my office set up fake layoffs, coworker thinks he’s a celebrity spokesperson, and more

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

1. My office set up fake layoffs so my coworker didn’t know he was the only one being let go

I think my last employer may have violated some kind of law with this one. We had a somewhat troubled employee, and instead of firing him the normal way, we got him and three other employees together in a room and pretended to lay off all of them, even though they knew that the rest of the employees were going to show up the next day. It left a really bad taste in my mouth considering that they were concerned about the guy’s mental health. I didn’t think I’d feel any happier to find out that something like that had happened to me.

They said they were laying off the whole group because “a processor bought all of our raw product” (which “meant” we had to lay off the newest four employees, even though everyone but him were showing up the next day).

Wow, no, terrible practice. It’s not illegal per se, but it could lead to legal headaches for the company anyway: When an employee finds out they’ve been lied to about the reason they were let go, they often figure the real reason must have been something shady (since otherwise, why wouldn’t the company have just told them the truth?). So then they go looking for the real reason, and they can easily conclude the real reason must have been something illegal (like discrimination). Employment lawyers can have a field day with that situation, since the employer has already established they’re willing to act in a shady way and not be honest about what was going on.

Aside from that, it’s crappy and thoughtless. Surely it wouldn’t be terribly hard for this guy to find out (accidentally or by deliberately checking) that the people he thought were let go alongside him are still working there.

I’m wondering if your employer was worried about something like workplace violence if they outright fired this guy and so they concocted this awful plan to make it seem like it wasn’t about him? That’s still a bad idea, but it’s the only thing I can think of that would explain such a bizarre decision.

2. Our marketing director thinks he’s a celebrity spokesperson

I’ve been working for a company for the last four years. The company sells highly-regulated consumer products (think protein powders or dietary supplements). Our marketing director is a close college friend of the owner and thinks of himself as a kind of celebrity spokesperson, like Steve Jobs or Gwyneth Paltrow. At first, I thought it was just a slightly irritating quirk, but over the last few months his behavior has taken a turn towards what I feel is unethical.

The last straw was a contest on our company’s social media accounts (his team is in charge of those). The prize was an assortment of our company’s products, along with a chance to meet him. To enter, people have to follow his personal Instagram account. It made me feel deeply uneasy that the company’s money is basically being used to buy this person followers. The Instagram is fine for a personal private account (lots of pictures of his dogs, family, church activities, etc.) but he often mentions unsubstantiated claims regarding our products as facts (which we’re not legally allowed to do) and takes pictures of various acquaintances enjoying our products (we need consent waivers for all the pictures we post on our official social channels).

Am I being old and crotchety (I’m in my 40s while the rest of his team are in their 20s)? Is this a thing now? Most people I spoke with are uneasy, including my boss, but no one wants to mention anything because of his personal relationship to the owner.

You’re not being old and crotchety; you have appropriate and sensible concerns. It’s inappropriate for a company contest to direct people to follow an employee’s personal Instagram — unless his personal Instagram is so intertwined with the company that it’s being used as a company account. That doesn’t sound like the case, but if it were the case, he’d need to abide by the company’s legal and brand restrictions, which he’s not doing. He’s trying to have it both ways — personal account with corporate promotion — and that’s not okay.

Is anyone there in a position to speak truth to the owner? Hopefully someone other than this guy has the owner’s ear and can point out the problems with this.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

3. People ask me questions on social media about our job postings

My company encourages us to advertise open positions through our own professional channels, so I’ll post a notice on my social media about our open roles, with a link to the posting page. We have a good reputation and do highly-regarded niche work in a big industry, so a lot of people will send cold messages to team members.

With the exception of one or two great potential candidates, usually they ask me to tell them about job requirements that are in the posting or about the job itself. I don’t want to needlessly burn bridges or hurt my company’s reputation, but I don’t have the time or will to pitch my company to a potential candidate — especially when we have a stream of great candidates already coming in. What’s the best way to handle these requests politely while shutting them down?

I’ve considered just not posting to my own channels, but I have had some good candidates reach out who have made it to final rounds. I appreciate it because personally, I’d prefer good coworkers and, professionally, it gives me some extra value to the company.

A few options:
* “Take a look at the job posting — you should find all that there.”
* “Because we get such a high volume of interest in our openings, we’ve found the best way to get to know people is to steer you to the process we’ve created. But we’ve tried to put all the initial details you’ll need in the posting.”
* “I’m not involved in hiring for this role, but if you apply using the directions in the post, you’ll get into our system and will have lots of opportunites for questions as you move through our process.”
* Hi Jane! I’m not involved in hiring for this role, but I encourage you to formally throw your hat in the ring by applying if you’re interested.”

But also, watch for the kind of questions people ask. I’d bet that few or none of the people who ask questions that are answered in the posting turn out to be strong candidates later. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t have qualms about using one of the lines above. But if someone is asking smart, substantive questions (that don’t seem to be just for the sake of making an impression), there could be value in engaging a bit further with them.

4. We couldn’t work during a cyber attack and now our company wants us to make up the lost time

My company was hit with a cyber attack that took down our system for a few days, including all of Monday (and some people were locked out of their files longer, almost all week). Unless you had files saved to your desktop (which is generally not seen as good practice) or were travelling for meetings/field work, there was no billable work that could be done during that time.The vast majority of employees are salaried (exempt). Once everything was back up and running, senior leadership asked that we either make up the lost time (we bill over a two-week period, and we were at the beginning of a billing period), or use vacation or sick leave and not bill to overhead. Everyone is obviously pissed, but other than this being an incredibly scummy thing to do, is there anything wrong legally with the directive?

If you’re exempt, it’s legal (because you’re paid for the job, not for the time you put in). If anyone is non-exempt, they’d need to be paid for any extra work time.

Regardless, though, your company should look at this as a cost of doing business that shouldn’t be transferred to employees. It’s not unreasonable to say “we’re going to need people pulling longer hours this week because of this crisis,” but people shouldn’t lose vacation or sick leave because the company’s systems went down.

5. Is this employer blowing me off?

I recently had a series of interviews and tests for a job. During one of the interviews, the hiring manager told me he was hoping to find someone with more “traditional experience” but he’d still give me the test.

I completed the test and now, a few weeks after the fact, I’ve been contacted by the HR manager I was working with. She said the hiring manager wants to review more candidates before making a decision on me and that if I had a tight timeline to go ahead, but otherwise she’s wants to stay connected and chat in a few weeks. Is this just a blow-off? Do you think there is anything I could do to get the hiring manager’s attention at this point? Or is all hope lost?

If it were a blow-off, they’d just reject you. So take it at face value: They want to review more candidates and will need at least a few weeks to get back to you. But telling you to take your other options if you’re in a tight timeline does indicate they’re not too fussed about losing you if that happens. That doesn’t mean there’s no way they’d eventually offer you the job, but it does indicate they’re hoping to find someone who’s a better match.

As for doing something to get the hiring manager’s attention … he already knows you’re interested. You don’t have the experience he’s looking for and so he’s looking to see if he can find a better match. It’s possible you could do something that would push him back toward you (like submit a wildly impressive piece of work that convinces him you’re the person for the job), but … honestly, most times people try something like that, it’s just as likely (if not more so) to convince the employer you’re not the right match.

It might help to remember that if you get the job, you want them to be enthusiastic about you. You don’t want to talk your way into a job that you really might not be right for (because that makes it more likely you’ll struggle in the job or even be fired) — and the hiring manager is the person who knows his needs best. Let him figure out if you’re the right match or not.

(That said, if you haven’t sent a post-interview thank-you note yet, now is the time for a really good one.)

{ 348 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimmybear*

    Alison’s answer to #4 surprised me. Did staff get to go home while systems were down or did they get other (non-billable) work done? If my systems were down for a day or two or three, there are plenty of things I could work on even if they weren’t billable. That just means they worked something resembling a full day and then had to take vacation or sick
    time also. I can see why people are pissed.

    1. Roverandom*

      Echoing this question. Where is the line in situations like “I was ready to work but couldn’t due to an act of dog (storm, flooding, power outage, company closure due to presence of angels)”, in which I guess US workers are SOL, and “I was ready to work but couldn’t do my billable job (systems were down, boss told me to sit on my hands all day)”?

      I understand exempt workers are paid for the job, but legally doesn’t your employer have to pay you if you show up and work, even if it’s not the kind of work they’d prefer you to do?

      1. Roverandom*

        Additionally, what happens if OP doesn’t have vacation or sick leave to cover that week? Could the employer dock their pay? Isn’t that illegal if they worked any part of the week? At Alison’s link it says “If your employer docks your salary based on the hours you work in a given week — or if they otherwise treat you as non-exempt — they can lose the exemption for your position”… does that mean that if OP did any work, they have to be paid for that full week no matter what, and if so how does that work with requiring them to take PTO?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You’re talking about pay, which is different from vacation time. The employer has to pay people for the time they were there. But there’s no federal law prohibiting them from saying, “Since no work was done on those days, we’d like you to use vacation time to cover that time.” That’s paid vacation time, so they’re getting paid, which is the part federal law is concerned with. (There might be a state that would protect people’s vacation time in that situation, but most and maybe all states do not.)

        If someone doesn’t have accrued PTO to take, then no, they can’t dock the pay of exempt workers (or non-exempt workers who were at the office during those days).

        All this said, the OP and her coworkers could trying pushing back on this as a group (not based on the law, just based on morale and fairness).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Federal law is still silent on that, but if they did do work during that time, they have an even stronger moral/ethical/practical case for pushing back as a group.

            1. Kimmybear*

              And this is why I said your answer surprised me and not that I disagreed. Legally the company is probably in the right but they are just going to have a whole lot of angry employees

            2. Product Person*

              Yes, and imagine how badly it would go in terms of morale if there is a scenario like this:

              John had just used up his PTO on vacation

              Mary was saving up her vacation to visit her ailing mother

              Both John and Mary are exempt and either worked or didn’t work in that period. Both get paid for the period. Mary loses her PTO, John loses nothing because he was lucky enough to go on vacation before the incident. Eek.

              1. Product Person*

                Although like said in another thread, if he misses a week of work to no fault of his own, the company could decide to dock his pay. Double eek.

                I’d be updating my resume if I happened to find myself in Mary’s or John’s shoes.

          2. Dan*

            OP doesn’t say what line of work she’s in. I can say that in the ten years I’ve been a government contractor, I’ve been 100% direct-billed, and couldn’t “find” overhead work to do on a whim. That kind of stuff has to get approved by management up front. I understand other lines of work may have some portion of “overhead” work that is regularly done, but I would think we’d need to know more about OP’s line of work to answer your question. I know if I did legit overhead work but was told not to bill it, that could cause some real problems.

            1. only acting normal*

              It’s very different if you’re a contractor vs an employee. If we have a shutdown employees are encouraged to catch up on non-billables like mandatory training or writing up performance reviews before taking holiday hours, but contractors are out of luck since they don’t do those things (at least not through our company – they need to make their own arrangements).

              1. Lissa*

                I don’t think that Dan is an independent contractor, I think he works for a government contractor; there is a difference. I am a full time employee (i.e. I get a W2) of a company that is a government contractor and I am 100% billable. There is one OH code that I am allowed to use only when taking company mandated training (as a government contractor, my company has to have their employees take a couple of annual training courses on things like ethics, harassment, and security). Otherwise I have to use a billable code or get special permission up front to use a non-billable code.

              2. Antilles*

                True, though for many companies in 2019, even non-billable work typically requires some kind of internet/server access. Nobody does performance reviews via hard copy any more. Mandatory training is usually either an online system or presentations stored in a folder on the network. And so forth.
                If you know in advance, you can pre-plan by downloading documents ahead of time, but obviously not when the network in unexpectedly shut down by a cyber attack.

              3. Mama Bear*

                When I was a contractor on-site, I had to either make up hours or use PTO if the client site was closed but our corporate offices were open. It was very annoying and I regularly used PTO for lesser federal holidays, but I knew that going in.

                If the OP’s company did not express this upfront to employees, that’s doubly smarmy. I’d rather know that I could go home and use PTO than try to find billable work and have to retroactively use a week of leave. Is there an HR policy on this? I bet someone has to do an After Action Report, and the whole business of lost time/productivity should be addressed and clarified.

        1. Roverandom*

          I guess I’m confused about what happens when someone doesn’t have PTO to take. The employer has to pay them so it can’t count as unpaid leave, but if PTO=0, you can’t subtract from 0… so what happens?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s up to the employer. They could give them an advance on PTO, or not make them take it, or so forth. Same thing as when a company closes for a week and makes everyone take PTO for it, and some people don’t have enough. They work around it. (It’s not a good practice though, regardless.)

            1. fposte*

              Though a full week off would make not paying the exempt employees legal, so that’s a key difference.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Alison isn’t wrong here – if they’re exempt, nothing illegal has taken place so they can’t use that to push back. But what they’re doing is shitty. As Alison said, it’s the cost of doing business and the employees shouldn’t be penalized for something outside of their control.

    3. OP 4*

      OP here. Staff were told not to come into the office. No project files (or any company files) could be accessed while the system was down. So unless you had something saved to your desktop and all supporting files you needed to do your work, no work could be done (billable or otherwise). As a side note, our billing percentage is supposed to be around 94-99% depending on the role, so working on non-billable work for as long the system was down would throw off your ratio.

    4. OP 4*

      Also, to add more detail, we were instructed to not come into work, but were also told the system would be back up at X time, which kept getting pushed back, so myself and other employees didn’t treat the lost time as a vacation day, we were basically on stand by waiting for the system to come back up. We also can work remotely, so the company was expecting people to work remotely when the system came back up even though we weren’t in the office.

