boss wants us to use personal social media for marketing, we can only take one week of vacation at a time, and more

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

1. Boss wants us to use our personal social media for marketing

I work for a very good company. We’re all proud of the work we do. I’ve worked my butt off and I’ve been recognized and rewarded. I’m not a partner or owner, just an employee.

The director has asked us all to put our business card as our WhatsApp status and to otherwise use our social media to promote the company and gain clients. And a lot of us are just quietly not doing that. There are a lot of reasons I don’t want to do this, but to be honest the main one is just a gut feeling of “No.”

I don’t want to badmouth my company to real-life friends so I would love to hear your take on this. Is this cool? Why or why not?

It’s not cool. Your personal social media is your personal stuff. The company shouldn’t try to hijack it, just like it shouldn’t demand that you stand up at every dinner party you attend and deliver a pitch for the company.

It’s okay for an employer to say, “If you think someone in your personal network could use our services, here’s info you can use to pitch us” — and then leave it up to you. But just issuing blanket requests to promote the company in your personal life is crappy. People have a good sense of whether their social networks want to hear this stuff or not, and they rightly worry about seeming pushy, annoying, or tone-deaf by injecting sales pitches where they’re not wanted. (Moreover, these forced pitches usually aren’t even effective, since they’re half-hearted and not targeted to a real need in an appropriate time and place.)

2. Should we let an employee pay their own way to a conference in an exciting location?

I work for a large nonprofit in a field that has a few large relevant conferences that staff regularly attend and present at. Staff obviously love getting to attend conferences, especially when they are hosted in fun or exciting locations, which they frequently are. This year, one is in an exciting international location (we are US based). We try to be fair and equitable about who gets to attend based on several factors, and this year one of our managers is slated to go to this one.

Another employee of a similar level attended last year (it was at a less “exciting” location, which the employee commented on at the time, but location is dependent on who is willing to host each year) and really wants to attend again this year. This employee has said they are willing to pay their own way to attend. Our director is fine with this, but conversation is ongoing. My main concerns stem from an equitability standpoint. Most of our staff would never be able to attend any of these big conferences if they had to pay themselves (even at a US location these conferences are expensive) which means that this employee will receive opportunities that their peers will not. I’m also slightly concerned that if this person attends and tells attendees from other organizations that they paid their own way (which could realistically come up based on my own experiences at these events) there could be an optics issue. We might want to recruit some of these people one day and I don’t want them to think we don’t pay people to attend conferences, we do! We just can’t pay for everyone to attend each year and this isn’t their year. And no one attends every year, not even our director, we really do all take turns.

We obviously can’t entirely prevent someone from attending on their own, but it just doesn’t feel quite right to me. If it matters, I am at a high enough level and have the capital to push back if that makes sense, but I can’t decide if I’m being reasonable or not. I voiced my concerns gently once and it didn’t go anywhere, should I leave it alone? Is this even something I should be concerned about? If it’s worth addressing, how do we frame this for the employee?

Ugh, I see your concerns here. You’re right that you don’t want people to think your organization makes staffers pay their own way to conferences. You’re right that it’s not good for your org if people who are willing/able to pay their own way have extra access to opportunites that other people don’t get. You’re right that it’s reasonable to have a system where people take turns going. (I’m assuming these are the sorts of conferences that aren’t essential to people’s jobs, just a nice perk.) And I can also understand an employee who feels like, “Why should I be denied an opportunity that won’t cost the company anything?” The answer, potentially, is that it does cost you something — in other people’s morale and sense of equity in how the organization operates. Ultimately I think where I come down is that it’s reasonable to decide you’d rather people not buy their way outside of your system of taking turns, but also that it’s not a huge outrage if you let this go.

3. My company will only let me take one week of vacation at at time — but my family is overseas

This year I am to receive three weeks of vacation as stated in our benefits package. Although we have a few other international teammates and they were able to take three weeks at once for vacation last year, as of this year we were told that no one can take more than a week at the time.

Last year I was a part-timer and these benefits did not apply to me, but I accepted full-time hoping I can use the three weeks to see my family overseas. My dad will turn 90 this year and I cannot miss this, have not seen them in five years, and I cannot stay less than my entire three weeks that I am allowed. The flight is very expensive and my time with him is too limited. I can be insincere and invoke the FMLA option, but I would like to believe that I have a good relationship with my manager and although a negative answer will be devastating, once I attempt to be honest and get denied, it will be too late to use the FMLA option.

Don’t lie and say you need FMLA leave if you don’t. There’s documentation associated with FMLA, and you are highly likely to get fired if they find out you lied.

A lot of companies restrict vacation to one or two weeks at a time, but some will make exceptions for special circumstances, such as people whose families are overseas. Talk to your manager, explain the situation (family overseas; long, expensive flights; and a 90-year-old father) and ask if they’d consider making an exception since otherwise this would be a significant hardship for you.

4. Who’s responsible for planning maternity leave coverage?

I am a few months away from getting prepped for maternity leave, but I’m wondering whose responsibility it is to arrange coverage while I’m away? I work on a specialized team of only three people and we’re all really busy with our own duties. Am I responsible for doing all my work ahead of my 14-week leave or does my manager ultimately need to figure that out?

You’re definitely not supposed to get 14 weeks of work done ahead of your leave! Instead, sit down with your manager, say you want to start getting things ready for your leave, and ask to talk through what you should do to prepare. Typically that would mean things like leaving projects documented, transitioning key responsibilities to someone else temporarily, possibly training a temp, and so forth. But it should be a conversation with your manager to sort through everything and hear what she’s thinking about who will cover what. Different managers will lean on you to different extents to help with that planning, so it’s good to start the conversation now.

That said, the more senior you are, the more expected you’ll be to make arrangements yourself. If you run your own team, for example, you might pick someone to fill your role in the interim and make all the arrangements yourself. (But even then you wouldn’t be doing the work ahead of time — you’d just be the one making the plan and making sure everyone knows what pieces they’ll be covering.)

5. Asking for LinkedIn recommendations

I currently have no LinkedIn Recommendations from others, though a lot of people I went to college with do. Is there a good way to ask for someone to write a quick recommendation on my LinkedIn Page so I stand out? Or is asking for that too much?

People do make that request, but honestly, I wouldn’t spend the capital on it. LinkedIn recommendations just don’t carry much weight at all (because they’re public and written for you to see, so employers know they don’t necessarily give the full picture). The stuff that makes you stand out is having a track record of achievement, writing a great cover letter, and interviewing well. LinkedIn recommendations don’t really matter — save that capital for when you need real references.

{ 452 comments… read them below }

  1. Massmatt*

    #5 Linkedin’s recommendations are fun but really I wouldn’t spend any time on them, no one who hires people should place any stock in them, both for the reasons Alison mentioned and also because LinkedIn basically has bots that suggest recommendations for people in your network. Or at least, they used to. Some industries, such as areas of finance, prohibit them altogether.

    Concentrate instead on making a really good profile focused on what you want to accomplish, and getting more good people in your field in your network to help you get there. And a professional pic. These are things that will really help you.

    1. Violet Fox*

      I’ve gotten Linkdin recommendations for skills I don’t have, or for things that are not my main focus but things that my team as a whole does. The person recommending me didn’t know how my team split duties and what skills we all developed because he never asked.

      1. Polyhymnia O'Keefe*

        Recommendations and endorsements are different, too. Endorsements are one-click (i.e. Jane Smith and 3 others endorsed you for Fundraising). Recommendations are actually written by a connection. I have a handful of endorsements, although I’ve never sought them out, and most of them are at least 10 years old, added to my profile by classmates when I was in grad school. I only have one recommendation, which is a very nice, personalized note about my work written by a former supervisor. Definitely holds more value than an endorsement, but it’s still generic and might not answer questions from a potential employer. It’s like a Yelp review of me as an employee.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes — I think the LW is talking about recommendations, whereas the commenters above may be talking about skill endorsements. (Both carry little weight, but skill endorsements are especially useless.)

          1. Violet Fox*

            Nope this was an actual written recommendation. He thought he was being “helpful” because clearly having a Linkdin profile meant I was actively job hunting somehow (I wasn’t).

            He also did click just about every endorsement button on just about everyone he could find, which was also not so useful.

            1. Ilima*

              I’m a freelancer and I do like requesting LinkedIn recommendations from current and former clients. I actually get a lot of referrals through LinkedIn, so I think the recommendations do strengthen my profile. I can also copy the recommendations and use them as testimonials on my website, marketing materials, etc.

              So if the OP is a freelancer now or may want to be one in the future, it may not be a terrible idea to ask. It felt awkward the first couple of times I asked, but everyone I asked was happy to write one and it wasn’t weird at all. I made sure to only ask clients I knew loved my work, and I asked in a way that gave them an easy “out” if they didn’t want to do it.

              1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

                Same boat here. I do think it’s a little different for freelancers, as the nature of temporary work means clients aren’t (generally) wanting to pore over your credentials or reference-check you for shorter assignments. They just want to be reasonably satisfied that you could do the job – and recommendations from other clients do help with that.

              2. Mel_05*

                Yeah, I think it’s different in freelance. People often go by client recommendations posted on a feeelancer’s webpage rather than calling past clients and asking how it was to work with them.

          2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

            My mom endorsed me for a bunch of skills. I don’t think the majority of employers care that my mom thinks I’m awesome.

      2. Beatrice*

        Nearly all of my recommendations are from people who don’t actually know my work, and I assume only gave me recommendations hoping I’d recommend them in return. I’m just not invested enough in the concept of LinkedIn recommendations to use them at all, and if I were, I wouldn’t recommend things I didn’t know about people I’ve never worked with.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Yeah, I don’t really understand why or how people decide to do or do not make LinkedIn recommendations, and I even have a few that make people say, “Wow!” (e.g. super high ranked head of an international org that I worked with briefly on a project, fancy shmancy researcher I worked with one time on another short project). Every person in my linked in list is someone I directly worked with, but I swear most of the skills they recommend me for are ones I have, but they never actually saw because our work didn’t involve it. Sometimes I feel like folks just start clicking stuff when they are bored.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        ^And I was talking about endorsements, apparently. Oops! I just checked my profile, do have a handful of short recommendations apparently. But, since I’d never noticed them, you can see how unimportant they are.

      2. Mel_05*

        Yes, the endorsements are so silly. I often have no idea if the person they want me to endorse has a skill or not. And I’ve seen some coworkers highly rated for skills I know they don’t even have!

      3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        If a connection has endorsed you for far too many skills, it is possible to make the irrelevant endorsements from that person be not visible. Same with lackluster written recommendations.

        Endorsements give a slight search result edge for the term, and provide some “social proof” that can be considered.
        Recommendations, when well written, can reinforce aspects and themes about how the recommended person interacts with others and accomplishes tasks. We are more than the sum our our skill sets, and this is a way for someone else to verify your personal style/best fit.
        Also … note that recommendations you write are also on your profile. Demonstrating your generosity and awareness of the value of others (colleagues, staff, bosses) is by no means a small thing when someone is thinking about whether you’d fit on a team. Or lead well. Or multitask.

    3. knitter*

      When LinkedIn first started, you’d get a prompt at some point asking if someone had certain skills. I haven’t see this as much recently. But I have a TON of recommendations from people who I never worked with in the capacity they recommended me for. I’ve worked across a number of fields so prompts would pop up about one field for people in another field. I really want to get rid of them because they hold so little value.

      1. SweetestCin*

        Exactly this. I have endorsements for CAD/BIM. The lapse in time between the last time I actively used that skill to now is over 20 years. And the person doing the endorsing has never known me in my previous capacity!

    4. snowglobe*

      I agree the endorsements don’t carry much (if any) weight with most people, but if the LW wants to have *some*, one way is to endorse other people. Many people will feel the need to reciprocate, so are likely to endorse the LW in return.

    5. Adlib*

      This is a funny topic because just yesterday I wrote a recommendation for my old manager. He had his shortcomings, but overall we got along great. I did it just to help out and show my appreciation for the things he did right. We are still in touch, but I just felt like doing something more formal that other people would see.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        I think this may be the one value of LinkedIn recommendations: as a sort of interpersonal currency, a way to strengthen a connection with someone, not necessarily something that others outside of that relationship would put a ton of stock in.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I do have one from a former coworker, and I wrote one for him in turn. I think that carries a bit more weight since we were actual coworkers.

    6. Dasein9*

      Interesting. I’ve had friends tell me they were recruited because of LinkedIn recommendations. The recommendations are a lot like reviews and speak to particular strengths in specific relevant situations. So I just wrote one for a colleague who deserves recognition for some of her strengths.

      Is it likely to do any harm or hurt her profile?

      1. Avasarala*

        I can’t see how it will harm/hurt unless you write something negative in there. Worst case scenario, it’s neutral/doesn’t help.

  2. Aphrodite*

    You know what types of companies are pushy about using personal social media for marketing their products? MLMs. Not a particularly nice association for a “very good company”

    1. Massmatt*

      Good call, if the company does great work there’s no need for sleazy, boundary-pushing sales tactics.

    2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Oh snap! That’s exactly the reality check boss needs on how inauthentic this comes across.

      As for the reality check on boundary-crossing, this is not very different to insisting employees upload all the contacts in their phone to the company’s mailing database.

      1. Quill*

        *Distant screaming* I mean, theoretically the contacts thing shouldn’t be worse when it’s your phone, but it feels worse because you can be pretty sure that, unlike your email contacts, it hasn’t already been mined by facebook and sold off.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      That is part of what clued me in that my last employer was doing something dodgy- when he told me to advertise their business on my Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr (I don’t even have two of those! He suggested I set them up) and say things I knew for sure were lies.

      Former employers are currently in court being charged with running a Ponzi scheme. I’ve learnt a new personal virtue which is if anyone asks me to do something that a bunch of crooks once asked me to do, it’s likely a bad idea.

      1. Mongrel*

        I imagine it can also backfire if an employer has a contentious, but valid, opinion – now that opinion is linked to the company.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Ooh and that gives a first-level ‘easy out’ to OP: “my family has a habit of gets into arguments on my xyz page–not a good association for the company. “

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I nearly got in trouble once for putting a LGBT rainbow across my Facebook page because the boss of *another department* said some of our customers disapproved of having gay culture shoved down their throats.

            Luckily I was in favour with the senior management and the complaint got laughed off. I mean, my Facebook is mostly my geeky cross stitching and endless photos of my cat.

        2. Veronica Mars*

          My Fortune 500 company straight up came out and said that if they learned of ‘contentious’ discussion on social media, they’d fire the employee. And our company is in no way linked to our social media.
          So now I can’t even so much as thumbs up a political candidate for fear of retribution.

            1. Zona the Great*

              Disagree! Think about Roseanne, Elon Musk, Trump if he were anyone else. These tweets are offensive and hurtful. It reflects very poorly on one’s employer and now people troll these companies publicly and boycott. It’s not a good look and investors pull out.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                There’s a difference between being a high-exposure public figure vs being a rank-and-file employee.

                Also, from a business perspective, Elon Musk’s twitter issues were more about the stock manipulation attempts rather than the personal opinions.

                1. Atlantian*

                  Yeah, but we are all also only one funny photo, act of kindness, or “Dan after dentist” video that goes viral away from being a high-exposure public figure, even if only for our proverbial 15 minutes. You just never know.

              2. NerdyKris*

                There’s a vast ocean of difference between getting into an argument on Twitter and in order:
                Posting ranting conspiracy theories and racist comments to the point that your show is cancelled
                Accusing heroes of being pedophiles when they disagree with your terrible idea
                Literally everything about Trump, which incidentally helped ratings of The Apprentice way back when because his over the top personality was part of the appeal.

              3. Veronica Mars*

                I get the intention, and I do think there should be real world consequences for hate speech spewed online. But this is an incredibly dangerous toe dip in the waters of censorship.

                As a somewhat extreme example, someone might hear “I respect our president” and interpret it as “I like our president’s politics” which could be expanded to “I hate minorities” which is hate speech. Well, according to my company’s policies, it doesn’t matter if my original “I respect our president” statement actually *is* hate speech, it only matters that someone out there in the world *felt* that it was or *interpreted it to be* an inflammatory statement. And sure, you could say that you hope my company would exercise judgement here, but honestly how many people do you know who would bet there livelihood on that?

                When entire populations are afraid of saying anything remotely controversial, because the line is necessarily blurry between “I don’t agree with you” and “you offend me,” and offending even one person could result in losing a job… That sounds like a fairly oppressive culture to me.

                1. Nanani*

                  That’s a funny world you live in, where people with social power are deathly afraid of offending the people whose actual lives are endangered by bigotry.
                  And by funny I mean please get over yourself, nothing works that way.

                2. Mr. Tyzik*

                  @Nanani – did you read the comment? You can’t dismiss as “nothing happens that way” as VM states this *IS* the atmosphere in the workspace and the company’s attitude toward personal speech and reflection on the company.

                  Don’t tell VM to “get over” those views. In your case, you’re just being rude and obtuse.

                3. Veronica Mars*

                  Nanani – you know censorship works both ways, right? That someone could just as easily get you fired for ‘offending them’ by donating to Planned Parenthood or suggesting that the glass ceiling is a Thing That Exists or, not too far back in our nation’s history, advocating for voting rights for freed slaves?
                  And can you see how the level of anger you responded to me with, because I disagree with you slightly on the correct balance of ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘protection from harmful speech’, proves my point that it’s a dangerous time to have opinions?

                4. Elena Vasquez*

                  Nanani

                  Having family members who lived under a dictatorship and having a member being dragged away by the police for “offensive speech” makes me very very protective of free speech.

                  If you don’t like what you hear, express an opposing opinion or turn your attention elsewhere. Right now you may lose your job, next time you’ll be sitting in jail.

                  No thank you.

            2. Veronica Mars*

              I don’t think they actively police it, I mean, I hope? Who has time for that??? But the specific example they used was that some random internet person had emailed the company a screenshot of a social media post by someone who had his company listed in the Facebook profile, and the company fired him for poor representation of the company.

              1. ASW*

                You don’t even have to have your company listed. My boyfriend almost got fired a few years ago for complaining about a coworker on Facebook (it wasn’t even that bad; something about the person not being able to do third-grade math). Someone saw it and sent a screenshot to HR. His profile had no mention of his employer, he did not give any names or identifying information in his post. The only thing that saved his job was that a vice president that had more clout than the HR director really liked him and fought to keep him. They also made him delete his Facebook profile.

                1. Quill*

                  Yeesh. And here I thought it was mostly teachers whose social media was being picked over and used against them. (Because apparently if you teach children you can never be tagged in a photo that shows what *might* be alcohol… Try enforcing that with your friends.)

                2. Aitch Arr*

                  Your boyfriend’s actions may have been covered under the NLRA if you are in the USA… employers needs to be very careful.

                3. doreen*

                  He may not have given his employer’s name in his profile or the post – but if someone sent a screenshot to HR, I’m guessing it was a coworker he was Facebook friends with or who was otherwise able to see the post. But complaining that a coworker can’t do third grade math is very different from giving a “thumbs up” to a candidate – I don’t think firing is appropriate for either , but I wouldn’t comment about coworkers on Facebook in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable face-to -face unless I was absolutely sure that no coworkers would see it – which I never am.

                4. Jules the 3rd*

                  In social media, never post anything you wouldn’t be willing to say out loud in public.
                  Never post something about someone that you wouldn’t be willing to say to their face.

                  Social media (and text!) is not a good place to complain.

                5. Elizabeth West*

                  Holy shit. That terrible HR would be enough to make me start looking.

                  If he does friend coworkers, I’d break that habit, stat. You really have little control over what gets shared, plus it helps keep a work/life separation.

              2. Richard Hershberger*

                It would never occur to me to put my employer on my Facebook profile. I know FB asks for it, but FB asks for a lot of stuff I choose not to give them.

            3. Amber T*

              What stood out to me with this letter is that advertising your company is borderline-but-maybe-not-so-borderline illegal in my line of work. If I get onto a social media site and say “hey, come do business with Teapots, Inc!” the government can slap a nice, hefty fine on my company, and I would almost certainly lose my job for that. We ask that you *don’t* put our company on your social media, and for LinkedIn, just keep it to your title and (very basic) job duties.

