giving a reference when you have a moral objection to the employer, what a closed door means, and more

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

1. Giving a reference when you have a moral objection to the employer

I have a former employee who is fantastic, and I’m always happy to act as a reference for her. She just applied for a position with a company that has a pretty controversial history, and while I’m still obviously going to give her the glowing reference she deserves, I feel kind of gross about it. The company isn’t one that’s 100% morally reprehensible; it doesn’t promote infringement of human rights or anything, but its whole mission and especially its tactics are things I absolutely disagree with.

Is there ever a situation where if someone applied to a job that seriously conflicted with your morals, you’d consider having a conversation with them about why they’re applying there before giving a reference? If it was something like Stormfront (obviously taking it to an extreme position), would the expectation still be that you should unequivocally give a positive reference?

This is more of a hypothetical question at this point since I’m of course going to give her a very positive reference.

I agree there are organizations that are so bad that it would be worth talking with the person — and some where I wouldn’t give a reference at all. I wouldn’t give a reference for someone wanting to work with Stormfront, for example! (And would explain to the person that I couldn’t in good conscience do something that assisted someone in doing that work.) But when it’s just a matter of different opinions, I think it’s different — for example, I strongly support ending drug prohibition but would still give a reference for someone applying at the DEA. Or to work on the campaign of a politician I disagreed with. So I guess my line would be groups that engage in open bigotry.

Re: whether you should try to talk with the person before giving the reference — if it’s just a group that you have political differences with, I’d say you shouldn’t. They undoubtedly already know some people disagree and it’s not your place as a reference to have that conversation. (I wouldn’t want my references trying to dissuade me from working for, say, reproductive freedom, and it would seem really out of line.)

2. Does a closed office door mean “do not disturb” or am I being too rigid?

I’m in a senior-level position at my organization and have been in the workforce for 10+ years, but because I am usually remote or in the field this is my first time having a private office. The culture of our office is collegial and doors largely stay open; when they are closed, it is because someone is on a conference call or needs privacy. A small minority of people work with their doors mostly closed, but it is a consistent few.

As someone whose door is closed very, very rarely (once every two weeks or so), I’ve been baffled at the number of colleagues who consistently knock to come in and just chat, or to show me something online, or ask about incredibly non-urgent issues. I think I’ll be okay delivering a cheerful “when my door is closed, I prefer privacy” script, but truthfully, this makes me infuriated (it does not show). My question is, am I out of line for feeling annoyed at these multiple silly interruptions, or do closed doors generally convey “privacy please” and my colleagues are being a bit clueless?

It depends on the office culture! There are offices where a closed door just means “knock before you enter” rather than “please don’t interrupt.” And since you’e having multiple coworkers interpret it as the former, I’m guessing that’s the culture of your office.

I’d change your script just a bit. Instead of saying that when your door is closed, “I’d prefer privacy,” I’d change it to “I’d rather not be interrupted unless it’s urgent.” I don’t think it’s really about “privacy” (which sounds like you might be changing clothes or talking to a significant other or so forth); it’s about whether you’re interruptible.

3. My employee thinks we’re all family

I’ve seen your writing on why “we’re all family here” is a red flag when companies use it, and I’m wondering what to do when employees act that way. I have a direct, Lysa, who has made comments like “I’m everyone’s mother” and “I was always the peacekeeper growing up and that’s what I do here.”

For lack of a better way to put it, she wants everyone to be okay. When decisions get made, she wants everyone to feel good about all of them — which is different than committing to them — and will try to extend discussions to get to that point. And that’s not always a relevant question, and those discussions can drag on forever if there isn’t a meeting organizer there to step in. I’m concerned that she’s far more personally invested in all of us than we are in her (and we like her!) and she’s setting herself up for constant disappointment because I think she expects us to be invested in her like family and we’re just … not.

Lysa and I have regular one-on-ones. I need to raise this issue and most of that discussion will be around specific behaviors, but I don’t have the words to explain the problem with the family mindset. Can you help?

I don’t know that you need to or that you should! It’s really the specific behaviors that you should focus on (as you’re already planning to do), and you probably don’t need to get into the “we’re like family” stuff in order to address that. In fact, it could come across as overly heavy-handed.

However, if she’s saying that stuff around junior staff (and thus is potentially messing with their professional norms) or if she’s a manager herself (and thus could be doing that weird, highly problematic guilt-tripping of employees that often accompanies the phrase), then yes, I do think you’ve got to say something. In that case, you could say, “You’ve made some comments about work being a family or you being people’s mom, but I think that’s the wrong mindset to have. We can and do have warm, supportive relationships with each other, and can genuinely care about each other, but we don’t have the dynamics of a family here and that’s intentional. People here have different levels of power and decision-making ability, and we don’t — and can’t — operate by consensus. We’re going to sometimes make decisions that not everyone agrees with. We may at times have to let people go. We’re a team — a team that hopefully likes working together — but not a family.” If she manages people, I’d add, “It’s important not to use that ‘family’ paradigm with your staff in particular, so you maintain good boundaries with them and they feel comfortable advocating for themselves in a way they might not with ‘family.’”

4. My boss keeps emailing my personal email account

In the grand scheme of things, I know this is a minor issue but it’s driving me nuts! In the last few months, my boss has started sending emails to my personal email address instead of my business account. I can only guess that at some point I accidentally emailed him from it on my phone and now it’s become his default. I’ve mentioned it now on two or three occasions and asked that he use my organizational account, but he keeps sending emails to the wrong place. It’s particularly frustrating because on several occasions he has copied me on responses to people outside of our office to direct them to me in as point-of-contact, which just confuses things that much more. How should I address this? Or should I even bother?

Yes, ask him again! This time explain that you’re missing important work emails from him and ask him to remove your personal address from his email program (which has no doubt hung on to it and now is auto-populating when he types your name). If he doesn’t know how to do that, offer to show him.

If that doesn’t solve it, try setting up a rule in your personal email that will automatically forward anything from him to your work address.

5. How do I give awkward feedback to a client?

As a sideline to our main business, our company rents out some space to clients, and I handle the rental bookings. I’m new to the company, and the previous person who handled the bookings has left.

We recently had a less-than-stellar rental client, who left a mess in the space and stayed long past their agreed-upon departure time. Per my boss’s direction, I left them pleasant but understated client feedback comments and a middling rating.

They’ve now requested to return, and the person I’m liaising with (who is in a support position at her organization) has asked if there’s anything they can do to be better guests. My boss suggested that I hint at the issue by saying that we’ve equipped the space with bigger garbage cans. That strikes me as very passive-aggressive, and I’m inclined to say something more straightforward and direct. My boss has given her blessing for me to handle this however I want, but I don’t want to overstep and lose this client’s business. What’s the appropriate level of direct to be with a client? Can you help?

Your boss’s suggestion is awfully indirect! It’s just clear enough to (probably) get the meaning across, but it approaches the topic so delicately that it’s likely to come across strangely.

It should be fine to simply say, “Thanks for asking! We do have two requests. On your last visit, food and trash was left behind and we’d ask that on future visits you clean up before you leave (we have a couple of big garbage cans we’ll put in the space for you). We’d also need you to vacate the space no later than 3 p.m.; last time our contract went until 3 but people were still in the space until 6.”

This is especially true since your contact there specifically asked what they can do to be better guests! But it would be true even if she hadn’t.

{ 401 comments… read them below }

  1. Engineer Girl*

    #5 – If your client has specifically asked how to be a better client then you owe them a specific answer! They are asking for feedback. Honesty benefits both parties.

      1. valentine*

        If you haven’t already, create a rental agreement that spells out the client needs to leave the space in the same or better condition, spelling out removal of trash, the use of trash bags/receptacles, and who they contact if they need more. (You could say they can pay $x upfront for trash removal, but jerks like this won’t pay and will leave the trash, anyway.)

        1. ChemMoose*

          If your contract doesn’t already, you can also add additional billing if the space isn’t vacated by a certain time or required additional clean up to return the space to the original condition. Usually the time fee is used because you are paying someone to close up the space. These changes give the client a financial incentive to fulfill their end of the contract.

          Let the client know the feedback, and then add in additional addendums to your existing contract to specicify these points. If they can meet the terms, you can always pull out these addendums next time, or if they work well add them to all your clients.

        2. JN*

          Only add an extra fee in if you would genuinely be happy to receive the fee instead of them clearing up/leaving on time, though. Studies have shown that applying a fee actually makes people more likely not to comply, because they start seeing it as ” I’m paying extra for the privilege of doing this” not “I’m breaking the rules by doing this”. I think the study was about whether late pick up fees encourages parents to pick their kids up from daycare on time.

          1. Bluesboy*

            Yes, I saw that too, I think it was from New Zealand. Just want to add that if we’re talking about the same study, the daycare reported that after finding out that the ‘late fee’ didn’t work, and in fact worsened parent lateness, they removed the fee. But things didn’t go back to as they had before, and the parents continued to be late!

            It seemed that once they no longer saw arriving on time as essential, but optional, they continued to do so even after they were no longer paying for lateness. So I reiterate what you’re saying – only add the fee if you want the extra money, because otherwise there’s no going back (at least based on this study).

            1. Doug Judy*

              I’d argue the fee wasn’t great enough to be a deterrent, not that fees don’t work at all. Every daycare I’ve had my kids at charges $5 per minute you’re late, and excessive lateness they would unenroll the child. I’m talking like if you were late every day for a week, they’d drop you. I don’t know any parent that risked being late picking up their kid.

              1. Sarah N*

                Yes, ours is $2 per minute and they will call CPS after 30 minutes. Not sure if they would actually do that but the threat means I’m pretty sure no one is EVER late.

          2. Antilles*

            Depends on the fee though. Let’s assume I’m planning an event.
            If your cleaning fee is $100? Well, it’ll take 15-30 minutes (depending on the size of the room) to do the final cleanup – dealing with people’s half-cleaned plates or drinks they just sort of set down and walked away from, picking up the stuff that people dropped on the floor, making sure there’s no odd trash hiding somewhere, etc. If we’re already paying well into four figures for the room, catering, bartender, etc, etc, etc, I’m probably treating that $100 as just part of the cost since it’s a fairly trivial amount relative to what we’re already putting up. I might be polite and tell the rental company that upfront, but at that price, I’m going to willingly pay that fee.
            If it’s like $500+, then we’re going to figure out a way to make an announcement to the entire group with 10 minutes left “Hey everyone, it’s been fun. We’re about to wrap up, so please help pitch in with the clean up by…”

          3. CaVanaMana*

            Oh, I’ll admit. When I used to rent (personally) there was maybe an apartment or two that I left a mess when I moved out. They charged a cleaning fee which was taken out of my initial deposit at 10/hr which I justified as cheaper than hiring a cleaning company/maid service and less of a pain than cleaning myself.

            1. Paulina*

              Have done the same. By the time I’d managed to get all of my things out of the apartment, I didn’t have energy to clean, and self-justified it further based on the strong likelihood that I wouldn’t be able to do it to their standards anyway (and so would likely incur further charges even if I did clean). However, that was in a situation with well-established not-super-astronomical cleaning fees, and I did always leave extra time for them to do this, which this client did not.

              1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                Yeah, the problem is that, culturally, we use “fee” as the word for both situations where you genuinely want to be in the business of providing that service (but charge extra for it) and for situations where you are trying to get people not to do something. The second category would be better expressed as a “fine” rather than “fee”, but I assume is not for legal reasons.

                For example, I will pay a fee for delivery if I don’t feel like driving to the store to get my own pizza, and presumably the pizza place will be happy to keep me on as a customer no matter how many times I decide to pay the delivery fee rather than carry out my own pizza. On the other hand, if I decide to pay the (expensive) “cleaning fee” for having a pet or smoking in a pet free/smoke free hotel room, that’s a different matter since those fees are not “we’re happy to provide this service, but charging you more for it to recover our additional costs” fees, but rather “don’t do this thing, it is not allowed” fees. However, that’s not really flagged anywhere and it’s a matter of social implication navigating to figure that out.

                I’ve seen conventions have this issue with hotel contracts and eventually lose hotels over it. The con-runners thought the hotel was fine with [terrible behavior] as long as the con paid the fee (and budgeted accordingly), and the hotel wanted to stop dealing with [terrible behavior] entirely. My policy if I’m dealing with an event space in that context is that, if my event is thinking of paying an extra fee for X, to clarify with the hotel/conference center explicitly which category they put that fee in. One good, but not perfect, guideline is that if it’s something you can pay for proactively prior to your event as part of your contract/BEO, it’s probably a fee they’re in the business of providing on purpose, and if it’s one they charge afterward it’s probably one they’re using as a deterrent and may impact future business with them. Example: fee for providing coffee service (yes, they will happily keep your business while charging you the coffee service fee and put it right into your BEO) versus fee for excessive body paint on their chairs (they will charge you a fee for this afterward, but they will also start looking for other events that do not leave body paint on their chairs). Cleaning fees can be in either category, so it’s particularly important to make sure you’re on the same page about them.

                1. Antilles*

                  One good, but not perfect, guideline is that if it’s something you can pay for proactively prior to your event as part of your contract/BEO, it’s probably a fee they’re in the business of providing on purpose, and if it’s one they charge afterward it’s probably one they’re using as a deterrent and may impact future business with them.
                  That’s a really good general guideline. As you mentioned, if you’re not sure which category the fee falls into, just ask upfront. If you proactively offer “oh, so is that cleaning service something we can just pre-schedule and pay upfront?”, you’ll find out immediately.
                  If it’s a service they’re happy to provide, the response will be a quick agreement; if it’s more intended as a deterrent/punishment, you’ll get either corrected immediately or complete confusion (uh, what? um, I don’t really think we do that).

    1. On Fire*

      It’s possible that the contact at the client knows the problems from last time but doesn’t have authority within her org to say anything forcefully. But if OP emails with the suggested wording, the contact can tell *her* chain of command, “(OP’s org) has specifically requested A, B, and C.”

      1. Emilia Bedelia*

        It’s also possible that the contact actually has no idea! At least at my (very large) company, the person who is responsible for doing those event bookings actually would not attend the event and has no idea what happened. it’s also possible that if the organizer wasn’t present at the first meeting, the expectations were not communicated well enough to the team using the facility.
        This would be a great opportunity to point out things that went wrong, and as On Fire pointed out, that contact would probably be in the best position to communicate the OP’s needs to their team.

        OP should think of it as communicating very matter of fact logistics. “Here are the directions if you are coming from the southbound highway. Park in the lot behind the building. Please be sure to put your trash in the cans provided.”

        1. LW5*

          Thank you, all!

          We actually do have late fees in our regular contract; we just didn’t apply them last time as the contract stipulates that we’ll provide a 15-minute warning, and the person who was on site for the event last time forgot to do so.

          I ended up emailing the client and saying something very close to Alison’s suggested wording, and she emailed back thanking me for the feedback and promising to follow up with the folks who will be attending their event (the commenters who thought she might not have been on site for the event either were correct).

    2. Snuck*

      “Dear Contact,

      We love our clients who come and use our place and treat it well! We’d love to have you back, and ask that you follow the basic courtesies we ask of all our clients – please leave the room neat and tidy, with rubbish and spills cleaned up, technology returned to the right places and any other personal items removed. We’d also like to stress that the room bookings are for an agreed time, and if your party needs to extend their booking beyond that time, then please have them ask us and we’ll see if that is possible. If we have other commitments after your client obviously this won’t be possible.”

      (Other commitments can also include the cleaners, or the fact you need to lock up and go home!)

      1. Marthooh*

        For some reason, this put my teeth right on edge in a way Alison’s script did not. Just answer the question the client asked. They know your company’s not happy with them, so tell them what do without trying to manage their feelings about it.

        1. Alianora*

          I think “obviously” and “basic courtesies” and “we love our clients who treat the space well” (with an implied “but not you”) comes across as extremy passive aggressive. Just be matter of fact.

        2. Parker*

          I agree. I would instantly feel awkward and defensive upon reading, “We love our clients who come and use our place and treat it well!” Implication: You did not or might not treat it well and we have negative feelings about you.

      2. Kia*

        This is too much. It feels passive-aggressive and indirect. I’d be irritated to receive this. Just answer the question in a matter of fact way, as Alison said.

      3. JSPA*

        This level of pass-ag is for people who have not asked for feedback, or have ignored repeated direct requests and been banned, IMO.

        1. boo bot*

          Yeah. It also runs the risk of not being understood. I have a persistent problem/superpower of not realizing people are giving me passive-aggressive hints until hours later, if at all. I would read the boss’ suggested “We have equipped the space with larger garbage cans” as a hilariously weird sales pitch. Like, good for you? Thanks for letting me know?

          The “Dear Contact,” letter above would at least get across some of the information about their expectations, but it doesn’t seem to be addressed to anyone in particular, so I would just assume it was what they sent to everyone, and wonder why their generic copy sounded so passive aggressive.

          The client asked for feedback, I think it’s really fine to just give it.

        2. Yorick*

          It’s still inappropriate. A better way would be to just say, “We’d love to have you back if you agree to do x, y, and z.”

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      YES. This could be critical to the client as well — for all your company knows, the client assigned someone to clean up at the end and that someone bailed instead of doing the cleanup.
      I’d also suggest your company add a fee for extra hours rented and for any custodial services you need to do for them — make it exhorbitant if you want to be sure no one takes you up on it.