      1. Roverandom*

        That sounds super aggravating. In my country I believe they’d have to pay you because the reason could be chalked up to the employer.

    5. P.C. Wharton*

      I’m sure it’s just because I’ve worked hourly my whole life, but it seems insane to get mad about having to do work you were already paid for. If they were in the office doing non-billable stuff, that’s different, but to me “making up the lost time” suggests they were off work.

      1. Bostonian*

        It’s not about doing the work, it’s about being told how to use your PTO and to have to use it for a time while being essentially on call.

      2. Gatomon*

        Yes, but in this case it sounds like employees were unable to work normally for the better part of a week. To squeeze that in over the next 1.5 weeks would be a lot of extra hours each workday, or (more likely), working through the weekend. I think it’s one thing to make up a few hours or even 1 day, but if it’s 2 – 3+ days? That’s hard to ask anyone to do.

        If it were me, I’d put the lost labor costs in the “cost of doing business” bucket and focus more on doing a post-mortem on the cyberattack so they can increase their network protection and disaster recovery.

  2. mark132*

    LW5, fwiw this could be a defacto rejection. I would say the number of times I’m officially notified I don’t get the job is on the order of 50%. And often HR at the new company was just like what you are talking about here. A lot of companies don’t “just reject you.”

    1. Naomi*

      I mean, it’s possible the company will decide later not to hire OP and then never send a formal rejection; that does happen. But I think what Alison means by “they’d just reject you” is that a rejection e-mail would say outright that the candidate has been rejected, not coyly pretend the company is still interested. So OP is probably still in the running right now.

      1. Massmatt*

        I don’t get why you are thinking employers would spend the time talking to candidates they aren’t interested in. Don’t they have work to do? If they weren’t interested and somehow were too spineless to say so wouldn’t they just stop talking or emailing? It would be easier to send a form letter/email rejection, or just ghost them, than spend all this time feigning interest. I think Alison is right and the LW is over thinking it.

        That said, it’s never a good idea to get your heart set on one job while searching, get as many applications out there to the right jobs you can and don’t obsess about any one of them.

        1. PollyQ*

          Some employers have rules about how many candidates they need to interview, especially if one of the candidates is in-house, so they’ll pull in people when they’re already pretty sure who’ll they’ll be hiring. But I agree with Alison, and that LW is probably over-thinking it in this case.

          1. snowglobe*

            Yes, but once they’ve done the interview, there is no reason to reach out to the candidate to pretend that they are still in consideration if they are not.

            Occam’s razor – OP is still in the running, but the manager hopes to find someone who’s a better fit.

            1. charo*

              I once had 5 interviews and took one offer. A couple weeks later, TWO nights in a ROW I got calls w/job offers, saying I had been their second choice and the one they hired hadn’t worked out.
              Two nights in a row! Blew me away, because they never sent me a rejection letter or gave me a clue I was second choice.
              I’d never have known except for the calls.
              So keep hope alive, and maybe call jobs you want to tell them so and ask for feedback. Act like a good sport.

    2. hbc*

      Just because you have this conversation before you get a silent rejection doesn’t mean that they’ve already rejected you. Right now, they seem to be in the mode of “We’re not really sold on you, so we’re waiting to see if there are better people out there or our expectations are out of whack.”

      Yes, that’s *likely* to be a precursor to a rejection (silent or confirmed, depending on how much they suck) since they’re hoping to do better, but there’s no reason to believe they’ve decided at that point.

      1. Antilles*

        For OP, the answer is pretty clear: They’re clearly not falling all over themselves to hire you, so you should mentally move on and treat your job search as though you won’t hear back. Don’t formally close the door, don’t withdraw your candidacy, but just continue your search as though it’s not happening.
        If it works out, you can be pleasantly surprised when you hear back; if not, then you didn’t waste time waiting on them.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      You’re not wrong, but in my experience the companies who don’t “just reject you” also don’t follow up once they’ve decided not to move you forward. The silence is the rejection. Saying “hold on a bit, maybe” suggests “you’re not rejected yet, but you probably will be, but maybe not”. If they wanted to reject now they’d either give an actual no, or just stop talking altogether.

      1. BeeGee*

        This. I recently interviewed for a position that sounds like a similar situation, where I didn’t have the very niche, direct experience but I was interviewed anyways. I saw the position open again (albeit without the senior title), so I assume that they opened the position again to try and get a better fit.

        I was ghosted so I have no idea if I was rejected or just put as a back burner option (not that I’m holding my breath or anything), but it would have been nice to know either way so I could have moved on with better clarity of where I stood in the process.

    4. juliebulie*

      I disagree. I think there’s a reason the HM hasn’t written this person off already. I think the HM likes something about this candidate but is being required to look at better qualified people first.

  3. mark132*

    In regards to letter 4, is it really legal to force someone to take vacation/sick if they showed up to work as an excerpt employee? If LW4 was at their desk, they were at work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I addressed this above, but the federal law on this is concerned with making sure people are paid when they’re at work but leaves managing PTO to employers’ discretion.

      1. Snorkmaiden*

        So you can have your PTO docked even though you were on the premises doing work related activity?

        That seems messed up.

        1. Just J.*

          That’s what I was coming here to write. Like someone posted above, if OP was already at work when the systems went down, were they given the choice to stay and do work off-line or were they dismissed and told to go home? If the first, then you were working (and I can ALWAYS find off-line work to do). If you were sent home, then yes I can see the request to use PTO. But that doesn’t make it right.

          HOWEVER, as someone pointed out, what happens with snow? Hurricanes? Other acts of nature depending on your location? I feel that cyber-attack falls into that.

          1. kittymommy*

            I know that in some of the places I have worked that yes, acts of god that result in business closure/staff being sent home, PTO was docked. My current employer does not do this, but I know of a lot of places that do.

            1. kittymommy*

              Meant to add, this is assuming that the employees were sent home. If they had to stay and use PTO that is very different than the experiences I have had with acts of god PTO usage.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                @Just J. Like Alison said if you are exempt and are ready to work you are required to be paid for the entire week. But that does not mean that the company can’t require you to use PTO, if the company has to close down due to weather. In most places PTO is not protected in how it can be used.

                The big difference is that what is legal and what is recommended are not always the same thing.

                In this situation OP stated that they were sent home for the entire time. So they did not work. When you work in a billable business if people don’t bill time the business does not make money. So it is not unreasonable to tell people you need to make up the lost 30/35 billable hours that were lost last week over the next two weeks or people can just take the time as PTO.

                If people choose to make up the time then they will have gotten a week off without having to use PTO.

                1. Veronica*

                  Yes, but how do you make up that much time? Staying an hour or two late for a few days wouldn’t be enough. You’d have to do that a few weeks, or come in on several Saturdays… It’s significant.
                  Also this employer sounds like one who wouldn’t want to wait the few weeks for makeup – they’d want it in the same pay period, which is not reasonable.

                2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  OP 4 said they bill in a 2 week periods, so 30/35 hours to make up would be about 3 to 3.5 hours a day. In my experience with billable hours associates/staff are usually “required/suggested” to have 7 hours of billable work to clients, but they might work 9/10 hours in the day because they also have admin/overhead aka non-billable work that needs to be done also. So for the next billing cycle they might be able to put all the non-billable work on the back burner and make the whole time they are at work (9/10 hours) billable work so they don’t actually have to stay later than they normally work. Another way to do it would be if they normally only work 8 hours a day would be to work 11/12 hour days for those two weeks.

                  Just to be clear I am not saying the company is right to do this, I think the company should cut employees some slack, only that the company is legally in the clear to require this of exempt employees. Even for non-exempt employees if they did not work, they do not have to be paid, so non-exempt employees can choose to not get paid, or use PTO to get paid for time not worked.

                  Unfortunate in a billable business, the billable workers pay for all the overhead to the business and non billable staff salaries.

          2. AnonANon*

            I’ve had both of these situations happen. We had a cyber attack and my group was down for a MONTH! And it was so bad we couldn’t even turn on our PCs. We are exempt and in order to make our company look good to the press, they made us come in and just sit here. They didn’t want the parking lots to look empty. We literally couldn’t do anything so we cleaned up paper files and shot the breeze for weeks. Some groups were in the trenches still working the best they could and to help bring systems back up. Some people voluntarily took vacation during that time because we are usually busy and this was a way to get away guilt free. They really didn’t know how long we would be down. The downstream effect was tremendous and my department literally didn’t have work for several months even after the systems were back up. We did some online training, read publications and did the best we could.

            We also were impacted by hurricane Sandy and my company was running on a backup generator for a couple days. The stance was that if you could come in, come in, but for those of us who didn’t have power at home the company was wonderful and we could be at home to tend to those issues and didn’t have to take vacation/PTO.

            So I feel like what Alison and others have mentioned that this is a cost of doing business. Stuff happens and maybe their insurance company can cover lost wages or something.

          3. TheCommenterFormerlyKnownAsRUKiddingMe*

            It’s the US, where being treated fairly is mostly left to the caprice of the employer…regardless of any employee protection laws..,

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Physically being at work does not mean they were working. And yes they can be made to use PTO. Not saying it’s right, but it is legal. A decent company would have them bill their time to some sort of general admin bucket (I’ve done this when I was at work but couldn’t use my laptop for whatever reason), but apparently this company cares more about their billable hours than their employees.

          1. WellRed*

            But being required to be physically at work, they should get paid and, as you say, a decent company would pay them.

            1. Malarkey01*

              They get paid if they use PTO- as in a paycheck is issued. Law doesn’t protect PTO in most states so they don’t have to give it to you at all, and if they give it they can make you take it even if sitting at your desk (again unless your in one of the few states that protect leave). So as long as you still get a paycheck for any hours you worked they can take it out of your PTO bank or future PTO benefits.

            2. Emily K*

              They are getting paid, they’re just getting paid from vacation benefit instead of as work. There’s no federal law that tells employers how to award or administer vacation benefit. If your boss wants to, they could dock your PTO for any or no reason in the US because we have no legal rights to PTO. As long and your paycheck is right, they can do whatever they want with your PTO balance.

        3. Construction Safety*

          Especially after the fact notification, “Oh, by the way, we’re charging you for PTO even though you were here at work all day and you’re liking it.”

          1. Joielle*

            Yeah, if they had made the decision earlier, then people could have at least gone home. That might have taken the sting out of either being docked PTO or having to work a ton later on to catch up.

            I would be particularly mad if I had spent most of a week sitting around the office doing nothing and then later told I’d be docked PTO for the privilege or would have to make up the time… when if I had known that earlier, I would have just left!

            1. TheCommenterFormerlyKnownAsRUKiddingMe*

              Yup. If you’re charging my PTO then I don’t intend to hang out. The “O” part of PTO being particularly relevant to my thinking.

        4. Lucette Kensack*

          The reason is that workers in the US are not guaranteed PTO, so it can be offered (or not offered), used or restricted however an employer wants.

        5. hbc*

          Sure, it’s messed up, but since they’re legally required to give 0 days PTO, they can do whatever they want with it. You can only take it on Tuesdays, everyone with a green shirt today gets docked PTO, you can have an extra day if you’re taking the day off to root for the Nationals, whatever.

          1. Quickbeam*

            So true, I worked at a place 25 years ago that send you home/forced you to use PTO if you were not wearing The Team clothing.

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              Did this place provide team clothing? I’d say there’s a legal issue going on here if a workplace is insisting you wear something they didn’t pay for.

              1. Emily K*

                This is also normal. I worked at a few food service restaurants where I had to but my own pants and shoes to my employers specifications, and places where my shirt and hat were ordered from the corporate catalog and came out of my first paycheck(s). They just have to spread any docked cost out so each paycheck equals to at least the hours you work times minimum wage (so ironically it was the places that paid better than minimum wage that did this, but only a hair better, like $6 when the minimum was $5.25).

              2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                Employee uniforms being required is a pretty common practice, many retail stores or restaurants have required clothes people must wear. All black, red/khaki, white shirts/black pants etc… and the company does not have to pay for the clothes. Again being sent home for not being in uniform is a common thing.

                Federally the company deduct the cost of the uniform as long as the pay after the deductions does not fall below the minimum wage. Some state have stricter protections against uniform deductions.

                1. JM60*

                  It’s common and legal to make employees buy clothes from the employer that they must have to do the job, but it’s morally wrong. The employee shouldn’t have to take on the cost of doing business; the employer should.

                  Buying uniforms is different from buying a general business clothes (suite and tie, etc). The uniform really only has value at that workplace. It is unlikely to be used elsewhere, and it’s unlikely that the employee would’ve bought it had they not worked at that business. On the other hand, general business clothes may be used elsewhere, and are likely to have been purchased anyways. Uniforms are also worse because you can only buy them from the employer, who can charge the employee just about anything for them because they must buy the uniform.

      2. MK*

        What I find frankly offensive is the language: If the employees were physically at work, but unable to work (for a reason that belongs to the employers sphere of influence), they are not “being made to use PTO”, because they are not having any time off. The employer is actually taking some PTO from them to make up for losing income, basically taking their losses out of the workers’ compensation. That’s incredibly messed up. If they were actually told not to come in for X days, it’s more excusable; being made to take madatory PTO isn’t great, but at least you are actually taking PTO, you are not held hostage in your workplace twiddling your thumps and told it is PTO.