              We do periodically check employees’ personal social media to make sure there’s nothing that could get the company in trouble.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            My Fortune 500 employer says ‘don’t link to us on your social pages, so that it doesn’t look like you’re speaking for us, and be respectful’. If I were contentious in defense of issues that match their company values (respect for the individual / diversity / inclusiveness), I’d be ok, but if I knowingly used ethnic slurs or the like, I’d probably be fired. And I’m ok with that.

          2. Tidewater 4-1009*

            VM – if there’s not a law against this, there should be. Can you contact your legislators and representatives? And maybe a lawyer?
            And needless to say, look for a job with a company that’s not a bunch of oppressive fascists.

            1. Veronica Mars*

              Not only is it not illegal, it’s a commonly practiced form of ‘social justice’: https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-doxxing-web-site-internet-facebook-private-information-emails-comments-private-data-0521-story.html

              Alison has even posted about it before:
              https://www.askamanager.org/2019/02/how-should-employers-respond-to-employees-being-doxxed.html

              And unfortunately, I don’t think my company is in the minority here. Its pretty scary stuff.

              1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                This is all the more reason there needs to be a law! Let’s all write to our state and federal legislators.
                Almost all laws happened because companies don’t do the right thing on their own and have to be forced to. This is another example.

        3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Yes, it sets up the holder of the social media account to face sanctions at work for any and all of their personal behavior outside of work. And we’ve all seen how nutty that gets with regards to people policing “appropriate image for our company.”

      2. Daisy*

        Also the particular suggestion here, to change the Whatsapp status, seems particularly useless – it’s not really social media like Facebook, it’s mainly just for messaging. I use it every day and I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone’s status.

          1. Daisy*

            If you don’t change it the default is something like ‘Hello, I’m now using Whatsapp’. I only ever see my own, if I go in Settings – I’m not sure where you see other people’s.

            1. Femme d'Afrique*

              Daisy, you’re thinking of the “About” section, when you click on someone’s photo and can see their phone number etc. WhatsApp does have a “Status” section where people can post videos, pictures, etc.

              When you look at your WhatsApp you should see: Chats, Status, Calls. That’s where it is.

    4. Veronica Mars*

      I mean, to be fair, my brother just took a job as a luxury car salesman and they had him set up new (not personal!) social media accounts to market the cars.
      He’s my brother and I still find it obnoxious to have to follow his new page and put up with the sleazy marketing schemes they push on him.
      I don’t think anyone, ever, has thought better of a company after being peer pressured to learn about it through social media friends.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        If it’s not personal, and required by work, I don’t see the problem. Years ago, I had to create a Twitter account for my job. And if you don’t want to see your brother’s professional posts in your own feed, you can always arrange the settings so that they won’t appear in your feed.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Company-specific social media account is the way to go. And you shouldn’t have to follow your brother’s work account. Many a celebrity has a public social media presence as well as a private/hidden one they use to chat with cousins.

      3. Leslie Knope*

        I have several friends who are realtors and some handle social media much better than others.

        For example, one of them is constantly positing selfies and then some sort of comment with advice about real estate. If the selfie was in front of a house I might understand, but it’s usually against a white background…so it’s just a photo of yourself that seems really narcissistic. Plus, this is the same account she uses for personal social media as well…so the next photo is of her kid.

        Another friend who has two separate accounts and her professional one is all about her real estate endeavors, congratulating clients on closing, a selfie in front of a house on a home tour she liked, photos of interior design trends and polls whether people like them, stuff like that. She’s still mainly marketing herself and her services, but it doesn’t feel nearly as narcissistic and one-sided. Hers feels more fun and engaging.

        Your brother’s business account is marketing his services as a salesperson, so it totally makes sense. However, there are ways to go about it alllll wrong. I feel bad if his company pressures him to promote in a way that doesn’t represent how he would want to be marketed. A luxury car brand should never feel sleazy! Yikes!

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Who said it had to be your personal social media though? Make a new account with your work email.

      1. Antilles*

        The intent for using these accounts for promotion is that it’s a social media that actually has followers/friends/engagement as opposed to you creating a brand new account with zero followers.
        OP’s company doesn’t seem to be following up with their ‘mandate’ at all, but IF they did, they’d likely jump straight to “no, no, see, you’re missing the point here, we want your friends and family to see it…” and re-emphasize that they want personal social media.

        1. User 483*

          And then the next step is them hiring based on number of followers. Like: “We know this person has no job training or skills, but they have 100K followers so they are on the team!”

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Fun fact: I once received a job application where the applicant made a really big thing about her thousands and thousands of Instagram followers and how hiring her would be brilliant for the company.

              The job opening was for a senior SQL expert. She said posting regularly to Instagram counted as that skill…

        2. ellex42*

          Aaaaand…this is one of a number of reasons I have no social media accounts that use my actual name or can be easily linked directly to me. The company I work for has “suggested” that I reference them or publicly support certain political candidates on certain social media sites, and I’m more than happy to reply that I’m not on Facebook or Twitter and I’m anonymous on what social media I do use.

          But if you recognize my cat (no, he’s not famous, but he thinks he is), keep it to yourself, please.

    6. I Will Steal Your Pens*

      there is an AWESOME podcast on MLMs called “the Dream”. I highly recommend it. They actually discuss this very topic.

    7. Lurky-Loo*

      Years ago, I got grief for not joining Facebook for the express purpose of inviting friends and family to follow the company. My response was basically “I don’t get paid enough for that.” It was the beginning of the end of that job.

    8. Sarah N*

      This is what I was coming to say. If I saw people over-promoting their company on social media, I would assume the company is a shady MLM-type situation and stay away. So even if your boss got you to do it, it could backfire in a big way.

    9. Malarkey01*

      I’m on the bOard of a nonprofit and around our big fundraiser we do encourage everyone to post about in and try to talk it up on social media. I wonder if it’s something like that or more try to sell more teapots?

  3. Massmatt*

    #4 definitely don’t overwork yourself before taking leave!

    Your letter reminds me a bit of another letter saying when they came back from FMLA their boss wanted to know what their plan was to “make up the time”, ugh.

    If you are “making up the time” before or after, that’s not leave, that’s just moving your hours around.

    1. Working Mom*

      Great point! Yes, the leave is intended to truly be a LEAVE. You’re leaving work for the set period of time, and you’ll return – but you’re not expected to do all the work in advance, or catch up when you return.

      Agree with Alison to sit down with your manager and discuss. She may have ideas as to who should take over your work while you’re out, or how she wants to split it up amongst your team. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to think through who on your team you think could handle various parts of your work well in case she asks you what you think. Be prepared to say, “Fergus is really good X so he should run with this project, while Sally is stronger in Y area, so she could manage this project very easily.”

      One thing I did to prepare for my maternity leave, was to prepare a binder (am I dating myself? ha) that represented the 12 weeks of my leave. Actually – the binder started a full month prior to my due date, just in case. I organized the binder by month, and within that, by week. Within each weekly section – I listed out tasks that should be completed within that week to keep various projects on track. Within each month I also prepared client contracts in advance and noted if they were simply pre-drafted or if they’d already been provided to the client and awaiting return, etc.

      Of course this didn’t solve for every possible scenario, and I wasn’t necessarily doing the work in advance (beyond what I could reasonably prepare in advance), but it helped at least keep a timeline on what needed to be done each week to keep my clients on track and moving forward. In my case, I had one member of my team who managed all my work while I was out – so while we sat down and reviewed everything together and had weekly check-ins as I approached my due date, I also gave her the binder so that she would have a place to keep track of everything.

      1. Sara without an H*

        This is good advice. When one of my team took maternity leave a few years back, we went over her duties and made sure there was current written documentation for everything. Then we agreed on whom to cross-train for some the simpler stuff. Her work is very specialized, though, and we also had to identify some things that would just have to sit until she came back.

        So I agree, it can be done, but it should be a collaboration between OP and her manager.

      2. BeckySuz*

        This gives me an organizational boner. I love a good binder. Your coworkers must love you for being so prepared!

        1. BeckySuz*

          Sorry I just realized that may have sounded creepy. Fully metaphorical boner! But I do love being organized

      3. Recent maternity leave*

        I did similar prep for my last maternity leave and will do the same for an upcoming maternity leave. I prep a shared calendar with reminders for critical timelines, and a shared folder on our server with documentation and instructions (good to have these always updated anyways, for training and back up purposes, so I use this as an excuse to make sure everything is in order). I’m in a position of authority so I indicate who is assigned to specific tasks and make sure they are clear about it. I also get as much done or set up ahead of time as I possibly can, and reach out to people in advance with my schedule to see if it’s possible to reschedule some of my annual recurring tasks so they don’t happen while I’m on leave. It is actually a ton of work to prep and think through, but it makes things much easier for everyone while I’m gone which means things are in good order when I return. With maternity leave I think that since you generally have a good amount of time to prepare that it’s nice to prepare as much as you possibly can (without driving yourself into the ground, of course).

      4. Hedgehug*

        Did you make the binder at home or during your work hours? I will be going on maternity this summer and I do virtually everything in my office and I am incredibly anxious about how to leave everything to someone else.

        1. Recent maternity leave*

          I did all my maternity leave prep during working hours. It feels like a lot and I was definitely very busy for the months leading up to my leave, but I just tackled it whenever I had time. I started several months in advance so it wasn’t overwhelming. What was most time consuming for me was creating/updating my instructions to be incredibly clear, with screenshots whenever possible. So whenever I was doing a task anyways, I would take the extra time to write down what I was doing and take screenshots, so that I had the documentation.

          You just do the best you can to leave good information and then don’t stress once you’re out! They will figure it out if they have to, and if things are a little bumpy while you’re gone people should understand.

    2. Vicky Austin*

      That reminds me of when my sister was in high school and she suffered from serious migraines, so she was on a 504 plan (for those of who don’t know, it’s a form for students in public schools who have health issues or disabilities and need accommodations in school to learn, as required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973).
      One of my sister’s accommodations was that she would not be penalized for failing to complete assignments if she had a severe headache the day before it was due, and her teacher would only grade her on the work she managed to complete. This is a very common accommodation for students with a variety of disabilities.
      Anyway, it was just a few weeks before my sister’s graduation when one of her teachers insisted that she had to make up all of the work that she failed to complete when she was sick, otherwise she wouldn’t graduate. This was a clear violation of her 504 plan, and the special education teacher had to step in and tell the teacher that she had no standing to insist that my sister make up the work she missed.
      I don’t know much about what the law says about FMLA, but it seems to me that the boss you’re referring to was equally out of line.

    3. TootsNYC*

      And under FMLA, you can be required to take vacation (which is not supposed to be something you “make up the time for”) AND the leave can be unpaid (in which case, the company doesn’t “own” any of the hours you weren’t there, so there’s nothing to “make up”).

      1. CL Cox*

        That’s because the purpose of FMLA is to ensure you have a job to come back to. It doesn’t guarantee you will be paid for your time off, you must use any days you have available (sick/personal first, then vacation, I believe) if you want to get paid. Before FMLA, employees (primarily women) could be fired for taking time off for pregnancy, a sick family member, or even their own illness (chronic conditions, cancer, etc.). That was a big deal because if you are fired you lose health benefits. Under FMLA, you can’t be fired, can’t be forced to work while on leave, and won’t lose your benefits.

  4. AnneMoliva ColeMuff*

    When I was in my early 20s, I worked in a call centre for the largest private company in the country.
    The Christmas presents we got diminished every year, until my last holiday period in which we received a candy cane, and a booklet with tips and tricks on how to talk to our friends and families about our products over Christmas dinner.

  5. Anon for this*

    LW 2 – I’ll suggest a middle ground. Tell your manager that your father is turning 90, and his health is not very good. Then if you are turned down, it wouldn’t be completely bizarre if his health took a turn for the worse in a few months, necessitating family leave. It’s not very hard to document the failing health of a 90 year old gentleman.

    Family is important, and if your company is unreasonable enough to deny the time off, you might want a back-up plan even if it involves fibbing.

    1. Not Australian*

      Well, yes, but that’s a high-risk strategy in that the father’s health may not deteriorate on predictable curve but suddenly and disastrously – which is a point I would personally be putting to the manager when asking them to make an exception. When a person reaches that advanced age, ‘now’ is the best time to anything; ‘tomorrow’ can never be guaranteed.

      1. valentine*

        Depending on the reason for the one-week restriction, it may make sense to ask for an ongoing exception on some schedule. Might they allow you two consecutive weeks every other year and three consecutive weeks every five years (especially if there are associated milestones)? Your chances are better if you’re the only one with immediate family so distant and if you’re a keeper.

      2. OskiEsque*

        LW 1 – if you’re in the US, there are FTC disclosure requirements that you’ll need to meet when using your own social media for marketing and promoting your company or its products. Please make sure to speak to HR or your company’s legal department. (I’m a marketing attorney.)

    2. snowglobe*

      If you are suggesting that the LW could use FMLA, that would not work. Documentation would need to include proof that the LW is responsible for the care of her father, not just that the father is ill. Since they live in different countries, it could be difficult to prove that (especially if the LW returns in three weeks). And, yes, that could get LW in trouble or even fired if it is determined that they lied.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Exactly. My head is spinning at the idea that FMLA is for visiting an ailing parent. It’s only for a caregiver situation.

        There’s no laws that protect your job when you have an aging parent otherwise. Heck there’s no law that’s going to protect your job in the event your parent passes away to allow you to attend a funeral if it doesn’t fit into the employers policies. Most bereavement leave is a paltry 3 days.

        1. CL Cox*

          The only exception would MAYBE be if it were for religious reasons. Some religions (Hindus, I believe, for one) mandate a period of mourning (10 days?) between burial and a memorial service. So it is reasonable that a person in the US will need to be gone for two to three weeks to attend a burial and service for an immediate family member, especially if they are needed to make arrangements/assist with planning. We have a number of students from Asian countries and have dealt with this very issue when students need to be absent for an extended period of time.

      2. Pookie's Mom*

        FMLA will cover providing psychological comfort to a family member. When I administered FMLA for several companies , I encountered employees who requested leave to go to the bedside of a sick parent. These folks received approval if the certifying medical professional indicated that the employee was providing support and comfort to their parent. Most medical professionals dealing with the elderly who fill out the FMLA medical certification form know how to phrase their responses to support approval of leave.

        Also, FMLA does not require that the requesting employee be the sole or primary caregiver in order to receive approval. Being a back-up, part-time, or respite caregiver also qualifies for FML. I was certified for FML to care for my elderly mother when my sister took time off for vacations. When Mom was in a memory care unit, I still took time under FMLA to be there when my sister was away.

    3. PhillyRedhead*

      OP, please do not take this advice. If/when (more likely WHEN) your company finds out, not only will you be fired, but you’ll have completely destroyed your reputation and integrity, making it difficult to find new employment.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Not only is this a bad idea because lying isn’t a good thing to do, it’s also not really necessary. No normal, caring human is going to question the fact that it is important to go visit your 90-year-old parent because normal humans understand that the older someone gets, the less time they have left on this earth. (Sorry if that’s a bit morbid but it is the truth.) You know that saying about how you should live each day as if it is your last? I feel like that is doubly true for anyone over 80 and trebly true for anyone 90+.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        And if the request is refused, the OP has gained actionable information about the people he works for.

    5. mcfizzle*

      NO! Lying is never a good option. As others said, it’s too easy to get caught. Plus, it’s just wrong. If the company won’t bend, then quit if needed. But lying is just not smart. Ever.

      1. Ra94*

        Exactly. If OP took this job in expectation of being able to take 3 consecutive weeks off, and they refuse that…OP does have the option to quit, go visit their father, and then search for a new job, explaining that he left his previous job due to family medical reasons.

        1. CL Cox*

          This. I was fired from a part-time job once. When interviewers asked about it, I explained that I had to rearrange my hours due to my son’s hospitalizations and had to take three days off for my grandmother’s funeral out of state. I was fired the day I came back. I didn’t even have to outright say that boss was a jerkface poopyhead, they totally understood the subcontext.

  6. Phil*

    #1 My company offers occasional family/friends discounts (usually in conjunction to them launching a new service or product). They also have a list of talking points to use to help sell the company’s services in a friendly informal way, if a friend or someone might ask about your work. Both of these are, of course, completely optional for staff to make use of. Depending on what your company sells, maybe these could be suggested as less annoying ways to promote the business?

    1. Delta Delta*

      A friend of mine does something similar. She works at a company that periodically does a friends and family discount (a good one – 20-25%, I think) on things that are normally sort of expensive. She always posts on social media when these discount codes are available, but does it in a non-invasive way. As a result, we all know she works at this company, we all know they do this nice discount sometimes, and we all know if we want a code we can ask her. It comes across as effective marketing because a) we believe her when she occasionally says good things about her company and b) the whole feed isn’t inundated with marketing materials from the company.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        That is what one of my SiLs (super fancy, high end make-up) and another friend (really expensive shoes) do. Their discounts can be in the 40-60% range for friends and family and I know some of the folks in our contacts love getting them. But it is a, “Hey peeps, $Brand gave me a F&F discount. Remember to use by X date !” avery once in a while.

  7. Temperance*

    LW3: instead of asking to take all 3 weeks at once, why not ask for 2, and at a time not super in demand, like summer or winter holidays?

    1. Filosofickle*

      Two weeks does seem like a reasonable compromise, and time shift if possible. Although from the note (“I cannot miss this”) it sounds like the trip is set for a specific time, like a 90th birthday party.

      I am wondering a bit about LW’s comment that “I cannot stay less than my entire three weeks that I am allowed”. People take international trips to see family for less than 3 weeks all the time. Is it ideal? No. Can you do it? Yes.

      1. valentine*

        I am wondering a bit about LW’s comment that “I cannot stay less than my entire three weeks that I am allowed”.
        Same. From the outside, it doesn’t seem a big ask after five years and it could just be the traditions of celebrating a 90th.

        Also: If there were no restriction, are you sure you won’t need leave the rest of the year?

        1. Temperance*

          It’s not five years working for the company, it’s five years since she’s been home. Big difference.

          1. valentine*

            Big difference.
            Not to me. It would be unreasonable to say someone has to choose between seeing their immediate family for the first time in five years or their job.

      2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Oh, I could understand OP’s position on feeling it’s not being possible to go for less than 3 weeks! Depending where the “overseas” is, it could mean 24hrs+ highly uncomfortable travel time, an opposite sleep/awake schedule, and several thousand dollars in cost. On top of that, she actually wants to spend time with her relatives that she hasn’t seen in 5 years. They’ll all be clamouring for her time, it’ll mostly be for the weekends she’s there, and guaranteed none of it will be at 2am when she’s wide awake with jet lag. 3 weeks is my absolute minimum for a long trip.

        OP, could remote work be on the cards? I have in some instances worked remotely to stretch out my time overseas for longer. Although I worked full days, it left the evenings and weekends free and gave me more time to recover in between flights.

        1. Anon100*

          I recently came back from a 2.5-week trip to Asia to see my family, and I live/work on the East Coast of the US. Since I don’t make anywhere near enough to pay for business class, that meant over 18 hours each way in cramped economy class, with a few layovers. So yeah, just *traveling* back and forth meant 24 hours in travel each way. Which meant really I got about two weeks with family. Which, if you only see your family about every 3-6 years (I totally get where OP is coming from), is very very very little time.

          OP – ask your management why they’re not allowing you to take more than 1 week off at a time. If they’re not flexible about it, esp if you haven’t seen family in 5 years, start looking for an exit. My company (real estate due diligence/construction) also has an unspoken rule that you’re not allowed to take off more than 1 week at a time, but exceptions are made if you don’t do it every year, and that one of our top bosses is Indian and he lobbied the CEO to bend the rules on occasion so he could properly visit his family in India every few years.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Yes for a far international trip I do think more than a week is best. I am about to travel to SE Asia (4 countries) from the Midwest. I am going to be gone for 13 days, but 2 of those days (about 44 hrs) will be travel times split between 6 flights. Would I have loved to be gone for 3 weeks even a month absolutely, can it be done in less time absolutely.

            I went to my grandparents 75th wedding anniversary I was in the country 3 days, it was expensive, it took 9 hrs of travel each way. But it was worth it, it was the last time I got to see them alive.

            If OP leaves on a Friday night or even early Saturday morning they can have 9 days before they have to be back to work, even if two of those days are traveling they would still have 7 days in the country. Will it suck because of jet lag yes, but it can be done.

            If the company won’t budge on three weeks OP can try to ask for 2 weeks, or even 7/8 work days. But with the Dad being 90 years old even if OP can only get 5 days off work I would encourage them to go.

