she’s coming across as condescending when she does this, she needs to understand that, and you have every right to tell her to stop.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. No reason to be rude to the coworker without trying this and Alison’s scripts first. If the coworker won’t let up, then OP can escalate to shut it down.

      1. Moray*

        Right. There’s no reason not to go with a lighthearted approach first! It sounds to me like she’s trying to be cutesy-funny, so I would try with humor.

        I’d say something like “don’t worry about this, I’m going to need you to save all that sympathy for the near future, because sooner or later I am almost certainly going to get bitten by a rabid beaver.” Or some other equally exaggerated, impossibly unlikely disaster.

    3. Reality.Bites*

      I have a friend who only says, “I’m sorry” about things that happen to me but with such sincerity and feeling that I used to be puzzled and say, “But you didn’t have anything to do with it.”

      He’s a retired theatre professor and he can get a LOT into three syllables.

      1. iglwif*

        I’ve noticed people sometimes respond with “It’s not your fault” or “But you didn’t have anything to do with it” when my “I’m sorry” is intended to express sympathy and commiseration, not apology. The more I think about it, the weirder it is that our language uses the same three syllables for these very different purposes…

        1. Reality.Bites*

          Most people manage to convey which kind of “I’m sorry” it is through tone or adding a couple of words to make it “I’m sorry (that happened to you), (to hear that)” when it’s sympathy.

          Of course when he actually did have something to apologize for (startling me at an ATM by touching my shoulder from behind) I literally had to tell him to be quiet – I couldn’t handle the apology flood while I was still coming down from my panic.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          A once-close friend with whom I’d lost touch did that to me when I wrote to say, “I’m sorry to hear about your father’s passing.” She responded, “It’s okay. It wasn’t your fault.” It was a pleasure to lose touch with her again.

          1. Reality.Bites*

            I’d be forced to wonder if you got that reply because she knew exactly whose fault it was. ;)

      2. ChimericalOne*

        My MIL always responds to “I’m sorry” with things like, “Why, did you cause it?”

        It’s made me want to never express sympathy to her.

        1. tiasp*

          Since you probably have to keep talking to her, you could try “Oh dear” for your sympathy words.

        2. Warm Weighty Wrists*

          I once went on a group backpacking trip with a man who did something similar to this, clearly trying to make some sort of social point about overapologizing that was important to him and nobody else. I was Not Well on that trip, so my patience was… worn. After the umpteenth time, I gave him a gimlet eye and said, “You know exactly what I mean by I’m sorry, X. It’s not an apology, it’s a social lubricant. Why are YOU making this conversation more difficult?”
          He never did it again.

      3. Eukomos*

        “I’m sorry” is frequently used in American English to mean “I’m sorry that that happened to you.” I don’t know where this idea came from that it can only mean “I apologize” but AFAIK it’s never been used strictly for that meaning.

    4. Essess*

      I would give her a funny look and say “what an strange thing to say!” each time. Because it is strange.

    5. Dee Em*

      #1 – my first thought is that she is mocking you. Sounds exactly like what I say to my sister when she has a minor complaint like “oh no, My fingernail broke.” I probably wouldn’t do that to a coworker though. Do you complain a lot? Maybe she is telling you she doesn’t want to hear it?

      1. Kathleen_A*

        The OP indicates that the coworker is being sincere, so I think we can assume it’s sincere. Besides, I’ve known people just like this. They just can’t seem to help being really…dramatic!

    6. ironwoman*

      I have the same issue as LW1 except it’s my boss… So I cant’ really say “I’m not a delicate flower.” Typically I’ll say “oh it’s not a big deal at all! While we’re here I actually wanted to talk about X” just to shut down this honestly phoney sounding sympathy.

      1. Mr. Oneside*

        Recurring theme on this blog: “My co-worker is weird, and I’m not. Co-worker must modify their behavior because I’m sensitive to it. I don’t have to modify my behavior or perception of their behavior because I’m cool. Alison, give me a script for this”

        1. Close Bracket*

          I agree. In this case, LW #1 could easily just say, “Thanks,” and move along with her day. Accepting other people’s quirks and reframing them as quaint rather than annoying is an underrated skill.

          Distinguishing between thing that are quirks to be reframed and things that are genuine problems isn’t always the easiest thing, and that’s why advice blogs exist. I agree that the distinction isn’t always well made on this blog.

  2. PJ*

    It pains me to say it, but as someone who has been through a similar situation to LW#2, I’m going to say that it’s possible that there is not – and never was – a job. They were looking for free labor, and got it.

    The red flag here is “third interview.” If they’re dangling a carrot on a stick for that long, that really makes me think they’re using applicants for exactly that purpose.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, it’s possible, but it’s more likely that there’s really a job and they saw good copy and thought they could use it. Still unethical and not okay, but not as premeditated. Third interviews aren’t that weird.

    2. Stephen!*

      I had a friend who found out about the job using his interview materials after he got hired. Even though he did get the job, they used his work before they offered him the position. He let it go, but it soured the work relationship and was a good demonstration of the general dysfunction of the place. It was not a good position, but at least it didn’t last too long.

    3. LQ*

      “Third interview” is really common in a lot of jobs in a lot of companies in a lot of industries. I wouldn’t stop every interview process that went to three interviews.

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        Especially in a world where first interviews are often a very basic phone screen. I’m in the midst of it right now- round 1 was with the HR rep to clarify a few basic but fundamental points, round 2 was with the hiring manager, round 3 is with the executive director. The last job I was hired for also went to 3 rounds, and that was a fairly low level office position.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          My boyfriend refers to it as the “are you a person and do you know what’s on your resume?” interview.

          1. RG2*

            I do these (with a little more info I’m looking for, but not a ton) and you’d be surprised how many people turn out to have exaggerated on their resumes or in their cover letters.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Having done phone screens for a few years (not my circus anymore, thank the gods), you’d be amazed how many applicants are only maybe people? And definitely have no idea what’s on their resume.

            My favorite was the one who, on a *scheduled* call, mind you – I didn’t just call her out of the blue – when I asked her to tell me a little more detail about her work history, actually asked me what resume I was looking at and which positions it listed before she answered.

            Like, I get using slightly different versions of your resume for different positions, but maybe keep track of which resumes you’ve used for which positions? It’s just not a great look to ask your interviewer what your own resume says.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’d give them the honorable out in case the person who re-used the material wasn’t supposed to.
      I could *easily* see a hiring manager intending the writing materials to be discarded — but a low-level person grabbing the wrong file when told to update the website. (Or intentionally taking the interviewee discards to use instead of doing their own work … if this letter really is written during summer it could even have been an intern who really does NOT know better.)

      1. LunaLena*

        I agree, I think it easily could have been someone who just didn’t realize it was unethical to use the work. I can see someone thinking “well, it’s already done and it was done for our company and it’s really good; why shouldn’t I use it?” It’s amazing how many people out there don’t understand things like copyrights and plagiarism. Just look at all the people who think Google Images is a free market for stock photos. They’re not always being malicious, it’s often just ignorance.

  3. AppleStan*

    OP #4, I can tell you that I’ve worked for various employers for over 30 years, and at no time have I ever seen an opportunity for someone to bank “paid” vacation days. The paid is used BEFORE “leave without pay” (which is essentially what they are asking for) is offered.

    Think about it this way. It is easier to refuse someone “Leave Without Pay” than it is to refuse someone “Leave With Pay” — it’s much harder to tell someone that they can’t take paid vacation that they *have* earned than to tell them that they *can* take unpaid vacation they haven’t earned.

    Also, it easier to *offer* a perk in the future than it is to *stop* a perk that has already happened. If you decide, or the powers that be, decide (in their infinite wisdom) to at some point give someone an unpaid leave day in the future as an exceptional circumstance…no one is going to fuss about that.

    But decide to *stop* giving the option of unpaid leave will ALWAYS seem out the blue, as a punishment to the person who is the first to be denied the benefit after a history of them being able to show that unpaid leave wasn’t an issue before, and could potentially open you and your company to legal scrutiny through some sort of bias claim (imagine that you have offered people the option of taking unpaid leave BEFORE taking paid leave, then you and your company decide, you know what, no more, we just can’t do it anymore, it doesn’t make business sense…but the next person that had asked for the leave or had planned on asking for the leave was of a different race or gender than everyone who got the option to take unpaid leave prior to your decision)!!! Even if you could prove that your decision was based on a legitimate reason it just LOOKS bad.

    1. Avasarala*

      I don’t know how likely the legal issues could be, but I agree it’s harder to change a precedent giving LESS freedom/flexibility/perks than to do the opposite.

      OP should also think about how offering unpaid vacation would work with other leave policies. If you pay out PTO when someone leaves the company, could someone take all their time off unpaid and then get a big payment of their PTO when they leave? If you pay for overtime, could someone work really late Thursday and then take Friday off unpaid, essentially creating a comp time system? If people can take unpaid leave whenever they want, what incentive is there for your company to offer generous sick and vacation time for those who can’t afford to take it unpaid?

      Rereading the letter, I think what this exchange is really telling you is that at least one employee feels that they don’t have enough vacation time (or it’s not valid for long enough). Maybe instead of considering un vs. paid, take a look at your company’s number of paid days offered, and reconsider the use-it-or-lose-it policy.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I take real issue with “use it or lose it” policies. If vacation/PTO is part of one’s compensation package one shouldn’t lose it any more than one would lose one’s salary.

        There are any number if ways to pay it out…require vacations, pay it once per year if it’s not used, pay it as a lump sum upon separation, etc., but if it’s considered part of one’s compensation one should get it.

        And lest we forget, there are more than a few companies that make it …difficult… to ever actually use it that have a “use it or lose it” policy which is effectively the same as reducing one’s compensation by the dollar value of the vacation/PTO time.

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          Yes, from my understanding, this is actually behind many “unlimited vacation policies”. People take less time off because they don’t want to be seen taking “too much” and the company never has to pay anything out.

          1. Antilles*

            Yeah. Alison has covered the topic before, as have plenty of other places. Basically every study/analysis on unlimited vacation policies has shown that when a company switches from a set “X days off per year” to “unlimited”, employees end up taking fewer days off.

            1. Hiring Mgr*

              Maybe it’s because I’m the tech/startup world, but I haven’t worked at a place with traditional PTO in 15 years or so…. If done right “unlimited” vacation (kind of a misnomer, it really should be called “flexible” or something like that) is great. Some companies even mandate a minimum time off to ensure that people take an appropriate amount of time.

              1. Arielle*

                There are some situations where having unlimited leave makes it more complicated and/or worse than having accrued vacation. For example, I can save up my vacation time and tack it onto the end of my maternity leave, since those are days I have earned and have the right to use, but my husband is not allowed to extend his paternity leave with any of his “unlimited” vacation time, even though we are not taking any vacations this year.

                1. Hiring Mgr*

                  I hear you..and to me that makes no sense that your husband’s company would do that. For unlimited to be done well, it should be treated the same as standard PTO–in other words your husband would have “earned” the right to take time after paternity leave same as if he had PTO available.

                2. Artemesia*

                  weird but having come up in a world where paternity leave didn’t exist — my husband for example was okay to leave work to be with me while the baby was born — but was at work the next day I am just stunned that man get time off for childbirth. I think the move towards paternity leave is such a terrific thing. My SIL has in both companies he worked for when he kids were born had more leave for paternity than my daughter got as maternity leave for having the babies.

                3. Sarah N.*

                  I will say I think your company is unusually generous…at many companies you are forced to use up your accrued vacation and sick leave as part of your parental leave.

                4. VelociraptorAttack*

                  Artemesia, my husband didn’t technically get paternity leave, he utilized FMLA to take 3 weeks of paternity leave.

                5. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  @Sarah N. — solid point. At a lot of the places I’ve worked, maternity leave isn’t actually a separate pot of paid leave. If you want to be paid during your maternity leave, that pay is composed of your accrued sick and vacation time, combined with short term disability if you signed up for it as part of your benefits package.

                6. Michaela Westen*

                  @SarahN, where I work maternity leave is actually short-term disability leave. And the disability rule is the associate has to use 12 days of PTO for the first 12 days of her leave, and then the disability kicks in. I’m pretty sure it’s the insurance company that made that rule.

              2. Sarah N.*

                Yes, I work at a university in a position with essentially “unlimited” PTO (I’m faculty and we don’t accrue PTO, but would be expected not to schedule a giant vacation in the middle of the semester — of course if you’re sick, you can cancel class or get someone to cover for you). I think it’s great and I love not feeling nickle and dimed about my time. I definitely take a LOT more time off than my spouse in a typical “you have X days of vacation and Y days of sick leave” job.

        2. hbc*

          Lots of benefits are “use it or lose it,” though. FMLA, bereavement leave, tuition assistance, insurance, bagel Tuesdays, etc.. You don’t get to go to your employer and say, “I haven’t taken the $2K tuition credit for 10 years, please pay $20K for my schooling.”

          I think you can make a pretty fair and logical case that a company is budgeting to pay an employee 52 weeks in a year for about 49 weeks of work, and it does not need to pay you more than that, provided they actually allow you to take the PTO that they promised. It’s definitely *more* of a benefit to be able to roll over or get it paid out, but if the company optimizes for financial consistency or encouraging time off every year, I don’t think that’s inherently reducing compensation.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            But tuition credit, bagel Tuesday, etc. are perks whereas PTO is part of your compensation package.

