my employee asked me to be a job reference, interpersonal issues and HR, and more

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

1. My current employee asked me to be a last-minute reference

My staff member, who I hired a year ago, told me today that a former supervisor had reached out to them to interview for a new lateral role they had that my employee would be perfect for. My employee told me they loved their current job but it was a good opportunity worth looking at. They were now a finalist, contingent on a current supervisor reference. They wanted the reference call conducted today if possible. In addition, the woman who would conduct the reference check was one of my employee’s references who I spoke to a year ago when I hired them.

I was taken aback by the whole process. On the phone, the woman apologized for poaching my employee. She asked common questions about her strengths and weaknesses. I held it together and gave a fair reference. It honestly was not my best because I was not invested in losing a great employee. I even asked the woman for a timeline and she said she was hoping they could start in two weeks. I found myself even asking her for more time (in my industry four weeks is pretty common).

I feel bad about how I handled this. I don’t think I ruined anything for my employee, but it was awkward and I was not singing their praises the way I normally would for a reference. Should I have done anything differently?

Yes! It’s understandable to be surprised when you hear an employee might be on the verge of leaving, but it’s your job as a manager to handle it professionally, including giving them a good reference if they’re a good employee. You can’t give a more lukewarm reference than they deserve just because you’re still processing the news or because you don’t want to lose them! That’s tremendously unfair to your employee — and if they realize it happened, it’s likely to (a) further drive them to leave if they don’t get this job and (b) make them less invested in going above and beyond for you while they’re still there. Plus, if they talk to their coworkers about it, other staff members will consider you a liability in their job search — and will be likely to give you the absolute minimum notice they can.

You also shouldn’t have asked the reference checker to push back the start date. That was a big overstep — that’s between her and your employee, and it’s not something you have standing to negotiate. Your employee could have reasons for wanting to start earlier, or it even might have counted against them. That’s just not something you have any standing to talk to their prospective employer about.

The reality is, employees leave jobs! They leave when it may not be convenient for us, and it can feel like a gut punch to hear someone is about to leave when we’d been planning work around them. But it’s part of the deal of being a manager, and you’ve got to find a way to take it in stride.

2. Interpersonal issues and HR

My current company is small, about 100 people, so we use an off-site HR company. My previous thoughts were that HR helped with payroll, insurance, etc. but also helped with problems or conflicts among coworkers.

Recently, the leadership in my company sent out an email that says if you have a problem with someone, don’t go to HR but instead go straight to the person and confront them within three days. Otherwise you should let it go because it’s not that important. Normally, I agree with this. I understand that projects can be stressful and lead to some passive aggressiveness (we are midwest-based), but there have been moments at work where I’ve considered going to HR for interpersonal reasons.

For example, I have a 40-something-year- old male coworker who during the time I’ve been here has done weird things like crash into my chair with the mail cart while saying, “Oh no, watch out I’ve lost control,” ask for my personal email to send me fun things to do during the weekend, and run out to the parking lot when I’m leaving to say goodbye. While I’m still not sure that these things are in the realm of HR, the last incident of what feels like middle school flirting of hitting my chair as he walks by has really made me uncomfortable. I am now even more worried with the leadership email that should anything more serious happen, I am to confront him in person. But what do I say? “Hi, can you please stop interacting with me, all your interactions are unwelcome and unnecessary”? Or because I can’t work up the courage to do this, is this something I should let go within three days?

It sounds like your company is trying to stop people from going to HR with interpersonal conflicts that they should be resolving themselves. Some people try to use HR for things like “my coworker makes annoying noises” or “my coworker keeps checking up on my work” when they really need to talk to the person directly. But while your company is right to want to put a stop to that since HR isn’t your kindergarten teacher, they’re handling it badly. It’s just not true that you should address all problems with someone directly within three days or conclude that it’s not worth addressing it all. Some problems require more thought, or are things you should take to your manager (like, say, someone being rude to clients or interfering with your ability to meet deadlines) or HR (like, say, sexual harassment — it’s a huge liability for them not to have a clear reporting process for that). And they haven’t addressed what should happen if you do talk to your coworker and the problem continues.

Weirdly, in their apparent desire to stop people from treating HR as a kindergarten referee, they’re giving you rigid rules that seem pretty kindergarten-ish. They should have just laid out what is and isn’t appropriate for HR and trusted you to be adults who could understand that.

As for your coworker … I do think your first step there is to tell him directly to stop, if you haven’t already. If it doesn’t stop after that and it feels creepy rather than just annoying, you could escalate it at that point — but start with a direct “please stop doing this.” (Especially as whoever you escalate it to is likely going to ask if you’ve done that yet.)

Read an update to this letter here.

3. I saw an internal document with HR salary bands and should be earning more

I recently was asked to sit on an internal review committee at my company. As part of it, we were given dozens and dozens of internal documents. In one of the folders was a document that is usually only given to senior-level hiring managers for salary negotiations and promotions. It listed clear bands for each job. I found I was hired within the bottom 5% of my band’s salary and in four years have progressed only to the bottom 15% of the band. However, there is a note that employees ranked exceptional in reviews for five to seven years should be at the 50% part of their salary band and by 10-15 years be at or near the maximum. I am still over $30k in salary away from the 50% and have received exceptional reviews for four years now.

My supervisor (who did not hire me) is most likely not privy to this document (or even my salary) as salary negotiations are now handled by a senior level HR partner. What should I do about discussing this and how can I advocate to be further along in the band? I should add that my field/ title is a bit varied in what market rate looks like — but I am in a high cost city and have always felt my salary was on the lower side of competitive.

You were shown this document in the course of your work and you don’t need to hide that you saw it. Normally I’d say to start with your manager, explain what you saw, and say, “I’m concerned that after four years of exceptional reviews, I’m at the bottom 15% of the band. What can we do to bring me up to an equitable level within the salary structure for my band?” And actually, even though HR handles your salary negotiations, I’d still start with your manager — it just seems too odd not to have her in the loop, even though you might ultimately need to move to the conversation over to HR.

Note: There’s potentially an argument for waiting until you get that fifth exceptional review, so that you’re clearly and solidly within the group of people who should be at 50% of the band. If you raise it before then, there’s some danger that a crappy manager could intentionally give you a non-exceptional review in order to avoid that (or a decent manager could be directed to do that from above). So especially if you’re within a few months of your next review, it might be worth waiting so your case is as clear-cut as possible. But if you trust your manager and your employer not to operate that way, raise it now.

4. When should I bring up my need for accommodations if I get a promotion?

I have a great job where I mostly work remotely and go into the office once per week. I am currently in early discussions about a potential promotion, which would have me working in our office three days per week and working from home two days per week.

I also have an autoimmune disorder that is somewhat well managed but I do have flare-ups. Working from home has been a godsend!

How do I discuss my autoimmune disorder with my company in regard to my possible promotion? They are aware I have the autoimmune disorder, but I haven’t really needed any accommodations because I work from home mostly.

I’m thinking that I would need accommodation regarding workspace (ergonomic chair, keyboard, adjustment of cubicle) and the ability to flex my work from home days. I just don’t know how to navigate this when discussing promotion possibilities. Do I wait until they offer me the job? Or prior? If we can’t come to terms, I don’t feel I can accept the job.

Wait until you have the job offer and bring it up then. The accommodations you’ll need sound easily managed; they’re not things like “I won’t be able to do Major Responsibility X,” which might make sense to bring up earlier in the process.

In general with accommodations, it’s good for everyone if you wait until you have the offer, because the law says they can’t use that info in their hiring decision (assuming you can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations). It’s in their best interest if you don’t raise it until the offer stage, so that it doesn’t illegally bias them, even if only unconsciously, and so that you’re not wondering if it biased them.

{ 392 comments… read them below }

  1. Cramball*

    For those who are in HR how often to you get a reference from a current manager? I’ve had one who I told I was looking, and one more I didn’t but could see telling, but otherwise if it’s not a transfer within the company, I wouldn’t even think of telling my manager until I was giving my notice.
    I think of myself as a fair manager, and have never begrudged somebody quitting (well one, but there was much more to it), but honestly if I knew somebody was looking I would start looking to lessen the impact of them leaving, which would affect the type of “make a difference” work they get.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        This is such an important point! Other employees will see this happening (as they’re much more likely to be privy to who is looking than you are until asked for a reference or provided with notice) and you’ll get absolutely minimal information about people when they’re considering leaving, Cramball. If people see you giving less important work to those looking (that may not actually leave), they won’t tell you until the last possible moment, which backfires for you.

        1. Delphine*

          That’s all the more reason to be aware of it yourself when your employees leave…you know people leave, you should not be penalizing them for that.

          1. Cobol*

            I’m not so much penalizing them for leaving, as much as I’m positioning the company for when they leave. Same as not investing in a software that will be discontinued.
            I know the biproduct of this is the person being penalized, which is why I don’t expect people to tell me they’re looking.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              As long as their reference doesn’t change in any way due to their lowered output, then I would likely do the same thing. It’s offsetting risk in processes/client service, which is just good business. But I also see the others’ points about perception. So I think being really transparent about why you’re making those decisions would go a long way.

            2. Baru Cormorant*

              I agree. It’s a business decision for the individual but it’s also a business decision for their boss/team they’re leaving behind. You don’t want to pin everything on someone who told you they’re leaving. And honestly I don’t see what’s wrong with this since “it’s just business” for everyone.

    1. Rexish*

      Lately majority of jobs I’ve been applying has asked for 2 references in the form and instructed one of them to be the current manager. Not a fan.

      1. londonedit*

        In my industry/in my UK experience it’s absolutely standard that one of your references should be your current manager, but the way it works here is that generally your references aren’t contacted until you’ve accepted the job offer. So you have the interview(s), are offered the job, accept, and then provide your reference details. The understanding is that as soon as you accept the job offer, you’ll resign from your current job, so your current manager will be expecting your new employer to ask them for a reference before the call comes. And people often say to their new employer that they’re happy to accept the job offer, but please hold off on contacting their references (for a day or so) until they’ve actually resigned.

          1. londonedit*

            Yes, the offer is usually contingent on references, but in practice unless you’d really done something awful no one would give such a bad reference that the offer would be rescinded. Usually references are just confirming that the person did/does work at that company in that capacity.

              1. Anna*

                Exactly. You can do employment verification using a database set up by the US DOL. Granted, not everyone is subscribed to it, but it’s not required to call the company to verify employment.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think you’re thinking of the Work Number, but that’s not set up by the government (it’s a private company owned by one of the credit bureaus and employers have to opt in to it).

            1. Rexish*

              This is also what bothers me. If you need a verification of dates in the company, then why does it have to be the current manager? Couldn’t it just be the HR (if it’s separate) ? I really don’t want my current manager involved at all in my current job search. She will know once I give her my notice.

              Also, here once we quit a job we get a signed certificate that has the dates of employment and the job description. Then we provide copies of this certificate when we apply for jobs in the future to prove that we have worked in the places we claim. Saves time.

              1. Emily K*

                The other useful thing about references that I could see making a current manager helpful – without making the offer actually contingent on the reference – would just be that managers often have helpful insists on how to best manage the employee, or what their strengths and weaknesses are, not to see if they’re good enough to hire, but to see if there are some projects they might thrive starting on, or the new company might have budget for some training the new employee might benefit from taking right away based on the previous manager’s assessment.

              2. Zephy*

                Also, here once we quit a job we get a signed certificate that has the dates of employment and the job description. Then we provide copies of this certificate when we apply for jobs in the future to prove that we have worked in the places we claim. Saves time.

                That sounds like a very easy thing to fake, though…

                1. Rexish*

                  Of course it is. But I can also give my friends phone number and claim she is any manager. I can also make a fake diploma to show off skills and so on. They can also call to check yo make sure I’m not a liar but There comes a time when you have to trust the system.

              3. TootsNYC*

                actually, if an outside entity verifies employment dates w/ HR, they might think it’s a new employer, and HR might actually be more likely to sandbag you than a decent manager would.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  Not necessarily – we get VOEs for loans and rental applications far more often than we do for new jobs. Most of the time we’re not even looking at who’s asking or why – just that they have the appropriate signed authorization from the employee/former employee so we can release the information.

          2. Cheese Cheese Cheese CHEESE*

            It can be, but many (most?) businesses in the UK won’t provide a reference beyond “Cheese worked here from 3/10/10 until 27/4/17 in the role of System Administrator” to avoid falling into any legal traps so this doesn’t often come up.

            1. Jilly*

              As noted by Libby, in the US we wouldn’t call that a reference, just employment verification.

              1. nony non*

                Interesting – my employer (US based fortune 100) will not provide references, just employment verification. I had been thinking that was unusual, but reading this thread it seems more like it’s that my employer is following the UK standard.

                I’d be really interested in hearing from someone in HR who works in a country where that’s the standard on how this impacts hiring. In the US, companies use references to get to know the employee from an external viewpoint, and to verify the skills and accomplishments on their resume. Does that just not happen in the UK? Are interviews more in-depth / functional? Is this EU-wide, or just UK?

                1. londonedit*

                  In the UK you’re likely to have at least two in-person interviews (we tend to go straight to an in-person first interview rather than the phone screens I see people from the US talking about here). Those will likely be functional interviews, lots of talking through your background and experience, lots of ‘tell me about a time when…’ questions. The first interview will usually be with two or three people from the department you’ll be working in (say the boss of that department and the line manager for the role you’re applying for) and then for the second interview you might meet with the boss of the department plus someone even higher up – an overall boss or even the CEO in a smaller company. So by the time you get to a job offer, I guess you’ll have had some fairly in-depth interviews. The idea of *not* asking your current employer for a reference is mind-boggling to me – how is the new employer supposed to verify your latest work experience if they don’t contact your current employer?

                  I definitely think – just from the discussions I’ve seen here – that (unless you’re going for a job that needs some sort of security clearance, or civil service, or working with kids/vulnerable adults) we don’t have the sort of ‘background checks’ that are involved with US employment. For most regular jobs no one will be looking into your credit history (!!) or delving into your speeding tickets or whatever. You just contact the person’s current employer and another previous employer to verify that the information they’ve presented on their CV is correct.

                2. Rugby*

                  @londonedit, as someone pointed out to you above, what you call a reference is called employment verification in the US and is typically done during the background check portion of the application process. A background check, in my experience, usually involves just employment and education verification. Sometimes your criminal record gets checked, but that’s usually just for jobs that involve working with vulnerable populations, such as children. The only time I’ve had my driving record checked was for a job the required driving and I’ve never had my credit checked by an employer. That’s definitely not common.

                3. Cheese Cheese Cheese CHEESE*

                  It’s quite common in the UK to be credit checked for jobs in financial services, as for some roles CCJs and/or bankruptcy would be a problem – or at least to be asked to consent to a credit check; at least one company I’ve worked for never bothered doing the check…

                4. fhqwhgads*

                  Most places I’ve worked in the US say they won’t provide references, only employment verification, but that is not what happens in practice. There’s always at least one former supervisor/colleague who is willing to vouch. At least where I’ve worked it’s a sort of toothless policy that everyone knows no one follows. I don’t know why that is, but it seems to be fairly common.

                5. MayLou*

                  In contrast to what londonedit said, all my UK jobs have been public sector or charity and I’ve never once had more than a single, in-person interview lasting less than an hour. I’ve also never had anyone refuse to give a reference and I’ve had a few who’ve sent me what they said, which is nice! Then again, I’ve never had to give notice for a new job because I’ve always bounced between self-employment, portfolio contracting, and short term employed roles.

          3. Tuppence*

            The offer letter will normally include wording like “subject to satisfactory references”. In all honesty most places I’ve worked just confirm dates of employment as a matter of policy, we don’t expect to go into the level of detail that seems to be standard in the US (from what I’ve read on AAM). But if we were to receive a reference which gave us cause for concern, we’d follow up with the manager to clarify – and pull the job offer if necessary.

    2. Mookie*

      In the LW’s employee’s case, she couldn’t give notice without an offer, and the offer required the conversation between the LW and the hiring manager. The LW was completely candid about the situation and why she was considering it. I’m only sorry the LW dropped the ball so badly here. The one bright spot for the employee is that her possible new boss already knows her, so that lessens the impact of the LW freezing. I don’t know if there will be any rumblings intra-company regarding the LW’s reaction to a normal reference check, but I agree with Alison’s advice, and I hope she doesn’t do this again.

      1. MK*

        Eh, I don’t think saying to your boss “I am thinking of leaving and want you to get on the phone right now to give me a reference” could be considered a normal reference check. The employee shot herself in the foot by not allowing the OP some time to digest the news, since it is obvious from the letter that a little reflection would have been to the employee’s benefit.

        1. Mookie*

          Fair enough. I read the employee as explaining how she’d come across the opportunity, but not that she was still simply thinking about it. I may be wrong, but I would have interpreted that, along with the contingency comment, to mean that, from her end, it’s a sure thing.

          Also, of course she didn’t insist on the call at that moment. I agree that the LW shouldn’t have done it the day of in that state of mind. She probably behaved very uncharacteristically because of it.

          1. MK*

            “I am going to leave if I get this other job and want you to give me a reference so that I can get it, today” is hardly a normal reference request either, it’s even more of a wtf for the manager. And she did say that the call should happen that day if possible; she did put the OP on the spot. That’s on her, it’s one thing to be gracious about an employee leaving and another to be expected to think of them while trying to deal with their resignation.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Yes, while OP didn’t handle it perfectly, neither did the employee.

              And if the interview is with someone she worked for previously, one wonders at the need for a referral from current manager at all. Beyond “It says here on the form.”

