updates: the fake references, the excessive Photoshopping, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. I paid for fake references (#1 at the link)

First off, I did what I did because although I have been working in the same industry for a few years I felt that I didn’t make any great connections to use as references. I also felt uncomfortable asking current co-workers/managers to be references. I think a large part of the decision I made was based in general social anxiety/fear of rejection.

After getting in touch with one legitimate reference the employer did offer me a job before I had a chance to withdraw but I did turn them down. After that experience I did reach out to a previous manager, a former professor, and my manager at the time and asked them to be references and they all agreed. I was able to secure a new position a couple of months later.

2. My boss excessively Photoshops herself on our company’s social media

I don’t know what or how it happened but someone who doesn’t work here did tell someone higher up. Elizabeth got fired. So did a higher-up who was friends with her. Apparently he knew about the complaints and didn’t alert anyone else. The owner is furious.

No one knows I knew anything since I didn’t handle the social media and I plan to keep it that way because of how furious the owner and other higher-ups are. A separate, qualified social media person/marketing person was brought on and the firm’s social media has been revamped and apologies issued by the firm so the problem is solved.

To answer some questions commenters asked: Elizabeth was Manager of Client Relations and I was her only report. She wasn’t the only one from the firm who went to events and she wasn’t the main or only one appearing on our social media. Other men and women from the firm appeared on it in equal measure and it’s not like Elizabeth was close to being in every single photo. We do have long time clients but our contracts are single purpose and not ongoing. It’s like if a couple hires an event planner for their wedding. After they wedding they may never hire the event planner again or they hire them again for a birthday or a party. This industry is the same. A few not giving us new business wouldn’t have raised alarms especially since none were long term clients.

I knew why clients left and what Elizabeth had said to them since they complained to Clients Relations, where I work. All the clients that did complain were not happy about other people at their events getting distorted in the photos and Elizabeth blatantly lying saying the photos weren’t altered.

3. My director plays with my hair (#2 at the link)

About a week after I emailed you, the director suddenly left on developmental training. (Unfortunately, before he left he leaned in and put a hand just above my knee while we waited for the other participants in a management meeting. I scooted back in my chair and pointedly moved my knees over to the side, away from him. He didn’t react.)

We were all expecting him to come back. However, while he was gone I talked to a few women on other teams. Some of them told me that he’d actually been much more inappropriate with them than he was with me and one of them had reported him for how he behaved toward her.

He recently left the organization permanently for a new role. I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible that the developmental training, which I can confirm that he did actually attend, was a means of allowing him to leave quietly and with his reputation intact.

I hate the thought that he might have been protected in that way, but I’m relieved that he’s gone regardless of the circumstances around his departure. I like his temporary replacement and we’ll soon find out who will replace him permanently.

Thank you for responding to my letter! I wish I’d been more willing and able to speak up when I was uncomfortable, and I’m grateful to the person who did report him, whether or not that’s why he left.

4. I have bedbugs, and my boss says I need to tell HR

Well, the short version is that I experienced exactly zero reprisal from my supervisor, who basically seemed to forget about it all after a few days. I gave an update here in August, and absolutely nothing has changed since then, for either good or bad. I still have bedbugs (I know), but I was finally able to find a new apartment, so I am moving in February. Thank god. It was hard to read everyone’s helpful advice at the time, since it was mostly either more sympathetic to my employer than to me and I was truly suffering, or it was advice re: bedbugs that I was already more than familiar with. But I understand why the employer’s legal duty to protect is important. I am appreciative of the time that everyone took to comment with suggestions, and I am especially thankful for those who expressed their sympathy. My mental health was in a pretty terrible place for the last six months, but now that I’m moving, I am doing a bit better.

Unrelated to bedbugs but in work-related news: I recently got up the courage to ask for a raise (I’m paid in like the 10th percentile for my education and job title), and after a meeting with my supervisor and boss, it appears I may have some big things in terms of job scope and compensation to look forward to in the New Year. Reading AAM was really helpful in preparing me for that meeting, so thanks for that as well!

Update to the update:

I got a promotion and a 12% raise. My new job is extremely challenging, but I’m enjoying it so much more!

{ 158 comments… read them below }

  1. KS*

    I’m the one who wrote in to Alison about my boss photoshopping herself. Shortly after I sent in my update, the owner somehow figured or found out I knew about the complaints and what Elizabeth was doing and I was also fired for not telling anyone. On the upside I have had 3 job interviews in last week and a half and I have a phone interview tomorrow. I wouldn’t have gotten them without the help of this site and I’m hoping to get an offer soon. Happy New Year to Alison and all who read here!

    1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*


      That’s some dysfunctional crap right there. If you were her manager, yes. Her subordinate? No way.

      I’m sorry you went through this. I am glad you are out of there.

      1. Lance*

        Yeah, that seems over the top of them. I could see talking about it in a ‘make sure this doesn’t happen again’ sense, but being the sole employee under that manager, I can also very much see you not feeling like you had a whole lot of options.

        1. pope suburban*

          Not just the sole employee under that manager, but a recent graduate with no prior professional experience, and no industry clout. What in the hell was she supposed to do?! That’s far, far too much pressure to put on a newly-minted employee- especially when Elizabeth’s own supervisors were apparently never checking in with her or looking at her work! Ultimately it’s for the good that our poster got out of there, even if the whole situation is completely ridiculous and unreasonable. I hope one of those new interviews turns out to be for a job that’s a great fit in a sane office. That’s be some kind of karmic repayment for putting up with this tomfoolery.