            1. Seifer*

              At my last company, they included the tuition credit as part of the total compensation package. Even though I was only paid $30K in salary, they included that and a bunch of other stuff to claim that my cost to the company was something crazy like $63K. I was seriously considering going to them and being like yes hello I have not taken the $7K (!) tuition credit for two years, please give me $14K for student loans since that’s part of my total compensation.

            2. Sarah N.*

              Stuff like insurance, retirement match, etc. are absolutely part of your retirement package. If I don’t get sick or if I choose not to put money into retirement, I can’t ask for some $$ back on my health insurance package or say “Hey, I didn’t put $$ into my retirement for 5 years, can I put a whole bunch in now and have you match that?”

          2. MyTwoBits*

            Where I work, if one is exempt, you can request leave-without-pay (LWOP) if you have less than 40 hours of PTO. You must take LWOP in 8 hour increments. Since PTO is combined holiday and sick leave, people like to retain some of their PTO hours because you don’t need permission to use it as sick leave and you may use it in half-hour increments to cover doctor visits. If you ran out of PTO and needed to visit the doctor, you would have to request 8 hours of LWOP.

        3. LQ*

          I prefer some kind of use it or lose it, though I think there should be at least some roll over and bankability, and forgiveness/stretchability.

          If I could just get paid for the hours at the end of the year I’d feel more compelled to save it all to get the cash, or to save it all for in case I separate, and use it or lose it generally pushes toward a culture that expects people to take time off. Not that they always can or that it always creates that culture. But I think that it is more likely to lean that way.

          1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            Yes, I really like the way that my company does this. It feels like a better balance than “Use it or lose it” We have an accrual. And there is an accrual cap, so if you hit that point, you no longer accrue until you use some of your vacation (but the accrual cap is something like 1.25 or 1.5 x your yearly accrual, so you’d have to take very little time off to hit it) It encourages people to use the benefit, and to schedule time off. It’s also my understanding that once you put in the PTO request, they remove the time from your bucket, so if you were close to your cap, but couldn’t take a vacation this month because of the busy season, you could put in to take it the next month or 2 months out and that would put you back under and let you continue to accrue.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Our system lets you bank a maximum of six weeks of vacation, but once you hit that maximum, you don’t stop accruing. Everything over that six week cap gets converted into sick leave, which is unlimited. So I accrue a lot more vacation than I use (I’ve been here a long time and I’m near the top of the accrual chart), but I don’t feel bad about not using it because it becomes sick leave I can use if I or a family member has an emergency.

          2. Lizzy May*

            My work lets you bank days for an additional year but also makes sure you take a minimum of a week straight off. So if I get 10 days in 2018 but know I’m planning a dream vacation to Europe in 2019, I can take a week off in 2018 and then have 5 extra days in 2019 to use for that three week vacation. I think it’s a pretty fair balance. It makes sure people are taking breaks every year and allows for a best practice in finance to prevent fraud, lets people bank some time if they need it, but never results in someone having a huge PTO payout when they leave.

          3. OhNo*

            Agreed – it doesn’t always work as well as you’d hope, but every place I’ve worked that had a use it or lose it policy on vacation, also had bosses going around a month or two before the deadline making sure that people were going to be able to use all of their PTO.

            Where I work now, in academia, we have the misfortune of having the use-it deadline right when many departments are very busy. In practice, that means many department heads are checking in all year long to make sure people are using up their time. Without the policy, I don’t think they would be nearly as concerned about everyone getting a break.

        4. M*

          I think “use it or lose it” is good for vacation or some jobs say only X number of days can roll over per year. You want people to take vacation! It makes the employee feel better and makes them a better employee! I think having sick leave be able to roll over is good though or a larger number of X days for sick leave.

          1. PromotionalKittenBasket*

            My company does this! We get unlimited sick time, and then in a separate pool, 20 days a year (plus 10 paid holidays). You can only roll over 5 days a year, and they added the additional 5 days last year to encourage folks to take two full weeks at a time. Some people had 40+ days banked, so they got put on a graduated rollover schedule and many started taking off one day a week for a while. Our state doesn’t mandate paying out vacation time upon leaving a company, so this ends up being more compensation for us rather than less.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            My employer handles this with (very generous) accrual caps. You can’t accumulate more than two years worth of vacation time – not bad at all since our vacation starts at 12 days per year and is a separate pool from sick leave and paid holidays.

        5. Michelle*

          I agree. If we are short staffed or have an incredibly busy year, I may not get to take all my vacation days so I lose them.

          My son works full time at the well known big box “mart” store and they use the X hours rollover, pay out anything not used and not eligible to rollover. He never takes vacation and enjoys that extra paycheck every January.

        6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          We allow a limited amount of rollover but we also start reminding people 4th quarter if they have unused time that will expire on them. It’s that happy medium to me in the use it or lose it world.

        7. Constance Lloyd*

          The only thing I truly love about my current employer (aside from my manager) is our PTO system. It rolls over almost indefinitely (you max out at 300 total hours, then they pay you for it whether you ask for it or not), you can sell it back annually during open enrollment, and you are reimbursed for whatever you have accrued upon separation.

          The only bummer is that sick, vacation, and holiday time are all in one pool, so if you start right around a holiday you might not have accrued enough time to be paid for the full day off.

        8. Person of Interest*

          You also have to remember that unlimited accrual of vacation creates an accounting nightmare for organizations – especially if they pay out upon separation. In my nonprofit experience you really can’t afford to carry that liability forever. Use it or lose it allows orgs to reasonably plan their budgets, while also encouraging employees to actually take their vacation time (assuming they are reasonable about this). My org is pretty good about allowing people to take vacation, and we can carry over 5 unused days to the next calendar year but have to use them by the end of the fiscal year (June 30).

          1. Constance Lloyd*

            That’s very true, I think maxing it out at a set number of hours is a reasonable compromise in our case, and allows for more predictable accounting. I’m in a state with horrible parental leave laws, so a lot of people will bank theirs for that or other medical leave… but that’s an entirely different problem, so for the sake of remaining on topic I’ll keep those complaints to myself :)

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            I agree, the problem lies in organizations not providing enough paid time off. If you’re given enough paid leave that you don’t have to be miserly with it, people don’t feel the need to bank it forever. When I had 5 paid days off per year (total, including sick time) I never spent them. What if there was an emergency and I absolutely had to take a week off? Use it or lose it would be incredibly unfair in that case, because the only way to do anything meaningful with PTO is to save it up for a very long time.

            My current employer gives 30 days off plus additional sick time… I take time off whenever I feel like it but never come close to using it all. If my current employer had a use it or lose it policy I honestly wouldn’t care.

      2. It ain't morning without my tea*

        “I don’t know how likely the legal issues could be, but I agree it’s harder to change a precedent giving LESS freedom/flexibility/perks than to do the opposite.”

        Oh, yes. We have generous vacation at my place and people were accumulating and banking their days for years a “pre-retirement vacation.” This created a huge problem for the company financially but also, the collective agreement made it clear that earned vacation is meant to be used. So, the company announced this kind of banking would no longer be allowed and the collective agreement enforced.

        You would have thought the world ended by the amount of fuss made…

        1. jcarnall*

          I think it’s quite sensible (if the vacation year runs 1st January to 31st December) to let employees roll at least some days over into the next vacation year. There are so many holidays clustering around the end of the year that allowing people to budget their vacation time for the holiday season and start afresh once it’s over just seems like common-sense flexibility. I’ve worked at more than one place where you could roll 5 days or more over into the next vacation year if you wanted, so long as it was used by 31st March. Most people used it to plan out their midwinter holiday based on their annual leave allowance for the current year, rather than “borrowing” from the next year.

          1. londonedit*

            This is exactly how it is where I work. We get 25 days, plus bank holidays. We have to use 3 of those to cover the office shutdown over Christmas/New Year, and we can roll over up to 5 days into the next year but those have to be taken by 31 March. I’m planning to save 2 days to roll over so I can have the whole week of New Year off work. We don’t have to wait to accrue holiday before we can use it; we get our holiday allowance for the year and we can request holiday as we see fit. Obviously there are certain restrictions, like we couldn’t have my entire department all being on holiday at the same time, and you can’t take more than 10 working days in a row without special permission from your manager, but in general holiday allowance is yours to do what you want with. It is possible to take unpaid leave in exceptional circumstances, but you’d definitely be expected to use your holiday allowance first (I should point out that annual leave has nothing to do with sick leave and you’re not expected to use holiday if you’re ill).

          2. Antilles*

            I agree that it makes sense to let people roll over a few days so people can take a little extra time early in the year if they’d like* or if they’re traveling for New Year’s, not have to scramble to get back at 8:00 am on January 2nd.
            The only key for companies is just making sure that people who roll it over don’t all use it at once. Previously, my company just required you to use it by March 31st with no other restrictions, so every year there’d be a random week in late March where the office basically shut down because everybody suddenly remembered in mid-March “wait, I still have to burn several days of banked PTO”. They changed the policy so that while you still have until March 31st to use it, the time needs to be scheduled by end of January, so it can be coordinated better.
            *Also, as a side note, if anybody out there has never taken a mid-January vacation, you should really try it. Prices are super cheap, places are operating but pretty empty, and it ends up being incredibly relaxing because there’s no traffic/waiting/etc to deal with.

          3. Liz*

            This. Where I am you get two weeks when you start, a third week at 5 years, a 4th week at 10 years, and then you have to wait until 20 to get a fifth week, which is the max. We are allowed to carry over, but only as much as you are entitled to. So if you get 3 weeks, you can carry over 3 weeks. But no more. They also pay out vacation, i believe, when you leave. And, if you somehow come up short on your vacation, they will allow you to take unpaid days, but ONLY after you’ve used up all your PTO first. which I think is fair.

            I only had to do that once, the year my dad got sick and passed away. While I got a week’s bereavement leave, i spent 2 with my parents, just before he passed and after, helping my mom with arrangements etc. as I had used up a lot of my PTO prior to that going to see them, when he was sick.

          4. Meh*

            My previous employer’s policy was that you could carry up to a year’s vacation into each year. So the maximum you could have at any time was 2x what you got in a year at the end of December, but then half would go away in the new year. I feel like it was a good way to do it – it encouraged people to actually take time off while also giving them a longer period to do so.

          5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Yes, I’ve had a Jan-Dec leave year, and unused leave has to be taken by the end of the next January (i.e. you use everything within a 13-month window).

          6. It ain't morning without my tea*

            And that makes perfect sense. Except we close between Xmas and New Year’s and it’s paid to us, i.e. we don’t have to use PTO during the Xmas shutdown.

            And “use it up by March 31” also makes sense for rollovers. It’s flexible and reasonable.

            But we had staff with months of banked vacation. And this was becoming a problem.

          7. ThatGirl*

            Yeah, we can roll over up to 5 to use by March 31, which honestly seems reasonable to me.

      3. JJ Nitmo*

        The other issue is they could be taking the unpaid vacation when they know they don’t have as many expenses vs later in the year when they don’t. Or work may be slower during the point when they would want paid vacation.

    2. ZK*

      I think it depends on how your time off system is set up. At my old job, we requested all our time off on the computer. The options were paid time off or unpaid time off. If I had PTO to use, it never made me use it. So when I needed a day off here and there, I would choose unpaid, then when I needed to move my daughter to college and needed to be out for several days I took PTO. But old job was a corporation that nickle and dimed EVERYthing and is well known for their crappy PTO/sick policy/treatment of employees. When that policy got even worse is when I decided I’d had enough, haha.

      1. tinyhipsterboy*

        Part of it probably depends on the kind of job. When I worked fast food (pretzel shop, coffee shop), we were allowed to request a date off in general, and we could choose to put our accrued time off toward it if we wanted to/had any, but it wasn’t at all mandatory. When I started working retail (cell phone store), it was seen as a little weird to want to take a day off without using the PTO, but it was allowed. On the other hand, it seems like higher up in corporate structures, the system changes.

    3. AKchic*

      I’ve only been allowed to bank my vacation days once. We all knew I had a neck surgery coming up and I was going to be out for a few weeks.
      Well, H1N1 hit my house. I used up all of my sick leave for me, my husband and my four kids. Then I got H1N1 again (yeah, I was that lucky). Then I needed injections in my lower back because after the birth of my youngest, my hips healed crooked and I was walking funky and it caused some issues with the curvature I’d been born with. Whoops. So, I ended up getting approved for some leave without pay, even after someone donated some leave to me so I’d be able to still afford the time off for my neck procedure coming up a few months later. It was a rarity, and we all knew it. I think it was a total of 5 days spread out over 3 weeks.

  4. Avasarala*

    #4 Where I work (not US) “unpaid vacation” is basically the same thing as “not showing up to work.” If you don’t have another reason for it (i.e. it doesn’t fall into a leave of absence category and become unpaid leave), then you’re only allowed to do it so many times before you get reprimanded or fired. If OP’s office would treat this as one of however many “strikes” before the employee is “out” this is important for the employee to know.

    I took “unpaid vacation” once because I was still in my trial period and didn’t have access to paid leave yet. I had to explain the situation to my boss and it was an exceptional circumstance. It certainly wasn’t an unlimited well of time off that you could use as long as you didn’t need the money.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      But unpaid leave still is cleared with an employer so to treat it like it’s simply not showing up doesn’t make sense at all.

      What if you run out of leave and you still need to go see a doctor that can only fit you in Tuesday at 3 or your wait is another 6 weeks? You just don’t get to seek medical treatment because you’re out of paid time off or sick leave?