              1. Works in IT*

                Did the employee have the option to handle it more smoothly? If a company is unreasonable enough to require a reference from a current manager (what if the employee is trying to escape a tyrannical boss?) that increases the likelihood that they’d be unreasonable in other ways, such as telling the employee they NEED to have their manager give them the reference TODAY.

              2. Blue*

                Yeah, I was thinking it might be a pro-forma thing, which could be why the employee wasn’t concerned about OP not having time to process or prepare for the call.

                I will say kudos to OP for recognizing they went astray here – fortunately, it shouldn’t make a big difference in this particular case and hopefully they’ll be better prepared if this happens again in the future.

                1. OP*

                  Agreed. I am glad I didn’t say anything that jeopardized their chance. In fact I remember saying at one point I have nothing but good things to say -which is why I am sad to lose her. Ultimately, my employee was offered a higher salary than we could match and the quick timing of “i got a job and need a reference today” threw me off.

                  Totally understand now about the date negotiation. The employee and I were able to work out a great compromise.

              3. fhqwhgads*

                I took it, at least partially, as the poaching employer kinda put both the employee and the OP in an awkward position. I agree with Alison’s take in general but I do think there’s some nuanced difference when it’s very much a poaching situation, especially one where the new employer was literally reference to the current boss when hired for the current job. There’s a human element here that makes OP’s gobsmackedness very reasonable. Not the ideal thing to have done but humans are humans and when given no time to process surprising news not everyone can snap back to the ideal way they’d want to handle something if they’d been given time to think first.

                1. Fortitude Jones*

                  especially one where the new employer was literally reference to the current boss when hired for the current job.

                  This is the crux of the awkwardness for me. Why was this reference check even necessary since the new/old employer’s checker had already done the same for OP a year ago? I assume the reference checker gave the employee a glowing review based on her work, so then why come back and ask her current manager for additional information? It feels almost like the new/old employer was trying to stir the pot or rub it in the current manager’s face that they would be taking back this employee – I don’t know, it’s just very weird.

                2. Meercat*

                  This was my thought exactly. I mean how much would this employee have changed in a year? Couldn’t it have been ok to ask for a colleague in that case, or to give the employee a bit more time since it was clearly more of a formality?

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              I agree-it’s easy enough to say that the manager *should* give the employee as glowing a review as usual, but in practice it’s not that easy to control your initial reaction to things and LW wasn’t really given time to get past that initial reaction. Even just one day to process might have been helpful.

            3. AdAgencyChick*

              Totally. I wouldn’t call this a dropped ball on OP’s part at all. The employee asked for a same-day reference check after working for OP for only a year! She should be glad OP didn’t tell the reference checker, “She’s a good worker, but I’m a bit surprised that she’s jumping ship this soon, so good luck!”

              1. Important Moi*

                The employee and the reference checker may just as easily be unimpressed with LW and their company based on that response. I would be very happy to “poach” an employee whose employer gives that type of response.

                1. OhNo*

                  Especially given that the reference checker and the employee had worked together before, I think this tactic would reflect much more poorly on the LW than it would on the employee. One offhand comment isn’t likely to change the opinion of someone who already knows them fairly well.

        2. Samwise*

          Right — Asking for a reference Right Now! is fairly inconsiderate. And while the LW should have done better, they could also have said, I will need an hour or two to collect my thoughts so that I can give you an accurate reference.

          1. A Day at the Zoo*

            I don’t think anyone is required to give a reference for anyone — whether a good, bad or indifferent employee. The potential new employer was out of line insisting on having that reference and the employee should have pushed back on it. Would the new company have hired the employee if the manager gave a poor reference? I have had employees who thought they were superstars that in reality were barely competent. I think the current manager was gracious agreeing to do anything, never mind spur of the moment.

            1. Kathleen_A*

              I don’t. I don’t think what the OP did was awful, but “gracious”? No, not so much. In fact, I think if you have a good employee, you have an obligation to give a good reference. I guess that’s not the same as “required to” – there’s no law or anything – but I do think you are ethically obliged to give a good reference if that’s what the person has earned.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                Same. Yes, the timing was poor (hence the suggestion that, next time, should the OP be in a similar situation, she ask for more time to collect her thoughts), but if the employee truly had been stellar during the year of employment with OP, the employee should have been given a good review.

              2. Clisby*

                Same here. And seconding all the other commenters who have pointed out that managers should expect that people will leave from time to time (or check out other job openings to see what’s out there). That’s how it goes. Acting like you’re blindsided by this is like parents feeling blindsided that their kids went off to college, and on to their independent lives. In the inimitable words of Neil Gaiman on parenthood: “If you do your job right, they go away.”

              3. Risha*

                I agree. The only ethical thing to do when asked for a reference for a good employee is to give a good reference, full stop. Doing otherwise automatically moves you into the bad employer category. (Deliberately, that is. I’m not counting startled stammering if ambushed or the like, that’s just being human.)

            2. Anonymous Educator*

              I have had employees who thought they were superstars that in reality were barely competent.

              I’m not really sure how that’s relevant here, since the OP says the employee is a great employee:

              It honestly was not my best because I was not invested in losing a great employee.

        3. Mediamaven*

          I agree with you. I would feel really blindsided by that and I’ve never had that happen because it’s very a-typical. And then what happens if they don’t end up getting the job? Is LW obligated to keep them employed? It’s all super awkward.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            Why? There’s nothing wrong with looking for a new job, so why should it be awkward to find out that an employee may be looking for a new job? Unless the reason they’re looking is that they’re desperately unhappy or hate their supervisor or fellow employees or something, where does the awkwardness come in? The plain fact is that at any given time, many employees are at least open to a new job, even if they aren’t actually looking.

            1. Mediamaven*

              I did not say it would be awkward to find out an employee may be looking. That’s not the only thing that happened there. It would be very awkward to be asked to provide a reference for one of my employees when I didn’t even realize they were looking. I have never asked a potential employee to put me in touch with their current employer for that very reason.

              1. Kathleen_A*

                Well, to be precise, you said it was “all super awkward,” and you even asked if the LW was “obligated to keep them employed.” So it sounds to me as though it was more than the reference situation that was giving you pause. :-)

                Anyway, I agree that being asked to give a reference with little time to consider is a little odd and awkward. If the current supervisor must provide a reference (which is the weirdest bit right there, IMO), the OP should have been given a little more time to collect her thoughts and so on. But I don’t personally see anything terribly awkward about the aftermath if the employee doesn’t end up getting the job. But maybe that’s just me.

          2. Fortitude Jones*

            Is LW obligated to keep them employed?

            I would think so since it’s not a crime or breach of contract for an employee in an at will employment situation to job search while employed. As long as the employee continues to perform at a high level, she should be able to keep her job.

            1. OhNo*

              Particularly given that the employee said they weren’t actively looking. There’s no reason to assume that the employee has one foot out the door based on the info the LW has – it sounds like this was legitimately a ‘too good to be true’/’I’ll regret it if I don’t at least try’ kind of situation.

      2. WellRed*

        The fact that rhe reference checker recently worked with the employee makes it worse, to me, that she insisted on the current reference.

        1. Granger Chase*

          I agree. Especially since she was a reference for this employee to get the job they have now with LW. And she apologized for “poaching” the employee, which I found to be accurate, yet an odd thing to admit to your prospective employee’s current manager.
          I would think that in this case they could have hired the employee and called LW for a reference after the resignation had been put in just to verify that they had a been an employee of quality comparable or above how they had performed at their last job under the reference checker.

        2. Jadelyn*

          That made me wonder if perhaps this is more checking a box on a checklist than anything else. If the standard process at that company is to require 2 references, one of which must be the current manager, before hiring someone, then the (re)hiring manager needs to check off that process has been followed, even if it looks silly from the outside. So you get a hiring manager rehiring someone they’ve already worked with recently, who has to insist on getting a “reference” from their current manager even though they don’t really need it.

          (Before anyone suggests an exception should have been made, I’ll point out that consistency in applying a standard process is a major protecting factor in case of bias accusations. The more exceptions you make to a policy, the weaker it gets as a defense. “You say this is the policy, but you didn’t follow that policy in A, B, C, and D cases, and yet you did insist on following the policy in X case. Why?”)

    3. Monican*

      I think OP1’s reaction to the situation was understandable and is exactly why current managers shouldn’t be asked to provide references. Of course employees leave jobs, but current managers shouldn’t be expected to help them leave— it puts them in a situation where they have to act against their own self-interest. The new employer asking the employee for a reference from their current manager is what was tremendously unfair to the employee and I’m surprised Alison doesn’t see the problem with that.

      1. snowglobe*

        I’d like to think that if I was in the LW’s position, I’d give a great reference and then tell the hiring manager why their policy of asking for a reference from a current manager could really backfire and harm the job candidate. The job candidate won’t risk saying anything, but someone needs to point out how ridiculous this policy is.

        1. Washi*

          Yeah, I think this is the ideal response. I’m sure the LW is not the only one who had mixed feelings giving a reference like this.

        2. Fortitude Jones*

          This is what I would do, too. They could be jeopardizing the job seeker’s current employment by doing this – it’s unreasonable.

        3. NothingIsLittle*

          I think the major problem, though, was that OP hadn’t had time to process the immediate panic response to the idea that one of their team was leaving. The employee needed the reference the day she told her boss she was expecting to leave, there’s no way that’s normal practice. I’ve never been a manager to have direct experience with a report leaving, but I know that I wouldn’t be able to give someone a great reference two hours after I found out they were planning on leaving, not because I didn’t want the best for them (I’d like to believe I’d be excited that they found somewhere to keep growing), but because I would still be surprised and trying to figure out coverage for that position (which is why, while I think it’s totally inappropriate, I understand why the OP would have been asking for more notice from the new boss).

      2. pleaset*

        It’s understandable, but we should all try to do better, and a lot of us can.

        First, slow it down and process your emotions and motivations. If you’re upset about something, that’s important data to explore before acting (in this case, getting on the phone as a reference). The OP realizes she could have done better, and if she’d come to that conclusion before the call, it would have been better.

        1. fposte*

          She didn’t have time to slow it down. The employee either got the reference the OP was up for giving on the day or no response.

          Assuming the employee passed the request on as soon as she got it, this is just a crappy, crappy way to do references, and the OP isn’t going to be the only one whose response was less than fluid in such a situation.

          1. pleaset*

            Slow it down enough that she can spare 15 minutes to figure out how to compose herself enough to handle the call well. In a busy day, ask the call to be a couple hours later so she could carve out that time. If it took longer than that to to figure out how to do a good job, she’s got bigger problems.

            The request was that same day, not right that moment. Take 15 minutes to prep.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t see any reason to think she didn’t, though. 15 minutes wouldn’t do it for me, and I don’t think that’s a huge flaw. I’d need a day, and this isn’t a situation where there was a day. And I’d be generally happy to give a reference for a current employee, so it’s not resistance to that–it’s just I’m not likely to be able to handle the scheduling and the glowing recommendation with élan on the same day I’m processing the likely departure.

              1. fposte*

                I’m not saying the OP couldn’t have done better, btw–I think the stress of the situation doesn’t justify the negotiating with the prospective employer for the timeline, for instance. But I also think it’s situationally understandable that she couldn’t access polished glowing reference mode in that kind of interval.

                1. OhNo*

                  Agreed. We’re all human, and for many of us, our brains require processing time to get past an initial shock or panic response.
                  Sure, some people are lucky and can push past that in just 15 minutes with some deep breathing exercises. I’m not one of them, and apparently the OP isn’t either. That’s fine, it’s human to need more time than that.

                  That said, it’s not okay to give in to that panic response and try to negotiate more time with the other manager; it’s really not a manager’s place to do so. I understand why it happened, and there’s no guarantee I wouldn’t do something similar if I was in panic mode, but it’s worth noting for future situations.

                  OP, you’ve learned something about yourself here that you can use in the future: you need more processing time before providing a reference. That’s A-OK, and now that you know you can work around it if this situation should arise again.

          2. smoke tree*

            Yes, it seems really unreasonable on the other employer’s part. Particularly because the hiring manager had worked directly with the employee just a year before. I’m wondering if they were rushing their usual process because they know the employee and considered the final reference a formality–but in that case, it seems more logical to just drop it.

      3. SomebodyElse*

        This has come up before in another letter, and I reacted like you. I felt like I had fallen into an alternate dimension since nobody else had a problem with this.

        So besides the obvious problem as you stated, I just can’t imagine the working relationship if the employee didn’t get an offer from the other company. That has to make things awkward going forward and will certainly color the working relationship.

        I’ll get a ton of disagreement for saying this, but the reality is the employee would not be in a good spot. It’s very reasonable to think that the manager who now knows for sure that the employee is looking elsewhere is not going to invest a lot of time or effort into advancing that employee.

        The only time I think that it’s appropriate to ask for the current manager’s reference is a situation where the employee would be leaving for other reasons… trailing spouse, return to school, internal transfer/promotion, etc. In those cases I’d be perfectly happy to give a reference. Any other time, not so much.

        I also can’t fault the employee here, because they are put in a no win situation. I wonder what the policies are of the companies who do this (require the current manager reference) for giving out references. I also wonder what happens in situations where managers are not allowed per policy to give references?

        1. Cramball*

          That’s the boat I’m in. I never begrudge somebody for putting in notice, and most are welcome to come back, or use me as a reference on the future.
          Certainly an old manager can reach out with a too good to pass up offer. That sounded like the case here. Most times though I think somebody has their mind set on leaving, and whether it’s a month or a year, that’s what happens.

        2. Fortitude Jones*

          I also wonder what happens in situations where managers are not allowed per policy to give references?

          I imagine the employee would just be SOL.

        3. Anonymous Educator*

          The only time I think that it’s appropriate to ask for the current manager’s reference is a situation where the employee would be leaving for other reasons… trailing spouse, return to school, internal transfer/promotion, etc.

          Yeah, most of the time when I’ve given a ton of notice (4-9 months) has involved some kind of major relocation, and my managers volunteered to give me a good reference, because they knew I wasn’t leaving out of dissatisfaction with the job.

        4. Mediamaven*

          I agree. I think it would be wildly difficult to expect the LW to treat this employee exactly the same if she didn’t get the job. Whether that’s fair or not doesn’t really matter. The only bad guy in this story is the potential employer who put everyone in a challenging spot.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I do indeed see a problem with it and have written about that many times previously (one is linked in the letter, in fact), but when it happens, the current manager still needs to deal with it professionally.

    4. Delta Delta*

      I worked for someone who could be described as unpredictable (at best). He got wind a coworker was considering a position elsewhere and confronted him. It was full-on shouting about how coworker was ungrateful and how he should just fire him right now for looking. So, yeah, the current manager reference situation isn’t always a good one.

    5. Kimmybear*

      Not in HR but only once in 20 years have I been asked for a reference from a current supervisor. Turned out that the hiring manager and my current supervisor had known each other for years. It’s an awful practice because even in the best of situations, it forces the employee to have a conversation they may not be ready to have.

    6. Mike C.*

      It’s telling that you wouldn’t also try to find ways to retain your employee or find out if there were problems you were missing and could fix.

      1. Rugby*

        That isn’t really fair. Trying to retain an employee after they have indicated that they plan to leave usually doesn’t work. A lot of times there isn’t a problem that can be solved. A lot of people change jobs just because they want to do something new or because there are no opportunities to move up at their current employer or for completely non-work related reasons.

        1. AMPG*

          But this seems to be a different case – the employee is being approached by a previous employer whom they left on good terms for a really good opportunity. I think lots of people who were generally happy in their jobs would still be tempted by an offer like that, and it wouldn’t make them a “flight risk” if the offer fell through.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, and often leaving is the right decision for them. Or the manager would be happy to be able to refill the slot with someone stronger. There’s zero info here about the context, and thus absolutely no basis for criticizing Cramball.

        3. Bee*

          And don’t we generally say that people shouldn’t accept a counter-offer from their current employer anyway?

          1. Bopeep*

            Yeah, I had this come up when I quit my last job. My manager was basically trying to argue that things weren’t so bad and things could change (narrator: they weren’t going to change). At that point, though, if I had stayed, they’d still know I was deeply unsatisfied with the job, which would totally sour the relationship.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        It’s telling that you wouldn’t also try to find ways to retain your employee or find out if there were problems you were missing and could fix.

        By the time an employee leaves, it’s too late to fix those problems. In other words, if they knew they could give you meaningful and truthful feedback that you were likely to take seriously and probably implement, they’d probably have already done that and not threaten to leave in the hopes that’d wake you up to changing. It’s similar to salary counter-offers. If you think your employee is worth more, give her the raise when she asks for it, not when she gets a better offer from somewhere else.

        That said, if the employee in this case is being truthful, it really was about a good opportunity and not because there were problems at the current company.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I should amend that earlier comment: it’s not too late to fix the problems for the other employees and the company in general, but don’t try to fix the problems to get the employee to stay.

    7. AKchic*

      I have seen some petty managers in my time. Ones you’d never think would be petty, too. Some people get very possessive over “their” employees.

      At my last job, as much as I knew there were a few well-placed people who would give me great references if I asked, I didn’t want to risk the potential gossip (that place, as much as I love it, was toxic and gossipy). So, I only asked two former employees that I could trust in case I needed references, and one person I worked with on a national multi-agency coalition (we were co-chairs of the project).
      Luckily, none of my references were needed.

      I knew my immediate supervisor would have given a neutral reference at best, and only because they had to be, but they would make it clear they were required by company policy to remain neutral when they didn’t want to (and not in a good way). We did not get along.