        1. JM60*

          This is partly why all states should have laws mandating that vacation/PTO must be treated as pay. California has such a law, and what you’re describing would be illegal here. The employer would be allowed to force them to use PTO and stay at they’re workplace in California, but they’d have to pay the employee for both (e.g., give them 16 hours of pay off they were at work all day and had to use a day of PTO).

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I wonder if it’s a little squishy (even if legally not, if it might help the pushback) since you mentioned you were told not to come in, but also told to expect things back up and to WFH (but then they kept pushing back when)…you could try pointing out that you were effectively “engaged to wait” rather than “waiting to be engaged”. If you were told not to come in, but also basically on call to start working the second the systems came back up, the time wasn’t really yours. Legally they can still pay from the PTO bucket instead of the work bucket, but that reasoning might be the lightbulb you need for them to realize just how shitty they’re being. Might not work if they didn’t already realize that, but who knows maybe they’re more reasonable than they currently seem.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, this may be a case where bending someone’s ear should first focus on non-compliance with company policies, and if that’s not sufficient, to mention legal liability. I usually don’t recommend leading with legal issues because it can sound like a nuclear option to the recipient, but it sounds like the marketing director could be opening your company up to additional scrutiny. I don’t think you’re being old and crotchety.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Given the compliance issues, I wonder if the letter writer has an illegal obligation to report them should the company fail to do anything. Or if this is something that has to be reported to the authorities, even if the company shuts it down the moment the letter writer mentions it.

    2. pancakes*

      I don’t disagree with your advice, but both the idea that only old and crotchety people would care about regulations that apply to their industry and the idea that talking about legal obligations is a nuclear-level conversation are way too emotional, and strangely so. We collectively decided that there should be laws about things people manufacture, ingest, etc., a very long time ago. It shouldn’t be shocking or terrifying to people that their employer is subject to laws, and it should be abundantly clear that laws like these aren’t age-based.

      I’m also side-eyeing the idea that products like protein powders and other dietary supplements are highly regulated. In the US this is a multi-billion-dollar industry and the products are not tested by the FDA for purity or effectiveness. Even when a product kills multiple people, as ephedra supplements did in the early 2000s, the FDA is slow to act—it was the first dietary supplement to be banned, and it took eight years for the FDA to do so. The regulations that apply to the advertising of supplements are similarly very minimal and seldom enforced. Where is all this angst about taking steps towards holding someone in the industry to account coming from? Why is it seemingly taken for granted that adhering to even minimal legal standards is terrifying, or only something elderly people would do?

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, there are unfortunately a lot of “young and hip” companies that try to convince their workers that things like laws are for boring old fuddy duddies and that cool companies move fast and break things. Or that the company doing illegal stuff is sticking it to the man, and don’t you want to stick it to the big bad gubmint/corporate man?

        1. pancakes*

          There are, but it’s an older idea too—there’s a lot of overlap between this mindset and the Margaret Thatcher mindset that “there’s no such thing as society.” I suppose it’s not surprising that people in the US, where we’re particularly fond of the idea of self-reliance, would warm up to extending it to that, but it really wasn’t long ago that this mindset was recognized as a shift in thinking, and an intensely political one. It was only 32 years ago that Thatcher said that! And so many people have taken the mindset to heart that in many instances now it’s no longer even seen as political at all, and the idea of one’s actions having a broader impact or being subject to even loose regulation is seen as extraordinary and scary.

          1. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

            I think this is a different issue. The “move fast and break things” companies seem to be under the (intensely silly) impression that their breakage is justified by the amazing benefits their product/app/surveillance network/ponzi scheme provides to humanity at large. It’s exactly the broader impact on society they’re thinking of — you are all so much much better off because of this thing that I made, and if a few of you aren’t, well, that’s just progress, omelets and eggs, you know?

            1. pancakes*

              Maybe. I don’t think companies that operate that way would have nearly as much success as they do if their many thousands of employees and the reporters that cover their industry didn’t more or less share a Thatcherite view, though. The idea that even barely-regulated industries are highly-regulated very much reflects an idea that people are or should be more self-reliant, and that regulation is a scary and overbearing imposition.

      2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yup. If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve had conversations with people that We Can’t Legally Do That, and I got labeled as “not a team player,” I’d be rich.

        One accused me of making up regulations. When I handed him the regulation book, he threw it at me.

      3. A Poster Has No Name*

        Yeah, that stood out to me, too. I would encourage the OP to see just how regulated their products are. They said that they sell highly regulated consumer products, then go on to give two examples of consumer products that aren’t regulated. Like, at all. So if their products are in a similar category, there may not be legal or regulatory issues at play, aside from the usual false advertising and such.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          I think they meant regulated in an advertising rather than manufacturing sense. There are regulations around what kinds of claims you can and can’t make for things like supplements, because you have to avoid making certain kinds of medical claims since they’re not (legally-speaking) drugs and haven’t gone through the FDA drug approval process.

            1. Dagny*

              No, it doesn’t.

              Dietary supplements are regulated by both the FDA and the FTC. The supplement manufacturer must notify the FDA 30 days in advance of publishing any advertisement claiming to affect health or wellness, and must have evidence to back up those claims. Furthermore, the supplement manufacturer must clearly state that the FDA has not evaluated those claims, i.e. “This statement has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

              The FTC has a “Food Policy Statement” that it uses, in collaboration with the FDA, to regulate advertising of dietary supplements.

              1. pancakes*

                If regulations did in fact compel supplement manufacturers and advertisers to only produce and promote products that they have evidence supporting the efficacy of, the entire industry would operate very, very differently than the way it does.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            That’s how I read it, too. They’re likely heavily regulated with respect to advertising (FDA, FTC), but not necessarily for their content or medical efficacy.

        2. MedD*

          Yeah, Class III Medical Device person here – *we* are highly regulated. Dietary supplements are barely regulated (by the FDA), because that’s the way Congress decided to do it. DS are regular amounts of regulated by other agencies (SEC, FTC, etc) as appropriate for the type of corporate structure.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I groaned at the idea of legalities being labeled as “old and crotchety” as well.

        My experience has been being the “young gun” who tells older folks that “we can’t do that, it’s illegal.” Nobody thinks of me as old, yet.

        Spoiler of all the “fun/questionable things” for all the ages is more like it.

        And that’s a reason why supplements or similar shady products that claim special powers are usually loudly shunned when presented on Shark Tank.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I understand how my advice could read as emotional, but it comes from experience. In my experience, very few people take the (calm, reasoned) position that you have when told that behavior may be violating the law. Instead, they often clam up, become defensive, or shut down. However, you can often get more traction if legal compliance issues are carefully framed as compliance instead of liability. All I’m trying to convey is that there are escalating levels of pressure, and legal liability is generally a heavier level of pressure than compliance with internal policies.

        1. pancakes*

          That makes sense, and I agree. I’m sorry, I should’ve been more clear that I was trying to refer to the bigger picture sense that a barely regulated industry is highly regulated. I think it’s a very common view in the US but we have very few industries that are actually highly regulated! So many people seem to have internalized what used to be considered political strategy, to the point that they react the way you describe—clamming up, becoming defensive, etc.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Oh, I misread your post! Thanks so much for clarifying :) I agree with you on the broad critiques, the emotional internalization, and the misperception of the intensity of regulations for certain industries.

        2. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

          I completely agree with you. I was coming here to suggest that OP#2 have a word with in-house counsel or compliance department. I feel these claims could possibly rise to the level of false advertising and, honestly, even if the company were to ultimately prevail against the FTC, do you really want the expense and hassle of all that when all you have to do is tell that asshat to knock it off?

    3. JustaTech*

      I think this would be a good place for a lot of “we” in the conversation. “I am worried that *we* could get in trouble with the FTC if anyone noticed Marketing director’s Instagram.”

      I would also note that the FTC and FDA have been making more waves about 1) undisclosed advertising on Instagram and 2) drug claims about supplements.

      (Side note: supplement makers are allowed to make “structure and function” claims for their products like “supports bone health” or “supports a healthy immune system” because those claims aren’t a specific condition or organ.)

  5. Peter*

    The chance to meet a marketing guy at a vitamins company is apparently an alluring prize? What is second prize? Two meetings with the marketing guy?

    This doesn’t sound like someone cynically spending company money on something that benefits him. It sounds like someone who is completely delusional – which is probably worse.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I completely misunderstood the caption and first paragraph of this one and thought this guy fancies himself a spokesperson for (of?) various celebrities – like, somehow his friendship with the owner also means he’s acquainted with Gwyneth Paltrow and as such, he’s, like, announcing stuff in her stead.

      And then I got to the part you talk about and then I had to promptly re-arrange my brain to get what this is actually about. Even with a company whose products I like immensely, I honestly would have zero interest in meeting their random head of marketing (I would be interested in the batch of products you can win, though, and I’ll just go ahead and assume that that’s also what contestants actually entered for) – where do you even begin with someone who suffers from delusions of grandeur like this?

      1. FairPayFullBenefits*

        Wait, I thought the owner of the company a celebrity, and the marketing guy happens to also be close friends with them? And that the prize was a chance to meet the celebrity? But now I see the letter doesn’t exactly say that.

    2. MK*

      The only rational explanation I can think of is that he is some kind of internet celebrity, e.g. a youtuber or an influencer of soe sort with sizable following, in his free time.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        That’s what I wondered. It’s not clear from the letter if he actually is famous in some way or not. While it’s unethical either way, if he’s legitimately even just a little famous, a better version of this could actually be slightly beneficial to the company.

      2. Lynca*

        Given he ran a contest that required you to follow his personal Instagram account I think it’s a given he’s either a low to moderate level influencer or someone that fancies themselves as such. It’s not a great look for a marketing director.

        1. Lance*

          That’s what I’d be going with. If he was someone with any degree of fame already, why would he need new, random followers that aren’t actually there for him?

          1. MK*

            Eh, as I understand it, there are several levels of that kind of fame. There are youtube channels that I have been following since they were excited to reach 10,000 followers and now one of them is trying to reach 1 million.

            This guy could be well-known enough for something (some kind of fitness content maybe, given the company’s product) that there would be people genuinely excited to meet him, especially if both the company and him are local to a specific area.

            1. JustaTech*

              Exactly. There’s A-D list celebrity, then there’s cable-lebrity (as described by Alton Brown from the Food Network and Adam Savage from Mythbusters), and then there’s YouTube celebrity (like, I dunno, GraveYardGirl?) and Instagram celebrities (no idea, I don’t ‘gram).

              So if the marketing director has managed to be a kind of big deal in a niche market, I could see people being excited to meet him.

              1. Morning Glory*

                Those are different categories, but the divisions are more generational than hierarchical if that’s how you meant it. Plenty of young adults would be waaay more interested in meeting an Instagram influencer than a D-list celeb.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        I suspect it’s something more like he WANTS to be associated with the brand. He’s kind of trying to make fetch happen. As though if he pushes himself as a “prize” that means he is famous enough and associated with the brand enough that it’ll just…be true that there’s a perceived value in interacting with him personally for fans of the brand. The examples given were Steve Jobs and Gwyneth Paltrow, but those are two super different scenarios? Paltrow was famous first, then founded/bought in to the company and it was marketed on its association with her. Part of the perceived value was always “you already know who she is!” Jobs on the other hand became famous for founding the company and the actual work he did with it. He wasn’t famous to start. So Paltrow is more what I think of as a celebrity spokesperson. And Jobs is more what I think of as…I donno…a founder who became famous. It sounds like marketing dude is trying to make himself more of a Jobs-type.

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

        I get the impression, since these are supplements and protein powders, that he’s an athlete or body builder type and uses himself as an example of a spokesperson/customer. That would make sense for his personal insta too, since he probably is doing “modeling” of how awesome his life is now that he has six-pack abs thanks to VitaScam and doesn’t everyone want to be like him so use this product. If that’s the case, he’s probably not doing anything illegal. And meeting with him would be like meeting with a personal trainer or lifestyle guru, right? (sarcasm)

        1. J*

          It feels much like the MLM companies. Their big-wig leaders LOVE to hype themselves up. Plus, the product sounds Herbalife-ish, and they love to claim that they are very high quality and regulated.

    3. Ron McDon*

      I read it as people had a chance to meet the owner of the company (which might be more attractive), but on a re-read I can see I got it wrong and the competition prize was to meet the marketing guy! Hmmm, I can imagine people accepting the free goodies and turning down that ‘opportunity’!

    4. Zip Silver*

      Who knows? Maybe it’s a unicorn company and they get to meet the next Elizabeth Holmes or Adam Newman.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Elizabeth Holmes is a fraud and the only Adam Newman I could find is a soap character.

        Who would want to meet either of them?

        1. pancakes*

          Before Elizabeth Holmes was exposed as a fraud there were a lot of very high-profile investors and board members who wanted to meet her and did meet her, like Rupert Murdoch and Henry Kissinger. Lawyer David Boies was also on the Board, as was former US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. The Walton family (Walmart owners) and the DeVos family (billionaire family of US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) invested in Theranos. Many, many people were overly credulous about the claims Holmes and Theranos made because they met her and that—along with flattering, overly-credulous press—was enough. Let’s not pretend that people are generally good at spotting fraud. We very often aren’t.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.” – Arthur C Clarke’s lesser-known First Law

            But sometimes, when all the distinguished scientists say it’s impossible – it’s impossible ;)

            1. PollyQ*

              “When a scientist claims that they’ve made an amazing breakthrough, but refuses to provide any supporting evidence, they’re almost certainly full of sh*t.” —PollyQ’s First Law

                1. PollyQ*

                  I am An Old, so I do indeed remember that! In fact, I was an office temp in the physics department of the local university while it was playing out. The professors were not entirely closed-minded on the subject, but they were pretty gosh darn skeptical.