      1. Avasarala*

        Sorry, I’m translating into English so maybe “not showing up” is not the right term. Literally it would be “absence” and we have another category for “absence without leave/permission/notice.”
        At my current company, repeated absences without notice result in reprimands or even dismissal if it’s more than 14 days (this is my company’s rule not national law). Absences with notice (as in your example) would probably count as an “unpaid absence” and I believe the count has to be quite high before you’re terminated, we have various leave of absence plans that would come into play.

        At my old company where I took “unpaid vacation,” I’m not sure what would have happened if my company had said I couldn’t have the time off. I’m not sure what their legal obligations are but it certainly would have made working there more difficult.

        1. Avasarala*

          And to clarify, “absence without notice” also includes “absence without a good reason.” I’m afraid “I have PTO but I don’t want to use it” would not count as a ” good reason”.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Managers use their judgment, as always. Typically you see employers saying yes to unpaid leave for sickness, big life events, etc., but being less likely to give it for minor stuff. If I’ve allocated staff based on thinking you’ll be here 47 weeks of the year (or whatever), I generally need you here 47 weeks of the year unless there are extenuating life circumstances.

              1. Christine*

                Thank you, well put! As a manager I’ve been a little surprised at some of the replies here thinking that unpaid leave should be relatively unregulated. I understand that the logic is “you’re not paying me for it so it shouldn’t matter”, but from a manager’s point of view, I need someone to do the job! I’m not trying to save money on your pay, I want to pay you to do your job. Part of my responsibility is to design that job to accommodate a specific number of vacation days, sick leave, etc., but I can’t plan around a completely open ended number of days working versus not working. These seems like it should be obvious but I guess it’s not?

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                Oh I know but as we see all too often not all managers are reasonable.

                Many of them, (e.g. not allowing time off for graduation, telling someone they cant do a video game competition on their vacation because the manager doesn’t like it personally, etc.) are actually UNreadonable.

                1. LQ*

                  Yes, but that’s in part because I’d never write into an advice site with a question of, “So my boss is fair and reasonable and wants me to take a day/or week or whatever off and my work doesn’t pile up and while I’m busy and always have work to do it’s never soul crushing, I never have to do stupid trust falls but we do talk regularly about the work of the team and have good metrics to understand where we are at. But what do you think of plain bagels in the lunch room?”

                  And if they did I can’t imagine it would get published because it’s not a question that helps people. This site, like all sites that are about advice “suffer” from being about things that aren’t reasonable because things that are reasonable are unnoteworthy and don’t get sent in. It’s the stuff that stands out that makes it to the site because that’s the only stuff you’d go to the site about. (And also what makes it interesting and worth reading. “I got up and had breakfast and went about my utterly unremarkable day and went home and hung out with my family and then got a good nights rest.” Is not a story worth reading.)

                2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                  Eh, I don’t think these wacky things are that common. We just hear about a lot of terrible situations here.

                  I’ve taken unpaid days here and there for various reasons. Sometimes it was for things I’d planned to do before I got a particular job or after I expected a contract to end, but I have taken a few rather frivolous days when I didn’t have any paid time accrued. But they have always been cleared in advance with my boss. It’s only been an issue once, but there were other problems with that job.

                3. Avasarala*

                  Well sure, but we don’t create rules for employees assuming that we will hire/promote unreasonable people as their managers. I think “a good reason” would allow managers to use discretion appropriately and it’s not the only barrier to taking any leave (we have 1+years of medical leave, parental leave, bereavement leave, the list goes on).

              3. Kyrielle*

                This. Unpaid time off has, in my experience, been limited to situations that would also fall under FMLA, bereavement leave, etc. Well, that and the company that mandated everyone use their “vacation” time to cover the required closure the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s…except if you were below 40 hours of vacation, then you could take it unpaid.

                But I don’t know very many places that have been all “oh, sure, take any time you want unpaid once your vacation runs out”, let alone before your vacation runs out.

                1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

                  I’ve taken unpaid days once my paid days were used up when I’ve worked for companies where you accrue time incrementally. So if after three months I have 2.5 days and I want to take a week for some thing I’d planned before I got the job, I have been able to take the extra day and a half unpaid. Other places would have just paid me for the whole week and taken any unearned time out of my final paycheck.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That makes sense now! Thank you for clarifying.

          I know some companies that do use unpaid absences against employees but that rule reminds me of call centers and other places that don’t treat employees very well in general.

          1. Avasarala*

            Thanks for clarifying too, you raise a good point about why employers would need to allow a certain amount of (approved) unpaid absences! And clarify the difference between “approved” and “unapproved.”

            My original comment was intended to show OP that unpaid absences are usually not “extra vacation,” they’re for emergencies and special situations. And if you aim to be a fair employer attracting the best talent, you should offer enough paid/sick/long-term leave options that an employee (using their leave reasonably) should not need to dip into unpaid absences. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate those policies at OP’s company.

              1. Avasarala*

                I’m trying to stay anonymous so I’ll say a non-English-speaking country not in Europe :)

          2. RandomU...*

            Typically yes, some companies do use unpaid absences against employees, when I’ve seen it happen (and did it myself) it was because an employee had used all of their PTO and then started with unpaid days off. This was a case of excessive absences and did affect their performance.

            It’s often (sadly) what you see when someone has a chronic illness and waits too long to engage FMLA, but I have seen it in just regular employees that don’t have concept of being at work regularly.

            I should add that my company starts at 15 days of PTO for the first 3 years, then bumps up up to 20 for years 4-6, 25 years 7-13, and tops out at 30 after 14 years. We have an 80 hour roll and 3 personal holidays. You can also use up to 40 hours of unaccrued PTO to address the first of the year illnesses and holiday vacation time.

            So while those first 3 years can be a bit tight with time off and discretion can be made by managers for extenuating circumstances. I do think that unpaid time off is a good gauge to see if absences are an issue if used with common sense surrounding circumstances.

      2. pleaset*

        “But unpaid leave still is cleared with an employer so to treat it like it’s simply not showing up doesn’t make sense at all.”


    2. Shy Boo*

      My job is similar, we can select paid or unpaid but, like a glorified call center, there’s restrictions (like needing a doctor’s note for sick days, ugh) so unpaid can be along the lines of “I need this day off but can work another day to make it up in the same week if needed” while paid is like an actual vacation day.

        1. Shy Boo*

          It’s more like a 50/50: there’s a possibility you might work another day that week (offices are open all 7 days of the week) but may end up not working it and have a 3rd day off that week.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        If I understand it right, you’re talking about something like staying home sick Wednesday and coming in on Saturday anyway.
        If that’s what you’re saying, that to me is “flex time” not unpaid vacation. We can do it here with manager’s approval, whether we’re exempt or not.

        1. Shy Boo*

          Oh no, sick days are different. Unpaid days off have to be panned out at least 2 weeks in advance and is more like you may have a 3rd day off the week you ask for it or it gets made up on another day that week (50/50 possibility for it).

    3. Elemeno P.*

      I live in the US and have the option of unpaid leave, but I’m also an hourly employee. It was something I used more often before I was full-time (since I had VERY limited paid leave then), but I’ve still used it on occasion since. An example: my job refills your vacation time every year on your hiring anniversary, and you can’t borrow against the future. I took a 3 week vacation last year, and it happened to fall riiiiight before my vacation time refreshed. Instead of taking the excess days of the vacation unpaid, every day I took off earlier in the year (not a lot, but a day here and there) was unpaid. That way I could absorb slightly smaller paychecks earlier in the year and have a full paycheck after my vacation when the bills were due. My bosses were fine with this; I got paid the same in the end.

      This is likely not the case with salaried employees, but in hospitality/retail I imagine this is more common.

      1. Elemeno P.*

        Edit to amend: technically I got paid slightly less because of the unpaid days, but I was paid for the exact amount of hours I worked and paid leave I had, so it didn’t affect my bosses.

    4. smoke tree*

      I think it just depends on how the company wants to handle it. My employer doesn’t usually care if we take time off unpaid, as long as it doesn’t cause any issues. Generally we’re expected to just keep on top of our projects and manage our own schedules, although we do have to request either paid or unpaid time off. I realize that’s a more flexible approach to time management than a lot of companies take, though.

  5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ve had the same request to regarding taking unpaid time off and saving PTO. Many do this because one or two days off unpaid is budget friendly for them. They want to use the paid time for extended takeoff in the future usually and a week unpaid is usually not budget friendly.

    You can generally make just about any rules you want in vacation benefits and how they’re utilized.

    However as another small business HR person, I urge you to be flexible with them and not make more rules than necesarry.

    If you allow unpaid time off, it shouldn’t matter much how they shuffle their paid vs unpaid days. I try to make it as comfortable and easy as possible for employees to access and use their benefits. Granted I also allow people to use their time off in minute increments as well which a ton of places wouldn’t do. It’s their time, they just need to follow the rules about getting time off approved by their manager.

    It’s not an age thing either. All my crew does it at times and we’re everywhere from 25-65.

    1. Girr*

      We allow unpaid time off at work, as long as the employee hits their minimum hours for the week. Our staff is a mix of part-time with benefits and full-time, both have a minimum number of hours they need to hit to maintain status. As long as the time off doesn’t negativity affect coverage and we hit our hours, we are fine.

      We can also in some cases make up hours during the week instead of taking PTO if the schedule allows it. For example, we are on a 4 day/week summer hours schedule. I come in late one day (because I hate mornings) and come in for a half day on a day off. Luckily our office has the flexibility to allow for this, but I know a lot do not/cannot.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        All we have ever cared about is communication and being reliable. Everyone asks for time off or is authorized to shorten a shift if work flow allows it (some days a department will be slow and we let anyone who doesn’t want to pick up odd jobs around the place leave early), then it’s just up to them if it’s paid or unpaid time off.

        We are flexible as well. Case and point, I pulled a long Monday so that I can have a shorter Friday since I’ve got personal stuff to wrap up Friday morning. My work is caught up and I’m on schedule is all our CEO wants.

        We are never maxed out anytime and require all hands on deck. That’s why we’re staffed the way we are, it assumes one or two people will not be around at any given time. I know other places have tighter staff though and need all hands on deck more frequently than not.

        1. Girr*

          We run about the same as far as communication and reliability goes. During a slow time, we just need to give a heads up a couple days in advance since we have an idea by then on how busy the schedule is. During our busy times however, we need more notice so we can bring in additional coverage. But that’s something we can anticipate well in advance. Sometimes there’s a bit of a rough patch as our business ebbs and flows, and we can’t always predict a “flow,” but we usually have a good idea and can plan our time accordingly.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          I can’t remember what all the state laws here are (I pay people to make sure we are in compliance) but I know we start the lowest entry level at about 25% or so above minimum wage and offer what amounts to unlimited PTO/sick leave/vacation…as long as no one takes unfair advantage.

          So far so good. It’s amazing how well most people respond when they are treated like adults who can be trusted. As long as the work is done I don’t care if someone takes a long weekend, leaves to do personal stuff for a couple hours or remotes from Timbuktu (did that once actually). But like your place we never really have/need an all hands situation.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Yeah and really, if someone does start taking advantage, which sure it may happen you never know, you just put the stop to it in that situation. If someone is constantly taking unpaid time off and it’s hindering our process, you aren’t going to be working here very long. Just like if someone wants to take all 4 weeks of paid time off at once, without extra circumstances, we will tell that it’s simply not possible, two weeks a time is all. This way they don’t get to take off all of a month and leave it so it’s a real hassle when Jimbo gets sick or needs a couple days off for their various reasons, etc.

            I’ve always treated everyone like adults, been as flexible as humanly possible without actively harming or putting the organization in a tough spot. Nobody who’s a good or even average employee has run amuck. But I deal with situations not broad “well maybe they’ll do this so let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.” no if That Happens, then we will go ahead and get rid of that person, end of story.

    2. WS*

      Yeah, we allow unpaid leave as well, as long as someone else is available to fill in. We have a lot of parents with primary-school aged children, so school holidays fill up fast and sometimes (as 2 of 4 school holidays fall in quiet periods) it’s not a big deal for people to use unpaid leave on top of paid leave. Busy times are another matter, but they’re also predictable (the whole of December and January, plus Easter) so any time there needs to be organised well in advance.

      Very occasionally we’ve had a staff member try to take advantage of this but when they wouldn’t fill in for other people then other people wouldn’t fill in for them and it sorted itself out quickly.

    3. Kiki*

      I had an hourly full-time job that encouraged people to leave early on Fridays in the summer (the industry’s slow season). I was happy that we were given the option to take the time as pto, unpaid, or not leave early at all. I liked taking it unpaid because at that point in time, missing two or three hours pay wasn’t a huge deal to me and I had a lot of traveling I wanted to do.
      It felt mutually beneficial for me and the company because they got to save on labor costs and I still got to take real vacation days instead of using them all up on half days. So I understand that in most situations, allowing unpaid leave to be taken before pto is used doesn’t make sense as a policy, if there are ever times you are actively encouraging employees not to work, giving them options makes sense.

    4. hbc*

      I totally agree. We allowed it at my last company as long as it had the same approval process as PTO. Probably a slightly higher bar for approval–we never denied vacation even during busy times, but we might deny “extra” unpaid time off. The only problem we had was when people tried to do it without warning or change their mind, but that was easy enough to address. It was considered a major benefit.