    8. workerbee2*

      I have a very good relationship with my direct manager and told her that I was considering moving on / had a few applications out and what types of roles I was considering, and I’ve actually been getting *better* work since. I think it’s an effort to keep me engaged and not wanting to leave unless it’s for the perfect opportunity. There was one position that I was really excited about (a management position for which I have unusually relevant experience) and my manager was trying to figure out who out of her contacts at the organization might get me an “in.” Unfortunately, it looks like it didn’t pan out (I was not contacted for an interview after their skills exercise but the position is still open so IDK what they’re doing) but at least now I’m not itching to leave.

    9. Blue Horizon*

      I love Alison’s answer on this and the general tone of the comment responses, but I think there is still a big gap between the ‘ideal’ scenario and how most managers would actually handle this in practice. Even though I work in a country with proper labor laws now, I still find the idea of asking my current manager for a reference alarming. In America, the land of at-will employment contracts, it would terrify me (and in fact I might be inclined to regard it as a power play by the potential new employer and withdraw my candidacy).

  2. Sami*

    1- Oh wow. At the least, you need to call back the reference checker with an apology and an explanation and an honest reference.
    You owe your employee a huge apology as well!

    1. Zombie Unicorn*

      At least the employee is known to them, so it might not make as much of an impact as it otherwise could?

      1. boop the first*

        I’m curious about this perceived impact… if the hiring manager was a great communicator, they’d take the hesitation and questions of timeline as a sign that current manager is losing a decent worker. If current manager was more enthusiastic, is it because they are supportive or is it because they are trying to offload a problem?

        1. OP*

          Thanks my employee did get the job. I was complimentary of their work overall and mentioned i was very sad to lose her. But usually with references fir former employees (and I have done 100’s) I sing their praises. Ultimately in my industry this is a busy time. It is a tough time to lose and employee. I am glad things worked out for the employee and learned my lesson to ask for more time and not tru to negotiate the time – and overall not take it personally.

    2. Orange You Glad*

      What about sending an email?

      “I realized after we got off the phone that my surprise at [Employee Name] leaving came across as a less-than-enthusiastic reference. That doesn’t reflect my evaluation of [EN] at all! They are [specific trait A], [specific trait B], and I’ve always been impressed with how they handle [specific thing C]! If you would like to talk further about them, I’m happy to schedule another phone call with you. Thanks!”

    3. MK*

      I didn’t get the impression that the OP wasn’t honest, just too stunned to think through their dismay about the employee’s potential departure. It’s natural that the first reaction to an announcement like this would be frantic thoughts about how you are going to deal with the work, not how to be scrupulously fair to the person leaning. Especially when the departure appears imminent; this wasn’t an employee saying they were job searching, they were a finalist to the point of checking current manager references.

      The employee probably had their reasons for handling it as they did, but I think they were ill-advised to spring the reference call on the OP as they did. The OP sounds fantastic as if they are concerned about being fair to their employee and this might have been avoided if they were given a day or two to put the news into perspective.

      So I am not sure an apology is appropriate, but sending an email to the reference-checker explaining that her reference was coloured by her surprise might be.

      1. Mookie*

        More often than not, it is not in any employee’s best interest in informing their employer that they are actively or passively job-seeking, so that would be an inadvisable expectation. Apart from the fact that two parties preferred that the reference call happen that day, I don’t see anything being “sprung” on the LW, and the timing of the employee’s final day is something that can be worked out later and only with the employee herself. No amount of fluster, except for the greenest of managers, could make someone forget that that’s how it works. She was feeling aggrieved, I understand, but her shock—especially the expression of it—is not warranted. If she wanted to push back the call by a day, I think everyone would understand. I am of the phone-averse generation, so I, too, would have wanted to have the time necessary to make myself sound like an excellent and honest reference. In future, LW, take the time you need; colleagues and peers are also judged by how they perform during reference checks.

        1. MK*

          I am not arguing that the employee should have told her boss sooner, just that she handled the logistics of the reference unwisely. We obviously disagree about this, but I think it’s pretty unreasonable to say that a manager who is told their employee is probably leaving and asked to give a reference about it that day had nothing sprung on her, or that the onus was on her to postpone the call till she had digested the news. Maybe a more experienced manager would have handled it better, but a lot of people would want to get it over with so that they can focus on the transition, or wouldn’t want to appear churlish by refusing to make the call that day if they had time.

          1. pleaset*

            “just that she handled the logistics of the reference unwisely”

            The at person might not have control over the timing of reference calls, or feel she did.

            If she gave the OP an hour or less, that’s a bit abrupt. But a few hours? Really managers should be able to handle that. Stuff comes up all the time in life that is a surprise, and it’s worth practicing how to deal with that.

            “they were both put into an impossible situation.” Impossible? Nah, it’s not impossible for the OP. She and all us can learn to process why we’re upset, chill out, and put a strong foot forward. It’s literally not that hard with practice. Note – I’m not saying it’s wrong to be stressed or upset in a situation where a key employee is leaving – feeling that way is normal. But we can learn to handle/hide that stress in ways that don’t undermine the task (in this case, the task being giving a good reference for someone you think is strong).

            1. fposte*

              Stuff comes up that’s a surprise, but that doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to expect *everything* to be a surprise.

              The thing here is that the employee’s departure is already the OP’s problem, and the employee is asking for a short-notice favor on top of it. I don’t blame the employee for asking in a situation where she had no options, but I don’t blame the OP for being thrown, either. It would be nice if the OP could rise above it, but that’s putting the onus on her for fixing the awkwardness of the situation, and I don’t think that’s where it lies.

              1. pleaset*

                “that’s putting the onus on her for fixing the awkwardness of the situation, and I don’t think that’s where it lies.”

                I’d try anyway.

                And I didn’t say we should expect everything to be a surprise, but skill in professional life is dealing with it. When I’m surprised I try to check myself with questions like – why am I upset, what are the big-picture goals in this situation, how should I respond. Spending time – could be a few seconds or as long as an hour (or even days with major life changes) depending on the stakes and the issue can make a huge difference in the quality of my response.

                in this case, the answer to what the OP was upset is what the employee is likely to be leaving soon.

                What are the big picture goals? Well, the OP could consider how to keep the employee, but as a good person she didn’t do that.

                So the big picture goals, expressed in the letter, were to give a good reference.

                So how to do that? Speak enthusiastically. Try to put aside the stress for the call. Think about strong stuff to say in advance of the call. Most of us do that anyway for references of strong employees anyway.

                That’s how to do it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but this is how to deal with surprises.

                1. fposte*

                  I think she did try; the fact that she didn’t make it to what you want doesn’t mean she didn’t try.

                2. MK*

                  Usually references have considerable advance notice, and they are not themselves adversely affected if the candidate gets the job.

                  Also, this is not how any human person I know would deal with this surprise. “You are leaving unexpectadly after a year on the job for a lateral move? Oh, I must immediately think of great things to say about you and speak about you with great enthusiasm!”

                3. fhqwhgads*

                  I didn’t interpret the letter as she intentionally gave a less stellar than she would’ve reference. I took it as she was so distracted by the abruptness of the situation that the reference came out more subdued. OP wasn’t tanking the reference on purpose, but she was (and probably sounded it) distracted and whatever she said probably didn’t come out quite the way it could’ve. Humans gonna human.

              2. BenAdminGeek*

                Agree with this, fposte.

                Pleaset, I have some great employees who I would be willing to be a glowing reference for. But a same day reference? That would be very difficult for me, as I’d be swirling on all the potential upcoming changes. Your approach of dispassionately evaluating things within a few seconds to an hour sounds lovely, but I don’t think it matches the reality of how many people handle these situations.

            2. Colette*

              “A few hours” would still be time where she’s still doing her job, though, which may mean she’s swamped with other stuff and can’t process that her new employee is leaving. In my experience, if you want people to get past their initial emotional reaction (panic, hurt, etc.) they need at least a full day.

              1. fposte*

                Yup, that’s me. TBH, even having to schedule a same-day reference call would be a challenge even before you get to the emotions.

              2. pleaset*

                A full day? To deal with it for a call?

                I frankly think you should practice hiding or setting aside emotions if a fairly common work event (ie something that will happen at least once every few years as a manager) requires a full day to be able to fake enthusiasm.

                1. fposte*

                  It’s not a common work event, though. I’ve never even heard of it before. This isn’t just giving a reference.

                2. MK*

                  A thing that happens every few years isn’t common. And having a not-perfect immediate reaction to an unpleasant surprise is natural. I wouldn’t begrudge my supervisor her human feelings, if her first thoughts after being told I resign were “Oh, what are we going to do for the next month’s without you”. I would expect her to get over it and treat me well, but it’s pretty unrealistic to expect the people you are inconveniencing to prioritize your needs immediately upon hearing the news.

                3. Colette*

                  I don’t think faking enthusiasm should be the goal, though. The goal should be to give an accurate reference, and you can’t do that when you’re reeling from something unexpected (and I would put “employee of one year announces she’s seriously considering another job” in that category).

                4. Jadelyn*

                  Look, I’m thrilled that you are a perfect manager with absolute and immediate control over your emotions no matter what gets sprung on you, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation to put on everyone in general. As fhqwhgads said above, humans gonna human. Including having imperfect control over their emotions when something unpleasant has been sprung on them out of nowhere and they’re not given much time to compose themselves before responding. Maybe cut the OP a little slack here.

                5. BenAdminGeek*

                  “able to fake enthusiasm” is a pretty rough way to look at this. The OP should be honestly responding and evaluating if she’s a reference like this. This isn’t the time to fake sincerity, and your insistence that this should have been easy isn’t helpful to the OP.

                  I’m with Jadelyn on this one.

                6. NothingIsLittle*

                  I hate to join a pile on, but I think it needs to be pointed out that you need the time to go into panic mode so that you’re not faking your enthusiasm. You need the time (and one day should not be a huge ask) to become genuinely happy that your employee found a way to progress because, in my experience, people can generally tell when you’re faking enthusiasm. It’ll throw up all sorts of unwarranted red flags. It’s not the sign of a good manager to lie about how stellar they find their employees.

        2. Fortitude Jones*

          I agree with you – it doesn’t sound like the employee would have had enough lead time to know about reference checks to warn the OP, so they were both put into an impossible situation. I also agree that the OP should have asked the employee to go back to the hiring manager and request another day for the reference check, which is something OP can consider going forward.

          1. MK*

            The employee is being poached, a.k.a. actively recruited, by a manager with whom they have a previous great relationship. She should have pushed back on the request for an immediate reference from a current manager.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              That’s…what I said. The OP should have told the employee she would be a reference, but the employee needed to go back to the new employer and reschedule the date. And even in a true “poaching” situation, some people still might not feel comfortable speaking up and asking for schedule changes in fear of the employer saying never mind or ghosting altogether/moving onto the next, so I don’t necessarily blame the employee for not immediately requesting an extra day either.

              1. MK*

                No, I think the employee should have pushed back before ever broaching the subject with the OP and then old her to expect the call the next day. Which…maybe she did. Or she was so excited about the shiny new role that she didn’t even think about how the OP would not be in the right frame of mind to give a great reference just after hearing the news.

                1. Fortitude Jones*

                  Right, we don’t know how this situation went because we’re hearing it secondhand from the OP – speculation is moot. What we’re telling OP is that, going forward, if she’s put into that situation, she can ask the employee to request more time if the employee didn’t already think to do so.

                2. VelociraptorAttack*

                  Fortitude Jones, I think what MK is saying is that she thinks the employee had standing to push back about her current supervisor being a reference to begin with. Not standing to push back the time but standing to push back AGAINST the reference at all considering she is a known entity.

                3. Fortitude Jones*

                  @VelociraptorAttack Maybe she did – who knows? What I’m saying is, the employee didn’t write in for advice on how to handle a situation like this (again), the OP did, and that’s why the majority of the comments and Alison’s answer focuses on what OP could have done better in this situation.

      2. anonagain*

        I suspect the employee didn’t find out about the reference check until the last minute either. I don’t fault (or envy!) the employee in this situation.

        It seems to me the fault lies with the interviewer for requiring a current supervisor reference in the first place.

        1. Psyche*

          Yeah. It is an awkward situation that was not handled great. However, I think since the OP does say that they gave a fair reference and that the interviewer know the employee well and has previously been a reference for them it doesn’t seem necessary to contact them again and prolong the awkwardness. Move forward at this point unless you think you hurt their chances to get the job.

    4. smoke tree*

      The other employer was the source of the awkwardness, though, so I don’t think it’s on the LW to smooth it over with them. They have to know that demanding a same-day reference for a current employee who used to work for them just a year before would likely throw most managers off. Ultimately, it’s the employee who was put in a crappy situation by the other employer here, and I have to wonder why they felt the need to require this reference.

  3. Sam Foster*

    #3 perhaps I’m too big of a cynic but should the employee have any expectation that this will be made right? My experience is there is a reason people say things like “the only way to get a raise is to go somewhere else.” It seems corporations are wired to pay employees as little as possible for as long as possible regardless of merit or policy.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Just the fact that the company has guidelines for people being in a certain part of the salary band based on years and reviews is heartening, and something I’ve rarely seen in corporate America. I think this is a good sign, but companies are made up of individuals with varied opinions on how to treat employees, so if I were LW I’d wait until after the next review to bring it up, if possible.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Most large companies have this, but it’s hidden from non managers.
        I agree that OP should wait until the exceptional rating is assigned before approaching management. Too often I’ve seen HR block stuff like this as a cost cutting move. It’s penny wise pound foolish, with the assumption that a) workers are interchangeable cogs and b) mediocre employee brings almost the same value as an excellent one. In engineering at least, a good engineer is 10x more productive than an average one.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yup. Out of five companies I’ve worked for post-college, only one of them published salary bands on HR’s intranet page so employees could see where they fell among quintiles. Everyone else either hid the band or didn’t have one.

          1. miss_chevious*

            That’s one of the things I like about my large employer — the salary bands are internally available to everyone, by position and market. It’s very useful to know where you are in-band, and what other positions pay in the event you want to transfer to another department. It really takes all the guesswork out of it and fosters a culture of trust.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Can I ask – has it ever caused resentment from people who feel they should be higher in their position’s range, but who aren’t performing at a level that would justify that? Because I’ve been trying to get my employer to move that direction with our salary ranges, and the main pushback I’ve gotten has been fear that employees will start wanting to be in the top of their salary band even though they haven’t earned it.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                Don’t you guys get pushback now from employees who believe they should be paid more, but aren’t working at the level to justify it? My employers who didn’t publish pay bands did, so really, the cloak and dagger mystery behind our compensation structure was silly because they were already having issues justifying people’s pay without there being a guide with explanations for each band and quintile attached.

                Basically, they’re going to get this pushback regardless so why not just be transparent about the bands and provide detailed explanations for each range that will show employees what they need to do to be compensated at each level within their job grade/category.

              2. workerbee2*

                My employer has transparent salary bands for almost all positions (just not director level and above) and it’s spelled out in the compensation manual that is readily available on our intranet that pay practices are to hire at the bottom of the range unless the candidate has more than the minimum qualifications for the position. The only raises at my company are yearly merit/COL increases (~2.5-3%) so you have to get a promotion if you want a raise. If you get promoted, you get an up to 10% increase or the minimum for the new position, whichever is greater. There doesn’t necessarily have to be an open position on your team to get a promotion; your chain of command initiates paperwork to reclassify you to a different position, which has to be approved by several levels up to the VP of the business unit.

    2. Faith*

      My company has salary bands and policies on who should be in what percentile of each band based on their reviews. The managers get refresher training each year before they have to submit raise/bonus recommendations. The compensation periodically gets reviewed and people do get bumped up mid-year if it was determined that somehow they slipped through the cracks. Also, I’m happy to say that compensation is tied to market and we don’t ask job applicants to provide their compensation history anymore.

      1. RandomPoster*

        Yep – I’ve gotten two small, unsolicited raises in the last 18 months for pay band adjustments. It’s one way that my company is seemingly doing the right thing for pay equity.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      The company I used to work for was so unreasonably cagey about salary bands. Even when I was talking to them about an internal promotion I couldn’t get any information out of them at all, it was so frustrating. And I did end up feeling like I had to go somewhere else to get a raise.

      But I have a friend who had a new boss come in, look at everyone’s salaries and say “you’re being underpaid, let’s bring you in line with the market” and gave her a big raise right on the spot. I certainly wish we had more people like that running things!

    4. AMPG*

      I got a pretty substantial raise at my last employer when my boss looked at the salary bands and realized I had enough experience to move up a band. It was a subjective enough call that I probably wouldn’t have gone to him on my own to ask, so I appreciated that he did it.

      Now, promotions at this company were often hard to get without leaving, but if you didn’t mind staying in the same job, the bands were wide enough that you could get merit increases for quite some time.

    5. Jadelyn*

      I’m not exactly an idealist when it comes to corporate ethics, but I do think you’re perhaps being a bit too cynical here, yes. Many places do have that kind of (crappy) attitude – but there are places that give a shit about fairness, too. My current employer has, on multiple occasions, chosen to “make someone whole” when giving a raise they should’ve gotten a long time ago, by making it retroactive. I’ve gotten an almost 2-year retro payment once, and I’ve helped process retros for other people for anywhere from 3 months to a year, because we want to do the right thing for our employees when we can. So employers that choose to do right by their people do exist.