          1. valentine*

            They could also have avoided this and informed themselves by having complaints about the department go literally anywhere else.

    2. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      What! That sounds like an excessive reaction to me. You were there for what, 4-5 months? I get that the owner was upset about this, and rightfully so, but firing you seems like a step too far IMO. I’m glad you’re in the process of moving on KS. Best of luck to you.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Agreed. I wonder if the owner thought you were doing the editing or posting. Good luck in your job search, KS.

        1. Ginger*

          OP, I’m sorry. Best of luck with your upcoming interviews!

          Did you tell them you knew nothing about the edits?

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Ef that place and it’s tyrannical ownership. It was someone in leadership who was acting a fool but not doing anything that was so reprehensible that support staff should have been expected to speak up. What a bunch of clowns. Pay more attention to your company and this crap wouldn’t happen, jeez.

      I hope you land something soon. In the end, seriously, that place was more ef’ed up than just some bad photoshopping shenanigans.

    4. OrigCassandra*

      They fired you for being disinclined to rat out YOUR BOSS on something the owner should have been paying some attention to anyway?

      Glad you’re out. That is ridiculous.

      1. EPLawyer*

        THIS. Maybe the Boss should pay attention to what is happening in his company instead of blame underlings for his failures to properly supervise.

        You are lucky to be out of there. The place is full of loons.

        1. Antilles*

          The cynic in me guesses that his first attempt to shift his own failures to Elizabeth and the other higher-up failed, so he’s now looking for some more scapegoats to keep people from wondering why he never bothered to check up on his own company’s social media page.

          1. LunaLena*

            That was my first thought too. And if that’s the case, OP is well rid of them. If this was an offense worthy of throwing someone under the bus, then it won’t be long before they’re grabbing another person to throw under the next one.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        They fired you for being disinclined to rat out YOUR BOSS* on something the owner should have been paying some attention to anyway?
        *who was being protected by her boss or someone at least that high up!

        1. Observer*

          That’s the REAL kicker here.

          It’s not THAT unreasonable to expect someone to report their boss, although not a firing offense in most cases. But when you have reason to believe that it won’t go well, that’s really unfair. And when the boss is being protected by someone near to the top, it’s ridiculous.

          1. Emily K*

            Yep, and unlike reporting something like theft, harassment, or discrimination – where actual laws define what constitutes the transgression and legally protect you from retaliation – reporting “my manager has poor judgment and it appears to be having a small but negative effect on our business” is a semi-subjective assessment and you have no legal shield from being retaliated against.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          I don’t get how they could think OP had some kind of control/ability to report her manager.

          I mean realistically for all OP knew what was happening was SOP and she would have had no way of knowing anything was wrong.

          If her boss said it was ok, then OP would be expected to accept that right?

          I mean sure I know, OP knew, but as far as tptb are concerned how much authority do they think she had?

      3. Observer*

        The boss is being ridiculous. But please lets not use terms like “rat out” for this context. There is no “ratting” involved here. And in a reasonably functional company, it would have been reasonable to expect the OP to REPORT it, no “ratting” involved. But, as others said, not reporting should have lead to a stern talking to, not a firing.

        1. Maria Lopez*

          I don’t like the term “ratting out” either, because it means not telling about someone else doing something illegal/not acceptable, NOT lying about someone. By not being a “rat” it means you are complicit in their behavior. Not in the OP’s case, but in general.
          You should never burn bridges unless you are retiring or won the Powerball for $100 million, but it would have been nice to calmly ask, for future reference, what you should have done, being a recent grad in your first job with no authority or experience. And I mean that with sincerity, because I think what you did was the correct thing to do, since you had no knowledge or experience with office dynamics.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Wow. Sounds like they did you a favor honestly. Talk about a dysfunctional workplace!

      Good luck with your job search.

    6. Ferret*

      I’m so sorry you lost you job and I wish you the best of luck, but I am also just stuck on how bizarre this behaviour was

    7. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Wow, that’s really unfair. I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve that at all. Wishing you the best of luck with your job interviews and I hope the new year brings you so much joy!

    8. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Okay, now I’m upset at your company. I really wonder what they thought you should have done – who you should have reported this to as you were the only person and your immediate boss would probably have been able to figure it out.

      It also answers questions about why Boss was doing what she was – she probably learned those behaviors from the top.

      Best on all your interviews and a new and better job in the new year.

    9. fposte*

      How very bizarre. It’s not like you were covering up financial malfeasance–you had a weird boss doing a weird thing. Good luck with the new job that you will be landing soon.

      1. rayray*

        Right, it was just social media. I get they have a reputation to be concerned about, but they weren’t even on social media till recently.

        Another point, sounds like the LW is probably young and new to the work force. I think sometimes, especially with more trivial matters like this one, you need to cut them some slack. But, hey, while it probably is rather unfortunate to be jobless at the moment, here’s hoping they will find a better organization to work for.

    10. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Wut. I’m so sorry, OP. Like others said, if you were her equal or supervisor, sure, you should have told them, but as a subordinate they should totally understand that you might have been too scared to do so. Best of luck with your job search. I’m so angry on your behalf.