    4. Kiki*

      Yes! And giving specific cleaning instructions yields better results than a general “clean up your mess” because mess can be subjective, cultures are different, etc. And make sure there are enough supplies (trash cans, trash bags, wipes, towels, broom, dust pan etc.) to handle a larger-than-average mess and that the clients know where they are. I don’t know if the boss was just being passive aggressive by saying they have bigger garbage cans now, but if there was genuinely not enough space in trash cans for the clients’ mess last time, that may have actually been part of the reason they didn’t clean as well as expected (but it sounds like there were other reasons, like running over time) .

      1. Artemesia*

        This. You need to say ‘after the last event, trash was left, tables were not restored to their positions, and there was food mess on the tables; additionally the space was not vacated till 6 although contracted to 3 and this created difficulties for set up for the next group.’ And then specify what you expect on clean up precisely. Do tables need to be wiped down? If so make that clear.

        I used to teach weekend university classes and would arrive in the room on Friday afternoon to find someone had had a pizza lunch for a group and left boxes and trash and the trash cans overflowing and there was no janitorial service till Monday. It was horrible and left me cleaning up a filthy room so my students had a pleasant classroom — we were in it for 4 hours Friday night and 8 hours on Saturday.

        I was able to talk to the department AA in the building where I was assigned the classroom and they were able to schedule their noon lunches in another room or else get that room clean and make sure there were empty trash cans when they knew it was an issue. People are thoughtless but not always malicious and the first step is being clear about the issue.

      2. Clisby*

        Exactly. I love Airbnb, and every place we’ve stayed has included a specific checklist of what to do before you leave: take the sheets off the bed, put any dirty dishes in the dishwasher and turn it on; take out the trash; that kind of thing. I’ve never been asked to sweep, or clean a bathroom – I assume the owners either do a final clean, or hire somebody to do it; but renters have instructions on at least not leaving a mess.

    5. Emilitron*

      Absolutely, they asked, you answer! This point of contact at the client may or may not have even been at the company last time they rented the space, they might be looking at the less-than-enthusiastic renter rating from last time, and have no idea what went wrong. Give your summary of what happened last time, and state how that conflicted with the contract.

    6. TootsNYC*

      I think people sometimes have no idea how to register negative feedback. They assume all criticism is an attack, or they don’t have any paradigm that isn’t scolding.

    7. Marissa*

      Yes! And ask the same question back. Maybe you and the client have wildly different expectations of who does what for some reason. Did they think you were staffing the space as well and were wondering why no one was picking up trash? Now’s the perfect time to clear up expectations, but unclear hints like the boss suggested won’t be helpful.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This. People can come up with crazy extremes where “just give the reference” actually might be the wrong move, but the other extreme is the reference who only believes people should work at a select number of low-paying businesses that represent 1% of the possible jobs, e.g. only at the nonprofit run by her sister. It doesn’t matter that you truly believe your sister’s nonprofit to be better than all the other companies.

      This came up before re professors, who are expected to write recommendations as part of the job description.

      1. Quill*

        There are going to be a few more examples these days (say, ICE) that aren’t necessarily crazily unlikely, but I think Alison’s advice covered that. :)

        1. A Canadian*

          I was thinking of Monsanto myself. They aren’t openly bigoted, afaik, but their actions are having a horrible impact on the environment. I’d still give a reference, though.

      2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        This so much. I work for a company that is in a controversial industry. The company itself is great, but the industry has a terrible reputation. I like my job and was happy to land it. If I had been torpedoed because a reference didn’t like the industry I was applying to I would have been livid and crushed.

    2. RoadsLady*

      If I were the one seeking a reference, I’d be quite annoyed with someone having a conversation about their values/philosophies with me when giving me said reference.

      Unless of course it’s extreme, such discussion in a professional environment is inappropriate.

  2. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – It feels slimy and unprofessional to give or withhold references based on your standards for the target company. A reference is about the person, not the company. If you have problems with this then talk to the person and ask them why they want to work there. You are certainly free to talk them out of it.
    You get to determine which companies are OK for you to work at. You don’t get to decide that for others. That’s boundary stomping controlling.

    1. Dan*


      My golden rule: You have to have a damn good reason if you are going to mess with someone’s livelihood (or potential livelihood), and those compelling reasons are few and far between.

      1. Joielle*

        I can understand this impulse, but on the other hand – you’re not the only person the applicant knows. It’s not like the options are you give a reference or the person goes hungry. They can find another reference. And even if you were to give the reference, it’s no guarantee that they’ll get the job. I just don’t think this is the black and white situation people are making it out to be.

        Nobody’s entitled to a reference from you, and declining to give a reference for whatever reason doesn’t make you a monster.

        1. Elizabeth Proctor*

          The vibe around here seems to be if you are a manager and your reports have done good work for you, they are entitled to a good reference from you. I suppose with the caveat that you aren’t going to work for an organization that engages in “open bigotry.”

          1. Observer*

            It’s not just a vibe. Allison is pretty clear that decent managers give good and honest references for people who have done good work for them for both ethical and practical reasons.

            While there are lines that people should not cross, making “things I don’t agree with” the line you don’t cross IS boundary crossing and controlling.

        2. Dagny*

          Joielle, you’re missing the point: by declining to give a reference, you are sending a message to the employer, and that message is one that can make it hard for your former employee to keep a roof over their head.

          Messing with someone’s livelihood is a really awful thing to do, whether it be harassing someone off the job, discriminating against them, declining to give a reference to a good candidate, or trash-talking them.

          1. merp*

            I don’t think they meant they’d tell the employer they are declining to give a reference – that definitely does send a message. I read it as telling the candidate that for x reason, they should ask to list someone else as a reference. And assuming this is done politely, it seems fine to me.

            1. snowglobe*

              If the candidate does not list the manager at their previous job where they worked for several years, it would be pretty noticeable, and it would make a potential employer wonder why that manager was not listed. And a good reference checker would call them anyway to find out what’s up.

              1. ElizabethJane*

                Really? I don’t list my former manager for my longest running job. And good luck getting in touch with him… I don’t list him because we lost touch, he’s also switched jobs at least twice, and I don’t have his contact information.

                I’d consider it a red flag if the employee couldn’t list any references, but as long as the ones provided are logical who am I decide that the absence of a manager I think should exist is weird….

              2. Detective Amy Santiago*

                Nah, if I had other solid references, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Some companies have policies against their managers giving references. Some people do great work and have personality conflicts. People are human and it’s unrealistic to expect that a person is going to have stellar references from every single person they’ve ever worked for.

              3. Elitist Semicolon*

                Alison has covered this before with respect to confidentiality in searches and/or whether employees need to disclose whether they are looking for a new job to their current employer. Not wanting prospective employers to contact a current manager is common, especially in situations where the applicant thinks there may be negative consequences at their current position.

            2. YetAnotherUsername*

              But how would they know to tell the candidate to get a different reference? It’s not like candidates call their references to ask for a list of “acceptable” companies they would be willing to give a reference to. They just ask “will you be my reference” and then the first time the referee knows who the company is is when the company contacts them asking for a reference. It’s too late then for them to tell the candidate not to list them.

              So yes, refusing to give a reference absolutely is going to damage their candidacy. And quite possible their ability to keep a roof over their heads. People don’t always have the luxury of only working for employers they agree with. Just because someone works for an organization doesn’t mean they agree with their goals. I used to work for a weapons company and I’m a pacifist!

              1. Valkyrie*

                I ask each and every time I use my references and let people know which place/places I am interviewing. I also send an updated copy of my resume and a job description so my references know what’s up. Everyone I’ve ever served as a reference for has done me the courtesy of telling me who to expect to get in touch.

                Maybe this is not the norm, but I’ve only ever had one surprise call from someone doing a reference check.

                1. Emily K*

                  I’ve typically secured my references’ consent when I begin a job search, and then I give them a heads-up when a company I’m interviewing with says they’ll be contacting my references, rather than securing consent for each company individually. That way when the company asks for my reference list I can just give it to them without the go-between of having to contact my references and say, “Just interviewed with Acme, is it still okay to list you as a reference?”

                  Depending on the volume of interviews/reference requests I would honestly find it bizarre if a former employee who I’d already agreed to be a reference for was contacting me to seek affirmative consent for a different company every week. I don’t really like feeling forced to respond to things that don’t actually need a response – whether it’s a workshop instructor trying to coax my team into answering dumb questions out loud (because “participation” is just about whether people vocalize, not about whether there was a meaningful discussion), or the repairman who is scheduled to arrive at 12 calls me at 9 and asks me to call him back to confirm the appointment, which I already confirmed yesterday with his main office, instead of just giving me credit for being a grown adult who can manage to keep appointments without someone checking in every 24 hours to make sure I haven’t changed my mind without informing anyone. I just resent the imposition on my time.

        3. Arctic*

          Finding valid references is very very difficult. It has to have been someone who managed your work but preferably not your current manager and also you should have worked for them within a reasonable amount of time.

        4. Qwerty*

          Hiring managers are not typically interested in a reference from anyone you know. They want professional contacts, preferably previous managers. If the OP was the person’s manager for significant part their recent work history, it will reflect poorly on the ex-employee that they could not get a reference from their manager. The appearance will be that OP had a problem with the ex-employee’s work. If a manager starts passing judgement when former employees ask for a reference, those employees might feel like they can’t use that reference anymore.

          Early in my career, my options for a manager reference were (1) current manager who had just been assigned to my team or (2) long term manager who had been fired for misconduct and apparently had a bad reputation in the industry. It hurt me when job searching that I didn’t have a manager who could provide a meaningful reference. References from non-supervising colleagues were seen as easy to get and not useful.

          1. Joielle*

            I’ve done plenty of hiring – I definitely didn’t mean literally anyone you know. Maybe you’d prefer to have a manager as a reference, but you don’t NEED one – you could go with a team lead, senior colleague, long-time client, college or grad school professor, mentor… the list goes on. There’s no need to be so limited in your reference list! Depending on your manager’s work style, they may well not be the best person to speak to the details of your work anyways.

            What if your previous manager was travelling, or busy, or didn’t like you as much as you thought they did, or changed their phone number, or died? It’s not like you’re doomed to unemployment forever. If you can’t get a reference from one previous manager, you ask someone else from the list, like we all would do in that situation.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I require manager references and would be really concerned if someone couldn’t provide any, unless there was a clear explanation for why (the person was dead, hospitalized, etc.).

              1. Bob1138*

                My problem with this is that it sort of presumes a frequency of job hopping. I’ve been with the same organization for well over a decade in multiple roles. All but one of my previous direct bosses still work for the company, and the other is dead. I’m fortunate that one of my old managers is willing to be a reference for an external search, but I would risk my current position by asking any of the others. And if I were to go back 15+years to my previous employer, it would be completely irrelevant to what I do today.

                1. Avasarala*

                  Agreed. I can’t ask for my previous manager to give a reference because it would tip off my current manager… I’m in the same company.

            2. Not Me*

              There are plenty of companies that do limit who a candidate can use as a reference and consider it a red flag if they can’t fulfill the list.

            3. Yvette*

              But what if a potential employer contacts this person without them having been listed as a reference? We have heard time and time again on this site from people who have had that happen. So despite not being listed as a reference this person is contacted. It happens. So then what? As Dagny pointed out “…by declining to give a reference, you are sending a message to the employer, and that message is one that can make it hard for your former employee to keep a roof over their head.”

            4. OhBehave*

              I require manager references. Who else is there? A coworker is not enough. A mentor? No. Some of those examples you mentioned will not know the employee’s experience and ability. Same with professors unless the employee is fresh out of school. In many cases, clients are not appropriate references unless you are freelancing.

        5. Massmatt*

          But most employers asking for references want them to be from people you worked with, and specifically your supervisors, not just anyone you know. For people early in their careers (or with little job turnover) that might be a very limited pool.

        6. Mike C.*

          Uh, if you’re getting in the way of someone paying their bills without a really good reason, you are pretty much a monster.

          1. Joielle*

            I mean, the person just has to ask someone else to be a reference. This happens all the time. Whether the reason is that the previous manager is travelling, changed their phone number, died, or has a moral objection to the employer, you’re not doomed to unemployment forever, you just… ask someone else to be a reference. If you’ve gone to school or had a job or volunteered somewhere in the past, and did well, you will have at least a few professors/team leads/coworkers/clients/mentors who you could ask. If your entire job search depends on one person being available as a reference, I think that’s a whole separate problem.

            1. Observer*

              Well, you are ignoring the fact that it really is not so easy. While not having a reference doesn’t mean you are doomed to unemployment, it DOES make it much harder to find a job. Pretending otherwise doesn’t do much for the credibility of your advice.

              And let’s be honest – the OP is very clear that the reason they want to decline to give e reference is because they want the organization to not hire the person.

              1. LabTechNoMore*

                Also not all references are made equally. If you were the most recent manager, or otherwise had key experience that was relevant to the role being sought, not having anyone able to vouge for recent or relevant work can be a pretty big blow to their candidacy.

          2. Aquawoman*

            Hyperbole. There is not one job in all the world that the employee can get and the only way to get it is with that one specific person’s recommendation. Also, not helping someone is not quite the equivalent of “getting in the way.” She’s not calling the organization up and telling them not to hire this person. I agree with Alison, it should be for really unstomachable employers, though.

        7. SheLooksFamiliar*

          It’s a reference request, not a referendum on the employer’s ethics or practices. The reference giver is only asked about the employee’s abilities and traits; their opinions on the potential employer are not relevant. If the reference giver is concerned abouot the potential employer, they can bring it up with the employee.

          Maybe the employee isn’t entitled to a reference (I’ll argue otherwise in most cases), but neither is the reference giver entitled to withhold because of their particular opinion on the employer. They don’t get to make that decision for the employee – and make no mistake, by withholding a reference for the reasons the OP refers to, that is exactly what they are doing.

          1. Kate*

            I’ll be honest, I’m a little confused about why this is even a question. A former manager refusing to be a reference for a former EE because said manager doesn’t agree with the new company’s mission… feels very wrong. It feels like the manager dictating to the EE which ones he/she deems appropriate – and will give a reference for those. (Full disclosure – I have never heard of the company Alison used as an example, so I’m lacking context there.)

            Now, I could see giving the reference and then asking the EE, “Do you really want to work there?” and if the EE really doesn’t but is getting desperate for employment, perhaps the former manager could help the EE network and make some contacts to get a role with a good company. But just flat out refuses feels really weird and “none of your business” type thing. (What am I missing here?)

            1. Perse's Mom*

              Stormfront is a white supremacy organization, if that helps. The kind that encourages domestic terrorism.

        8. Observer*

          Declining to give a reference doesn’t make someone a monster. Declining to give a reference because “I don’t agree with them” DOES make someone a pretentious and boundary crossing jerk, though. Especially since the reason for declining to give the reference IS *explicitly* to keep the person from getting that job.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      Yeah. It’s not on OP ti decide if the referee should work at X company, regardless of their personal opinion. Either give a reference it font but that’s all OP should do.

    3. tamarack and fireweed*

      Well, there’s a limit for everyone. As there should be, because there is no limit to how awful people can be to each other. But the bar should be substantially high. Disapproval is nowhere near enough.

      1. boo bot*

        Yeah, I think Stormfront was a good example here – everyone draws their lines in different places and all, but I feel like most people would balk at giving a cheerful reference for someone applying to work for an official neo-Nazi organization, or other literal terrorist affiliates.

        I think there’s also the fact that knowing someone wanted to work for neo-Nazis would frankly change my willingness to give a reference for them at all, for any job.

    4. JSPA*

      The farthest I’d go is to say to the person you’re recommending:

      “some of the reasons I value you so highly are your unimpeachable integrity, commitment to diversity, and to doing the utmost for your clients [or whatever else seems great about the person you’re recommending, but out of step with the company culture as you know or believe it to be] as well as your drive and great results. But [X and Y out of the list of X, Y and Z] seem like things that [company] [by my experience / by documented history / by past reputation] does not value highly. That puts me in a quandary. In writing your recommendation: do I include all the reasons that I value you, or do I downplay those and focus only on drive and results, which might make you a better fit with their reputed culture, but will result in an overall less personalized, less detailed letter?”

      She may tell you that the person who’s recruiting her is part of a clean-up team trying to rectify the company culture, or tell you that her friend works there and reports that things are hugely different now than they were a year ago! Or she may ask for more input. Or she may say, “actually, I really do want to see what it’s like working for a place that values only drive and results, and it would be helpful to focus on that.” Or, “if I make my first million fast that way, I’ll be ready to plow it back into the common good.” If she’s really good, chances are, she’s not totally oblivious (but you never know).

      1. MK*

        This might be an option if you have a relatively close repationship with the person asking the reference; I don’t think it’s appropriate to give that speech to someone who worked for you X years back and you have only exchanged yearly emails since. And even then… frankly, it can come across as passive-agressive or shaming or kind-0f hostile. There is an undertone of “well, if you want to compromise your morals and work for these shady people, my reference will be lukewarm”. I would argue that it would be better to be straightforward: if you have the kind of relationship to deliver the script you suggest, you can also simply ask them if they know about the concerns and what they think.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          My great-uncle was a medical doctor in the Waffen-SS. I would be full of admiration if one of his former superiors had told him “P, are you certain what you’re doing there? This sounds like a very bad idea. I don’t think I would like to write a letter of recommendation for that.” It would have worked out better for uncle P, too, because as it turned out he didn’t have the stomach for certifying mass shootings. So yeah, these things happen. To people less than 6 degrees of separation from you.