      3. rudster*

        Well, it kind of depends on where the family is. If you’re just hopping across the Atlantic from the East Coast to some destination in Western Europe, perhaps not so bad. But, say, East Coast or Europe to Australia or Asia can turn into 24 hours of travel or more. LW might also need additional travel within the destination country. If LW says that less than three weeks isn’t worth the money or hassle for a non-emergency trip, we should take her at her word. It’s been five years, she obviously doesn’t think she will be have another chance soon (at least not while her father is still alive), so it’s not an unreasonable request. Hopefully the company will grant her an exemption – three-week vacations can’t be that common that everybody will suddenly be wanting to take one. They are too expensive unless staying with family, and a three-week staycation would probably drive most people nuts. If it’s a coverage issue she can offer to check in by email to help her substitute out with any isolated problems.

        1. Temperance*

          In the letter, it mentions that she has colleagues with family abroad, and I wonder if it was too stressful on the US-based team to continually cover.

          1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            Yes, especially if (alluding to your original comment) they all took extended leave during a peak holiday period, and all at the same time. I could see that resulting in this new rule.

          2. doreen*

            I’m going to guess that the new “one week at a time” rule had to do with coverage. Someone at my office wanted to take a six week block of vacation last year . It’s possibly to get approval for more than two weeks – and she probably would have gotten approval for at least four weeks , if she had been taking the vacation in April. Instead, she wanted to take it in July/August which was going to impact other people’s ability to take vacation.

            1. Temperance*

              That’s just such a shitty thing to do to your coworkers. Taking the best times of the entire year?

              1. doreen*

                It is- but I find that an awful lot of rules, especially around vacations, are because there’s no shortage of people who will do this sort of thing to coworkers.

          3. Undercover Bagel*

            My office has a few international employees, and we used to do unlimited vacation time much like the situation for the LW. People would understandably save up time to take a month or two off, but what ended up happening was either 1.) the gaps in coverage would put too much stress on the rest of the team, or 2.) people would end up taking advantage of the system by traveling abroad and then not specifying to their boss about when they’d come back. So they’d essentially be like, “whoops, turns out my flight back home is three weeks away and not one week away, guess I’ll have to go into negative hours, what a terrible mistake I have made.” After we had a guy rack up over a 100 negative hours of leave upper management changed the policy to one week max.

            Hopefully the LW can work something out though.

            1. LizB*

              I guess I see where they were coming from, but it seems like they should have fired the guy with negative hours and left the vacation policy as is? People could still say they’re going somewhere for a week and then pull the “whoopsy wrong flight date” trick, right?

          4. EPLawyer*

            As others said, gaps in coverage. Also, think about it, if you are on a team of 4, and everyone takes 3 weeks of vacation in the summer, even with no overlap that means it’s fall before you have the full team back working together.

            However, that’s a general rule so it doesn’t happen every year. But if someone needs to take 3 weeks at a time it should be granted at manager’s discretion. Because you can’t really travel overseas (I am taking this to mean Asia/India/Africa) for less than 3. Travel time, recovery time, etc.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Yeah. My old job had a max 2 weeks at a time and no more than 1 person out for an extended vacation at a time, but an exception was made for a coworker whose husband’s family was from Nigeria. They wanted to take their 2 kids (6 and 2) to see his grandmother before she passed (she was 82) since she had never met the kids, but 2 weeks wasn’t going to be enough because it took 3 days to get to her village. They let her do it if she picked 3 weeks in a time when most people would not want leave (e.g. no overlap with school holidays, federal holidays). If I remember correctly she picked end of February and beginning of March.

            2. JB (not in Houston)*

              No, you definitely can. People do it for business all the time! And I have taken personal trips to Asia for less than 3 weeks. For that matter, one of my trips was less than 2 weeks. Yes, it’s hard on you. Saying it’s not ideal is an understatement. But it’s not like they have to take an ocean liner to get there. If the alternative is not seeing their father, I don’t see why it’s *impossible* to do it in less than 3 weeks. And I don’t know their employer, but it seems likely that the OP would have more luck getting them to go to 2 weeks than to 3. I mean, it’s worth asking for the full 3 and explaining the special circumstances. But if they can’t get that, then without more details, I can’t understand why it wouldn’t be possible to go at all. If it were possibly my last trip to see my father, I’d go even if I could only be there for a few days.

              1. M*

                My husband who is on the east coast went to Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda for work. He could have stayed longer but he went from our house to all three countries and back in 5 1/2 days. He also had layovers. He had meetings with various companies and government agencies. He also went (last year) to Beijing, Singapore, Tokyo, and Seoul for work in 8 days from when he left home to when he got back. Again he could have stayed longer but we have young children so he wanted to get his meetings done and come back. Asia was harder than Africa with the jet lag, but he went to four countries (with layovers) and back in 8 days. He traveled to the Middle East for 3 1/2 days for work as well. It’s different because his company paid for his flights and lodging, but it can be done.

                I think for a family situation it is different and I hope your job would give you at least 2 weeks off but it can be done in less. I think if you ask ahead of time and explain it is for a relative’s 90th birthday and that you complete your work before you leave it should be fine. If you’re a good employee who gets their work done I would hope they would make an exception for you. Good luck!

              2. Avasarala*

                I agree. I live across the world from my family and while it’s definitely preferable to have more time with them than less, you take what you can get… I usually do 2 weeks, but for a friend’s wedding I did 1 week (was on the ground for like 3 days). Definitely push for 3, but if it’s that important that you be there, take whatever you can.

            3. BananaPants*

              It’s completely possible to do a trip of a week or less from North America to Asia – I have colleagues who do it several times a year for business. My shortest Europe trip was two working days.

        2. Colette*

          Yeah, the last time I went to Botswana it was 48 hours from leaving my house to arriving at the hotel. (It was a work trip.) Not everywhere is a 5 or 10 hour trip away.

      4. Random commenter*

        I was wondering about this as well.
        I understand why it would be a strong preference, and I also think that the company should allow it, but what if the LW only had 2 weeks of vacation available? That would still be preferable to not going.

        I worry that framing it as “I cannot stay less than my entire three weeks” is just going to increase their disappointment if they’re not able to get the time off.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I was also thrown by that. My spouse does business travel 12 time zones away several times a year, and it’s usually for 1-2 weeks. He’s old enough that it’s no longer fun, but it’s hardly undoable. Just uncomfortable.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            I immediately wondered if there are aspects to this trip on specific dates involving other relatives traveling from elsewhere. So the big kicker in the letter is the father, but maybe it’s something like the rest of the family already booked travel and Aunt A will be there 1-5, and Uncle B will be there 6-10, and Sister C will be there 11-15, or something like that, and they haven’t seen those people in years either and are trying to make this trip cover everyone, but focused on the 90 year old father for brevity? Or something?

            Otherwise I don’t understand the all-or-nothing necessity of the three weeks. I certainly understand the difficulty in going a huge distance for less than a week given the expense and how much of the week gets taken by the travel itself…but if the employer might compromise on 2, I’d take it.

        2. Shiny*

          Yeah. I do business travel and we travel far away for short periods of time sometimes. For example, I’m heading to Thailand from the US for a week this weekend–leave Saturday, back the following Sunday, at work on Monday. Obviously it’s not ideal when you’re paying for your own vacation, but it’s certainly possible.

      5. Caroline Bowman*

        The thing is, if the travel is going to take several days and involve substantial jet lag both ends, then actually, while it might be technically possible, it would be very unpleasant to do and incredibly expensive also.

        Is this the company’s problem? No it isn’t. But the world we live in means people are much more mobile and these things are likely to come up again and again.

        A suggestion for the OP would be to ask if she can take any of the time unpaid. It would be a financial hit of course, but they might go for it. Otherwise, if she was intending to go at an ”off” time of year, it would mean she’ll have used all her allowance and thus not be wanting any more leave for quite some time, which might work in the company’s favour.

      6. Risha*

        This is super common for anyone whose family is in Asia. All of my Indian colleagues take 3 weeks every two or three years for their visits home, and a scattered few will take 4. This was true at my previous jobs as well. The general consensus is, indeed, that with flight times and costs, anything less than the 3 weeks isn’t really worth it.

        My Filipino colleague went home for three weeks last spring but worked out a deal where he actually worked full time for the first week of it, getting up in the middle of his night to remote in, while his wife and daughter did the visit family thing as normal.

        1. TootsNYC*

          with my job, being able to do remote work while everyone else is sleeping might be a bit of a bonus.

      7. Nanani*

        The time restriction could easily come into play if there is some sort of visa requirement – OP might have acquired work-country citizenship and have to jump through hoops now, or need some visas for partner/kids/etc.
        Or their hometown might not be a major metro with an international airport, so the travel on each end is multiple days between international and domestic travel.
        Or maybe a lot of things. Second-guessing OP isn’t super helpful to the advice.

    2. mamma mia*

      This is just bad strategy. OP should request the full three weeks off and if there is pushback on that, then maybe try and compromise for two weeks. There’s no reason for OP to initially begin by asking for less than what they actually want. That’s setting yourself up to lose. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

      1. Observer*

        Sure, they should ask for three. But insisting that it’s 3 weeks or nothing is likely to get them nothing. So, the OP needs to think REALLY carefully before drawing that line.

        1. Washi*

          Yeah, I think the OP should really carefully consider whether it really is 3 weeks or nothing. Ask for 3, sure, but if she were offered 2 weeks as a compromise, would she really turn that down? (Maybe the answer is yes! I could imagine if the family lives in like, rural Mongolia, that less than 3 weeks just isn’t workable. But maybe two weeks would be painful but doable, OP might want to do that rather than skipping the trip altogether.)

        2. mamma mia*

          I don’t disagree. I was just pointing out that Temperance’s advice of asking for two weeks instead of three weeks is defeatist. Ask for what you want and then be told no.

    3. Rockin Takin*

      My husband’s family is in Nepal and going for less than 3 weeks is very difficult. Because we aren’t made of money, we usually have to get flights where our total travel time is over 24 hours. I went for 2 weeks to attend my SIL’s wedding, and I had 12 hour layovers in the middle East going there and coming back (~30 hours travel time each way). The time change is roughly 12 hours, so only being there for 2 weeks then coming back was really tough on me mentally and physically.
      I feel for the letter writer. My husband was unable to return home for 7 years, and his grandfather died before he was ever able to see him again.
      Last year his grandmother died and he wasn’t able to return home either.

      Do not try and abuse FMLA policies, it will not go well. Also they investigate everything related to the claim very seriously, it’s not easy to lie and get away with it.

      If you can kindly sit down with your boss and explain your hardship, he/she should be willing to work out some arrangement. Then see where you can go from there.

  8. Nee Attitude*

    #2. I don’t think you can stop an employee who wants to pay their own way into conferences. I think the best way to address this is to tell employees that they are free to attend on their own, but they cannot claim association with their employer. They would have to attend as a individual member of the industry (which, if they have their own business or are associated with the industry outside of your employment, might mean that you have nothing to worry about). If they can’t attend without being associated with your company as an employer, then the problem is solved: they can’t attend.

    1. AnneMoliva ColeMuff*

      Would they be expected to use PTO in that case? I assume the company are also taking lost productivity into account when they’re assessing who they can allow to attend.

      1. valentine*

        I don’t think you can stop an employee who wants to pay their own way into conferences.
        You can. Remember the employee who defied an order not to go to one?

        And it matters that this person wants to buy the perk because the locale wasn’t as good when it was their turn.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            But that was a conference aimed at higher levels, where all candidates were representing their companies at higher management levels, where the LW added themselves to the list of their company’s representatives against their specific orders.

            It’s slightly different as this conference is one that the employee could legitimately attend as a company representative with no eyebrows raised at all, were it their turn to do so.

            1. valentine*

              Regardless of the details, your employer can, indeed, forbid you from or fire you for attending a conference.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          That person went to a conference they weren’t qualified to go to, and did it in a sneaky way. This isn’t comparable at all.

        2. Annony*

          It depends on the conference. The one you are referring to snuck her name onto her company’s list. It was not possible for the general public to sign up. Many conferences are not restricted like that and anyone who is willing to pay the registration fee can attend.

      2. Nee Attitude*

        I would think so. But in that case, wouldn’t lost productivity be taken into consideration for any type of leave request, whether or not conference related?

    2. Willis*

      This is where I’d fall as well. If that person wants to take PTO and pay their way to attend as an indivudual, then ok (assuming it isn’t a super busy season or some other legit reason to deny PTO).

      I think you could tell other staff that Jane is using her vacation time and covering her own costs cause she was particularly interested in this year’s conference. I get that it’s an opportunity others might not be able to afford, but that could be true about a lot of things Jane could elect to do in her free time (continuing ed, certifications, travel to other locations to see best practices, etc.). Plus, while I am interested in industry conferences, my interest would decline A LOT if suddenly I was paying for it and using PTO. Her co-workers might not be that jealous once they hear what she’s putting into it personally.

      If it was a real worry, I’d also explain the recruiting situation and ask her to be cognizant of that in responding about her attendance. “We do get funds for professional development and do conferences on a rotating basis. Blah, blah.” But that you may be potentially be recruiting some of these attendees she may talk to about this at some point in the future seems like weak reason to deny her attendance.

      1. Long Time Lurker*

        This is what I was going to suggest. Only people who are going in their turn don’t have to use PTO to attend.

      2. HiThere*

        in the library world paying for your own conference attendance is more normal than it should be. And you use PTO for it sometimes.

        1. Massmatt*

          I’m curious whether this means the atmosphere is more “let’s party!” than your usual conference?

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Not really, just that a lot of libraries have almost no budget for professional development.

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I also think that often times while conferences certainly have benefits for the company and a good employee will make sure they implement things they learned, conferences often give a bigger benefit to the individual attendee. It is knowledge that they keep forever and bring with them where ever they go, it increases a persons marketability when they look for new jobs “attended annual widget conference 5 years in a row 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.”

            My partner had previously attended a conference that was fully paid for their NP, the NP has a similar system as OP’s NP. The next year partner was asked by a group of colleagues at other institutions to join them in submitting a presentation proposal, it was accepted and they were invited to present at the conference. My partner has to convince the NP to let them go, they agreed to provide their own lodging, food and transportation, if the NP gave them the time as paid work time and paid for the registration fee.

            In NP even if they wanted to send everyone to a conference every year, funds are limited and on average its $1k per person.

        2. Sara without an H*

          In my library experience, nobody has had to use PTO for conference travel. Most places I’ve worked have given conference-goers release time, in lieu of any other kind of financial support. (And some of us slept five in a room, but that’s another story.)

          Under those circumstances, I made a decision that I wouldn’t attend the American Library Association’s annual shindig unless it was in a really interesting city.

    3. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      I agree that you can’t stop them going (and I would be LIVID if an employer tried to dictate what I do and don’t do with my own time and money) but I also see how this could seem grossly unfair to the other employees who miss out. Perceptions of favouritism or pay disparity – however false – are ripe for gossip and resentment to flourish. So if they go to the conference, be proactive and transparent in explaining this exception to the rest of the staff. Head it off to avoid creating an environment with room for speculation.

      Personally, I’d also be very careful about how you suggest that employees are free to attend on their own… that could come across as pressure (financially), especially if multiple others decide to go. As for insisting they claim no association with the employer, at a networking event where they presumably know other attendees, that seems impractical to me… and kinda weird.

      1. Ama*

        I do think it is important if the OP decides to allow this to be very very clear to Jane and the entire staff about the circumstances under why this is being allowed and that while it is an option for them (under the same arrangements of having to take PTO) it is absolutely not a requirement and that Jane’s attendance at the conference will not be factored in to any annual review. Then make sure this becomes a written policy that is stored somewhere where multiple people know of its existence and how to access it.

        I have seen too many times where a Jane gets permission to do something like this under very specific circumstances, then by the next time this comes up the people who knew those circumstances are no longer with the company and all of a sudden you have one of those situations people write to Alison about where people feel pressured to pay their own way to a conference or it looks like they aren’t as committed as their coworkers.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I assume you mean that just the fact of Jane going will not be factored in the review right and that anything that Jane learns and implements in the job should not be factored into the review? For example Jane learns of new best practices and comes back and implements those at the NP successfully, or learns of a new procedure that saves the NP time and/or money on process xyz, that should be allowed to be factored into Jane’s review?

      2. Nee Attitude*

        They shouldn’t be giving talks or presenting themselves as representatives of (or speaking on behalf of) the company when they attend the conference on their own time. I have the same restriction when I attend a conference on my own time. I can’t imply that they sent me or that I have their approval to be there, nor can I distribute literature and materials. At best, I am free to acknowledge who I work for and give business cards.

    4. D'Arcy*

      If it’s an open conference where people are allowed to sign up on their own — as opposed to something where you have to sign up through the company only, like that other letter years ago — then I’d argue that the company has no standing to say that the employee can’t take their own time and their own money to go. And in that case, the company would be setting an *incredibly horrible* example if they tried to say, “You’re not allowed to develop yourself professionally outside of our limited sponsorship because your coworkers can’t afford it.”

      1. Anna*

        This.

        I’ve paid for conferences and continuing professional development several times. Believe it or not, I’ve never had a conference covered by an employer. I do hope that I get such opportunities in the future, but until then I take the responsibility upon myself to keep learning, and to seek opportunities that will grow me personally and professionally. What my coworkers decide to do with their money and time is to their discretion, but it shouldn’t affect my out of pocket professional growth.

      2. Baja*

        Sure, my employer could insist I not use my own money and PTO to go — but I would immediately begin looking for a new job if they did. They might be fine with that and whatever other employees make of it.

      3. iceberry*

        I fully agree. Conferences aren’t just a fun opportunity to get out of the office, there is so much professional development and learning that happens, along with building professional networks. The company has plenty to gain from this and they are not the ones paying. Limiting access to a conference would make me want to attend the conference even more to shop around for other employers who support their employees professional growth and interests.

      4. MissDisplaced*

        It’s definitely a gray area. I think a lot of the decision depends on the type of conference it is, and whether or not it would seem inappropriate for the person to go on their own.

      5. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Agreed.
        Some employers pay for conferences, career-related training & college courses, and membership in professional societies. Some allow employees to flex their schedules around 10am weekday college classes. Some do not — and that might be fair, because only they know their budget and cost/benefit ratios.
        But even the friend’s company who wouldn’t pay for a BA in English* didn’t stop her from finding a way to start working on that degree on her own time.
        (*Side rant: They decided that for her technical position, only technical and business degrees were job-related. Even though that degree is a possible path into her company’s tech writing & marketing departments. Pennywise, pound foolish!)

    5. linger*

      No, it’s more to everyone’s benefit if the employee does claim association with their employer. Whether or not the networking benefits the individual, there may also be some benefit to the company from having more interpersonal continuity in its representation at this conference series. Who else attends that your company may need to work with, and that this same employee might have met last year? The self-funded employee could help introduce the company-funded representative to these people. If they are working together, that can also help counter any misperception that “our company doesn’t fund conference attendance”.
      So on balance, the positives to the company may outweigh the negatives.

      1. Kate*

        Would it be possible to send the employee as an “observer for our company”? Where I have been, there has been a separate status for extras who may or may not come on their own expenses.

    6. LW #2*

      Thank you all for your advice and comments. I feel so weird about this situation and appreciate the perspectives. I definitely don’t want to tell people what they can and cannot do outside of work and I do see how this is falling into that space. This person asked, which is why I’ve felt in the position to answer (they would never ask for permission to take time off for other things and I would never expect them to do so), but I can see the overstep of declining. I hadn’t really considered whether or not they’d be using PTO as we would never ask someone to use PTO for a conference generally. I’ll have to figure something out about that. I’m going to let it go and I will work with both employees on what things to present so that we aren’t overlapping presentations and/or submitting competing proposals. I feel weird about how to present this to the team since I don’t want to make a big point of saying that this person is paying for themselves or imply that we want them to pay their own way for these things, but I will come up with something.
      A few things that might have added more clarity (in case anyone is interested), this is not the major conference for our field and that is why we only send 1 person most years (usually from our particular team, because it’s the strongest fit). While we are a large organization in our field, it is a small field so it would not really be possible (and honestly, it would be really strange) to have this person go as an unaffiliated participant. People can theoretically attend without being affiliated, but I’ve never met anyone who has done that. It is a small conference, maybe 200 people and almost everyone is presenting in some capacity. Being a presenter doesn’t mitigate costs, unfortunately. It is more of a share-out and networking experience than a training experience – although you definitely learn as well and we always have whoever attends share out about their experience and if any sessions, in particular, are relevant or exciting we all watch the videos (conference posts everything online, which is awesome). We send all the staff on our team to some type of professional development/conference/training every year (usually more than one) but at these levels, it is usually a national or international conference every 2-3 years rather than annually.
      Thank you again for all of your advice, I probably won’t be able to pop into the comments too much today, but I will try!

