can my company make me stay home with a cold, leaving a job for grad school, and more

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

1. Can my company make me stay home with a cold?

I’m panicking a little bit because I woke up this morning with a little bit of a scratchy throat. Yesterday my office sent out an email saying that with the new CDC announcement on the imminent COVID-19 outbreak, anyone who’s sick should stay home (we are in a very large city so I guess there’s a bigger chance some cases might happen here).

The thing is, I’m pretty much the only employee who isn’t salaried. I’ve been working at this company for a year, but on a long-term, open-ended temp contract. I get paid hourly through the temp agency and have no benefits or PTO. Taking time off, for me, means seriously risking my ability to pay my rent. If I get sick, even just a cold, and my company tells me I have to stay home, do I have any recourse? Will they not have to pay me since I’m employed through an outside agency? Can I say no, I’m coming into work anyway? (Obviously I would stay home if I got the flu or something, but they can’t make me stay home for just a cold, can they?)

They can indeed legally make you take the day off. Because you’re hourly, they don’t have to pay you for that time if you don’t have paid time off. You can probably understand why they don’t want to risk you infecting others, but it puts you in a really crappy position since you don’t have sick leave.

Is it an option to work from home on those days? Even if your company normally doesn’t let you do that, if the work can be done from home they might be more open to it now because of coronavirus; some companies that normally aren’t work-from-home-friendly are being more flexible right now. It’s worth talking to your manager about the situation and seeing if you can work something out. And really, it’s in companies’ interests to try to work with people on this because otherwise they’re strongly disincentivizing  people from disclosing that they’re sick.

2. Tokenized on International Women’s Day

I work for a large company that has several locations all over North America. It’s a very progressive company and every year they have presentations that celebrate International Women’s Day. Sounds great – and it is, but in my office I am the only woman and every year I find it incredibly awkward.

We watch a presentation and then have a discussion. At some point, the manager looks to me and says, “Jane, would like to comment?” I say something like how sometimes it can be difficult and blah blah.

I am a confident, 51-year-old woman but I’m torn. I feel like I should embrace the presentation but I can’t help feeling like I’m under a giant flashing neon “WOMAN” sign. There’s no getting out of it so I’d love to hear how you would handle this.

Ick. Can you talk your manager beforehand and say that it’s awkward to be called on to speak for all women at these things and ask him not to do it? If that’s not an option for some reason, then when called upon, personally I’d say, “I get asked that every year. I’d rather hear how the men here think they can be strong allies.” Or, “I’d rather hear what the company is doing to hire more women and support them. Is that something you can speak to?”

(Also, are these presentations really “great”? If they include announcements of increased parental leave and pay equity policies, then sure, that sounds good. But often this kind of thing is just patronizing lip service. If it’s the latter, all the more reason to push back.)

Read an update to this letter here.

3. I was planning to leave my job for grad school, but…

I’ve been accepted to and put a deposit down at a well-known private university for a one-year, full-time Master’s program in a different state. It’s a great next step in my career development. Everyone at my job was aware when I got the acceptance and decided to go. I’ve been thinking of it as a done deal.

However, since then the only two coworkers in my role (tiny startup, <15 people) have announced their resignations. This is a big blow to the company. One of them was replaced but the new guy has only been on the job two months, whereas the most recently announced resignation has been here a year and I’ve been here almost three years. In the past year and a half, I have been responsible for training all new hires, or about nine people (high turnover), as well as managing interns.

My boss has clearly expressed he’d like me to stay. Our private funding source and our president (my grandboss) are visiting next week. We also get a decision about a federal grant we previously applied for next week. I might be motivated to stay with the company for at least one more year in exchange for additional compensation and one or two other benefits. My start date for grad school, if I still go, would be about four months from now.

How do I approach this with my manager? I do really enjoy the team and the location of the company, but I worry changing plans now might make me seem flakey or unreliable. Also, at some point I do very much want to pursue grad school, so this would only delay my exit, not prevent it entirely.

I don’t think you should change your plans! These are your plans, you made them for a reason, and the company will figure out a way to go on without you — that’s what companies do. If you wanted to change your plans for your own reasons, that would be one thing, but you shouldn’t change them for your employer’s convenience. (And imagine if you put off grad school and then got laid off or got a terrible new boss who didn’t like your work. Wouldn’t you regret putting your plans on hold?)

That said, if you really want to propose it, you could frame it this way: “With Bob and Jane leaving and the team short-staffed, I’d be open to talking about deferring my grad school admission for a year if you’d be open to a raise and some other incentives. Is that a conversation that it makes sense to have?”

But really, don’t do it.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

4. My coworker says we went to school together — we didn’t

I have a colleague who went to the same graduate school as me. I am involved in our professional organization, so he likely knew me when he was in school. At networking events, he will approach when I’m talking to someone, and I will introduce him and he will reply, “I went to grad school with her.” But, he didn’t. I graduated before he started. I have had a level of success, and I worked full-time in the field before grad school, so I have significantly more experience than him. He graduated when it was hard to find jobs in our field. I feel like he is trying to inflate his importance. I have mentioned to him twice that he didn’t go to school with me, but he continues to do it. It makes me uncomfortable. Am I overreacting? Should I continue to correct him?

I’d let it go. Is it really inflating his importance much to say he attended school with you? It’s weird, but it’s not really taking anything away from you. When he says it, you can certainly say, “Well, same school, different time” … and if it’s really bothering you, you could ask with genuine curiosity, “Why do you say we went to school together?” … but I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

5. Do we have to offer the job to the only applicant?

I work in a very rural, very busy healthcare setting in a department that requires an advanced degree and has historically been really tough to recruit for because of our geography. The last time we had an opening, it was posted for over nine months before we got an applicant. Based on the interview, my director had been really hesitant about an offer, and then when references were checked REALLY did not want to make an offer. The applicant had been let go from her two previous positions for the same performance-related problems around not keeping up with mandatory documentation despite chronic, excessive overtime. HR asked my director to schedule a follow-up interview and include a senior staff member. The result was the same. HR then insisted that he make the hire “because we don’t have any reason NOT to hire her, and since no one else had applied that leaves us open to legal trouble.” This individual has now been on staff for a year and, big surprise, is a disaster when it comes to the same issues she was terminated for elsewhere. (Trying to terminate her at this point would be an entirely different letter focusing on my conflict averse director.)

Was HR right or just trying to strong arm us so that the position was filled? Is there really a legal concern in NOT offering a position to someone with a poor performance history, just because they are the only applicant?