    5. Witchy Human*

      Throw in a t-shirt or a free meal, and there are plenty of people who would be interested in the “prize” and just shrug off meeting the marketing guy.

    6. Seacalliope*

      It sounds like the company itself has an unhealthy, cult like atmosphere that has inculcated strange ideas about the nature of the product itself and the worthiness of people who promote it.

    7. Collarbone High*

      I’m hugely sympathetic to the LW’s situation, but I did a spit-take at “a chance to meet him.”

      1. JustaTech*

        At one time I worked for an EvilCorp who offered these ridiculous prizes for going above and beyond. You could collect up the stars (what is this, kindergarten?) and the prizes ranged from a cup to a nice parking spot for a month to lunch with the CEO.
        We joked that it would be hard to have lunch with the CEO while he was under indictment.

    8. Elise*

      It almost sounds like a MLM company as the consultants/salespeople (who are the customers) tend to have cult-like worship for the higher-ups in the company.

    9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It sounds like he thinks he’s the next Rohan Oza. It’s delusional but there are a select few big business folks out there who are famous for their work but this bro better get thy arse on Shark Tank at least first.

  6. Heidi*

    Does OP1’s company think they’re in Mission Impossible or something? Staging a fake mass firing? Were the non-fired employees supposed to wail and rend their garments? I honestly don’t think I could have done it. Or maybe my WTF expression would have been perfect for this scenario.

    Seriously though, the bosses basically invited 3 random people to watch this one guy being fired, and that is unkind.

    1. Massmatt*

      I don’t get it either. They staged this whole thing, involving several additional people carrying out this ruse, all to what, avoid just firing someone? Is laying them off better? This is like a bad sitcom plot, all that’s missing is someone wagging a finger and saying “Lucy! You have some ‘splaining to do!”

      I have seen some wild stories about managers not being able to fire someone but this might take the cake.

      And congratulations, the company’s bizarre effort to avoid what, a slightly less comfortable conversation, has opened themselves up to all sorts of legal liability!

      1. valentine*

        Were the non-fired employees supposed to wail and rend their garments?
        Definitely no, if TPTB were afraid the fired one would react violently in the moment and perhaps have security that reduces any such future efforts on his part.

    2. Medico*

      I guess if this person had a history of unreasonable reactions, creating a situation where the manager can say ‘It’s not my decision, Upper Management Person has made this call about the entire group’ would be very tempting to get oneself out of the immediate blast zone, but totally agreeing with everyone on how weird this approach is. And what a future liability it is.

      1. Medico*

        Just adding to say I know someone who’s response is to go nuclear if fired because of reasons relating to that person- such as their temper- because it’s ‘Not Fair’ and ‘discriminatory against people with *insert one of their many diagnoses*’ and ‘Not my fault I have a temper, they shouldn’t have done *insert one of many things that set them off*’. If they were part of a group that was laid off because of business reasons, that’s perceived as tolerable and will get angry, but not the full, foul mouthed, fireworks display.

        1. Smithy*

          I have to say – I used to work somewhere that had a number of poor practices that had anyone taken the time to hire an employment lawyer could have made a solid racial or gender discrimination case. I’m not a lawyer, but it was a nonprofit and there as enough stuff of that nature made where a credible and damaging legal claim could be made.

          They also employed one woman who was also a person of color, and while her exact talents at her job were dubious – her management skills were clearly terrible. That being said, any time she was challenged she’d make claims about the organization’s discriminatory behavior. She never followed through, but the organization had enough bad behavior it was aware of, they’d never actually let her go.

          If you weren’t as familiar with the organization’s other shenanigans – she could easily appear to just be angry and ridiculous. But once you knew – it was just indicative of many many many aspects of institutional bad behavior and management.

          Not saying the OP’s organization is like that – but if they’re resorting to that kind of a stunt, it may be because they’re trying to deflect other complaints and concerns the bad actor may have that are legitimate.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        If this is the situation, there are things you could do to prepare for any potential fallout. What they did was cruel, and would lead me to look for a new job if I were OP.

    3. Bilateralrope*

      What country is the company in ?

      I ask because I know that here, a company needs a good reason to fire someone and it needs to be “serious misconduct” to fire them without giving written warnings first. But laying someone off just needs the company to be eliminating their position. So if someone was fired for an illegal reason, but thinks he was laid off, that could prevent him seeking compensation. Even if he files a complaint, if his complaint says that he thinks he was laid off, it won’t go anywhere because he hasn’t alleged that the law was broken.

      But if he mentions that the other people the company pretended to lay off are still working there, or can show that someone has hired to replace him (proving that his position wasn’t eliminated), then he has a very solid case for being fired illegally. So I’d suggest the letter writer contact someone with knowledge of the local employment law, someone unconnected to this company. and ask them if the situation looks illegal. Maybe then contact the ex-employee. After that, it’s up to him to decide if he wants to start legal action. He might know some things the letter writer doesn’t.

      1. It's a No From Me*

        Contact the ex-employee? I wish I lived in a world where there were no violent sociopaths. It’s probably a safe bet that the company is terrified of that employee or they wouldn’t have pulled off such a risky stunt. It sounds like the LW was just an observer, so the LW contacting the ex-employee could put them in danger not only of losing their own job but potentially of becoming engaged in the business of someone who may be dangerously unstable.

        1. Bilateralrope*

          Sure, the business is afraid of the employee. But why are they afraid ?
          Is it because they are afraid of him getting violent ?
          Or is because they are afraid of legal action following them illegally firing him ?

          The letter writer hasn’t told us anything to distinguish between those possibilities.

          Still, telling him in person is probably a bad idea. Better to send an anonymous note if the local laws make the firing questionable.

          1. EPLawyer*

            It’s not the letter writer’s job to inform ex-employee of anything. The LW wrote in because they wanted information for their own edification. The LW was just checking her gut. She was not going on a mission to right a wrong.

      2. Smithy*

        I don’t know if I’d engage with the let go employee – the employee could be a legit problem with concerns about anger issues. However, the fact that the company couldn’t/wouldn’t/ didn’t make that paper trail and then fire him with a security plan in place makes me concerned that the company may be engaged in sketchiness of their own. Perhaps just a level of incompetence where they don’t know how to respond to difficult situations or perhaps a sign of more intentional unsavory things afoot.

        This situation would severely hurt my trust where I worked – but not necessarily indicate the person let go wasn’t also a 100% scary problem to be avoided.

      3. Observer*

        I think that this is very bad advice. Even if it turns out that what the company did is illegal, this is NOT the OP’s fight. It’s pretty clear from the OP that there were some good reasons for the firing to happen. Unless they were being asked to engage in the illegal conduct (if that’s what happened), it’s not the OP’s place to police what appears to be a technical compliance issue rather than a genuinely unfair or discriminatory firing.

        I’m not saying that companies should avoid complying with the technical requirements of the law. Jut that the OP has no obligation here. And, given the real possibility that there could be significant fall out, and that the fired employee could cause problems for the OP, I just think it’s better for the OP to keep out of it.

        1. Tequila Mockingbird*

          Agreed. Hopefully OP1 does not read this and does not take this advice! Yeah, what the company did was sketchy and not the best way to handle a firing, but from our limited information it does not appear any laws were broken. OP1 has no legal standing to fight someone else’s employment battle, anyway.

          So no, OP1, please do not contact an attorney on your ex-coworker’s behalf, and do NOT engage a “troubled” individual who’s no longer with your company! Sheesh!

      4. Tequila Mockingbird*

        In the United States, most private employment is “at-will,” meaning that a company can fire anyone at any time and does not need to justify its reason for doing so, so long as that reason doesn’t violate the law. And while it is good practice to give warnings first, they are not required to. (And there’s nothing in OP1’s letter to indicate the company didn’t give warnings first.) So I see nothing illegal about his firing.

      5. Tequila Mockingbird*

        Also – your sentence “[if he] can show that someone was hired to replace him (proving that his position wasn’t eliminated), then he has a very solid case for being fired illegally” is not true. Not in the U.S., anyhow. Lying to an employee, while shady, is not illegal.

      6. PollyQ*

        In the US, it’s pretty much the other way around. You can’t fire someone for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason, but other than that, there are no rules at all. And being laid off vs. fired makes it easier to get unemployment benefits.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          At one job, I wasn’t a fit in terms of culture and expectations, and it had been 5 months of trying. They let me go, with severance. I got unemployment. Was it a layoff? Was it a firing? Frankly, I don’t care as long as I got severance and unemployment. I do know I was relieved as hell, because it wasn’t a good fit at all. OTOH, they didn’t pretend to lay off others – they were up front. (I still tell horror stories about that place.)

          The fact that they faked layoffs for other people is sketchy, but understandable (albeit cowardly) if the person was a angry, loose cannon. Maybe they didn’t have the budget for extra security. Still, if the person gets any inkling that he was lied to as well as fired, their precautions may come to naught.

          In general, it seems to me that everyone gets “fired” at one point in their career. Job – person mismatch happens. Ideally, the person makes their own exit, but some of us are stubborn and try to give it at least six months to a year.

    4. juliebulie*

      My last sane brain cell exploded when I read this. It’s like Dunder-Mifflin/Wernham-Hogg, but dumber.

      1. charo*

        AND if the unstable guy find out they did that, isn’t that a classic case where he might come back w/a gun? It seems like just the kind of grudge I picture these shooters having, feeling paranoid as well as victimized.

    5. bluephone*

      And if workplace violence post-firing was a valid concern on the employer’s part (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they had credible reason to think Something Might Happen), then honestly, they are just opening themselves up even further to the possibility of workplace violence. If they thought this guy would “snap” because he was laid off/fired, what do they think he’s going to do when (definitely when) he finds out that not only was he the *only* person laid off but that the company staged a whole farce to convince him otherwise????

      This company is going to get so sued for so many different things and they honestly kind of deserve it, just for being stupid.

      1. annakarina1*

        And that if this person was prone to workplace violence, the people who were “fired” next to him would be targets for his rage for being a part of it.

    6. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

      If they wanted to soften the blow of the firing, they could have just negotiated with the employee to serve as a reference and tell future employers that he got laid off due to restructuring. Not…what they did.

    7. Tequila Mockingbird*

      Allison is right when she said “Surely it wouldn’t be terribly hard for this guy to find out (accidentally or by deliberately checking) that the people he thought were let go alongside him are still working there.” Because this happened to me last year. I was “laid off” while on maternity leave (yep, totally illegal, but that’s a whole other story) and was falsely told that my project had ended and that my whole team was being laid off. Not true. It took me about 2 days to find out that four of the project members were told to stay on, and to keep it a secret so I wouldn’t find out.

    8. Artemesia*

      What are the odds that the guy doesn’t find out? And what are the odds that he doesn’t come back with an AR 15? This is insane firing behavior. You can ‘lay off’ one person if it makes them feel better than being fired. Or you can offer them the chance to resign but not contest unemployment. But faking a mass layoff is just asking for trouble.

      1. PollyQ*

        The odds are actually incredibly low that he’ll do anything violent. It’s true that the number of mass shootings in the US is horrifying, but thousands of people are fired from their jobs everyday, and almost none of them respond with actual gunfire.

        1. charo*

          BUT they’re firing him for being UNSTABLE! Not for bad work, for being unstable.

          So the odds are a lot higher for him to get violent than for a stable person to.

          His paranoia could be triggered by the fact that they WERE all plotting against him!

          Why do you think all these shooters DO shoot their coworkers? You think they’re healthy and just had some personal issues w/all the people they shoot?

          1. charo*

            Thousands of people get fired every day but:

            * not for “being unstable”

            * not in a faked scenario that he could find out about

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Plus, there are layoffs where company wide it’s 5%, and in that office it was just one person.

        One large, international company I worked for had “restructuring” every April. Sometimes whole teams got split up and reassigned, sometimes the entire team got laid off, sometimes they just trimmed the size of some teams by one or two without reassignment. I lasted four Aprils, then got cut when they were “trimming” the whole company by a small percentage. I got a good package, but it was at the height of the 2008/2009 “recession”. (I was out of work for 17 months.)

        I’ve never reacted badly to being let go. Disappointed, yeah. But I learned after my first layoff that companies are not loyal to their employees. One of my fellow employees was laid off two years away from retirement, after 20+ years with the company. To bad, so sad, the merger was more important, the other company called the shots.

        The fact that they went through the elaborate ruse doesn’t say good things about their integrity.

  7. Dan*


    AAM, in your book, is this any different than a snow day?

    Somewhat separate thought, but there’s a bit of a difference between a “normal” salaried worker, and one who works in private industry on government contracts. I bring this up, because OP uses the expression “bill to overhead”. On government contracts, the employer is only reimbursed for expenses incurred, so if people don’t work on a contract or take personal leave, the company doesn’t get paid… and employees of government contracts must submit time sheets indicating how they spent their time.

    Three days pay plus all of the other expenses incurred is a heck of a cost of doing business. TBH, I think your answer should have allowed for a bit more nuance. Your suggestion on what companies “should” do is an ideal that I think few will live up to.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s different from a snow day because people showed up to work.

      “Bill to overhead” is used in lots of contexts besides government contracting. It’s common in consulting, for example.