          I wouldn’t refuse for something that doesn’t rise to similar levels of bigotry. But if I had a request from a former report who was applying, say, with an organization that fights against equal rights for LGBTQ+ people (=me!), I’d probably write back something like this: “I am glad to hear you’re well. I will provide you with the reference you desire. However, I cannot help noticing that the organization you’re expecting me to interact with does not believe my family’s value equal to that of straight people. Therefore, please do not contact me in the future. I wish you well in your future life and career. “

          1. MK*

            Eh, I don’t understand why you would even provide the reference in the case of an organization that fights against equal rights for LGBTQ+ people? I can understand doing so if it’s a company with an unrelated mission that has a bad rep with discrimination or the owner donates to anti-LGBTQ+ orgs, but if it’s main purpose is fighting against LGBTQ+ rights, it would be perfectly reasonable to just deny the reference and tell the candidate why.

            1. Darren*

              If you were known to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community would such an organisation even be willing to accept a reference from you?

              I think that would be one of the situations where having a chat about whether you are a suitable reference would be warranted (as perhaps they were unaware but people from said organisation probably wouldn’t be).

              1. Kalahari*

                What an odd comment. “Known to be a member of LGBTQ+ community”?—Unless Tamarack mentions it during the interview (or writes it in a letter) how is the reference checker going to know? It’s not like there are only 6 of us, or we publish a membership list.

              2. tamarack and fireweed*

                Um, I actually find that such organizations are frequently staffed with people who aren’t substantially more hateful individually than the average population. And I’m not sure how it would come up in a reference check anyhow. Except if they do a web search on me, which of course they are free to do. (I’ve also in the course of past activism done meetings with outspoken homophobic politicians who in person projected a benevolent-avuncular aura. Whose staff didn’t think of themselves as in any way prejudiced and was able to maintain a fully friendly, professional aura. Individual qualities aren’t what I judge political entities by!!)

                I’m also in post-secondary education, so I have given references to students with goals and target employers at odds with my own value system at least to a degree. Youngsters who are cheerful to apply with Homeland Security, the correctional system, the police, C&BP, or the extractive industries. I *still* am loyal to them in my role as a mentor. My work is in the long term – hoping that I contribute to someone thinking for themselves, thinking beyond their own person, and capable of shifting their view. I don’t think everyone has to do that – and no one has to do all of that. Still, that’s how it works for me. (But I’d still balk at Nazis, and tell them, sorry, no.)

          2. carrots and celery*

            Your first paragraph is incredibly flip and disrespectful. I realize I may have a kneejerk reaction because of family who were in camps, but I’m appalled you wrote that comment and thought it was okay to post because it’s very tone deaf and making light of a horrible situation.

            1. Colette*

              The tone is a little flippant, but it’s true that people end up working for repugnant organizations in part because of other people who don’t stand up to them and tell them that they won’t help.

              1. carrots and celery*

                …’re really going to pull this line of thinking when it comes to a comment made about someone who worked for the Nazi party? That someone was a victim or misguided because no one “stood up to them” and told them their genocidal actions were wrong?


                Just. Okay. Sure. Wow.

            2. tamarack and fireweed*

              My goal was to very very clearly underline the horror and serious of the situation. And the fact that they actually happen among regular people. My apologies that I didn’t communicate it clearly enough. I have people who were murdered by the Nazis on the side of my in-laws myself.

      2. Jax*

        Yikes, wowza. I certainly wouldn’t trust a reference like this, not with this request or any going forward, and it would certainly reshape my willingness to work with her in any capacity. Who knows what she might say or do to smear the workers or company.

        1. JSPA*

          This isn’t the REFERENCE. it’s to the requester. Who may not otherwise be aware that the very things you’d normally praise her for, could be held against her.

          How is it so very unreasonable or “shaming” to check with the requester whether what you’d otherwise write might in fact be counterproductive? Just not seeing it.

          Equally, it seems questionable to NOT mention what you consider strengths, because of how you expect it MIGHT play with the company in question (especially if its not a “core mission” thing, but more of a “general knowledge of culture” thing?

          This happens all the time when very “social justice” people from academia go into certain financial companies, for example.

    5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Possible exception is if you have reason to believe the prospective employer treats its employees unusually badly, or is about to go bust (say) – at which point you speak to the person wanting the reference and say you’ll support them if that’s what they really want but have they done their due diligence …? As Dan mentions above, you don’t mess with someone else’s livelihood, but this kind of situation might endanger it.

    6. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I, as an LGBT person, am going to refuse to give someone a reference to work at Focus on the Family or the American Family Association and not feel even a little bit bad about doing so. I have zero obligation to support you doing work that is going to actively harm me.

      1. Tik*

        This. It’s not “slimy and unprofessional” to refuse to support someone whose career goals are going to directly harm people.

      2. Psyche*

        Yeah. I think it is more than fair to say “This group hates me and is actively working against my best interests. I will not willingly interact with them in any capacity and therefore cannot act as a reference.”

        1. Tupac Coachella*

          I like this approach if the reference feels the organization is so reprehensible that they don’t want to even interact with them. It focuses on that desire not to engage with them rather than judging the employee for wanting to work there. Frankly, a reference may not know why the employee chose to apply at a particular place. Maybe they want to dismantle it from the inside. Maybe they feel that some other piece of what they do is so important that they’re willing to work around the reprehensible parts. Maybe the employee is desperate and this job would get them through until something else opens up. Or maybe they’re a bigot, too. But saying “I’m not comfortable engaging with XCorp in any capacity” means the reference doesn’t have to guess.

          It sounds like OP just finds the company generally gross rather than actively damaging, so I think giving the reference was the right call. Sometimes we just have to trust that capable, smart people look at things from multiple lenses before making a decision.If they have a relationship that would support further discussion, they might ask, “I was a little surprised that you were interested in XCorp given their past history. What drew you to that position?” It could tell a lot about whether they’re willing to continue to be a reference in the future.

          1. Veronica*

            Another possibility with groups like these is the applicant doesn’t realize what they are. These groups choose names that sound positive and affirming when in fact they’re the opposite, and IME they don’t say aloud what they’re really doing.
            Of course, in that case a heads-up to the applicant might be in order.

      3. Jax*

        Okay, so you would be fine if a former manager who is religious refused to give you a reference because you are LGBT even though you had every expectation for a glowing professional reference, got it.

        1. Joielle*

          I mean, you’re not entitled to a reference from anyone. As an LGBT person, it certainly wouldn’t be a happy realization that your values are fundamentally misaligned with someone you thought you could trust, but I’d just… ask someone else to be a reference. People have more than one former colleague. I’d think less of that former manager for sure, but because of their beliefs, not because they didn’t give a reference.

          You can have “every expectation for a glowing professional reference,” but maybe the person is traveling, or didn’t like you as much as you had thought, or is busy for other reasons, or died. Then you ask someone else to be a reference. I’m not sure why this is a lot different.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            Buuut . . . I do feel that some subtleties are being lost here. There is in fact a qualitative difference between Stormfront and Focus on the Family. The Southern Poverty Law Center–which tracks all sorts of hate groups–I think is a good place to start on this. Here’s what they say:

            “Anti-LGBT groups on the SPLC hate list often link homosexuality to pedophilia, claim that same-sex marriage and LGBT people, in general, are dangers to children, that homosexuality itself is dangerous, support the criminalization of homosexuality and transgender identity, and that there is a conspiracy called the “homosexual agenda” at work that seeks to destroy Christianity and the whole of society.

            Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical or simply opposing same-sex marriage does not qualify an organization to be listed as an anti-LGBT hate group.

            That doesn’t mean that you can’t draw your own boundaries wherever you’d like. But I do feel that some inadvertent conflation is going on between entities as varies as Stormfront, Focus on the Family, and Nestle.

            Here’s why this matters: As Alison has pointed out, I think there are some groups that are so repellent that I would indeed refuse to interact with them. However, those groups are not going to call you to check references. That’s not how those groups work. The KKK isn’t reviewing resumes sent in on Stormfront does not have an HR department checking up on educational credentials. And they sure as hell aren’t going to say, “Hi, I’m calling from Stormfront because Jane wants to work for us, and I’d like you tell me about a time when she had to overcome a challenge.” So this is all a bit academic.

            So that leaves me here: if any company is mainstream enough to actually call for a reference, then it’s more than likely mainstream enough that–even if I disagree strongly–I’m not going to judge or interfere with anyone else’s right to work there.

            1. Amtelope*

              Focus on the Family isn’t a hate group, but it also isn’t simply a group that views homosexuality and same-sex marriage as unbiblical. It is specifically a group that actively works to restrict the legal rights of LGBT people on a national level. It doesn’t have to be a hate group to cause serious harm to people.

            2. Avasarala*

              “The KKK isn’t reviewing resumes sent in on” This was exactly my thought. In fact I’m not sure why we’re even discussing Stormfront etc. as possibilities. They don’t have a careful and thorough HR department, and they’re not secretive about what they do, so an otherwise kind and good employee is not going to apply for a job as Stormfront receptionist and be shocked when their former boss calls to let them know how bad the company really is.

              As you say, if the company is mainstream enough to have job postings and call references, then they’re not repugnant enough to refuse to give a reference for.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I wouldn’t ask a former manager if I was aware that they were religious and fundamentally opposed to my mere existence.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Also, there is a difference between saying “I am not giving you a reference because I don’t agree with your personal morals/ethics” and “I am not giving you a reference to work for an organization that is working to cause direct harm to me”.

            In this particular situation, if the person was applying to some neutral organization, I would give them the glowing reference they deserved because I’m capable of separating someone’s ability to do their job from their personal beliefs.

        3. Amtelope*

          There is a difference between “I am not going to give you a reference because of your sexual orientation or religion” and “I am not going to give you a reference to facilitate your employment at an organization that is directly working to harm me.” Those two things aren’t comparable.

          1. Clorinda*

            They aren’t … to a reasonable mind. But there are many people who, in fact, genuinely DO feel that someone else’s orientation/religion is ‘directly working to harm’ them. Not rational, I know, but they’re out there; after all, literally zero heterosixual marriages were harmed by homosexual marriage, yet large numbers of people felt (and still feel) personally attacked by marriage equality.
            So, I would suggest that if you think your boss/supervisor/colleague is of that ilk, don’t ask them for a recommendation at all.

        4. Lissa*

          That would be more equivalent to a manager refusing to give a reference to you because you’re applying to an organization that works for LGBT rights I think.

          1. Amtelope*

            Except that working for LGBT rights does not actually harm straight people (prevent them from getting married, make it harder for them to adopt children, lead to discrimination against them at work), while working to restrict LGBT rights does actually harm LGBT people. Those two things aren’t actually equivalent. Nothing is being taken away from straight people when the human rights of LGBT people are respected.

        5. Lobsterp0t*

          That isn’t the same. One is discrimination against a person. The other is about a reference regardless of the person.

      4. JSPA*

        I imagine there are people who enter such groups in “stealth” mode, whether to write a book or open unexpected avenues for dialogue, not because they share their goals??? After all, animal rights people have worked at meat packing plants.

      5. Engineer Girl*

        Feel free to talk your former employee out of it. Tell them you can’t offer a reference for that organization if you must. That’s honest and open.

        But simply choosing which employers do or don’t get your references is forcing the world to comply by your moral standards. Which is exactly the thing you or objecting to from Focus on the Family.

        Talk to your former employee. Don’t control them.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Um… no, it’s not forcing anyone to live by my standards. It’s me choosing to live by my standards.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Then talk to your former employee and tell them that.
            Because they have as much right to live by their standards as you do.

            You do NOT get to control others.

            1. Tik*

              Refusing to give someone a reference is not “controlling” them, and I’m not sure why you’re continuing to repeat this point when you already said “Tell them you can’t offer a reference for that organization if you must. That’s honest and open.” Whether or not you delve into the reason why you’re withholding the reference is not like, more or less “controlling” than making that decision in the first place (which, again, isn’t “controlling” at all; the employee is still perfectly capable of applying for the job without one specific individual’s reference.)

              Also, in general– no, refusing to support GROUPS that enact SYSTEMATIC OPPRESSION is not the same thing as… being a part of a group that enacts systematic oppression, so if you could kindly walk back your “you’re as bad as Focus on the Family if you don’t handhold oppressors through their attempts to oppress you,” please.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                It is an attempt to control the outcome on their job search. That is indeed controlling.

                the employee is still perfectly capable of applying for the job without one specific individual’s reference.)

                Then they need to know ahead of time so that they don’t use you as a reference. Because someone using a reference that can’t support them is indeed influencing their candidacy – in a highly negative manner.

                Doing so behind their back is absolutely controlling and treating them as less than human. Allow them free will or get out of their life.

                1. Amtelope*

                  No one is suggesting providing a negative reference. The question is whether it’s reasonable to tell someone that you can’t provide them with a reference, period, for an organization that is directly harming you.

                  I’m not going to help someone to get a job with an organization that’s trying to hurt me. That’s not about my opinion of anyone’s morals, that’s about not wanting to enable actual harm being done to me and my family.

                2. Dan*


                  What Engineer Girl is saying is that in those cases, you owe the person you are giving a reference for advance notice that they shouldn’t use you. (That’s what she means with the sentence “Then they need to know ahead of time so that they don’t use you as a reference.”)

                  Waiting until the reference checker calls you to say “I don’t like the new org’s mission, so I’m not giving you a positive reference” is too late to avoid negative harm to job seeker.

                3. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  How is a potential reference going to be aware of which companies their former employee is applying for unless that employee tells them, though? If a former employee were to call or email and say “I’m going to be applying for VP positions, can I use you as a reference?” I’m probably just going to say yes and make sure they have my current title and contact information. There are a few people I’m still close enough with that I might ask where they’re thinking of applying, but even then, they might not give me the comprehensive list.

                  So, EvilCorp leaves me a voicemail saying they’re calling to check references. I had no idea my former employee was applying with EvilCorp, so I couldn’t tell her in advance that I was not the right person to use as a reference for this specific position. The window you’re advocating for has already passed. I can call the former employee and explain that I can’t be her reference for this position, but she’s already given my name and now she’s got to do damage control. The only other options are that I contribute to the likelihood that EvilCorp will hire an excellent employee and now they’ll be in an even better position to oppress the people I love, or that I just don’t answer that voicemail at all and the applicant is one reference short. It’s sticky no matter how you look at it.

                4. Tik*

                  You literally said it was fine not to give a reference, and then keep turning around and saying that doing so is “controlling.” I disagree that it’s controlling because my reference literally does not make or break someone’s job search, and therefore I’m not controlling the outcome of their job search, I am only controlling my own support/lack of support for oppressive businesses. I never advocated for giving a negative reference, only refusing to be a reference at all– and yes, I agree that you should tell someone that you can’t be reference for them if you know ahead of time where they’re applying. I never said otherwise. What I said was that you don’t have to tell them “…because I’m gay and that organization hurts people like me.”

                  And no: refusing to help oppressors still isn’t oppression.

                5. Engineer Girl*

                  It’s fine to let them know ahead of time you can’t give a reference.
                  But refusing to give a reference after the company has called is too late. It will affect the person negatively.
                  Your lack of reference when the coworker has given your name will absolutely affect their job search.
                  If you have objections to companies or products then let the coworker know ahead of time so they don’t use you. Otherwise you blindside them.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      You are within your rights to tell your colleague that you do not want to have any contact with that particular organization for personal reasons, but consider at least offering a generic letter of recommendation that she could use in place of a phone call.

    8. mcr-red*

      Yeah really. OP #1 doesn’t have to work there, someone who used to work at her company does. This isn’t a close friend or family member either, though again, you don’t get to dictate where a friend or family member works either. But I’m just trying to underline the fact that this is someone who is closer to stranger than family, and WOW.

      OP isn’t supporting the company with giving an employee reference. I’m seriously just blown away.

    9. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree with this except the part about talking to the person about why they want to work there. It’s honestly none of OP’s business. OP needs to re-frame their thinking…you’re not promoting a company you have issues with, you’re helping a former employee in their career. Your personal issues with said company are not relevant in this context.

    10. Smithy*

      While I understand the concerns people would have with nonprofits and lobbying groups that have more clearly defined missions that truly can go for/against one’s beliefs – I do wonder how this moment would apply to someone applying for a salaried job at something like an MLM business. Even if I felt strongly that candidate was a stellar at XYZ… would be hard for me to feel good giving a reference after that.

      I get that people need jobs….but that one would be hard for me.

    11. Isabelle*

      People also sometimes find themselves in desperate circumstances. I know an engineer who had to take a job at a weapons manufacturer in 2008 because there were no other jobs at the height of the crisis. Working for that company was against everything he believed in but he had a mortgage and bills to pay. It’s easy to make the right moral choices when you have options.

      1. Lora*

        THIS. And I know many people who were tasked with working on Really Overly Specific Things and all other information was deemed “you don’t need to know,” and what they produced was later used for things they specifically objected to and never would have supported. And people who worked for companies that had a lot of different branches, who were transferred to a branch whose mission they disagreed with and were told, “tough, quit with no severance….if you can find another decently-paid job in East Nowhere, USA.”