    11. hbc*

      I’m so sorry. There was no clear right answer on this one, and it’s a terrible owner who doesn’t see the nuance behind this and instead just clears the deck. Good luck with everything!

    12. Amber Rose*

      I can’t even with this update.

      I’m glad you seem to be having a positive attitude and some good opportunities but your old workplace was so ridiculous my head hurts.

    13. Diahann Carroll*

      Woooooow. KS, that is awful – you had nothing to do with that and should not have been fired for your boss’s error and vanity. I hope you find something else soon. Good luck with your job interviews!

    14. Lilo*

      The complaints must have been really bad. I guess I can kind of rationalize it, it’ll they were bad enough there were concerns about damage to the company.

    15. Phony Genius*

      I get that there are circumstances at certain jobs where some types of misconduct must be reported, no matter your title, even if it’s your own boss that’s doing it. (Such as in the financial sector.) I’m not sure that this job rises to that level.

      I just hope that they didn’t find out by seeing that somebody wrote in here with the story, and assumed. After all, it could have been somebody else with a similar story.

      1. Marthooh*

        “Failure to report Photoshop shenanigans in a timely fashion is grounds for immediate dismissal!” —Photoshopped into employee handbook.

    16. BRR*

      WTF I’m so sorry this happened. The owner is an idiot for not recognizing that you were in a difficult position. Good luck in your job search and I hope you land at a function workplace.

    17. Dame Judi Brunch*

      OP, I’m sorry that happened to you and it’s truly unfair. Fingers crossed that you land a new job soon!
      Silver lining is you’re away from that dysfunction!

      1. Marthooh*

        I’m also really curious, but don’t actually do this — it would be horribly unprofessional. You don’t need anyone saying “No wonder KS got fired!”

    18. Observer*


      That’s really unfair – and clearly the owner is someone who likes to assign blame. Which makes your original concern all the more legitimate, because if he had NOT agreed that Elizabeth was wrong, he would have probably penalized you.

      I hope you find a better job at a better company.

        1. Triumphant Fox*

          They may have started combing through the fired boss’ email and found complaints the OP was copied on.

    19. stebuu*

      I wonder if it was the AAM articles that helped the boss figure it out. It’s a pretty uncommon set of circumstances.

      1. KayEss*

        If the boss was so internet-oblivious as to not be monitoring the company’s social media presence, I doubt they’d be monitoring AAM.

    20. Close Bracket*

      Wow, I’m sorry to hear that! In contrast to other people’s reactions, I’m not at all surprised. You knew about an ethical breach and didn’t report it. Granted, it was a minor ethical breach, so maybe firing was a disproportionate response, but facing repercussions for not reporting is to be expected. Alison’s original advice, to find a trusted person and tell them under the guise of asking for advice, was good and appropriate for your standing as a new person. Next time you see a breach like this, do find a way to tell someone.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah, KS was stuck between Sylla and Charbodis and there really wasn’t a great answer as to what to do. In the end, even though it feels crappy right now I think it’s best long term that KS is out.

        (Part of the really hard place here seems to be that from my reading the person in charge of handling complaints was also a supervisor that seemed to be protecting Photoshopping Boss.)

    21. Alternate Opinion*

      I’m sorry you were fired. I’ve been there. It sucks. It especially sucks so soon in your career. I’m glad you seem to be doing well in recovering.

      There’s a fine line between letting your boss do what your boss will and speaking up to save the company bottom line. When you work in a department like Client Relations/Marketing/Communications/Sales/something forward facing, anything that might be damaging to the company is (generally) intrinsically your problem. Yes, it is personally hilarious that your now former boss terribly photoshopped herself. From a business perspective, it is very much Not Funny, particularly since so many people apparently publicly and privately commented on it in a niche field. Once that gets out, it’s hard to turn that ship around.

      I can personally understand why this sucks for you, but from a business standpoint, it’s a problem. You were not in charge of the social media, but you were aware of what was happening regardless, either through conversations with clients or just your own personal jaunt through the company pages.

      Like Alison mentioned in her original response to you, a very casual “hey, I don’t know what to do about this information, but here’s what I’m seeing on this thing that Should Not Be” conversation can go a long way, particularly since you’re newer in your career. I have personally had some of these conversations for things that are very loosely in my purview, just to avoid any potential blowback. It’s a matter of CYA.

      1. Observer*

        All good and fine. But the OP knew that her boss reacted very poorly to her first attempt to bring it up. She had good reason to fear that people higher up would not listen to her, which is why she wrote to AAM for advice. All things considered, what should have happened is a conversation in which the boss makes it clear that this was NOT ok; the boss clarifies with the OP on how to report problems; and creates some sort of process or channel to report issues that bypasses their direct boss. NOT firing the person with the least power here.

        Keep in mind that the OP was actually correct in thinking that they would be unable to to change things – Elizabeth the Photoshpper WAS being protected by someone higher up. What do you think would have happened to the OP if she had reported it? Keep in mind that she probably would not have had the access to the owner. Instead it would have been relayed back to EtS, who would have probably fired her, and if not would just have made her life miserable.

        1. Close Bracket*

          And Alison gave good advice! She recommended finding a person who OP had a good rapport with and mentioning the problem as a form of asking for advice. As Alison noted, asking for advice is an easier conversation than reporting someone. Would it have changed anything Elizabeth was doing? Unlikely. However, OP would not have gotten fired for knowing about it and not telling anyone.