      And yes, three days pay is a steep cost of doing business — for employees as well, and they shouldn’t need to shoulder it via their vacation time when they were at their workplace ready to work. If the employer wanted to close for the day and have people use accrued PTO, they should have actually closed the office and sent people home. They kept them there (because it was to their advantage to have them on-site as soon as their systems went back up) and they shouldn’t penalize employees for the company’s choice to do that.

      It also wouldn’t be okay to say “the client was an hour late to the meeting so we want you to use PTO for the hour you sat there waiting.”

        1. OP 4*

          OP here. We were instructed to not come into work, but were also told the system would be back up at X time, which kept getting pushed back, so myself and other employees didn’t treat the lost time as a vacation day, we were basically on stand by waiting for the system to come back up. We also can work remotely, so the company was expecting people to work remotely when the system came back up even though we weren’t in the office.

        2. fposte*

          That’s not something that federal law would care about, because it doesn’t get into PTO. Exempt employees don’t have an “off the clock” concept, legally, and they pretty commonly are expected to monitor communications during vacations anyway. Where “on-call” matters is with non-exempt employees, but even there 1) on call isn’t something people have to be paid for unless it’s really restrictive and 2) if they’re getting paid by PTO rather than going completely unpaid, that’s going to be enough to satisfy the law.

      1. Dan*

        Did you edit OP’s original letter? Because from what’s printed, I don’t see any indication at all that the staff were “kept” on site, or otherwise *required* to report to the office, knowing there’s no where that can be done. If that were indeed the case, then I would agree with you that they should be paid for that time… or free to leave.

        But I don’t get that sense from the OP’s letter. This reads more like a snow day issue where the office is technically open, but so many people aren’t coming in such that normal business isn’t getting done. Another analogy would be a partial government shutdown, where contractors not working don’t get paid or back pay, but the office is still open because some contracts didn’t get stop work orders. (I certainly understand OP could work for a law firm or whatever, where the shutdown may not “apply”.)

        Would it be *nice* if OP’s employer paid everyone out of overhead? Of course.

        1. TechWorker*

          I would guess (as Alison says) that with this sort of thing it’s difficult to know how long the outage will last, so it’s in the companies benefit to keep people around just incase everything starts working again and they can pick up billable, potentially urgent work.

          (I’m on the side of ‘this is ludicrous’ – if they want to do this they should send people home immediately. LW says some people didn’t have access for a week (!) if you were at work, but mostly not able to do stuff, I would be incredibly pissed off if that meant losing a week of pto or working crazy hours to catch up.

          1. Just J.*

            Exactly! It’s not like you could be at home enjoying yourself, totally detached for work, or planning to get away for a few days, because as soon as the systems are back up, you would be expected to be back. You’re on borrowed time. That is not vacation.

            1. OP 4*

              OP here, yes this is how it felt from my side of things. We were told the system would be back up at X time, which kept getting pushed back. While we weren’t required to be in the office during this time, they did expect us to work remotely once the system was back up.

        2. Lora*

          So, if you are a contractor of any kind, here is how you handle this. I’m coming from an architecture & engineering contractor perspective but it doesn’t actually matter.

          In the early stages of negotiating the contract, when you are putting together the proposal and project estimate, there are Direct Costs and Indirect Costs, aka “soft costs”.

          Direct Costs are for actual materials and installation: for example, concrete, trucks, cinderblocks, bricks, sand, crane rentals, backhoe rentals, but also the civil engineer, master bricklayers, journeymen bricklayers, backhoe operator and the crane operator. Those are all Direct Costs. If you’re hiring a contractor to install new lighting, you pay for fixtures, wire, conduit, breaker boxes, LED lightbulbs, EHS check to ensure the new lights meet standards, and the electricians, and those are also Direct Costs.

          Indirect Costs are things like filing permits, drawing updates, insurance, construction managers, an admin to check that timesheets were filed properly, purchasing to negotiate the materials, coordinating bids from subcontractors, sticky notes, business insurance and Contingency. Indirect Costs are about 40% of any given project in my field. And for whatever reason, people just…forget they exist, even if they Monday morning Quarterback every single project they do.

          If there is no room in any given project budget for Contingency (which is usually about 10% of directs in construction and manufacturing) or Escalation (additional labor costs due to needing people to work overtime on a compressed schedule) then whoever is doing your project planning and bidding is not doing their job. Or else massively under-bidding to get the job, with the notion that they will make up the difference in change orders.

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            Sadly, some of us are not in a position to negotiate those things because we’re employees of the contracting company.

            1. Observer*

              Sure, which is all the more reason your boss shouldn’t penalize you for a system outage you didn’t cause.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Nope, I didn’t edit it. I assumed they were still on-site, not at the office. If they weren’t, I’m less outraged (although still think it’s crappy).

          1. OP 4*

            To clarify, other than admin and IT staff, we were told to not come into the office but to be ready to work from home once the system came back up. We were told the system should be back up by noon Monday, it was not back up until Tuesday morning (and even then not all project files were available; I know of one person who didn’t get access to her files until Friday).

            Also, it was frustrating that we were not told about the make up your time or use PTO policy until Wednesday afternoon; I would have wanted to know ASAP so I could start making up the time ASAP.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        “three days pay is a steep cost of doing business — for employees as well”


    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I work for a government subcontractor and bill to projects. There have been times where I haven’t been able to work – my laptop crashed, our network was down, etc. – and I bill to a general admin account. While 3 days of down time is a big loss to the company, it IS the cost of doing business and making your employees use PTO or work long hours to make up for it is a great way to show them that you care more about your bottom line than their value as an employee. The employees shouldn’t have to pay for something that was beyond their control. They showed up ready to work, and they weren’t able to work.

    3. Observer*

      It’s a steep cost of doing business, but it is STILL a cost of doing business!

      There are a LOT of costs of doing business that are quite steep. We still expect that the business owners AKA the people who pocket the profits to shoulder those costs. We don’t ask employees to surrender their pay (illegal), pay for the heating in the office, pay corporate taxes, etc.

      What makes it worse n this case, is that this is almost certainly a cost that could have been avoided. The vase majority of cyber attacks, especially the ones that have this level of fall out, are generally tied to poor security practices and lack of decent backups on the part of the victim.

  8. Massmatt*

    #4 this is what makes a salaried employee salaried. They are treating you as salaried no doubt when they need extra work with no overtime, or even additional pay, but they want to pretend you are hourly when their systems are down. Reprehensible.

    1. Dan*

      Depends on the line of work the OP is in. I work as a government contractor, and while I certainly can work more than 40 hours/week and not get any extra pay, working less than 40 hours either comes out of my vacation or is treated as unpaid leave. That is such as standard in my industry that I wouldn’t use the word “reprehensible” or otherwise think my employer is taking advantage of me.

      The really sucky part is during government shut downs, where feds get back pay but contractors don’t. There’s a very clear “no work = no pay” in this line of work, for better or worse.

      1. Roverandom*

        Is this legal because you’re an independent contractor and therefore not covered by FLSA?

        That still seems ethically wrong to me, that you can work more but get paid the same, but if you work less then you get docked.

        1. Liane*

          Not a lawyer or HR, but in the US, the Federal government is exempt from following many of the employment laws and this may be one of those cases

          1. Beatrice*


            And working for a Federal contractor is a different thing than being an independent contractor. Federal contract workers are normally W-2 employees of a company, but the company’s primary business is doing contract-based work for the Federal government. The Federal government exempts itself and many companies that serve it under contract from a lot of labor laws that employers in the private sector are subject to.

            My parents were career employees of Federal contract holders, and I can’t take workplace advice from them at all, because I work in the private sector and the rules are completely different (and they don’t understand that, and continue to give me well-intentioned advice anyway :)

        2. Lissa*

          Just to be clear – work as a government contractor does not necessarily equal independent contractor. I am a W2 full time employee of my company, not an independent contractor. My company is a government contractor. They provide expertise (me) to a government agency. During the last shutdown, we were allowed to work because our contract had funding. However, our agency didn’t assign us any work to do before the shutdown, so only some of us had work to do, the rest had to use PTO.

      2. Herding Butterflies*

        For those of us who are not government contractors, Massmatt nails it. It is typical. It is reprehensible and it is why Alison gets so many letters about toxic work places and bad bosses.

      3. Thankful for AAM*

        I work for a city government and am non-exempt, paid hourly. I must work 40 hours every week, all 40 must be accounted for. If they schedule me for 39 by mistake, I must use an hour of comp or holiday time so my weekly total is 40. If I punch out 30 minutes early one day by mistake, so the total for the week is 39.5 hours, I must use comp or holiday time to bring my total to 40 hours. I cannot be paid for fewer than 40 hours apparently.

        I dont know WHY it has to be exactly 40 and would love it is anyone knows. No one at work knows. There are no contracts or billable hours, just all the full time jobs in our city must come out to 40 hours a week.

        Is it a fear I am not pulling my weight if I am paid for 39 hours, is it an old accounting thing where they did not want the payroll staff to have to calculate each paycheck by hand, . . . ?

        1. doreen*

          It’s the payroll thing – most government entities do have some part-time employees who are paid for the exact number of hours they work which may differ from week-to week. But if your paycheck is always for 40 hours ( or 35 or 37.5) , then the payroll can be prepared without waiting for you to submit your timesheet/have your supervisor approve it , get any leave slips to the timekeeper , etc, etc, etc. TBH, way back when I worked in the private sector, I had the same thing- each paycheck had to be X number of hours of either work or leave- the only exceptions were the last paycheck or if I was out sick and didn’t have any time left. It would not surprise me if this was part of the reason so many employers do not allow unpaid leave for anything other than illness.

      4. Helena*

        If OP here is a U.S. government contractor, and if the company is requiring them to be on-site waiting (as some have speculated, but the OP didn’t state), then the feds would look askance at what the company is doing. As Dan says, working more than 40 hours a week doesn’t result in him getting paid more, but it does affect how his company bills the government for many types of contracts. Say Dan works a 50 hour week, with 40 hours of work supporting the government contract and 10 hours doing training for his company (which would be billed to company overhead). His company is only allowed to charge the government for 32 hours of his time, because that’s 4/5 of his week, and government billing is based on a 40 hour work-week. If the company decided not to tell the feds about the 10 hours of overhead training and charged the government for 40 hours of Dan’s time, the government would consider that billing fraud and come down hard. In OP’s situation, if the company didn’t direct her to do anything in particular in the time the computers are down, it’s legal (but crappy) to make her use PTO. If the company told her what to do while the computers are down (“come in to work and wait”), that would have to be billed to overhead.

  9. Massmatt*

    #3 I get that people may be asking questions that are in the posting, or that require more detailed answers than you can give when you are not the hiring manager. But you are posting jobs on social media, this comes with the territory. If you don’t want people asking you about jobs at your company, maybe don’t act as though you are a lead for jobs at your company.

    Job seekers are told to network and use social media to find jobs. Your employer is asking you to use social media to FILL jobs. Yes, there is likely to be work and hassle involved getting these two connected.

    1. Fikly*

      If people are asking questions that are clearly answered in the job posting itself, that says something about their reading comprehension skills, and most jobs do require basic reading comprehension skills. Personally, I’d use that as a screener.

      1. Hi there*

        I see a lot of people asking questions as a means to highlight their qualifications. (As described in the link in the answer.) I find myself trying to guess whether they are going to have a real question that it would be helpful if I answered or if this will just use a lot of time setting up and having the conversation.

      2. Close Bracket*

        Yeah, I say that about my interviewers when they ask me questions that are answered on my resume.

    2. merp*

      This is what I came here to say. Someone posting on personal social media is functionally inviting questions in order for people to apply. And these friends may be asking what seem like obvious/already answered questions because OP currently works there and they think OP will be able to add more context to that.

      That may not be true for OP, or it may not be something they’re interested in doing, but it’s common enough that I don’t think it’s totally wild that people are asking OP questions.

  10. Wintermute*

    #1– this is a data point, potentially a significant one, but I would put it into context with what you know about the company. Do they have problems making hard decisions in general? Do they avoid confrontations? Or are they usually straightforward? If they’re not usually pathologically confrontation-averse then I would take it as a fluke where they had some concerns and just really didn’t know how to handle the situation. But be on the lookout for other signs you’re going to have a bad time: being that avoidant often comes with serious issues driving accountability.

    #2– I’d use the usual AAM “legal problems” script, say you’re worried about the ramifications to the business. The FTC has been cracking down on rule breaking “influencers”, they just published the content of a consent decree yesterday, over misleading influencer behavior, if I recall.

    Further, this is getting into FDA territory and they
    FDA doesn’t play around, they’re at risk of huge fines and even marketing bans or product bans in extreme cases. Plus, unlike a lot of influencer-adjacent bad behavior, people actively look for this stuff. You can get away with shady reviews if no one complains, but some people (and I admit I am one) flag any illegal medical/supplement marketing they see because it can do real harm. There are whole organizations that patrol Instagram and Facebook looking for this stuff. If the potential bad publicity and ethics issues don’t stop your employer, bringing up the potential legal risks and costs may.

    1. WS*

      Re: letter #2 I strongly agree with this. In a highly regulated industry such as nutritional supplements, getting advertising to comply with the strict legal terms is extremely important. You need to bring this to the attention of the people running the business ASAP.

      1. Sylvan*

        FYI, nutritional supplements aren’t really regulated in the US. However, we do have some regulations concerning their marketing, such as whether their sellers can claim they cure or treat medical conditions.

        1. EPLawyer*

          having the marketing director post stuff on his “personal” account is definitely skirting these regulations. I don’t think the company can get away with “but it’s his personal account, he’s not speaking for the company there.”