      Then the accountant (who was in charge of HR) decided we weren’t bureaucratic enough or it was too much work or something and put a strike-based policy in place for unpaid absences. That was bad enough, but because he had zero foresight, he didn’t exempt absences when we actively encouraged time off because of low activity. Unsurprisingly, people who had been previously willing to take an unpaid summer Friday off weren’t willing to also take a ding and risk getting fired if they had a few unavoidable days off later in the year.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        We don’t really watch time off that closely in general so when someone asks for Day/Time off the only thing their manager is looking at is if it’ll be an issue for coverage in their department.

        I’ve got one employee who took every Friday off this summer using their PTO. No biggie. Then when work is slow they go home when given the signal and opt for unpaid time off.

        It’s pure laziness on that accountants side as well. I’m in the same position and threw out some nonsensical whip cracking rules the last person had in place. They were absolutely against using time off in minute increments as well. “What if they start wanting to use it for weeks they are like 8 or 9 minutes short?” “So what? They took the time to do the paperwork, the adjustment takes less than 2 minutes. It’s their time and their money.”

        Everyone has been happy with how I’ve done things and it means they’re never afraid to talk to me or ask me questions about they benefits or the policies. It’s just good for morale and the whole place to be accommodating where possible I’ve learned.

    5. banzo_bean*

      Especially when you’re first starting out and have very little vacation time to accrue in general, I kind of get taking a few days off unpaid and banking the rest for a longer vacation. When I was first starting out I got something like 7 days total of sick and vacation, and I really wanted to put that time towards my wedding (when I knew I would enjoy receiving a FULL paycheck for time off). It would have sucked to have to use up paid time off for doctors appointments and such throughout the year.

      Of course, it’s up to the company, but if you do allow unpaid leave, why not be flexible?

  6. government worker*

    #2: I disagree with Alison’s advice to play dumb about the circumstances. Eliminate the premise that you may have “misunderstood” (why open that door?) and simply request payment for the work that you did.

    1. Avasarala*

      Like Alison said, it can allow the company to save face. If they are interested in repairing the relationship they can say “of course, so sorry for the confusion, we will pay you/take it down.” Not that I think the company will do that. But if OP does go in from the start with a request for payment, it will be pretty awkward to work there if OP does take the offer.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I think OP may not want (per the letter) to actually take an offer after this. I cant blame her. It’s shady as hell and personally I wouldn’t trust them with anything going forward.

      2. hbc*

        Yeah, I can think of a couple of circumstances where this is less sleazy than it appears. For example, maybe the person who posted it got it out of a shared folder and didn’t realize who generated it. Or they know that they’re going to make an offer to OP and got a little ahead of themselves.

        Neither is good, but no one responds well to having made a minor dumb mistake but instead being accused of intentional wrongdoing.

        1. government worker*

          That doesn’t change anything I said. In the situation you described, or for something more nefarious, the LW doesn’t need to ask if she misunderstood. She didn’t misunderstand anything and she’s owed an explanation of how her work wound up being used for the company without payment or attribution.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        To paraphrase Aral Vorkosigan, a retreating enemy should be offered all the face-saving they can carry. Just make sure they don’t carry off anything else.

  7. Currently Bill*

    If #2’s content it’s being used on line could they issue a DMCA take down request? Since They didn’t get paid, it’s not really a work for hire.

    That means that the OP still owns the copyright and the potential employer is infringing on that. Enforcing the copyright would certainly burn that bridge, but the flames may be spectacular.

    1. Np*

      This is exactly what I was going to suggest. I’m an IP lawyer (obligatory disclaimer: this is not legal advice as I am not licensed to practise in the US or any jurisdiction other than the one of the European country I currently practise in). This is shady and it stinks.

      1. Mockingbird*

        I’ll chime in since I’m an IP lawyer in the US. If you’re not an employee, whatever you write or create belongs to you unless you sign a written agreement (oral agreements are unenforceable for this!) that it belongs to the company as work for hire, or that you are transferring ownership to the company. What the OP created was a “derivative work,” and the modifications are legally owned by OP.

        1. Mockingbird*

          Also, whether or not you got paid for the work you created is legally irrelevant to the ownership of the work. It’s still your IP even if you got paid to create it, if you’re not an employee and you haven’t signed away ownership in writing. (This has tripped up many companies over the years, who’ve used independent contractors to create software, text, ads, or whatever. They may have a license to use the work, but they don’t own it without that piece of paper giving them ownership.)

          1. Michelle*

            Our employer requires all employees to sign a “creative rights agreement” that states all work they create for the company belongs to the company and gives the company the copyright to it. (Very simplified explanation, it has all the proper legal language)

            1. Np*

              Yes, this is often done. Or there is relevant language in the employment contract (if one exists).

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              I’m a writer, and this is the standard contract I sign.

              Not at the job interview phase, though, where the work should all be to modify things several years old, not up and coming. And the one time an intermediary company declared bankruptcy without paying us, the writers and editors were able to go to the contracting company and say “Ahem. I was not paid, so I have not in fact given up my copyright to this work.”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, and that’s what I’d do next if she doesn’t get paid for the work. (That said, if it’s something where taking it down won’t bother them — like if it’s a promo for an event that’s now over — I’d rather see her get paid.)

    3. CM*

      Hello fellow IP lawyers!

      I was thinking along the same lines — OP owns the work. So rather than saying, “Did I misunderstand? Because normally I’d charge $X for this work,” OP could say, “I wasn’t aware you would be using my work without payment or a contract. While I own my work and did not previously grant permission for you to use it, I’d be happy to transfer ownership to you for my normal freelancing fee of $X. Please send a check to [address] by [date].”

      (In practice, though, since the event is presumably over and the company doesn’t need OP’s work anymore, OP doesn’t have much of a remedy aside from small claims court.)

  8. pleaset*

    DMCA is fine, but it seems reasonable to first contact the offender directly and just tell them to take it off. I’ve done this.

    1. Devil Fish*

      Eff that noise. You contact them first and tell them to pay you.

      If they refuse to pay you, then you go DMCA out of pure spite.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Agreed. They used it, even if it was for something like an event that’s already happened. They used it. They need to pay her, period.

  9. Hot Chocolate*

    #3 – I interviewed with a guy who was casually ‘adjusting’ himself throughout the entire 1.5 hour interview. He would have been my supervisor. He may not have realised it, or have thought it was a big deal, but it made me really uncomfortable and I wouldn’t want to work there if he was going to be touching himself around me all day. I couldn’t say PASS fast enough.

    1. Avasarala*

      My most charitable assumption is these are people who don’t have that “gotta button up” vs. “let my hair down” setting, they don’t realize others can see them. My less charitable assumption is that they don’t care.

      1. lasslisa*

        Speaking as a person who repeatedly has to be reminded that car windows are not one way glass, other people can see what’s on my phone screen, people can tell if I’m doing email in a meeting, etc… Some people really are just that oblivious. (Not all! Some people are jerks or testing boundaries. But some of us just have No Idea.)

        1. DiscoCat*

          Ha, I’m exactly the opposite- I think people can see through my windows even if it’s daytime and I don’t have a light on inside. Or that they can see what’s on my screen even if they’re just standing farther away but slighltly in line of sight. Light doesn’t just bend around a corner to transport the visial data to their eyes- I know, I’m a bit paranoid like that…

      2. Don'tMindMe*

        Sometimes it’s plain painful to hold it and you’re really doing your best to be discreet. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        1. TardyTardis*

          Second that one! If you are in a situation where you can’t visit the restroom and it’s going to come out–well, I try to pretend that it’s not me using the Silent But Deadly approach. There should never be a four hour meeting with no bathroom breaks, but try to tell some people that. Some of us have Fun Digestive Issues.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Years ago I worked for a defense contractor, and one of my hiring managers – an engaging, brilliant VP of Engineering – was the most audibly flatulent human I ever met. He let loose whenever, wherever in front of whomever. I never knew for sure if he did it on purpose, or had a medical condition, or was blissfully unaware – but I tend to think he could stop if he chose to.

      Regardless, he was a hoot to work with and always took my recommendations to heart. After a while, I barely noticed the muscial background.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          That’s awesome, and when I talk about him in the future I am definitely using this!

      1. Close Bracket*

        “I tend to think he could stop if he chose to.”

        How exactly does one not fart? That like saying he could stop sneezing if he chose to.

        1. Anon for this one*

          Yeah, I don’t get that either. If “stop having gas” was an option, I’d take it for my own comfort. If I hold it in, the pressure builds up and it’s really uncomfortable. It happens too many times a day for me to go to the bathroom every time I need to fart, I’d never get anything done.

          It stinks, but them’s the breaks. I have an ionizing fan and an essential oil diffuser to mask it as much as possible.

        2. Avasarala*

          With enough social shaming, some people can force their bodies to do it silently. How often do you notice farting by women vs. men?

        3. TardyTardis*

          I can hold it back to some extent, but there are times when I can’t get to the restroom in time that gas is gonna happen.

  10. NEWBIEMD19*

    Letter writer #3: Oh geez. This situation sounds like something that could be used to great comic effect in a Judd Apatow movie but is pretty disgusting in real life and I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. Exactly how big is this group of shameless farters in the office? Do they even acknowledge it afterward? Like an apology? I’d hate to think it would be something they’d actually laugh at. I wish I had some advice for you but I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am that you’re basically working in a frat house. What jerks.

    1. Pickled eggs*

      It’s a flatulence-friendly office.

      Farts are the new dogs.

      Get with the times, man

      1. Elle*

        Yes, it’s seriously disgusting. It’s one thing if it’s a medical condition … but since the main offender is actually leaning and shifting his weight to distribute his nasty fart gas, I can’t believe that’s true. He’s deliberately calling attention to his gross behavior.

        1. valentine*

          It’s one thing if it’s a medical condition
          If it reeks, the reason doesn’t matter.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It matters in the sense that there may be nothing he can do it about. It doesn’t make it any less pleasant, but it makes it more understandable. It takes it from “ugh, Bob is disgusting and rude” to “this sucks for everyone, but he’s not doing it on purpose.”

            1. Christmas*

              True. On the other side: I’ve had coworkers complain about this sniffle-snort sound I make with my nose, but it’s a legit medical issue and I don’t notice myself doing it. Some staff even told supervisors that they felt I was “attention-seeking” and doing it purposefully!! I was so embarrassed. I ended up wearing nose strips at work, which slightly helped with breathing, but mostly to convey to others that I was aware of my sounds and working to cut down for everyone who was bothered. More than anything, I needed some empathy.

              Regarding the gas issue: In the past, I attended a church where a regular member constantly leaned to fart. I’d say average of every 3 minutes. It was shocking when I first began attending, so I waited and discreetly asked a good friend and longtime member about it. She just cautioned “It’s a medical issue, he really can’t help it, and we’ve all learned to deal with it. It becomes less bothersome with time.” I didn’t press her for details because it’s not my business, but it helped me be empathetic and practice accepting it rather than taking offense or attributing negative intentions. Again, you can’t go wrong starting with empathy.

            2. banzo_bean*

              I guess the part I don’t understand is, why does the man shifting in his seat mean it can’t be the result of a medical issue?

              1. Elle*

                Based on LW’s description, I was picturing a Peter Griffin type, grabbing an ass cheek in one hand and leaning over to the side to let one rip. I assumed (maybe wrongly) that someone with a medical condition wouldn’t want to call attention by acting like that, and doing the whole “lean to let the gas out” thing is definitely not discreet.

        2. PhyllisB*

          I used to work for a man who did this. Ugh. If he hadn’t been such a great boss in other ways, I wouldn’t have stayed as long as I did.

        3. Observer*

          Actually, the leaning over makes me think it’s more likely to be a medical condition, since it sounds like a higher than usual level of pressure.

          But, still gross.

      1. Life is Good*

        Office farter probably eats beans around the fire for dinner! Seriously, OP, I am so sorry you have to live with this. I would be gagging all day even if it didn’t stink.

        1. TardyTardis*

          This is why I don’t eat anything with soy in it–soy is a *bean* and Beano gets expensive if used on a regular basis.

    2. Not me... the other guy*

      I’m trying to remember the details of the story… but my spouse (works as a firefighter) was telling me about a guy who farted more than the average bear that he worked with. Since they’re all stuck in the firehouse together, the rest of the guys got a little tired of it. I think they started offering him beano or some of those other types of degassers. Turns out it made his problem worse later… so he’d be fine at the firehouse, but the next day was twice as bad… So bad in fact his wife came to the station and forbade any of them from giving him whatever he had been taking. *

      If I remember correctly the cause of the effervescent was down to diet vs. anything medical. He ate ungodly amounts of gas causing foods at the station. So it wasn’t a non treatable medical condition.

      *Fire fighters have a looser boundary when it comes to family involvement in the workplace. There’s still healthy/normal boundaries when it comes to performance, bosses, etc. that any workplace has. But the crew life tends to blur with family life just due to the close conditions. So wife wasn’t out of bounds in this.

    3. aurora borealis*

      My mother had a very bad delivery with my sibling, and due to that, she cannot stop when she has gas and it has only gotten worse with age. In her case, the shifting in the seat eases pain that is caused by her condition. It in no way means that she is doing it intentionally. She is totally mortified when this happens, and in her embarrassment, tries to act like nothing happened- she has said that if she acts like nothing happened, most people will also act that way. I think to automatically assume that LW is working in a frat house environment is very judgmental. Some people have medical issues that you would have no clue about, nor do you need to know about them. Generally the comments on here are extremely forgiving of people. For some reason this post has made children of the majority of commentators. Grow up, sometimes it just can’t be helped.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        As someone who has IBS and can oftentimes suffer from horrible bloating and gas, I tell you I would NEVER EVER sit at my desk at work and just let them rip.
        At home that’s fine, but at work it’s extremely rude gross.