          1. selena81*

            It honestly sounds like they just wanted a scapegoat for their own inaction and socialmedia-illitaracy, in order to brag to clients about all the people they fired in relation to this screw-up (‘we removed that crazy lady and all her co-conspirators who shielded her behavior from us’)

            In that case there isn’t really anything OP could have done to cover her ass.

    22. Quill*

      That’s some deep bullshit right there, like… it’s not like you were covering for her! You would have had to do a massive end run around her to tell anyone!

    23. selena81*

      i hope you soon find a place with a more healthy office culture

      this ridiculous overreaction makes me think that maybe your manager was doing the photoshopping because she was being bullied about her appearance (expected to look perfect in all outside communications)

  2. MissGirl*

    I am so so sorry, especially since the general consensus was not to say anything. Good luck in your interviews. I think it’s important to remember you did try but was shut down by your boss.

  3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    OP2, I’m so glad you wrote in because I had sooo many questions (and your update answered all of them) when I was reading your question. I’m glad everything worked out in the end for you.

    I still wonder a bit why Boss was doing what she was, and why the other person was covering for her by sitting on complaints. Hopefully all continues to work itself out in the new year.

  4. your favorite person*

    I’m sorry folks weren’t more sympathetic in the original comments! Bedbugs are truly a nightmare. Nice work on the raise!

  5. Jaybeetee*

    LW3: I didn’t comment on your original “letter” (I didn’t consistently listen to the podcasts), but I do want to chime in now that I’m so glad you’re moving soon and will be able to put all this behind you! An ex-bf of mine from years ago got bedbugs in his building, and it just caused so much hassle and problems – particularly since the owners kept trying half-assed solutions that wouldn’t actually get rid of them. I reacted severely to the bites, combined with the risk of bringing them back to my place, I couldn’t sleep over there anymore – but I lived with roommates, so him coming over was (understandably) controversial as well (we took precautions, and my apartment never got bugs – but in hindsight, we should have been even more careful than we were, and I understand my roommates being bothered by the whole thing, but also not wanting to literally ban me from seeing him for months on end). Bedbugs aren’t anyone’s “fault”, but they’re so awful to have, and awful and expensive to get rid of, that people who have them are basically treated like they have leprosy. In the end, the building super, who also lived there and was presumably dealing with the bugs, went rogue and signed off on a more aggressive extermination than the owners had allowed thus far – not the $10 000 heat treatment, but some mid-level option that was strong enough that my ex, his mom, and their pets had to vacate for the day, they had to throw out a bunch of stuff, but it seemed to finally do the trick.

    When you move, get rid of as much stuff as you possibly can, and wash *all* textiles in the hottest wash cycle you can do – yes, you probably already know all this. Your mental health will skyrocket when you no longer have to worry about this all the time. I’m glad there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

      1. fposte*

        Drying is what matters, in fact. Cycle the dry stuff through the dryer–at least 30 minutes (I’ve gone with an hour)–and it’ll kill more reliably and be easier on the clothes.

    1. Sam.*

      Ugh, they’re seriously the worst. I had a bed bug incident earlier this year, and even though it ended up being pretty much best case scenario, it was SO stressful. Honestly, the whole thing is STILL stressful, even though I was given the all clear by the exterminators several months ago. But the stress is less all-consuming, and I’ll probably move when my lease is up, just for the additional peace of mind. My deepest sympathies, OP. Things will get better! (and for the record, I did tell my boss because I needed some schedule flexibility in order to let in exterminators, etc., but I also wanted to give her the chance to tell me to switch to remote work, which I wouldn’t have liked but would’ve understood.)

      1. in a fog*

        I had bedbugs nearly *six years ago*, and in an entirely different metropolitan area than where I live now, but every time I see a bug bite on my skin or a tiny insect that even slightly resembles a bed bug, I start bagging up clothes I recently had on and/or bed linens and throw them in the washing machine on sanitize setting. If that makes me crazy, then I’m crazy — but I am *not* dealing with that situation again.

    2. Budbug OP*

      Thanks for all the advice and good thoughts! I actually moved back in February, and we put everything in a heated truck that got up to like 160C for 24 hours to kill any stragglers. We also washed everything we were taking with us at an industrial laundromat. We did have one minor scare, and had to pay for an exterminator (goodbye, $600) but that was back in February and we’ve had no problems since (knock on wood). We did get rid of nearly 75% of everything we owned.

      It was ultimately a fairly traumatic experience, honestly- I had nightmares and panic attacks for months even after we moved- but happily it all seems to have been resolved by now.

      1. Bedbug OP*

        Also, just realized I called myself “Budbug” so that’s… great. It was bedbugs, not budbugs, lol.

      2. Le Sigh*

        I feel like one of the biggest impacts of bedbugs is the mental health toll it takes. I’m so glad to hear things are looking up for you.

      3. your favorite person*

        So happy to hear it has resolved itself. I hope you are able to take good care of yourself after all that!

      4. Warm Weighty Wrists*

        I can imagine, OP! In your shoes I absolutely would have had nightmares and panic attacks as well. I’m so glad it’s all resolved now, and you’re in a better situation overall. Onward and upward!

      5. LunaLena*

        Oh gosh, so glad you moved. Moving can do so much to bring you peace of mind after having bedbugs. My husband and I had bedbugs once and never ever want them again.