    6. Violet*

      I think it really depends on your company. But I probably come down more on the cynical side too. My employer has a system similar to the one LW describes and we have a lot of tenured, experienced staff in my department making the “beginner” salary at the bottom of their approved band despite multiple consecutive years of excellent performance reviews and managers advocating for them. At one point I actually mustered the energy to organize a group of managers to advocate for our junior staff who we felt were underpaid, and HR just came back saying they conducted their review and determined the staff were all within the fair range, and basically evaded any attempt to get them to explain how a 5-year star employee making the bottom 5% of their range is fair. I used to think my employer was one of the good ones, but it turns out they’re only good on paper in the handbook, and in practice they’re not.

    7. OP2*

      Even if they wanted to block it because they haven’t hit the 5th review yet, it’s a really shoddy argument to say that this justifies being paid 30k under that mark with only one review in your way. In a perfect world, the employee would continue to progress through the band so that by the 5th year (assuming they are a good performer) they would be hitting the 50% mark in stride and by the 10th, they’d be at 100% within that same stride.

      I would absolutely push for a raise using what you know, because even if OP3 did get their 5th excellent review, the company is 100% not going to give them a raise that would result in a 30k increase. If they are able to argue for one chunk now and another chunk after the 5th review, it might actually come close to the 50k mark. And while yes, companies are incredibly cagey about salary bands, the fact that they have this published and OP3 knows about it means it’s a pay discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen. This is why if you have a policy or procedure it is vital that you actually follow it.

      1. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

        A fifth excellent review and them still being in the bottom 15% means they have been grossly underpaid for five years. That’s half a decade.

        They should have been brought to midrange two years ago, after the second excellent review.

        There is no reason to wait for a fifth excellent review to point out that they are underpaid.

        If they get a fifth excellent review and aren’t brought to midrange, they need to find a new job, because the company salary bands are meaningless, and just for show.

        IMO, YMMV.

  4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Rather amazed that a manager would use the term “poaching’ — I’ve dwelled on this before; it’s a perjorative term that is, IMHO, used incorrectly and inappropriately – when in the free market someone is hired away from another company. The term usually applies to illegal hunting or fishing, and shouldn’t be used in relation to career advancement or hiring at true market value.

    That aside – it is unusual for someone to use their current manager/supervisor as a reference for an external, out-of-company hire, with very few exceptions. Such as ,

    a) the current company is going down the tubes and jobs are being eliminated; a good manager will support a loyal employee in a chance to transition – and also save the company severance and unemployment costs

    b) it’s a once in a lifetime spectacular opportunity which could not be offered where the employee currently is – example, an assistant coach with a college or pro team is offered a head coaching job somewhere else

    c) the position is more fitting with the employee’s background – for instance, someone biding time as a retail clerk is offered a position as a marketing intern – consistent with his/her college major. No manager should be upset because someone doesn’t want to sell nail polish over the counter for the rest of her life.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I’ve heard it used between organizations. In fact, I’ve been the poached one. My old boss’s was starting on a brand new program and wanted to bring me on. My current boss got wind of it and let him know in no uncertain terms that I was needed on his project. In the end, I finished project 1 before going on to project 2. In this instance it was all within the same company that technically, at least, had the “right” to assign me where I was most needed in the company. Under the company rules you had to get permission from the current manager to go to the new manager. My old boss had breached protocol by approaching me before approaching my current manager.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        This sounds like a bad protocol for employees; it would almost always only benefit managers. It would be incredibly easy for a manager to tell another manager that they’re not willing to let you move to another team or say bad things about you so the other manager doesn’t offer you another position. This could happen without you ever even knowing there was a position available that you might want!

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Yes. I was trapped on a program once because of this. It got ugly. Let’s just say it took a Vice President to get me out.

          1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

            I am choosing to believe this means Joe Biden had to come in and save the day.

            1. texan in exile*

              “Hope Gets the Job Transfer,” third in the series after “Hope Never Dies” and “Hope Rides Again!”

        2. Observer*

          Yes, there are lots of letters like this. What makes it stupid is that if you let a bad manager do this too often, the company loses out because good staff eventually go elsewhere.

      2. Peggy*

        We have the same rule – managers may not approach other managers’ subordinates about jobs. Most clever ones circumvent this, though, by asking their current employees to spread the word about their open position – and by the way, they heared XY was rather unsatisfied with their current position…

    2. Mels*

      Agreed! When beings are poached, they’re preyed upon with no say in the situation. It’s such a paternalistic concept, it’s demeaning and it makes it sound like a leader providing a good opportunity is doing something wrong.

      Instead, I think we’d all agree that we have agency as adult professionals, so the only thing we can be is recruited. When someone recruits us, we get to choose whether to accept that.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      It’s a common term and there’s no bad connotation to it.

      It’s pretty common when talking internal transfers and promotions. I’ve told other managers… “Heya, just a heads up I’m thinking of poaching your star employee” or when it’s the other way around “What’s the deal… we need to talk about you poaching Fergus from my team!” (In case you were wondering, both are said with a smile and good humor.

      I mean… poaching is hunting where one should not be. Which is why it’s usually appropriate for these kind of situations.

    4. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I’ve heard it used within the company. Some companies are territorial, especially ones that are short-staffed, and it’s likely that an employee taking a lateral transfer or promotion without their boss’s explicit blessing is going to be viewed as a traitor, and their new manager as a poacher.

      I don’t agree with it, but you can’t always single-handedly change company culture, so you just roll with it as best as you can to keep your reputation and working relationships intact.

    5. Tom & Johnny*

      Poaching is generally, though not always, reserved for when a key competitor or key customer asks a key employee (lots of key there) to come join them. It’s specific, targeted, and done within a closely-knit or economically interdependent group of companies.

      In other words, it’s not just the employee’s private matter. It risks business relationships between the companies. Sometimes it can break trust and jeopardize contracts and obligations. So you might see managers approaching managers and clearing it with them first – which preserves the larger business relationship. I’ve also seen it handled where the employee quit, ostensibly with no new job lined up. And then 6 weeks later, surprise, they were hired by the other company. This was more a matter of plausible deniability than an actual ruse.

      Ideally we’d all be free agents where our expertise and insider information has no material effect on our employer and creates mutual obligations, real or imagined. But that’s not the way it works once employees reach a certain level of access to information and skillfulness. Especially access to proprietary data.

  5. Safetykats*

    For OP2 – while I agree that your company is doing a poor job of expressing their expectations, it is reasonable to expect that adults can and will manage many interpersonal problems themselves, or at least attempt to do so. It’s also true that HR will most likely ask you what you have done to express to your very rude and juvenile coworker that his behavior is unwelcome. Sadly, a lot of interpersonal problems escalate over time simply because people don’t speak up early – and the offending coworkers somehow interpret lack of objection as meaning the problem behaviors are welcome. Definitely go ahead and tell “Crash” that he’s out of line, and needs to stop. If you have to tell him a second time, it’s also reasonable to tell him that the next time you will be going to HR. A lot of the time, that will be enough to make a problem behavior stop. And if not, then that is definitely what HR is there for.

    1. Approval is optional*

      I agree that in most situations HR/management can reasonably expect you to speak to a coworker before escalating an *interpersonal* issue, but I think it should be clear in any policy/memo etc, that if you have a reasonable fear of doing so (reasonable from your perspective, not necessarily your manager’s), then it is probably not in fact an interpersonal issue at all, and it is reasonable to skip that step. A coworker crashing equipment into you, asking for your personal email, and running after you to say goodbye (when taken collectively), could quite reasonably be considered by the LW as something that should be taken straight to management IMHO.

      1. TechWorker*

        I also don’t even know how you’d phrase these complaints – they would fully weird me out too, but if they’re in the category of things that are a little unusual by themselves but then paint a more concerning picture together then addressing them directly might be difficult.

        (Bumping into someone sounds like it could plausibly be a mistake, and ‘please don’t say goodbye to me’ is a bit of a weird conversation?)

        1. Thankful for AAM*

          I think that in the archives here there are many sample scripts for what to say. At the next incident or next time they are in the same (piblic spot) with few ppl around, I’d say something like, “recently you bumped the mail cart into me, asked for my personal email, and otherwise took steps that seemed to show interest in a relationship outside of work. I wanted to let you know I keep a firm line between work and personal life. Please keep the focus on work.” If he does a thing again, “I asked you to keep the focus on work, If this continues, I will be asking manager and HR for direction.”

        2. #2 OP for the day*

          #2OP here –

          I think this is what I’m most confused about. For the most part our jobs don’t interact at all, so he is going out of his way to “bump” into me or “say goodbye.” Sadly, these aren’t the weirdest offenses just the most recent. I’m also not the only women he’s done this too, my work wife recently got engaged and his first response was “Well I guess that one is serious and you’re off the market now?” (To put into more context the weirdness, I included his age because we are both in our early/ mid twenties.)

          So for these interactions, I’m aware I should address it head on.. but you’re right, do I just say “please don’t say goodbye to me?”

          1. SomebodyElse*

            I think the ‘goodbye’ one, you’re right, sounds a bit odd.

            But how about “Bob, why did you run all the way out here to say bye? That’s very odd, especially with you going out of your way last week to bump into my chair with your cart and wanting my personal cell number. I’ll be honest… you’re coming off as creepy. I’m sure that’s not your intention, but there it is. ” ?

          2. nony non*

            40 yo? You’re in your 20s? He’s done it to someone else? ugh. He’s a serial harasser, let your manager know ASAP. You do need to talk directly to John, but your manager should be able to help you deal with John’s pattern of harassment and any fallout. Scripts:

            1st conversation with John, pleasant but serious tone, in an open office or conference room, or the parking lot, visible to others but out of earshot: “Hey John, I’m uncomfortable with all the attention you’ve been giving me, like running out after me to say good bye. Hitting my chair with the cart was Seriously Not Cool. Please keep it professional – if we see each other, we’ll say hi, but don’t come looking for me.”

            Second conversation, if he continues, serious tone: “Hey John, this is getting creepy, and I’m done with it. I need to limit ourselves to purely professional interactions.”

            Talk to your manager after the first conversation: “John has been pushing for a more personal relationship than I’m comfortable with. He chases me into the parking lot to say goodbye, he asked for my personal email, and tried to make weekend plans with me. I’ve told him directly I’m not interested. I wanted to let you know, just in case he doesn’t back off.”

            In the moment, can start after the 1st conversation, solemn face no smile:
            Asks for email / plans: “No John, I’m not interested.”
            Runs after to say bye: “Go away John, this is excessive and makes me uncomfortable.”
            Crashes chair: Loudly “John! That is Not Ok! What do you think you are doing?!”
            (ie, make a fuss. Physical contact deserves fussing.)

            It is Really Hard for women to push back on this stuff – we are totally socialized to play along. And it doesn’t help that a small number of men get aggressive, and we don’t know which men are going to be that way.

            Good luck, and send us an update, please!

          3. JSPA*

            he’s chatty, chatty, way too chatty and a bit personal…
            “Let me stop you here. I have a lot to do.”
            Happens again?
            “Was there something work-related that you needed?”
            Happens again:
            “This sounds like a “pals” conversation not a work conversation. I’m not interested in being pals.”

            “I’m out of control, wheeee!”
            “Well, get it under control then. This is an office.”

            “had to rush out and say goodbye.”
            “I’m your coworker, not your BFF.”
            If he protests,
            “You’re putting way too much effort into a co-worker ‘goodbye.’ It’s not welcome.”

            You may get “feelingsmail” (Reply with a one line, “This is not welcome. It needs to stop right now.” save it, and BCC it to HR.)

            You may get, “I’m this way with everyone.” OK, everyone gets to set their own boundaries for whether that attitude creeps them out. He can go be boisterous with people who want to participate. That’s not you.

            You may get, “You’re entitled / you think you’re special / you’re no fun.”

            Don’t engage: turn to computer, give him only an, “If you say so.”

            1. JSPA*

              And above all:

              if he ever asks for email again,

              “No. Asking once when I clearly don’t want to be pals was pushy. Asking twice puts you in the creep zone. Let’s clear something up. We are coworkers. We are not friends or pals or anything else. We’re not going to become friends. There’s nothing you can do to change that. Stop trying.”

            2. Wren*

              Excellent scripts. These are the workplace versions of what my friend once used for a subway harrasser: “Go away! I don’t know you, and I don’t want to know you!”

          4. Skywriter*

            I’ll stop wandering up the comment chain repeating myself, LOL (note to self–do a search for similar advice before commenting!), but as others have said, this is harassment at this point, and I want to mention that if this guy is making you feel uncomfortable, especially to the point where you’re in any way concerned about how he might react to you asking him to stop, it’s definitely worth taking a look at resources and advice written specifically for handling workplace harassment before you decide whether to talk to him yourself or not (and, if you do choose to talk to him, the safest ways to do so.)

            It’s worth listening to your feelings of fear, or of something being “off,” even if someone seems mostly okay, since harassment can escalate, including when the person is confronted. Not trying to be alarmist, but from personal experiences, taking your safety (and emotional wellbeing) seriously when someone first seems to be pushing at your boundaries is very much worthwhile. Better safe than sorry.

          5. Observer*

            You’ve gotten some good scripts. Deploy them. Go to your manager and HR after the first time. This is NOT an “interpersonal matter” in the typical sense – this is a harassment issue. Tell them that right now you are just looping them in because if (actually when but you want to word it in a way that plays to their expectations) he does it again, you want them to already have the back ground. And the reason you think it’s likely that he’s going to continue to misbehave is because he’s been doing a lot of things even though you have been telegraphing your lack of availability AND he’s done this to other young people before.

            Then, the next time he acts up, you go to Manager and HR and tell them that you are making a complaint of harassment.

            And when you talk to this creep, DO NOT smile or use ANY softening language at all.

        3. Zephy*

          “Please don’t follow me out to the parking lot” is less weird, though. Well, it’s not, because you shouldn’t have to tell an entire grown adult man not to act like that, but at least “please don’t follow me out to the parking lot” more clearly lays out the part that was objectionable.

          1. AKchic*

            If he does it a second time, I’d be a bit more… ruthless… in my delivery.

            “I asked you to not do that. Do you have any idea how that looks? This is unwanted and you’re persisting. I asked you not to follow me to the parking lot. From an outsider’s viewpoint, the optics aren’t in your favor.” Then bring out your phone and document it in an email to HR. Don’t even hesitate because he may already be trying to save face.

            His feelings don’t matter if he has continued past the initial “don’t do that”.

        4. Jadelyn*

          Yeah, that’s where I come down. How do you say to someone “Please stop saying goodbye to me” without sounding like you’re the jerk in the situation?

          People who act like that are often masterful at treading the boundary line and keeping their actions juuuuust this side of overtly inappropriate, precisely because it does make it a lot harder to call them out on it.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            “Please don’t chase me into the parking lot to say good bye.” How we name it makes it clear what the weird / bad part is: not the ‘good bye’, but rather the pursuit.

            I think it’s time to pull out The Question story from Captain Awkward. The whole post is great, as are tons of the comments, but this one story captures so much about what is wrong with this behavior and how to see it as the harassment it is.


            Find in page, “Dr Glass” .

      2. fposte*

        I don’t think fear is that reasonable a standard, though; we get letters from people who are afraid to say all kinds of things. I also think that in this situation the OP’s telling the guy to knock it off is still a reasonable first step.

    2. FiveWheels*

      It’s difficult to address this kind of issue because each individual occurance is mundane and it’s only when connected as a whole that they become unnerving. So what point do you raise it? And how do you word it when the problem isn’t just the immediate behaviour, but weeks’ worth of things that could plausibly be unrelated?

      Running after her to say goodbye, for example, would be strange in its own… But in context seems to me like a massive red flag.

      1. Zephy*

        We’re firmly in the #MeToo era now, I think this guy has had quite enough time splashing about in the Sea of Plausible Deniability. He knows what he’s doing.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Oh, *he* absolutely does know what he’s doing. The problem is presenting it to uninvolved parties – especially men, double especially if they’re in management – and getting them to see past the plausible deniability of his actions enough to get their support in doing something about it.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            “He comes to find me when I am alone” (OPs benchmate is gone)
            “He chases me into the parking lot to say good bye.”
            “I have asked him to stop coming to find me, but he still does it.”

            I’d probably start with “He is interrupting my work for no reason, can you ask him to leave me alone” just because it’s most likely to get an actual response without having to parse the whole ‘Is / Isn’t he harassing me’ and possible ‘she’s a b* / trouble maker’ blowback, but putting the other three together should raise flags for reasonable people.

          2. Observer*

            Triply especially management that is clearly trying to tell everyone that they do NOT want to hear anyone’s complaints.

      2. Tempestuous Teapot*

        Exactly that way. “I’ve noticed a pattern of behavior not appropriate for work. Running after me to say goodbye in the parking lot, requesting my email, and repeatedly crashing the mailcart into me are unwelcome and need to stop.”
        Follow ups to objections are: “I strictly keep my professional and private lives separate. ” “I prefer to keep work professional only. ” Repeat, document, send to HR. The problem is the continuation of the inappropriate behavior.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      ‘Sadly, a lot of interpersonal problems escalate over time simply because people don’t speak up early – and the offending coworkers somehow interpret lack of objection as meaning the problem behaviors are welcome.’

      This is such a simple yet difficult thing for people to do, in and out of work, but it’s a must. HR is not a therapist or counseling center. If a colleague’s behavior is criminal or unethical, they *should* be informed. But things like the OP describes don’t require an HR salvo yet.

      An irate employee once demanded we fire a co-worker, or at the very least make him take unpaid leave as a reprimand. Why? Because he called her ‘dear.’ She called this highly sexist behavior – she wasn’t wrong – but she also admitted she knew the man had problems remembering names and callled everyone ‘dear.’ Men, too. The employee was aghast when the HR Manager asker if she’d told this person she wanted to be called by her name. You see, it wasn’t her job to have those discussions, it was HR’s.