No, there’s no legal requirement that you offer a job to the only applicant! You can decide to do a new round of recruitment or not to hire at all. It’s possible you have some sort of internal rules you were bound by, but if so, those would be bad rules.

It’s more likely that your HR person is just poorly trained and decided that it’s okay to not hire someone if you’re hiring someone who’s clearly better, but that they’d somehow be open to charges of discrimination if they couldn’t point to a better qualified applicant. That’s BS though — in any circumstances, but especially when you have clear reasons for not hiring this person (whatever concerns came up in the interview, plus the poor references).

{ 674 comments… read them below }

  1. Nancy*

    Would it be worth it for #1 to talk to her temp agency about paid sick time during the corona crisis? Or is that just not something temp agencies will do?

    1. PollyQ*

      I think the temp agency is highly unlikely to do it, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to at least ask the company LW’s working at to pay her even if she’s not working, given that it’s there choice for her to stay home even with mild symptoms. I bet they didn’t even think about what the payroll situation for her as a temp, given that she’s been there so long.

      1. Mameshiba*

        I agree–this is an everyday, simple situation (what happens when someone is sick?) and because there is no give in the system, add just a little pressure (OP needs the money, OP has a cold) and it collapses.

        Now we’re seeing extreme pressure due to coronavirus and companies need to shape up and governments need to force them to.

        If my stodgy company could put together a slapdash work from home/special leave plan for parents and sick people in less than a week, OP’s company should too. This stuff is no joke and we really need to implement some give in the system so that we can protect the weakest among us.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Shoot when we worked with temps whose company didn’t offer sick leave we just set up an informal policy (i.e. not written into the contract with the company) where they had 1 sick day for every month they worked there and let them bill the hours if they called in. LW1’s company could do the same with a single e-mail

          1. Reality.Bites*

            I really applaud you and your company for that. From my understanding of how things work in the US (if you’re there) that’s also a pretty generous sick leave policy in general.

          2. foolofgrace*

            That reminds me of the time when I was a temp/contractor at a big company and the company wanted the teams to do team-building exercises but I wouldn’t get paid for those hours and I didn’t want to do it. I hinted around with my manager that that time should be paid but he never picked up on it. The team-building exercise never happened; I kept objecting to every activity because of my seriously bum leg (bowling, skating, working at Habitat for Humanity).

      2. Mookie*

        I agree that company probably didn’t have in mind statuses like the LW’s when deciding to adopt this policy, and because of that, it’s worth giving them the opportunity to recognize the discrepancy and adjust accordingly. I’d point out to the manager that this will hit the LW exceptionally hard and, as Alison says, any blanket policies that create unreasonable but solvable unequal outcomes will incentivize people to undermine them, like going to work ill and thereby defeating the purpose of a policy that intends to protect their staff from communicable infections.

      3. Sparrow*

        Yeah, if pretty much everyone is salaried, it seems likely that someone just didn’t think it all the way through and needs to be reminded that she’s hourly. If it were me and I had a decent relationship with my manager, I think I’d politely point out that while I would like to be overly cautious about potential illnesses, as they’ve requested, I (literally) can’t afford to, and I’d ask about options to work from home or to access some sort of paid sick leave so that I can unhesitatingly comply.

        1. Clisby*

          I doubt this company has thought through its plan even for salaried employees, unless there’s the opportunity for 100% WFH. Staying home every day you’re sick could mean weeks off for some employees.

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

      I think it would be better if someone from the company OP works at talks with the agency and pushes them to reconsider, given the current situation. For example, my grandboss went ballistic when someone from the neighbor team got injured during a mandatory department meeting outside company premises and the agency refused the sick time request (the alternative would be unpaid leave).

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Which would require OP1 to talk to someone at the company about this issue. Possibly whoever sent out the email announcement in the first place?

    3. Pretzelgirl*

      I wonder if LW could speak with her company and ask to move her from Temp to permanent within the company, so she has access to sick time. Explain that she couldn’t afford a few days without pay. Although I am not sure how that all works with the temp agency and contracts etc.

      1. Beehoppy*

        Companies have to pay a fairly hefty premium to temp agencies when they hire someone away. It would likely be more financially feasible to just offer her a few days of sick leave.

        1. soooooper-grrrrrl*

          Depending on where you live/work, you actually could have sick time. There are certain cities (not nearly enough) in the US which have mandated sick time (from 3-7 days depending on the size of the company, temp agencies included), you accrue it based on the number of hours worked–ie: 1 hour for every 37 hours etc. You can usually take it after 90 days of work (some you can take right away–it’s up to the company, not the law). Look into that in your jurisdiction–I have found temp agencies often don’t know (and they should, it’s the law and all of their temps are their employees). Some temp agencies offer vacation leave as well. As for hiring via a temp agency: most, after 500 hours of work, have a significantly reduced fee for transitioning to a full-time role. BUT there has to be one and a budget available, of course, since paying for benefits adds at least 1/3 salary to their budget. That said, see if remote work is possible while you research all of the above. And register with as many temp agencies as possible in yoru area. Always good to have other options available to you as many send work options daily. Good luck!

          1. Amethystmoon*

            3-7 days isn’t enough though when they are telling people to stay home for 14 or take it unpaid, and then if your sick time and PTO are in the same bucket, you have nothing left to go visit family on holidays like Christmas, much less take anything for yourself for a vacation.

            1. soooooper-grrrrrl*

              Perhaps I wasn’t clear, and yes, the US needs to fix it’s ills when it comes to comps for employees, but it seems you may have missed my points: 1) some cities do offer sick time that not everyone or company are aware of (3-7 is better than none; also, you generally can’t use more than 3 days sick time for vacation–a doctor’s note is required); 2) the prevailing view on temp agencies fees is not necessarily true after this amount of time.

              AND, one last point: after 12 months from signing the original contract: you do not need the temp agency to negotiate on your behalf–you are a free agent and can act on your behalf. As a courtesy you can tell them you were offered, but they don’t get any fees. They’ve made their money.

    4. MissGirl*

      The OP is not going to solve this problem in the short term. By the time any decision might be made, the cold will be over. Right now, sadly, I would not say anything about being sick. A sore throat is not one of the virus’s symptoms. As long as you don’t have any of the other risk factors and your city isn’t currently experiencing an outbreak, go to work and don’t say anything.

      Ask your boss about the policy and what you should do *if* you get sick. If your cold worsens and you can’t conceal it then I would call out sick. Avoid people as much as possible at work.