        If you or your boyfriend travel a lot and are worried that you might accidentally acquire some hitchhikers (we’re pretty sure that’s how we got our infestation in the first place – my husband used to travel a lot for his job), our exterminator recommended leaving your suitcases outside the house for at least 24 hours before bringing them inside. The dryer will kill anything in your clothes, but the little bastards may be lurking in your bags as well.

        1. LunaLena*

          Also, consider investing in some bedbug-proof mattress and pillow covers. They’re plastic zippered covers that are designed to keep bedbugs out, so at least your mattress will be safe. Our exterminator recommended one that was about $300 on Amazon; it’s pricey, but very worth it for the peace of mind.

    3. Quill*

      My dad picked up chiggers while on a hike during a work trip once. He thought from the bites that they were bedbugs and I unceremoniously fled to live at a friend’s house for a few days. Fortunately, prior to an exterminator being called to throw out his entire luggage, a chigger was caught and identified! (For those wondering: bedbugs are insects and have six legs, chiggers are arachnids and have eight: the extra legs make a world of difference!)

  6. Batgirl*

    OP3, I’m glad you don’t have to put up with Creepy McHandsy any more. I think your instincts in feeling you needed to get a non-stunned response ready were clearly in good working order. I’ve been in the same boat where someone was working in plain sight as Shrodinger’s creep. It’s genuinely impossible to be sure of whats going on.

  7. Phony Genius*

    On #3, it sounds like this director really needed some sort of “developmental training” (to say the least), and probably did not receive it. Which means he will probably repeat this behavior at his next job.

    1. 2 Cents*

      Which just makes me sick. How many more women/people will he get handsy with before someone in management stops him? (Not implying the OP could/should’ve done anything. More of a rant against companies that shuffle off this type of problem employee to an unsuspecting new place.)

      1. Observer*

        I’m busy listening to the Catch and Kill podcast, and I’m in middle of the 4th episode (the Assistants). This is exactly part of the pattern.

        It’s infuriating to listen to, because it’s not just one man – he’s just a template of what happens.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I want to listen to this, but haven’t because I’m not sure I can handle it. How have you felt listening to it?

          1. Observer*

            Infuriated and occasionally a touch nauseous. It’s one of the few places where trigger warnings are really important.

      2. Zahra*

        That’s when the Whisper Network becomes useful.

        OP3, if you can contact, however indirectly, one of the women that’ll be working with him to warn them, it might be appreciated. At the very least, when they hear about similar incidents in their team, they’ll know that it’s nothing new.

    2. Ama*

      My thought was not that it was a way for him to gracefully exit but a way to get him out of the office until they could finish the investigation.

      1. Ama*

        I should add, that, if that is the case, they should have announced once the investigation was concluded that he was being fired for misconduct. If he “negotiated” leaving quietly, the employer is still part of the problem.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          Many employers seem to have a strong aversion to admitting that people were fired let alone attributing a cause to the firing. Personally I think the damage of not providing cautionary tales and learning opportunities on what is taken seriously does more organizational damage than what few wrongful termination suits may be raised.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            I think a lot of employers, especially in more “visible” fields like education, nonprofits, media/entertainment, and tech, are afraid of bad publicity if they fire creeps – they are afraid customers or donors will be spooked or even organize boycotts, so they try to cover up problems rather than deal with them.

            Firing creeps should destroy the *creep’s* reputation, not that of their company/organization or the project or department where they worked. Getting rid of the creep should be a plus, not a minus, in addition to obviously being the right thing to do. But unfortunately some higher-ups just don’t get that.

        2. Observer*

          Perhaps they were worried about getting sued. But I hope he was marked ineligible for re-hire and that they will tell reference checkers that – and why he was fired. Even if weasel it a bit to give them coverage, it would help.

          If any employer has a brain something like “He was credibly accused of inappropriate touching. Although he denies all these accusations we found enough corroborating evidence that we were not comfortable keeping him employed.” should be a bright neon sign surrounded by strobe lights and accompanied by a klaxon.

  8. Ginger*

    The update to #3 makes me want to scream, “Whyyyyy?!”.

    Why does he get to leave with his “reputation” intact? Why does he precious feelings take any priority? He should leave with a swift kick and his tail between his legs.


    Off my soap box now.

    1. lilsheba*

      I agree. He should not be given the privilege he was. Let him face disgrace like anyone else that does that kind of thing.

      1. Martina*

        5 hours later and this comment hasn’t been removed.

        My whole opinion of Alison and this place has changed. I am sad because I didn’t think this was acceptable here.

        Obviously I was wrong. I will no longer visit Ask a Manager

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You’re outraged that I spent a whole five hours away from this site?

          If you need a site that moderates every comment, then yes, you should stop coming here. It says clearly in the commenting rules that I don’t read or see every comment. From the commenting rules:

          I do not read and approve every single comment. The volume is far too high. So if you see a comment that seems problematic, please don’t do this: “I can’t believe this comment is allowed! Why has Alison approved this?!” Instead, assume I haven’t seen it and feel free to flag it and I’ll take a look (if you include a link in your comment, it’ll go to moderation so I’ll see it).

          What’s more, I’m currently on vacation, my first real time off in over two years. So yes, I’m absolutely not going to meet your moderation needs and it would be better for you to read somewhere else.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      Seriously. I hope some industry blog or trade publication exposes this guy to everyone in his field as slime. Torch this f*cker’s career.