      Funny that she had no problem telling HR exactly how to handle this, but she couldn’t ask someone to make the effort to call her by her name.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        OP2s co-worker is targeting her (and other early/mid 20s women) and bordering on harassment (crashing into chair w/cart), so it’s actually valid for her to ask her manager or HR for help in that situation. The company *needs* to know about his behavior in case he escalates.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I understand that, but that wasn’t my point. My response was directed to the comment I copied and shared from upthread.

    4. Emily K*

      That letter was a roller coaster TBH. I started off laughing out loud at the absurd specificity and language choice that goes into someone deciding to put in writing, “If you have an issue with a coworker, confront them within three (3) business days” in an official memo, but quickly stopped laughing when I got to, “Or let it go because it must not be important,” as if those are the only two possible options. That’s not only not a best practice – in some cases it may well be illegal. The company doesn’t get to unilaterally decide the statute of limitations on certain types of complaints.

  6. Zombeyonce*

    #2: This is a terrible way to advise people to use HR. Sure, you should try and resolve things in your own before escalating, but there are so many instances where few people would feel comfortable doing that. Speaking up about sexual harassment, potentially violent co-workers, and gender discrimination are some examples that rarely get fixed without escalation.

    The fact that these are also the most damaging to a company’s reputation (and bottom line if they get sued) means that your company has not thought through their HR escalation policy. I recommend responding to the email asking for confirmation that you should not report any issues of this nature to HR and watch them scramble to update the policy. If they don’t, you’ll have some great evidence to use if this sexual harassment continues and you’re unable to get him to stop. A lawyer would love a printed response from your company saying that no, they want you to stop someone’s harassment of you or “get over it”.

    1. Kiki*

      It seems like the email was sent because there were a lot of HR complaints that should have been handled by being direct (Jan clicks her pen, Luke never cleans the microwave after he heats up soup, etc). But whoever drafted the email didn’t keep in mind genuine issues HR should be hearing about (creepy behavior like the LW is dealing with, bigotry, etc). As Zombeyonce said, there are a number of situations where HR really should be involved early in the process.
      I was also thinking that this may be because it sounds like HR has been outsourced and interpersonal stuff isn’t in the HR company’s purview at all.
      Regardless, leadership at LW’s company should have made it more clear where employees should take serious complaints if not HR

      1. Mookie*

        The problem for me would be that I don’t actually know if my colleagues have truly made insubstantive or frivolous reports to HR, and the way they’ve worded this letter, as you say, makes me skeptical of that claim. The “you have three days, no backsies” thing is simultaneously childish and foreboding, and seems like it would open up some liability for the company that hired the HR.

        “Don’t cry to us about silly matters, but if it’s really important, don’t come to us, either. You have three days to sus out this Catch-22 and then you’re shit outta luck lol.” So unbelievably tone-deaf.

        1. Juli G.*

          This is exactly the issue. We get a lot of really ridiculous complaints to HR. We get some valid complaints that people should try resolving on their own before coming to HR. And of course, we get valid HR issues. It can be very difficult to help people differentiate the category. I’ve seen people blow off pretty inappropriate sexual harassment because “it’s just the way things go”. So in the end, we get bogged down with a lot because I’d rather hear it all as opposed to inadvertently discouraging someone to bring something serious.

          1. pleaset*

            “So in the end, we get bogged down with a lot because I’d rather hear it all as opposed to inadvertently discouraging someone to bring something serious.”

            Thank you.

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Exactly. I would rather hear some petty nonsense that has to be responded with “We can’t take any action against someone for clicking their heels on the floor when they walk, you’ll need to get used to that.” Than anyone feeling like they can’t come to HR when they’re being harrassed or bullied or discriminated against. So many people lived through “boys will be boys” as an excuse they’re still not sure if it’s reportable or just them being “sensitive”.

          3. Jadelyn*

            This. We encourage our staff to come to us with their issues, including the petty stuff, because if you try to tell people “your issue must be — this bad to ride the HR ride”, you’ll get people who think every single issue they have is so critical they come to you anyway (including the pen-clicking colleague), and you’ll get people who will downplay their issues to the point where a coworker outright propositioning them might still not be enough to make them feel like they should get HR involved.

            If they all come to us, we get to separate the wheat from the chaff ourselves and make sure that nothing serious slips through the cracks. It takes up a lot more of HR’s time, but in the end the result is a healthier workplace. Plus, the Complaining Cathy’s of the world get some gentle coaching on how to deal with small issues themselves while they’re in the HR office, and they might actually learn from it after being told “have you asked Jan to stop clicking her pen?” enough times.

          4. Emily K*

            Exactly – there are a lot of jobs where filtering incoming requests down to the requests that are actually within your purview and redirecting or delegating the rest is just part of the job, and the people putting in the requests should not be asked to self-filter – if for no other reason than they don’t have the right knowledge and perspective to reliably make the right judgment every time.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Your last paragraph is the way it read to me also. Probably, in part, because I don’t know what HR is seeing or dealing with. BUT the employees don’t either and I don’t think HR realizes how they sound to a casual observer. It would take an insider to fully understand what the references are here.

          But, yeah, “Don’t come crying to me with your problems!’ is not a cool message at all.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I think it’s more likely the outsourcing company is capable and happy dealing with a certain level of complaint that internal HR would frequently encounter (not microwave soup, but YKWIM), but bills for it, and the employer doesn’t want to have to eat that cost.

        A bit like having outsourced IT, then getting snippy with employees for contacting that IT consultant with IT woes such as “I’ve locked myself out of my account” which previously the in-house IT person would have solved in thirty seconds flat.

        1. MagicUnicorn*

          I wonder if the outsourced company is not truly a full service HR. My spouse worked at a place that outsourced their “HR” but the company they outsourced to did not handle anything more than payroll, taxes, and insurance. There was no internal department to handle the rest, so it was very much like anarchy kindergarten.

          1. Quill*

            Anarchy Kindergarten: Not sure if great band name or a concert full of boom-whackers, groan sticks, and crying.

            1. Zephy*

              Oh, it’s a great band name. But those are the instruments they play, and their most radio-friendly track is the classic “Percussion Rainstorm.”

      3. Aggretsuko*

        My office management has a “three days or forever hold your peace” rule too. I don’t like it since it seems to have been brought up because of me complaining about bullying (which I only spoke up about after it had gone on for months and the bully was getting way more open about it) to previous management. Some situations, well, you need to think it out before you decide if you’re only going to make it worse on yourself if you speak up.

        1. #2 OP for the day*

          How has your company fared with your “3 days or nothing” rule?
          So far people here are treating it as a joke, going around to friends and being like “yesterday you cut in front of me for coffee, I think we need to have a meeting to discuss how upset I was”

      4. Observer*

        I’m guess that it’s the reverse- they’ve gotten so many substantive complaints that they want to find an ostensibly neutral way to cut the complaints.

        If you’ve been following what’s going on with Facebook, you probably know that they use a number of companies to handle their moderation. These companies are supposed to have Open Door policies for HR. At one facility, there were SO many complaints that HR instituted a policy that you have to come with your supervisor – officially for the reason you cite. But, of course, the REAL reason was because the vast majority of complaints involved the supervisors (usually that they were harassing someone or discriminating against someone) and no one is going to HR with their manage to make a complaint that involves that manager.

    2. Aquawoman*

      They’re shooting themselves in the foot, too, because if a person can’t complain to HR after 3 days (!), then the only mechanism they have left is an EEO complaint.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        And a written “policy” that you’re instructed to drop it after 3 days is wonderful gas on the fire when the lawyers start ripping into the company for sweeping illegal activity away like that. You can’t make up your own internal statutes of limitations ffs.

    3. Dagny*

      “A lawyer would love a printed response from your company saying that no, they want you to stop someone’s harassment of you or “get over it”.”

      Yeah, I would forward that email to my personal account. That’s literally now the written policy of the company.

  7. Anonymous Bosch*

    #2 It sounds like part of OP’s problem with telling their coworker to stop is that it’s a new behavior each time (even though it’s all under the umbrella of pushing boundaries). Would you all treat each one individually e.g.”Please don’t follow me out to my car” or would you try to name the pattern? I’ve written up a few scripts for naming the pattern and deleted them all because they feel pretty harsh and hard to say. How do you tell someone that you’re coworkers, not friends?

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Absolutely name the pattern of behavior. In this case the pattern is numerous nonprofessional actions to get the OPs attention.
      It would be best if OP could date/time stamp each incident showing the numerous actions. She’ll need this if it escalates.
      In most cases the guy will give the plausible deniability pushback of misinterpreting “innocent” actions.
      It’s OK for OP to be the mean one and say “none the less, I want you to stop. Can you do that please?”
      It’s OK to be the bitch. Really.

      1. BethDH*

        It should be okay, but in many workplaces it won’t be. I get the sense that OP’s employer is the type to want problems to just disappear, not one that actually wants to resolve them in a way that is best for the employees. In that environment, I know I’d be reluctant to name the problem as a pattern, especially calling it anything like sexual harassment, lest I be seen as the one creating the problem. It shouldn’t be that way but too often that’s the case and there may be only so much the OP can do or is willing to do.
        If that’s the case, setting boundaries in each moment (“I’m here to focus on work so I don’t want to talk about what I’m doing this weekend or give you my email address”) might help. These responses could also create an opportunity to say something like “hey, you’ve been doing a lot of things lately that make it hard for me to focus on my work, like x and y. Please avoid that.” My script here isn’t great, but it focuses on the behaviors themselves and makes it known that they are unwelcome without attributing a particular motivation that he could just deny.

        1. Observer*

          If it is not ok and the she gets pushback, then it’s time for the EEOC and a serious job hunt.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        How about “Interrupts and disrupts my work regularly for no work-related reason” – no assumption about motive. That covers:
        Hovering over her lab bench to talk to her
        Crashing into her with the cart

        It doesn’t cover asking for the email / chasing her into the parking lot, but a manager telling him to ‘stop seeking out OP’ should cover the parking lot.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      Naming the pattern would be most beneficial because then LW could call them out on the pattern rather than one specific behavior at a time (which the guy could try and pull a “You didn’t say I couldn’t do that” move).

      One possible script for calling it out in the first place could be, “When you do things like joke with me like that or follow me out to my car, it makes me uncomfortable. Let’s keep this professional.” If the man does something again, she can simply say, “That’s one of those things like we talked about last that makes me uncomfortable. Please stop.”

      1. Dino*

        And if he tries “I’m just being nice/friendly/whatever”, then OP can say something to the effect of “I prefer to focus on my work.” And follow it up with a clear physical act of turning away to focus on her computer screen or walk away presumably to work. The lack of an opportunity to argue helps with the finality of it all.

        1. #2 OP for the day*

          Thank you for your comment (and Zombeyonce as well).
          My company is slightly different in that my desk is also my lab bench that I do share with a benchmate. I think my worries are when my benchmate (male) is gone, I tend to put on large over the ear brightly colored headphones. But there have been times where I’ve been working on my laptop wearing these, looked up and noticed him hovering. So I’ll take them off and say “Hi “person” I didn’t see you there, I’m pretty swamped right now and trying to focus. May I help you with something?” and the infuriating thing is he will say “Oh sorry, didn’t notice you were busy. How was your weekend?”
          Is there a good way to comment on this blatant ignoring of my comment?

          1. Zephy*

            “It was fine, but yes, I am very busy. If there’s nothing you need, I’ve got to finish this.” And you put your headphones back on and go back to what you were doing.

            1. Clisby*

              Skip the “It was fine, but yes, I am very busy.” Go straight to “If there’s nothing you need …”

            2. Observer*

              I would also skip the “it was fine” I think I would respond with “As you can see, I’m busy. Since there is nothing you need, I’ll get back to work” and put back on the headphones.

            3. AKchic*

              Skip the pleasantries. All he wants is to engage, so don’t engage.

              “I’m busy. If there’s nothing *work-related* that you need, I have to get back to work” and then put your headphones back on and pointedly ignore him for a few minutes. If he doesn’t leave after 60-90 seconds, put your headphones on your shoulders and be direct “What exactly do you need? I am busy and am not here to socialize with you” and stare at him expectantly. Make it awkward for him. If he tries to engage in conversation, cut him off. “That’s not what I asked. I’ve made it clear that I am not here to engage in pleasantries. What. Work-related. Thing. Do. You. Need?” and another expectant stare. If he tries to say anything other than goodbye, shut him down. “If I want to chat, I’ll come find you. Good-bye.”

              Make sure to document the interaction immediately (email yourself). Time/date/location and as much of the encounter (including what was said) as possible. If he sees you doing it, who cares. Let him see.

          2. Tempestuous Teapot*

            Arched eyebrow: “As I said, I’m actually focused on work right now. Is this work related? No? Okay, I’m back to worth then. Bye. ”
            Document, document document, including hours long he continues to stand there after goy go back to work.

          3. nony non*

            Have an overall conversation with him where you explicitly say “Stop coming to find me. You are making me uncomfortable.”

            Then for this specific conversation:
            Don’t answer his question / conversational gambit, say, “Now that I’ve said I’m busy, why aren’t you going away? This is what I meant by ‘making me uncomfortable.’ ”

            Document document document:
            Time date audience context, quote as much as possible:
            On Wednesday 7/15, came to my lab bench, interrupted my work, ignored my statement that I am busy in order to try to start a conversation. I said, “I’m pretty swamped right now and trying to focus. May I help you with something?” , he said “Oh sorry, didn’t notice you were busy. How was your weekend?”

            Showing that he does that over and over builds your case for your manager, that he is disrupting your work in order to push for a unwelcome, more-than-professional relationship.

          4. Dino*

            I think you can ignore his question and say “Since you don’t need anything work-related, please stop hovering so I can focus.” Or if you want to address it more broadly: “Please stop interrupting me. I’m am not interested in or free to chat with you. If you need something work-related, feel free to email me and I’ll address it when I can. Otherwise, I need you to stop hovering over my workspace and interrupting me.”

              1. Dino*

                The “please” is just window dressing to make it sound polite/make it easier for the OP to say. If he continues after that, then drop the please.

          5. Jules the 3rd*

            Also: Really write down who is around when he comes up to you. Is he waiting until your benchmate is gone and you’re alone? Same for the parking lot.

            That’s a HUGE issue if he is.

            If ‘He comes looking for me despite me asking him not to’ doesn’t trigger your manager’s ‘oh shit’ button, then ‘he waits to find me alone’ should.

          6. Joielle*

            This is such an insidious type of harassment because yeah, it’s not hostile on its face, and if you were to escalate or complain, he has plausible deniability (“I just asked how her weekend was, jeez”). I think I’d start with something casual and let my facial expression do a lot of work. Like in response to the weekend interruption…

            *confused look* “It was fine…? I’m pretty busy, gonna get back to it now” *put headphones back on*

            Or just ignore the weekend question and say something like “Oh, whenever I have these headphones on it means I’m busy. Now you know!” *put headphones back on*

          7. JSPA*

            “if this is work related, make it snappy.” [three beat pause] [put headphones back on and get back to work]

          8. Marissa*

            This example was helpful, thank you for adding it, #2 OP. It makes it more clear to me that this is a situation where he is singling out and giving extra attention that is unwanted, rather than an overly friendly office chatterbox who isn’t picking up on signals from people who aren’t receptive. I might say, “When I have headphones on it’s because I’m concentrating. Please don’t break my concentration if it’s not work related.” If you’re giving polite smiles even though you’re uncomfortable or annoyed, it may be time to stop. It’s such a trained response to smile and be nice until the interaction is over, but with someone like this who you see every day and who barrels past normal social cues that he should knock it off, politeness is a hindrance. Also, are there any other women in your office he has backed off of that you could talk to for tips?

            1. Observer*

              If you’re giving polite smiles even though you’re uncomfortable or annoyed, it may be time to stop. It’s such a trained response to smile and be nice until the interaction is over, but with someone like this who you see every day and who barrels past normal social cues that he should knock it off, politeness is a hindrance.

              So much this.

          9. Wren*

            At this point, I’d get blunt, and ignore his comment right back: “Yes, I am indeed busy, and you’re making me uncomfortable by hovering. You clearly don’t have a work related reason to stop here. You keep doing this sort of thing and I need you to stop. You’ve made me uncomfortable enough that I do not want to ever talk to you unless it’s work related.”

            That ending is a bit of a modification from the other suggested scripts I’ve been seeing about making a general statement about wanting to keep things strictly professional at work, because I think you are allowed to say that he specifically, because of his overbearing behaviour, doesn’t get to have a friendly work relationship with you, and you might comfortably banter with other work colleagues or talk about your weekends, but not with him.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              +1 to this script. OP2 deserves the right to mingle personal and professional in whatever way she desires without having to worry about obnoxious co-worker rules-lawyering her with ‘but you saaaiiiid you keep work / not work separate’.

              Key quote: “You’ve made me uncomfortable enough that I do not want to ever talk to you unless it’s work related.”

        2. boop the first*

          We were watching the movie Fargo the other day and I was kind of impressed by a scene where Marge is meeting with high school chum Mike, who spends the whole time flirting inappropriately. He slides into her side of the restaurant booth “Mind if I sit right here?”, putting his arms over her shoulder. She says “No, why don’t you move back over there? I prefer that.”

          I don’t think I would ever have the guts to be so matter of fact! But then I would also end up just sitting and suffering with discomfort and terror, which is a lot worse than the terror of using simple language to establish boundaries.