        1. TardyTardis*

          But when the meeting runs for four hours with no bathroom break (I and many others were held hostage there), what do you do?

  11. Drago Cucina*

    I’ve used unpaid leave to attend a professional conference affiliated with the church to which I belong. I work for a secular tea pot organization. I was attending a religious tea pot craft conference. All topics were directly related to my job: Handle design, spout opening, etc. Still, I didn’t feel comfortable asking to use our continuing education budget. My director didn’t feel comfortable having me use PTO. The compromise was unpaid leave.

    After I became director I had a policy approved that addresses that sometimes unique situations can call for unpaid leave.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      He’d rather not pay you than have you use PTO for a day? That’s so odd. I’ve never seen PTO policed like that. If you just went on a church retreat for a vacation would it be an issue to use PTO?

      1. Tinker*

        It sounds to me more like a collision between conflict of interest and some sort of timekeeping thing, where the main problem is the conference potentially being valid work for two organizations that need to be strictly separated…?

        1. Tinker*

          At the least, the “it’d otherwise be permitted for me to use company resources to study things that aren’t yet immediately relevant to the company, but if it is immediately relevant to my side project I’m arguably doing side project work on company resources and that goes straight to the bad place” half of the problem is one I’m quite familiar with.

            1. OhNo*

              Could still be in conflict, depending on company policies. I’ve worked places where you are expressly forbidden to use PTO time to work other (paid) jobs. I could see this situation as a cause for concern with a policy like that.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Right? Am I missing something? I mean professional conference and I want to use my PTO, or Surfing competition I want to use my PTO…it’s my PTO to use as I like…right? I mean it’s not sick time and not being paid salary to go…

    2. Becky*

      I find it exceptionally odd that your director was uncomfortable with you using PTO for that.

      1. Sleve McDichael*

        It seems to me as though the director was uncomfortable with Drago using PTO because they would end up with less of it (obviously) but they are still doing something that could be classed as ‘work related’, so the director decided to do her a favour by letting her keep all her PTO, which can be used more easily. That way if, for example, Drago was planning to take ten days off at Christmas they would still have ten days banked, rather than having to ask for nine days PTO and a day of unpaid leave, which is weird and might get sticky. So Drago still gets the same guaranteed number of totally non-work related days off in the year by doing this. I can see somebody thinking that way, especially if they value time off for their employees. The director might have considered the conference to be ‘not a holiday so why should you have to use PTO’. Quite generous, really.

        1. doreen*

          No , generous would have been to consider the conference Drago’s work assignment for those days , or to have a policy of granting “professional development days” for this type of situation. Allowing Drago to take the time unpaid to save PTO for a vacation might have been generous- but deciding not allowing the use of PTO certainly is not.

        2. Sam.*

          This was my assumption of their reasoning – as in, I don’t want to penalize you and reduce your available PTO since you are doing something work-adjacent that might benefit you professionally. To my mind, a more logical compromise would’ve been getting paid a normal workday but covering related expenses (registration, lodging, travel) independently instead of asking for professional development funds from the company, but it seems that they weren’t dissatisfied with this resolution.

          1. MagicUnicorn*

            If I were the employee I would feel penalized because the boss refused to allow PTO for that time and instead insisted I take it off unpaid. Seems like a poorly thought out way to handle it.

            Your compromise makes much more sense.

          2. OhNo*

            This is exactly the compromise I’ve used with my job before, when a full day conference I was going to was required for one part-time job, and somewhat relevant to my 2nd part-time job but not something they would have sent me to under normal circumstances.

            Since it was work-adjacent and I took detailed notes, Job 2 paid me for what my normal work hours would have been that day. Job 1 covered all the expenses, paid me for what my normal work hours would have been that day, and very generously arranged for some comp time since their policy forbade paying me for the full day of the conference (as I was getting paid by my other job, too).

        3. PhyllisB*

          Actually, I think it was the religious component that made the boss reluctant to grant PTO. Perhaps he felt like since it was work-related but religious too that it seemed he was endorsing a certain religion. Not saying I agree with this, just speculation.

          1. Observer*

            You are probably right – which makes it worse. Because the manager just penalized someone for their religious observance.

        4. Observer*

          Really? The boss was dong them a favor by MAKING THEM TAKE THE DAY UNPAID? Yeah, I “shouting”, because who thinks that FORCING someone to “save” their PTO by withholding a day’s pay is a favor?

    3. Me*

      Noooooooooo. If he was uncomfortable sending you on the company dime because it was religious that’s fine. Not allowing you to use your own PTO is not fine, I’m assuming because it was work related. That’s not a compromise. That’s really bad management.

      If it’s a valid work purpose that the employer would benefit from, then the employer should have paid regardless of it being affiliated with a church. Or you should have been allowed to attend on your own time.

      Instead what happened was your employer presumably benefited from your attendance and you didn’t get compensated for it.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        I agree that I should have been paid my regular wages, but with that particular gas lighting boss I was glad to get unpaid time off. Once she didn’t want to grant my PTO request because I was accompanying my husband to one of his work conferences. She wanted to know all the details of the conference before she approved it.

        She also used to call people when they were out sick, to make sure they were really sick.

        After I became director I spent a lot of time saying, ‘You don’t have to justify your PTO.’ Just put in the request and if we can, we will.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Thank you for the extra info! Now it’s for sure that this boss was out-to-frigging-lunch and makes all that much more sense that this was a “compromise” for them.

          I’m also glad you made a policy for unpaid time off for crazypants circumstances that do come up and that you came in to fix the mess she made. Thank goodness you were the person who came in behind her and could at least try to fix it for the people who worked there.

    4. Observer*

      You were probably correct in not asking for continuing ed funds. But, if you had time coming to you, your boss was completely wrong in pushing back on taking paid leave. You could have been going to a religious retreat that had nothing to do with your work, and he still should have allowed you to take the time paid. Employers don’t get to decide whether someone is using their paid time off – which is part of their compensation package! – in ways that they like.

    5. Not me... the other guy*

      What reason did your manager give for not feeling comfortable using your PTO? I can understand (sort of) the not using continuing ed budget, but for the life of me, I can’t imagine any reason not feeling comfortable with PTO usage to attend.

      I mean, my employees will sometimes conversationally tell me what they are using a PTO day for. I’ll sometimes say something like “Hope you have something fun planned!” or “Hopefully you’ve got some relaxation time planned for your day off” Again, conversationally and with absolutely no expectation of them telling me what they are doing with their time. I really don’t care what my employees do with their time off just like I don’t care what they do in their evenings or weekends. It’s not my business!

      1. QueenintheNorf*

        The manager’s statement would make sense if it was like “you are doing a work thing so you shouldn’t even have to take PTO. We’ll just pay you for the day.”
        But if the optics of paying someone their salary while their away from work at a religious related conference is too much then, sure, of course, make them take PTO.
        Unpaid is just ridiculous.

    6. Faith*

      If my boss told me that he “did not feel comfortable having me use PTO” for a particular purpose, I would be tempted to ask if they wanted to see my bank statement to make sure they were comfortable with me using my paycheck for whatever it is I was spending money on. PTO is part of your compensation package. Once you’ve accrued it, it’s yours to use however you want. It is not part of the company resources that they can “feel comfortable” allocating for a particular purpose. The only discretion my boss has over my PTO is whether he is willing to grant me the time off, or if there are legitimate work-related reasons that require my presence at the office.

  12. Someone commenting*

    #2 It’s worth noting that by asking for payment, you basically eliminate yourself from candidacy for the job most likely.

    If you have to start off on that foot, I’d be prepared to cut my losses with that employer in any case.

        1. Environmental Compliance*


          Plus, there’s potential for this being Not Red Flag Shady. Perhaps (as someone up above stated) the document got saved on the shared drive, someone saw it, and it got rolled out above the head of whoever interviewed. Perhaps they were excited about the work and are planning on hiring, but got ahead of themselves. Perhaps it’s a small company and no one thought about the ramifications of using the work that was produced. Or perhaps they’re legitimately asshats.

          So if OP can walk away, more power to them – I personally would ask the company what the heck’s going on using Alison’s script. But if OP can’t walk away (though it sounds like they can), it is good to keep in the back of your mind that calling out this employer on using unpaid work like this is likely going to sour the start of the employment relationship.

          1. Observer*

            If it really was an honest, non-shady mistake, then Alison’s script would work, since it allows for that possibility. If this is going to burn a bridge then it’s a red flag all it’s own. Either they are shady as all get out or they totally cannot deal with anyone who brings up an error that needs to be fixed.

  13. Rexish*

    #1 is the being serious? or is is sarcastic “poor you”. Cause both are totally annoying and innapropriate, but then require a different talking to.

    1. Mookie*

      I would also like to hear from the LW what she thinks. I’m trying to read her colleague’s words out loud and I can’t really strike a tone that sounds better than patronizing. (Alison is very good at teaching us how to use our tone; I’d love to hear more about how to discern and react to certain tones.)

      1. WellRed*

        I’m hearing it pretty clearly as awwwwwwwwww, poor baby. In that tone of voice like you might use with a skinned knee on a child. But then, i have known people who do this.

    2. BRR*

      I couldn’t tell either. I sort of think Alison’s answer works either way because it’s more likely to go over better if the coworker is purposely being patronizing.

      1. Rexish*

        The answer does work, but I feel like then there should be a difference in delivery. I do also feel like Alison’s suggestion is a bit too genuine for a patronizing person. But it could be about how I read it :)

    3. Kiki*

      I was also wondering if LW #1 thought it was her coworker’s genuine attempt to show sympathy or if maybe coworker thinks LW complains about small things too much or something? Inappropriate either way, but I would be much more upset to find out it’s the latter. I think Alison’s advice is good for both hypotheticals, so knowing doesn’t change much.

    4. C in the Hood*

      Personally, I believe #1…I would have sworn this was my coworker! She kind of goes into babytalk mode with the “aw, poor boo-ba-loo”. Argh!

    5. Jen F*

      I think some people feel this is actually bonding? I have a coworker who constantly expresses over-the-top pity regarding a chronic health condition I have. I asked her point blank to knock it off because her pity was making me uncomfortable (since there isn’t anything that can be done to cure it – I don’t need a constant judgement on how it’s hard for me). Her response was to tell me that she could not promise to keep it to herself, and that she didn’t think she needed to even try. She would not accept that I didn’t want her pity. Her pitying me was not up for negotiation. Super uncomfortable.

      1. Observer*

        Uncomfortable and disrespectful.

        And, no, I’m pretty sure that this is not about you – not even pity. It’s about her personal discomfort.

  14. NYWeasel*

    For OP #2, it sounds as though the work was copywriting, so it’s pretty clear that the work was definitely their copy. For anyone else, please be absolutely sure you are correct. We used to have a skill test that used material that was still being broadcast. We had at least 2-3 candidates furious that they had seen their “test” on TV. Of course we had all the documentation that the material had first aired 2 years before they took the test, and more embarrassingly, few of the candidates who complained ever submitted work up to the level of the final shot. (Those that had the skills needed to match the final output generally were also able to perceive that the broadcast shot wasn’t their work.)

    1. ArtK*

      Several IP lawyers have chimed in above saying that, absent a written contract, the work belongs to the OP.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I think what Weasel means is that OP should be very sure that the material used is actually what they wrote and not just something that looks similar.

        1. Autumnheart*

          If it’s so similar that it could be mistaken for OP’s work, it’s too similar. That metric is used in academia and journalism, after all. One can’t just copy someone’s stuff, change a few adjectives around and claim that it’s “theirs”.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right, but NYWeasel is saying the employer’s materials existed before the candidate created theirs. It wasn’t based on the candidate’s in any way because it pre-dated it.

            1. NYWeasel*

              Alison is correct. I’m not discussing the OP’s situation specifically bc copywriting is very easy to confirm that it’s your work. Just that it’s not always that your work was “stolen” after you’ve taken a skills test.

          2. Perpal*

            I don’t think that’s accurate; I’m not sure exactly what was done, but if it was something where the company provides the images and OP edits/arranges them, the source material does not become the OPs work, and if the company can show they already had their original running /before OP every did the work/ then there is no infringement. I don’t know what work OP did and if that scenario is possible, but it sounds like that is what happened with NYWeasel

  15. Zombeyonce*

    #3: I seem to be the only one who notices despite multiple people around us opting against the use of headphones.

    They all notice, they’re just too polite or uncomfortable to acknowledge someone is farting. Or they’re so used to it that it no longer registers.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, there’s not much point after awhile. This is like having a constant office cougher; thinking about it just makes it worse.

    2. RachelM*

      Agreed. According to Miss Manners, if someone farts, it’s considered so mortifying that everyone should pretend it never happened.

      1. Jimming*

        Yes! I have medical issues with gas that flare up time to time. The nicest thing a coworker ever did for me was ignore my flatulence. It prevented me from saying “excuse me” every time and derailing the conversation. Bless her.

        Trust me – it’s embarrassing and if I could control it I wouldn’t do it.