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I feel weird about how to present this to the team since I don’t want to make a big point of saying that this person is paying for themselves or imply that we want them to pay their own way for these things, but I will come up with something.

        “As you know, we have a formal rotation for attending this conference. Jane wasn’t up for it this year, but strongly wanted to go, so she’s decided to go on her own dime. We’d like to remind all of you that you also have this option, and that it won’t affect your place in the formal conference rotation – we’ll still send you to the conference when you come up.”

        This tells me I can pay my own way, but I don’t have to, and there’s no pressure either way.

        1. EPLawyer*

          It will create resentment. Not everyone can afford to pay their own way to a conference they really want to go to.

          This isn’t what the person wants to do on their own time. It’s what the person is doing for the company. They want to go because its a cool location. Not because they learned so much, etc. It’s solely because the payee didn’t get a cool location and is mad. So they are buying their way out of the normal rotation to make up for their “loss.” That is not a good look. It’s a fair system with a rotation that everyone gets to attend this conference eventually. It is not fair that someone with more money gets to attend more solely based on the location of the conference. So when it’s in a terrible location next year, does that person get to buy their way out in hope that the next year it will be a good location again?

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            It shouldn’t. People who get bent out of shape about the “unfairness” of someone spending their own money to attend a conference, frankly, just need to get over it. I mean, are you going to tell your staff they can’t go on a cool non-work-related vacation just because someone else is jealous? And why are you jumping to the conclusion that they’ll “buy their way” out of conferences in less attractive locations? That’s not in the letter at all. Please don’t make stuff up.

            1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

              No, it shouldn’t, and yes they should just get over it. But people gonna people, and that’ll probably mean someone will get bent out of shape over a perceived unfairness or try to manipulate the rule bending in future, because that’s what people do.
              OP has a crap cake here, and no matter how she slices it, it’s going to splatter. Arguing that it shouldn’t doesn’t help her mitigate the predictable and realistic mess that will ensue regardless of the slices.

              1. Mike C.*

                Then we tell the people who are bent out of shape to can it. Just like any other situation where people are being unreasonable. Then we move on and continue to live our lives as we see fit.

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  Yup: Refuse permission because someone might be irrationally upset moves us into “The crazies always win” territory.

                2. TreenaKravm*

                  This. People need to get over themselves. I’ve paid for lots of professional development–either entirely on my own or partially covered by my employer. I was able to do that not because I had a higher salary than anyone else, but because I prioritized professional development! Other people have kids, houses, nice cars, expensive hobbies, whatever. Travel is my big hobby/personal expense, and I jump at the opportunity to tack on professional development opportunities whenever possible, or tack on travel to professional development, whichever came first.

                3. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

                  For clarity, I’m not suggesting permission to attend be refused. I’m just pointing out that people (of all ages and seniority level) can be surprisingly, unreasonably childish about this stuff and I’m questioning the most effective way to minimise the impact on the team longer term. Telling those people they shouldn’t feel resentful and need to get over it, while true, isn’t a tactful way for a manager to navigate complex issues of team morale.

            2. Threeve*

              The concerns about the optics to the rest of the staff are legitimate.

              This is a much more OTT example, but: one of the directors at a nonprofit I used to work at used her own (family) money to install a new computer and a treadmill desk in her office. It was probably at least $4,000.

              Was she within her rights to do that? Sure. It would have been really weird for the ED to stop her.

              But it didn’t exactly endear her to the rest of the staff, who were actually relying on their mediocre nonprofit salaries, squeaking around in beat-up office chairs, and going years between tech upgrades.

              1. Marthooh*

                Maybe point out to the rest of the staff that an employee paying for their own equipment leaves more money in the budget for everyone else’s stuff.

          2. Yorick*

            The employee wants to go to the conference; the city may be a perk but isn’t the whole motivation. He could’ve just planned a vacation in the cool location if that’s all he cared about, and it’d be easier for him since it wouldn’t be the company’s business.

            1. alienor*

              That’s a really good point. A vacation might even have been cheaper since they wouldn’t have to pay the fee to attend the conference, which can be hundreds or thousands of dollars all on its own.

          3. Brett*

            We are placing our own motivations onto the person without really knowing their motivations.
            When I go to a conference where I am presenting and attending workshops, I rarely leave the building, much less enjoy the “cool location”. The person here is submitting presentations, and the workshop is heavily training oriented.
            There is a distinct possibility that their motivation for attending has nothing to do with the cool location or being “mad” or some sense of “loss”.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Based on what OP said it seems that it is the opposite: “It is more of a share-out and networking experience than a training experience – although you definitely learn as well…” emphasis added.

              Things vary by conferences, my partner has gone to several conferences where the actual conference itself builds in cool activities to do as part of the day, hosts networking events in cool locations every evening, or where people go out and explore the city after 5 pm. My partner has met people who crash and spend the rest of the night in their room after 5/6 when the conference is done, and also met others who go out and explore the city til 10/11pm.

          4. Seeking Second Childhood*

            It’s NOT necessarily only the location — many first-time presenters get asked to present only because of a connections they made the year before. And are only able to if it’s the immediate following year.

          5. Mike C.*

            It’s not fair that people with more money get to do a whole lot of things, but among that list being able to develop your skills is pretty dang low on the unfairness scale.

          6. Kelly*

            There will always be resentment when it comes to funding for conferences because most organizations are not great about transparency and open communication when it comes to how decisions are made in regard to who goes, where they go, and how much is funded.

            It doesn’t matter if all or some of the costs are paid for by their employer, the person is paying for it out of pocket themselves, or the person lobbies the higher ups in their organization to have their employer pay for it for various reasons. Those could be that they want to save their professional development money for another trip that will cost more or already have used it up but need to be there because they have a role as a presenter or organizer. That really thrives in organizations with a culture where transparency and openness about funding and decision making is not seen as a priority. Instead, it’s seen as some people have more privileged access to scarce funding. It’s simply not equitable.

            I’ve tried getting funding for out of town professional development and have been denied every time. I’m in public academia and have been in my current role for almost 7 years. I got funding for a seminar that in town last year, which was the first time I had gotten any funding. To be honest, it really wasn’t worth it considering the cost and format which was some dude spitting out powerpoints from his book, but it was a nice gesture getting the funding.

            The funding for the out of town one I really wanted to go to went to a person who was in a fellowship position that was ending at the end of this year. They had been to multiple conferences in the two years they had been with my organization and ended up accepting a permanent job a couple months after this conference. The funding probably would have been better spent having it go to a permanent employee who could have shared what they learned from this conference, which was aimed at all experience levels, but with a particular focus on those in the least powerful positions.

          7. Coyote Tango*

            Not everyone can afford a Lexus either but it seems hugely impractical to forbid everyone from buying them so nobody gets jealous.

        2. KayDeeAye*

          So if she’s going to pay her own way (travel, hotel and the conference fee) and take PTO…why would she want to go? Why not just take a vacation in this coolio location and save herself the conference fee? I’ve been to conferences that I enjoyed and benefited from…but they certainly aren’t more valuable than a vacation. I guess I just don’t really understand the employee’s viewpoint here.

          But if she does pay her own way and use her own PTO, then I think those who would still be resentful are just going to have to get over it. It’s really not their business, at least IMO.

          1. Oh So Anon*

            There are lots of people who, in some shape or form, use their PTO for professional development activities, even if it’s not in a very visible way. Like the folks who take time off to study for exams or write theses, for example. I’m in a low-residency graduate program and I used PTO for my time spent on campus – I didn’t necessarily need to, but it was a much more straightfoward process than figuring out educational leave.

            I like the fun of a vacation, but the reality is that professional development is probably going to be more valuable to me in the future. A vacation gives me something for people to talk to me about around the water cooler, but I can’t put it on my resume. Maybe that’s not super relatable for a lot of people, but it might be where the employee is coming from.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              I don’t know, Oh So Anon. It doesn’t seem to me that your entirely reasonable use of PTO for professional development is even sort of comparable to how this person is considering using it. And the proof is that the reason she’s so interested now is that it’s in a cool location. It sounds to me as though she’s just looking for an excuse to go there, which is fine and who can blame her? But if you don’t have an excuse and nobody’s going to subsidize your trip because of that excuse, why not just vacation in this nifty locale? Why invent an excuse – which is what she’s doing – if it’s not going to benefit you?

          2. Paulina*

            Going to the conference at the cool location gives her company — other attendees to hang out with while she networks at the exciting place. These may include people she got to know at the last conference, and a networking experience that she enjoys.

      2. snowglobe*

        While I can understand wanting to coordinate presentations with the other employee attending, I think if this person is attending on their own dime and taking PTO to attend, then you should avoid that. Treat it as if they are on vacation, doing their own thing. Once you start trying to tell them which sessions to attend, then the question of why they are paying their own way becomes more of an issue.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          I would agree. Unless the idea is EVERYONE who attends presents, so not presenting would be weird, but that sounds like it would mean 200 presentations, which seems excessive.

        2. Threeve*

          This is where I’m landing too. If she’s going on her own dime and PTO, she’s going as an attendee, and not a representative of the company.

        3. Half-Caf Latte*

          yeah, I was cool with them paying to attend until you added the detail that most attendees also present. (FWIW, I also assumed they’d be using PTO for the time). The first scenario is – we have a second person attending, who can get information, and it will benefit us. In the second scenario, presumably the employee whose turn it is to attend now gets less exposure to her peers/networking/CV cred as presenter, etc, because of this other person’s attendance.

          Also, I’m not the expert, but I’d want to know if this was potentially running afoul of labor laws – even if exempt, if they’re doing work they might need to be paid, and I don’t know if PTO

          1. Annony*

            Yeah, if possible I would tell the employee that they can attend on their own dime if they chose but not present company material. If they are presenting, then it really seems like they are working.

            1. RecoveringSWO*

              Yep, this has my spidey sense tingling for legal “employee tests” with regards to labor/employment laws and company tort liability. Is the employee likely to ask for wages or cause the company to get sued on this trip? No, not likely. But the company might want to take steps to avoid potential issues.

        4. Washi*

          I agree. It also tips me more towards the no side of this…enormous conferences are basically public events, and it would seem weird to me to say an employee can’t pay to go to the event. But a tiny conference where everyone knows each other and presents? To me, that’s more like having an employee buy their way into a business meeting or retreat. If the event is so small that the employee will inevitably end up acting as a representative of the company and not just an attendee, I think the company has the standing to say that they would prefer to only have 1 rep there, and it’s not this person’s turn.

      3. The Original Stellaaaaa*

        I would remember that it’s also a morale issue if some people are sent to better cities than others. Your system isn’t equitable to begin with so you can’t argue from a position of wanting to maintain fairness.

      4. e271828*

        Does this employee want to go to the conference, or do they really just want an excuse to go to Interesting City on vacation with presumably some of the expense picked up by the company?

      5. Zahra*

        I would totally make the “pay my own way” employee take PTO (or unpaid). When the organization sends someone, it’s work and they should be compensated. When a person chooses to go, they are not obligated to do so and should not be paid by the employer for the time spent away from the office.

    7. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I have a coworker who uses PTO and his own money every year to attend a conference. The situation is that the conference is of limited relevance to our company, but my coworker held a leadership position in the conference’s professional association prior to his employment with us. He feels that it’s worth spending his own money and PTO because it looks good on his resume to be a leader of a professional association. Our employer has no problem with this.

    8. TootsNYC*

      you can sometimes; if all attendees must be sponsored by the employer, the employer can decline to include them. The employer can also decline to allow them to count those days as work days and insist they take those days as vacation.

      I was wondering why they didn’t just go to that city on vacation, but I’m guessing it’s that attending the conference would be on work time. Maybe the conference itself is a significant part of the appeal.

    9. k*

      This might be a field-specific thing — I go to a lot of conferences, but all of them are in creative/technical fields — but how exactly are you supposed to “not claim association with your employer”? In virtually every conference I have ever attended and/or presented at, there are dozens if not hundreds of times where one just… says this, both formally (name tags, if you happen to be on any kind of talk or panel or workshop or anything with a bio) and informally (almost literally every single conversation you have.) What are you supposed to do? Lie? Claim that you’re under an NDA about something that can just be Googled in five seconds?

      I really do think this may be something that varies from field to field, because the idea of being prohibited to attend a conference just because a coworker is going is absolutely baffling to me. I totally get — some conferences can be hundreds or thousands of dollars, and there is definitely resentment over that — but there is also a general understanding that people might end up paying their way. (There are also sometimes scholarships, student rates, grants to under-reached communities, etc. for this reason. Not enough, obviously, but some.)

      Or what if they do the thing — also extremely common with the more expensive conferences — where they don’t attend the conference proper, but are in town for any unofficial events/meetings/breakouts/un-conferences/social gatherings/etc.? Would that be policed as well?

  9. Marie*

    If the employee takes PTO and funds the entire conference on their own, isn’t that their prerogative? It seems heavy handed to dictate what employees may do with their own time and money.

    1. Jimming*

      Yeah I would be angry if I was planning to attend a professional development conference with my own time and money and my employer tried to prevent me from going. If the employee is that excited and wants to go, and can take the vacation time, then why not? They can attend as an individual – and mentioning to other attendees that the company does provide rotating professional development funds and time off for employees to attend conferences has good optics. If they want, they can say it was their turn last year and they enjoyed it so much they decided to go again.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        I would be angry as well. It’s been pointed out here at AAM that what employees do on their personal time is their personal business. If I want to take a trip on my own time, financed by my own money, to go lie on a beach somewhere (for example), that’s my choice. If I choose to use that same time and money to attend a professional conference in my field instead, that’s my choice as well.

      2. Angelinha*

        But they’re not going as an individual person, they’re going as a representative of the company. I think it’s reasonable for them only to be allowed to go if the company is paying for it and using work time, not PTO. (I can see why the OP feels torn, though – definitely tricky!)

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I worked at a place where only 2 people in a very large organization were allowed to go to the conference each year and one slot was always held by the person who was my employer’s rep to the association that hosted the conference. If anyone else wanted, or was required by their grant, to go, you had to take PTO and, if your grant didn’t cover it, pay your own way. A stupid rule that funders always pushed back on, but we were a state organization and changing it would have required changing state regulations.

    2. Baja*

      It’s comparable to not allowing an employee to get a degree or certificate IN THE SAME FIELD. It’s one thing to out parameters on classes or tuition reimbursement or amounts of time an employee must commit to staying at the company or face finance clawbacks after the employer foots part of the costs. But if the employee is financing the degree entirely outside of the company and taking classes on their own time? How does the company have any more standing than dictating what movies the enployee can go see on the weekend?

      1. LW #2*

        I wasn’t expecting this interpretation and I’m totally with you about policing personal time. In order to hopefully not seem like quite as big of jerk as I’m coming across, I had never considered them using PTO for this. We never use it for conferences so the idea hadn’t crossed my mind. The only other thing I’ll say in my defense is that I don’t think it’s quite the same as attending grad school or going to a movie in that those aren’t done as a company representative. If that makes sense? Maybe not, either way I’m totally dropping it and will work with both employees on their presentations! Thanks for the perspective that I hadn’t considered! I swear I’m not a terrible person.

        1. Myrin*

          For what it’s worth, OP, I don’t think you’re coming across as a terrible person at all! On the contrary – you sound extremely reasonable and thoughtful and like you want to balance all existing parametres and I really commend you for that!

        2. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          FWIW, the fact that you are thinking about all the potential implications of this makes you 100% The Opposite Of Jerk :) And questioning when and how it’s appropriate for company policies and processes to be bent, and the optics of bending them, that’s uber grey territory worthy of interrogation.

        3. Colette*

          I think most of the commenters assumed the employee would be taking PTO, and you assumed they wouldn’t. If they take PTO, they can of course do whatever they want during it; however, if the company is paying for their time, the company gets a say.

        4. BethDH*

          Being a presenter also seems relevant. It’s not just networking. It is a more extended and visible kind of conference presence.
          I get why you worried about it but think the message sent by not allowing it is worse than the one sent by allowing it.

        5. Hiring Mgr*

          You don’t seem like a terrible person at all, in fact it’s great that you are so tuned in to the dynamics of the team.

          One thing though – it seems that if this person is presenting at the conference, that’s a little different…Was there going to be a presentation if this guy didn’t go (you mention the one already going is doing a different pres?) Can the pay your own way guy just attend without presenting? I guess the difference in my mind is that I wouldn’t have him use PTO if he’s actually working at the conference…That doesnt’ seem right

        6. Half-Caf Latte*

          I commented above, but I think you should think critically about whether the optional person presenting diminishes the experience of the person who’s turn it is to go.

          If it was my turn to go, and normally it’s an opportunity to be the face of rice-sculpting for llamas, Inc, but now Sally’s also here and representing Llamas, especially if Sally is senior to me or more well-known in the field, I’d be worried/pissed that people will compare our presentations, or not remember me, or whatever.

          1. Mike C.*

            Then you let the person who’s turn it is be the face and take the lead on those issues while the other person attends as normal.

          2. Formerly Ella Vader*

            I was just coming to say this too! In the best case, the one who went last year might introduce the new one to people but mostly hangs back to allow the new person to be visible.

            Especially if the person whose turn it is is junior, or female, or otherwise demographically disadvantaged, it’s very likely that people who remember the one from last year will naturally talk to the one they remember, and assume they are the delegate again.

          3. Formerly Ella Vader*

            I was just coming to say this too! In the best case, the one who went last year might introduce the new one to people but mostly hangs back to allow the new person to be visible.

            Especially if the person whose turn it is is junior, or female, or otherwise demographically disadvantaged, it’s very likely that people who remember the one from last year will naturally talk to the one they remember, assuming they are the delegate again.

      2. WellRed*

        Because the degree is not tied to the company in the same way that an employee attending and presenting at an industry conference is.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          Not just that, but using PTO to work on a degree or even present at an *academic* conference is a thing you do as part of your role as a student/scholar/researcher – it’s not something you’re doing while wearing your day job hat.

      3. EPLawyer*

        Also person is not going for professional development. They want the cool location. They went last year.

        LW noted above that the whole conference videos are online and you are free to watch them. So you can still get the development without attending. It’s the location, location, location that this is about.

        1. Willis*

          So what? The location exists year round. This woman could choose to go there any time, the fact that she’s choosing to do so for the conference would indicate she’s also interested in professional development. And she went to the previous year’s conference even though it was in a non-glamorous location, also presumably for the professional development component. It seems really odd to keep arguing someone who is asking to spend their personal vacation time and money to watch work presentations is somehow just doing that as a backdoor for a vacation. Just take the vacation, if that’s all she wants!

          1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            I’m outside the US, but is the tax deductibility angle worth considering in the strong desire to attend? Claiming it could significantly offset the cost of her vacation.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I think that she’d have to assert that attendance was required by her employer. And provide documentation.

            2. Jenny Next*

              Taking this as a tax deduction is a near impossibility for an employee, because you have to itemize deductions, and you can only deduct an amount above a certain threshold.

              For an independent contractor, on the other hand, the whole kit-and-kaboodle could be deducted as a professional development expense (and possibly a “drumming-up-new-business” expense), provided one actually attends the conference, of course!

              (I did this a few years ago when I was working part-time for an employer plus working several contracts on the side. It was completely on my own dime, it was my own idea, and I had a great time attending the presentations and seeing long-time colleagues. I did decline to do a presentation for the part-time employer, though, since they were not paying for me to go, and the stress would have taken a lot of the fun out.)