        What I’ve done in the past when someone wanted a reference to a place I knew was not a good place (for whatever reason, even if just “this company has garbage benefits and pays below market”) was try to help them look for something at a better organization if they wanted. Like, “why did you want to work for this place specifically? what is interesting about it to you?” and if they said, “it’s a paycheck and I like eating and having a roof over my head” then we could talk about whether I knew of other opportunities and I’d ask around for them. I’ve literally never had the reason be, “actually I am a total bigot and I wanted to work for Nightmare Startup LLC because I hate everyone and want a job making mass murder weapons” sort of thing, it’s always been either they didn’t know of many other opportunities, didn’t have a good network, or were stuck in a location they couldn’t relocate from easily. Usually I can point them in another direction.

      2. Anonymosity*

        This. I applied for a job at a government agency with problematic leadership (rhymes with Creama) because I needed a job, and it was a two-year contract that would have given me a plethora of skills I could take to a better job. I didn’t get it — and I’m glad now, since worse information came out later — but I had valid personal reasons for applying.

      3. Wintermute*

        I’m reminded of a discussion I had with a friend the other day. Capitalism basically means morality is for capital owners and the rest of us get to try to survive playing by their rules. Know your boss will fire you for not pouring bleach into the food waste to stop people from dumpster diving for it? Well, you can choose to be homeless yourself or you can choose to comply. Know your boss will fire you for refusing service to (insert politician you think is dangerous here), well, you put on a smile and do your best to provide great service.

        It’s not your morals, it’s the fact you live in a world and have needs, needs that require money to satisfy and money must come from somewhere.

        Moral high ground and ethical purism rarely survive contact with reality.

    12. Managed Chaos*

      I completely agree. You also don’t know why your former report is going to work for the company. Maybe they offer awesome insurance and he is facing a health crisis. Maybe they’re having trouble finding something and are getting desperate.

      If you agree to give a reference, your reference is for the person you agree to give it to, not for the company where they are going.

      It can also be so hard to build up a pool of references – they might need to be a former supervisor, but they obviously don’t want to list their current supervisor. It’s not something to take lightly.

    13. Scarlet*

      THANK YOU! This. If a person wants to work at ICE or Monsanto, let them. It’s their choice and you do not get to decide who gets hired for what job. After all, unless they’re going to be a C-level employee or other executive, it’s unlikely they will have any direction in the company anyway. People need employment, man. By refusing to give a reference based on your own opinions/beliefs, all you’re doing is limiting a good person’s job opportunities and virtue signalling. Geez.

      1. Dan*

        Yeah. I’m usually not one for slippery slope arguments, and while it’s easy to point to a couple of things that we can all agree are morally objectionable, the exact line is going to be different for everybody. There *are* people who would object to someone working for ICE under this current administration.

        If I found out a former manager was withholding a positive professional reference because of their personal beliefs about the prospective employer, I wouldn’t take kindly to it. ATM, I don’t know what I’d “do” about it, but I wouldn’t let it go lightly, and I wouldn’t forget it either.

        1. Wintermute*

          This, plus it’s a bit of a “do I want this to become the norm?” question. Because the OTHER political side from you feels the same about you. We live in a divided country, so all the points you’re making about them and how “no, really, this is different this is OBJECTIVELY bad and evil and nasty and they’re objectively terrible people” the other side says the same about you, your beliefs and your values.

          1. President Porpoise*

            Yeah – if you would not be ok with a manager denying reference for an ex-employee who wants to go work for Planned Parenthood, for example, because of the work they do promoting, defending, and administering abortions… well, consider that about half the country has a wildly different idea of what is and is not moral, from a life and business perspective. It would be devastating to the reference system and candidates if people started withholding references for good ex-employees based entirely on whether they agree with the mission of the organization doing the reference check.

          2. Avasarala*

            Agreed. People can make all the “but this is DIFFERENT” comments they want, but this is a classic double edged sword. If it’s OK to object to your former worker working for an anti LGBT org, then it’s OK to object to them working for a pro LGBT org. Is that really what we want?

  3. Observer*

    #4 – Talk to your boss, but just keep on auto-forwarding his emails to your work email. And NEVER answer answer or send any email from your personal account. If you can’t put your company email on your phone, just send him a text to tell him that you will email when get to your desk.

    1. YetAnotherUsername*

      When you talk to your boss, say something like: “I don’t know if you rralise it, but you have still been sending mails to my personal email, and obviously I try not to check my personal mail in work. Im guessing your laptop has saved my personal mail as the default. I can change that for you if you want and make my work email the default”

      I would bet a hundred bucks that he is not doing this intentionally he just hasn’t a clue how to change the default. Just offer to do it for him.

      1. valentine*

        Forwarding the messages doesn’t fix the problem and could make it worse if OP4 replies from the work email, but clients keep using the personal one.

        Create an autoreply for the boss (and as many clients as feasible) that reads: “You have contacted an unmonitored address. Be sure to update your address book with OP4emailaddress.”

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          You may have to double-check nonetheless. In a previous job, my boss somehow managed to fill the “name” field of his entry for my personal address (which he had from when I applied) with my brand new company email. Like “ ” . The bit between is where the email was really going. Given my role in the company involved troubleshooting email problems (for clients) I had to turn my troubleshooting-foo onto myself and figure this out… and then physically show up next to his computer and walk him through the steps to fix it, because by then he was swearing that he was sending it to my company address. Which he was seeing in front of his eyes.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            AH! So he really HAD entered your new email address — but it was your displayname not the linked email address? That must have driven him nuts.

          2. Ama*

            Outlook is terrible about this. I have a colleague that I’ve been emailing at her work address for years — one time in six years she accidentally emailed me from her gmail while she was out of the office and Outlook suddenly started filling that one in as the default, even though I never saved it as a contact at all. Because the email addresses were identical except for the domain and once I selected the email it just displayed her name and not the email in the “To” line it was really easy to accidentally select the wrong one without realizing. I finally figured out how to delete the “suggested” emails which stopped the problem (but even that is difficult as you have to prompt Outlook to suggest the wrong email before you can delete it).

              1. ggg*

                +1. This is a terrible Outlook problem. Consult the internet on how to delete it from your boss’s computer, sit down and do it with him/her. Then never email him/her from your personal email again.

                I realize that’s hard to do though — I’ve emailed from a personal account, for example, to say I’ll be out sick that day. But try. Really try.

            1. Cascadia*

              Yes to this. This exact thing happened with my boss in outlook. I had to sit down with her and do it for her, but it solved the problem. She wasn’t doing it on purpose, and in fact didn’t even realize it was going to my personal email address.

      2. Books and Stuff*

        I’ve tried the first part of your suggestion on a couple of occasions now, but I had not offered to change it for him. I will definitely try that (although I’ll need to look up the instructions for myself!). I definitely don’t think it’s intentional. He’s just not the most tech-savvy person, but he also gets really defensive when you try to help him with anything tech-related, so those conversations can be a little awkward.

    2. Ariaflame*

      They could have both, but when you’re writing a message from scratch, rather than replying it’s very easy to accidentally get the from: account wrong.

      But I definitely agree that they should find out (if they don’t know) and show the boss how to delete the non-work version of her email from the system. I know I’d have to look it up.

      1. Cathie Fonz*

        I sometimes have found it extremely difficult, even impossible, to delete an incorrect email address from the “automatic” or “default” list that pops up. It is extremely annoying and I cannot figure out how to get around it – sometimes when I think I have finally deleted an incorrect address, then it pops up AGAIN the next time!
        I think it may just be a flaw in the “Webmail” email system I am using now from Shaw, my internet service provider.
        So if her organization is using one of these annoying systems, she may even have to get the IT people involved in order to get this address deleted from the boss’s address book.

        1. DorothySpornak*

          Outlook is THE WORST for this.

          I had a similar incident with my boss and it was YEARS before she successfully got my gmail out of her Outlook. She double-checked my contact, but outlook doesn’t always seem to be pulling from the user’s address book.

          She had to go into her email, delete the one email from my gmail, then make sure my contact was clean in her address book.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            No, Outlook just remembers stuff you typed in the past. After a person leaves my company, IT removes them from the address book. But for years afterward, it’ll suggest that name as an autocomplete suggestion.

            Like say the person was Tim Smith, tsmith@company. He leaves and his email is deleted. Ten years later I go to email Tamara Smiley, tsmiley@company, and as soon as I type “ts”, Outlook suggests Tim Smith. So annoying!

      2. Dani*

        My money is on the auto-complete feature (especially if they are using Outlook). Once the wrong email address is in there, it will keep suggesting it. And if the work email and personal email address have the same structure (like firstname.lastname) it’s easy to miss. Come prepared to show your boss how to delete the wrong one!

        1. YetAnotherUsername*

          Yes very common in outlook. I’m really tech-savvy and I’ve had to be told a couple of times to delete the wrong email addresses from the autoprompt. If you don’t know how to do this you have no hope.

        2. Sally*

          When the name list pops up as you’re typing the recipient’s name, click the x next to the incorrect item, or, if there is no x, use the down arrow key on the keyboard to highlight the incorrect item, and then press delete (on the keyboard).

          1. Sally*

            That’s for fixing auto-correct (auto-suggest). You’ll need to open your (Outlook?) contact on your boss’s computer to update the default email address that’s being used.

    3. Asenath*

      #4 – This is exactly what was happening during my early years with my employer. It was made worse by the fact that some employees did use their personal emails for work, so people thought it was OK, and the “personal” emails were with a related ISP, and people didn’t think they were “personal”. And it drove me crazy. I depend enormously on tracking work I have to do and have done through emails, and it was really annoying to forward the emails to the correct account and then file them properly. I made requests. Some of the offenders accepted them, others ignored them. I made more requests, with explanations. I sent reminders to the hold outs every single time they emailed me at the wrong email address. And eventually I set up my personal email to reject all certain emails with a message to resend to correctemail at That finally worked on the last few holdouts; well all but one who almost never emails me anyway. What didn’t work was simply requesting them to change.

      1. Books and Stuff*

        Like you, I am very organized with my emails and file and track everything that way, which is I think why I’ve been so frustrated with this issue! I’m not sure how to set my personal email up to reject certain messages and/or to auto-forward (as other commenters have suggested), but I’m definitely going to look into that. Thanks for your help!

        1. Academic admin*

          If you’re using gmail for your personal mail, click on the wheel in the upper right, then choose settings. After that, choose filters, and you can set up filters to do whatever you want with email that comes in from a domain name, or specific emails, etc.

          1. Books and Stuff*

            Unfortunately my personal email is through Yahoo. I haven’t been able to figure out yet how to setup this kind of filter there.

            1. Observer*

              Are you doing all of your email directly in the web interface, or are you using a client, like Thunderbird? Because most clients will let you do something like this.

      2. Oh No She Di'int*

        And eventually I set up my personal email to reject all certain emails with a message to resend to correctemail at

        I came to recommend exactly this.

  4. Thankful for AAM*

    OP#2 our new head person has a sign she puts outside her door when she does not want to be disturbed, it says something like, “closed door means I am writing or on the phone.”

    We don’t have a culture that says a closed door means do not disturb but she is changing that with her sign. We also do not have jobs that are writing based so I think her sign is shorthand for, I am focused on a task right now so please do not disturb.

    Maybe you can shift the culture a little with a similar sign?

    1. Drew*

      At an old job I had a sign that said, “I’m on deadline right now – will check email/messages at [time on a Post-It]. Thanks for not interrupting me.” I told a VERY short list of people they were authorized to interrupt but they were also the people whose deadline I was working to meet. Usually I got left alone. (And the coworker who would pop her head in to say, “I’m going for sandwiches, want anything?” was always welcome!)

      In the open office, I had to train a few people that “headphones on means I’m not interruptible” and it was never foolproof, but now I have a door and I know how to use it mahahaha!

      1. Massmatt*

        I worked in a call center and a senior was going to be on an important conference call with a client for 2 hours. He emailed the group and put a sign on the back of his chair (we had no offices) saying do not disturb”. It mostly worked, except for some jerk who was visiting from another team who thought the sign was hilarious. Taps the senior on the shoulder to give him a thumbs up, calls other people over to come look at this, etc. Some people are clueless.

        Didn’t we just have a letter recently where someone put a do not disturb sign on their office door only to have idiots take it to mean “knocking repeatedly and more and more loudly will be hilarious “?

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Ha, at Exjob, I had to put up a sign that said “Please knock if I have headphones on” so people wouldn’t sneak up from behind and scare the hell out of me.

      3. AnnaBananna*

        Yep, I have found a post-it on the door can work wonders. Generally the folks that will ignore it are either my leadership (touche, they can ignore since they pay my bills), and people that are going to ignore a stampeding elephant with the same sign on its head.

        Using the generic ‘on deadline, still checking email tho!’ has been pretty effective for me.

    2. Rexish*

      We also have a “do not disturb” sign. Basically open door means come on in. Closed door means knock first. Closed door with the sign means come in only in urgent matters.

    3. MK*

      Unless the OP is also very senior, this might not go down very well. And I really don’t think it’s necessary; if she is firm about not accommodating interruptions, as in “I can’t talk right now, please come back later”, her colleagues will get the message.

      More broadly though, I think the OP should readjust her attitude. Your private office at work is neither really yours or a private space. There is no general expectation of privacy in the workplace.

      1. Non-prophet*

        I do think it’s reasonable to expect some forms of privacy in the workplace, though. My office door is often closed when I’m on sensitive conference calls or in confidential meetings. I also close my door when I pump, and very much do not want to be interrupted! Thankfully, people have not barged in on me thus far.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          I dunno, at least in my workplace, there’s a bit of an unspoken rule that people with children and spouses have an expectation of privacy in terms of being able to take personal calls with their family at work. The closed door is a signal that they’ve earned an extra level of privacy.

          I have a cubicle and no children nor spouse so seeking privacy in the workplace would look odd and entitled, on the other hand.

          1. Sally*

            My company has phone rooms or phone “booths,” so this isn’t an issue. However, anyone, whether they have a spouse, children, or whatever, will occasionally need to make or receive a personal call. Their family status shouldn’t make any difference.

          2. Elitist Semicolon*

            I don’t understand why a workplace’s culture (spoken or unspoken) would draw the line between acceptable privacy and unacceptable privacy based on whether an employee is married or has kids. Surely a conversation with an ailing parent, a quick call from a doctor with test results, or the like should be acknolwedged as needing privacy regardless of one’s official marital status or reproductive decisions?

          3. LQ*

            This is definitely a your work place only thing.

            I have to occasionally call and talk to the management of my apartment building. Do I not deserve privacy for that? Taking calls about a relative dying, do I not deserve privacy for that? Taking calls from a doctor, do I not deserve privacy for that?

            I have offered my office to other single, childless (as well as spoused/childed) folks who had a need for an urgent private call and never thought of them as odd or entitled, but rather in need of help that I could provide.

          4. boo bot*

            Oh So Anon, I’m fascinated/horrified by this – when you say “the closed door is a signal that they’ve earned an extra level of privacy” does that mean that people get offices and/or access to private space based on whether or not they have spouses and kids?

            That’s messed up. Nobody should be seen as odd or entitled for occasionally needing privacy to make calls. I know people whose jobs give priority to married people and parents for time off and other things that should be available to everyone, and that’s messed up, too, but the idea that single people literally have no personal lives at all (or should hide any evidence thereof) is kind of a new level.

            1. Oh So Anon*

              It’s mostly just an accident that the people who tend to have offices with doors also disproportionately happen to have spouses and children because they’re mostly older and in more senior positions (although everyone in question is at least in their mid-30s).

              There’s two camps: the people who, regardless of whether they have an office with a door, seem to practice the “no reasonable expectation of privacy rule” and you can tell that they make a point of leaving their immediate office area when they’re dealing with a non-work situation. Closed office doors, for these people, are usually for actual work matters. Then there’s the other people who you know mostly use the closed office door for privacy to take a standing call with their spouse or children. That’s their business, but it sends an iffy message. You have a private office to set professional boundaries, not to vet a honey-do list.

              It’s certainly not most people with families who, but there are a couple people who act a bit incredulous that someone with less obvious family responsibilities would have any real need for privacy at work. If I have to duck into a meeting room to take a call it’s conspicuous in a way that closing my own office door isn’t, which is bothersome. I would have to be away from my desk. It could look bad in a way that Guy With Office doesn’t have to deal with.

      2. Asenath*

        Not privacy, exactly, but the signal “closed door” means different things in different workspaces. In mine, where people normally have all doors open, it means “Do Not Disturb. At All. Well, maybe if you think the occupant didn’t hear the fire alarm it might be OK.” It doesn’t matter if the occupant is on a teleconference, having a meeting on an extremely sensitive topic, changing out of or into their work clothes, or napping. You knock only if you have something extremely urgent to say. Other workplaces are different. OP needs to find or create a way to set up a similar signal in her workplace, since this one isn’t working.

        1. Sparrow*

          My last office was like this, too. Since doors were usually open, a closed door very clearly and uniformly meant “Not here or not available. Try again later.” And while I don’t think “privacy” is the right way to think about it, I do think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that people will respect your space and, primarily, your time so you can get stuff done. Because that’s really what this about – setting aside time for work and having it interrupted.

          If the culture in this office isn’t as clear cut, I think it’s totally fine for OP to use other tools to get the outcome she wants. A nice but direct post-it note on the door would probably do the trick in most cases!

        2. BethRA*

          In our office, a closed door generally just means someone trying to cut down on distracting noise from the hallways/open spaces and people see a closed door as “knock first.” Folks who don’t want to be disturbed put a ” do not disturb” sign on the door.