          It would be one thing if if it was some random employee who talked about using the supplements themselves. But when the HEAD OF MARKETING has other people talking about the product, it has definitely shaded into advertising for the company.

    2. Lynca*

      The FTC has been working on cracking down on influencers for a while. I want to say there have been actual cases where employees were outed for masquerading as influencers that were unaffiliated with the company. It’s early though and I may be mis-remembering something.

      I’d definitely be more worried about the FDA though and the whole situation is a full on YIKES when it comes to that.

      1. Sylvan*

        Yes, that’s happened. Weirdly a lot of people with fake sponsorships were teenagers trying to look cool.

        I’d be concerned about crossing a legal line in marketing, but I’d also be concerned about this guy’s marketing strategy revolving around his personality doing nothing good for the company.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah – for one thing, it seems like nobody knows or cares who this guy is. For another, personality-based marketing can go bad easily and end up a real liability if the “personality” in question says anything damaging or engages in any bad behavior — that can tarnish the whole company’s image.

      2. Wintermute*

        That may be the case I was talking about, along with faked reviews, for a makeup company.

        They got slapped on the wrist, the FTC declined to impose a fine, however, it was done as a warning. Basically saying “we know it was bandit country and it felt like everyone was doing it. but playtime. is. over.”

    3. Mainely Professional*

      I wasn’t aware of the influencers thing, but INDEED, FTC rules dictate that I identify myself as an employee of the company I work for every time I post about one of our products. Usually it’s easy because I’m saying “here’s what I just finished working on [for work, at my job, which is listed in my profile], go check it out!”

      I wasn’t even thinking about FDA issues, I was assuming the FTC would be all over this, though. Depending on whether the employee cares about their company or cares about getting rid of the asshat marketing guy, they could take this to the CEO or take it to the FTC.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I wonder if someone could get around this by contracting out to several companies…..

        1. Wintermute*

          Not really, marketing misdeeds by an agent is not a defense in most cases, what would happen is the company would be fined, and they’d need to sue their agents, who would have to sue their subcontractors. The final responsibility lies with the ones getting the benefit

  11. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    #1: I don’t think the risk of workplace violence makes this a reasonable thing to do. The fired employee can easily find out that the other “laid off” people are still working there – he wouldn’t even have to look for the information, he could for example see those people coming to their workplace or find it out talking to mutual friends. If I felt I’ve been unfairly fired I would be very angry, but if I found out I’ve been fired in a fake layoff coverup thing, I would be much angrier. So I think this kind of thing might even increase the risk of workplace violence. And yes, this could be a high security workplace where outsiders and ex-employees can’t just show up (even though we don’t know that and it could just as well be a shop or restaurant open for everyone!) but there’s no 100% certain security system. I would be more worried after a fake layoff than a regular firing.

    #4: I don’t think it’s fair to be required to use your vacation days for technical problems. You have showed up and been willing to work but unable to. Even if there literally was nothing else to do when the system is down (like if you are some kind of project employee that only does one thing) if you are there waiting for the system to start working again, it’s not a vacation day for you. Maybe the employer could give the option to either be available and wait at work or take a vacation day and not be available, but I don’t think it’s fair to combine those. It would also probably be illegal in a bunch of countries.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Regarding #4: if I recall correctly, the US Department of Labor calls this being “engaged to wait” and it is considered paid work time.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Yes they have to be paid for it, but the company can still dock PTO for it. The company is not saying they won’t pay employees. They are giving people two options:

        1) Get paid for the time that they were at home waiting for the system to come back up, and make up the billable time (30/3hrs) over the next two weeks.

        2) Or get paid but use PTO so that the employees will not have to bill time to any client.

        In a billable business, billing hours are the life blood of the company. Partners, associates, and staff that can bill to clients pay for the non-billable support staff. Without the billable hours others can’t get paid.

    2. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

      The fake-layoff thing accomplishes exactly what de Becker says you should never do when firing a potentially violent employee: take away his dignity. They could have just fired him, but instead they made him look foolish in front of his coworkers *and* involved the coworkers, who must be laughing at him behind his back, they all must have known, everyone was ganging up on him, etc etc etc.

    3. Emily K*

      #1 is such a bad idea, starting with the fact that they’ve relied on the ability of 3 people who are not trained actors to act convincingly.

      1. Anonny*

        Of course, if you’re already headed down a path both unethical and monumentally stupid, what’s stopping you from only telling the not-fired employees that they’re not actually being laid off until after you’ve done the little charade?

  12. Rabbit*

    #2 Is there a compliance or legal team you can talk to? Presumably there is someone whose role is to make sure that your normal ads and social media meet the regulations and they will be better placed to push back.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      This — I am a lawyer for corporations and I would expect this to be brought to our attention. It doesn’t have to be a tattle, it can simply be “Hey, we know that Fergus is using his Instagram account to promote our products and is using our company name to cross promote to his Instagram account so just making sure that the necessary steps to ensure that his Instagram account complies with advertising rules have been taken.” Be matter of fact — of COURSE everyone understands that his account has to comply with the rules, this is just checking that box

      1. Dagny*

        Agree with this completely. Just flag it for compliance, counsel, whomever at the company interacts with outside counsel if you do not have a legal team.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I have to wonder what’s going on inside a company like this. I have a friend who gets alerts if their company is mentioned in a pubic forum. Lots of stuff ping for Facebook posts and such.

        So if someone is on their IG claiming things…it’d ping on their alerts and if it were indeed a legal risk that they could mitigate [aka it’s someone directly working at their entity!!!] it would be put in the dumpster where it belongs.

        He’s not actually legal but in an offshoot of their internal organization structure to you know…watch what is being said about them. [He actually is in a highly regulated business, not herbal supplement stuffs]

      1. pancakes*

        It isn’t. The proliferation of laxative and other teas marketed as “flat tummy tea,” supplements marketed as preventing UTIs, etc. is not something that happens in a heavily regulated industry. I’ll link to a good recent article about this in a separate comment.

      2. Manders*

        Yep, you can get into HUGE trouble as a company for making certain types of medical claims about dietary supplements. A lot of people (especially Instagram influencers, like this guy wants to be) do break the law because they don’t understand it or don’t care.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Agreed! If Merck wants to sell a real drug, they have to spend years of effort and lots of money to prove it’s safe and effective. If some huckster wants to sell magic homeopathic herbal pills that make you lose weight, enlarge your manhood, etc, you can pretty much do whatever you want!

    2. juliebulie*

      As I understand it, there are very strict standards for claims that are made on the product labeling, but other types of advertising and “informational reading” are held to a very different and much lower standard.

      1. Manders*

        If he’s an employee of the company, he’s still going to be held to a certain set of standards as far as what he can make health claims about. Influencers/sponcon/affiliate marketers have some different regulations about what they’re supposed to disclose, but they break those laws so frequently that a lot of people have the impression they’re completely unregulated.

        The problem is that he’s trying to behave like an influencer, but he’s not, he’s an employee of the company and I don’t think the FDA or the FTC would consider “Well, it’s my personal Instagram account” as an excuse if they do decide to go after him.

      2. Anonymous For This*

        I work in marketing, often for providers of supplements and alternative medicine things. I’m certainly held to different standards than the creators of a package design would be, but they’re not too lax. I never say anything that isn’t factual.

        However, these standards evolve continuously and people’s adherence to them varies. It doesn’t help that some people just ignore the rules until they get in hot water – which can mean that a customer was harmed.

        I really wish everything medicine-adjacent or trying to present itself as such were held to the same standards as medicine, by the way, but that isn’t the case. :(

        1. TechWorker*

          You may ‘never say anything that’s not factual’ but that’s definitely not true in general for this sort of advertising… diet supplements are the worst afaict.

  13. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    #2 The fake claims about the company’s products can backfire in a spectacular way, remember Gwenyth Paltrow’s “vagina egg”? Also, the government agency responsible for consumer goods and safety will take a hard look at the false claims. Explaining to the owner how easily this could go South and cost the company money and their reputation may be the angle to discuss your unease.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      That was my take… make it very much about the company’s liability here and not about Marketing Guy, per se.

    2. Blarg*

      Paltrow and GOOP are still doing quite well. I think that whole story became a “no such thing as bad publicity” situation. It helped increase her brand recognition and position them as absurdities for people with too much money on their hands. But for those people, and the people who want to be (perceived as) those people, the ability to buy the products made it more of a statement of wealth.

      1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        I’m not sure about the “no such thing as bad publicity” angle because when I see her name now the only thing that comes to mind is the vagina eggs and not her acting career. But I’m not her target audience for the eggs.

    3. pancakes*

      It would’ve been nice if those jade eggs had spectacularly backfired on the company, but they didn’t—Goop paid a $145,000 civil settlement in connection with some of the claims it was making on its site, didn’t have to admit to any liability, modified the language a bit, and continued selling them. The company still has lots of customers and still gets a lot of flattering press.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yep, the only way this hurts companies are when they’re cash-poor and can’t afford the fines that they may be slapped with. Something with this much popularity, just a slap on the wrist.

  14. Matzoh Ball*

    #1 – If this method was chosen to avoid workplace violence, how did they get the fake firees to play along? I would never have consented to that if the risk was conveyed and I would have been livid had it not been disclosed.

    1. Rebecca*

      That thought came to me – certainly the fake firees knew what was going on ahead of time. And if they didn’t, oof, wow, I’d certainly be looking for a new job, knowing that my employer potentially put me in harm’s way, used me as a prop in a play so to speak, and was just generally crappy in how they handle things!

      1. rudster*

        They probably figured that the biggest risk would be later, should the fired employee leave and come back disgruntled and possibly armed. In the moment and presumably taken by surprise as well as outnumbered, there probably wasn’t much he or she could have done. Still a dumb idea, though. Maybe they didn’t tell the other ‘fired’ employees ahead of time at all but only clued them in later (Psych!!). Horrible as well. But, yeah, I can’t imagine anyone willingly taking part in this charade.

    2. JSPA*

      “problem employee” covers a lot of ground, from “lovely person who’s impossible as an employee” to “I would not be surprised to see them as the gunman in the next mass shooting.”

      I might play along with something like a fake layoff, having faced a situation where the person did, shortly afterwards, kill others and himself. There turned out to be very little legal recourse to remove the person safely, as well as limited practical ability to “harden” the work campus. (Also, zero ability to actually get help for the person. Must point out, “suffering from mental problems” and “warning signs of being destructively violent” are two different things. Our mental health intervention systems and processes are not really a “system” at all. Beyond that, we lack any effective intervention for situations where mental problems and signs of emergent violent ideation co-occur, until the point of “clear and present danger”–at which point, it’s too often, too late. This varies by state, of course; I say that as someone who’s been the signing party on a hold for “clear and present danger” in my state. I was that person because I was most tangential to the situation, and the people closer to it didn’t want their names on the commitment slip, for fear of later backlash, during some future episode. Plausible deniability is a huge thing.)

      This also would apply to someone with substance abuse who’s spiraling out of control (that is, the person as well as the abuse is out of control), but who isn’t yet willing to get help.

      As for whether it works; yes, I suspect it often does. People who do (mostly) get themselves in to work (eventually) by sheer force of habit, may be well past the point where they are likely to follow up on the situation, once they’re fired. If I thought that was the case, I’d probably take that chance. (Especially if, say, they’d been talking about how they’d move back to their aunt’s place in Tulsa, except for this stupid job, or how they’d never want to hear or see any of our stupid faces again.)

      Staging a layoff, handing them a wad of cash, and hoping they quietly go back to someplace where they have family who have somewhat more standing to intervene, has got to be one of the option you’d consider. The fact that the co-workers went along with it suggests that the situation was indeed untenable in some way. I’d coach them to say they had begged / cited their seniority / been re-hired when the supply came through, if ever found and cornered by the fired guy.

      “Least bad option” is a real thing, in the real world. And this can be a least bad option.

    3. Some Windex for my Glass Ceiling please*

      Oh, my. This brings back memories.

      Many years ago (like 1990), when I got my first lab job, they had previously hired another lab tech, Jay, whom, I quickly discovered, everyone hated. He was obnoxious, lazy, inept, sexist and thought the world revolved around him. He created more work for the lab than he actually completed. He used to brag about how he’d worked at 5 or 6 other companies over the past 2 years. He even named them. Clearly not a thing to brag about -back then. But he didn’t see it that way. I won’t get into all of his awfulness but suffice it to say that no one wanted to be around him.

      Well, one of the supervisors, who had connections at a few of these other companies, got in touch with these connections. He learned that Jay had been fired from most of these jobs that he’d bragged about. They remembered him well and not in a good way. A couple of his contacts even laughed that we’d actually hired Jay.

      No one had bothered to check Jay’s references.

      One guy he spoke with said they’d faked an entire layoff just to get rid of Jay. They went around and told several workers that they were being laid off -budgetary issues. Made a big deal out of unexpectedly losing financing. Only, they told everyone- but Jay -to come back the following Monday. Apparently, Jay was very understanding about the whole thing. Folks were happy to cooperate as they wanted Jay gone in the worst way.

      In our case, the CEO would not let us fire Jay. CEO felt ‘there is a place for everyone’ here. We tried to move Jay to another department. No one would take him. So, we suffered for 10 months. Then the CEO was fired. And then Jay was fired. Jay was given formal notification that he was fired (insubordination). Only, he thought it was another layoff- lack of funds (this was a start-up). He would call and call, asking to speak to his former supervisor to request that he be a reference for him.

      1. Observer*

        I’m not sure which is worse – never fire anyone or faking the layoff. While I do get that there can be situations where it’s the best they can do, it doesn’t seem to be the case here.