              1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

                Ah ok, thanks for clarifying! Very different situation where I am, but we also pay a comparatively much higher income tax rate. Here, any employee would be able to claim the work portion of a trip at EOFY as long as they had receipts and diary records. If the conference were, say on a Thurs-Fri and they decided to stay till Sunday afternoon for vacation, essentially they would be able to claim over half the cost as a deduction. So being able to subsidise it like that I could understand as a motivating factor, but it’s clearly not the case here.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I assumed she wanted to go to the conference because she didn’t want to use PTO to go to the city.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Maybe the program or the attendee turnout will be better/higher than it was in Non-Exciting Location. I imagine more people would want to go (so, more networking opportunities) and more speakers would be willing to come to Fun Location than to the unfun one. (Speaking from personal experience – I attend non-work-related conferences on my own, that are through the same org, but at a different location every year. I was once wondering why the event program at Cool East-Coast Location a few years prior was so much better and had more and better speakers than at Meh Location that year. I had it explained to me. It was easier to get better speakers at Cool Location.)

        3. Mike C.*

          I’ve been to conferences in cool locations, and you’re not going to have a ton of time to actually enjoy the location.

          1. Half-Caf Latte*

            That wholly depends on the field/conference. There are some conferences I’ve attended of the “pre-conference breakfast workshop at 6am to 8pm networking dinner marathon” variety, and also the “glorified ski vacation where attendees come to the two hour morning session in their ski gear, take a 7 hour ‘break’, then attend the 2 hour evening session” variety.

        4. Seeking Second Childhood*

          1. You don’t get to *PRESENT* if you’re not in attendance.
          2. Presenting at a conference is huge for some industries. Location might be fantastic not because it’s a great beach day — it might be because it’s the one closest to a business/university/individual that employee relies on in daily work.

        5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          So? I paid my own way to a conference in Alaska (a freaking amazing location) because my employer only allowed 2 people to go each year and I didn’t get chosen. All the materials and presentation recordings were going to be available online. I wanted to go and benefited from going because there was also the opportunity to visit a pretty innovative program in one of the Alaskan Native villages, something that you can’t really get the full effect of online. My specialty is rural health and social service delivery and it was, if not a once in a lifetime, a once in a very rare time chance to see.

    3. La Framboise*

      In my 20s, in my second job of my career, I was not I could not sit on a committee of my national association, for which I was asked, nor could I sit on an awards committee which had their ceremony in DC at the time. I did it anyway. Didn’t tell anyone until after the fact. Didn’t get fired. Was very angry at my director for trying to prevent a growth opportunity.And it was part of the reason I did not stay at that organization. More than 20 years later, my director’s dictate still makes me angry. LW, I would step back from trying to control someone, you’re possibly creating a bad perception of heavy handedness.

      1. consultinerd*

        Yeah, the notion that you shouldn’t let someone pay their way to a conference (or class, or other development opportunity) because it’s an unfair leg up on their coworkers’ advancement is just bizarre to me. Employers should provide equitable access to internal development opportunities and set reasonable standards of what’s required of their staff, but it’s counterproductive and (imo) inappropriate to police how people invest in their own career development above and beyond what their employer offers.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      I just want to point out that it may depend on the type of conference it is. If it’s some big trade show thing, fine.

      But remember the post where the rather clueless but gumption filled entry-level employee paid her own way to a conference that was intended for senior executives and found herself in way over her head? Yikes!

      I think there is some justifiable concern over letting employees pay their own way to these things.
      Plus, it may be unintentionally setting some norms that should be avoided, or even feelings of resentment for the employee who feels they need to be there so bad they’ll pay. I wouldn’t outright deny letting the employee do so, but I think you’d have to really consider the type of event and why they’re insisting.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        But remember the post where the rather clueless but gumption filled entry-level employee paid her own way to a conference that was intended for senior executives and found herself in way over her head? Yikes!

        Overall, a legitimate concern, but this person went to this conference last year…

    5. Anon for today*

      I think they should let them go if they want to pay their own way and use PTO.

      My company used to let every full-time person go to 1 conference per year. We are a US/ South East based company and we would have people flying to the West Coast, Northeast, Canada, etc. Once I became full-time and it was “my” turn to go to a conference that perk was revoked. Only Directors and Managers could go to conference and you have to “present” your case and show how the conference is related to your job duties. I didn’t get a chance to present my case because I’m not a manager or director. I even offered to pay for everything, use PTO and was still denied. It has caused a bit of resentment on my part because I feel like that are not as concerned about my professional development and want me to use local, one or two day opportunities that are basically customer service classes that I don’t need or something not closely enough related to my job.

    6. TootsNYC*

      the employee may be thinking it wouldn’t be PTO; maybe they’re thinking, “It’ll be work, so I don’t have to take vacation.”

      It could also be a conference where all attendees have to be sponsored by an employer that is recognized by the conference.

  10. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

    LW2: the only possible way I can see for this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario to seem somewhat fair is if the employee were already planning a mini-vacation at the destination, and since they’re already there and covering the costs of travel/accommodation, you made an exception to cover the cost of the conference ticket (and paid them as a work day during attendance). If that could legitimately be the case.

    1. Willis*

      But it sounds like the employee is willing to cover her conference ticket. Why open the can of worms by giving her something extra when that’s the optics the OP is trying to avoid? It seems like the worker just needs approval to take the time off to attend (or maybe the org name attached to her if it’s not something she can register for as an individual).

      1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        It’s the issue of the attendees from other organisations that OP also mentioned in the letter. As potential recruits, she didn’t want them inadvertently thinking that they expect staff to pay their own way. I did assume though that “exciting overseas location” means that the travel component represents most of the cost (and the allure).

        1. andy*

          Isnt that ridiculous worry? Most companies and most people dont get to go to conferences at all. Companies just dont pay that. So I dont really see how “I paid for myself, I was not among 3 people company selected to go” is somehow worst.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Exactly. If it comes up, as the LW thinks it could, just say “My employer sends us on a rotating schedule, and it wasn’t my turn this year, so I decided to pay my own way this one time.” How is that a bad message?

        2. Product Person*

          There is an easy solution for the problem of We might want to recruit some of these people one day and I don’t want them to think we don’t pay people to attend conferences, we do! We just can’t pay for everyone to attend each year and this isn’t their year.

          Ask the employee to say, IF the topic comes up, “Oh, we have a rotation system, and this year was not my turn, so I arranged to come at my own expense. But a colleague could attend with expenses covered. Everyone gets a chance to come, only not every year.”

    2. Phony Genius*

      There’s something here I’m not fully understanding. It sounds like the employee mostly wants to attend the conference because it’s in Exciting City. They are essentially asking to book a vacation to Exciting City, but it just happens to be where the conference is. Are they really interested in the conference, or in Exciting City? Also, in my experience, it doesn’t matter where these types of conferences are held. You often get little to no time to enjoy the city, and the whole experience ends up being no different than a conference in Boring City. Except that the airport’s more crowded in Exciting City.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        That’s what I just commented too. If the city is the main draw for them and they’re planning on paying their own way, it seems to me they should just take a vacation there ‾\_(ツ)_/‾

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I think the reason the employee is asking is because they do not want to use PTO and they want it to be counted as paid work time. So while the employee is paying for food, hotel, travel, and registration expenses, having to use PTO would be an extra burden/expense on the employee.

      2. Mike C.*

        This exactly. Last conference I was at was in Vegas. I literally had a single evening to wander around and explore.

      3. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        I also got the impression this was more about visiting the city than going to the conference for the employee. I mentioned this elsewhere already, but even if the employer weren’t paying, could the employee be claiming the travel expenses on their personal tax if work is involved, and could that be a motivating factor here for travelling especially for the conference? I’m outside the US so I don’t know the local tax regs.

      4. Kelly*

        My dad traveled quite a bit for work in a previous job before the 2008 recession. Sometimes, he went to more exciting, touristy destinations like Orlando. He also traveled internationally as well.

        On some of the trips, he’d ask my mother and sometimes my sister and I if we wanted to go with him so he would have some company in the evenings. We usually took him up on the offer during the summers when we were home from college with one trip with him for each person. He’d use his miles to pay for our airfare, because that was the only way he’d use it up as we usually took long road trip vacations. He said that he never got out in the evenings when he was on his own to do sightseeing and other touristy things on his own time. He didn’t enjoy doing that on his own but when he had company. He’s also commented that I’ve seen more of Paris than he did, because he spent all day in meetings.

        He wasn’t doing anything that was out of the norm for people at his level. Some of his colleagues bought their wives along on most trips, especially the ones to Europe. He doesn’t travel much anymore, but when he did with his current employer, that particular perk would only allowed for the really high grand pooh-bahs, not for middle management like him.

  11. staceyizme*

    For LW 3 whose company offers 3 weeks of vacation with the caveat that only one week may be taken at a time- that just seems arbitrary. The company is essentially saying that you have to pay for travel, one of the largest vacation related expenditures, three times over. I know that there are reasons why it makes sense to limit vacation use, but if you’re going to interrupt the flow of your projects anyway, insisting that you do so three times each calendar year in order to use up your vacation seems a bit excessive.

    1. Sherm*

      Yeah, I would definitely want to know the reasons for this policy. At my workplace, everyone is overworked, and nasty surprise deadlines can pop up just about any time (as in “Government Agency requires a response in 3 days,” and even here no one bats an eye when someone takes a 2-week break.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Not to mention companies where at least 1 holiday per year has to last at least 10 days (not including public holidays) for audit and compliance reasons. This is common in financial and accounting/auditing companies.

      2. Mr. Tyzik*

        I may be colored by years in tech in the US, but this PTO policy seems racist to me.

        Most Americans take vacations in 1-2 weeks chunks. Most South Asians take a minimum of 3 weeks and sometimes 4. It’s easier for an American to adjust vacation time to a domestic destination than for someone who travels internationally. There are other cultures with different vacation practices who are also affected by one week at a time – I’m thinking of my British ex-pat coworkers who routinely go on fortnights.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          A disparate impact claim is a pretty big hurdle to overcome it is an interesting argument.

          But I think based on the business coverage related issues a cap on how long someone can be gone for is understandable. At my current job the most I have taken consecutively is two weeks, I have not asked or seen anyone being gone longer than 2 weeks. Covering someone for two weeks can be hard but feasible, usually one or two people might have to work extra hours (50/55 instead of 40) if everything still needs to be covered, or certain tasks might need to be dropped for the time being. But for 3 or 4 weeks, asking someone to work 50/55 is a bigger task, still not impossible, or leaving certain tasks undone for 3/4 weeks might not be possible.

          I am traveling to SE Asia and will be gone for 13 days including the travel time, while it will not be nearly long enough it is possible especially if you are only traveling to one country/area.

          1. Mr. Tyzik*

            Like I said, I could be biased from my time in corporate America, but that’s where my head went.

            The timeframes I threw up there are not hard and fast, of course. Just representative. I agree that in some situations, coverage needs apply and sometimes vacation time is mandatory (thinking of some accounting positions where accountants are required to go out for 2 weeks while someone else reviews the books). But to arbitrarily say, across the board, that time is limited is usually communicated with reasons why. It doesn’t sound like that happened based on OP’s letter.

            I think the disparate impact could be shown through exceptions. Let’s say that OP gets an exception to the policy, so therefore there is an exception process. In this example, one could track the demographic of requests and exceptions to see if there is a pattern. But off the top of my head, I’m thinking of the number of people I’ve known who visit family in India, for whom their trips are two weeks, minimum, and thinking that they would especially be affected by this policy.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I can certainly see where you are coming from, off the top of my head I don’t think any case like that has come up through the courts. I might have to research it a bit for fun. I think the argument could be made that they are impacted based on having family abroad, not on being from SE Asia. Someone from Finland or Russia could have similar issues. Someone from India or Vietnam could have all their family in the US and therefore not be impacted by the policy or on the flip side a Caucasian christian from the Midwest could have their family retire in abroad in SE Asia, Africa, or somewhere else far away and they would still be impacted.

              You are correct if the policy is in place and they provide exceptions to certain groups of people but not others it certainly could be discriminatory.

              I think with the way US Courts are being shaped it would be a tough sell. I could see many courts say no one is telling people they can’t go abroad for one week, just because people prefer to be gone for 3/4 at a time does not mean they are being discriminated against.

              But I agree with you, unless OP being gone for 3 weeks would really put the company up Schmidt’s creek without a paddle they should let them go.

              1. Mr. Tyzik*

                I agree with you about the courts. I don’t think that there is legality involved, but more of a read of how that company feels about diversity.

                I doubt that even in a case where there was a pattern of discrimination, it likely wouldn’t rise to a legal challenge.

                1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

                  I can’t see how it is racist in any way as long as it s applied to everyone. It may not be familiar to all cultures but is certainly not uncommon.

        2. Banana Stand*

          I mean I think US people only do that because they typically get so little PTO. We really need to know the reason behind the policy. If it is coverage based then it makes sense to me.

    2. SS Express*

      I don’t think this is that weird? I mean, it’s certainly not great for a number of reasons, but I can see why an employer might prefer it – people taking breaks of a few days at a time would often be less disruptive than taking a few weeks at once. In some jobs it would mean multiple disruptions instead of just one, but in many others people could have a few days or a week off and not really be missed.

      1. Daisy*

        Employers *might prefer* a lot of things, like employees to never take their holidays. I think there needs to be a better reason for a rule that really affects how people use their free time. It’s horrible and they should not enforce it.

      2. Anonymous for this, colleagues read here*

        Agreed. I have tons of annual (= vacation) leave accrued, and I do take vacations; I have enough to take three weeks in a row. We do not have a length of vacation rule, but in general, one week is pretty easy to get approved as long as it is not during new student orientation (two weeks of all-hands-on-deck) or the first week of classes. Two weeks needs negotiating. Three weeks is probably possible, but I don’t know of anyone in my office who’s done a full three weeks. Leave at the two “you must be here” times is also possible, but you need to have a lot capital and it needs to happen like once a decade — it’s really exceptional. I’ve missed part of the summer block and the first week of classes once each, and it was exceptional circumstances — summer so that we could visit my elderly FIL and the other to take my child to college the first year.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          My boss is in France and regularly takes 3 weeks in August, plus small vacations at other times. In the US, someone with his years with the company would have 25 days vacation, but he may have more.

        2. Banana Stand*

          I think part of it is that its just not socially acceptable a lot of businesses in the US to take 3 weeks off at a time. I’m not saying that’s right, but that is what I’ve noticed. Anything more than a week is seen as a lot at once.

    3. TechWorker*

      Coming from a country with way better ‘standard’ vacation (I have 5 weeks paid vacation + one unpaid this year + bank holidays) we still have a policy that more than 2 weeks at once requires special approval. In the 6 years I’ve worked here I’ve also never took a whole 2 weeks in one go except at Christmas (where 3 of the days are bank holidays anyway). I guess I’m trying to say not everyone prefers one single long holiday per year – I don’t! I need a break more often than that… I get that some people like LW want to take it all in one chunk but I don’t think as a policy asking for shorter periods is too crazy.

      1. Miso*

        Also coming from a country with better vacation, here it’s a law that your employer has to grant you at least 2 weeks in a row of vacation every year.
        It’s totally normal to take 3 weeks in summer though, and some people even might take 4, though that’s definitely a bit more unusual.

      2. Bagpuss*

        We also have a policy that more than 2 weeks in a block needs special approval – in our case, it’s mostly because we need a minimum level of coverage so one person taking 3 or 4 weeks at once would have an impact on other members of the team and their ability to take a holiday, especially at popular times. BUT it is not an absolute rule, we can and do allow longer periods in special circumstances .

        I think a policy which sets limits is reasonable, but no more than 1 week seems very restrictive, even if people’s entitlement is only 3 weeks a year, and I would expect the policy to allow for longer periods subject to authorisation.

        Even without the OPs need to travel long distance, 1 weeks is pretty short if you want to go anywhere that might involve long / international flights, or simply if you are a person who needs a longer period to get out of work mode and start to relax.

      3. londonedit*

        TechWorker, same here, and there’s been a policy like that at every company I’ve worked for. I get 25 days’ holiday (plus all the English bank holidays) but my employer states that we need to get special approval for anything over two consecutive weeks.

        To go back to staceyizme’s comment, I don’t think the LW’s employer is saying ‘you can only take your vacation in one-week blocks’, they’re saying ‘you cannot take a vacation of longer than one week at a time’. Which, while it would be seen as harsh here in the UK where taking a two-week summer holiday is still fairly normal, does seem reasonable when you consider that this company only offers three weeks’ vacation time in the first place. They’re saying you can otherwise use your vacation days however you like, but you can’t be off for more than a week in one go.

      4. WS*

        Same, we have four weeks’ paid holiday (with a 17.5% pay bonus for each of those weeks) every year, not counting public holidays, separate to sick/family/parental leave. We still only give more than two weeks in a row if it’s cleared in advance. And it usually is! It’s just that one person taking three weeks in a popular period means nobody else gets a turn.

      5. Daisy*

        ‘ also never took a whole 2 weeks in one go except at Christmas (where 3 of the days are bank holidays anyway). I guess I’m trying to say not everyone prefers one single long holiday per year – I don’t! I need a break more often than that…’

        So you’re saying that a) because you don’t care about long holidays, it’s fine for no one to be allowed to take them – but b) you actually have taken 2 weeks off at a time anyway? That’s kind of self-centred AND hypocritical.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          No, it sounds like just sharing their experience and pointing out some other situations. I don’t see anything mean spirited in that post at all.

        2. TechWorker*

          I was just pointing out that I don’t think it’s unreasonable for companies to have policies around how much vacation time you can take in one block (and agree with MCMonkeyBean below that it’s probably a good idea *not* to allow employees to take their entire years allocation in one chunk as that’s asking for burnout the rest of the year). It doesn’t seem ‘arbitrary’ to me, but whatever, my logic formed early in the morning probably came off wrong *shrugs*

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      This is a pretty weird way to look at it IMO. First of all, no one *has* to pay for travel. I use vacation time to chill at home a lot. Or drive to the mountains or the beach for a long weekend. And “interrupting the flow” more frequently is rarely going to be an issue as much as interrupting it for a long period of time. Three weeks off in a row is a lot and I have never worked at a company where that was a normal thing to do. Two weeks occasionally, but even that was not super common. (Though in some related fields two weeks off in a row is actually mandatory as a fraud prevention tool).

      I also think a big reason to discourage people from using all of their vacation at once is that if they do it means that then they’ll be working 49 weeks in a row without a vacation which is more likely to lead to burnout.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        And “interrupting the flow” more frequently is rarely going to be an issue as much as interrupting it for a long period of time.

        In my experience, most people don’t perceive using PTO that way. I agree that it’s way less disruptive, but it tends to come across as “odd” or contributes to a perception that an employee is never around or is “gaming the system” somehow. I like taking vacation the way you do, but it’s something that’s always attracted comment and question everywhere I’ve worked because it implies something about how I like to spend my time.

    5. JKP*

      My brother worked at a company for many years that had a max 1 week vacation policy because of coverage reasons. Basically Saturdays were all hands on deck, so no one could ever take Saturday off as a vacation day. So a week’s vacation meant that he worked Saturday, had Sun-Fri off, and then had to be back at work the next Sat. It made it really challenging to ever plan vacations with his family, or even just weekend trips anywhere, because Saturday was always a blackout day he couldn’t take off. It was pretty common for his area/industry, so changing jobs would have helped. Sometimes a competing store wouldn’t be open Saturdays, and everyone wanted to work there, but the store wouldn’t stay in business long because Saturdays are the most in demand for customers.

    6. Daisy-dog*

      Finding 3 weeks in a row of coverage if very different than finding 1 week of coverage 3 separate times. In those 3 consecutive weeks, what happens if someone gets sick? If it’s a popular time for vacation, then it may prevent other people on the team from taking days off. LW 3’s manager should certainly consider an exception for this particular case, but I can understand the need for a policy.

      Also, I have 3 weeks of PTO. My PTO plans played out like this last year: several half-days spread out for appointments & car issues, 2 Fridays off, 1 week off in August for a vacation, 1 week off in December for Christmas. The only time that workflow was interrupted was for the August vacation, but I planned appropriately. If something horrible happened, I would be back in 5 days.

  12. CoffeeLover*

    #3 honestly that’s a crazy policy even if other companies do do it. I’m taking 4 weeks in a row this summer to visit my family overseas as are many of my coworkers. Somehow it seems to have no affect on my company’s performance.

    Honestly, I would look for another job if I were you. Maybe you can convince them to break the policy this year, but I bet you want to go visit your family more than once in a blue moon and they’re unlikely to give you the exception more than once. There are better companies out there.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      It’s a crappy policy that degrades the vacation leave considerably. Lots of people take ten days or two weeks, and I think it’s impossible to “really” get that gone-away feeling if you’re only doing one week, with travel days. I only hope they don’t really enforce this policy.