      1. 5 Leaf Clover*

        This is terribly irresponsible advice. While I agree that the onus is on the employer, we all have a responsibility to each other right now to stay home when we are sick. The LW is talking about what to do if they have “just a cold;” unfortunately the symptoms of coronavirus are pretty similar to “just a cold”, which is why we are being urged to stay home for even small illnesses. Even if it has negative consequences for us – which, again, I agree it shouldn’t! – that doesn’t change our ethical responsibility.

        1. Lucette Kensack*

          Advising her to stay home would also be terribly irresponsible, as it sounds like missing those hours could result in her losing her apartment. It’s a crappy situation with no easy answer.

          1. Lauren*

            This is what I worry about. All those hourly workers suddenly not being paid and then miss rent, and the landlords pounce for eviction that wouldn’t have happened otherwise – just to legally get rid of them and up the rent price in high COL areas. Someone who is grandfathered in at $1600 for a 2br in Boston because they’ve been there for 10 yrs and you can’t legally kick them out or raise rent super high suddenly (must be gradual, like upping it $50 a year). That 2 bedroom could go for $2600 now. Boom, lost wages so can’t pay rent on time anymore. Suddenly against the lease and they now have a legal reason to kick them out and up the rent to market by $1000+.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          If she won’t be able to pay her rent, though, that is terribly unfair to *her*. Is there some sort of fund for financially supporting people in that situation? Would you be willing to pay into it?

          I wonder if she could forward this email from her employer to her landlord looking for help. A long shot, but… :-/

          1. ...*

            Honestly yes I would happily pay into it for the betterment of society. Again I believe the employers and government should be the ones who would bridge the gap, but they won’t, and so yes I would give some of my money to help others stay well and stay housed.

        3. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          I get that 100%, but ethics does not exist in a vacuum. We have no idea this person’s financial situation. If going to work sick is the difference between making their rent and being evicted, they have to preserve their own well-being.

          The advice isn’t “go to work and cough on all of your co-workers” it’s “do what you need to do to preserve your financial situation. Wash your hands. Avoid coworkers as much as possible”

          1. Pretzelgirl*

            I agree with Amy FF. If you have a cold and feel well enough to work, which happens to me a lot during the winter months (I stay home if its bad). Avoid co-workers, wash your hands, wipe down your desk at the end of the day with Lysol wipes (or whatever).

            I would recommend speaking to someone at the company about what to do, if you get an illness that is bad enough to warrant you calling off. Explain your situation. Hopefully the company can provide some kind of solution.

        4. Clisby*

          Good grief. There have been times during my working life where staying home every time I had cold symptoms would mean staying home for 4-6 weeks a year. That’s simply not practical, unless the employer is going to foot the bill for the time off or let the employee work from home. (If either of those is the case – sure, stay home.)

        5. Annon for this*

          I have been in OPs situation, not today, but certainly previously.

          I HAD to go to work while sick. I had no health insurance and no sick time; so sick as a dog I went to work for a couple weeks. It was misery. It took me most of the month to get over.

          There just needs to be a better solution than the most susceptible of our population choosing between paying bills or staying home to recover from illness.

      2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        A sore throat is in fact one of coronavirus’s early symptoms. You are ill-informed.

        1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

          No it’s not. Stop spreading false information. Fever, dry cough, shortness of breath – those are the COVID19 symptoms

      3. Artemesia*

        A very sore throat is the FIRST symptom usually with Covid. But expecting a lowly temp to bear the expense of no income because they MIGHT but probably don’t have Covid is not reasonable. The US has a terrible health care system and poor employement security; the consequence is that they cannot expect people to personally bear these costs and so will have thousands going to work when they ought to have stayed home.

    5. Shirley Keeldar*

      It’s amazing how often people Just Don’t Think about how a policy effects hourly or temp workers if they’re exempt themselves. So it’s possible that OP will get some good results by talking to her manager or HR. Fingers crossed! But I am furious that she and so many others are in this position. Choosing between “helping to prevent a pandemic” and “paying rent” is not a situation people should have to be in.

      1. 5 Leaf Clover*

        It is really terrible. I hope that the US rethinking its laws about sick leave will be a silver lining to this public health crisis.

        1. Reality.Bites*

          The US is basically 50 separate countries when it comes to most things affecting employment

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Richard Hershberger, one of our AAM regulars, made a great post a while ago about how most employers have two categories of employees: the ones they think of as real people and the ones they think of as meat puppets. It’s so, so true. Most benefited employees are blind to their own privilege, and some actively, consciously dismiss the needs of the rest of us. (And we are not a small number of people – we’re something like a third of the US workforce.) Even here in the AAM comments, this attitude is rampant – even from normally progressive and aware people, sometimes even from Alison herself.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          That post seems to be my contribution to humanity. And here I thought it would be some of the finer points of early baseball history…

          1. Ariadne*


            I think this isn’t just work, it’s society as a whole. We chunk people up into “people who are deserving of humanity” and “everyone else.”

            I love how you phrased it related to work. That’s where we see it daily. Or, rather, don’t see it.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              Indeed. This is essentially the difference between the right and the left in modern American politics, and the bastardization of American Christianity. An important theme of the New Testament (and to a lesser extent the Old) is that no one is The Other. Jesus drones on endlessly about this, and Paul is admirably explicit. Large swaths of American Christianity work very hard to obscure this and Other people they don’t like. This is blasphemy.

              1. Adriadne*

                A relative once said: religion can be a sword or a shield.

                Modern Americans view it as the former. Christ treated it as the latter.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I think a lot of people use it as both. As a shield to say but I’am so religious/pious and I attend services regularly I can’t be a bad person, and also use it as a sword to go after those they think belong to the other group.

              2. Western Rover*

                Which is left and which is right as far as considering chunks of humanity to be The Other? When I read horror stories about people treated as meat puppets by the criminal justice system, or about working class folk having their property seized or livelihoods destroyed by their local municipalities, very often these stories come from cities that have been run by the left for years. Agree that many who claim to be Christian ignore large swaths of what Christ taught, but they’ve been doing that since long before there was American Christianity.

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  Regarding past abuses within the church, this is at once True, Disgraceful, and No Excuse for continuing them. Parts of American Christendom recognize this and try, falteringly as fallen humanity is wont, to do better. Other parts are perfectly comfortable–or even enthusiastic–with continuing these abuses. The members have made their choice.

                  As for the criminal justice system, it is a sad reality that the police and prosecutors are very good at protecting what they perceive to be their interests. It is very hard even in progressive areas to root out this evil. Take a look at the Philadelphia District Attorney to see someone trying, and the responses to his efforts. It is a fascinating display of evil.