          That said, the one person who’s “do not disturb” sign doesn’t stop knocking is someone who has that sign on their door 24/7 – and who isn’t great about seeing/responding to email.

    4. Feline*

      I think the culture varies a lot. In our office, a closed door can mean “I am so loud that the people in cubicles nearby get fed up and close me in.” Does your office have instant messenger? We are all conditioned to check a person’s status there for busy or do not disturb status, since that’s the most common point of quick contact.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        In this building some closed doors mean “the HVAC system is antiquated and if the door is left open to this room it becomes an icebox.”
        But there are some people who need chunks of uninterrupted time for difficult problems — a software developer trying to eliminate a bug in the code, for example, or write code-free problem in the first place.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I can’t think of any job that has nothing “writing based” — emails to customers & vendors, QA summaries, departmental standard operating procedures, software code…. all need to be written.

    6. Sarah Simpson*

      We also close doors for various reasons. Our doors all have glass in them, so we got wet erase chalk markers and if we can’t be disturbed, we write that on the door (i.e. on a conference call or in training, do not disturb). If there is no sign, then people can feel free to knock, because sometimes it’s nice to just close your door without needing to actually prevent people from getting to you if they need something.

    7. rageismycaffeine*

      In my office we used to put post-it notes on our doors indicating a “knock” or “do not disturb.” Then we had a (wonderful) new grad who bought everyone white boards, in the style of what people put on their dorm room doors, and we can write on those what our current status is.

      1. Admin of Sys*

        We had those in my last job, tho’ that’s probably because it was a university. It was very useful, especially since closed doors were often dependent on how well the person in the office tolerated the constant traffic in their particular hallway.

      2. BadWolf*

        In the areas of my build with office doors, they have a mounted slip in sign that says “Do not disturb” and “Knock and Enter” so you can flip it whichever way is appropriate. It was nice to have a system literally built-in.

    8. OP#2*

      OP#2 here – I appreciate everyone’s different perspectives here, thanks for commenting. “Privacy” was not a great word for me to use – what I meant, which I think one commenter mentioned below, was that closed door = phone call or writing, and the expectation of not being disturbed unless something was urgent. Not sure about hanging a sign since that’s not really done in our workplace, but will use Alison’s script and see what kind of response it receives.

      1. Rezia*

        A post-it note may feel more casual if signs aren’t done in your workplace.
        Something like “Trying to focus! Please knock if urgent, otherwise will be done around 3pm.”

      2. irene*

        i recommend trying the casual post-it method even if it isn’t the done thing!
        when i transferred departments a few years ago, it wasn’t really an office culture where people closed their doors unless they were absolutely not to be disturbed, indicating they were effectively not in the office while the door was shut, even if they were working. It’s the opposite of your culture, but I suspect the process and results would be the same.

        When i started needing to close my door for various things, i would inform everyone i work closely with “i’ll be doing XYZ later, don’t worry if my door’s shut – i just want to keep the noise down” or “head’s up – i’ll be in my office later even though the door’s closed. i have to get XYZ done and need to focus”. then i’d put a matching sticky on the door: “Knock if you need me!” or “I’m here but concentrating, please send an email!” with a smiley or some other doodle.

        I went a little bit over and beyond with the casual/friendly etc tone in the stickies, but it worked. my nearest coworkers started adopting my method and it spread – more people are closing their doors when they need quiet and using the stickies to flag their availability (or just openness to interruptions), and shut doors without a note generally mean “do not disturb at all”. I can shut my door when a major print job is inspiring queasiness and no one thinks i’m being unfriendly or holing myself up, which was a problem the first few months. (Also my team being located next to the breakroom and print/shredding station may have helped.)

        In your case, you’d just announce to your teammates “I need to focus later today, so my door will be shut for about X length of time – please send an email or slack ping if you need me” or whatever, then use a sticky as a reminder, maybe also put a Busy away message on your outlook. And then just keep doing it. Your coworkers will get used to it and may start using the “i’m not available” sticky flag themselves.

      3. Adultiest Adult*

        I hit upon the sticky note thing by accident, when the office culture of my particular workspace became such that people would sometimes barge through my door regardless of open or closed status, since I shared an office with another manager and we both had on-call duties. When I’m on a conference call or having a particularly sensitive meeting, I will toss a sticky on the door that says, “Do not disturb–urgent matters only” or in one particularly memorable case, “No interruptions–emergencies go to (other manager).” The feedback I got was that it was helpful, and even those with boundary challenges respected both messages. Incidentally, it also helped me make a claim for my own office, since I was able to argue that being in an office that felt more like Grand Central Station wasn’t always great for my productivity on higher-level tasks.

    9. Donkey Hotey*

      Granted, my previous job was hospitality-adjacent, but a polite worded “do not disturb” sign isn’t so far afield, is it?

    10. Artemesia*

      And don’t use ‘privacy’ as a reason as that suggests personal — you are changing clothes or viewing porn — If you don’t want to be interrupted, tell the person who does it often ‘when my door is closed it means I am on a task that needs concentration or on deadline, so please only knock if it is a real emergency that needs my action right then’ — then keep the door open or partially open at other times. I’d do this if it is one person and only use a sign if it persists or is many people who don’t seem to get the message. And then the sign is ‘on deadline, please only disturb for an emergency’

    11. MAC*

      When I started my new job a year ago, I was presented with three rectangle magnets (our door frames are metal) that say “Out of Office”, “Quiet Work Time”, and “Meeting in Progress”. They’re different colors, so it’s easy to tell at a glance which status is in play.

      Then even if the door is open, if the Quiet Work Time magnet is up, people know not to disturb. And if the door is closed with no magnet, it’s ok to knock, but if the work time or meeting one is up, no. And then of course, out of office means “knock all you want, nobody’s going to answer!”

      I work at a small-ish nonprofit with a dozen staff and we are all in and out of each other’s offices many times per day, so this works pretty well to help signal when it’s not appropriate to disturb someone.

    12. Mellow*

      Sorry, but I just don’t understand why anyone would knock on a closed door unless it was urgent.

      Are people really so clueless?

  5. Jesshereforthecomments*

    #5 – I don’t think this needs to be awkward because they asked how to be better, and they need your services again. Even without asking for feedback, if they contacted your company to try to rent again, you would still need to address this. Be thankful they’re asking. That tells me they (or she) may have known that they were not stellar clients.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      True. And related to the thing I suggested above (but later), maybe the client has a particular employee who they suspect didn’t carry out the cleanup correctly. IE the client may be saying “tell me if Fergus left you with a mess like I’m told he did at the conference hall last week.”

  6. Nikara*

    #4- I had a similar issue when I started my latest job. I didn’t have a work email for a week, and was forced to use my personal email. Once I got the work one, people kept using the personal one, even though I had asked them not to. It turned out the reason why is that people were typing in my name, and the personal one was the first one to pop up. I spent the time to learn exactly how to delete an email address from our system, then came to the person right after they sent an email to the wrong address and offered to show them how to delete my personal account from their system. You’ll also want to address “threaded” emails with reply-alls by sending a new email from the correct account and deleting the wrong account from the string. Lots of folks aren’t particularly tech-savy. They don’t mean to use the personal address, they just do it by mistake. After a couple of days of purposefully correcting people’s contacts, the emails to my personal account stopped. I’d recommend learning the fix, and offering to help your boss. It probably isn’t being done on purpose, and I’d bet they don’t ever know when they are doing it. They just don’t understand how the email system works.

    1. Bad Gay*

      Same, this happened to me and I found it super annoying. My grand boss was the worst offender, but I figured out how to fix it and he let me sit at his computer and delete it myself. He never, ever would have been able to figure t out on his own.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Dang. You *HAD TO*!? Talk about crossing the streams. Here’s hoping you’ll never be asked to submit emails for a security/regulatory audit.
      A thankyou for sharing that because it means we’re not caught unawares if one of us ends up in a similar situation. I wouldn’t have thought of it before today’s comment section but now I would be able to suggest setting up a dummy gmail account used for no other purpose–just to keep it clean and can do a global autoreply/forward after company email is available!

    3. BadWolf*

      I was thinking the same — Figure out how to delete your personal email from the email client you guys use and on the next email you receive to the personal email, walk over to the boss and “help” delete the bad email. In a cheery, “hey isn’t the email system dumb” sort of way.

      If you just mention it, there’s probably a very low chance the boss will remember to do it (not out of malice just because it’s one of those things that you file under, “Oh I”ll remember OPs email next time I email her” and then forget.

    4. Books and Stuff*

      Thanks, Nikara. Like you said, I think it’s just a simple mistake, and he’s not particularly tech savvy. Plus he uses his iPad for almost everything, so I’m sure it’s just auto-filling and he’s not looking at it twice. I’m trying to look up the fix now! Thanks for the suggestion.

      1. Sally*

        I hope this is helpful; it works for Outlook:

        When the name list pops up as you’re typing the recipient’s name, click the x next to the incorrect item, or, if there is no x, use the down arrow key on the keyboard to highlight the incorrect item, and then press DELETE on the keyboard.

      2. Elitist Semicolon*

        Unless there’s been a change to iOS since March (when I switched from my old 2nd gen to a 6th gen iPad), it isn’t possible to delete an address to which you’ve sent email from an iPad. Once it’s in there, it’s in there forever, and even updating Address Book on a desktop/laptop and syncing the iPad won’t delete it. Terrible system.

        1. Owler*

          No, but try this: you put both email addresses into one Contact, and then you can select your preferred email to be the primary. (At least, that is how I fixed it on my mom’s Mac.)

  7. LDN Layabout*

    #1 – Unless the company is truly egregious, you give the same positive reference you would for any job (good on the OP for doing it already!)

    I have to admit, my shoulders went up around my ears reading this question. The ‘your job isn’t ethical’ accusation is one I’ve seen weaponised far too often, 99% of the time from people who can afford not to take those types of jobs because their family background allows it.

    1. VeryAnon*

      I think it depends on how unethical we’re talking. I’ve seen people screech “your job isn’t ethical” at people because their company uses disposable cups. I’ve also seen people brush off working for far right hate groups. So yeah, I agree in some respects but if we’re talking Stormfront, A Woman’s Place or Christian Voice, of course you aren’t getting a reference because I refuse to support hate groups.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        But it really doesn’t matter how unethical you’re talking because it’s none of OP’s business. If they choose to decline the reference because of it, that’s fine, but it’s not OP’s job to decide what’s ethical and what isn’t for SOMEBODY ELSE. One person’t unethical is another’s no big deal.

        1. VeryAnon*

          To be fair, that’s all i’m talking about. I’m not going to blast them on social media or sabotage them. I’ll just be declining to give a reference and deleting them from my contact list.

        2. VeryAnon*

          I would say though, I do hope everyone on AAM considers Nazi white supremacist group Stormfront to be ‘unethical’.

    2. blackcat*

      yeah, and as VeryAnon says, people draw this line differently. I get refusing to provide references to people looking to work at advocacy groups that lobby against rights for minorities. But what about, say, Amazon, which does some really shady things with a healthy side of union-busting? Or a defense contractor if you’re a pacifist? Or an oil company, doing work that directly contributes to climate change? Or Purdue Pharma if you have lost a family member to opioid addiction?

      1. Tuppence*

        I think in all of these situations, it’s perfectly reasonable to go back to the former employee and say “I don’t think I’m the right person to provide a reference this time,” possibly adding “because I would struggle to be wholly objective knowing that it’s in order to work for [organisation]”

        1. BethDH*

          I also think I would struggle to give a good reference because in most situations, one aspect of the reference has been how that person’s approach/attitude/mindset might translate to the new org, not just skills. I suspect this is more common in mission-driven orgs, but that also seems like the situation where this issue is most likely to arise.

      2. Owt or nowt on this one*

        I think you should either tell them to sod off and never bother you again (because the org is truly hateful), or you give the reference.

        1. Petry Dish*

          I would hope the person would let OP know you can’t be a reference a head of time to give them a heads up then. I would hate to find out afterwards about it.

      3. Mystykyn*

        I would add another point.
        I would give a reference for a role with an organisation I didn’t approve of to someone who was struggling to get hired and whose personal circumstances were such that they were likely to have to stick in that job. I do not mean having a criminal record.
        I’m in the U.K. and so the obvious example to me would be someone in their 50s – 60s who needed to carry on working long term – it is very difficult for older workers to get hired because retirement can no longer be routinely required.
        I add that in my particular discipline fifty year olds have moved from U.K. to U.S. owned firms because of the risk of forced retirement.

  8. HA2*

    Ooh, #1 is tough. It just comes down to where you’re able to draw the line. There’s some organizations that are so horrible I couldn’t in good conscience talk to them for anything – Stormfront sure, but for me ICE or the Trump administration would be basically in the same category. Whereas a step away is organizations where you disagree with their mission, but weakly enough that you can call it a “difference of opinion” and “agree to disagree” and move on.

    Professionally, the norm is obviously that you give a reference anyway. On the other hand, “professional norms” aren’t the be-all and end-all of ethics.

  9. tamarack and fireweed*

    #2 – The more “doors are open” is the norm, the more meaningful is a closed door. I grew up in a household and wider culture in which doors are usually kept closed, and you knock before you enter. If I didn’t want anyone to enter, I either locked or put a do not disturb sign on the door.

    Right now, my door is mostly open, and I only close it when I’m on a conference call. During which time I don’t expect to be disturbed. My co-worker across the narrow hallway does the same — when he closes his door, he usually is changing between day and athletic clothes, as he goes for runs during the day. Also, closed doors of professors/instructors can mean they’re in a confidential meeting that involves student issues, so you don’t want to barge in on that. If I find someone I want to meet with a closed door and have reason to think they might be inside, I send them a quick email or better message (if we share a messaging platform). In fact, in environments that have virtual meeting spaces, announcing visits via apps is common. (“You mind if I pop over for a sec?”)

    If there are enough people who habitually work with closed doors but accept impromptu visits/chats after knocking for your co-workers to be confused, or if said co-workers are just lacking awareness to an unusual degree, it’s time to make it clear how your office door works. Without reproach — there is no reason for seething or whatever. It’s a matter of setting rules that work for everyone. You might also put a whiteboard outside your door (depending on the aesthetics of your office of course, but in my workplace that’s not an uncommon sight) that you update with information like “in remote meetings – expect to be available again at X pm” or “unavailable until X” or whatever works. Even “Don’t disturb!”. And if THEN someone barges in, you can look at them with a mild frown, gesture at the door and mouth “X pm”. And clarify the rule you follow.

  10. MsCappuccino*

    4# Could you create a new email address and delete the current one ? You’ll have to give the new email to all your personal contacts but that’s probably a minor annoyance compared to receiving work emails.

    1. Alice*

      I don’t know about OP but I got cold shivers at the thought of deleting my personal email address. All my family, friends and professional contacts have that address; I’d never be able to get in touch with everyone who might use it. It’s also tied to several accounts, including bills and ecommerce. No offense meant but it’s nonsensical to think about OP deleting their own personal email account just because their boss or clients are emailing it. OP can just talk with their boss and find a better solution.

      1. MsCappuccino*

        This is what i would do, it’s why I suggest it. I’d rather change all my accounts details than having boss and coworkers emailing me on my private email but everyone is different.

        1. Ariaflame*

          That sounds like burning the house down because you spotted a spider in one of the rooms.
          A bit of overkill, especially since personal email is used for so much that changing it is far far more difficult than putting in a rule for clients/boss to inform them that this email address will not respond to work matters and autoforwarding it to the actual address.

          1. WellRed*

            The sheer volume of accounts that my personal email is connected for log in access makes the idea of changing it cringeworthy.

      2. Claire*

        Deleting the personal email creates more problems than it solves. OP #4, what about a two-fold approach. Talk to your boss and explain the problem. Then, if he persists (or constantly forgets), you could create an inbox filter that forwards his email to your business email account. You could then reply from there.

    2. Crop Tiger*

      Delete my personal email account because my because my boss keeps accidentally using it? Oh H no. That would take a ton of time, not to mention the things you could forget it was tied to. You could bounce bills or lose contact with someone forever. My old boss kept calling me by the wrong name-should I just have changed mine rather than politely correcting them?

      1. Quill*

        An entire personal email is a lot harder to ditch than a burner account you made to catch spam… especially if you’ve got stuff synced to it that you don’t even know it synced to!

    3. Asenath*

      I very briefly considered changing my personal email address when I had a similar problem, and instantly dismissed it. As others have said, I have too many people and too many services tied to my personal email address to make it easy or a minor inconvenience to change it. Moreover, I’d still end up with people using the old one, even if their emails bounced because it was deleted – they wouldn’t know the right one. I thought it was better to use an escalating series of responses ranging from emailing back with instructions to, finally, bouncing the emails from the hard-core offenders with a message. I didn’t actually fix the email settings of the people who were emailing me – that didn’t occur to me, probably because a lot of them weren’t at the same site as I was.

    4. Beth*

      So far from being a “minor annoyance”: for most of us, that would be a massive problem in our lives requiring at the least several hours of painstaking effort and a very good chance of missing something critical.

      Especially when the person who caused the problem is the erring boss.

    5. LQ*

      Last time I had an issue where I had to change my personal email it took nearly 6 months and spending 2-3 hours per weekend to get it fully switched over. Setting an autoforward rule is a minor annoyance, that should take 10 minutes including finding instructions online if you’ve never done it before, 45 seconds if you have. Dumping a personal email account is NOT. Now I create pseudo personal accounts that I could drop in a minute no problem but not my real personal email.