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I agree that a one week max is not that great and I think it should be 2 weeks no problem, more than 2 weeks it needs a special consideration but it should be allowed if possible.

      But just because you can be gone for 4 weeks in a row at your company it doesn’t mean that others in your company can be gone without it impacting performance, or that other companies are not in situations where performance is not impacted by people being gone for 3 or 4 weeks.

      1 week max should not be an arbitrary cutoff, but it can be reasonable depending on the situation on position that OP is in.

  13. andy*

    #2 If the person takes PTO or holiday available to everyone and pays for himself, you have absolutely no business stopping them. And frankly, “I was not allowed to go to professions conference on my PTO even when I was willing to pay” is even worst optics then me hearing that someone paid for himself.

    I have met people on conferences that paid for themselves and did not thought twice. Most companies don’t send people to conferences at all, that is baseline. But if I would hear that someone was not allowed to go, that would be massive red flag.

    1. Cheluzal*

      Yep. And listen, not everyone’s going to get to do everything all the time. Such is life. I’ve been to tons of conferences, sometimes as a presenter and sometimes as just an attendee. Nobody is taking roll and counting up the representatives for various companies.

    2. staceyizme*

      I don’t know. If a company has a policy that they pay for conferences and key employees take turns attending, then it seems reasonable to decline someone’s offer to pay their own way there because the locale is more desirable. I’d have questions about someone’s inability to intuit why this is problematic and I’d be inclined to say that buying your way out of the normal rotation is a bad idea. That said- there’s nothing wrong with employees who value the experience negotiating a higher number of instances of attendance if their performance and overall value support it. Companies make exceptions and give out extra perks all the time. The key is to negotiate it in advance, not to derail a working system midstream.

  14. Autistic Farm Girl*

    I’m not in the US, but is it actually a thing to not allow more than 1 week holiday at once? I’ve never heard that before where i am (and we get 5 weeks leave plus a bunch of bank holidays).

    I’m taking 3 weeks of leave in a row this year and no one has said anything. I’ve seen people taking all their 5 weeks at once and everything’s fine.

    I’m just confused, is that a cultural thing?

    1. Beth*

      It’s a cultural thing. We don’t get much time off in the US (3 weeks paid vacation time is actually fairly generous for a new employee; most places I’ve worked have started at 2, if PTO is one of their benefits). Most people don’t use big chunks all at once like that because then we get no breaks for the rest of the year. OP’s company is going a little further than usual in forbidding it, but even at places without a policy like this, taking several weeks off at once is often seen as a Big Deal.

      1. Autistic Farm Girl*

        I heard that the US didn’t have a minimum leave policy and some place don’t even offer any, I find that really strange (but that’s totally cultural). When you don’t have PTO as a benefit are you allowed to take unpaid leave or you can’t be off at all? (sorry if it’s a stupid question btw!)

        1. PhillyRedhead*

          When I was working in a job that didn’t have PTO, if you needed a day off, it was unpaid. But that presents its own problems. Jobs without paid leave are often lower-paying jobs, and taking a day off unpaid makes your paycheck even smaller, so I tried to avoid it as much as possible.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            “Jobs without paid leave are often lower-paying jobs,”

            This in turn is an aspect of employers closely controlling how the lowest paid employees spend their time. The higher your pay, the more freedom you have about your time.

        2. Beatrice*

          In most places you are allowed to take at least some unpaid leave. We have our share of unreasonable employers, though, so there’s definitely some where no leave whatsoever is allowed. I’d expect that more in very small businesses.

        3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Not stupid!
          And to answer your question … it depends.
          In my experience, strict/limited PTO policies are more about companies wanting employees present. (Allowing them to staff to the bare bones and take less consideration for coverage, which is, well, Not Great.)

        4. Quill*

          Currently working with insurance as my only benefit, if you have to take a day off sick it’s unpaid. Also my public holidays / close of business holidays are unpaid, friends in similar situations in the industry may get those days (christmas, new years) paid but only if they don’t take time off the day before/after those specific days.

          Hence why the only reason I was able to fly out to see my parents this year was that I already had two unpaid days off in the middle of the week, and two unpaid days in the middle of the next week, so it was actually easier to plan on not being paid anything for the last week of the year, work from home the day before new years’ eve, and resume business as usual on that thursday and friday.

        5. Third or Nothing!*

          You take unpaid leave, but honestly it works out like you have no leave at all. If your paycheck is going to take a hit you’re far less likely to take a day off unless absolutely necessary.

          I do not miss my husband’s old job one bit. Still mad about how hard they fought him about taking 5 days off to be present at the birth of our first child and stay with me at the hospital. She was born on a Tuesday, we didn’t get home until late Thursday, and he was back at work the following Monday. His new job has 3 weeks paternity leave, plus he can use some of his 3 weeks vacation, so the next round will be so much better.

        6. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          I worked at a wonderful job that didn’t allow any unpaid. It was a 100% grant funded non profit and every minute had to be accounted for. When I made an error, I was allowed to make up that day by working an extra hour daily. That took director approval.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        It’s a cultural thing because our country was founded as a group of colonies run for profit by private companies, much of whose labor force consisted of indentured servants and literal slaves.

    2. londonedit*

      I’m in the UK and get 25 days’ holiday plus bank holidays, but all my employers have had a rule about needing special approval if you want to take more than two consecutive weeks off. So while having a rule for more than a week seems harsh to me, when you think about the fact that this company only offers three weeks’ holiday in the first place, it does sort of make sense. I guess the thing is ‘needing special approval’, though – if I went to my manager and said look, I’m planning to visit my family in Australia for my dad’s 90th birthday, it’s obviously a very long trip and I haven’t seen my family in years, could I get approval for a three-week holiday’, they’d be very likely to say yes.

    3. Cheese Cheese Cheese CHEESE*

      It’s very normal in the UK (like, ‘everywhere I’ve worked had that policy’ level of normal) to need special approval for more than 2 weeks at once.

      1. Autistic Farm Girl*

        I’m maybe lucky then, we don’t have any special policy for it, as long as your manager approves it you’re good to go. I’ve known people to take 5 weeks at a time and no one said anything. We’re also allowed to carry forward some leave from one year to the other so that means that some people have more than 5 weeks per year.

        1. CheeryO*

          I think your job is an outlier. Five consecutive weeks is a ton. It’s not unusual to have a policy like the LW’s in the U.S., but obviously it would be nice if they could make an exception in this case.

          1. TechWorker*

            +1 – I think in my job 2 weeks is a sensible limit where it’s easy for the rest of the team to cover (there is fairly little that will burn if it doesn’t get done within 2 weeks, and you can hand those things over). 5 weeks… you’d need to do a *lot* more handover – which is okay for longer term leave but probably impractical for standard PTO.

    4. Temperance*

      I work at a law firm, and folks will occasionally take longer trips – I’m planning one this year! – but it’s not generally the standard. I’ve had four week-long vacations in the past year, for example, and that was great for me.

    5. Holy Moley*

      I think in the US it can depend on the business. I work for the government and its not uncommon to take weeks at a time, same in the non-profit area. But when I worked in finance one week at the time was the norm.

    6. Pretzelgirl*

      Its a cultural thing for sure. Actually dependent on the industry, it can shift too. Right now I work in a social work/non-profit field. Everyone takes vacation all the time. People take multiple weeks at a time and we get a generous amount of leave. When I worked in a more sales-y environment it was frowned upon to take a lot of leave. I worked somewhere, that when you hit 5 years you got 5 weeks of vacation. Our regional manager sent a memo out, that said if anyone took all 5 weeks (over the course of a year!) they would be written up. Thankfully, I wasn’t there much longer.

      But in general the US is very weird with vacation and time off policies. Some places don’t even offer it.

      1. Autistic Farm Girl*

        Soooo… you got 5 weeks holiday but you were banned from using them? Is that even legal? That’s so ridiculous i don’t even know what to say, i had to re-read your comment 3 times to make sure i was understanding correctly.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          That kind of hypocritical “you have all this vacation on paper – but you’d better not use it” policy is unfortunately common. It allows a company to claim to potential employees, the press, etc. “We offer 5 weeks of vacation!” and then quietly, subtly renege on the offer.

    7. MissDisplaced*

      Yes, unfortunately it is a thing at some companies.

      Vacation time in the US is stingy at best. Many companies run in various states of understaffed most of the time, and allowing more than 1 week off at a time can be a burden because there isn’t anyone to cover.

      Now companies have also instituted “use it or lose it” policies around vacation because it saves them money and they don’t have to payout unused time. But they often don’t give the employees ample opportunity to actually take the time off! It’s really just wage theft by a new name. Vacation should be part of your compensation, but since vacation is not mandated by law, companies can basically do whatever they want.

    8. Kiki*

      It is definitely a thing and I’d also say it’s a cultural thing. A lot of companies only offer two weeks vacation in the US, so taking more than a week at once would be “risky” (what if the employee ends up needing more days later in the year?). US culture also just tends to prioritize business efficiency over humanity overall.
      My company in the US has what is widely considered a really good vacation policy but we still need special approval to take more than 2 weeks off consecutively. I don’t think people are denied, but it is understood that you have to have “a good reason.” I think LW’s situation would definitely count, though it seems like it is most often used by people who are getting married and want some time to prep for the wedding and take a few weeks for their honeymoon.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yes, at many places 3 consecutive weeks would require having to supply a “good” reason: like weddings/honeymoons, family overseas, or using the vacation as part of a medical or short-term disability use.

      2. Oh So Anon*

        I’m not in the US, my company has a great vacation policy, but still, taking more than 2 weeks off at a time (even though most people have at least 4 weeks available) would look odd if you don’t have a culturally-normative reason.

    9. lnelson in Tysons*

      In the US, where vacation tends to be often very limited anyway, yes it is legal for a company to do this. The most common start off allowance of vacation is still the 2 week. And not unusual that you have to be at a company for 3-5 years before you earn that 3rd week. However, many employers are running into more and more that our 1st generation employees are now more often from various parts of Asia and travelling there is not an easy hop, skip and a jump.
      LW #3 even with the time difference would be smart to offer to sit in meetings via conference calls if possible and check emails.
      One job I had interviewed for since payroll was involved and that company paid bi-weekly, I was informed in the interview that I would never be able to take more than a week off because of payroll and never in a payroll week. Was very glad not to get that job.

      1. JKP*

        I thought with payroll, you needed to take vacation at least 1 payroll week so that someone else running payroll could catch any possible payroll scam?

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          That is absolutely a policy in many places, especially where the company is in the financial sector: everyone must take at least a whole week, M-F, at least once a year. Saying “one week exactly” is unusual but I can see how it would work out for a small company with only 1 person doing payroll.

    10. Librarian1*

      It’s not a thing. It’s something that some employers apparently do, but it’s not something I’ve encountered. I took two weeks off a year and a half ago and I didn’t have to get special approval (at my org, your manager has to approve all your PTO anyway and my manager was totally fine with it).

  15. Beth*

    OP3: Ask your manager to make an exception to the policy. I think you have good odds of success. This policy was probably enacted on the grounds that it has clear benefits for the company (spreading out time off can go a long way towards limiting workflow impact) and won’t be too hard on most employees (anyone with local family, or even family within a couple hours’ travel, probably won’t feel too limited by this even if they might’ve taken a longer period off at once without it).

    You have unusual circumstances in that travel costs to see your family are exceptionally high both in terms of money and time spent in transit. You also have the “my dad is 90 and I haven’t seen him in five years” thing–frankly, anyone who turns down your request for time off in the face of that is an utter ass. Both of those make you a strong candidate for making an exception to the standard policy (which is made by humans, not written in stone).

    If you can request the time off a long while in advance, and possibly be flexible on the exact dates to allow your manager to say e.g. “There’s a major deadline that Thursday, can you go a week later?” that will give you an even stronger case. But since you have a good relationship with your manager, and your circumstances are genuinely in support of you needing a large chunk of time off at once, I think you’re likely to get what you’re asking for.

    Don’t fudge the truth and claim FMLA. If you do have a case for it, then it won’t matter if you request vacation first. (I suspect you’re thinking that it would look bad if you got denied and then applied for FMLA after that, but that’s not how it works; if you have the documentation to show that you qualify for it, then it won’t matter that you applied for vacation before.) If, on the other hand, you don’t have the needed documentation, then ‘fudging it’ (aka lying) is really likely to get you in deep trouble or fired outright. If you really feel the need for a backup plan, you’d be better off starting a job hunt so if it comes down to it you can say “I love working here but if it comes down to a choice between my job and this time with my father, I’ll have to resign” and feel secure in your career’s future elsewhere.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      The issue with job-searching: some companies may not allow any vacation time – let alone 3 weeks – to be taken in the first several months of employment. So it could work if OP is able to quit current job right before trip and start next job right after trip, but otherwise OP might just be in an even more complicated situation.

      Overall – just appeal to your manager that you really need a one-time exception.

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I have to disagree that anyone who turns down OP’s request for 3 weeks time off is an ass. If the boss turns down the OP without a good reason I agree they are an ass. But there could be several legitimate reasons why turning down the OP make sense from a business perspective. OP being gone for 3 weeks could mean Fergus and Lucinda have to work 50/55 hours a week for 3 weeks, or there are certain tasks that have deadlines that can be dropped for a week or two but they must absolutely be done by the third week.

      1. Sleve McDichael*

        But then what happens if the LW leaves and hiring takes more than 3 weeks? What happens if someone gets pregnant or breaks their neck? The business needs to be able to deal with over 3 weeks of leave in those cases, and if it means dropping deadlines then maybe they need to look at their staffing levels or work out how to bring in a temp or a contractor.

        1. TechWorker*

          The company might be willing to pay for a temp if LW quits and they’re no longer paying them, but not if it’s standard vacation… pure speculation, but you can imagine that making sense to someone :P

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Since the company is only giving 3 weeks vacation, I am going to guess that they don’t provide paid maternity/medical leave. Like @techworker said in a situation where someone is taking unpaid time off the budget is freed up to pay a temp/contractor for 3/4/12 weeks. OP did say they were part time before they became full time so the company could afford to pay a part time employee to work 40 hours for a few weeks. But if the company might not be able to afford to pay OP and a 40 hr part time employee or temp.

  16. Clementine*

    As stated above by others, trying to stop an employee from using her own time and money to attend a conference is likely to make the employee upset, and it is an unreasonable encroachment into their private activities.

    If you are worried that it looks like your organization doesn’t support your employees going to conferences, that is, in fact, largely true. It sounds like one person per year gets to go, and most do not. Why would you want to hide that fact from prospective employees?

    You could make the employee go as not a representative of the company, but what exactly is the gain in doing that?

    My “trick” for going to expensive conferences that I wasn’t paid to attend was to submit a speaking proposal, and if I were accepted, I got to attend for free. I would then use points and every trick possible to reduce the cost of travel.

    1. linger*

      Alas, OP2 has confirmed above that in this case, speaking does not offset the conference fee.
      Agreed that it’s better if both employees attend as representatives of the company.
      OP2 suggests their presentations should be coordinated to minimise overlap — though I would note that, depending on how many parallel sessions are going on (and therefore dividing the audience), it may be better to plan some degree of mutual reference, support and repetition of content between the presentations.

  17. Beth*

    Op2: Do you really have a choice on this? It sounds like this person is determined to go, and you say you can’t technically stop them. I assume that means they don’t need to go through you to register or anything like that. Short of denying PTO (which, unless you have a legitimate business need that means you really can’t have more people out at that time, would be a pretty controlling move), it may well be that they’re going to do what they want and you have to work with it.

    If that’s the case, I think you’re better off planning for damage control than trying to argue that they shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to do something that you can’t actually stop them from doing. Think about what you’ll do if word gets out and morale does take a hit. Think about what you’ll tell prospective employees if they raise this question during an interview, or plan how you’ll list it as a benefit in job postings. Basically, focus your energy on what you actually have control over! The world works better that way.

  18. Anonny*

    1. This company is aware of what people use their personal social media accounts for, right? I mean I looked down my personal twitter and it’s like
    Cat picture
    Retweet of a rubber chicken being poked with a dildo
    Joke about gay tieflings
    Rant about inconsiderate bus passengers

    Like, is this what they want their company to be associated with?

    1. Jaid*

      LOL, I follow Chuck Tingle. I wonder what the company would make of the book covers that appear in my feed.

      1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

        NSFW element aside, Chuck Tingle seems like such a mensch in real life! I would see that as a positive if it was me.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      HA yeah my Instagram is primarily running and workout stuff and nature photos. I work in the energy industry. Imagine how weird it would be if I was suddenly all like “Hey you guys look at my company and all their substation projects! Oh here’s another pic of my dog running with me.” Are we running to the substations? Who knows!

    3. JustaTech*

      Heck, my company’s social media policy is that we’re *not* supposed to talk about the company, and if we do we have to say things like “my views do not necessarily reflect that of my employer” and so on.
      Maybe it’s because I’m in a medical-adjacent field, so there are some different regulations, but when I’m online I make a point of not saying where I work, even if it’s relevant to the conversation.
      Though I do follow our corporate Twitter (which maybe tweets every two weeks).

      I don’t mind my friend with (genuine) small businesses promoting their stuff on FB and whatnot, but for me personally I’m fine with the folks who own a landscaping company, or own a gym, but the gal who talks about the Botox specials at her clinic feels a bit … eeeh.

      If it’s a big company I’d have a lot of questions about why your for-profit company doesn’t have a normal marketing department.

  19. Mannheim Steamroller*

    #1…

    I see an HR issue with requiring employees to use their own social media to promote the company off-hours. Any non-exempt employees would have to be PAID (possibly at time-and-a-half) for their social media time, which could get very expensive very quickly.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Which would be the perfect way to push back on this policy. Sure boss, here’s my invoice for the time spent this week promoting the company on social media. It payable upon receipt.

      Only halfway joking. This is one of those “didn’t think it through” ideas. Boss heard somewhere that you should encourage employees to promote the company on social media. And ….. came up with this idea.

    2. RecoveringSWO*

      Even better, it’s an FTC violation and likely a violation of the terms of service for social media websites (they want payment for advertisement. These bosses suck for even suggesting the policy, so I doubt it’s worth bring up. But if I was feeling disgruntled, I might be tempted to report the bosses social media posts…

  20. Mannheim Steamroller*

    #2…

    I have paid my own way to conferences in the past, including one in a city where I already had some relatives. The arrangement was that I would build a vacation around the conference, get paid for the conference days and use PTO for all other days, and cover my own hotel (or sleep on a cousin’s couch).

    1. CheeryO*

      Yeah, this is the setup at my state government agency. You don’t have to take PTO, but you need to pay for your travel, hotel, and meals on your own. Very few people take advantage of it, but we also don’t have conferences in overly exciting locales.

  21. So Not The Boss Of Me*

    “Although we have a few other international teammates and they were able to take three weeks at once for vacation last year, as of this year we were told that no one can take more than a week at the time.”
    My spidey sense tells me ‘someone’ was annoyed last year when more than one person chose to use all three weeks at once. And possibly even: when OP was being hired FT, ‘someone’ thought “oh crap, here’s another one who’s going to want to take three weeks at once. Let’s put a stop to this.” Or perhaps a coworker complained and, instead of managing, the answer was to make an arbitrary rule that fits no one, but makes life miserable for only a few.
    IMHO, OP should ask why the change was made. Not only is it prudent to find out if there is a business reason why more than one week can’t be the usual, but it helps to know the thinking in order to find the best way around the rule. Then OP should make their case to the powers that be that the job was accepted for exactly the reason that they could now go see their father. And then, I would be glad to make this a hill to die on. “Thanks for giving me the benefit and the pay so that, at last, I can visit my family. I’ll be working my notice period the two weeks after I return if that’s what you prefer.”
    I am thousands of miles away from my family and I feel your pain/anxiety/hopes, OP. Have a safe/fun trip.

    1. Half-Caf Latte*

      I wondered if the international colleagues were covered by labor laws that were more generous than the US laws, and therefore were permitted to take longer time off than their American counterparts.

  22. Delta Delta*

    #2 – Seems like a terrible look for the company if Lucinda attends The Big Conference and has to disclaim connection to the company because she paid her own way. Seems like a great way to help Lucinda get a new job.

    Also, time off is precious. If someone wants to use their few days off to sit in an over-air conditioned, windowless, “death by powerpoint” situation, let them.