                2. Western Rover*

                  @Richard Hershberger, Very true. I don’t mean to excuse today’s sins by the past. In many cases people even recognize past abuses but do not realize they are doing much the same today (or to put it another way, they think erroneously: if we had lived in those days we would not have killed the prophets).

              3. JB (not in Houston)*

                “This is essentially the difference between the right and the left in modern American politics.” You’re not totally wrong there in that at least the left gives lip service to caring about everyone, but if you think the left (a group I’m in) doesn’t do this too, you’ve got blinders on. We can agree, however, that the US’s denial of affordable, good healthcare for all combined with its denial of protections for workers means that many, many workers who get sick with this virus will have their jobs in danger and cannot afford to take time off or to seek medical treatment, which will mean that the virus will spread even more and cause much more harm to people and the economy than it otherwise would. The only silver lining, if you can even call it that, is that maybe people who otherwise didn’t think much of or care about things like adequate sick time for all workers will start to care now.

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  Of course people on the left wear blinders. We are all fallen humanity. Pick a topic: class inequality, race, a range of gender issues, etc. It is trivially easy to find people who regard one of those topics as the central issue of our time, and who regard discussions of any of the other issues as a distraction from what is important. This is a big problem.

              4. Ariadne*


                I don’t know if you will see this. In case you do: there’s a Hidden Brain podcast from 2/24/2020 that you would probably like. It’s called “The Influence you Have.”

                Starts with the Milgram experiment and makes some interesting findings off of that.

        2. Ariadne*

          This is 100% true.

          It’s also true there’s no good way to balance the economic needs of the working poor – irrespective of their work status – and the need to keep sick people out of public spaces at the moment.

          This is systemic and insidious. It’s by design.

          Irrespective of what LW or the poster above does, sick people will go to work b/c they have no other choice.

          I worry about how many food services workers show up when sick b/c they are told to show up or be fired. There was an outbreak of the bad Hepatits a while back b/c food service workers were told “come in, or be fired.”

          This really needs to change at a national level.

          1. TootsNYC*

            This reminds me of a recent essay by Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station. He makes much the same point–people who downplay COVID-19 are ignorant of, and dismissive of, the working poor. Or the working “borderline.”

            1. Adriadne*

              Keeping the poor so poor they have to show up sick isn’t in the best interest of the rich. They can’t see it and won’t until they start dying because of it.

          2. Artemesia*

            Yeah food service people work with norovirus all the time and of course spread it. There is a resolute belief in our culture that these problems cannot be solved and we are on track to make sure they don’t get solved during the next 4 years either. We can’t have nice things. We can’t afford medical care or employee benefits. This is the best of all possible worlds.

                1. chronicallyIllin*

                  It’s apparently a reference to a voltaire quote.


                  I can’t figure out what referencing it here is supposed to mean- either genuinely or sarcastically saying things truly can’t be fixed so just worry about yourself, I guess?

        3. Venus*

          Years ago I decided that if I had one wish then I would not choose ‘world peace’. Rather, I would want everyone to see every other person for the human that they are. Not in detail, but at least forced to mentally acknowledge the humanity of everyone else. That would solve world peace, hunger, a lot of disease… so many things. Humanity’s biggest problems are fundamentally because we have ‘us’ and ‘others’.

        4. pope suburban*

          Oof. This hit me where I live. I’m a meat puppet. Have been my whole working life. The real people I’ve worked with and for have always been happy with and appreciative of my contributions- I have a pretty good work history, such that I think I can claim to be an excellent employee- but somehow, never enough to grant me real-person status. On the rare occasions that anyone points this out to them, it’s all very apologetic “but that’s just how things are,” like choosing not to give me sick time is a natural law like gravity and not something that people are doing volitionally.

    6. Artemesia*

      They won’t do it nor will the company. In her situation the only sensible thing to do is take contact, and afrin and show up and pretend and hope it isn’t covid. This is what you get when you have a terrible health care system and workers have no protection. People being responsible are being punished; the guy in Florida with the 3,000 bill for a Covid test for example.

    7. memyselfandi*

      There is room for flexibility around sick leave policy and others are exercising it. Take, for example, this headline from the UK :

      “Boris Johnson has announced that statutory sick pay will be paid from the first day workers take off in an attempt to encourage people to stay away from work if they are unwell.”

      I know the LW is in the US and does not have statutory sick pay and that statutory sick pay does not apply to everyone. I am pointing to the flexibility. And, one reason for staying home when you are sick is because it might be Covid-19, but another reason is that if you are sick and are exposed to the virus you are potentially more susceptible to infection and a worse case of the disease.

  2. Lena Clare*

    I am bothered by LW4, so disagree with Alison to let it go. I mean, I’m not sure what you can do about it other than use Alison’s script when he mentions it again and ask directly why it’s so important that he mentions you were at grad school together. And I’d also make it clear you were there at different times.

    But, yes, it seems to me that he’s inflating his success by tagging on to yours and this really bothers me! Are you a woman?

    1. Beth ANNE*

      I agree that is so weird! Next time he does it I’d ask why he does it.

      It could be this guy is just awkward at networking events.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        And asking will make him feel more awkward and make the OP look kind of mean and unfriendly. Why do that?

        1. EddieSherbert*

          I think if OP asks him privately in a genuinely curious tone (versus annoyed), it’s totally fine. “Hey, I noticed you often tell people we went to school together, when we didn’t. Why is that?” If he gets offended or questions it… “It’s not a big deal; it just seems like an odd thing to exaggerate and I was wondering.”

          I certainly wouldn’t think anything (of OP) if this guy came up to me to complain that OP is “mean” because they pointed out that he didn’t go to school with them… when he didn’t. Honestly, I’d probably think HE was a little odd and then move on with my day.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I liked Alison’s “same school, different times” script. If you can deliver it in a light and breezy way, it can come off as a fun in-joke to observers, so the coworker isn’t obviously shamed or embarrassed, and it also makes the claim a little less rewarding for the coworker. I’m willing to bet if OP 4 uses it a handful of times, their coworker will start backing off.

        1. TootsNYC*

          ditto–or, “well, different years.” or “well, we didn’t overlap, quite.”
          And move right along. Don’t dwell on it or make it the subject of the conversation .
          Sort of like mentioning spinach on someone’s tooth, or correcting the mispronunciation of a word. Just fixing the facts, no biggie, let’s not focus on it.

        2. Artemesia*

          sometimes people get stuck in a silly groove and this guy seems like that — ‘same school, different times’ lightly said is plenty. Any more of a fuss on her part makes her look weirder than he is.