    6. pleaset*

      No way would I do this and I think it’s a bad idea in general for people who have more than a few personal contacts.

  11. MsCappuccino*

    1# Unless the employee was going to work for an organisation really extreme such as Stormfront, I think it would have been unfair to deny a reference to a good employee. You aren’t the one who is going to work there after all.
    Giving a good reference about an employee means we think positively about the employee, not that we think positively about the organisation they are applying for.

    1. MissElizaTudor*

      What makes something “really extreme” is going to differ between people. Even if the line is “promotes violence,” which organizations do that will depend on someone’s views. A truly pro life person might think that about a reproductive rights organization (not my view at all, but some people would legit think that), and many people would certainly include the military under that. Same thing for promoting bigotry, with reproductive rights organizations and the military.

      I think there’s not a good single rule, and it has to depend on your views of how directly the organization contributes to hurting people, how much hurting people is the goal of the organization, and how expected/important your recommendation is (if you’re one of many professors, it may not be as essential as if you’re one of someone’s one or two previous managers).

  12. nonegiven*

    > We’d also need you to vacate the space no later than 3 p.m.; last time our contract went until 3 but people were still in the space until 6.”

    So you will need to pay $3x for the extra time, going forward.

    1. Michelle*

      All of our rental contracts have that clause. It’s $150 per hour for every hour after the stated end time.

  13. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    We’re mostly open plan, but those people who do have doors (and the meeting rooms) have little whiteboards on them so whoever’s inside can write a message (sometimes ‘interview in progress’ or ‘on a deadline!’). Typically mine will say ‘delivering a webinar, please don’t disturb’ otherwise I get folk barging in while I have 150 people on the end of the line and it’s a bit awkward to say ‘oh, excuse the interruption everyone, Susan just waltzed in without knocking to see if I am done with the room yet!’

    1. Tupac Coachella*

      We definitely have a mini-whiteboard culture here. I use mine for “on a call,” “be right back, “out until Thursday,” “I’m here, knock and come in” (I usually keep my door open if I’m available, but construction and other noisy outlier days occasionally mean I have to shut it to get anything done), and a whole range of other messages. I keep it blank otherwise, which seems to condition people to stop and look when I do have something written on it. It’s magic. People who will ignore e-mails, busy messages on IM, and direct verbal requests will respect the little whiteboard.

  14. theres power in a union*

    #4 – similar thing happened to me (had to use personal email for the first week on the job because the organization was slow to set up an official account). Several people emailed me on the personal address even after the official office address was created. I ended up telling the main offender that her emails were getting missed, but I could fix it if she let me delete the personal email from her contacts. She agreed, so I hopped onto her computer with her over my shoulder, went into her contacts, and deleted the personal email. Problem solved.

    1. Books and Stuff*

      Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll definitely borrow your wording next time–my boss can be a little defensive but I think the way you worded it to your colleague would go over okay with him, too.

    1. Quill*

      Oh you sweet summer child, you’ve managed to go this long on the internet without hearing of them?

      … can I come live under your rock? I’m a great cook.

    2. NeonDreams*

      I had no idea either. I just saw the Wikipedia summary and immediately clicked out of that screen. Want nothing to do with that ideology whatsoever.

    3. ElizabethJane*

      Pro tip for anyone looking: If you’re pretty sure you’re about to Google a hate group go to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s page and search there. You’ll still get the background info without seriously jacking up your search history.

  15. Luna*

    LW1 – Your moral objections to the company does not mean you should, in any way, sabotage your referencee’s chance.

    LW2 – I had the opposite problem. I thought an open door in an office meant you can come in, but my boss jumped in his chair when I came in to bring the folders, as was my job. But that was years ago, and I have since learned and gotten into offices where it’s clear what open/closed door means.

    LW4 – Could you get away with deleting any work-related email sent to your personal address? And when asked why you haven’t responded, calmly state that it was sent to your personal email address, and that address is for personal, non-work-related stuff, only. Any business matters need to be sent to your work email, lest they keep running into the risk of things not being read and taken care of.

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, I don’t think anyone is suggesting agreeing to be a reference and then giving a bad reference, which would be sabotage. They’re just suggesting declining to be a reference in the first place. Reasonable minds can disagree on whether/when that’s acceptable, but I certainly wouldn’t call it sabotage!

    1. Anononon*

      I’m not sure in what world a person would get away with just deleting emails from their boss without doing anything with them. I could only see that solving the problem in that you may not have that boss anymore sending you emails.

      1. Crop Tiger*

        Meh. People have multiple email addresses these days. You could legitimately claim it’s an address you don’t check unless you’re job searching.

        1. valentine*

          I’m not sure in what world a person would get away with just deleting emails from their boss without doing anything with them.
          It’s part of training them not to use it.

          At their next job, OP5/Books and Stuff should never give them their personal email or never give this one and create burner ones to delete when people screw up like this, in order to retain control and not have to walk eggshells around egos and fix the problem in the boss’s email themselves.

        2. pleaset*

          “You could legitimately claim it’s an address you don’t check unless you’re job searching.”
          There’s no evidence that is the case for the OP.

          Would you say that if it’s not true?

    2. Beth*

      It might be possible to *block* the boss’ emails. I would test to make sure that they bounce back rather than vanishing, but as long as the block causes a Delivery Failure reply to be sent to the boss, that could work nicely.

      1. Books and Stuff*

        I had wondered about that! I may give that a try. Thanks everyone for the feedback and suggestions.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Ah you see MY mind is hungry so I saw it as “Wok King” and started thinking about Chinese takeout.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Looks like the typo has been fixed. But my mind definitely would have gone to “woke” as in a team that likes becoming WOKE together.

  16. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #5

    I love when people ask for feedback, because that usually means they’ll be receptive to whatever I have to tell them and they are looking to improve. They’ve made it easy for you by giving you the opening to tell them things could be better. Take advantage of that and be direct.

    1. BadWolf*

      And maybe the person now scheduling is new and suspects there’s been some previous issues (maybe a surprising number of “Um, nope sorry, we’re booking for every time you want to come here”) and is trying to put some feelers out on making sure their group events go well.

  17. Asenath*

    # 1 – I would be unwilling to stand in the way of someone getting a job – actually paying for their housing and food! – because I disagreed with the aims of the potential employer. I’d give as honest an opinion as I could about the former employer’s work to whoever they applied to.

    #5 – I’d be direct. I had that happen once in reverse, kind of, when we organized an outside event for some of our people and they overstayed their welcome. I told the offenders what the hotel had reported, and for future events made sure all participants involved knew what was arranged, including the fact that I didn’t have the room booked for partying late into the night!

    1. VeryAnon*

      Really? You’d help someone get a job at a Nazi org? I couldn’t do that in good conscience. Who gives a fig about their “housing and food!” versus other people’s actual lives and welfare? Not to mention that if I had a former employee who was a Nazi, I wouldn’t be comfortable being in contact with them at all.

      1. Asenath*

        If I started picking and choosing who my ex-employees worked for, sooner or later I’d be preventing someone from earning a living because their view on something differed from mine, and that’s where I draw the line. That’s me doing someone wrong, not someone else doing someone wrong. It’s all very well to say that X is a disgusting ideology (and there are plenty of ideologies I think are disgusting, dangerous, you name it). Then I go a step further, and say that anyone who believes X is too disgusting to have contact with, and next comes the conviction that anyone who associates with anyone who believes X is somehow subhuman and disgusting…it’s a classic process that concludes with dehumanizing people I have political differences with, and I’m not playing that game.

        1. Tik*

          That is some kinda slippery slope argument. “If I tell someone I can’t support them in being a Nazi, next, I might be the one throwing people in cages!” It doesn’t work that way, friend.

        2. Jem One*

          I think the idea that people either have to give everyone references, or no one, is wrong. You seem to be saying that you can’t possibly make a judgement call between an organisation that has differing political views from you, and one that actively promotes bigotry, violence and death to certain sections of society, because if you do then where will it end? That’s untrue. We make judgement calls on what we consider “bad enough” to take a stand against every day. It’s why certain behaviours are classed as harassment in employment law, and others aren’t (even though they might not be very nice). It’s why hate speech is criminalised, but other forms of nastiness aren’t. It’s perfectly OK to say, I’ll give a reference to someone applying to work for a Republican senator, even though I’m a democrat, but I will NOT give one to some applying to work for Stormfront. It might be easier to have a hard and fast rule, to avoid having to think deeply about ethics and consider what you really think is worth standing against, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right.

        3. MK*

          You are talking as if this “process” is unavoidable and to stop you have to abstain from any critical thinking at all. But you don’t have to take the gurther step and start boycotting all reference requests to organisations you simply don’t approve of. There is nothing to stop you from only refusing a reference when it is actually a company that does direct harm.

          1. quirkypants*


            So common for people to make this argument as though they are completely powerless on the so-called slippery slope.

            1. Owt for nowt*

              Slippery slopes always slope both ways.

              If you are prepared to give a reference to a wannabe nazi today, maybe you’ll give a job to an actual nazi tomorrow ?

              1. olive juice*

                This is my favorite thing I’ve heard — very true. (Even though physics might not work that way, haha)

        4. Racquel*

          Well, if your personal critical thinking skills are so weak that you would genuinely slide down this particular slippery slope, that is probably a good call on your part. Good job on recognising your limitation there.

          Fortunately, most of us are capable of better reasoning, and would not inevitably end up dehumanising people as a direct consequence of choosing not to give a reference to someone applying to work for a hate group.

        5. Mary*

          You’re making a massive leap from “declining to provide a reference” to “picking and choosing who my ex-employees work for”, never mind that it suddenly somehow turns into “anyone who associates with someone who believes X is somehow subhuman and disgusting”. What the heck?! How on earth do you think that’s a logical progression?

        6. VeryAnon*

          Ah, the Paradox of Tolerance.

          Sorry, I do think people who believe in racial genocide (Nazis) are too disgusting to have contact with. I would also refuse to give that person a reference because I would find it morally repugnant to enable someone to work toward racial genocide. I don’t think that’s a slippery slope; I think it’s an understandable moral line.

          To be clear if it was a political party I disagreed with I would sigh and write the reference. I’m talking about truly repugnant ideologies here, not “Bob disagrees with me on income tax so shouldn’t be able to get a job a Tyres R Us.”

    2. Anononon*

      What if the potential employer and the work they do is causing others to lose their livelihood? Is the key only one degree of separation?

    3. PB*

      But saying “I can’t provide you with a reference” is miles away from denying someone access to food and housing. For one, presumably the employee is already employed and looking to move on. In addition, they likely have other potential references who they can ask if one person turns them down.

      You’re never obligated to provide someone a reference. I’ve had employees and former coworkers I wouldn’t give reference for if asked, because I couldn’t provide a positive reference. In fact, it’s in their best interest for me *not* to provide the reference, because even if I tried to focus only on their positive traits, a good reference checker could draw out the negative details. This isn’t condemning them to die on the street. It’s just telling them they need to move to the next name on the list.

      This is different from the situation in this letter, of course, but I’m finding the rhetoric of “sabotaging someone’s livelihood” to be over the top.

      1. Joielle*

        THIS. A job-seeker is never entitled to a reference from someone, and an employer is never obligated to be a reference. Maybe your former manager is travelling for a month with no internet access, or didn’t actually like you that much, or has died. I don’t think anyone would cry “sabotage!” in any of those situations, and I don’t see how this is much different.

    4. mobuy*

      Asenath, you’re really getting piled on here, so I wanted to say that I totally agree with you. I think it’s wrong to make the choice for your employee about who they work for. All of the arguments here are about Nazis (my husband says that whoever brings up Hitler first in a debate loses), but what about Monsanto? Chick-Fil-A? Planned Parenthood? MSNBC? Fox? The Democratic Party? The Republican Party? All of these organizations are mildly to extremely controversial, depending on your political/religious/moral leanings.

      Let’s be honest here — I don’t think that the local neo-Nazi organization cares too much about your ability to work with Excel. They care more about ideology and gumption. Let’s stop with all the strawman arguments and see this question for what it really is: Should I give an honest recommendation for an employee if I have a disagreement in principle or politics with the company that, of their own free will and choice, the employee wants to work for? The only intellectually and morally honest answer is yes. Give your employee the recommendation they deserve.

      Stop with the imagining the worst possible company. The chance of you facing an employee wanting a recommendation for Nazis-R-Us is nil. Much more likely is an employee wanting to go to Chick-Fil-A or Planned Parenthood, and yes, you should give them the good/great/other review that they deserve. I can’t believe (okay, yes I can) how out of control the comments have gotten.

      1. RoadsLady*

        Love this.

        The fact is, plenty of people have strong feelings about the companies and organizations you mentioned, even to the point of calling them “evil”.

        There then comes a Fear of the Other mess.

        1. VeryAnon*

          I only ‘Fear the Other’ if the ‘other’ is actively trying to harm other groups. E.g. I don’t have a problem with the Heritage Foundation because they are Christian affiliated, I have a problem with them because of their aggressive anti LGBT activism.

      2. VeryAnon*

        Nazis got mentioned because LW mentioned Stormfront as an example. Stormfront are Nazis. Ergo, not an example of Godwin’s law.

        It was also mentioned to illustrate where I personally would draw the line and for me it’s at hate groups. I did specifically say that if it were a difference in opinion on fiscal policy, that’s enormously different.

        And actually, the chance of them applying for a job like that is not nil. There are hundreds of white supremacist groups in America and those groups have paid positions.

        Plus I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I seriously doubt OP would have written in if the dilemma was about a cashier’s job at Chick-Fil-A.

  18. #4*

    Re. #4 — depending on the content of the emails this can be a data security issue rather than just an inconvenience, as information on your company’s clients is being sent to/archived by a random personal email provider. (Doubly an issue if your company or its clients operate in the EU, due to GDPR!)
    I would not set up a redirect rule on personal email for this, but raise it with your boss as a security problem, and/or with IT if your company has it.

    For clients who already have your personal address, the auto reply suggestion valentine made earlier is a good one!

  19. Agnes*

    Sabotaging someone’s ability to get a job is not good. Either tell them upfront that you can’t give a reference in this case, or give your usual one.

    1. Odetta*

      The letter writer never said anything about giving a bad reference. OP stated that the 2 options were normal glowing or no reference at all.

      1. Mary*

        They didn’t even say that! Their most extreme suggestion was that they might have a conversation with the applicant about why they were applying at that organisation!

      2. YetAnotherUsername*

        Refusing to provide a reference is the same as giving a bad reference. If I ring someone looking for a reference for Mary Smith and they say no I’m not going to give you a reference then I will take that as a massive red flag about Mary Smith.

        So yes, refusing to give a reference is absolutely sabotage.

  20. sea*

    #4 – I was in a similar situation once, but it was with a coworker and not a boss. I solved it by forwarding the individual messages that were sent to my personal email to my work email, CC’ing the coworker and writing, “Forwarding this to my work email so I can handle it there” or something similar and they responded apologizing and said they’d pay more attention in the future and so far, it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps if telling the boss isn’t working, trying that method may work? And doing the same if any clients email the personal account?

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This happened with me and a former colleague. “Hey, you accidentally sent this to my personal email, please use my work email going forward, thanks!” Her response was to look at me blankly and ignore me.

      I understand auto-fill, but I will never understand people who keep doing this multiple times, especially when it’s been addressed.

  21. Mary*

    How on earth do people get from “Is there ever a situation where if someone applied to a job that seriously conflicted with your morals, you’d consider having a conversation with them about why they’re applying there before giving a reference?” to “You must NEVER sabotage someone’s chance!”

    Literally all the OP asked was “are there some situations where you’d ask the applicant about why they’re applying there, and suddenly it’s SABOTAGE! Holy slippery slopes Batman!

    1. Agnes*

      There are times when not giving a reference, or giving a bad reference, basically guarantees they won’t get the job. I’m in that situation fairly often, and I struggle with it. A weak but honest reference may prevent someone from being able to stay in the country. So, yeah, having a conversation may not be the same as sabotaging, but these things can have a real effect.

      1. Mary*

        But the MOST extreme situation that the LW suggests is “having a conversation with them about why they’re applying to that company”. If you talk to them and they say, “I know, it’s not my first choice either but I’m desperate”, you can make a different decision than if they say, “actually I’ve always wanted to work for Stormfront because I’m a massive Nazi.”

        1. Mary*

          Honestly, I understand the principle of keeping politics out of the workplace, and yeah, there are some obvious benefits to that idea. Nobody wants to be lectured about universal basic income whilst they’re trying to talk to clients. But like, people take it to the point where even the most GENTLE pushback or questioning of some pretty extreme organisations doing some frankly horrendous things around the world is seen as an impossibility. Courage and bravery and principles have a place in the professional world too.

    2. ElizabethJane*

      RIGHT? And presumably if you gently pushed back and they were like “I know this company sucks but also my kid has cancer and I need a job with solid insurance” you’d suck it up and give the reference.

      I know I’ve said I would never work for Nestle. And I say that while working from my couch because my job is uber cushy. But I’ve also said it knowing if Nestle was the only thing between me and losing my home and my daughter living on the streets I’d go buy all the Nestle swag for my interview, and I’d be happy about it.

      I dunno, people are awfully freaking dramatic about this.