        1. Anonymous because TMI*

          Believe me, it’s no joking matter to be someone with painful flatulence.
          I once went through the full celiac workup to be told “nope that’s not it you’re back to square one figuring out why your insides try to turn themselves inside-out so often” …

          1. AlsoAFrequentFarter*

            It’s really not possible for me to hold in a fart. Thankfully most are silent, but sometimes they aren’t. I also take pills to control odor so MOST of the time no one notices, though once in awhile even the pills aren’t enough. But I’d be so embarrassed if I had to say “excuse me” every time I audibly farted. I’m not sure I could face holding down a job. I don’t have a medical condition: I just have farts, like everyone else. It’s not something to be ashamed about. Just like I wear deodorant on the outside, I have deodorant for the inside, and it’s common courtesy to use both. But I can’t stop farting any more than I can stop sweating. Though, unlike this person’s boss, I do make an effort not to look like I’m farting.

            PS – the pills are called Devrom and you can Google them for details.

  16. Batgirl*

    The thing that is the most baffling about someone as out of step as LW1’s co-worker is that she doesn’t seem able to read the responses she must get. It’s weird enough that someone has it in their head that cooing over someone like they have a boo-boo is acceptable, but this must have gotten her a lot of speechless, freeze frame responses. I think it’s okay to put a bit of extra spin on the response, “Why are you saying my name like that?”, “Why are you making a pain noise?” or “That’s not necessary, I’ve experienced rain before”, for her own good.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Baffling, for sure, but I’ve seen it. I know someone who is performatively sympathetic; she claims to be just a sensitive type, but I think she’s just a narcissist. The type who cries over the death of someone she’s never met and requires the grieving person to comfort her.

      I might be projecting, but this is what I see when I picture OP #1’s co-worker– she wants everyone to know how sympathetic she is. She’s just overdoing it.

      1. dealing with dragons*

        That was my thought too – my step dad is like that and this is a thing he would do. Some celeb would die and he’d wail and gnash his teeth. It’s fine for someone whom you looked up to, but not for the unpteenth time after some F-lister has died.

        A succinct “are you done?” Generally gets the point across for these people. At least that it’s not ok to do around you, lol.

      2. Batgirl*

        I’ve experienced the competitive crier too! At my grandmother’s funeral my SiL’s creepy father started saying how nicely done it all was and how he wouldn’t be able to afford something like this for his mother when her time came and the next thing he’s braying really loudly and waving a handkerchief like a flag and crying all over people he’d never even met before. Awwwkwaaard.
        It’s like he didnt realise that we knew he drank his wages, neglected his mother, and that you know…we we were the ones grieving.
        You’ve given me a good idea for the OP though: “Why are YOU sad? Especially when I’m actually fine?” People going after enforced bonding ….well they can try but you don’t have to give it.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      “That’s not necessary, I’ve experienced rain before”

      I very much enjoy this phrase, and I’m stealing it to keep in my back pocket for situations like this.

      1. YuliaC*

        I love this one too. It can be said with a confused air, a deadpan serious air, or in a laughing way, depending on the relationship with the perpetrator. I would use it with a laugh if I thought that the empathy over-performer was just awkwardly trying to be human.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Ha! All I can think is that she’s played too much Dwarf Fortress, where the little ASCII characters frequently develop personality changes after being caught in the rain….

  17. Perpal*

    #4: odd request – tell them to save the money from the vacation days they wanted unpaid if they are worried about a rainy day. If there’s any interest, they’ll actually come out ahead of where they would have been taking a earnings break

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah I can’t understand why anyone would want to save their PTO. Unless they’re about to get a raise, it’s always better to have money sooner rather than later.

      1. boo bot*

        The letter writer said they’re new to having paid vacation, so I think it’s a misunderstanding about how that works – they’re not thinking, “one week paid vacation” means, “I’m expected to take no more than one week of time off,” they’re thinking, “one week of my total time off will be paid.” They’re thinking of the one week paid (or whatever it is) as partially offsetting the cost of taking time off, not as a limit on how much time off they can take.

        In jobs where there’s no paid vacation at all, it usually works out to (a) how much work you can afford to miss, and (b) how much time off you can negotiate with management and your coworkers, so the idea of a set limit outside of that might be new to them.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It’s really not a new concept and not related to their age or previous accessibility to PTO.

          My mom’s company is set up so it’s a few hoops to even use PTO at all. So on days she needs off if the paperwork trail fails, it’s unpaid in the end. And there’s no trigger for HR or anyone else to care so deeply about it’s use.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Don’t ever give employees financial advice. That’s so icky and none of your business. People aren’t all able to just “save” themselves. Millions use tax refunds as a mini piggy bank to get a lump sum of cash injection mid year and many use their PTO the same.

      As a financial person I say wherever works for them is fine. If they ask for financial counseling they should be doing so with a proper professional and not just some HR person who’s passing out life advice and knows nothing about your bills or family financial structure.

      1. Perpal*

        Um, ok. Didn’t think the comment through, clearly. Just don’t understand the request.

  18. Lynca*

    OP 3- You can’t really eliminate that there isn’t a medical condition just based on the observation that they shift their weight when passing gas. There are a lot of gastrointestinal issues where the issue isn’t that they can’t control the passing of gas but there is an abundance of gas. It can also be very painful not to relieve it.

    Not saying what your boss is doing is okay, but it may help to know that the likelihood that they’re just rude or have a medical condition is more likely than some kind of weird power play.

    1. Fieldpoppy*

      It’s very possible that he has IBS or something and has lost track of the fact that he is doing it continually and in company. I have IBS and there are days when farting often and loudly is the only relief from serious pain. hOWEVER I don’t do it in front of anyone but my nearest and dearest!

      1. valentine*

        the likelihood that they’re just rude or have a medical condition is more likely than some kind of weird power play.
        You can’t know this.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It seems like a fairly obvious statement to me. Most people do not fart as a power play. Is it possible? Sure. But the other possibilities are far more likely.

          This is very commonly a medical condition.

          1. Aline*

            Wasn’t there a LW that worked in construction or fabricating facility that ended up with a new office mate that he intentionally made is farts horrible to run her out of the industry? I think she sent in an update when she found out the whole story?

        2. Purt’s Peas*

          That’s why they said it’s most likely instead of “it is”—and I think they’re right! I think people are very rarely doing weird stuff like this as actively malicious power plays. If the farting is the sound of hoof beats, a Machiavellian stratagem is the zebra.

    2. Batgirl*

      Shifting their weight does signal pretty clearly that they have some control and aren’t being taken by surprise. So nothing stopping them stepping out for a bit. OP also seems very perceptive so I think she’d notice severe pain or anything stopping him from doing that.

      It is a good policy to assume best intentions. In this case, I think the best assumption we can make without stretching credulity is that he doesn’t know it’s rude. It’s odd that someone could get to adulthood without knowing that but possible. A lot of households wouldn’t teach that to their child (source: teaching). Most people’s reaction to a rogue fart is to feign deafness so he may have never gotten the memo. Or you know, he’s a jerk. It’s not OP’s circus thankfully.

      1. fposte*

        It means he’s no longer interested in plausible deniability, anyway. A lot of people don’t step out, but they exercise sound control and the polite fiction. It sounds like he’s gone full summer camp.

      2. Reject186*

        Sorry, I need to disagree. I have absolutely no control over my flatulence – I have tried! Butt clenching, kegels, I don’t even know how anyone can do it! It seems like a magic trick to me. I know it’s coming (most of the time), and I know how to silence it (as best as possible), but I have no idea how to hold it in. Sorry that it’s gross, but from personal experience, he might not be able to/know how to hold in a fart. Trust me, I’m just as mortified.

        1. Batgirl*

          I don’t actually think theres anything unusual about not being able to hold it! What you say about silencing an unexpected fart sounds like Human Body Protocol 101. My point was that he is clearly anticipating one. Why would someone who can’t control or anticipate, visibly shift weight in a ‘ready to realise’ that way?

          1. my father's daughter*

            Knowing that it’s coming and being able to control it enough to shift weight isn’t necessarily having anywhere near enough control over it to be able to get up and walk out without it coming as you move. The weight shifts, the gas emerges, or so I’ve been given to understand.

          2. SBD*

            Visibly shifting weight means a silent fart (and relieving pain). Standing means a noisy fart while trying to stand. YMMV.

        2. twig*

          Thank you!!! I always wonder about this when this topic comes up.

          It seems like a magic trick to me too. I’ve known people who claim to never fart in front of their significant other — how do they have that kind of control? It’s not like flatulence is something we do for fun.

        3. Ginger Baker*

          100% me. I could stand up? But the fart would just come out as I am standing, forget walking! More movement = even less control, and I don’t have that much to begin with. People’s bodies are very different I guess…I on the other hand constantly wonder how it can take people a long time for certain bathroom things when my body is very much YES NOW or NO NOT AT ALL, there is no waiting process. :shrugs:

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Not being taken by surprise is very different than having control over it. Just because they can feel it’s happening doesn’t mean they can stop it from happening.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Eh, if my back is achy I shift position…and there is sometimes an unexpected turbo-boost. In which case I shift again to block the rest of it ASAP.
        The really embarrassing time is if you’re on an emergency bathroom break and someone stops you in the hallway…

      5. IBSintheOffice*

        I can’t believe this is the thread that’s pushed me to finally comment, but it is.

        I have bad IBS. Like, BAD IBS. Technically, I can hold it in when I need to fart, but the consequence is often unbelievable pain for me. Bad gas pains are the worst pains I have ever felt – like my insides are being torn apart, like I’m having the final stages of appendicitis, or like being stabbed repeatedly in the gut until I’m able to get the gas moving along. When they occasionally happen in public, there is no “stepping out for a bit,” no standing or moving to a better spot, no ability to ignore the pain so I can hold it in. I know this is verging on off-topic, but I see bathroom-related health issues pop up semi-frequently.

        Who knows what this guy’s deal is specifically, but many chronic office farters are doing our best. Just because we can exercise some conscious control doesn’t mean there’s not still an underlying health issue.

        1. IBSintheOffice*

          Ack, it’s late and I neglected to say the main point, which agnes also covered below. Be kind in however you approach it – there’s really no way to know what the exact cause is here.

  19. FiveWheels*

    I don’t know if this is a cultural thing (I’m British) but LW1’s coworker doesn’t sound to me like she’s overperforming sympathy… She sounds like she’s being extremely sarcastic, far beyond the point of rudeness!

    1. Weegie*

      That was immediately where I went to also? Without hearing the tone it’s hard to tell, but it totally came over as sarcasm to me. (We Brits are a nasty, suspicious bunch!)

      1. FiveWheels*

        In fact the only appropriate British response to someone getting soaked is a merry “bit damp out?”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I can see how those words could be read that way, absolutely, but I think we can trust the OP’s sense of the tone and context. (Plus, one of her examples was having a head cold, and sarcastic pity there would be incredibly rude!)

    3. Mbarr*

      Normally I’d agree that it sounds sarcastic, but I’ve witnessed somewhat similar behaviour in one of my mother’s coworkers before. In her case, the coworker would annoy/enrage my mother to the point where my mom would go red in the face with anger – all while trying to keep her cool, then the coworker would play innocent. “What’s wrong, ? Is something the matter? You don’t look well!”)

      I didn’t really believe my mom’s stories till I saw the coworker in action. I was flabbergasted.

    4. Rexish*

      It sounds like that to me. I assumed that the colleague was saying “get over it”. Us nordics are no better than the Brits :D

  20. Helena*

    OP #4, does your company have separate vacation and sick leave banks, or is it all PTO? Though it’s common to require paid PTO to be used before unpaid leave (as our hostess points out), in practice restrictive policies on unpaid leave in PTO companies can have cruel effects. Let me explain.

    Say your employee has a young son with cancer. She now has to spend all of her PTO on her son’s medical care, and helping a three-year-old through chemo is pretty far from a relaxing vacation. So by the time the winter holidays roll around she has no paid time off, and unpaid time off is only for things like FMLA, not for vacation (for example, federal law on leave donation doesn’t allow the receiving employee to use it for vacation.) So, in effect, your employee with the sick kid gets no actual vacation – no visiting elderly grandparents, no going to family weddings, certainly not taking the sick kid on that trip to Disney World. She instead gets to cover down on the week between Christmas and New Year’s while the rest of the company is off.

    Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…

    1. Summer Rain*

      Sorry for your experience, Helena. That is such a tough situation.

      I was coming here to write the same thing – when you are “lucky” enough to work for a place that has sick and vacation lumped into one (not very large) bucket, sometimes taking unpaid leave while saving the paid days makes sense.

      I did that last year after being hit with some unexpected health issues, but still wanting to visit my family over the holidays (and when I knew I would more need the money).

      And finally – a note to any business owners – the PTO bucket is one of the reasons I am looking for anew job. It is a terrible way to do PTO (for the employees at least, I guess it works for the employers!)

      1. workerbee2*

        I don’t understand why some say that the one-bucket PTO system is worse for employees. What difference does it make if you have 10 vacation days and 10 sick days vs. 20 days of PTO? I’m genuinely asking.

        1. Helena*

          Having separate buckets for sick and vacation lets people actually plan a vacation. Say you’re at a PTO company, and you have a vacation planned in August, but you get in a car accident in July. Suddenly, you’ve used all of your PTO taking care of unexpected medical issues and have to cancel that vacation.