    2. Retirement's a Coming!*

      Could you introduce him with something like “this is Bob from our llama grooming tine development department. He went to the the same grad school I did, but not at the same time I went.”

        1. mamma mia*

          Yeah that overly-wordy intro would definitely make me internally roll my eyes. I obviously can’t say for sure but I don’t think anyone but OP would think that the coworker is trying to ride on her coattails or whatever by saying they went to grad school together. His statement is accurate enough that correcting it in front of others would only make you look petty and small.

        2. Quill*

          Yeah, the far more graceful situation would be “This is Bob, we both went to Alpaca State for grad school.”

          People who care can draw their own conclusions about timing from the dates of their degrees

          1. Annony*

            Yep. Beat him to it by saying “Bob is also an alum of Alpaca University.” It would be weird for him to follow up with “We went to grad school together” after that. And if he tries you can look confused and say “I thought you started in 2006. I graduated by then.”

            1. AKchic*

              I like the confused “I thought…” statement. Because yes, they attended the same school, but they were by no means classmates, as Bob is trying to impress upon people.

            2. Anonapots*

              That would still be odd, because this isn’t really a big deal. Sure, it’s a little weird, but he’s not trying to claim any shine the OP has and he’s not noticeably receiving any sort of benefit by saying they were in school together, so why call attention to it?

            3. Quill*

              Yes, all followup will have to be outwardly broadcasting “innocent mistake, he must have mis-remembered when I graduated.

            4. Matt*

              Yeah, I like the “also an alum” wording, or something like “he and I share our alma mater” – abstracting it out to the university name to me at least just tends to already have a connotation that you weren’t necessarily there together whereas “we both went to grad school at ____” can have that connotation (even with the way Quill expressed it above, IMO).

      1. MtnLaurel*

        yeah, that just sounds weird. I’d go with something like, “this is Bob, a fellow llama grooming graduate (or alumnus) from Llama State’s Master’s program.”

    3. Tram*

      I don’t know. OP literally says that he likely knew her when he was in school and I’m confused, I can’t tell whether that’s because he was undergrad and knew OP or knew of OP, or because OP was gone but already known in the professional organization.

      In any case, I’d probably take Alison’s advice and let it go or correct him each time by saying, “Actually, we went to the same grad school but didn’t meet until years later.”

      1. Lw#4*

        He knew me when he was in grad school bc our professional organization is involved with student mixers, and alumni are often brought back to review student work, etc. I was on the board of our professional organization after I graduated, so he may have met me because of that.

        1. LarsTheRealGirl*

          “That’s right! Fergus was in the program during my time on the advisory board. It’s always nice to be working with a fellow alumn.”

            1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

              Agreed, this is a great way to spin it. I’d be bothered too, though I can’t necessarily pinpoint why.

              Even something as a light “oh yes, same school, different times!” would reflect a little weirdly on LW4 to other people present – somehow it feels like a bigger social weirdness to point out the coworker’s weirdness. It would make it into “LW4 clearly cares about distancing themselves from this guy, that’s weird and a little petty?” Similar to the Miss Manners rule that pointing out someone’s breach of etiquette is way more rude than whatever it is they did. But this framing is excellent and lifts the LW up without attempting to knock the coworker down a peg.

        2. Senor Montoya*

          But really, so what? What are you hoping to gain by embarrassing this colleague in a public conversation? Or making him feel awkward or bad in a private conversation? It’s not friendly, it’s not collegial, and it’s *not important.* It’s trivial! Saying anything about it is only going to make you look bad. You’re the more prominent and successful person, who should be, you know, supporting colleagues, especially younger colleagues.

          1. AskAnEmployee*

            I just want to say I agree with this completely. The comments about his graduating when it was hard to find jobs vs the vast experience the LW had before grad school, make it feel like she thinks this guy is way beneath her and wants others to know it. Let it go LW and be thankful you’ve had the success you’ve had….

            1. LunaLena*

              I disagree, I read the comment about him graduating when jobs were hard to find as a possible reason he is doing this, not that she looked down on him. By saying “we went to school together,” he is creating an association that isn’t there – that he has the same amount of experience that LW4 does (and therefore more than he really has), that he and LW4 perform at the same level (his words imply they had classes together, meaning they would have passed the same class and therefore were held to the same standards), and that he and LW4 are equals in other ways. If he is having trouble finding a job, then he may think that equating himself with someone who has had success in the field will boost his own worth in employers’ eyes.

              If he’s doing this at every networking event, my guess is he’s doing it on purpose to create a better impression of himself, and probably thinks it’s a harmless deception. He doesn’t think he’s harming the LW4 in any way, but personally I think he is – she obviously worked hard to get to where she is at, and doesn’t owe it to him to give him the benefit of her work. I realize this is a bit of an extreme comparison, but it kind of reminds me of the Stolen Valor issue.

              1. neeko*

                He is probably saying it to have something to say at a networking event – always struggle to find something to talk about. Not some nefarious riding of coattails.

                1. LunaLena*

                  If that’s the case, there’s better ways of wording it. Like “I was in XYZ University’s grad program too.” No need to try to create the impression that he and LW4 were students together, and whether he intends it or not, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

            2. LunaLena*

              Also, “we went to school together” implies that they personally knew each other, and makes it sound like LW4 can vouch for him and his abilities. That puts LW4 on the hook of being a possible reference, and frankly, will harm him more if a potential employer decided to ask LW4 about him and found out he wasn’t entirely truthful about their relationship. Unless you expect LW4 to lie and cover for him, risking their own professional reputation?

            3. Librarian1*

              Yes, as someone who graduated from grad school when it was hard to find jobs, which isn’t something I had any control over, this comment really rubbed me the wrong way.

          2. Aquawoman*

            I don’t know if the LW is a woman, but women have their credentials diminished all the time, and it’s not wrong to be annoyed by it. I don’t think his statements are having the effect the LW fears, but I totally get being annoyed by it. S/he could also get at it obliquely by saying something like, “was prof so and so still there when you attended?” or “yes, I was on the alumni review panel when Mr Coattails did his case study.”

            1. Ophelia*

              Yeah, and I also think it kind of depends on the context of what he’s like generally. Is this one random quirk where he’s got a “heyyy, we’re collegial” line that doesn’t quite work, or is it the one concrete example of a bunch of harder-to-pin-down things that cumulatively give OP this negative impression?

          3. NowWhat?456*

            Honestly, I’m kind of on her side especially if they’re in a male dominated industry.