      1. Mary*

        It is far, far worse to through the smallest spanner in the smooth operation of capital than to, say, throw crude oil directly into water that millions of people drink, is my conclusion.

    3. YetAnotherUsername*

      From Alison’s response:
      “there are organizations that are so bad that it would be worth talking with the person — and some where I wouldn’t give a reference at all.”

      Later on Alison said “my line would be groups that engage in open bigotry”

      It’s not really surprising that people are talking about where to draw the line on not giving a reference at all when Alison brought up that exact issue in her response. People aren’t just responding to the question, they’re responding to the answer.

  22. Environmental Compliance*

    When I have closed my door because I cannot be interrupted, I put a note on my door stating something like “Conference call – 1:30-2:30”. Generally then people do not knock and pop in, I’ll get an IM instead if it’s important.

  23. Bopper*

    For the messy client…
    “We can rent to you again, but since you didn’t abide by the clean up and time rules, we are requesting a larger deposit…to be refunded if the venue is cleaned per contract and you have left on time.”

  24. Beth*

    LW #4: if possible, get IT to delete your personal email from your boss’ contact lookup. Especially if he uses Outlook. (This is not the same thing as deleting it from his contacts; the lookup list is a separate item.)

    His system probably captured your personal email in the quick lookup list, which then became the first option to appear the next time he started to send you an email. Every time he uses it instead of your work email, it keeps it in a preferred spot.

  25. DrSusanCalvin*

    I had #4 happen to me when I started a new job…they had my personal email from my application. My boss was lax about fixing the issue until I missed a couple urgent emails (because I don’t check my personal email frequently during work hours, ha!). That got him to fix it quick.

    1. DrSusanCalvin*

      I also set a bounce-back for his emails (rather than an auto forward) so he would know he got the wrong one. I work for the government and did not want those emails in my personal inbox.

  26. Russian in Texas*

    OP1: as you said yourself, the employer is not a hate group or anything this extreme. It sounds more along the lines of Walmart, Halliburton, Facebook – something you don’t agree with.
    This is not a reason to screw up someone else’s employment, especially since this person is not your personal friend or family.
    People need to work to live. This is where she chose to do so. Besides, your morals are not her morals. Don’t make this about you. And you have no idea if she doesn’t know about the company’s history, she most likely does, talking and asking her is patronizing.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      +1 With the ongoing consolidation of the aerospace industry (especially space and launch vehicles), it’s very difficult to find jobs that aren’t linked to a Defense Contractor TM. I remember when Orbital Sciences was bought out by ATK, which has now been bought out by Northrup Grumman. I’d be real pissed if someone denied me a reference for my job application for Friendly Space Exploration Job because it happened to be run under the same company as Makes Missiles Manufacturer.

      1. Russian in Texas*

        I live in a large city in Texas that is the Oil Capital. My partner, my father, and many of my friends work in the oil industry.
        I would be really pissed if someone “here” (in the area) was against oil industry and refusing to give the reference to one of the companies, these are the biggest local employers.

    2. mcr-red*

      “Don’t make this about you.”

      THIS entirely. I agree, the OP already stated it’s not a hate group or anything extreme, so in OP’s case they need to make this not about them and give the reference. I will bet if we all think about it, there are all kinds of organizations that we would not work at or choose to patronize, and our lists probably wouldn’t line up with each others, let alone our bosses/coworkers/etc. The one I’m currently thinking of for me, I doubt would make my husband’s list, though he would agree it’s BAD, I know he wouldn’t have near the visceral reaction I would.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Even if it’s your personal friend or family, I wouldn’t want to meddle at that level!

      Everyone also has different scopes on what they expect out of an employer. So I’ve had people jump at working for Amazon when I’m over here cringing inside with all my objections to their business model to put it nicely.

      I think I have had to draw the line for myself so many years ago because I personally am opposed to mega corporations and a lot of government agencies, so if I wasn’t handing out references to people on that kind of scale, just don’t use me as a reference ever. However I find references to be part of my job as a supervisor/HR role, I can’t start making moral judgements about who gets a good reference and who gets a “Sorry can’t.” You either get a truthful reference based on your employment capabilities, not my feelings towards Microsoft and Amazon etc.

  27. ElizabethJane*

    For the people responding to #1 – there’s a whole world of difference between “declining to provide a reference” and “sabotaging the former employee’s entire job search”. I didn’t read the post as if the OP were going to give a bad reference, I was more imagining a conversation like:

    Employee – “I applied to a job at ABC Questionable Corp. Can I put you down as a reference?”
    LW – “I’m sorry, I disagree with the mission of ABC Questionable Corp and their reputation definitely raises some flags for me. I won’t be able to provide a reference for them”

    And since all job seekers should be contacting their references ahead of time anyway this should be a non issue.

    Also, is it Nestle? It sounds like it’s Nestle.

    1. Arctic*

      Just getting references who are actually qualified to be references is incredibly stressful. Throwing a wrench in it without a really good reason is a terrible thing to do to someone.

      1. ElizabethJane*

        Eh – I’ve had plenty of references tell me “No, I can’t” with no explanation. And I’ve said “No, I can’t” with no explanation. Sometimes my reason is the person is just not great and I don’t want them tied to me and sometimes the reason is my toddler has been an absolute jerk of a toddler for the past week and I don’t have the energy to commit to anything right now.

        1. Arctic*

          If you can’t give them a good reference you shouldn’t. If you were just exhausted that week I think that is inappropriate.

          1. ElizabethJane*

            If I don’t have the capacity to provide a reference at any moment in time because either my work or personal life is too demanding there is nothing inappropriate with knowing my limits and saying what I can and can’t do.

            You (general “you”) don’t get to decide what anyone can or cannot take on in that moment in their lives. To keep going with the whole kids thing – nobody would bat an eye if you (general) contacted me and said “Can you be a reference” and I said “I had a baby last week, I’m sorry I can’t do that right now”. People would be like, “Oh, congrats on the newborn!” and move on. Except I personally could have been a reference one week post partum. Me, personally. Each individual gets to decide what they can and cannot do at any point.

            1. Arctic*

              They get to decide, absolutely, and the rest of us get to point out that it is wrong to not give a reference if you typically would for that person.

              Getting references is a fraught thing. It has to be someone who managed your work, someone who has managed your work recently enough that they still know about the quality, someone who is not a current manager (usually), someone you trust. And then you have someone turning you down because you happen to catch them on the wrong day.

              1. Jem One*

                100% agree. If they said, “I really can’t do it TODAY, I’m swamped, but if they call back tomorrow/next week…” then that’s one thing. But saying that you won’t do it AT ALL, for a good employee who happened to catch you on a bad day is pretty mean-spirited and could really damage someone’s chances of being successfully employed.

            2. Close Bracket*

              You certainly don’t have to give a reference if you don’t want to! If it’s bc you are overburdened, I think the ethical way to refuse is to give a reason. Since “I can’t act as a reference” is generally understood to have an unspoken “bc I would give a bad one,” it’s ethical to explain that your refusal has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you.

          2. Koala dreams*

            It doesn’t help the employee to get a reference from someone to exhausted to give a reference. Nor are employees entitled to know the exact health status of their former manager. I think the only ethical thing to do is to decline to give a reference in that case. The employee will have to accept never knowing if their former manager suffered from insomnia, had a kid in the hospital or were planning a funeral. For example.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I hope that you’re not someone’s direct supervisor if you’re refusing references because you’re tired. Some places won’t hire you if they can’t speak with your former supervisors. So that’s not a position that’s acceptable to take if you’re in a high enough ranking spot.

          Now if it’s a character reference or a former colleague that’s fine enough and totally just a courtesy on your part.

          1. ElizabethJane*

            I suppose I made that more nonchalant than it needed to be. I have just once declined to provide a reference due to “being too tired” and it was on the first day home after a hospital stay with my toddler who had RSV. She was over being cooped up and although she was definitely on the mend at that point she was an absolute psychopath, I hadn’t slept in 4 days, and I had no capacity to do anything other than exist. I’d used my sick time and was dreading going back to work because I knew what was waiting for me there.

            So yes, I absolutely said “I’m sorry, I can’t” when someone asked me to be a reference. If they’d have pushed back at all (“Please, you’re really the best person for this and I need this job desperately”) or framed the question as anything more urgent “I was wondering if I could use you as one of my references for a job” I might have tried to rally, but in that moment I just did not have it in me.

            1. Oh No She Di'int*

              Also, if this had been a situation in which the prospective employer simply could not hire without speaking to you specifically, it’s likely that would have been conveyed to the candidate and therefore also conveyed to you.

        3. ElizabethJane*

          Disclaimer: I don’t mean I’d decline a reference because I only got 7 hours of sleep. I’m saying that there are times in my personal life where I have been unable to provide a reference… details below in a reply but also here if it gets buried.

          I suppose I made that more nonchalant than it needed to be. I have just once declined to provide a reference due to “being too tired” and it was on the first day home after a hospital stay with my toddler who had RSV. She was over being cooped up and although she was definitely on the mend at that point she was an absolute psychopath, I hadn’t slept in 4 days, and I had no capacity to do anything other than exist. I’d used my sick time and was dreading going back to work because I knew what was waiting for me there.

          So yes, I absolutely said “I’m sorry, I can’t” when someone asked me to be a reference. If they’d have pushed back at all (“Please, you’re really the best person for this and I need this job desperately”) or framed the question as anything more urgent “I was wondering if I could use you as one of my references for a job” I might have tried to rally, but in that moment I just did not have it in me.

          1. LabTechNoMore*

            Sorry to pile on, but I think there’s an important distinction between “I’m sorry, I can’t because [personal reasons on my end]” versus “I’m sorry I can’t,” with no explanation given. If I heard the latter from a reference, I would assume they wouldn’t be willing to give a good reference because of reservations about my work and would cross them off the list of potential references indefinitely. If it were the former… Well, I’d still suspect it’s due to reservations about my work but that they were trying to be polite, and would be worried about asking again, unless they specifically said they would still be willing to at a later date–but that’s just me.

            1. LabTechNoMore*

              …Meant to add, it’s also understandable to have a pretty short note after having just given birth. So don’t mean to be too hard on you for your particular situation, just have been on the other side of this email before and wanted to give my perspective.

    2. WellRed*

      But if it’s a fantastic former employee who did wonderful things in her role for your company, you’d take this heavy handed, paternalistic approach?

      1. ElizabethJane*

        In this hypothetical situation? Sure. But I’m also saying that knowing there is only one company (hey, it’s Nestle) I have made a VERY concentrated effort to avoid. I’ve researched their brands and as far as I know I haven’t been a consumer of their products or their services in 6 or 7 years. This is a hard line for me. I’d probably decline to be a reference there, but only because I feel very strongly about them.

        On the other hand I’m not a huge fan of Wal-mart and Amazon has done some hugely shady sh-t. But I’m not personally making the same effort in my life to avoid them so while I’m like “Meh, they’re kind of crap” I’d cheerfully provide that reference because it would be hugely hypocritical of me not to and honestly I don’t find them as morally reprehensible.

        As a further example, I work for a company in the gaming industry. I feel that while my company does provide gambling services they also do a lot of good in the world and they provide a truly excellent place to work. But if someone couldn’t provide a reference for me because they had a hard line stance on gambling I’d be fine with that.

    3. mcr-red*

      I just think OP needs to put themselves in their employee’s shoes and think about how they would feel if they were the one applying for a job and their former boss said they wouldn’t be a reference because they didn’t agree with that company’s history, mission and tactics. You know you’d be irritated at least.

      OP, I was cheated on and it had negative repercussions since on my life and my kids’ lives. I don’t agree with Ashley Madison’s history, mission or tactics. I think it is gross and 100% morally reprehensible. If a friend started working there, I would reconsider my friendship with them. If I found out someone I used to work with started to work there, I honestly wouldn’t care. Ashley Madison will still exist, with or without that person working there. If a former coworker wanted me to be their reference, I’d think, “Gross. I guess I don’t want to friends with that person” and I’d give the reference and move on with my life.

      But OP, honestly because I have a feeling you don’t have near the feelings about Ashley Madison that I do, do you think I should tell someone who wanted to work for Ashley Madison that I will not be their reference because I am extremely anti-cheating?

    4. YetAnotherUsername*

      Perhaps in your industry it’s different, but most people don’t wait until they know which companies they are getting an offer from before they find a reference. Most people look for 2 referees before they even send out applications. I would typically just text my former bosses or call and let them know I’m looking for a job, and ask if they’restill willing to be a reference. If they says yes I let them know to expect calls in the next few months. That’s normal in a lot of industries.

      Perhaps your industry is different in that job seekers call their referees individually each time they apply to a particular company, but that is not the norm. Think back to last time you went job hunting. Did you actually call your references with a list of companies you were applying to and ask if they would be willing to give a reference for each one? Call them every time you had an interview in case they had changed their mind about being a reference since the last interview? Most people don’t do that. They ask once, and trust their referees to give a good reference each time.

      Refusing to give a reference is absolutely sabotaging someone’s chances. When I ring someone looking for a reference if they refused to give one I would take it as a massive red flag about the candidate.

      So don’t kid yourself that refusing to give a reference isn’t sabotage. It absolutely is.

  28. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1 Is super interesting to me because I never research a company a person I’m acting as reference for is applying to. Aside from a select few entities that pop out at me immediately, I wouldn’t know what the place stood for. I really rarely care enough unless they’ve made some kind of news wave.

    Is it even that wide spread to know the company your former employee or staffer are applying to? I give a reference and then move on.

    I had to Google that hate group mentioned as a reference. That’s how unaware I am.

    I am questionable anyways because I’ve already got friends in pharmaceutical and alcohol/liquor/tobacco/cannabis sales. So it could be why I have had to detach from caring that deeply about how uh dirty their money is.

    1. Russian in Texas*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t research someone else’s job search. They are not me, I am not the one applying, my morals aren’t theirs.
      Besides, my whole city lives and dies with oil companies. My bar is really low.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m now going down an imaginary rabbit hole. I worked in timber for awhile after working for a decade in eco friendly products manufacturing. Yikes if my old bosses wanted to take that environmentalist stand and save me from the darkness :(

        1. Russian in Texas*

          I work for the company now that manufactures single use utensils, single use gloves (like latex and poly), and yes, the dreaded plastic straws.
          I was unemployed for month before that, because of the oil industry crash, I would be devastated if my former boss wouldn’t give me a reference because he is against plastic straws.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It’s in my best interests to know the names of the groups actively working to harm me and/or make my life more difficult. If an employee asked me to serve as a reference for one of them, the answer would be an unequivocal no.

      1. Russian in Texas*

        But the LW specifically says this isn’t it:
        “The company isn’t one that’s 100% morally reprehensible; it doesn’t promote infringement of human rights or anything, but its whole mission and especially its tactics are things I absolutely disagree with.”

        1. Mary*

          She also says unequivocally that she’s providing a reference in this situation, but wondering about whether she is obliged to do so if the mismatch between her values and those of the organisation are even greater. She is not saying she is refusing to provide a reference in this situation.

          1. Russian in Texas*

            She did say so, yes.
            For me it’s where do you draw the line.
            Human rights violations? Yes.
            Do not agree with the mission/makes products I am against/religion I do not agree with/government I don’t support – no, these are not reasons enough for me.
            I would not presume that I have a right to tell a former colleague/employee my opinion about their job. It’s not my place.

              1. Russian in Texas*

                Yes, and so did many people up-top.
                I have my line, and it’s “outside of human rights abuses it’s not my business.”.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Exactly. For me, the line is someone asking for a reference to an organization that is going to do direct harm to me or someone I love. I’d suck it up and give a reference for Chik-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby. I will not give one for Focus on the Family.

        2. bluephone*

          Right like honestly, this could be PETA or Greenpeace or something like that (caring about animals and the environment is great and I support that! But I personally think that most/all of PETA and Greenpeace’s tactics are some bad news bears. Would I refuse to give a reference to someone who had applied there? Good god no, I’m not a monster).

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        As a queer myself, I would understand 100% in that aspect. I had a visceral reaction finding out Bigot Fried Chicken Sandwich place sponsors sports in the PNW of all places.

        But I’m thinking more of obscure moral issues like big tobacco or cannabis or Planned Parenthood even [that one is less obscure but there are people who would have the same response as you to places that actively donate to conversion therapy to places that offer controversial medical procedures].

        I guess it’s different since I’ve also had to act as reference to someone wanting to work in law enforcement and in this climate, I’m not actively super thrilled about that either =(

        But I wouldn’t ever be a reference for someone who was applying to be an executioner or something related to death row.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          They were a sponsor for some part of my city’s marathon. I think it might have been the kid’s fun run or something. There were some lgtbq groups that lobbied against it unsuccessfully. It was disappointing, but I wouldn’t want to prevent anyone from supporting the marathon.

        2. ElizabethJane*

          I did have someone refuse to provide a reference to me because I work in the gambling industry. My company in particular hadn’t done anything bad or sponsored a questionable organization, but for this person gambling was a big no go.

          It sucked but also it’s life and sometimes life sucks.

          Also also I say that from the privileged position of having 4-5 solid references to choose from so if one backs down I do have options.

  29. Hope*

    For #3, hard agree with everything Alison says. If you get push-back about the family thing (possibly this person has only had good, boundary-respecting family experiences), it might be worth pointing out that not everyone has great families they can rely on or the same definition of “family” as your coworker does, which is one more reason to not treat coworkers like family.