  15. Daisy*

    5: I’m not sure I understand the last line of the answer: ‘(That said, if you haven’t sent a post-interview follow-up note yet, now is the time for a really good one.’ That seems like what the OP was asking about and you were saying not to do in the rest of the letter? It’s weeks after the interview and the company has already been back in touch with an answer. It seems too late to me for a post-interview follow-up.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I assumed she has already sent an interview thank-you note since it’s been a while, but if she hasn’t, it would be fine to do that now. (But to have an impact, it needs to be really good, not perfunctory.)

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

    Wait, Gwyneth Paltrow is not an actress anymore? When did she switch careers?

    1. Sylvan*

      She still acts. She sells quack medicine products such as vag rocks, and self-help advice with her brand Goop. She has conferences, a podcast, very dedicated followers, etc.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        How. Dare. You.

        She also sells very basic and very expensive silk pajamas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. Clisby*

      Yes, she’s still an actress, but she’s been doing her wellness/food/lifestyle schtick for a good while now.

    3. Cruciatus*

      And I recommend watching Stephen Colbert’s multiple parody videos of Goop with his “brand”, Covetton House (he even does a few with Gwyneth, so she’s completely aware of her reputation with Goop).

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        and I highly recommend subscribing to Dr. Jen Gunter, who is an OB/GYN, and she has some very factual, not nice things to say about Gwyneth Paltrow. I absolutely love her blog.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I second this. I follow Dr. Gunter on Twitter, just for the pithy, no-holds-barred commentary on idiocy like GOOP. (Please, don’t stuff rocks into your lower orifices.)

  17. TimeTravlR*

    Re Letter #2: In my experience, I don’t know if it will help to speak to the owner about marketing guy, even though he is potentially putting them in a precarious legal position.
    My story: I once worked in an industry that sometimes had very sensitive client information. One time in particular we were trying to keep the lid on the identity of the client. They though they had locked things down, but it was actually very easy to search the system for keywords and find the client’s information. These are keywords that you might (in limited circumstances) use to search for other files, not just these. I took my concerns to the partner in charge of this case and he dismissed me and said that won’t happen. Well, somebody alerted the press (not me)! It could have come from other sources but it also could have come from us. If it were me, I’d rather be certain that we were not the source than always wonder.
    Morale of the story: the company needs to go to great lengths to protects itself. In your case, no personal instagram, and maybe talk to a lawyer about some of the other shenanigans. That “contest” sounds really sketchy.

  18. Falling Diphthong*

    #3 With the exception of one or two great potential candidates, usually they ask me to tell them about job requirements that are in the posting.

    I think applicants heard “show engagement by asking questions” but didn’t realize they should be deep-level thoughtful questions, that couldn’t readily be answered by other means the askee knew they had at their disposal. And as with any other gimmick, “ask basic questions to which you should already have the answers” will mark the less qualified applicants. Probably be enough to move an on-the-line application off the line.

  19. Newington*

    I have a similar-ish story to #1, at least the “lied to about being fired” part. I worked a temp job in a financial sector company for a few weeks, sent along with about a dozen other temps from the same agency. I was good at it but I yelled at a coworker for saying homophobic crud (I’m not here to defend that or complain about what happened next.) The next day I got a phonecall from the agency saying I wasn’t going back because the work had run out and none of the temps were need any more. I asked if I could go back and get my tea mug and spare jacket that I’d left in my locker. The agency checked with the client and called me back saying I could pick them up from security (which in itself seemed a bit weird.) When I did so, I bumped into the other temps leaving for lunch, apparently all still needed after all.

    That was unfair, and probably illegal if I hadn’t been a temp. But #1’s story is just disgusting. I know people have to keep their jobs and all but I’m having a hard time understanding how the co-workers could have gone through with it, let alone the manager.

    1. fposte*

      It wouldn’t have been federally illegal even if you’d have been an employee. I believe some states require employers to give a reason for termination on request, but by no means all.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I wonder if this was the temp agency being cowards in telling you why you were let go. I have had this kind of thing happen when in group-temp projects, not personally but with other temps. They would cut people loose because of very specific reasons [one person called in too much, one person talked too much] but I get the feeling that the agency just said “your portion of the project is over with.”

      When I was cut loose by a place, they told me directly that it was because they were bringing in a family member as a staff member because it was cheaper than the temp bills [lol okay]. When I got the call from the temp agency, they made it sound like they had no knowledge of the reason, just that the project had come to an end and therefore were ready to place in somewhere else. I never got a “reason” except for the project had ended and therefore we would be moving on to the next.

  20. Allison*

    #3, I know they encourage job postings, but unless it’s mandatory or you’re eligible for a referral bonus if a total stranger gets hired due to your posting, I’d probably stop posting them, it’s not worth the stress of having people ask you questions just because a) they don’t wanna read the description or b) they’re trying to build a connection with someone they think can usher them into the secret express channel to employment where they don’t ever need to formally apply or submit a resume.

    If you do want to keep posting them, I suggest:

    1) making it very clear you’re only making the job visible to your network, but you have no say in who is actually selected for the interview process.

    2) either answering questions by referencing the job description, or saying “if you’re interested in the job, I would apply and save that question for the interview.” Unless they’re asking so they can clarify if the hiring process is worth the trouble, then you could offer to find the information yourself, or say “you know, I don’t actually work that closely with the hiring manager, so I’m really not the best person to ask. it’s a great company though, so I’d say it’s worth applying.”

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Could OP simply link to the job postings on a different site so the questions can be funneled through there?

  21. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 if your company “laid off” angry man because they were fearful of his reaction, you better hope he doesn’t find out the truth, because if he does, his anger will most likely be worse than if he’d been fired. What your company did was cruel, and would make me want to find a new job.

    1. Newington*

      I’m pretty sure that at least in the UK, it’s illegal to call a firing a layoff/redundancy. If they hire someone else to do the same job within a year or so (I’m not sure of the length of time), it’s proof you weren’t redundant.

      1. Allison*

        Maybe, but that could also be due to poor staff cut/employment choices and a fluctuating market. My position was just eliminated due to market conditions, but it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if they ended up bringing on a contractor to do similar work by next summer.

        1. Newington*

          Sorry about your job. I believe that under this law they’d be required to offer the position back to you if it became viable again, but that might be wishful thinking.

          1. Allison*

            I’m not in the UK, and I have no idea if the states have a similar law but I’m guessing we don’t.

        2. MatKnifeNinja*

          My friend worked for an auto company that had massive lay offs. Within about 8 months, they were hiring temps and people who took buy outs.

          Why? Salaries are lower and no benefits. The department wasn’t union, so it sucked to be them.

        1. pancakes*

          The idea that it’s kind to lie about firing someone isn’t self-evident, and isn’t ethically sound simply by way of not being legally prohibited.

          1. SimplyTheBest*

            I don’t think JSPA means lying is the kindness, just calling a firing a layoff. In the US, when a firing is not so much “you’ve done something horrible and we need to show you the door today” but more “you are really struggling and this is maybe not the right fit for you,” people often negotiate the terms of the termination, like whether it will be recorded as a layoff or firing, or what the employer will say during reference checks.

          2. Veronica*

            I think JSPA meant offering the person who was laid off a chance to return to the job is a kindness.

      2. TechWorker*

        I don’t think this is true (both from ‘it sounds unlikely’ and from the couple of articles I found on google).

        If you rehire someone else immediately you would have more difficulty defending the original redundancy if the person was made redundant claims for unfair dismissal – but if, say, you make someone redundant for economic reasons and 2 weeks later company fortunes improve, you have no responsibility to offer the job back to the person made redundant. (You can, but the law doesn’t say you have to)

  22. Amethystmoon*

    #4 The company I work for needs to update the IT infrastructure badly. Our systems go down at least partially once a month, if not more than once a month, and sometimes for several hours. When this happens, no one who is working on that part of the system can get their work done. However, they don’t force us to use our PTO. I think the managers are aware that the issue is an IT one and the company needs to invest more into it. We are a large corporation too, so you’d think that wouldn’t be an issue, but it is.

    1. JustaTech*

      My company got ransomware’d (twice!) and there were some systems that took more than a month to bring back online. (The important stuff went back up first, but a lot of the stuff I needed for my work was in the “not essential business function” pile.)

      For the most part we just did other stuff and grumbled.

    2. Becky*

      I’ve sat around for almost an hour while the power was out, sat around for about the same time when the internet/intranet has been out (there’s SOME stuff I can do without internet or intranet access but not a whole ton), specific tools go down somewhat randomly but at least once a month, and stood around outside in the snow and finally retreated to my car for about 2 hours when there was some mysterious smoke coming from a part of the building and it took a while for the fire department to figure out what caused it (that one was a bit of a mess-some departments were told to go home, some were told to go on lunch early, some were told to stick around-which included my department which then eventually turned into a team lunch at Chipotle). It never crossed my mind to even ask if I wouldn’t be paid for that time. We got paid regular salary for that time. (I’m salaried non-exempt.)

  23. MMB*

    LW 3 is it possible for you to post the link/ad along with a request that people not contact you directly for Reasons and then simply delete any messages from people who contact you anyway?

  24. Blarg*

    #1: your company was concerned about his mental health. Any chance that’s also they fired him? THAT would be illegal without going through the interactive process. And the bizarre actions would be gold to the EEOC or an attorney. Just imagine the press release: “Company fakes layoffs to illegally discharge disabled employee.”

    1. JSPA*

      You’re allowed to fire someone for their actions, even if you suspect there could a mental health aspect to their actions. You’re not allowed to fire them “for” having mental health issues.

      Examples: someone discloses that they’re entering or seeking treatment for X medical problem (mental, addiction, whatever else). If you fire them, that’s discrimination.

      Someone shows up increasingly late each day, does minimal work, falls asleep at their desk, cusses out the boss, ass-grabs the secretary and craps in the potted plant. You fire them for performance issues and harassment (and and and). That’s not discrimination, regardless of whether they’re potentially doing it in the context of a diagnosable issue. In fact, if they’re not bringing up a medical issue, you’re on shaky legal ground trying to force them to acknowledge one.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think that’s common sense, but that’s not the point. It’s the optics. If he was the only black employee for example, and the company did this, even if they had a completely valid reason for firing him, if they didn’t tell him their very valid reasons, he may jump to the conclusion that he was fired because of his race. Then he can hire an attorney to sue for wrongful termination, and the headline is Company Fakes Layoffs to Fire Sole Black Employee.

        1. JSPA*

          Which is a darn fine reason to not do this habitually, or when the valid grounds for a firing are weak.

          Look, admittedly, the specific examples I brought up (some of them based on past AAM posts, for entertainment value) are unlikely to be true in the specific. It would be great if Alison had asked, “what does ‘troubled’ mean, in this context?” and gotten an answer. My answer would be very different if the details were, “there are some emotional, logistical and practical issues with their gender transition” or “they’re irritable and even unreliable while quitting smoking and vaping” or even, “long term employee has started acting in ways that are out-of-character” or “I don’t know if they are troubled, or if we’re culturally troubled around them.” But there’s really no hint of any such thing in the question, which is formulated more as, “is this ever an OK thing to do, even for Reasons?”.

          Basically, what are the chances that OP would fail to mention if the person was the sole employee belonging to some frequently-discriminated-against class? Or a member of such a class, at all?

          1. Jennifer*

            I just used that as an example since you suggested they may have a disability, which would put them in a protected class. But you are correct that “mental health issues” or “troubled” mean different things to different people. Sometimes when people just don’t fit into the culture they are labeled as “weird” unfairly. I wonder if this guy actually had a diagnosis or if this is just based on rumors.

      2. Blarg*

        Sure. But the description was just that the employee was “troubled.” Not that they were groping people or using the fern as a toilet. Is “troubled” wears a lot of black and seems moody? Or neuroatypical and “weird?” Or does the employee make people feel unsafe? There’s a pretty wide range of possibilities and the egregiousness of the employer doesn’t fill me with confidence that they’ve appropriately assessed and addressed the situation.

        The conduct of the employer is so beyond the pale, and not standard practice for the employer based on OP’s surprise, that a claim of discrimination for even a perceived disability isn’t a hard stretch. One can discriminate against a person based on an incorrect belief that they are part of a protected class, for example an assumption of national origin or disability status.

        And setting up a sham lay-off to cover discriminatory conduct would be potentially effective. The employee doesn’t think “they fired me because of disability,” rather “they laid off the four most recent hires.” They preempted the claim by falsifying the data. It doesn’t pass the smell test.

    2. juliebulie*

      If they were concerned about his mental health, then gaslighting him was absolutely the wrong approach.

    3. Yorick*

      They weren’t necessarily concerned about his mental health. Maybe he’s an annoying complainer and they just didn’t want to deal with him?

  25. Mophie*

    For LW 3, is it possible if multiple people are asking questions that are in the announcement (especially qualified ones) that the announcement isn’t clear? I might make sure it’s conveying what you want. I’ve seen many jobs postings where I read the responsibilities and still have no idea what I’d actually be doing if I got the job. It is not uncommon.

  26. Jennifer*

    #1 I’m starting to think The Office was a real documentary. Fake firings? I get the concern about this guy’s mental state but there are other things they could have done to soften the blow, like offering a decent severance package, outplacement help, etc. If they were concerned about workplace violence, if I worked there I’d feel LESS safe. If this guy finds out what really happened, he’ll have even more reason to be angry.

    1. pancakes*

      Yes, and it would give him a larger group of people to be angry at: Not just the higher-ups involved in the decision to fire him but the coworkers who went along with the ruse as well.