            By saying they went to school at the same time, when people meet Fergus and know he is several levels below OP, it implies that OP may not have the years of experience needed to merit her role. Or that he believes he should be on the same level as her because they went to the same school.

            He likely doesn’t realize the stark difference of “We went to the same grad school” and “We went to school together” so it may help to point it out. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he is making other comments that are taken the wrong way or irking his colleagues and he has no idea about it.

            1. Sparrow*

              Yeah, I think my perspective is influenced by the type of graduate school I attended (that is, not a professional program), but to me, “I went to graduate school with this person” implies a particular level of personal relationship. I’d see a colleague claiming to have gone to grad school with someone they weren’t actually classmates with as an attempt to portray a closeness that didn’t actually exist. Especially if the person they were claiming as a classmate is more respected or more accomplished – it would feel like they’re trying to hitch themselves to that person’s success by portraying themselves as someone personally close to the more successful colleague.

              So I can see why it would rub OP the wrong way, even though it is possible the coworker just doesn’t see how that wording could be misleading. I really like LarstheRealGirl’s phrasing because it feels like a natural thing to add and should correct any misunderstandings the coworker has caused.

            2. Bee*

              See, I think it actually increases her standing? If I saw two people who were in the same program at the same time and one was clearly much more successful than the other, I’d assume that person was better at their job. All the more so if the more successful one was a woman. I don’t think it diminishes her even a little bit to imply she was at school a year later than she actually was.

              1. RecoveringSWO*

                I agree (but I don’t haven’t LW’s insight on how it’s being perceived in her particular profession). On the bright side, years from now, Fergus’ implications could prevent her from dealing with age discrimination :) /s

            3. alienor*

              Tbh I think it’s only going to make Fergus look bad. Quite a few years ago, I got hired at my current company along with another person, both of us doing the same job. They decided to pursue management and are now a fairly high-up executive; I didn’t and am a senior-level individual contributor. When we’re in a situation where they’re introducing me to someone, they’ll often say “This is Alienor; we started out together as [Entry Level Job]” and I’m sure they mean it as a collegial “We’re old friends and go way back,” but I HATE it because I suspect the other person is looking at me and thinking “Boy, you must really suck if you and Exec started out together and now they’re like five levels above you” So Fergus telling people that he and LW went to grad school together is likely going to leave them wondering why LW is where they are and Fergus is where he is.

        3. Jessica*

          Would it be possible, when he says “We went to grad school together” for you to lightheartedly say “Yes! Fergus was class of X, and I’m class of Y. I was on the board of Professional Organization, which does X Y Z with students when Fergus was at Mutual School.” To me something like that sounds less hostile and less like a correction.

          There’s someone in my law school class who does this sort of professional piggybacking on a regular basis. She burned all of her bridges with professors and students essentially by getting into high school level drama, and we weren’t close but we did have a lot of the same classes. Now she tries to paint us as Law School Besties and attempts to glom onto me at mixers, and is always trying to mention our connection to network. I think it bugs me so much because it’s very obviously a calculated, tactical behavior. Sure, a lot of people will shrug and say “What’s the harm?” or “But it’s technically true, you did have X Y Z class with her,” but I’m not interested in being a reference for her or tarnishing my own reputation by association.

    4. MK*

      Eh, this doesn’t make any sense, unless the OP’s grad school class is known for some impressive accomplishment (which I think she would mention).

      1. TechWorker*

        If the grad school is related to the career it’s kind of like saying ‘oh yes we trained together’ and potentially thus implying they have the same amount of experience and/or seniority. It would piss me off too, but I don’t think OP needs to *do* much about it. Alisons script of cheerily saying ‘same school different time!’ is great and otherwise the work will probably speak for itself.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          “This is Bob. We went to the same grad school. Not together of course…”

          ::addresses Bob::
          “you were just starting as I was finishing my Master’s/PhD right…?”

          (Do not give him time to reply)

          ::turn back to other person::
          “but we’re both Grad School Name alumni.”

          ::smile here::
          “So how have *you* been since XYZ…?”

          1. Anonapots*

            But this is so weird! It makes a trivial thing into a THING. It turns an aside into a whole conversation that has little to nothing to do with what’s happening.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Yeah, I get the irritation, but I doubt anyone is making any asset allocation decisions based on this guy said they were in school together. (So, different than the grad student whose fellow student kept trying to indicate to people outside the group that she was the senior person in charge of all the things and people should route everything through her.)

          He might even legitimately think that they overlapped at the end of her term, beginning of his, and then after that he saw her at the mixers. It’s either shorthand for how they know each other or an ineffective means of trying to bask in OP’s glow.

        3. Leslie Knope*

          I went through a program where you’re admitted in a class of 32 people, and those 32 people became like a large extended family. We were together for hours of class, hours of studio class, hours in the studio after studio class…you get it. There’s a woman I met recently at an Alumni event that was in the class one year behind me. We probably passed each other in the halls all the time, but I had never met her.

          I could see how the OP would be off-put by what this young man is saying. It creates an air of familiarity which doesn’t exist. If someone who wasn’t in my class said we went to school together, it just wouldn’t ring true to me. I might as well say the guy in the next car in daily traffic drives to work with me every morning.

          1. LW#4*

            Yes, our program is about that size and you work closely with your cohort on studios and projects, etc. Which I think makes it super weird that he does it as well.

          2. Cercis*

            I went through a small program – 17 people. We had a little interaction with the class immediately above and immediately behind, but the nature of the program meant that Freshman and Sophomores were separate from Juniors and Seniors. But people who know me know that I went through a small program at a state school. One of the other guys in our area also went through the program, 2 years behind me. People don’t understand that I don’t remember him because there just wasn’t any overlap, they make judgments about the fact that I don’t remember him – either that he offended me or that I’m jealous of him, or any number of weird thoughts. Trying to explain that the program really does keep the classes apart and that no, you don’t pass each other in the hallways really surprises people.

            It’s worse in that he claims he remembers me. I mean, maybe he does, I was one of three women in my class and one of less than a dozen he would have interacted with in his 4 years of school. He might remember me from awards ceremonies (I was a good student), he might remember me from some of the club activities (the one time that people actually did interact outside their classes, I was involved, but not overly), he might even remember me because my husband and I met in the program and were gossiped about (“is she only in the program to meet men?” “do you think she’ll graduate?” etc).

      2. Smithy*

        I agree with this. For lots of us, while grad school can be meaningful and valuable – after some time working, the specific value of the degree fades. So if I saw the LW being pedantic about the years, it would seem odd to me.