    1. juliebulie*

      Agree! (And I’m sorry I don’t see more comments here for #3!) I think this employee would really get on my nerves in a bad way. It is a very special kind of complicated feeling to be angry with someone for demanding that everyone be happy, and I don’t want to deal with that feeling at work. (Or anywhere else.)

      1. OP3*

        Heh, it’s ok. As some other commenters picked up on, there’s more to this situation than I outlined in my letter. For the sake of anonymity and brevity I tried to keep my question very narrowly scoped.

        Part of my difficult here is that she does get on my nerves for the reasons you mentioned, and I’m trying to separate that out from the situation and my interactions with her.

        I figured some people in the comments who had run across similar things might read between the lines and weigh in, which is starting to happen. I’ll be curious to see what everyone says.

        1. Observer*

          This makes a lot of sense. But that’s all the more reason to focus on the specific behaviors that are problematic. You don’t want to get into that territory and it’s so easy to get sidetracked that way.

          If she does push back with “But we’re FAMILY!” you can point out that family is not the right paradigm for the workplace, and people who don’t want to interact that way have a right to that no questions asked. No one needs to justify not feeling like “family”. But that’s as far as it goes- focus on the behaviors, including making inappropriate demands.

    2. NotTheSameAaron*

      While doing research for my family tree, I discovered that three of my coworkers are (distantly) related to me. I consider them family, even if they don’t know it.

  30. Sarah N*

    For OP2: Even if you tell people, they may not remember — with lots of people in an office, it would be hard to remember that just one person has different “rules” around closed doors than everyone else. What I do is put a little sign on my door saying “On a conference call, please do no disturb” or whatever the case. Have never had anyone not respect this (except in one case of a fire drill—obviously that’s a legitimate exception!)

  31. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#3: Allison is right, keep your focus primarily on the behavior — getting down in the weeds of feelings and attitudes is usually counter-productive.

    Right now you’re focused on her need to make sure everybody is “happy” with all the decisions being made and thus dragging discussions out past the point of utility. OK, that’s a good, actionable point to take up with her. But is this playing out in other ways? You say she’s “far more personally invested in all of us than we are in her.” Does she ask personal or intrusive questions of others? Does she express concern over co-workers’ free time/diets/emotional state, etc.? Does she insert herself, unasked, into other people’s conflicts? If she views herself as “mother-peacekeeper” for the whole office, it’s probably going to show up in multiple ways. You say everyone likes her, but please be alert for signs that she’s starting to make others uncomfortable.

    1. OP3*

      She doesn’t ask intrusive personal questions, but she shares a lot about her personal life (initiatives, projects, and so on) even when — and perhaps especially when — she doesn’t get engagement on these issues. She does make people uncomfortable, and I’m aware of it. We like her, meaning we want to see her do well in this role, but she has exhibits a host of behaviors that display a fundamental lack of understanding of boundaries. I can keep my focus on behavior, but it’s like playing whack-a-mole.

      My questions was less, “Should I say something?” and more “Should *I* say something or should a coach or therapist say something?” Because right now she’s got the wrong instincts, so every new behavior she tries doesn’t work.

      1. valentine*

        You say something because it’s a work issue and you’ve got to intervene for the other employees.

        Whac-A-Mole: Is there no umbrella behavior you can point to? (Not that that’s a goal, but because when she switches tactics you can say, “You’re using the umbrella again,” instead of “This, too, is forbidden.”)

        1. OP3*

          I should have clarified. She is getting feedback on her behavior and she’s receptive and responsive to it. The problem is her adjusted behavior ends up being nonproductive in different ways.

          I haven’t pinned down any single umbrella behavior, but I’ll look harder for one.

      2. juliebulie*

        SOMEBODY should say something, and people will be grateful if that person is you. (I don’t think there is a way to get a coach or therapist to say it?)

    2. OP3*

      This absolutely does play out in other ways, which is why I’m at the point of wondering about the root cause and how to address it. She doesn’t ask intrusive questions and she doesn’t overshare in the usual ways, but she does share a lot of information unasked about various weekend/off hours activities, and she doesn’t stop when she gets no engagement from everyone else. This is “bring your whole self to work” run amok.

      She hasn’t been here long, and I suspect she has gotten feedback on these issues before simply because she is very respectful of boundaries in many ways. She doesn’t ask personal questions, she only shares positive news, etc. However, she doesn’t read the room well, and addressing her behavior is like playing whack-a-mole. Her instincts are fundamentally wrong, and so this is less “should I say something” and more “should *I* say something, or is it something best left to therapists and coaches, in which case, how do I give them that feedback?”

      1. Sara without an H*

        This is hard, and frankly, I’m not sure how I’d handle it. There are several possibilities:

        1) Address only specific behaviors that interfere with work, and treat the overall issue as a personality quirk which isn’t yours to address. The risk here is that one of her co-workers will eventually snap and bite her head off. You say that, right now, most people like her, but that will change if she keeps this up long enough.

        2) Try getting her to tell you more about what she’s doing and how she sees her relationships with her co-workers: “You know, I’ve noticed you share a lot more personal information than most people do here. I’ve heard you describe yourself as “everybody’s mother” and a “peacemaker.” Can you tell me more about how you apply this to your working relationships?” (I have to say, I don’t have a lot of confidence in this script, and you should probably run it past your HR person, if you decide to go this route. But the more you can find out about what makes this woman tick, the better.)

        3) Let her go. I admit, this one’s nasty and, if her work is good, you may not want to do it. But I think you’ll need to decide whether her behavior really makes her a bad fit for your organization, or if she’s a good employee with some quirks, and just put up with it.

        You have my sympathy, and I really wish I had better advice to offer. Nice, but irritating, people can be really hard to manage.

        1. Observer*

          I think I would respond to “I’m everyone’s mother” with “No, you are not. Please don’t take that authority upon yourself.” Although you probably want to do that in private to start with.

        2. OP3*

          Yeah, I don’t think I’ll get anywhere with 2. She’s got reasons for everything she does, and arguing reasons won’t go well.

          I keep hoping that she’ll start to adjust her behavior over time based on how she interacts with her peers. I’m not seeing as much evidence as I’d like that this is happening.

      2. Observer*

        It sounds like she would benefit from a therapist / coach. But it’s not your place to push that.

        It IS your place to address the pattern of behavior. It’s difficult when people are not good at reading the environment, but the best you can do is to try to find the patterns. And it may not be one pattern. But there are fewer patterns than there are behaviors that fall into those categories.

        If I’m understanding correctly, it seems that ONE problematic patterns it her attempts to ignite engagement on non-work issues. The response to that might be something like “If you see that you are not getting engagement on an issues, please respect that and don’t try to find ways to spark it.” rather than something like a series of response to individual actions like “When you see that people don’t want to engage in a topic, please don’t start sending out articles on the topic.” followed the next week by “Also, don’t start sharing a bunch of highly personal stories.” followed the next week by “And do not try to hijack the group lunch with the topic” etc.

        By the same token, instead of addressing specific attempts to get people to be happy with decisions where it’s not important / taking up too much time and resources / not in the scope of her job, tell her that she just needs to accept that you and the higher up will be the ones determining how much engagement and agreement you need from staff and that she needs to stop ALL the efforts to get people to agree, not just a, b and c efforts.

        Also, I think that you have actually described a serious overarching pattern here. Yes, it’s about attitude but it translates into behavior, and it doesn’t get into overly emotional territory. Essentially, she’s taking on too much authority. She is NOT anyone’s mother – and she needs to stop thinking in those terms.

        The key idea here is that “mother” is a position of moral authority, and it’s not appropriate for her to take on that role. It’s not for her to decide how much engagement people should have, how enthusiastic they should be about decisions etc. She needs to hear that unless something is in her job description, it is not her place to make decisions about these things or mandate / expect people to act a certain way.

        1. OP3*

          I like the framing of taking on too much authority. That’s helpful. The way this generally manifests itself is aggressive inclusivity. “We haven’t heard from these people”, “I just want to make sure it’s a safe space”, and so on. I don’t think she’d look at it as taking on too much authority, but that’s what it is unless it’s her meeting, and this is an area where it’s ok for her to be reactive rather than proactive.

          1. Sara without an H*

            “Unless it’s your project, that’s not your responsibility.” Worth trying, at least. But if she’s so out-of-sync with your organization that she’s disruptive, you may have to let her go.

            Please post an update for us.

  32. Lara*

    #1: I think there might be a difference in my eyes over whether I was the person’s former boss vs coworker. If I was a former boss, I would only decline to give a review for the most egregious organizations since employers would look differently at a boss declining. The former employee may also be limited in who she could ask if she has worked for the same employer/boss for several years. As a coworker I would feel more comfortable declining for an organization with whom I disagreed at a lower scale, since she presumably has other coworkers.

  33. yala*

    For OP2, I like the idea of a sign, because it takes the guesswork out of it for everyone.

    My supervisor has open door, mostly-closed-door, and completely closed door. I figured closed door means “do not disturb” and “mostly-closed” means maybe disturb if it seems important enough, but folks knock and go in either way.

    …so I generally just wait for it to be open. Which can take a while.

    Signs make it clear to everyone what you’re requesting/expect.

  34. AngryOwl*

    Ooh #1 is interesting. As mentioned above, I don’t look up places that I give references for, so I likely wouldn’t recognize it anyway.

    If I was asked for a reference and did recognize it was for a hate group, though I’d decline and I don’t feel bad about that. Doing so won’t somehow cause me to lose critical thinking skills and be all willy nilly with my references going forward.

  35. I like my chair*

    #1: I agree with Allison. The threshold of “known hate group” seems reasonable.

    That said, my cousin’s manager didn’t want to write a reference for him when he was offered a better job at a weapons manufacturer because she was “anti-gun.” Ridiculous.

    1. Elitist Semicolon*

      Maybe, on the surface. But what if the reason she’s “anti-gun” is that she was at Pulse that night, or her niece went to school at Sandy Hook, or she lives around the corner from the synagogue in Pittsburgh? These are the contexts a co-worker may not know, and she shouldn’t have to divulge personal and emotionally difficult information as part of saying, “I’m sorry, I cannot provide a reference in this situation.” She should also have the right to politely decline to participate in a professional activity that could cause her direct emotional harm.

      1. Observer*

        Please.What if she has a relative who died from an eating disorder? Would you say therefore it makes sense to try to keep anyone from working at Weight Watchers?

        1. ElizabethJane*

          False equivalency. Saying “I can’t be your reference for this particular company because of my own emotional baggage” is not at all the same as “actively trying to keep ANYONE from working there”.

          But also, yes, if the hypothetical she in this situation is going to feel significant emotional pain she’s not obligated to provide a reference over it. Maybe she needs to get herself to therapy because she’s not dealing with her grief, but she doesn’t *have* to do anything.

        2. VeryAnon*

          WW are an unethical org and their targeting of children is reprehensible. However WW are not involved in murdering thousands of people every year.

          I’m not personally anti gun but there are plenty of painful reasons why someone might be, and mocking that is unkind.

          1. Observer*

            I’m not mocking anyone. I’m making a point – I’m not a gun owner and have zero interest. However, not all guns are used, much less intended to murder people. A person’s personal history does not change that.

  36. Barefoot Librarian*

    #2 – Sometimes it’s as simple as putting a small whiteboard on your door and indicating your status. I did this at my job (very open door culture) to indicate that I have a video conference or a client call, so people don’t knock or enter when I’m engaged. I sometimes put “Do not disturb until . Knock if it’s important!” these days too if I have a task that requires a lot of uninterrupted concentration. People are pretty good about honoring the request and will often just pop back to their office and email or just write a little note below mine asking me to check in with them when I’m available (I leave magnetic white board markers for this purpose). I don’t abuse the closed door and am otherwise really responsive and it’s overall been well accepted.

  37. glitter writer*

    I recommend a small dry-erase board (or similar) on the outside of the office door. Back when I had an office, I found it very helpful to be able to put, “on a phone meeting,” “closed because I’m being loud — come on in!” or “do NOT disturb” (because I was pumping at work) on the door to help anyone who would swing by.

  38. AnonAndFrustrated*

    I have a coworker who was told to close his door if he’s going to take/make personal calls during work time, so that it’s less distracting to the rest of the team. So now this person closes their door multiple times a day for a total of several hours, which we now all take to mean they’re on personal calls during hours of work time. Which still creates resentment. Or the person could be sleeping in there for all we know, or watching TV, now that they have carte blanche to have a closed door as much as they want. Not sure closed doors are ever a good thing unless it’s for a conference call or a private meeting/discussion.

    1. valentine*

      Closed doors are the best part (and, for me, the entire point) of a door. A coworker complained instead of knocking or emailing, but I closed the door because people passed so quickly, they created a breeze and I couldn’t stop my head swiveling to see what the movement was. I ended up cracking it as far as possible while still hiding the activity. But when I shared an office, I don’t know that anyone complained about the door being closed, which is rich.

    2. VeryAnon*

      Closed doors are amazing. The best part of my new job is an office with a closed door. It’s heavenly. I get so, so much more work done.

  39. seller of teapots*

    I have a lot of phone calls and video chats, so I will close my door for those meetings, and often don’t bother to reopen it until I leave my office (to get water, talk to someone down the hall, etc.) I don’t think a closed door always means Do Not Disturb!

  40. Scarlet*

    THANK YOU! This. If a person wants to work at ICE or Monsanto, let them. It’s their choice and you do not get to decide who gets hired for what job. After all, unless they’re going to be a C-level employee or other executive, it’s unlikely they will have any direction in the company anyway. People need employment, man. By refusing to give a reference based on your own opinions/beliefs, all you’re doing is limiting a good person’s job opportunities and virtue signalling. Geez.

    1. VeryAnon*

      If they’re happy to work for certain organisations, then they’re obviously not a good person. People seem to forget that a reference is a favour and an endorsement, not a moral obligation.

  41. Qwerty*

    For OP1, a threshold to consider would be how would you feel if it was publicly known that you denied a reference to a good employee for this job? With the really openly bigoted groups like in your example, you can probably avoid much fallout. Groups like this already tend to feel persecuted, so if they ask the ex-employee why none of her references are managers or press her for your contact info, hearing that you declined due to the organization’s mission will likely feed right into. For most places though, it is going to sound odd and like she’s hiding something (which is why she probably will use some cover story, which also isn’t great).

    Extend this to the rest of your professional network. How would it affect your ability for promotion or application for a management position at another company if they hear about this? There’s a good chance that for all but the most extreme of groups, it’ll look like you are trying to control where your employees work, since references from former managers hold so much. If you look closely enough at most industries/companies, you are likely to find bad practices that some group is going to feel strongly about.

    People work hard to leave companies on good terms in order to secure a good honest reference about their work. We’ve seen so many posts where people debate how honest to be in exit interviews because they don’t want to burn a bridge. Every week on the open thread there are posts from people who are disheartened by a long, fruitless job search. The argument that there are plenty of other jobs out there does not necessarily hold true. Consider what is really gained and lost by adding to the obstacles in your former employee’s job search.

  42. WantonSeedStitch*

    Re: OP#2: in my (mostly-cubicles) office, we have some people who don’t have office doors, but who when they need to be left alone, put up a sign saying something like “in focus mode–please come back later unless it’s urgent!” Having a white board on your door where you could write something like that might be helpful in communicating.

    Re: OP#4: I’ve done that to one of my reports! I was so glad she pointed it out to me because I really felt bad about it and was able to fix it pretty quickly.

  43. Shell Bee*

    #2 – I navigate this by putting a sticky note on my door, something like “conference call, please enter quietly”, “collections calls – do not disturb”, or “month end close – do not disturb”. This usually keeps most people respectful, but there are the same two people who barge in regardless, talking to themselves out loud or totally ignoring my sign and demanding my attention. I’m pretty sure those two can’t read!

    My situation is a little different because my office houses the building’s color copier, so sometimes I will add “enter quietly for copier”. My boss just wears ear buds and ignores you if you come in when she’s trying to focus!

  44. LilySparrow*

    #4, if your personal email is given as point of contact to clients, it might help to reply-all from your work email when you correct it, so your boss sees it.

    Very friendly & professional of course. Just something like “Hi Clientname, looking forward to working with you on this. Please use this email address – the other one may not reach me during work hours.”

    Or “Here is my current email address, please use this one on the distribution list.”

  45. President Porpoise*

    I don’t know if we have anyone on here who hires for a potentially controversial organization like the one mentioned in post #1 – but if you do, have you noticed that you don’t get responses from all the references you get from the candidates? Do you factor in the potential moral objections to reference giving in your consideration process?

    1. Anon here*

      I was grateful that the extremely large and sometimes controversial company I work for did not ask me for references for a senior-level professional position. They do a background check, and they have extensive interviews, so maybe they think that’s sufficient. Or, perhaps they know some managers would try to sabotage ex-employees. Perhaps the risk of unintended bias that would be legally actionable is too high. I came in via a referral, but I doubt that impacted the process.

  46. Celeste*

    #4 – This could potentially be a major issue. If your company becomes involved in any type of lawsuit or litigation, the fact that your boss may be sending confidential or proprietary information to your personal email could create major problems, the least of them being that all of the contents of your personal email may be subject to review by both sides’ attorneys. If you have personal information (tax info, online bill info, bank statements, etc.) stored in your email, they may be turned over to the attorneys for review as part of your emails during discovery.

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