          Also, in my experience, fellow employees are less willing to donate PTO to coworkers with medical issues than they are unused sick time. If you’re a healthy person and have a ton of sick days saved up, you might as well donate a few because you’re never going to use them. With PTO you’re essentially asking them to donate their vacation, which is a big ask. Employers also tend to be more generous to people who’ve burned all their sick leave than to people who’ve burned all their PTO. Even if you burn all your PTO on medical problems, HR doesn’t know (or doesn’t believe) that you didn’t spend all your PTO on a beach in Fiji.

          These generally aren’t written policies, but it’s how it plays out in practice.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            At my company, where we do have separate sick and vacation, if someone got hit by a car in July and used up their sick leave and needed more time off, they’d still be required to use paid vacation time before they’d be approved for unpaid leave for any reason (which is the written policy). Given the circumstances they’d probably be granted the August vacation as unpaid, so it may wash out to your example, but the policy of “must use paid leave before unpaid is granted” isn’t affected by the split.
            I’m not saying the circumstances you describe aren’t a thing, but I don’t think there’s necessarily causality between separate buckets vs single bucket.

    2. CM*

      This situation sucks. I think the “use paid leave first” policy does make sense, but it needs to be combined with compassion so that you’re allowed to use unpaid leave if you used up your PTO on caregiving duties or some sort of crisis.

    3. Elephant in the room*

      Helena, I’ve been in similar shoes, and 3 years without an actual vacation while using up all PTO does indeed suck. That’s all…

    4. CTAtty*

      Although your example is compelling, if the LW is in the US and has an employee in such a situation, FMLA would potentially be available to cover time off that is necessary for the child’s treatment. If FMLA is available (and I know it is not in all circumstances), time taken for the medical treatment would not count against PTO, regardless of whether it is one bank or multiple. It would be an entirely separate bank of time available to LW’s employee that would not affect the ability of the employee to take other PTO for actual vacation time.

      1. Helena*

        That’s not true. From the Department of Labor FMLA frequently asked questions, “The law permits an employee to elect, or the employer to require the employee, to use accrued paid vacation leave, paid sick or family leave for some or all of the FMLA leave period.” Most employers do require employees to use PTO first for FMLA leave, and only allow unpaid once all that PTO is used up.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wait, that’s not accurate! FMLA protects your job for three months while you’re out, but employers can and do require you to use up any accrued PTO you have during that three months.

      3. Bear Shark*

        No. Employers can require that paid time off be used concurrently with FMLA. The last time I needed FMLA, my employer’s policies required that I had to exhaust any paid leave available during my FMLA-covered time before I could use unpaid time off during the FMLA coverage time.

        (Q) Is my employer required to pay me when I take FMLA leave?

        The FMLA only requires unpaid leave. However, the law permits an employee to elect, or the employer to require the employee, to use accrued paid vacation leave, paid sick or family leave for some or all of the FMLA leave period. An employee must follow the employer’s normal leave rules in order to substitute paid leave. When paid leave is used for an FMLA-covered reason, the leave is FMLA-protected.

  21. Lady Rhyall*

    #4, We’ve had a similar crop of younger employees over the last couple of years come to HR and request “unpaid time off,” but they’re telling us it is specifically for additional vacation time, so that they can still take two weeks off around Christmastime like they want to. Our stance is that there’s no such thing as “unpaid time off;” the company grants you a bank of PTO every year, and that is the expected amount of time that you can be out of the office for personal time. We pay out unused PTO in January of the following year (up to 40 unused hours per year), so for employees to take “unpaid time off” before using up their PTO, they could also be potentially banking those 40 hours at the end of the year so they get cash for it.

    (I’d love to think the best of them and say no one would ever do that, but they absolutely have and will if there’s leniency with this “unpaid time off” idea.)

    If unpaid time off was for a personal need, like a medical leave or something, we’re of course be happy to work with them. But for someone to just want to take an extra week at the beach but not use their official paid time off until Christmas, it just doesn’t fly.

    1. Helena*

      If they are banking PTO to be paid out by taking unpaid leave, they are in effect providing an interest-free loan to the company – instead of getting paid for their time off at the time they take the time off, they’re getting paid for it at the end of the year. Why would that be a problem?

      1. Anne Elliot*

        At least one problem is that many small to medium-sized companies are financially structured to keep people on consistent payroll year-round, paying out roughly the same amount in every pay period regardless of whether the people being paid are working that week or out on vacation that week. But the company may not be set up to pay out lump sums to multiple employees in January of every year. The company may not be interested in an interest-free loan from their employees, that they didn’t ask for, don’t need, and have to pay back in January.

        1. Helena*

          If the practicalities don’t work, then they don’t work, and you can tell the employees that, absolutely. Lady Rhyall’s post implied that the employees were doing something immoral by banking PTO for the end of the year (“I’d love to think the best of them and say no one would ever do that, but…”) That strikes me as kind of harsh, particularly because they might have a good reason for wanting to take a Christmas vacation (see my post immediately above this one.)

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Then they have a precarious structure and need to stop trying to operate on such an unknown variable. Your budget cannot be this unnervingly tight or you’re going to go bust quickly.

          I’ve only ran small businesses and this has never been a thing.

      2. Ama*

        I wouldn’t know how it works in for profit companies, but at my nonprofit employer any unpaid PTO (even though we have separate sick and vacation banks) gets counted in our financial liabilities, since at any time an employee might leave (we are in a state where payout of unused vacation is required). Having a lot of financial liability affects our rating on various charity sites and eats into our net fundraising totals, both of which can in turn affect our ability to attract donors.

        My employer has actually had to slowly tweak a lot of our PTO policies over the last few years because they were being so generous with comp days and other leave that didn’t count against your PTO that people didn’t feel the need to use a significant portion of their PTO and our financial liability was far higher than it should be for an org of our size. Our current policy on unpaid leave is if you have PTO in the appropriate bank you need to take that first, and then you can take unpaid with your manager’s approval (this happens most frequently with new employees who haven’t accrued a lot of vacation yet — our vacation policy is actually quite generous and accrues pretty quickly.

    2. A different Unpaid Leave example*

      My husband started a new job this year and the job offer he most wanted the vacation policy was lower than we are used to. He tried to negotiate for extra time off in his offer but was told that it couldnt be done because corporate had a strict policy about experience vs. vacation time. So in his job offer he managed to get in writing that in addition to his PTO he could take 1 week unpaid every year if he chooses the same as his PTO.

  22. Clay on my apron*

    OP4, I have an alternative view.

    At one job I was contractually guaranteed X many days of unpaid leave on top of my paid leave. So the company knew how many days in total I’d be taking. To use up all my paid leave in dribs and drabs, a day here and a day there, and then to have to take 2 weeks of unpaid leave for my end of year holidays, made it very difficult for me to take the unpaid leave I had negotiated.

    If your company is okay with a certain amount of unpaid leave, let people manage it in a way that suits them.

  23. Blue Eagle*

    OP1 – If your coworker would not like to be considered a grandmother, then I would say “wow, you sound just like my grandmother, thanks grandma”.
    Or if she would consider it a compliment to be considered a grandmother, then I would say “wow, you sound just like my 5 year old niece, thanks little niece”.
    And do this every time. This is the only strategy that I have found consistently works. Good luck!

  24. Justin*

    re#3: I mean, can you quietly ask colleagues what they think? You may end up with a Phyllis “she sent an email” situation, but at least you’d know.

    Sorry, this stinks.

    (I will see myself out now.)

    1. Jennifer*

      Ha! I thought about Phyllis too. I think asking someone in the office if there’s something going on is a good idea. If they don’t know anything either, I guess you can talk to them about it? Maybe? Pretty awkward but I don’t think that the OP should have to deal with the smell/noises all day unless there’s a medical issue.

  25. NerdyKris*

    There was a post on Reddit’s AskHR recently where a company gave the option to take PTO at half rate, doubling your time. So if you wanted two days off, you could take one day of PTO, split across the two days. Essentially a 50% pay cut for those two days or one day paid and one day not, depending on how you look at it.

    The OP was doing this for their entire PTO time, doubling the number of PTO days they were taking. They were told not to do it anymore, and were questioning why, if it’s a policy, they couldn’t use it. And everyone gave the same reason as Alison, that the benefit was intended for occasional use, and that applying it to all PTO days makes it extremely difficult to handle staffing, since it doubles your time out of the office.

    It just made me think of that.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The company handled it perfectly by putting an end to the blatant abuse of their system. That’s how it should be. I’m glad it doesn’t seem like they threw the policy out though, which is what some people would do in response.

      If someone is taking advantage then we would say there’s an issue with their reliability and they can’t have that many days off. We wouldn’t suddenly start not allowing unpaid time off though.

  26. mf*

    #4: I used to do something like this when I was an hourly employee. My job had an all-in-one PTO policy instead of separate allotments of sick and vacation time; and for newer employees, the policy wasn’t exactly generous. If I had to take a small amount of time off (usually 1 day or less at a time), I would take it unpaid so that I could save my PTO for longer vacations later in the year.

    I wasn’t taking multiple weeks at at time off unpaid, and I can see how this sort of thing could be an issue if an employee did do that. But I really appreciated that my boss would allow me to have this flexibility. It made it possible to have a *real* break in the form of a vacation now and then.

    Of course, now that I’m salaried, I don’t do this anymore. I can leave early for a medical appointment and still be paid the same amount for the day. I can also work from home if I’m sick. I don’t need to “save” my PTO by taking unpaid PTO.

    So OP, if you’re going to draft a policy on this, it’s probably worth considering how this will impact exempt vs. non-exempt employees. It’s also worth talking to the employees to better understand why they are making these requests: why do they need to save their PTO? do they feel they have adequate PTO for work-life balance? do they have things going on in their personal lives (kids, family members to care for, a home renovation in process, an ongoing illness) that’s causing them to worry about the amount of PTO they have banked?

  27. Kix*

    OP#3, I have a friend who has a colostomy bag and it sometimes makes farting noises. Maybe this is what’s going on with the boss.

  28. No Longer Working*

    OP5, do let your former boss know you are doing this before you pass his resume on, and verify he has your permission to do so. All I saw mentioned was a mutual friend, and it wasn’t clear that you were looping him in. I would also CC or BCC the former boss on the email to your director.

  29. Diana*

    For #3 maybe consider a mini electronic oil diffuser. I got one that plugs into usb and is smaller than my hand so the smell range should be limited. I feel like it would usually be out of the range of normal but I feel like its more normal than the current situation.

    1. Meh*

      Those things can cause major allergies, even asthma attacks, & can actually spread the scent throughout a very large area. I would check with coworkers first.

  30. MOAS*

    Re #4 — I actually went through this exact situation a few years ago. When I had first gotten hired FT at my job 4 years ago, I wanted to use unpaid days off here and there and save the paid days for longer vacations. In my mind (and still to some extent today), an unpaid day here and there will be easier to swallow than 5-6 unpaid days off. I was talking to friend/coworkers and one of them said, better to take paid time off now, b/c when you quit/get fired, they won’t cash it out, so it’ll be wasted.

    Since then, if I had PTO, I took PTO. Last year though I had to take 3 weeks off unplanned due to my dad’s death, so even with bereavement leave, I still had a weeks worth of unpaid leave and only got half a paycheck. Its taken me an entire tax season plus 8 months to come back in to the black.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You should never live in such fear of losing your job unless it’s an industry that purges labor frequently! That’s an awful way to go about it.

      If you want to quit. That’s when you start using it up quickly as well to still get the benefit. But being on the edge always thinking “I should use this PTO now now now because what if I’m fired?!” Sounds like such a miserable mindset.

      1. SamSoo*

        I’m thankful I work at a place that allows me to carryover a (large) number of hours each year, allows me to earn a lot of leave all year, AND pays it out if I leave. It’s nice to always have a bank of PTO just in case something comes up.

        1. MOAS*

          SamSoo — same. technically we can carry over a certain amount; how much, I am not sure b/c I’ve always used every bit of PTO the last several years. This might be my first year where I have carryover. We used to have just 1 bank but now we have separate sick, jury duty, bereavement, paid, unpaid. Paid consists of regular accrued PTO and bonus PTO. Sick, jury duty, bereavement expire and renew on 1/1. I am not clear on how much PTO carries over though.

      2. MOAS*

        Well, no the person wasn’t in that fear, nor am I. But yeah, our company doesn’t cash out PTO so it is use it or lose it. I wish they did, cz I’d rather take the extra cash. But I would avoid taking unpaid PTO if I could.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Then their justification is of no use if you’re not in fear of losing your job? Why would you ever justify not taking unpaid instead of paid time off “in case you’re fired or quit”? If you’re not afraid of being fired, then just bounce it around either way that fits your needs.

          I’m all down for using your PTO or UpTO however you wish and works with your company’s policies, it’s just odd to say that was their justification when it’s moot…

  31. Forkeater*

    Re #1 I have a coworker who is not that bad, but also really over-responds when I mention anything remotely negative, including repeating over and over “It’s okay, you’ll be okay, it’s alright” on and on. I learned very quickly to not tell her anything at all that could remotely be construed as negative.

  32. Observer*

    #1 Is this the only weirdness you’re getting from this coworker? If so, I think Alison’s scripts are perfect. But if it’s actually part of a larger problem, you might want to consider addressing the larger pattern.

  33. SamSoo*

    I once worked for a serial farter. But I didn’t realize that was the issue. We worked in an old building that had lots of unusual smells. One day I went into his office and plugged in a Glade plug-in thing and said “it stinks in here.” I was trying to be nice and helpful… but apparently he thought I was referring to him and he said, “I can’t help it. I have medical issues.” Fortunately we could laugh about it, especially when he realized I didn’t think he stunk. (But that was a good working relationship and I realize they aren’t all like that!)