        There are certainly grad degrees and programs where specific years and cohorts are more prestigious. But how well known those programs are can really vary. And if grad school was over five years ago….I really think it’s worth letting go.

        1. snowglobe*

          If the co-worker is obviously young, it could imply that OP didn’t get their degree until fairly recently, thus having less actual work experience in the field.

          1. Smithy*

            It would really depend on the field – but in my field, that’s not true at all. If this is a degree that comes along with a license to practice,I get it. But it’s wildly common for people to get graduate education at a range of points in their career. Some go immediate after undergrad and maybe only have interning experiences at graduation. Others can begin with years to decades of work experience.

            Sometimes that graduate degree is about changing career fields, but often if can be that muddling through a grad program and graduating by whatever means necessary opens you up to career pathways/promotions that only actually career about your work experience. A common example of this is the majority of UN professional positions where if you don’t have a graduate degree you won’t be considered. I knew someone working as a UN consultant for a team that wanted to hire him in a professional role to do the same work. He was told to get any vaguely related grad degree as quickly as possible and then it could happen.

            Certainly if this is about years of practice as a licensed attorney or similar, I get the push back. But for grad degrees that don’t immediately translate into being certified to do X job – it seems very petty.

    5. V*

      It sounds to me very much like he’s trying to inflate his level of experience and success by association with you. I would definitely shut him down with a confused look and the suggested line “same school, different time”.

      1. V*

        In fact now I think about it… even more tempting to respond with “Same school, different time – but it’s always an honour when the next generation choose to follow in my footsteps!”

          1. mamma mia*

            Yup. Incredibly pompous and off-putting. If someone said that, I would honestly lose all respect for them and I would have to really work hard to suppress a guffaw.

          2. V*

            Oh dear, seems like the sarcastic tone I intended that to be said in did not come through in the written word. Read it as more passive-aggressive sarcastic than pompous!

            1. fposte*

              That’s still not good, though; there’s no reason to be passive aggressive about this in the first place, and it’s especially a bad look when you’re talking to somebody you don’t know well. You become the person who’s casually snotty to somebody lower in rank.

    6. JayNay*

      yeah i’m bothered by it too. LW4 told him to stop and he didn’t. If it’s a minor matter, then why would he keep insisting on phrasing it that way? Maybe this is a time to use Alison’s other scripts of going from “asking kindly” to “making a request”.
      For example, say “You’re not being completely truthful when you’re saying we went to grad school together. I need you to stop doing that. Otherwise it will be very hard for me to continue networking with you or introducing you to others.”
      After that, make it veeeeeerrryyy awkward for this person to continue saying you went to grad school together. Like, “Wait, but we didn’t. I actually don’t remember you from school at all. When were you there again? Oh yeah, that was years after I graduated” and so on. I’m pretty sure that will stop it.
      FWIW, I think the LW’s gut feeling is correct. If she’s somewhat known in her field (because she’s been putting in the work for that), it seems like this person wants to steal some of that shine.

    7. Mookie*

      You may be right about his motivations, but that is not the impression most people will take away from this tiny historical revisionism. If they were peers at school and the LW has seniority/more experience/whatever, that just makes the LW seem exceptional and/or this guy an underachiever. Unless I’m missing something here.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, I would assume that they’re just both alums of the same school. If they have wildly different ranks, assuming they graduated at the same time makes LW look better, not the other guy.

        But really, LW, if it bugs you so much, just take the initiative and when you introduce him say “Bob and I went to the same school – although at different times.” Problem solved.

        1. AKchic*

          By introducing him as an alum, she makes him seem like someone she likes and may want to mentor, thus inflating his importance in her life (I mean, she remembered that they went to the same school, therefore he must be of interest to her! gasp!). When he does it, even with some omissions of detail, it looks like he’s trying to glom on to her success. Savvy people will recognize it; but many are not savvy to that kind of low-level power play.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            It does not harm your professional standing to be seen as someone who looks after others and remembers connections – especially old school connections – it’s called the Old School Tie for a reason. By contrast, edgelord individualism doesn’t impress too many people in the workplace. People who are too quick to disavow others from their mutual background are seen as either no-loyalty-having backstab-climbers, or people who come from somewhere so crap that no one from their past is worth knowing.

            TL;DR – have some school pride. A rising tide lifts all boats, and people think better of those that are seen to help others.

            1. D'Arcy*

              School pride isn’t the issue here, it’s the junior coworker blatantly trying to mislead people into thinking he has equivalent skill and experience when he doesn’t. And he’s clearly doing it intentionally/maliciously, because if it was an innocent faux pas he would have stopped when explicitly told to.

              1. Eukomos*

                I think you’re reading way too much into it, we don’t have enough information to draw those conclusions so firmly.

      2. Carlie*

        I think it also makes it seem like he and LW were personally close, which implies that LW is something of a reference for him (you respect LW, she hung out with me, therefore I deserve your respect too). You say “We went to the same school” if you want to emphasize the similar training. “We went to school together” ot “I went to school with her” makes it sound like they were buddy-buddy.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          This is what bugs me about it. It makes it sound like they’re closer than they really are. It feels to me like he’s trying to use this white lie to create positive feelings in the minds of potential future employers, so when they see he’s applied for a job they’ll think “oh, he’s friends with OP4, and she’s an industry leader, so he’s probably got a lot going for him.” He’s trying to take a shortcut that’s not his to take and it just feels icky to me.

        2. Paulina*

          Yes, there’s a “we go way back” implication to it. And certainly it’s common to draw distinctions between “went to grad school together, ” “overlapped (or a couple of years behind me) in grad school,” and “went to the same grad school (a few years after me).”

          It’s a tough thing to clarify once the claim has been made, though, because it’s a detail. The LW taking the lead in doing the introduction seems like the best approach, since the first one making the statement will make the later person who disagrees sound petty, either way.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I think this is a “coworker moved my candy dish” situation–yes, he’s being weird and should cut it out when asked, but any pedantic correcting about exact timelines by OP is going to make the newly enlightened feel they’ve tiptoed into the middle of a long-standing argument. And they will be inclined to tiptoe right back out again.

        “Same school different years” in a light breezy tone and moving right along to more interesting topics at most.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, your first paragraph is where I’m at.

          Like, I get why this is annoying. I’m a very truthful and literal person and it annoys me when something someone says is objectively wrong. So I can totally understand why this is so grating to OP.