    3. Batgirl*

      I mean, I call this type of behaviour hovering but it’s difficult to call out by its very nature. The guy is loathe to give you an opportunity to say no, so he just stays there in your peripheral vision doing tomfoolery or just being odd. The only method I’ve found effective is to pretty much say “Hey I don’t

      1. Batgirl*

        want to date you” putting out the inevitable follow up of “I just want to be friends” with “Well we’re not friends”. It’s uncomfortable and you have to take on the role of bad guy but it does get it to stop.

        1. Joielle*

          I like this. It might feel harsh to say, but honestly I think it’s less harsh than just being like “don’t talk to me.” He’ll probably backpedal quickly (“What, I wasn’t trying to date you!”) and she can just say “Oh, great! Gotta get back to work then.” Hopefully it’ll make HIM uncomfortable enough that he leaves her alone after that.

        2. JSPA*

          He may just be trying to goof off–but the “why” isn’t even necessarily relevant. She’s trying to work. He’s not working, and trying to get her to not-work. He’s prioritizing his desire to “whatever-other-than-work” over her desire to, y’know, do her work. In her workplace.

          Switch the genders, sizes, ages, any power imbalance, remove any “wanna get frisky” vibes, and it’s still OK to say “I prioritize my work while at work. Buzz off.”

    4. Thankful for AAM*

      I think the name for the pattern is interest in anything but a professional work relationship, thats awkward but the OP can reword to suit.

      I put a script above but there have been recent letters with better scripts.

      “recently you bumped the mail cart into me, asked for my personal email, and otherwise took steps that seemed to show interest in a relationship outside of work. I wanted to let you know I keep a firm line between work and personal life. Please keep the focus on work.” If he does a thing again, “I asked you to keep the focus on work, If this continues, I will be asking manager and HR for direction.”

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I keep a firm line between work and personal life.

        Nope. That gives hope for the future.

        “I’m not at all interested.” If you want to be very clear then add “not now, not ever”

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          Agreed. He’s going to take “I don’t date co-workers” to mean “ask me out again when one of us puts in 2 weeks notice.”

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          +1 And it means OP can’t date other coworkers which isn’t fair to OP.

          “I’m not interested in a non-professional relationship with you. Please stop seeking me out.”

      2. It's mce*

        You have to be firm and say no. At Old Job, an IT worker kept coming over to me and trying to ask me out. I had a BF at the time and originally I told him I had a boyfriend but would still chat with him. That was my mistake. He gave me his phone number (I didn’t give him mine) and he would hover over me, so much that my boss came over to my desk and asked why something wasn’t done. When IT guy asked me to go with him to an event, I finally told him I had a boyfriend and I wasn’t interested in him. I said it loud because I wanted him to get the message.

    5. Shirley Keeldar*

      Also, this guy will for sure object to anything OP says–“What, did you think I was trying to date you/hit on you? That’s crazy! I was just joking! I was just being friendly!” That’s fine, let him say that, nod and say, “Good, that’s a relief. I’m glad we can keep things strictly professional from now on.” You can let him have his plausible deniability (hint: he absolutely knows what he is doing) as long as he knocks it off. Good luck, OP, he sounds obnoxious!

    6. Kiki*

      I think what LW is dealing with are the exact circumstances where they should (in an ideal world with an actually functioning HR department) feel comfortable going to HR immediately when they notice the pattern. It’s good to push back on the behaviors directly, as Alison, Anonymous Bosch, and others say, but this definitely seems like the beginnings of harassment. Harassment is often a frog in boiling water kind of situation where at the beginning, each act on its own doesn’t seem HR-worthy, but then the frequency and/or intensity escalates gradually over time. And harassers know this— it’s a strategy. They purposefully make it so their victims don’t feel like they can go to HR because the behaviors are small or could plausibly have innocent intentions.
      It’s a shame LW’s higher-ups and HR didn’t seem to account for this in their email. Hopefully it’s just a blunder where they have full context as to the types of complaints they’re referring to and don’t realize they made it seem like they don’t want to hear about anything. I would actually ask the higher-ups or LW’s manager for more clarification and hopefully they’re receptive.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Yes this.

        Sometimes, they don’t escalate, but it’s usually because someone other than the target notices and tells them that they’ve been noticed. Manager is best, but co-workers can help. Male help is most effective, though it does sometimes start the turkey dance (no, she is My Turkey Partner and I will do this posturing to challenge you!)

        Like, OP, maybe you could talk to your benchmate and say ‘co-worker waits until you’re gone and comes to talk to me, interrupting my work. Could I text you, have you come back early, and get you to say, “Hi co-worker, what are you doing over here? Could you stop interrupting us?” ‘

    7. Observer*

      So, why is is a problem to be “harsh”?

      Here is the thing – if you are accurately describing that pattern and it sounds harsh, then that is proof that this behavior is truly a problem. At which point, being harsh IS the way to go.

      So, yes, call out each incident but ALSO have the one (harsh as necessary) conversation where you call out the pattern.

  8. Rexish*

    #1 Í feel like managers should to an extent manager should always assume that employees are looking for something else. I don’t mean that you never plan anything further than a month way, but being prepared that it might happen at any point and have appropriate process in place. Employees will leave if better oppotunities comes.

    1. Approval is optional*

      Yep. It is always a good idea to have succession plans in place, especially for key positions.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        You need a succession plan in place for medical/family emergencies anyway. If anyone in your company is truly irreplaceable, panic.

      2. MK*

        Having a contingency plan to deal with someone leaving (or taking unexpected time off) in the short term is a good idea. Being prepared to replace an employee at a moment’s notice is unrealistic and also not to the employee’s benefit.

          1. MK*

            Of course not. Planning for an emergency means making sure more than one person has the passwords for the system and the safe combination and that any absolutely critical-for-the-operation-of-the-organization functions can be done by more than one person. Also,, you need a chain of command for the leadership, a.k.a. it should be clear who will make decisions if the person who usually makes them is out of action. Not having multiple people cross-grained for all roles.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Right on! I am sure Alison’s answer was hard for OP to read, but from the employee side of the story, I have to say “Thanks, Alison for spelling it out in clear language.”

      OP, there is some merit to having a plan for how to replace each of your employees. For one thing it makes it easier to get though sudden conversations like this. That is because the boss is confident that they have a plan to deal with the vacancy.

      OP, I’d like to share something that someone told me. “If we are doing leadership right our people excel and are able to move on.” Going one step further, “If we are really doing leadership right, our people surpass us.” Not much different than a parent hoping their child has better than what they have, so it goes with leadership, we hope that our employees excel beyond us.
      There is more than one way to leaving a mark in this world. If we help an employee excel and they move on without us to do greater things we have that quiet knowing that we had a small hand in creating those greater things.

      Not all rewards come in our paychecks. Some of our rewards come as intangibles such as our former subordinate goes out and makes a huge difference in people’s lives or people’s work.

      Survive vs thrive:
      Survive says, “I have to keep this employee. I am limping from day to day and will not make it without them.”
      Thrive says, “I can find someone just as good and my employee can go out and become a superstar in their own right.”

      And of course the old song, “Hold on loosely”. If we hold on too hard we lose whatever it is we have in our choke hold. This goes for personal life also.

    3. merp*

      This was my thought too. When I mentioned to my manager at my last job that I was looking at one specific job I had seen, I put it in similar terms – just to explore, etc – but she was savvy and therefore was not surprised when she got a call asking about me later, nor when I gave my notice.

      (Actually, I was more surprised than she was about the call, because I hadn’t listed her as a reference, and this was a good lesson for naive me about that “can we contact this person” check box, but that’s neither here nor there.)

  9. The Wall Of Creativity*

    #3 Don’t wait until your review before asking for a pay rise. Ask two or three months before. By the time reviews come around, it’s too late as salary budgets will all have been calculated and finalised. You might still have to wait until after the reviews before you get the raise but you’ll have a bigger chance of getting it.

    And if your request for a raise comes to nothing, leave. You have in front of you a piece of paper telling you what salary you should be asking your new employer for. Whatever you do, don’t disclose your current salary at interview if yo7 want to be paid what you’re worth.

    1. Short Time Lurker Komo*

      It depends on the company when budgets are finalized in relation to reviews. Where I work, reviews are in spring/early summer, raises and budgets are given out in the fall. Managers and up have from between the two to finalize budgets as I understand it.

      Yes, are choices mostly made in spring/early summer? Yar. But there is that window to work in changes.

    2. Curmudgeon in Califormia*

      This. If you’ve been getting excellent reviews for four years and they haven’t brought you to midrange, give them one last chance to make it right, and if they don’t, find a new job.

  10. Batgirl*

    OP2, what strange wording! Very reminiscent of “I will confront you by Wednesday of next week”.
    I don’t think you need an actual confrontation just a bunch of “Hey don’t do that”, “Wow, no” and “Don’t follow me” statements in the moment. If he’s crashing into your chair (!) feel free to use the same sort of voice tone you would with a naughty dog or small child.

  11. I am Manbat!*

    What does HR actually do? Where I work, they don’t seem to do anything except come up with buzzwordy presentations about “culture” and “engagement” that ultimately lead to absolutely nothing. When I have tried to talk to them about workplace problems (managers kicking me out of projects with no explanation, etc.) their response has never been meaningful in any way. They just tell me I’m wrong, and that’s it. Nah. If I have some issue at work I sort it out myself. It’s no use talking to managers or HR because they don’t care. They just want you to shut up and get back to work.

    As you can tell, I’m a bit negative about my job.

    1. Asenath*

      Our HR seems to deal almost exclusively with things like posting jobs and organizing interviews, and are the people you go to if you have any questions about leave or tax documentation and other benefits for both current and retired employees. Or if you want your job re=classified. Some issues, they refer you to external people (for EAP type issues, which are usually personal and require outside expertise in counselling); they also organize things like on-site blood collection or flu shots, and other “wellness events” (totally voluntary), ergonomics, access to (and funding for) training….more than I realized, actually. They also have a section devoted to inclusion and equity. I have never considered consulting them about minor workplace annoyances, although they obviously handle more serious offenses under the inclusion/equity heading. I think if I had an issue like #2, they’d expect me to try to handle it myself first. But there’s never been any announcement like “Handle it yourself in 3 days”.

      1. Shad*

        They also frequently handle workers’ comp administration in coordination with their insurance and any attorney that’s been handled, in my experience. I’m a paralegal working in that area, and much of our contact with employers goes through HR.

    2. LQ*

      Different HR departments do different things. Sounds like yours leans toward organizational development/training. It is often a lot about hiring.

      But the primary thing HR does (and this is good HR) is protect the company from legal liability, specifically in hiring/firing/promotions/pay. HR does what is best for the company. HR is not there for you as an employee. They are there to protect the company.

      (I hope you’re searching for a new job!)

      1. Not Me*

        While it’s true that part of HR’s responsibility it to protect the company from liability, good HR people/departments also take employee satisfaction very seriously. Angry, bitter, unfocused, unhappy employees don’t get a lot done, and they often quit.

        It’s a cycle for sure, keep employees happy – employees are better employees – company is more successful – company can stay in business – employees have jobs because company is in business

        1. LQ*

          I stand by what I said. Even a really fantastic HR department. The primary thing they are there for is protecting the company. Now great HR might be focused on being really proactive and want to take employee satisfaction seriously, but their primary duty is always going to be to the company. Someone has to cross the gulf between “I’m unhappy” and “This is bad for the company”. Most of the time the person who has to cross it is the employee, and as an employee you should assume you’re always the one who has to cross it. The times where someone else on the other side of that sees and reaches out and hand and makes it easier to finish crossing? That’s great. But assume you have to close the gap between “I’m unhappy” and “This is bad for the company”. It’s absolutely a gap a lot of times, but you need to own crossing it yourself.

          1. Observer*

            This is not always true. Good (and ethical) HR is going to prioritize the company most of the time, understanding that making sure that people are reasonably and fairly treated is actually in the best interests of the company. But, they won’t prioritize the company’s interests over blatant illegal and unethical conduct.

            1. LQ*

              But the company’s interest is that illegal and unethical conduct doesn’t occur. That is in the company’s interest. I still stand by what I said. Sometimes what they are protecting the company from is a CEO’s decision that is illegal, or a manager trying to do a hire that is legally questionable. But that is still in the company’s interest, which is their top priority.

              Which is how you help close that gap. Hey this thing seems to be illegal and I’m sure we wouldn’t want to do that. is something that has been mentioned as a way to handle things more than once. That’s closing the gap. It’s you reaching out and helping them see how this behavior is not in the company’s best interest.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Unless you think your managers are reassigning you to different projects as part of a calculated campaign of harassment because you’re in a protected class (e.g. “No Jews on the most visible accounts”), this doesn’t seem like an HR issue. As LQ notes, they are supposed to make sure the company is doing things in such a way that they won’t get sued: workers not liking their assignments usually doesn’t rise to that.

      If you don’t like the non-transparency of management decisions here, that’s a good reason to look for another job. Not an HR thing to fix. If you just don’t like the answers (we have enough people on spouts and we need more support on handles) that’s not an HR thing, either–it may be a reason to look for a new job, if your desired path is spouts and they keep concluding that you are too valuable to ever release from handle attachment and block all attempts to do so. That last one is a pretty common reason to find a job in spouts somewhere else.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Management removing you from projects is something you talk to your grandboss or department head about. Unless it’s due to discrimination or they’re bullying you, work distribution is out of the hands of HR.

      However if your manager is screaming, calling you names, berating you in private or in public, that’s what you’d take to HR.

      If it’s about the policies in your handbook, benefits, hiring, firing, disciplinary action, training, company wide schedules or events, that usually falls on HR.

      It’s first about keeping the company compliant in employment laws and regulations. But then it’s about assisting employees with the perks and benefits offered or accessing their necesarry employment records.

  12. GM*

    I’m a bit surprised at the response to OP1. Isn’t it unfair of the employee to put their manager on the spot for a last-minute reference check for an outside job? I find that quite an imposition. I wouldn’t give a great reference either and would in fact start with checking with the employee as to why he plans to take this job.

    1. MK*

      While I agree that asking a current manager for a reference is unfair in most situations and the way the employee handled it put the manager on the spot, I don’t think demanding to know why the employee is leaving before giving a reference is either appropriate or particularly useful. What would you even hope to get out of it?

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah – that would be a complete overstep. OP has no right to turn something that’s common and normal (an employee job searching) into a confrontation. And tanking an employee’s reference just because you didn’t like the timing of the request is petty as hell. That reaction would prove the employee was correct to job search in the first place.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          Exactly this. You’re going to jeopardize someone’s career opportunity because of an “imposition”? I agree it was not fair to spring this on the manager and ask for a reference the same day, but it sounds like that was the hiring manager’s demand, not the employee’s.

          In any event, if an employee is job-searching, a manager can certainly ask why, but it’s not their place to demand an explanation. People you supervise are not your servants or your children. You aren’t entitled to pry into their career choices beyond what they choose to share, and tanking a reference because your feelings are hurt over a professional decision is just wrong. If a manager treated me the way GM is suggesting, that alone would be enough reason for seeking another job. Wildly inappropriate.

      2. Antilles*

        I don’t think demanding to know why the employee is leaving before giving a reference is either appropriate or particularly useful.
        Especially since the employee can’t be honest without jeopardizing the reference. I mean, the honest answer here is this: “I work for someone whose immediate response to me trying to leave is grilling me about it. Someone who would intentionally give me a crummy reference and kill an opportunity for career advancement simply because he didn’t like the timing or lack of notice. Why do you think?”
        But of course the employee can’t be that honest, so instead you’re going to get some combination of vaguely useless statements (“better opportunity”, “new challenges”, etc) and specific items that you can’t fix anyways (“more money”, “better benefits”, etc).

    2. Zombeyonce*

      They likely didn’t know a “current supervisor” reference would be required until a contingent offer was made; that’s not a common request (or shouldn’t be, if it is), since that kind of requirement puts a current job in jeopardy. By the time they found out, it was probably a last-minute request they had to complete or miss out on the new job.

      Grilling the employee and giving a bad reference rather than just giving an honest reference and letting an employee make the career decisions best for them is, as Fortitude Jones put it above, exactly why employees wait until the last possible minute to tell managers they’re leaving. Don’t be that boss.

    3. Kiki*

      It’s really common for job offers to be contingent on a good recommendation from your current or most recent employer, even if you provide other references too. So in scenarios like this, most employees will wait to let their current employer know that they will be contacted until they know for sure that they are a finalist/ have a contingent offer. For general references, the job seeker is definitely supposed to give them more notice than just a day, but I think there’s an accepted exception for current managers because it is too risky to let a lot of managers know you’re looking at other places.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      That happens in management, though.
      And if you look at it from the employee side, they can be faced with sudden lay-offs or even be fired over nothing.

      Sudden separation is also an issue for employees.

      Reality is that anyone can leave at any time and it’s up to the boss to understand that this can happen.

      A boss who retaliates with a bad reference probably will quickly develop a bad reputation with their remaining subordinates. I had a boss who refused to authorize transfers. The several employees decided the solution to that was just to quit. So they did. In effort to retain 1 or 2 employees requesting the transfer, this boss lost 5-6 employees who gave notice instead.

      Anyone can do whatever they chose of course, but actions have consequences. Grilling the employee as to why they are leaving is only going to make everything worse as the remaining employees will assume they will get the same treatment, a bad reference and a grilling conversation.

      Yes, it’s an imposition. But so are most things that are required of bosses. OP could have asked to make the phone call later in the day or perhaps the next morning to allow time to collect some thoughts. Supervising people demands a lot of flexibility on the part of the boss. I am not saying it’s easy, even flexible people can be truly challenged by the things that come up.