  9. ramen*

    LW #4, I’m glad you’re moving and I’m sorry people weren’t more sympathetic in the original comments. When I went through my own bedbug experience this time last year, I found that generally the most understanding came from people who had bedbugs before.

    Wishing you all the best in your new home. I’m still anxiously checking my new place (moved six months ago), so if you find yourself doing that too, you’re not alone.

    1. Budbug OP*

      Thanks! I actually moved back in Feb. (see my reply further up the post), but I really appreciate it. The new place is pest-free thus far :)

  10. Mellow*


    “…he leaned in and put a hand just above my knee while we waited for the other participants in a management meeting. I scooted back in my chair and pointedly moved my knees over to the side, away from him. He didn’t react.”

    Not that your reaction was wrong, but I would LOUDLY have asked, “Why did you just put your hand on my knee?” Then I’d have waited for his lame excuse and LOUDLY said, “I’ll be filing a formal complaint.”

    I’m sorry that happened to you. Why the fluck would any company or anyone want to protect the reputation of a predator? Don’t the apologists have daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, etc.?

    1. JayJay*

      Everyone thinks they know how they would react in these situations, but until you’ve been there you don’t know. I’m literally an employment discrimination attorney and what some have called a “femi-n@zi”, and I have frozen up in a similar situation.

      1. ellex42*

        Agreed. I’m generally a very assertive person who actively dislikes being touched by friends, much less strangers. And yet, when a guy sat next to me on public transportation, asked for directions, and started stroking my arm, I froze up. If it had gone any farther, I would certainly have done something, but at the time it was completely unexpected, I was in “helpful mode”, and my mind went blank. By the time I started thinking, we arrived at his stop and he got off the bus.

        As opposed to the time I grabbed a different Mr. Handsy-on-the-bus and broke three of his fingers – he kept stroking my hair from the seat behind mine even after I told him to stop, so I had already moved into “HULK SMASH” mode.

      2. Zahra*

        There’s actually some research on that. I can’t find one article I read recently, but it went along those lines: “Participants accurately predicted their reactions to a threat in most cases, but sexual harassment scenarios, in particular, went the other way. Participants predicted a fight response but most froze.”

      3. Fikly*


        Comments like the one above tread dangerously close to victim blaming. They’re not a direct accusation, but the person who didn’t react the way someone says they would is often left wondering why they didn’t do that, and whether they should have, and if what happened as a result is their fault.

      4. ...*

        So important to say. We all think “I would do this” but when it actually happens we want to protect our safety when we’re threatened and we don’t always react perfectly, which is our right!

      5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This, so much this. I also thought I’d be the one to make a scene, instead I just froze while my brain skidded and slipped like it was driving on ice.

        I think the freezing when we think we would know how we would react is something like shock that it’s happening to us. It so important to not blame a victim for their reaction – because as much as the collective thinks we know how a person should react, doesn’t mean that’s how it will actually work out.

      6. Observer*

        Someone mentioned it in a comment a few days ago, but I would second the recommendation for listening to the Hidden Brain podcast episode on this topic. It’s VERY enlightening.

        1. Observer*

          I don’t KNOW. But I can tell you that I have yet to meet someone who has “been there” who sounds like you. Even people who did have the presence of mind to respond in the moment as you claim you would.

          Besides, if you’d been in that position why would you be talking about what you “would have done” instead of “what you actually did”? I’d be willing to bet that it’s for the same reason that you are asking why someone thinks you’ve never been through it, rather than stating that you’ve in fact had the experience.

    2. BadWolf*

      Unless he had done it a couple times already, I’m sure my response would have been the same as the OPs.

      I had a coworker do the “hand on back to guide you” thing when we were shuffling through a door. I stepped away as fast as possible, but didn’t say anything (we were in a group and it wasn’t a ramp up to creepville). I did tell myself that if it reoccurred I would say something (either jokey “I don’t need to be steered around” or something more straightforward in the “Stop touching my back).

      1. your favorite person*

        I was groped at a Christmas party a few years ago by a coworker. I’m the most outspoken feminist I know AND YET I still froze and squirmed away. I didn’t want people to think I was ‘egging it on’ so I just quickly went into the bathroom to escape. I was senior to the guy, several people saw, and I STILL didn’t bring it up until after he had moved on. You just don’t know how you are going to react.

        1. Mellow*

          How do you know I don’t know? Is it really so far-fetched that others of us have had a boss or coworker place his hand on our knee under a table? That we have experienced exactly what the OP has, save for the actual person involved?

          You can’t be serious.

    3. Shan*

      I know this wasn’t your intention, but it really is of zero help to say what you “would have done” in these situations. I’ve had a few of these bad-touch encounters, and not only did I freeze up the first time, I’ve continued to freeze up every single time it happens, including when I had a repeat offender. It’s so uncomfortable, and so startling, and you’re in that moment battling everything you’ve been taught about being polite, and you just want it to not be happening. In reality that perfect retort usually doesn’t come until eight hours later, when you’re ranting to yourself in the shower.