    1. Mel*

      It’s not because of the act of paying her own way, it’s because of what her attendance signifies to the other employees and what her paying signifies to potential employees. How OP puts it, sounds like a great way to alienate everyone that’s not Lucinda.

  23. Cordoba*

    If I was willing to pay my own way to a conference and my employer told me that I was not allowed to attend I would regard that as completely inappropriate and not worth actually complying with. I’d likely request some non-specific “vacation time” for those same days, attend as a free agent, and hunt around to see if any other/better companies are hiring while I was there.

    Not allowing me to go to the conference because “not everybody can afford to pay their own way” makes as much sense as not allowing me to enroll in grad school because “not everybody has the time/money for further education”. Well, I do, so either let me use it accordingly or I’ll find a boss who will.

    I have a colleague and work friend who makes a good salary but spends all his money on new pickup trucks and campers and motorcycles etc. He is otherwise broke as a joke, and does not have spare cash to pay for things like conferences and trade shows. Does the fact that he chose to finance a new RV last month *really* mean that the rest of the team shouldn’t be allowed to pay out of pocket for professional development opportunities?

  24. George*

    I feel similarly. If my employer tried to prevent me from using PTO and my own resources to do any kind of development or training, it would raise serious red flags and I might start looking elsewhere. If it is beneficial for the employer to have people go (they learn, network, feel good, whatever) to the point the company pays, then there is benefit to the company. If they say I can’t pay to do something that benefits the company… That’s weird.

    The exotic location is a red herring. If the employee wants to go lounge on the beach or whatever, they wouldn’t be trying to go to a conference. It is entirely possible this year’s interest has nothing to do with the location. Maybe it was great last time, maybe there’s a particular speaker the person is interested in.

    It is not the employer’s responsibility to make sure everyone has the same resources and opportunities outside work. Just as people can afford different cars, different amounts of travel away from family, and different colleges, they can afford different leisure activities. If they want to learn or network in their leisure (or jet set), that is their business.

    It’s like saying the fact that a company will pay for your parking means you can’t choose to take a cab to work because others can’t afford to.

    1. TGOTAL*

      This, all day long. I have no problem taking turns getting a cut of the company’s funding for employee development, but if any boss actively discouraged me from participating in industry events *on my own dime and time* appropriate for my level that I was otherwise fully eligible to attend, I’d be planning my exit strategy. Who wants to work for an employer that deliberately blocks their professional development?

    2. Oh So Anon*

      I would also be put off by it unless it came with the explanation that it’s not about not wanting people to get into situations where they’re representing their employer without the employer’s express permission. I suspect that’s the crux of the issue – it’s not that they want someone to not do things that benefit their work on their own time or dime.

      Yes, I imagine that a lot of managers would find someone to be unrelatably weird for wanting to use PTO for PD in general, but they wouldn’t have this level of concern if an employee wanted to do some PD opportunity that doesn’t have the level of visibility that comes with attending a flagship industry conference.

  25. Bree*

    #2, how much notice did they give about the new policy to take only one week at a time? If not much, that’s another reason – on top of your other circumstances – for them to make an exception.

  26. Susie Q*

    #4: Prior to going out on maternity leave last summer, I wrote up documentation about all the different projects for different customers that I was working on. I provided links to necessary documents, presentations, demonstrations, etc. I worked with my manager to ensure coverage and contacted my regular customers with information on who to contact when I was out. I most certainly did not do 20 weeks of work prior to leaving. Just documented and share that information with the right people.

  27. hbc*

    OP1: I think the approach might differ depending on what type of conference it is. Something where you actually need to be officially be attached to a company and is more about the businesses involved than the personal development of attendees, I’d feel free to say no. The person can schedule their vacation to the same place at the same time, but you only send X number of people under the banner of Company Inc and it would look bad to shift that based on an employee shelling out their own money.

    But personal development, lots of attendees who are not really “representing” their company? You can’t and shouldn’t stop them. I would just ask them to be really clear in their conversations not to make it seem like the company stiffed them, should it come up. “I actually flew myself out, since it wasn’t my turn but I was really interested in the topic and location.”

  28. hbc*

    OP3: I don’t think this is a bad policy, as long as exceptions are made. Heck, all of the companies I’ve been with don’t roll over vacation, but every one made exceptions for people who traveled from the US to India or Russia every other year to visit family. They’re just trying to avoid everyone booking a two week vacation around the 4th of July and having no one to do actual work. Also, depending on the nature of the work, sometimes a week without handing anything off is sustainable, while more would require a lot more juggling, and therefore a good reason.

    I do think that all three weeks is going to be a tough sell, though. If you don’t have a single day left, then you’re likely going to need to take time off without pay later in the year, and that’s usually a hassle for HR if it’s even allowed. I know that 23 days off (15 work days plus 4 weekends) is better than 16, but I would accept this compromise in a heartbeat, or something involving some days unpaid. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  29. MISS Nemo*

    #1: My social media is exclusively for promoting plays I’m in and for following drag queens. It would look very strange to people if I started blathering about biotech, and I suspect the same holds true for most people. I have wondered if I should mention work more, since I like my company, but now I have a name to the feeling of “no.” Good advice!

    1. JustaTech*

      I talk about my field plenty on social media (especially right now, OMG, Americans, relax about the coronavirus already, wash your dang hands), but I don’t talk about my specific company because our social media policy kind of asks us not to. Which is fine! I’m much happier with “please don’t talk crap about the company/product in ways that make it obvious you work here” than “promote our prescription-only product to your friends!”.

  30. MissDisplaced*

    Regarding the social media: we do ask our sales and external marketing teams to do this, but only on LinkedIn.

    I do not feel this is an onerous ask from a professional, to share a event photo or post on occasion. This is what the LinkedIn platform is intended for, professional networking. But, I would not feel right asking they do that on other social networks unless they actually managed the social media or communications for the company. Even then, I’d suggest making a new account just for work purposes.

    So, if you must do this, I suggest you create a brand new account under your work email address to create and share company posts. It won’t give your company access to your network, but it will create the work/life separation you need to keep your personal posts private. It has a plus too, in that you can use this account as a pointer to show samples of your social media work & campaigns (if you work in that kind of job role).

    1. (Former) HR Expat*

      See, I even have a problem asking people to do this on LinkedIn. It’s still the employee’s personal account. They can share if they want, but the company shouldn’t require it. I know I would be annoyed if my company required me to post all the open jobs we have on LinkedIn (I’m in HR). I don’t want that many people trying to “connect” with me.

    2. Quill*

      If it ever makes it off LinkedIn it’s a huge overreach into your employees’ social lives… and even on linkedin it’s iffy, since where the platform is being used at all it’s generally to quickly look up details of say, prospective bosses’ professional accomplishments, not to advertise or catch up on things.

      Either way, there should be a corporate account for these things, never anything connected to an individual worker.

    3. Nanani*

      I disagree on this. If you want company social media, that’s on the company to create their own account and have an employee manage as part of their duties.
      Making employees create “just for work” accounts stinks of sock puppetry. You don’t get to make a dozen employees give you a dozen glowing accounts. That’s gaming the system.

      Plus, some networks just love to “helpfully” merge accounts, and you never know when a setting change behind the scenes will fuse Jane@Work with Jane@PersonalHobbies.
      Just keep out of people’s private social networks. Completely.

    4. Mel*

      Yes, it is for professional networking, but for individual accounts, it is still personal.
      I think your company is crossing a line.

      LinkedIn is for networking, business opportunities, applying, etc. What you’re describing (posting on your company’s behalf, sharing photos) is none of those things. What you’re asking your employees to do is company promo. It’s not different because it’s LI instead of Twitter. It’s still a private social media account. Their LI belongs to them only, to showcase them, and your involvement on their page is how they choose to showcase their time at your company.

      Will your employees who want to move on be able to edit their LI’s knowing that you are actively watching?

  31. CupcakeCounter*

    #3 A lot of companies have a similar vacation policy (although most of the ones I’ve been familiar with cap it at 10 consecutive business days) but will make exceptions if enough notice is given to properly plan. A former coworker’s son moved to Australia (we are in the Midwest of the US) and coworker decided they would like to take a long vacation there and have a nice visit as well as cross a few items off their bucket list. They worked with management to take off 5 weeks nearly a year in the future. I’m guessing you don’t have that much notice to give but I would talk to your manager immediately about the situation and ask what you need to do in order to be extended an exception. (More recently another coworker got nearly exactly what you are asking for – 3 weeks for his mother’s 90th birthday in South Africa. In both instances, they worked with the managers way ahead of time.)
    Also…do you have WFH capabilities? If so, see if you can negotiate a split trip. Do a couple of hours work early in the morning and then again late in the evening with a couple of dedicated days of work scattered throughout the trip. I have a current coworker who does that every summer – week on, week off, week on, week off.
    I would also look into whether or not you could manage the trip in 2 weeks. I know you said 3 was the minimum due to expense and travel time, but if you take everything early in the year or have all 3 weeks of leave locked up, what are you going to do if something unexpected comes up? I always try to leave a couple of days as “insurance”.

  32. Lurking Tom*

    For LW #3, I was faced with something similar with my own dad recently. He had only a few months to live & this was going to be the last chance I got to spend time with him. Definitely explain the situation to your bosses and see if they will make an exception. If not, and if you have the ability to do so, maybe consider taking one week of vacation and then working remotely for a few weeks. That was the solution that I ended up with at my company, and it worked out very well.

    If they won’t let you extend your stay and can’t/won’t let you work remotely – I’d consider staying as long as you need/want to anyway and taking the fallout. There are a lot of jobs in the world, but I only got one dad and that made time with him more valuable than one particular job, no matter how great. I’m glad I got to be with him for as long as I did before he passed.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Hopefully the employer will realize the terrible position they’re putting OP in, and decide they won’t enforce the “only one week” policy, because lots of the most in-demand employees would think about leaving over this. I would!

  33. Employment Lawyer*

    2. Should we let an employee pay their own way to a conference in an exciting location?
    Yes. The answer is similar for “should we let an employee vacation in Paris?”, “should we let an employee buy expensive concert tickets?” and “What do we do when our employee buys an expensive watch?”

    You don’t seem to be considering this, but your employee can spend her own money, however she wants. When you mention “equitability” this is just life: Some people are paid more; some people have fewer expenses; all people have different priorities. If this person saves and prioritizes travel, that isn’t your business.

    They probably want to go for the same reasons as everyone else: They get to take a tax writeoff for a lot of the travel expenses, and still enjoy Hawaii.

    Anyway, the optics are fine. “Our company sends one person to each conference every year. This year it wasn’t me. But I’ve always wanted to see Bali, so I decided to fly here on my own and attend.”

    1. AnonNurse*

      I completely agree. Assuming people will be upset because they can’t afford to do the same thing is just like assuming they will be upset if their co-worker buys a new car or buys a Rolex. What that employee does with their money on their time really isn’t their co-workers business.

      OP- I think addressing it clearly will keep things transparent. Letting staff know that this employee really wantS to attend and are paying their own way while on PTO would probably mitigate any “why does she get to go again this year?!” problems. And really, it’s her money and her professional enrichment, try to take a step back and remove personal feeling about fairness from the equation.

  34. Hiring Mgr*

    On the LinkedIn recommendation..while nice, I agree that they don’t really carry much weight. If you really want them however, one thing that I’ve done is ask the person who wants the rec to write it up and send it to me, then I’ll add, edit, change, etc before posting. It makes it an easier ask and will probably be faster than waiting for someone to do it on their own. So you could always suggest that..

  35. LadyByTheLake*

    #1 If you are in the US and the business is requiring you to use your own social media for advertising, they become legally responsible for anything you say and everything has to meet the legal requirements for advertising. This is why most companies large enough to have a law department or compliance department explicitly PROHIBIT employees from using their social media to promote the company or its products. This is also why you are left with companies who are on the less sophisticated end of the spectrum, or companies that are outright scammers, with employees promoting on personal social media. Like other commenters above, when I see a company being promoted on a personal social media I think either (1) that’s a rogue employee who is going to get fired, or (2) that company has no clue, or (3) that company is a scam. Ask your boss which one they prefer.

    1. Anon this time*

      I like this approach. My old employer asked us to promote them on our personal accounts and several of the employees did just that. One person had talked up the company for about a year, then when they didn’t get the promotion they expected, they got a better job. During their notice period, they posted a comparison of the wages and benefits of the old vs. new job as well as all the toxic issues, with names, of the soon to be former employer. Soon after, former employer asked us to discontinue marketing for them on our own time. The bashy employee is still working at the new job, so I guess it didn’t hurt them there.

  36. not neurotypical*

    #2 In the nonprofit realm in which my organization operates, it’s not at all uncommon for individuals to attend major conferences on their own, rather than as representatives of organizations. So, why not just ask this employee to be sure to say “XXX is our representative this year, I’m just attending on my own” or something similar whenever the topic of your organization comes up?

    1. CheeryO*

      Maybe it’s field-dependent, but I can’t picture how this would work. People are going to want to network, and it would be odd to dodge all questions about your employer, wouldn’t it?

      1. Delta Delta*

        I’d think so. If I met someone at a conference and asked where they worked, and the answer was, “I’m not allowed to tell you because it’s someone else’s turn to attend the conference” I’d find that so very strange.

      2. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        I mean, I *could* technically picture it…
        On a “My name is ____” sticker with:
        CheeryO (also known as CheeryO, Happiest Sausage from Sausages Inc, but just plain old CheeryO today, Sausages Inc didn’t flip for this sizzle)
        But I feel like it would raise more questions than it’s worth. Also it’s too many words to fit.

      3. Sleve McDichael*

        Yeah if you just stopped there. But that sounds a bit odd. However, you could preface your statement with a comment like that and then continue ‘but to answer your question, yes we have released our new media campaign, blah blah’. You could even end with ‘XXX had the full briefing, if you want to know more she’ll be happy to tell you’. Or something like that to refer them back to the actual delegate.

  37. Nash*

    Re #1: I worked for a brand where employees WANTED to share the work they did. I was in charge of communications and PR so my role ended up being coaching people through what is appropriate and not to post on their personal social media. It became part of the guidelines about what you could and couldn’t say, and permitting people to share certain behind the scenes info, releasing information on new events and services etc, in accordance with our PR strategy. It’s great to have employees who actively want to share what they do for a living, and with some direction it worked out. However, nothing was ever required, people just wanted to, so we built that in- “hey everyone, tickets are live for this event and if you want to share here are some suggestions” or “hey everyone, this product is live but don’t share it until [big media news article] is released so we don’t scoop ourselves.”

    Requiring people to do it though isn’t a great strategy or a good use of your company’s social capital.

  38. Legal Rugby*

    #2 – I am less concerned about equity. If these are professional development type conferences (as they often are in my type of non profits) are you really going to quibble about someone paying for their own professional development? I worry that this too quickly becomes you policing what classes, training, etc happen outside. If you have a person who does teapots and wants to learn about cups and saucers out of their own pocket, are you going to prevent.

    As a compromise – my expertise is in transitions for morlocks, but my job is about 3 steps above that, overseeing ALL transitions, exits and moves for morlocks, orc, elves, and all non dominate species. My boss allows me to take time to go to one conference a year on morlocks, where I normally present at least 2-3 times. My boss does not pay any of my costs – but also does not require me to take time for it. We have that same policy for one conference a year outside of your job duties for everyone in the office, which means last year, when policies around transitions for morlocks exploded, I was the go to person for my company, and was offered to some of our partners to help ease the process.

  39. What's with Today, today?*

    I’m considering #2. I work for a small family media company and was made management last year (lowest rung, but only non-family manager). Typically, our owner and his son-in-law, my boss go to the annual industry conference. Last year, the owner couldn’t go, so I went in his stead. My boss was in high-level meetings throughout(on the state board), so I went to all the classes. I came back with so many ideas and we were able to successfully implement 5, making the station a significant amount of money. A lot of money. I think they are planning to send me again, our owner says he has had his last “hoorah,” but if not, I have a whole pitch ready with the monetary value sending me brought. But, if worst comes to worst, I plan on saying I’ll pay for myself. I don’t think it’ll come to that, but I will if it does. Our conference is in the same place every year though, down to the hotel, so the location has no impact, it was just so great.

  40. Jh*

    Op #1… Your boss is not a marketer obviously, do you have a marketing team to talk him down? The roi on activities like this is terrible. Wasted man power on inefficient organic social media to tiny audiences. Many of your connections are probably your co-workers too.

    Your boss needs to invest in paid advertising, carefully targeted to reach the right, qualified audience.

  41. Jennifer*

    #2 I understand your concerns and Alison is spot on. But can this really be prevented? If an employee wants to take PTO and use their own funds to pay for ANY opportunity that could enrich their career, there’s not much the company can do about that. People of means sometimes have more advantages than people that don’t. That’s just the way it is. I might feel a little salty about it if I was this guy’s coworker but ultimately I’d get over it and try to look for affordable/free resources that could help me along the way. Life isn’t always fair.

    1. Jdc*

      I agree. That’s how life pans out that some can afford things others can’t. I don’t really find it fair that my company could potentially stop my from gaining opportunities just because someone else can’t pay for it. What’s next? I can’t get a masters because Brenda can’t afford to?

      1. soon to be former fed really*

        Nope, but companies shouldn’t participate in perpetuating inherent privilege among their employees. I say this as someone who was a singke arent and definitely could not pay my own way to anything work-related.

        1. JDC*

          There aren’t showing anyone perpetuating anything. People choose to have families and their money goes to that. Others don’t and their money goes elsewhere. It’s each persons choice. You don’t DESERVE a free ride simply because you have a kid nor does someone else not get to advance their career because they can pay for it.

          1. Jennifer*

            I don’t see where they said they deserve a free ride because they have a kid. Even Alison saw that some employees might see things this way so it’s not like they are saying anything outrageous.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I hope you’re not saying employers should work to “equalize” opportunities for people who have the expense of children…

          Look. Financial inequality exists. It always will. But it’s not like the company is perpetuating it. They’re not saying “we’ll send anyone to this conference who can pay the $500 registration fee.”

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            ETA… what about tuition reimbursement programs? Is it “perpetuating inherent privilege” to reimburse all or part of someone’s work-related tuition, even though a person with less disposable income wouldn’t be able to come up with their part upfront?

        3. Jennifer*

          I get it. I’m not a single parent but I feel fleeting moments of envy when I see someone showing off their vacation pictures when I haven’t had one in years and I’m chowing down on a 99-cent burrito for lunch. But I have to let it go because ultimately I can’t dictate how their money is spent. I try to find other things I can do that cost little to no money.

  42. Jdc*

    LinkedIn recommendations mean zilch to me. I’ve been asked to recommend someone’s great computer skills who I know for a fact can barely turn on a computer. I think LinkedIn altogether is useless and fabricated as it is but knowing I could’ve just clicked a single button to say someone can do something they clearly cannot proves it to me.

    1. irene adler*

      Amen!
      I connected with some folks I’d met when I had their Premium service. So basically folks I didn’t really know.
      One guy sends a very nice “thank you for connecting” note.
      Then a week later it’s “will you write a recommendation for me?” note. For what? I don’t know anything about you or your skills. I ignored this. He kept after me. So I dis-connected from that one. Ended the Premium service too.

    2. Filosofickle*

      What you’re describing are skill endorsements, not recommendations. Recommendations require writing up and submitting a paragraph or two in your own words, the digital form of the old school letters of recommendation. They still aren’t very important, but it’s definitely more than clicking a button.

  43. I Will Steal Your Pens*

    #2 – I am sorry but I have to disagree with you Alison. This employee is going on their own dime, and they are taking control of their own career and development. To not allow this employee to go simply because of the optics of it are problematic and deflating for the employee. This employee has every right to gain opportunities that their coworkers aren’t if they have the means and drive to do so. Would it also be a problem if said employee pays for their own study for say, certification exams? Because quite frankly this is the same thing.

    Additionally, the employer really doesn’t have the right to dictate what an employee does on their own time. What he/she is doing is not illegal or immoral, and I assume they are not being paid by the organization.

    The issue with the optics is the employers issue and it should simply be handled by making it known to others that this employee paid on their own dime. the SHRM annual conference came to my town, and my organization wouldn’t pay for it, so in the end I paid for it myself as I wasn’t going to miss on the opportunity not only to advance my career, but to gain recertification credits towards my SPHR. And while I did leave the company 6 months later, this was only a contributing factor.