      1. pleaset*

        “OP could have asked to make the phone call later in the day or perhaps the next morning to allow time to collect some thoughts. ”


        1. MK*

          Sure. And the employee, who I would like to note is being actively recruited and as such has a bit more power than the average candidate, could have pushed back on this last-minute request for a reference from the hiring manager, who is a past boss and apparently really wants them for this job. Since the employee didn’t think to ensure their current manager the courtesy of a day’s notice, I am frankly mystified by people saying the OP should have thought of this when the request was sprung upon them.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        A boss who retaliates with a bad reference probably will quickly develop a bad reputation with their remaining subordinates.

        This. If a manager tanked one of my coworker’s job opportunities by giving a bad reference regardless of the coworker’s performance, I would immediately start looking myself. It’s childish behavior.

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I’m sort of with you GM. It’s usually really bad business etiquette to inform someone you’ve put them down as a reference without getting their permission first — in the OP it sounded like they’d already given out the contact information and it wasn’t even an ask. The departing employee may have felt they had no choice, but it was rude of them and pushing back on that was their responsibility. What would have happened if the business had a blanket policy of only verifying dates of employment?

      The rest of it however — giving a lukewarm reference, trying to negotiate for more notice time — that was equally bad with a side helping of retaliatory and it’s never the boss’ business to demand a “why”. Either give an honest reference (and only a reference) or don’t.

    6. Observer*

      You mean you’ll only give an honest reference if you approve of the reason the person is looking for a new job?

  13. Alex*

    My workplace works like OP 3–we all have salary bands, but getting even to the halfway point is almost impossible. Yes, they have “People at the low end are at X level (still need guidance, etc.), people midway are at X level (perform job duties independently, etc.) and people at the high end are at X level (guide others, take on new responsibilities). I took it to my manager because my performance reviews used the EXACT SAME LANGUAGE to describe me and to describe someone at the high end of the salary band, but I was getting paid in the bottom 25% of the salary band. My manager shrugged and said that that was where everyone was paid. The reason was because in order to seem competitive to the outside, they had to set their salary bands like that and raise them periodically, but in reality, raises were capped at a very low percentage, so the salary bands increased at the same or faster rate than actual salaries could possibly increase.

    It’s really irritating but just means that they don’t value people staying in their jobs very long. I’ve had to switch jobs twice within my own company in order to maintain my standard of living.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      It’s frankly amazing that you were able to get competitive raises by moving in your own company. My company (and others I’ve worked in before) require that people being promoted receive either a 4 percent raise or the bottom of the payband, whichever is greater. This may sound nice until you see the reality of the situation: internal promotions get a 4% and no more unless the new manager fights HR tooth and nail for a higher increase, which generally ends in a 4.25% raise instead.

      It may seem reasonable but plenty of people get promoted because they’ve received new degrees or gotten new experience in current jobs not paid for and have been in their original position for a very long time with minimal raises (1.5% min in my company) each year. If they left the company, they’d receive higher salaries that weren’t tied to old pay but market rates, and outside hires with the same experience levels are brought in at higher salaries. It’s a crappy system that actively discourages employee loyalty for company cost savings.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        It’s frankly amazing that you were able to get competitive raises by moving in your own company.

        When I worked at a major insurance company, my first promotion came with a 7% increase and the second promotion came with a 10% increase. I knew one guy in IT who was promoted and received a 25% increase. That company was totally one of the ones that you had to hop from division to division (or switch job functions) to get a sizable, competitive pay increase. My last one? Nope – you got crap increases regardless, so most people just left.

  14. Delta Delta*

    #2 – It seems like there’s a missing step here. OP should certainly try telling the coworker to leave her alone. But if he doesn’t, then go to her manager, who is likely on-site, and is able to, you know, manage. Since this HR company is off-site (and likely very expensive), the day to day management issues ought to be handled by the managers. And then, if that doesn’t work, escalate to the off-site company. That way there’s a history of the issue and how OP tried to solve it. And when management gets the bill for the problem, they’ll see they’re being invoiced for solving a problem they should have solved.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yes, although there’s one caveat…while the behavior of the co-worker sounds innocent but annoying and unwelcome, if at any point he makes her feel uncomfortable she needs to go straight to manager and skip talking to co-worker (and if manager brushes it off or does nothing, then go to HR). He may just be immature and not know how to approach a woman he likes, but he could also be a stalker type and ANY attention she gives him (even to tell him to back off) will only fuel him to continue his bad behavior. She needs to trust her instincts before proceeding.

      1. Skywriter*

        Absolutely. Mentioned this below, but if the guy’s actions are making OP feel uncomfortable, especially to the point where you’re in any way concerned about how he might react to you asking him to stop, it’s definitely worth taking a look at resources and advice written specifically for handling workplace harassment before you decide whether to talk to him yourself or not (and, if you do choose to talk to him, the safest ways to do so).

    2. Meh*

      “Able to manage” being the operative phrase there. Sooo many managers are incapable of even the bare Mgmt basics. And managers do pick sides even though they’re not supposed to. I’ve taken concerns to my manager before about being afraid for my own safety in the workplace due to a volatile coworker, and not only did the mgr not report it through proper channels, they’ve told me 3 times now they don’t really believe me and infer that I’m just overreacting. They tell me to go to counseling. Which I’m doing but a counselor won’t save my life if this coworker decides to do something. Violence in the workplace happens everyday. See something, say something, and pray you’ll be believed.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Good luck, people can be very clueless.

        I don’t know if it would help but maybe check the ways people are characterizing his behavior. Make sure you’re highlighting the threat explicitly. From this example (soft vs explicit):
        ‘He goes out of his way to say good bye’ vs ‘he chases me into the parking lot to say good bye’
        ‘He asks how my weekend was’ vs ‘He waits until I’m alone to initiate conversations’
        ‘He played around with carts’ vs ‘He hit my chair with his cart’

        The other possible avenue is to focus hard on how his behavior disrupts work – I seem to recall a letter earlier this year about a co-worker who constantly shouts / fusses. If you can show any ‘I was on a call with a client, they heard this guy in the background and asked me who brought in the 2yo’ or ‘When he gets mad, he walks away from the production area and is gone for 5 – 15 minutes, without clocking out.’

        A friend had a similar problem, and tried that last one. Unfortunately nothing worked until the angry co-worker turned his anger on management. Once he yelled at their boss, he was gone.

  15. voyager1*

    LW4: I think the chair and keyboard aren’t a big deal. I am not sure what an adjustment cube is, but I did google it though!
    However your last thing, working from home. That to me is where your employer may push back. I don’t know the nature of your work, but if coverage and personal interaction are important (meetings, client presentations, etc) be prepared for possible pushback on that. I would maybe expect some questions why you haven’t needed accommodations before and only once you want a promotion it is coming up. I only bring this up so you can prepare for that possibility, not as an endorsement of your coworkers/management being curious.

    1. Clisby*

      I got the impression from the letter that the reason accommodations would come up only with the promotion is that LW would be expected to be working in the office a lot more than she does now. So far, accommodations haven’t been needed because she has to be in the office only one day a week, and presumably has been able to work around any flareups.

      1. LaraC*

        Hi everyone! I’m the letter writer! Thank you for your comments. Yeah I’m concerned about the added in office days. My company is pretty weird about the in office employees….and not everyone knows about my illness. My manager is aware and is supportive. My concerns are they will not be flexible on the in office days (as in, which days) and will likely want me to commit to two days and not change them. We also are a relatively new company with rigid thought processes. I recently had to ask for accommodations (after I submitted my question to ASM) regarding a “mandatory in person meeting” that would take me 2+ hours to travel to. Sitting for long periods without the ability to move/stand up causes me problems, so I requested to attend remotely (as I do with every other meeting) and I was told I have to fill out FMLA paperwork. I mostly feel like HR and upper management have zero clue how to handle accommodation requests.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In addition to what others have said, the job would already allow her to work from home two days a week; she would just need to flex which days those are. This is not likely to be a big deal at all.

    3. Anun walks into a bar*

      For our accommodation process, the employee would have to be able to link the request to an aspect of the disability. Our accommodation process gets audited so “It’d be nice to have” isn’t the criteria. If you cannot create a nexus between auto-immune and ergonomic seating (which is something that everyone would benefit from, but is not based in disability), stick to what works for, and is directly related to, disability-related limitations, which seems to be teleworking.

      When the HR person inquires of the health care provider “what was the professional rationale for this recommendation” “Because my client wants it” does not meet that criteria.

      1. Anun walks into a bar*

        This is a long way to say, ask for funding for better office furniture is a legitimate request as part of the promotion. Don’t muddy the water on the accommodation process if it’s unrelated.

    4. Gilmore67*

      OP 4, first let me say I think it is great of you look at all sides of this and not just demand they accommodate you or you just give up on it.

      I think that if you have proven yourself a good worker, which apparently you have by the potential promotion there should be no problem telling them about your possible needs and working with them to make it work.

      I think that as long as you do your best to make assure them the work will get done, in the office or remote I believe there should be no problem.

      I am coming from a perspective of having people apply for jobs and then telling us they can’t do ” this” after they are hired.

      I work a a hospital, in housekeeping. One person said they don’t like germs . Or the person that told us she has respiratory issues and can’t use cleaning products.

      I mean this is all disclosed in an interview. And frankly how can one apply for a job that is clear on its duties.. clean hospitals rooms, OR, ED… and not know right then and there.. hospitals have germs and use cleaning products, very high end products.

      For the person that was afraid for germs, she dealt with it and ended up on a floor with less issues. ( she quit later on for an unrelated issue. The other we got them a breathing unit to help.)

      It’s like me applying to work at a Vet place and then saying… Oh by the way,… I am allergic to cats and dogs and also afraid of them… Can I not touch those animals? I mean why would I apply to start with?

      Your situation seems totally workable. Good luck !! Please update us !

  16. Amethystmoon*

    Ugh. I had a #2 for several years. I went to the boss a couple of times because he was literally following me around (and we were not just going to the sane meeting). He also did this weird thing where he stood up over our partition and stared down at me for minutes at a time without speaking. I was 20 years older and wore polo shirts, buttoned up, to work. Guy had serious boundary issues. Just asking him to please stop resulted in him literally saying how dare I ask him to stop. HR depts. need to exist. Not everyone stops bad behavior just by being confronted.

    Ehat if it’s a manager? There was a manager in that dept (not my boss) who thought bullying us was ok. Asking her to please stop resulted in her mocking me. She was going to retaliate against me when I told our new boss, but I finally got a job offer. So again, confronting does not always work.

      1. Batgirl*

        The problem with the type of guy Amythestmoon is talking about is that they are so matter of fact and confident that they sort of gaslight you into believing both ‘this is normal courtship’ and ‘this is nothing but your imagination’ all while you have a case of the raging creeps. Women often feel they cant say anything. When a HR dept also hints that everyone is bothering them with their silly fee-fees then you compound that problem.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          That and this guy was from another country (though a Western, English-speaking one). So HR would have just said “cultural difference issues” and left it at that. Even though he had been asked politely to stop, and boss talked to him also. Doesn’t matter that red flag creeper things keep coming up and I had to make sure I was never alone with him.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Not really, manager talked to him but even though this was the same guy who was messing up repeatedly on detail-oriented work and I was staying late to repeatedly fix the errors, nothing was really done. He stopped the blatant stuff but other more subtle things continued, and I didn’t really have any hard evidence to go to HR with besides the previous report. He left on his own after I changed jobs.

  17. poached egg*

    Re: question one:

    At my previous job, I was being underpaid and kind of stuck in a rut, and a couple of tempting job offers just kind of landed in my lap. When I asked a non-manager team lead to provide a reference for me, the team lead got very defensive to the point where I wondered if they would provide me a less-than-stellar reference in order to keep me around, even though they’d previously raved about my performance. That attitude made me want to leave even more, because it increased the urgency I was feeling to get out while I still had offers open.

    Meanwhile, my supervisors at my current job have done a lot to mentor and develop me. Rather than wanting to keep me in my position forever, they’ve repeatedly stressed how much they’d like to see me take on more responsibilities in specializations or management, even if it means I move on to a competitor within a few years. Ironically, this, more than anything else, has earned them my loyalty. Since coming here, I’ve turned down a promotion with a different company because I knew the supervisor at that company would’ve cared more about retaining me than whatever’s actually best for my career.

    1. miss_chevious*

      Ironically, this, more than anything else, has earned them my loyalty.

      This is so true. Being able to have open conversations about my career goals and how they align to the company’s needs is one of the reasons I really like my organization. The candor also allows us both to be creative in solutions if they want to keep me and I want to stay.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      Rather than wanting to keep me in my position forever, they’ve repeatedly stressed how much they’d like to see me take on more responsibilities in specializations or management, even if it means I move on to a competitor within a few years. Ironically, this, more than anything else, has earned them my loyalty.

      Exactly. When you know management has your best interest at heart, you’re more likely to stick around for the growth potential. It’s crazy to me how many employers don’t get this and then have the nerve to whine about employees leaving – treat them better, pay them fairly, and you won’t have that problem.

  18. Norm*

    I’m confused by the responses to OP1, the job reference question. I remember reading on AAM that, as a hiring manager, I should never contact the applicant’s current manager to let them know that their employee was looking for a job with my company. Today was the first time I remember seeing a letter about this situation and reading that it was OK after all.

    Based on my own experience, as a manager and an employee, I still see that while it would be nice if employees could safely look for jobs and be protected by some convention that their current employer would not be told, it’s very common for employers to find out before the job-seeker is ready. So relying on the goodwill and decency of the hiring managers’ discretion is unwise.

    I have never been asked for, nor have I sought, a reference from a current employee. Don’t most job applications have a box you can check to ask “May we contact this employer?” Usually applicants are fine with asking previous employers, but not the current one.

    1. Cheese Cheese Cheese CHEESE*

      I agree, I’m baffled as to why asking for a current supervisor reference before the offer stage is suddenly OK?

      1. Cranky Neighbot*

        It’s not great for the prospective employer to ask for the current supervisor’s reference, but it’s not completely ridiculous, either.

        Also, we’re advising the OP, who was asked to give the reference and gave a mediocre one due to an emotional reaction. We’re not advising the employee or the prospective employer. If the prospective employer wrote in, I’d probably tell them to request a different reference, but here we are anyway.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not okay, as I’ve written previously. But that doesn’t change the manager’s obligation to respond professionally if it happens, as it sometimes does.

    2. MK*

      I don’t think Alison meant to suggest that it’s ok to contact the current manager, but if it does happen, that manager should give a honest reference. In this case, it wasn’t the hiring manager who contacted the OP, it was the employee who told them they were probably leaving. The OP cannot control the hiring manager’s lousy practice of asking for references from a current manager; what they wanted advice on was how to handle it when it happens.

    3. BananaPants*

      Based on friends’ recent job searches this is increasingly common, at least once a potential hire has reached the “finalist” stage.

      About 2 years ago my husband was interviewing for a job at a world-reknowned hospital. After two interviews HR told him he was a finalist and that a reference from his current manager was mandatory at that point. He had a very awkward conversation with his manager, who was pretty displeased to hear that he was considering leaving but agreed to give a reference. Then he didn’t get the job after all – he’s not sure if she gave a lukewarm reference in the hopes that he wouldn’t leave (the department was horribly short staffed at the time). It took a solid 6 months for their working relationship to get back to normal.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it’s not a desirable hiring practice, but if people are nonetheless using it job seekers and their current managers should attempt to cope with the situation with grace. Saying “Well I flat out refuse to give a reference, because them outing your job search before you accept an offer from them is bad practice” wouldn’t be graceful or practical.

      1. Rugby*

        I disagree. I think if job seekers and current managers are in a position to push back on this kind of shitty practice, they should. I’ve pushed back on hiring managers when they asked me for a reference from my current manager. Obviously, a lot of job seekers are not able to do that, but someone in OP1’s situation could point out to the other employer that this is bad practice. They would be doing a service to future job seekers.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          A job candidate with options who’s willing to lose the job opportunity over it can do that if they want. But the manager who’s being asked for the reference? No. In many cases, a current manager doing that would mean the employee wouldn’t get the job — and frankly, they have no standing to. It’s not an acceptable response — it’s prioritizing the manager’s emotional comfort ahead of the employee’s need for an honest reference and it would be a crappy thing to do.

          1. Rugby*

            Disagree. I think the OP could have given a good reference and also said something like, “another manager may not be as gracious about this, which could put job seekers in a difficult situation” It’s not about emotion comfort of the manager; its about advocating for hiring practices that don’t suck.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Oh, sure. I thought you were suggesting refusing to give the reference. (Re-reading your comment, I have no idea why I thought that; it’s clear.)

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think it’s just because Alison is responding to the LW’s question about what *they* could do differently. If the hiring manager had written in she probably would have responded that asking to talk to the current manager (especially for someone they have personally worked with and have given their own glowing reviews) is a bad practice.

      1. Rugby*

        Alison frequently points out when the other party is being unreasonable though. It’s odd that she didn’t do that here. Her response made it sound like OP is the one being completely unreasonable.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The OP was in the wrong, regardless of the fact that employers shouldn’t insist on references from current employers, and that’s the more urgent and relevant issue for her.

          1. MommyMD*

            If it’s an internal hire requiring a current manager reference is not all that uncommon. Nor is negotiating a release date from one department to another.

    6. Arctic*

      I don’t think anything suggests that it is OK. But if it happens a manager must handle it professionally.
      And, in my experience, this happens all of the time. So, whether it is OK or not it is something that will come up.