      1. Mimi Me*

        I once applied for a job as a waitress at an old school steakhouse. Part of the interview was to shadow a waitress for an hour. During that hour one of the customers asked me if the “carpets and drapes” matched after he noticed I was a ginger. I honestly stood there for about 10 seconds with my mouth open, so shocked I couldn’t move. The thing that pulled me out of it was the waitress I was shadowing laughing at the situation. I was so angry and humiliated and really just wanted to call it a day and walk out, but I was 19 and had been raised to respect my elders and was under the impression that job interviews were a serious thing and that I shouldn’t just leave in the middle of one. I finished the hour and went home where I cried to my mom about what happened. Would I do the same thing now? Probably not, but I probably wouldn’t react even now the way I hope I would. But I’d definitely complain to the manager instead of my mom.

        1. Quill*

          I’m 100% more competent defending other people than myself, so I likely would have froze too, but that other waitress… sheesh.

      2. Mellow*

        How do you know I haven’t been in this situation? Because I didn’t happen to say so? Save the lecture already. Talk about “zero help.”

        1. Courageous cat*

          Does it matter if you have or haven’t? Saying what you would have done is not only unhelpful but extremely demeaning. You could have been assertive like that 100 times and it wouldn’t have made your comment less demeaning to the person it happened to. Please get over yourself and realize this is not the appropriate way to talk to a victim of… well… anything.

    4. wittyrepartee*

      So- my mom actually taught me this strategy. I’m super thankful to her for it. It’s hard to think what to do in the moment if you haven’t had your overly cautious mother run drills with you in childhood.
      Our script was: *very loudly* “Excuse me sir, please do not touch my knee! That is inappropriate!”

      1. Poppy the Flower*

        Haha, my mom drilled me too. I was physically bullied as a child and the school didn’t take it seriously so we practiced yelling if someone touched me. It worked… a little too well in that I had to unlearn it a bit! But I actually really value that and would recommend role playing. Of course, I also 100% understand freezing up! Especially at work, where you have this impulse not to draw attention to yourself.

        1. Quill*

          My mom was great at the training me to defend myself stuff: I was actually well known into high school for my ability to go ape poop on anyone who physically bullied me or other people. Didn’t stop me from developing PTSD from other bullying, or having to unlearn the “Whack whatever threatens you and run” instinct later, because college is full of aquaintances who think sneaking up behind you to grab your shoulders is a good idea, and I could only keep stabbing them with forks for so long before I actually managed to draw blood.

      2. Maria Lopez*

        I was like your mom with my kids. I grew up in a not ideal neighborhood and started getting the sexual harassment catcalls and touching at a young age, like 9 or 10. You learn how to respond in the moment verbally or physically and rarely freeze. Back then (1950s,60s) this behavior was called life, not harassment, and I was an adult before I was in a position to realize how not normal this was.
        My first reaction even today is not to freeze or be frightened, but to be annoyed or sometimes angry. In an office setting you could slap the hand away when he plays with your hair, and say you thought it was a fly, or with the hand on the knee, look him directly in the eye while you grab his hand tightly and remove it from your knee. Don’t worry that he will think you are a -itch or hysterical, because that is what he thinks about all women anyway.

      3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

        My 2 year old already yells “No [baby sibling], I don’t like that! Get off my body!” when the 1 year old swipes at her or goes in for a tackle when she’s not in the mood for playing. We’ll work on less grandiose language as they get older, but for now I’m rather pleased that whatever my husband and I have been teaching them as far as bodily autonomy goes has resulted in this.

      4. Media Monkey*

        my daughter did tae kwon do from the age of 5, and in the “little” class (ages 5 to 7) they were taught to shout “stop stand back” at the top of their voice if someone hit them or tried to touch them and they weren’t happy. hopefully this will make her more likely to shout if she ever needs to!

    5. Mimi Me*

      “Don’t the apologists have daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, etc.?”

      I’m going to be honest – I hate when people say this in situations like this. What does having a female relative have to do with being a decent human being? It also paints women as an extension of men; a part of men that needs to be coddled or protected. I don’t want my husband, brother, father, or son holding our relationship up as the reason he’s using to keep from being a jerk to the opposite sex.

      1. Mellow*

        That you don’t like my comment doesn’t make it hateful.

        Let me try another example. My parents are elderly. When I read about elder abuse, I automatically think “Doesn’t the abuser have an older person in his or her life [as a frame of reference for how not to treat elderly people]? See? I don’t see anyone as an extension of anyone else. Why complicate things by overthinking them?

        Honestly, many of the accusatory reactions to my comment – in which I expressed support, sympathy, and outrage for the OP that was conveniently ignored by some commenters – is just so overblown. I love Alison’s advice, but the commentariat seems increasingly rabid if one doesn’t say exactly the right thing.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          They didn’t say your comment was hateful? They just explained why that train of thought, while very common and understandable, can feel like it is not as helpful as it seems. Women should be respected as humans outside of their relationships as a sister, or a mother, or a daughter but just as people in their own right.

      2. Observer*

        No, this is not about women being extension of men or anything like that.

        It’s just that people with ANY amount of empathy tend to assume that if people thought about how it would feel to have it happen to themselves or someone close to them, they would not do whatever it is. Unfortunately that’s often not how this stuff works, but it’s not an unreasonable question. In fact it’s one of the basic things we try to teach kids. “How would you like if someone did that to you?”

        Unfortunately there are people who simply never got that memo.

    6. Courageous cat*

      In adding to the things that your comment gets wrong, “Don’t the apologists have daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, etc.?” implies that women are only as important as their relation to other men. We should expect (publicly, out loud, in comments, like this – not just in private) men to not harrass women because they’re human beings, not because they are related to them.