      1. Jennifer*

        Which is more than just the coworkers that participated but really EVERYONE in the company that knew. I’d be job hunting.

    2. juliebulie*

      Is it even required that they do the honors on company property? They could take him somewhere else (“for coffee” or whatever) and lower the boom there. Then there’s no need to worry about violence in the moment.

      If they were worried about violence in the long term, then again, lying to him was the WRONG approach because he will find out.

  27. Malty*

    I usually understand why people ask is this a thing now, but this situation seems so weirdly specific LW2! Employee who is close friend of owner of highly regulated product brand seeing himself as a celebrity and using the company to gain more social media followers through shady means? Not a thing. Rest easy

    1. pancakes*

      I’m not following as to why you think a specific scenario would somehow be less likely to happen than one that generally happens frequently. I don’t follow, either, why simply denying that something someone is experiencing is a thing would give them a reason to stop noticing it happening.

      1. Malty*

        @pancakes Ah I think my comment came across weirdly – I read this as, ‘is this a thing’ as in, ‘a guy has been ignoring my texts, is this a thing?’ ‘Yes, it’s called ghosting and it’s very much A Thing that happens’, so I just meant no I don’t think this is a phenomenon that is happening elsewhere. It sounds like you read it as, ‘is this a thing’ as in do I, LW, need to do something about it. I didn’t mean to say that I don’t think the LWs scenario is really happening or that they should ignore it

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I didn’t take the “is this a thing” to refer to all the very specific things but more the general “someone who works there framing themselves as a celebrity-ish because they work there” plus or minus “mixing business with personal as though that absolves one from the business rules ‘because it’s personal’ “.

    3. JustaTech*

      1) Highly regulated by the FTC, not the FDA (different fine and legal ramifications).
      2) The FTC has been making more noise about taking down both influencers who don’t disclose that they are advertising and also companies making unsupported and spurious health claims about products.

      Makers of dietary supplements can make “structure and function” claims (“supports bone health” or “supports a healthy immune system”) but they can’t make specific disease claims (“Magic Pills cure cancer!” “Magic bleach cures autism!” (yes, that’s a real thing, sadly)).

      So LW2’s company is at real risk of getting fined by the FTC for the behavior of the marking manager, both because he’s mixing his personal and work Instagram and because he’s making unsubstantiated claims.

  28. Allypopx*

    I’m confused how #1’s company is going to follow through with this ruse. Is HR going to lie if a reference calls to confirm he was part of a mass layoff? Are the other 3 employees under some kind of gag order?

    This guy is definitely going to find out one way or another and be pissed, humiliated, and an assortment of other things that I promise won’t positively impact his mental health. What a shitty, middle school like thing to do.

    1. You can't fire me; I don't work in this van*

      I was wondering if they can get in trouble with the state unemployment office.

      1. LQ*

        I suppose technically sort of… But who will bring it to the unemployment office? It’s not like the former employee is going to try to appeal his own eligibility for benefits. If the company is going to say it was a layoff and not object or appeal…then he just collects and goes along his merry way.

        1. emmelemm*

          Right, that’s what I’m confused about. They told employee he was laid off. In that circumstance, he should be able to collect unemployment. So he goes to unemployment office, says “Give me money please”, they circle back to the company and company says, “No, we fired him.” Then he has reason to raise holy heck!

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Someone correct me if I am wrong, but in most cases when an employee is fired for being a crappy/terrible employee they are still eligible for unemployment. It all varies on a state by state basis. But usually not qualifying for unemployment requires the employee to quit or to be fired for very egregious cause such as embezzlement, or attacking employees.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It varies by state, but typically you can be denied if you were fired for less egregious acts than those. But it’s usually if it was about deliberate conduct — like absenteeism or always being late or open insubordination, not just low quality work.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Could an employer argue low quality work is deliberate? Say someone who has a great track record of completing perfect TPS reports for the last 3 years, but then one day the employee starts submitting TPS reports filled with errors, to the point where they are not usable by the company. The employee knows how to fill out the TPS reports correctly, but for some reason they have started doing them wrong, or would that still count as just low quality work?

    2. Jennifer*

      I wonder if he’s connected to any of the other 3 employees on social media. If any of them make any vague reference to their work, it’s all over. Or if the company is well-known in the area and these employees are included in some local news coverage. So many ways this can go wrong.

  29. Okay*

    Statements like “you’re paid for the job, not for the time” and “you need to make up for lost time” are in direct conflict. If you are paid for the job and can get the job done in less time, there is nothing to make up for.

  30. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    OP #4, your company should see if their insurance covers “business interruption” costs from the period of the cyber attack (basically, insurance would pay out an equivalent amount of the lost revenue or cover the salaries or something like that, depending on the policy). Most people think of business insurance as covering things like ‘there was a fire and my store got lots of water damage’ but nowadays it can cover things like ‘we got hit by ransomware and had to pay the ransom in bitcoin’.

    1. OP 4*

      Yes I would be surprised if their insurance doesn’t cover this, which makes it even more frustrating that they are asking us to make up the time or use PTO.

      1. Observer*

        There is actually a good chance that it is NOT covered. A lot depends on why this happened and the exact coverarage your company actually had.

        They still should ot be doing this, though.

  31. Quill*

    OP #1: Holy fork. This is ridiculous.
    OP#2: Time for another digital ethics seminar! He’s going to be the only attendee.

    1. JustaTech*

      The marketing manager should be glad he’s not in an *actually* highly regulated industry.
      Then you have to have training on what you may and may not give your clients as a gift (no pens!) and how long they can put you in jail for lying about how you make your product (a long time!). And that’s before something goes wrong and a member of the public is hurt.
      I’m just glad I’ll never have to do any work contracting with the government. That’s a whole new minefield of things you can’t do.

  32. hexagon*

    #3 – if you just don’t have the energy to answer even the most compelling candidate questions, you could indicate that in the social media postings – “We appreciate inquisitive and engaged applicants, but I am not the hiring manager, so please don’t message me personally about this position. Everything I know is described at this posting, and I don’t have the capacity to answer further questions.” People should get the message that it would be a bad move to message you if you’ve set that boundary, and if anyone *does* breach that boundary, you obviously have no obligation to reply.

  33. Gazebo Slayer*

    “craps in the potted plant”

    Insert “I understood that reference” gif here.

    (Any AAM readers who haven’t read the “ask the readers” on bizarre interviewer and interviewee behavior: do so.)

  34. Entry Level Marcus*

    I read #1 differently than others; I don’t think they were worried about violence. Instead, I think it’s more likely management was concerned that the fired employee would become extremely depressed or even suicidal if the employee knew they had been fired.

    Still completely ridiculous though (perhaps even more so under this interpretation), and counter productive if that employee ever finds out what really happened.

    1. Sleepy*

      Yeah, this is how I read it too, and still find it ridiculous. I think even if someone has anxiety or depression, they deserve the chance to reflect honestly on what kind of behaviors may have led to them being let go. That may be an overly optimistic view of firing, but I actually think it can lead to a lot of personal growth if the person really reflects on what they could have done differently, and I wouldn’t assume that people with mental health issues are not capable of this kind of reflection.

      My husband was fired many years ago from his first professional job. It was a terrible experience and set him back in his career path–he had to take several steps down the ladder to get hired somewhere else–but he ultimately became a much better employee for it.

  35. EvilQueenRegina*

    #1, just wondering, do the company plan to hire a replacement for this employee? If they advertise that role, there’s every chance the employee might see the advert and realise that actually that job hasn’t been eliminated – how would they handle that one if he challenged them over it?

    (I’m not in the US – how much of a case would he have if he tried that?)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s not in itself illegal here — but it could lead to what I described in the post, where he assumes the real reason for firing him was something shady and goes looking for it with a lawyer.

  36. 867-5309*

    OP2, I lead social media for a large retailer and the CEO would text us late at night (after 22:00) to share photos of themselves with celebrities. “Our followers will love it.” She expected us to answer and post these images immediately.

    It’s worth noting that she was not the founder… just the latest in a string of CEOs.

    Super obnoxious. Just wanted to commiserate.

    1. Close Bracket*

      You know, the funny part about that is that it takes just as much effort to post pics to social media as it does to text them to your underlings.

      1. 867-5309*

        What’s worse is that she would message my boss, who would then call and text me incessantly until I woke up to post it.

    1. 867-5309*

      I had the same thought. It’s a significant issue how hands-off the FDA is regarding them.

      The claims are regulated by the FTC, as all marketing claims are, but that is an entirely different thing and based on advertising – not ingredients.

      1. Manders*

        Yep, that was how I read it. OP’s worried about the regulations on advertising because those are the regulations the marketing manager isn’t following on his Instagram.

        1. surprisedcanuk*

          Still a misleading statement. In theory you can say everything is highly regulated. It is just for marking aspect that is regulated.

  37. 867-5309*

    OP1, your letter reminded me of an episode of The Office when Michael Scott told everyone he was going to fake fire Stanley.

  38. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My mind is blown by a “staged layoff”.
    First of all, never “lay off” people in a group, that’s insane and gross in and of itself. You pull each person in and give them the respect of having a private conversation.

    So they could have pulled Dude into a meeting about “We’re making some cutbacks and we have to let some people go, sadly your position is among the layoffs.” and then go from there…instead of having a group of actors involved. This is so much more than WTF it’s over the top.

    1. rayray*

      I agree. I would have had alarms going off if I got pulled into a group layoff meeting. Even if all those people were being laid off, that would be awful to do it all in one group. It’s amazing how little backbone so many people in management seem to have. I get it’s probably difficult to fire people, but don’t take the management job if you’re not wiling to do the difficult things.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s lazy and devoid of humanity. It’s like right up there with public humiliation tactics.

        It reminds me of the places that if you’re fired…they just disable your FOB so you can’t get into the building and when you call to say “Key isn’t working, is something wrong with the system?” they go “Nah you just don’t work here no more, dude.”

      2. fhqwhgads*

        I agree in general but I think in this case they probably thought it made more sense because the reasoning they were giving was essentially “the reason we have to do it applies equally to there four people and would not apply to anyone else”. Now, they could’ve chosen other reasoning for the fake layoff and kept it normal and one-person-at-a-time where dude wouldn’t have known that actually he was the only one, but I think whatever overthinking that led to the lies in general probably also made it seem like doing it in the group somehow made the lie more believable?

  39. Clementine*

    Idle curiosity here, but what happens if you refused to participate in a layoff charade? I assume that a company could terminate you for that, since practically everything else is allowed. In that case, the charade would no longer be a charade, I suppose.

  40. LeslieNopeNopeNope*

    I actually had a situation similar to #1 at the last company I worked for. It was a tiny startup, and we had an employee that was becoming increasingly unstable due to what we thought was mental illness but later found out was drug use. The owner had completely checked out and was looking to sell the company anyway, so he largely ignored it. By the time the problem employee’s behavior escalated from erratic but harmless (and possibly protected), into admittedly self-inflicted and fireable, we were all terrified of him. He was angry and paranoid, and had made multiple violent threats against people who he felt had wronged him. We were never on the receiving end of the threats, but only because we walked on eggshells around him. He had also told us that his roommate (legally) owned guns. In the end, my manager ended up telling him that we were all being laid off because the company was out of money and being sold. We all had to pretend that we were only staying on for another week or two to tie up the remaining loose ends. It wasn’t a complete lie because the company ended up being sold, but we still stayed on for another 8 months. I felt bad lying, but it seemed like the only way to safely get him out of there.

  41. Close Bracket*

    I’d bet that few or none of the people who ask questions that are answered in the posting turn out to be strong candidates later.

    Heh. If I had a dollar for every interviewer who asked me something that was answered in my resume (yes, I judge them just as harshly as you are judging the people who ask questions about job postings).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah…I don’t get the contempt really! I assume that a person is looking at a ton of job postings and it’s nice when they at least check up on the company prior to coming in for an interview, I’m not expecting them to really have the job posting down. Also people “don’t see” so much information because tons of us read by skimming.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not contempt. But contacting someone to ask a question about a job that’s answered in the job posting they linked to isn’t impressive and you don’t see it in strong candidates. It’s different than not remembering every detail while you’re sitting in an interview.

  42. PlainJane*

    OP2: Sigh. If your guy is spreading mis-info that definitely needs to be addressed, but it sounds like you’re annoyed by the attitude even more and… I don’t know how much you can do about it.

    I met a social media influencer once. He was just a guy I followed for some reaction vids, and he was doing a swing around the country. I enjoyed his blog, so I thought it might be fun to meet up with him and some other readers. He wanted to pose like he was an actual celebrity and was shocked that I just wanted to talk about the shows he was reacting to–“Most people think meeting me is kind of a big deal!” And the other folks seemed to be on his side. I’ve been online since the 90s. I can’t imagine mistaking this kind of thing for actual importance. But it’s pretty common, and I’m sure he genuinely believes that following him on IG and having a chance to meet him *are* rewards.

  43. PlainJane*

    On #1: Does Allison have advice for what SHOULD be done if an employee seems likely to turn dangerous?

  44. Some name, idk*

    Ooh, I have a line I use with #3! If I’m posting on a platform that allows for comments (I’m generally posting in some job-search related Facebook groups), I usually include something like “I’m unable to respond to direct messages about job openings due to volume of applicants, but I can answer a few questions in the comments!” In my experience, that allows people to ask any questions that should be publicly addressed, in case something was left out of the job description, but doesn’t open the floodgates of private messages.

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