    If I were this employee, and I wasn’t allowed to go when I had the means to go, simply because it basically wasn’t fair and put the company in a bad position – huge red flag and my resume would be out the door before my flight took off.

    Just my opinion as an employee – not as an HR manager.

      1. Close Bracket*

        That is not a constructive addition to the conversation. Some people make more than others. Some people make less but have lower debt payments. Some people are able spend money on stuff that other people can’t afford. And they are allowed to do that.

        *whistling my way to the university to pay for the graduate classes I am taking on my own time and dime*

        1. Oh So Anon*

          Also, some people just make different choices with their disposable income. The money that some people would spend on vacations is what other people would prefer to spend on education. Just because someone’s consumption choices are difficult to relate to doesn’t make them a bad employee.

  44. MCMonkeyBean*

    I think another major reason not to promote your company like that on your personal page is that it makes everyone’s personal pages officially representing the company! There is probably a lot of stuff on people’s personal pages that the company wouldn’t want associated with it. Pictures out drinking with friends, political posts, dramatic vaguebooking posts that your third cousin once removed tagged you in…

    I’m not sure whether that’s an argument that would sway your boss or if they would just then feel they can have more control over what you allow on your feed.

  45. MCMonkeyBean*

    I’m also a little confused about the employee who wants to pay their own way to the conference they went to last year. The location is apparently much better this year, but is the conference itself also significantly better this year or something? I feel like if it’s just the location that their focused on, then the major benefit of being sent to a conference in a cool location is getting to go to a cool location on the company dime. If they want to go and they are planning on paying themselves… then why not just take a vacation and go there and enjoy the place to the fullest without having to deal with work stuff?

    1. Jennifer*

      I thought that too. It sounds like the main draw is the location.

      Maybe they were already planning on going there for vacation this year and the conference being there is just an added benefit so they thought they’d combine the two? Who knows…

    2. Daisy-dog*

      Surely there’s a reason that OP’s employee wants to attend the conference in that city that we just can’t know and keep the post anonymous. Maybe that particular conference interacts more with the city – having tours of locations or something versus just being in a convention center. Or maybe they just will have better parties after hours.

    3. JustaTech*

      The contents of the conference will really depend on the type of conference. If it’s a scientific conference then all the material will be new every year (that’s the point, to present your new data). I don’t know about other kinds of conferences.

  46. DCGirl*

    For #3, I worked for a company that seemed to authorize multi-week vacations for employees whose families were overseas. If I asked for more than a week, I’d hear, “Why do you need that much time at once? Your family is here.”

    1. Just Another Manic Millie*

      Yeah, I was thinking could happen. And I decided that if that were the case, my aunt and uncle and cousins would suddenly “move” overseas.

  47. Buttons*

    Re: Paying for your own conference. In the past, I have worked for companies that either didn’t have the funds or think it was important to invest in my development, and I paid my way to conferences and events and took PTO so I could attend. It is important for my own professional development. I wouldn’t go as a representative of my company, I would go for myself. It is important for people to continue to grow, learn, and develop and if your organization can’t afford it, then you find ways to do it on your own. There are free webinars, free online classes, free lunch and learns, etc. You do what you have to do to make sure you continue to grow.
    For those who are interviewing and wondering what kind of questions to ask about culture- I always ask about the culture around developing employees. Is it a priority, are the allocated funds each year for employees to keep their skills current?

  48. Observer*

    #3 – Whatever you do, do NOT invoke FMLA, because you DO need to document that. And if you lie about it and it comes out, that’s an automatic firing offense – for cause. Now, in the US that’s not such a big deal, because in 49 states you’re “at will” anyway unless you are covered by a contract. But it does mean that you almost certainly are not going to be able to collect unemployment and it’s going to be a black mark on your references as well.

    Separately, I’m a bit taken aback that you jumped to “I can be insincere and invoke the FMLA option“. Do you just not understand what FMLA is supposed to be for? That’s not great for you and I would suggest getting a bit more information. But, if you do understand and you’re just jumping to lying about it, that’s really concerning. It’s stuff like this the fuels all the requirements around FMLA that make it harder to access. And it speaks to an integrity issue that would concern me greatly as a potential employer or even coworker.

    1. Automated*

      I read it as: I could get fmla to care for my ailing father abraod, even though i would not invoke fmla if he lives near by.

      It would probably not be hard to have a dr sign off on a 90 yo father in china for fmla tbh.

      1. Observer*

        That’s why I asked if the just don’t understand how FMLA works – It would be almost impossible for the OP to get any non-shady doctor to document that the OP was needed for the care of their father. FMLA doesn’t cover visits, even in cases like, only taking care of someone.

        1. Close Bracket*

          I couldn’t get my mother’s doctor’s office to sign off on intermittent FMLA to help out around the house while she was recovering from brain surgery. She was a plane ride away, I was out of PTO for the year (partly from visiting her during and immediately after the surgery), and all I needed was the occasional Friday so I could make a 3 day weekend of it. Nope. The nurse didn’t think I should use FMLA for that.

  49. Automated*

    #3 I want to push back on the idea that limiting vacation to only 1 at a time is common. Its not! Usually, when i see a limit it is 2 weeks, and frankly even those are only becoming more common in the last 5 years or so.

    I work in healthcare, at a place that only offers a 3 weeks total pto including sick time and 11 days of holidays you have to subtract from the bank and even they let people take off 2-4 weeks if they have it saved up.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yeah I work for a small organization where absences are really felt and we can still take multiple weeks off in a row, we’re just asked to leave notes for things that might come up.

    2. Ama*

      Yes, I would not be at all surprised if this policy was a knee-jerk reaction to a situation that wasn’t properly managed (i.e. if someone took multiple weeks off and didn’t leave behind adequate documentation about coverage and instead of telling that employee “hey you need to leave better documentation next time” they said “ok no one ever gets more than one week again”).

      I have taken a few extra long vacations (I try to always take one of at least 10-14 days, but in certain years I’ve planned longer ones) and I’ve found that as long as you start prepping people far in advance and leave detailed notes on where to find anything that might be needed, it really isn’t too difficult for people to cover for you. But you have to be proactive and volunteer all that on your own so you build trust with your manager that things will be adequately covered.

      1. Temperance*

        I think the coverage needs for one week vs. three weeks are also vastly different. A lot of things can be pushed off until the person is back, if it’s just a week (or less); when you have multiple employees gone for 3 weeks at a time, that’s very, very different.

  50. eileen1979b*

    Re: The conference.

    There is precious little you can do to stop someone from spending their own money on their own career development. You could, but is that really the route you want to take? What are you actually going to do about it? Does he need your permission to attend somehow according to the rules of the conference planners? You fire him for attending a conference on his on dime and time and you will also have a huge morale problem. If he wants to spend his own money then he gets to.

    1. Atlantian*

      According to other comments the LW here has made, they do not need her permission per say, but they do need to prepare a presentation that is coordinated with the presentation that the original attendee is giving, on company time, and then present while they are at the conference, which means that they will need to bill their time both doing the prep and at least the time spent actually doing the presentation at the conference, if not the entire conference including travel time, meaning there is no way for this employee to actually pay their entire way and use PTO to cover the time, since they must be paid for time spent working.

      In normal trade show type conference situations, it would make sense to allow the person to pay their own way. But for the kind of conference the LW is describing, it probably isn’t workable, even if the person offered to pay their own registration and lodging for the time.

  51. ProdMgr*

    OP3, if the one-week policy is new, there may be a reason for it (like departments having struggled when someone was gone for a long time). Understanding the reason will help you ask for an exception.

    Assuming that you do great work and have a good relationship with your manager, I’d enlist them to help you solve the problem. Frame it as “my father’s turning 90 and I haven’t been home in 5 years, can you help me figure out how to make a longer visit work without negatively impacting the team here?” As a manager, I would want to make this happen for a good employee and would go to bat with HR for them.

    I’ve seen people do some remote work in order to spend more time with relatives in India or Asia. That could be an option. Lead time to arrange coverage may also help.

  52. A. Ham*

    I will admit, I promote stuff at my job on my social media quite often. I work for a non-profit theater company, I love theater and am genuinely supportive and excited about what we do (anyone keeping a close eye might notice that i don’t post as often/at all when we’re performing something I am not as crazy about), and quite a few of my social network are people that also work in/enjoy theater, so the audience is right.
    HOWEVER (and this is a big one) I have never been forced by my employer to do so. Sure, there is an occasional “tell your friends!” comment in company meetings before a show, but it’s never insinuated that it’s mandatory! I do all my promoting happily and by my own free will.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah there is a big difference between “hey if you want to promote us on your social media feel free” (which my nonprofit employer also does) and “everyone has to use their personal accounts to post something about us.”

      I also find it reads differently when it is a nonprofit rather than a for profit employer — I can only think of a handful of times that a friend posting about their for profit company (aside from one they themselves owned) seemed like sincere enthusiasm — but that might just be my personal perception.

  53. Former Retail Lifer*

    #5, my mom endorsed me for skills in Linked In. Obviously this was not something I asked her to do, but that’s a pretty good example of how legit those endorsements are.

    1. Quill*

      I did an adjacent major to Chem and have linkedin recommendations for things that I 100% never learned in my major… because the Chem majors just went down the list of fellow chem club members and all assumed I was just in whichever version of the class they weren’t in.

      Sorry employers, I know zero things about p-chem or inorganics, I was busy fishing turtles out of nets at the time.

    2. Half-Caf Latte*

      The woman who did the flowers for my wedding has endorsed me for my advanced resuscitation skills. I do in fact have these skills, but I’m also positive she’s never seen me utilize them.

  54. Observer*

    #1 – Is this THE director at the top of the company, or YOUR director and there is someone above him? Because if you can’t talk him down, you should kick this upstairs.

    As others have noted having you guys use your personal social media to hawk your product opens the company to a world of liability.

    We don’t forbid our staff from promoting our work, but we have some pretty clear guidelines about that IF they choose to do so.

  55. drpuma*

    OP3, when you bring this to your manager it may help to quantify the travel time. “Between flights, layovers, and time zone differences, getting home to my family takes 36 hours. If I do that trip twice in one week, I’ll end up getting to spend 4 days with my dad, not 7.”

  56. Office Grunt*

    Re #1, shit like this is why I used to proactively block all co-workers on Facebook. I saw my personal account (and personal time) as mine, and set a firm boundary between my personal and work lives. My supervisor and I might talk about things within my personal life (I had a NCIS-inspired nickname and asked me about rugby once he saw a 7s event on TV), but that was the extent of it.

    New management and a bajillion changes to the reporting structure eventually led to my departure, and I’m glad to be away from that shithole. Fingers crossed they get swallowed by a larger competitor within the next 5 years.

  57. Mommy.MD*

    This is why employers can be leery of FMLA. Abuse is common.

    Maybe your employer will let you extend your vacation three additional days. With having the weekend off prior to your vacation week and a two or three day extension, it allows for a solid week with your family.

  58. Leela*

    OP #1 – I’ve been asked to do this at jobs before and I hate it! Like Alison said it’s hijacking my personal life for their use, but also it’s just kind of embarrassing because everyone knows it’s forced and it’s not going to interest anyone. It would be much more effective to have me target the people I know would be interest rather than just blast it and have people scroll right by

  59. OmicronPersei8*

    #2: I have to disagree with the official response here. For the individual employee, conferences are a fabulous way to make connections in your industry, learn about current developments, and find other opportunities for professional growth; it’s not just about taking a vacation on the company’s dime. It might not be fair that some employees can’t pay their own way, but that’s the case for a lot of things. It definitely isn’t fair to restrict an employee’s career growth and education for the sake of company morale.

  60. RG*

    As a manager who’s dealt this this situation, I think the answer to LW#2 missed the mark. At least in my industry, conferences are often social events, and it’s not uncommon for people to attend on their own dime. Not allowing people to attend on their own time, at their own expense is very restrictive. It’s the sort of thing I’d expect to be made aware of before accepting a job.
    Or think of it this way. Conferences can be considered training or education. Would you dream of not allowing an employee to take a college course nights, or take a week of to get a certificate because it’s not fair to other employees? Also, people sometimes go to conferences to job search, so not allowing people to attend can come across as trying to use policies to prevent them from considering other employment. I worry that this aspect could break the law in some places.
    If you’re worried about fairness, make the employee take vacation to attend the conference (though being allowed to use paid time for professional development is a great employee perk if you can swing it). Then treat them like they were on vacation– don’t invite them to pre-meetings for the conference, don’t invite them to any employees only events or meetings at the conference, and don’t give them any work afterwards that assumes they were there. That avoid the direct unfairness of the employee being involved in stuff or getting better work because of the conference, while still allowing them to do professional development. (Also keep in mind the person might not *want* to do this stuff if they’re attending at their own expense).
    As far as being worried about the employee telling people that the company doesn’t pay for conferences, talk to them about it! Tell them you’d prefer they explain your company policy exactly if someone asks. And keep in mind that your employee telling people that their company doesn’t allow ‘unauthorized’ attendance at conferences would come off a lot worse than this.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think the thing that is being overlooked is that it’s simply just not the employees “year” to go to the conference. So it should be easy to say “I paid my own way because my year was last year but dang I wanted to go to the Bahamas instead of Cleveland, Ohio, so I paid for this event myself!”

      I agree that they really just need to make sure that the staff member is using their PTO and also is responsible for all the lodging as well. It’s not their year to go to the training event, so therefore it’s all on them. And yeah, they are separated from the team aspects of it since they’re there on a different circuit.

  61. Oh So Anon*

    #2: So this is difficult to articulate, but is the downstream issue for LW#2 really some combination of:

    -You’re concerned that an employee seeking out more PD opportunities makes them a flight risk,
    -Your organization isn’t in a position to give this employee career opportunities that would leverage their PD and you’re struggling to manage their expectations,
    -You want greater control over your employee’s career development, and/or
    -You’re concerned that someone who pursues more PD than you offer will become more difficult to manage because they may see themselves as ready for more progression than you are willing to provide?

    These are awkward considerations, yes, but it’s important to be honest with yourself (and to some extent, the employee) about them. Obviously you aren’t going to tell an employee everything, but you owe it to them to have an honest discussion about career development so that both of you can better contextualize their PD choices. If the underlying reality beyond equity and optics is that you’re not prepared to accommodate someone’s career growth at your organization, that’s okay, but let everyone involved make adult decisions about what that means for them.

  62. boop the first*

    1. Do they not have their own social media? Why don’t they just find someone who is great at social media and hire them? It seems that some businesses like to stick with stuffy, boring ads and just try to shove it in as many faces as possible, as if the more people they annoy, the better.

    This kind of reminds me of this one job I had, where boss went around and required us to give them our personal email addresses. Okay… It turned out they were putting all employees onto their new marketing newsletter list, and I started getting ads for my own workplace in my inbox. Annoying! Also incredibly worthless as a marketing effort! Also a little bit illegal! Completely clueless.

  63. 4Sina*

    #2 – also work at a large non-profit in an industry with “fun” locations – if the employee wants to go because X City USA is more “boring” than Y City International, then that’s tough beans (also some of the best conferences I have been to have been in little cities). However, these conferences also offer specific tracks and focuses. Attending a conference one year does not mean the conference material in the next will as relevant – there have been years where attending a specific track has led to some meaningful revelations with my work that I would not have gotten the year before or year after necessarily, and it was through deliberate planning of my schedule and researching sessions that were relevant that made it apparent that it was a good fit. So, if the employee feels this is a relevant conference to attend, and is paying their own way, the “but it’s not fair to others” argument seems silly. If it was just about the location, they’d just take a vacation.

  64. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    #2 (attending a conference) – some of the comments seem to be overlooking that even if the person attends in an ‘independent’/’not company affiliated’ capacity — it’s a small industry and she is presumably known to work for that employer by others in the field, so would be a “de facto” representative of the company anyway. What is she going to say – “bleep bloop i am an unaffiliated individual and i claim no association with any organizational entity” ?

    Depending on how things work at your company there may also be restrictions from other areas of the company about approval to represent the company at these things.

    For example… I worked with a colleague (at a former job) who went to an industry conference under his own steam the way your ee is proposing to — took it as PTO, paid for his own travel, etc. It wasn’t about the location but about the networking opportunities, knowledge gain, etc.
    He wasn’t sponsored by the company as such, but did state his employer to people he interacted with as “[our company]” when it came up in conversation. It got back via the marketing/media team to the “higher ups” (our work was unrelated to media) as videos from the conference were published online and he had given a 5 minute talk as part of a panel. He wasn’t fired but there was a Serious Talk (I don’t know what was said, but he didn’t attend again!)

    I do somewhat agree with the arguments some people have put forward that it’s crass and doesn’t look at the whole picture to ‘buy access’ to additional opportunities outside of what the company has in place, given this situation.

  65. Zara*

    #1LW – if you do this, you have to disclose that you are representing the company. FTC cracked down on brand misrepresentation a couple years ago. They fined Macy’s because they used social media as influencers but didn’t disclose they were employees.
    #3LW – I feel you. I’m in US and my whole family is overseas, my company is also pretty strict about taking max 2 wks at a time and no remote work allowed. Two years ago I told my bosses that I will be taking overseas vacation a year in advance. They appreciated a heads up and were willing to let me out for 4 weeks. 2 wks vacation, 2 wks working. The key is communication. I can’t imagine that they would not understand that you have to visit your family for more than 1 week if you communicate the situation ahead of time.

  66. The Bimmer Guy*

    My old employer–a local marketing agency–wanted us to put bumper stickers on our cars. I just casually mentioned that I had a rather…ah…spirited method of driving (not true), which got the president to stammer out a quick, “On second thought, maybe not…” She didn’t want her company represented by someone who might weave between lanes, speed, cut people off, and otherwise commit offensive traffic violations.

  67. lina inverse*

    I find #2 to be interesting in light of a recent conversation I had with my boss–one of my professional staff is very specific about wanting to be reimbursed for about damn near everything. We’re in higher ed, so please understand context is very, very different than corporate America, consulting, etc. I say damn near everything because if they have to pay for any part of it, they don’t want to do it. My boss (and their boss for that matter) are of the opinion that professional development is something you also ought to contribute to because it offers opportunities that benefit you personally too. Granted, I don’t think this is the case for everything because if I tell my staff ‘go to X for these specific job skills and tasks,’ then of course I’d ask the bosses to cover it. But our convo got me thinking because it opens up more opportunities (granted, money and privilege come into play here) that an org may not be able to pay for, or it’s only tangentially related to the job. I wouldn’t discourage someone from *willingly* wanting to attend on their own dime because it means they have a significant investment in their career, and I’m perfectly willing to give them the time without taking vacation leave, which I’d do for anyone wanting to cover themselves. A colleague and I also once presented at a conference and we ended up paying out of pocket and split shared travel costs because a big conference was being held in our city that year and we wanted to ensure the budget could cover as many as possible. Again, higher ed so dynamics are very different than corporations, but the “investing in yourself” argument gave me a lot of good food for thought.

  68. Rosy Glasses*

    RE: LinkedIN Recommendations — I disagree, dependent on your industry and level of career. Skill voting is … problematic, but the recommendation portion can actually be quite helpful when trying to make connections within an industry or vet whether it’s someone you want to connect more deeply with as an influencer in your field.

  69. Jcarnall*

    #2: conference:

    You can’t stop your employee booking for their own place at the conference, paying their way there, and using their PTO for this purpose. If that’s what she wants to do with her own money and her own PTO, she can do that.

    You can, however, tell her that as she’s going on her own, she can’t have the name of her employer on her name badge and she can’t say she’s representing her employer, because she isn’t: she has to be clear with anyone who asks that X is this year’s delegate and she’s just here because she wanted personally to attend the conference.

  70. mcm*

    I know I’m late, but I had to weigh in on #5 – I’ve both solicited and given LinkedIn recommendations, but didn’t give much thought to it. Then, last summer, I stepped into an Interim Director role, which could have been a little awkward since my new team didn’t have any say in the decision – and one of my new direct reports made a point of telling me in one of our first 1:1s that she had checked me out on LinkedIn and was glad to see how many of my former direct reports had given me glowing recommendations. Seems to me it’s one of those things that may not come in handy all that often, but could be really helpful in the right circumstance (in this case, it helped me earn the trust of this employee quite quickly). Just my $0.02!

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