      1. tangerineRose*

        I didn’t make the comment, but sometimes I’ve asked why someone did something and include that, because I keep thinking the person probably wouldn’t want his daughter/sister/mother treated the way he just treated a female.

      2. Observer*

        Totally not the case. It’s more along the lines of “If you knew anyone who had experienced X, you’d know how awful it is.”

        Of course, the problem is that a lot of people don’t CARE how awful it is, so essentially saying to them “How would you feel if someone did this to you or someone you love, how would YOU feel?” is useless.

    7. Quill*

      When in an uncomfortable situation I either fight or freeze.

      Fighting, unfortunately, has the consequence that YOU are now considered the problem, rather than el creepo.

  11. Archaeopteryx*

    Op #1, “ I only lied/stole/cheated, etc because I couldn’t get what I wanted by being honest” is never a very compelling justification for a lack of integrity. That’s pretty much the only reason people lie. It doesn’t make it OK.

    1. Viette*

      Especially because in this case it seems that there were perfectly normal options at hand — the LW then later “did reach out to a previous manager, a former professor, and [their] manager at the time and asked them to be references and they all agreed”. The LW then got a job with those references.

      “I only lied/stole/cheated, etc because being honest seemed frightening and difficult” is an even less acceptable justification for a lack of integrity. I hope that the LW can see that whatever difficulty there may have been in asking real people for references, it worked out fine and was clearly the right thing to do in the first place.

      1. Smithy*

        I’m willing to admit that during a stressful and anxious period of interviewing, I “lied because being honest seemed frightening and difficult”. It was just one lie during a phone interview (when asked how many donors of a certain variety I worked with, I answered 50 instead of 15).

        As lies go, it was dumb, certainly wasn’t going to make or break my chances, and wasn’t about my primary area of work. I withdrew from the interviewing process and really beat myself up over it.

        It’s certainly not a moment of pride, but I think that knowing that when I’m under stress or anxiety I have the capacity for those failings or moments of weakness is incredibly helpful. I know how I’m inclined to mess up, and exactly what that looks like. Doesn’t make the best or worst person but it does make me more mindful to make sure I’m in the best place possible to be a person of greater integrity.

    2. BethDH*

      My sense was that OP had a slightly different sense of anxiety — not something that made it okay, either, but requiring a different sort of mental adjustment. I could be totally misreading but I was interpreting it as being “I don’t have standing to ask any of these people to do me a favor” and not just a fear of getting a bad reference. I think it’s really common. Most of us don’t resort to lying to fix it, but I have sympathy for the impulse. I’ve really really appreciated the people who have proactively volunteered to be references for me and I’m trying to do that myself on the occasions I’m in a position to offer.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, I’m hoping they were going for just explanation over excuse and I don’t want to read too much into the tone but that opening sentence of the update seemed a little too defensive which is totally understandable… but in this case you really shouldn’t defend what you did. All you need to do is acknowledge it was wrong and vow not to do it again.

  12. Cat lady*

    LW #4 thank you for your update. I had bedbugs this summer and it was such a horrible experience. Everyone I know who has had them all say that it effects their mental health and I completely agree. If you makes you feel any better in the last 10 years I have had fleas, scabies and this year bed bugs all from random occurrences. Each one has been absolutely horrific. I am so sorry you have been dealing with them for so long. I hope your new apartment is a safe space for you to move into.

  13. lilsheba*

    Ok, about the bed bugs. I had to go through an extermination from hell for these about 3 years ago. Maybe closer to 4. Anyway it was hell. You have to take EVERY SINGLE ITEM you own, wash anything fabric in hot water, run it in a dryer for an hour, and then wrap it in THICK tough black plastic bags and seal with duct tape. Wooden items, rub down with alcohol and water solutions, wrap in same plastic and seal with duct tape. Any furniture that is infested needs to be cut up so it can’t be used, and thrown out. Don’t get new ones until you move. If you don’t do this you WILL carry bed bugs to the new place. They are hell to get rid of and you can’t skimp on this process or you won’t get rid of them. Trust me. OH and clothes need to be washed in hot water, dried on high heat for an hour and anything not needed on a day to day basis needs to be sealed in the plastic with duct tape. Any items that you need to pack, after cleaning pack in plastic tubs (not cardboard boxes) and seal with duct tape. EVERYTHING. I can’t emphasize this enough. IT’s a lot of work and it sucks and I am so sorry you are going through this. But I want to make sure you do get rid of them for good!! Vacuum all carpeting every day, change out the bag in the vacuum after every use. Put dichotomous earth along all edges of your place, it will kill bugs running loose.

    1. PrettySticks*

      Not to downplay the usefulness of your advice, but the last two lines read like a little poem:

      Vacuum all carpeting every day,
      change out the bag in the vacuum after every use.
      Put dichotomous earth along all edges of your place,
      it will kill bugs running loose.


  14. yala*

    So this is off-topic, but…
    Clicking the link for the link for #1 brought me to the Leap Year Boss, and I’m just…two years late to the party but so utterly FLOORED at the petty cruelty there.

    Was there ever an update? Was it all a prank?

    1. Observer*

      Yes, there was. And it was “No, you’re all wrong, this is policy and our policy is perfect. I don’t understand why you are all being so immature.”

      Not those exact words, but pretty much the gist of it.

Comments are closed.