    7. CAA*

      When you are hiring, you should not “out” a job seeker by contacting their current employer during the interview process. However, it is very common to require a reference from the current manager. You only do this at the very last step when you’ve already made an offer and negotiated salary and the candidate will be handing in their resignation. It’s just a final verification of your decision, not really part of the decision-making process, and you should not revoke an offer based solely on a lukewarm reference from the current manager. If that call raises some huge red flag, like the person lied on their resume, then you need to pursue that with the applicant before revoking the offer.

      Overall, I think OP1’s response is not a big deal in this particular situation. The new employer already knows this person and has even acted as her reference in the past. They didn’t need a reference from OP1 to know what kind of work this person does, so they’re just mechanically checking the boxes on their process even when it’s not relevant. Also, the employee has only been at OP1’s company for one year. In many tech jobs it takes that long to learn everything you need to know to be really productive, so OP1 may not even have a full picture of her ability yet and may not have been able to give her a glowing reference even if she’d had a week to prepare.

  19. Norm*

    I have never been asked for, nor have I sought, a reference from a current employer (typo above).

  20. LGC*

    So LW2…they’re saying that if there’s a problem on Friday, you should…confront them by Wednesday?

    (I’d say this was a deep cut but that was one of the most infamous letters here! I’ll link below.)

    Anyway. One more thing is – HR can have varying functions in different organizations, right? Some are more hands-on with office matters, but it seems like in your situation your “HR” is more like “payroll and insurance and on-boarding.” Especially since they’re an off-site vendor, from what it sounds like. Your HR company might not be the best place to deal with your Fergus problem (and he definitely sounds like a Fergus) – I’d consider going to your manager if it doesn’t resolve, actually!

    By the way, that is a TERRIBLY worded policy, and I’ve heard some howlers. That policy can easily be interpreted as, “if you can’t confront the person about it then it’s obviously not a big deal,” and we all know how easy it is to confront harassment in the workplace. (/s, if that wasn’t obvious.) I hope someone microwaves fish in the leadership’s offices. Every day. And they don’t know who the culprit is, or don’t find out until at least four days later.

      1. AKchic*

        Every time I read that letter, I am reminded of the old mIRC days and want to bring out dueling trout.

  21. Aquawoman*

    Re #2, even aside from the issue of how to deal with serious issues, it’s amazing that this company thinks that ordering people to just change their feelings after 3 days is actually going to work.

    1. fposte*

      I’m wondering if this is some take on “Wait a few days to cool down after your co-worker has annoyed you and then decide if it’s still a problem.” That would be a reasonable piece of advice rather than a warning about a closing window.

    2. Autumnheart*

      I can understand why an HR department wouldn’t want to have Kindergarten Cop be their primary duty, but I admit my first reaction to reading #2 was “If our options are to handle it ourselves or just shut up, what are we paying you guys for?”

  22. Phony Genius*

    On #3, if the employee were told that they were being shown the documents in confidence, would that make a difference?

    1. fposte*

      IMHO, not for their own compensation, no. That’s not something a company could reasonably expect you to ignore.

  23. Emi.*

    The fact that HR wants you to “confront” your colleagues instead of just talking to them is deeply weird to me.

    1. fposte*

      I don’t know if the “confront” is verbatim from the instructions or is the OP’s paraphrase, though. I do see a lot of people using “confront” for any conversation requesting a change of behavior. That being said, it could be HR’s wording, and if so, way to make things worse, HR.

    2. Jennifer*

      For a serious issue, like sexual harassment, agreed. For minor issues like ‘who hid my candy bowl?’ They do need to “confront” or talk to the person or just let it go.

      1. Emi.*

        No, I meant for minor issues, since I interpreted the letter to mean that HR used the term “confront,” which at least to me conveys more hostility than is called for in workplace issues (at least those that are resolvable between the parties). Like “How dare you take my candy bowl?!? Give it back right now!” vs “Hey, do you have my candy bowl? It’s actually my personal dish so I need to hang onto it.”

  24. TootsNYC*

    I’ve never been asked to be a reference for a current full-time employee, but I have been asked to give a reference for a freelancer in situations in which it means I will lose their services.

    I sort of figure that my dismay is a good reference! (I mean, I don’t get whiny, but I do say, jokingly, “Oh, please don’t hire her! Who will I get to replace her?” and then go on to say good things about their work and their professionalism. I did once say to a reference checker, “I’ve been trying to figure out what I could say that would mean she wouldn’t get the job and I could keep her–but it would all be a lie! I can’t say she’s late all the time, because she never is. I can’t say she’s sloppy, because she’s really accurate. I can’t say she rubs people the wrong way, because people love her. But seriously, she’s a great person to have on your team, and you’d be an idiot not to give her the job. Even if it means my undying enmity.” )

    But yes, you have to assume that people will leave. And on a human level, I think employees deserve some sympathy when they’re forced into revealing their hand by getting references from a current supervisor (WTF?!?!?)

    Also–our OP had warning; the employee asked before the phone call with the reference checker. That was the time to sort out all the conflicting emotions.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Honestly, I would stop saying “Oh, please don’t hire her!” even though you’re joking. If the employer has two candidates they like equally and they already feel bad about not being able to hire them both, it’s possible that kind of reference could influence them to go with the other candidate since your person already has employment where they love her, will be fine, etc. I wouldn’t be thrilled to hear my reference was saying that, even as a joke.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I’m sure it’s usually fine! Just that there’s a possibility for it not to be, and the person you’re doing the reference for would probably appreciate it if you didn’t.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        That’s a good point about potential employers using the joke about a job seeker against them. A clear, straightforward, positive reference seems to be less of an unintentional landmine.

    2. MommyMD*

      Ugh. I would not want those things said in a reference. Just give a straight forward and serious reference. You are unwittingly bringing negativity to the process which can affect the hiring process and could be sabotaging a good employee. It’s hard to lose a good employee but it’s the cost of doing business.

    3. emmelemm*

      I would think you could say, “Oh, I’ll be SO sorry to lose her!” (or “I *would* be sorry to lose her!”) and it conveys the same thing but even more positively for the employee.

  25. Jennifer*

    Re: HR

    I understand the reason why the company sent that email out. I am often surprised here by the number of people who suggest that an OP go to HR for something when they really just need to be an adult and either let it go or talk to the person about it. I remember several people suggesting it over a candy bowl dispute. It’s work, not a kindergarten class.

    That being said, the company worded it poorly. It might have been better to give examples of what is serious enough to take to HR and what isn’t.

  26. JSPA*

    OP #1:
    I read your message as, “I’d normally have pulled information together to give a really strong reference, and was blindsided.” As a result,

    a. you didn’t have the information at hand to give a great reference. That’s NOT on you.

    b. the act of the employee in blindsiding you was the freshest thing about them in your mind, and that’s not a great thing to have fresh in your mind, when trying to sing someone’s praises. Again, that’s not primarily on you. You should be prepared for an employee to ask for a reference at any point, yes; but not normally to do it at the snap of someone’s fingers. Either the interviewer, the person in charge of setting up the interview process or your employee has been thoughtless, in creating that sort of “drop everything and do this now” situation.

    Beyond that:

    It would have been more professional not to fish for info (and here, it’s unclear if the employee could have told you the relevant info or not, so it’s unclear if they could have spared you the temptation). But I actually think it would have been “in bounds” to tell the other party, without fishing, “our default has always been a four week transition.”

    “I hate to lose X / hope I can keep them a while longer” is actually one of the stronger things you can say, as far as a recommendation. So professional or not, you may have strengthened the employee’s chances by saying this. As a result, I would not beat yourself up too much about it.

    1. fposte*

      I think this is a really good summary, JSPA. Awkward situation; misstep that could have been handled better; overall understandable and probably in keeping with what they usually get.

    2. a1*

      I read your message as, “I’d normally have pulled information together to give a really strong reference, and was blindsided.”

      That’s how I read it as well. She gave a “fair” appraisal, but wasn’t able to “singer her praises” as she normally would. Not sure why so many people are reading that she gave a mediocre to bad reference from that, or treated her employee unfairly.

        1. JSPA*

          Ah, you read it as “fair on a scale of “unsatisfactory” to “exceeds expectations.”

          I read it as, “fair vs. unfair.”

          OP was not unfair to the employee, and gave a fair assessment of the employee, but OP’s tone wasn’t glowing, OP’s heart wasn’t in it, OP didn’t have all the info needed to help put the employee in the best light, the way OP normally would do when giving a reference.

          If OP meant, “I made a great employee sound like a not-crap employee,” I can see why people are piling on. But that’s not what OP’s words said to me.

  27. Jennifer*

    OP2 – I had an annoying male coworker that always hit my chair when he knew it annoyed me. He said he did it because it annoyed me. I asked him to stop multiple times and finally a more experienced employee took him to the side and told him that if he didn’t stop it could escalate and possibly jeopardize his employment. That got him to stop.

    Start telling him that the special attention he’s giving you is unwelcome and you need him to stop or you’ll have to report the behavior. Once they realize you mean business, they usually stop. At least this kind of middle school behavior. It says a lot about their maturity level.

    1. MommyMD*

      I agree. And if he doesn’t stop, report him right away. This is creepy guy in the workplace behavior. Had he ran out to me in the parking lot I’d have asked him wtf he was doing and to back off. I would then let my manager know in case it continued.

    2. Skywriter*

      Mentioned this below, but if the guy’s actions are making OP feel uncomfortable, especially to the point where you’re in any way concerned about how he might react to you asking him to stop, pay attention to those warning signs–the kind of behavior you’re describing in your letter could stay benign, but it might not, as harassment can escalate, including when the person is confronted. It’s definitely worth taking a look at resources and advice written specifically for handling workplace harassment before you decide whether to talk to him yourself or not (and, if you do choose to talk to him, the safest ways to do so.)

  28. Elbe*

    I don’t understand why people would require a current supervisor reference. That’s just asking for trouble!

    What happens if a really good employee has a really bad boss? When you require a reference from ONE specific person, the quality of that reference will always hinge on the quality of the supervisor. Lots of people are looking for another job precisely because they don’t like their current supervisor.

    And, people have motivations – even subconsciously – to talk up poor performers to get them to leave, and to downplay the skills of high performers to make them stay. What’s the benefit in that? And you’re knowingly putting all of the employees that you don’t select in an awkward position at their current job. It just seems really unkind.

    I don’t get why some companies even want this, let alone REQUIRE it. What’s the benefit?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, I’m not really sure what the deal is there either. While I have used current managers as references in the past, that was solely my choice. Requiring a current manager reference makes no sense, unless you can guarantee the applicant gets the job and will take it. Otherwise, you’re just making trouble. “Oh, sorry we let you know your employee was looking for other jobs… turns out we aren’t going to hire her.”

      1. Elbe*

        Exactly! Why burn a bridge with someone you nearly hired and may be interested in for a later position?

        And I wonder how many good candidates these companies lose because they would rather drop the application than give the current reference? When there are such high consequences, a lot of good candidates will think (accurately) that they can find better jobs elsewhere with less risk.

        It seems like these companies are shooting themselves in the foot by requiring this.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      I also don’t understand needing a reference when you’ve had the person work for you…and have given them a reference before as well.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I could understand maybe wanting a more recent reference, especially if you worked with that person 15 years ago, but it doesn’t have to be the person’s current manager.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        I also think there’s something to be said for asking how people are in their current job. While I wouldn’t recommend using past (non-manager) co-workers as references, I’ve sometimes used non-manager current co-workers as references, so it would be previous manager, previous manager, previous manager, current co-worker. Now some potential employers may not really care to talk to a co-worker non-manager, but I still think that option is better than not talking to anyone the person is currently working with, as long as you’re also able to speak with previous managers.

  29. Free Meerkats*

    Am I the only one who reads #1 as someone moving within the company rather than moving to a different company?

    In that case, the word poaching and the request for a current supervisor reference are completely normal. And the request to push the start back a couple of weeks isn’t as out of line.

    1. MommyMD*

      All poached employees where I work have a mandatory 30 day notice. You can’t poach from another department and expect employee to start right away. They have to wait the 30 days.

    2. JSPA*

      I wondered if that’s what was implied by “lateral role,” and talking about past and future supervisors vs hiring managers, and the reference to poaching. I’m 60% convinced that’s what’s going on, but it’s not at all clear from the original letter.

  30. boop the first*

    Ugh… I have two jobs on the line, one offer and one is in interview process, and I’m terrified that my recent reference might do something unethical and cause me to lose both of them. I’ve already quit and have been unemployed for a month, but it’s not in ex-boss’ best interest to help me move on. If I can’t get a new job, I’d “have no choice” but to go back to old job which would be a super win for him. How long would something like that go on? How would I know if such a thing was happening? I hate every second of this.

  31. Peter the Bubblehead*

    In response to OP1:
    Several decades ago I worked for an agency of the City of New York. I was good at the job I did, but the pay wasn’t great and I was looking to move higher up and expand my possibilities.
    One day a special unit began interviews for a special position that would have been essentially a PR job two pay grades higher than my current position. I decided to go for it, interviewed with the unit heads, nailed the interview and was told literally, “As long as your current (boss) approves, we’ll have you starting in the new position in a few weeks.” All I had to do was wait for the transfer order to arrive.
    Weeks passed. Weeks became months. Still heard nothing. That is, until I was told – unofficially – by a co-worker with more insider knowledge that my (boss) thought I was too good at my job, she could not afford to ‘lose my numbers,’ and quashed the promotion. I was SO angry.
    After I learned this, I lost all ability to care about my job. I started calling out sick at least four or five days per pay period. I began slacking in my work, doing half the prior amount of work (or less). And at the earliest opportunity, I left the agency and moved on to an enlistment in the military that took me out of NYC for good.
    The lesson in this rant? Don’t sabotage your good employees. Don’t think that by holding them back you are going to simply continue to reap the benefits of their hard work. If you don’t show any loyalty to us, why should we show any loyalty to you?

  32. CustServGirl*

    “Hi, can you please stop interacting with me, all your interactions are unwelcome and unnecessary”?

    MY GOODNESS I wish I could say this to some coworkers! LOL

  33. Buttons*

    If the company is using a third-party HR company, they may only have a contract for HR operations- which is payroll and HR systems. The contact may not include the other parts of HR like business partners, employee relations, policies, talent management, performance, recruiting, benefits, and development. HR is a catchall name for a lot of different functions.

    1. Observer*

      That does not matter. The thing management needs to tell staff is who to go to, not to stop going to HR.

      1. Buttons*

        Of course that is the issue. I was making sure people understand that there are different functions within HR.

  34. MommyMD*

    Feeling sorry for the very good employee who got a lukewarm recommendation from their boss. Nice reward for a job well done.

  35. Skywriter*

    Just a quick thought for Letter Writer 2: if your colleague’s behavior is making you feel uncomfortable, especially to the point where you’re in any way concerned about how he might react to you asking him to stop, pay attention to those warning signs. It’s worth listening to your feelings of fear, or of something being “off,” even if someone seems mostly okay, since harassment can escalate, including when the person is confronted.

    I’m not saying that will be the case here (what you’ve described could easily stay benign; as someone with some personal experience with this, I can just see it going either way). But it’s definitely worth taking a look at resources and advice written specifically for handling workplace harassment before you decide whether to talk to him yourself or not (and, if you do choose to talk to him, the safest ways to do so.)

    Again, not trying to be alarmist, but from personal experiences, taking your safety (and emotional wellbeing) seriously when someone first seems to be pushing at your boundaries is very much worthwhile. Better safe than sorry.

  36. tinyhipsterboy*

    The HR thing is baffling. I get that it’s usually for problems like “Fergus won’t stop leaving his chewed gum under my table”, but in my (admittedly limited) experience, some companies take it a bit too far. When I worked at a cell phone store, my manager blatantly refused to help us with customers that asked specifically for him (or with things we factually could not do but he could), as well as had a track record of obviously treating people of color differently from white people regardless of customer/employee.

    Upon contacting HR, though, we were asked if we’d utilized the Open Door Policy to talk to the manager about our issues. When you have a manager that won’t listen and the issues are that significant, that strikes me as asinine.

    1. Observer*

      It’s also basically illegal when talking about stuff like illegal discrimination. Companies MUST have a way to report this stuff that doesn’t require going through the offender.

  37. Abby*

    I was recently the job applicant in a situation similar to #1. Applied for a secondment and had to ask my current manager for a reference. Manager gave me a bad reference so I didn’t get the secondment. I had never had any feedback about my performance from my manager, so the bad reference came out of the blue.
    I wasn’t devastated about not getting the secondment, as I mainly applied to get away from my mind-numbingly dull current job. But I’m devastated by the fact that my current manager never gave me feedback about my work and that I have to carry on working with her.
    I don’t intend to do this for much longer – I am planning to leave as soon as I can.
    Please managers – don’t do this to your people.

  38. Princess Shrek*

    #1… I just started a new job earlier this year. When I gave notice at my old job, I said I was thinking about giving 3 weeks. This was so I could take a couple of weeks off and go on a cross-country visit to see my mother, who was recovering from surgery after cancer. Without discussing anything with me, my old boss (OB) called my new (prospective) boss (NPB) and asked if they could move my start date back because I was required to give 6 weeks of notice according to our employee handbook (it was in there, debatable if it applied to someone at my level). I work in a small industry and my bosses were acquaintances. I learned about this when NPB called me to fill me in on the situation.

    When I confronted OB, they acted shocked that I was upset and tried to gaslight me by saying “we always call the new company to work out the transition plan.” OB finally apologized after running this scenario by a couple of colleagues and hearing their feedback that nope, this wasn’t normal. It certainly confirmed that moving on was the right choice!

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