    1. BadWolf*

      I once complained to a coworker about how bad our workarea smelled one day. He then confessed that he had microwaved fish and that was the smell. We had a good laugh. I wasn’t trying to be passive aggressive or faux innocent, it just smelled mysteriously terrible.

  34. Sauron*

    OP #1 – Just commenting to say that over performed sympathy is my #1 pet peeve and I am sympathizing with you hard. Good on you for looking for better wording – I must admit my solution to this would be to never tell this person anything that was going on in my life, ever again.

  35. BadWolf*

    On OP4 — Since you mention young employees –especially if you are a salaried/exempt workspace, I think the transition from hourly work (especially retail or food service) can be confusing. You are used to adjusting your hours to have a “day off” but now days off are not the same as I work Saturday close and have Monday off. So they may mostly need a discussion on the differences in pay/norms of this job versus their HS/College jobs.

    1. agnes*

      this is a good insight. A lot of young people have been working in jobs with a lot more flexibility and may not understand the new workplace they are in. I would not allow unpaid leave except in a true emergency. You are paying for a full time worker because you need a full time worker. It is a dangerous precedent to set to start letting people take more time off than you’ve budgeted for. They don’t understand the operational impact–in their minds you shouldn’t care because you aren’t out any money for their absence.

  36. agnes*

    RE : the “gas passer” There is no telling what’s going on with your colleague. I had colon cancer a few years ago and had my colon surgically removed. Since then, I have had serious issues with flatulence–I often have no warning and there is nothing I can do about it. It’s terribly embarrassing to me and sometimes I run out of a meeting with no notice trying to be considerate of others. I don’t know what the right response is here, but approach whatever you do with some compassion.

  37. Commentor*

    I have only ever used unpaid leave for VERY specific circumstances. I was out on FMLA for an unforeseen medical issue that led to multiple surgeries that ended like 3 weeks before my wedding (which there was NO WAY to postpone without spending thousands of dollars- it was out of state and had been planned for over a year). My boss was slightly annoyed by the whole thing and it took a LONG time for her to warm up to me again, but they were willing to work it out. It was inconvenient, but really taking an extra 10 days after being out 3 months didn’t impact the office too terribly much. However, my workplace does give a lot of paid time off, so most of the time I have more than I can use due to office coverage. However, when you need it, it is good to have.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Your manager is kind of an awful person for taking this so personally, there’s no reason for her to have burned out her goodwill. You had to have a doctors process to get on FMLA, it’s not like you just decided to opt to take time away from your job for some random whimsical reason…you had fricking surgeries!

      Weddings are most often always planned well in advance given the nature of the event being so large and detailed. So of course if you plan a wedding for 2021, things may happen. like your health may go sideways and you may need medical leave…it’s medical leave. FMLA is not a perk, it’s a law to provide safety for vulnerable citizens because employers can be self centered and cruel about their expectations of their employees like that.

      Yeah…employees having personal lives is “inconvenient” when you’re not planning ahead. I sure hope nothing awful happens to your manager where they are incapacitated for weeks on end and then treated coldly after the fact! I wouldn’t wish health issues on anyone but nobody should ever use them against others.

  38. Wren*

    I don’t get all this analysis about the significance of the farting boss leaning, but whatevs. I agree with Alison’s response that there really is nothing the OP can do about it.

    I do think the phrase “frequent farter” is hilarious for the alliteration and similarity to “frequent flyer,” though. Did you write that, Alison, or was it the OPs subject line?

  39. Seeking Second Childhood*

    OP#4 If you do decide to formalize this as company policy, consider including “sabbatical” as a category.
    My corporation apparently does this even though it’s not publicized. It’s only for people who have been with the company for a certain number of years and only used once every # of years — I actually don’t know the exact numbers. It allows a long-term employee to take off four weeks unpaid for personal reasons. It’s actually designed to let people do things like finish up a thesis for graduate degrees. But the only 2 people I’ve known to use it did something very different. One tacked it onto her maternity leave and FMLA leave. The other went to a family wedding overseas and spent extra time with elderly relatives.

  40. Boopboopreviewww*

    For the 2. Employer used the free work I produced during the hiring process person – if they are non-responsive or tell you they won’t compensate you for their work, I would strongly consider righting a Glassdoor review of their interviewing process. People (including me) use objective sounding descriptions and reviews to paint a picture on if it’s a good employer to work for. This is the kind of info I’d love to know in advance.

  41. Lucia Pacciola*

    #4 – The way I see it, money is fungible. There’s no difference between taking paid before unpaid and taking it after, as long as all the paid gets used up during the relevant fiscal period.

    If it’s a “use it or lose it” organization, banking paid leave risks losing it. Financially, it’s safer to use the paid leave first, and then supplement with unpaid if you need more (and your organization allows it) towards the end of the period.

    On the other hand, if it’s a “use it or cash it out” organization, then… I guess it still doesn’t matter? You’d just be taking the paid leave anyway, but instead of having that reflected in the relevant pay periods, it just gets paid out at the end of the fiscal period.

    I guess there might be some rare scenarios where taking unpaid leave instead of paid results in a net profit to the employee, due to the way unpaid leave is cashed out?

    1. Noah*

      It’s not about money. It’s because they know they are entitled to their paid vacation, but the unpaid days might not be approved. So you take the shot at the unpaid days now because if you get them, then you definitely have the paid days later.

      I see this as (low-grade) bad behavior, not a lack of understanding, as OP seems to think.

  42. workerbee2*

    My company’s PTO policy is interesting. In addition to a fairly generous amount of PTO (by US standards) employees are given the option to “buy” up to 40 hours of PTO each year and effectively get an additional week of PTO as unpaid leave. We also have the option of “selling” up to 40 hours each year at our hourly rate to receive extra pay in lieu of time off. The only caveats are 1) you can’t buy and sell in the same year and 2) you need to elect them as benefits each year or when you get hired. You also have to exhaust your PTO bank before you can take unpaid leave (for FMLA, etc.).

    I think the PTO buy policy mostly benefits new employees who know they will need time off before they have accrued enough PTO. When I went on maternity leave 2 years ago, I came back to work before my PTO was exhausted in case I needed it later, so buying PTO might have been a good idea in that case as well. (But I also cut my maternity leave 2 weeks shorter than I’d planned because I hated being on maternity leave. I ended up using one PTO day per week for 2 months when I came back, which worked much better for me, so all’s well that ends well.)

  43. Noah*

    OP#5 — You should not be concerned that this will bother your director, as long as you don’t do this all the time and your referrals are reasonably good (even if not a fit for an actual job). If your department director is good, he will probably appreciate it.

  44. Adjunct Gal*

    At my workplace, most of us take unpaid time because our PTO is fairly minimal (1 week after 1 year of service). That’s one thing I’d love to see change, that’s for sure.

  45. banzo_bean*

    Out of curiosity, if OP #2 is hired for this position, should they be compensated for the work completed in their interview?

    1. Observer*

      Yes. It doesn’t matter if they get hired or not, they need to be paid for their work.

  46. Jinxed*

    I have a question related to the PTO one (maybe this would be more appropriate elsewhere, I’m not sure).

    Had a weekly meeting today, and our supervisor put PTO information on the agenda, including how to take it, when to not, when it needs approval, etc…and at the end, she listed everyone’s PTO amounts in green and red (red if it’s in the negative).

    Is this something that can legally be done? One of my coworkers believes this came up because she tried to take PTO ahead of time (several months ahead) and is on the verge of quitting (she had asked a few months ago and was told verbally it’d be okay, but is hearing another story now).

    There’s been some other changes within our company with this specific new supervisor that caused me to find another job & I just feel really bad that this information was shared. I don’t feel it’s anyone’s business but between her and management directly!

    1. Observer*

      What would be the basis for this not being legal?

      I’m not saying it’s a good idea. But bad management is not necessarily illegal.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Your PTO bank is not private information. So there’s nothing illegal about sharing it with everyone.

      I could make a white board with everyone’s PTO and track it that way if I wanted to. [I don’t want to, I have a real tracking system for that!].

      This isn’t good behavior though. I tell everyone personally what their bank looks like upon request or they can look it up in our timekeeping system. It’s generally bad practice to do things as a group when it’s a “personal” thing like benefits or issues with them.

      We do let people pull from their future PTO when they ask and they aren’t going over their next year’s allotment. The trick here is that it’s written in their agreements and told to them at the time of going negative that “If you are to leave before you accrue these days, we will deduct it from your last paycheck [which is legal, we ran it by counsel or we would never allow people to draw on future PTO otherwise since that’s too risky on our end]”

      1. Jinxed*

        Thank you for your reply!

        To give a little more context, this was in a shared online document (we all work remotely) definitely in a way meant to show chastising of use of time and praising the one guy that hasn’t touched his PTO. She is the sort of manager that does not stop working, even though the job role really, really does not call for working 24/7 and her superior actively discourages this along with several other behaviors.

  47. Sorry for my chronic illness*

    I’m not sure what anyone should do (or be expected to do) about it, but it is sad to see the total dearth of sympathy for people with legitimate digestive issues here.

    I have IBS and there are times when, unfortunately, I am very flatulent. There is literally nothing I can do about it. (I’ve seen doctors.) Or rather, I am already doing everything I can- managing diet, managing stress, as best I can. But short of “staying home because otherwise my body will offend others too much”, I don’t know what I can do. I can’t work from home.

    Anyway, I get that farting is disgusting and everything, but I want to make it clear to you all that unless you expect that I get up and leave the room every 8 minutes or so, I’m not sure what else I can reasonably do here.

    I welcome the incipient “eat more kale” or “do yoga” comments. /s

    1. Theelephantintheroom*

      Same. My position on it bothering other people was, “This job is perfectly easy to do from home where I have the privacy to deal with my illness in peace.” (And now I work from home.)

  48. Marissa*

    OP #1, are you me? I manage a woman who does the same, and it drives me absolutely nuts. She’s very kind, and I couldn’t imagine her taking any kind of bluntness or sarcasm about it very well. I don’t have a good solution right now. When I have to tell her something negative, I mentally tie it in with a work task so I can steamroll through the negative thing and get to a task so she can’t insert more than an “Ohhhhh” or an “Oh nooo” because I won’t stop talking until I get to the task.

    When I got a flat tire on the way in to work, I emailed her a few tasks to take care of for me while I was delayed, then came in with a smile on my face and was greeted with “Ohhh, you poor thing, oh gosh, ohh shoot…” and quickly cut it off with, “All fine! Car’s in the shop, just a minor annoyance. So anyway, did you get a chance to call Fergus to reschedule our meeting for this afternoon?” in one quick breath. She’s a talented employee, so thankfully that’s enough to derail the sympathy parade.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Are you guys in the midwestern states?
      This kind of talk seems very Midwest to me and I’ve heard similar from people in that region.

      1. Marissa*

        I am! I’ve come across a handful of people like the OP’s in my time, but not many, and it can be grating in an office setting.

  49. Theelephantintheroom*

    I went through something similar right out of college. Since then, anytime someone wants me to write something, I volunteer things that I have already had published. This isn’t possible if you’re switching fields, but for most of the jobs I interview for, it would be incredibly weird for them to insist I write something fresh for them after discovering I have published perfectly good copy relevant to their needs.

  50. definitely anon for this one*

    #3 I sometimes feel a fart coming and while I can hold it a little bit if I don’t move, I know it’s going to get out when I get up – so there’s no point trying to get to the bathroom to let it out there. So I probably show the same pattern as your boss. Could definitely be a medical condition.

  51. OP1*

    Hey all! I’m OP1 and I know I’m a little late, but I wanted to clarify a few things.

    As I’m writing this, the same thing I was writing in about just happened to me! I ran out on an errand and got caught in a rainstorm (I live in a coastal town and it’s hurricane season, so it happens a lot), and the second I walked back into the office and my coworker saw me she said, “Bless your heaarrrt! I’m soooo sorry! I was thinking about you in that awful rain!” Ugh…yeah.

    First, some people were asking if my coworker was trying to patronize me or if she was being genuine. I think she’s genuine. She’s actually a very nice person, it’s just this one quirk of hers that really bugs me. I think she just unintentionally overdoes it on the sympathy.

    Second, some people said I might be complaining too much which is why she does it. No, I don’t complain ever, even to a fault. I’m a suck-it-up, pull-yourself-up-and-deal-with-it kind of person, which is probably why I hate her pity so much.

    1. Close Bracket*

      “I’m a suck-it-up, pull-yourself-up-and-deal-with-it kind of person, which is probably why I hate her pity so much.”

      Reframing both your mindset and her reaction might be helpful to your own peace of mind. You could view her reactions as sympathy rather than pity. You could change your mindset to allow for accepting sympathy (or even pity, if you must frame it that way) as entirely consistent with dealing-with-it and loosen up a little on the suck-it-up aspect. You don’t have to make a big deal of accepting the sympathy. Just a smile and “thanks,” then change the subject or keep walking. In other words, acknowledge the sympathy without engaging with it.

  52. Sarah*

    People need to get over the farting! Or pretend it is a cute baby farting!!! (I love baby farts.) I am frequently around a frequent farter and I just try to tune it out.

  53. Timothy (TRiG)*

    For Letter #1, my go-to remark when caught in the rain is “I’m not the Wicked Witch of the West”. I’m not water-soluble. The touch of humour might help.

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