          Also, he obviously must try to achieve something by doing this. It’s so, so weird that he’s doing this in the first place – why not introduce himself as OP’s coworker, which is the obvious and relevant connection they outwardly have at these networking events? Why add anything at all if OP’s already introduced him? And why continue to stubbornly do this even after OP has asked him to stop?
          (That’s what would get me, personally. He’d probably drive me to the brink of insanity with this until I’d start shaking him wildly and yelling at him “Why are you doing this? What is your intention here?!?” but that’s obviously not the path one should take. But on a more serious note, I’d be really interested in knowing what his motive is.)

          But annoying as it is, there is just no way OP can correct him at the moment that won’t come across strangely. I agree that his saying this implies a level of closeness that’s just not there but it’s unlikely a potential networking contact is going to care about that, especially if they don’t know either of you yet. Depending on your relationship with him, it might be worth it to ask in a quiet moment and with genuine interest what he tries to achieve with this but there’s basically no way to fit this into the networking introduction without coming across as petty or weirdly fixated on details.

          1. Carlie*

            In the moment, I’d be tempted to respond with “Really? I didn’t know that!” as if it was the first time I’d heard of it. Every time.
            Then his response would have to be either “But I’ve told you that before” or some variant of “But don’t you remember x that happened there”, either of which would show some social distance between the two of them at least.
            And if he comes to LW privately asking what the heck about her always saying she doesn’t know, she can respond that she’s asked him multiple times to stop it so what the heck about him continuing.

          2. pamplemousse*

            This seems right to me. It’s actually one of the reasons it’s so aggravating — it’s essentially catching OP in a trap where she has to accept it and deal with it.

      4. Mia*

        Yeah tbh the only thing I’d assumed from “we went to school together” is “we’re alums of the same institution and had some interaction there.” I‘d be surprised if people were interpreting this is the very specific way OP assumes they are.

        1. boo bot*

          To me it’s odd mainly because he’s continuing to do it after being corrected.

          There are a couple of people who were in my graduating class, who I became friends with after we graduated, but didn’t really know when we were in school. If I were introducing myself I’d probably say “I went to school with Fergus,” as shorthand, because that’s close enough to contextualize the relationship, and this new person doesn’t actually care how or when we met, they’re just wondering who I am and why I’ve wandered over.

          So I get giving a vague, slightly inaccurate account when you’re networking. The thing is, he could just say, “I work with OP.” I think she should talk to him about it; at least that way he’ll know it’s bugging her, and hopefully stop.

        2. Artemesia*

          We went to grad school together implies intimacy, and that they are the same experience level. I use that phrase for maybe half a dozen people in my profession who were in my co-hort in grad school — I would never say it about someone I passed in the hall or who attended a different year, although the two of us might share ‘did you knows?’ By saying this repeatedly especially when she has signaled it isn’t welcome, he is clearly trying to hitch a ride on her reputation. Making a fuss of course reduces her to his petty level, so a light touch is called for — but his insistence makes clear his agenda.

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

      Agree. It’s at the same level of faking work experience for me, especially if OP4’s program involves research or any activity that is resume-worthy.

      1. MK*

        But how is this even comparable with faking work experience, when he did in fact attend the same program as the OP, just a year or two later?

        The only way I can even think this matters is if the OP’s class at grad school stood out for some reason, e.g. they won a prestigious award, they co-published some now-famous paper, etc. Or maybe if the programm took a real nosedive in quality between OP’s time there and this guy’s (unlikely as it sounds). But just on its own?

      2. Pepper*

        He’s not faking anything though. He really did go to the same school. I don’t see any significant difference between “we went to the same school” and “we went to the same school at the same time.” I can’t imagine that anyone would really care whether or not they were there at the same time. If his position is junior to her position (which it sounds like it is) people are probably going to assume she was there before him anyway. If OP made a point of telling me that they were not there at the same time, I would actually get the impression that she’s the one trying to inflate her importance by distancing herself from him.

        1. Karou*

          To me, “I went to grad school with her” pretty clearly implies he knew OP and perhaps worked with her during grad school, and therefore have more of a link/history than just attending the same institution. I don’t know what he’s try to achieve with that but since OP already called him out on it and he didn’t stop I think he has some weird motive.

          1. An Actual Fennec Fox*

            Yup. “I went to the same university” = we have similar training. “We went to school together”, for me, implies a level of closeness or that OP can vouch for this person, when they can’t, because they did not go to school together. I think that’s the distinction there.

            1. blackcat*

              “School together” implies some sort of… togetherness. I generally only only use that for people who I interacted with at school.

              For people who went to the same school, but I didn’t know or they attended at a different time, I definitely say “Oh yeah, X weird quirk can be explained by the fact we both went to Quirky Lama College.”

              Heck, even people who I knew in grad school but not from the same program (ex, from being union stewards), I say “This is John. He was in the Yak Shaving program while I studied Lama herding at Agriculture U.”

              1. Ann O'Nemity*

                This is how I interpret it too. To mean, “together” implies you were in classes together, studied together, or had other experiences with each other. That’s totally different than going to the same program at different times.

                You can apply the same thing to the work world. If I worked at the same company as someone else but at a different time, I would never say we worked together! That would be a weird misrepresentation.

              2. Autumnheart*

                The current CFO at my employer was in my HS graduating class. We weren’t pals in HS or anything but we know each other. We’re Facebook friends along with most of our mutual classmates. As a piece of trivia, for me to tell other people at my own level (decidedly NOT anywhere near the C-suite), that’s one thing. But if I tried to schmooze with upper management by saying CFO and I go way back, that would be really disingenuous. But if CFO wanted to tell them about our personal connection, that would be different. It would be his place to establish whether or not his much higher position should be of social benefit to me. It wouldn’t be my place to try to get social benefit out of his higher position.

            2. un-pleased*

              Exactly. In my field there is a pretty clear distinction between those two things, particularly because our time to degree can be 5-7 years at the doctoral level. Having gone to grad school with someone definitely implies a closeness or familiarity with each other’s work that can be meaningful in a networking sense. If you say you went to the same program, that implies a lack of familiarity or inability to speak positively to the person’s work.

              If one of the folks who went to my grad program said they went to school with me when they were in a cohort that came in after I graduated, it would be super weird. It simply would not be true, period, but it also would set up expectations about training and my familiarity with them that would be patently incorrect. My program has changed significantly, and I just wouldn’t have the same in-the-trenches sense of their work and their collegiality. It may not matter outside academia, but in academia, it can be a big deal.

              1. Elitist Semicolon*

                This, exactly. I try to be really precise for exactly that reason: “We went to grad school together” = “we panicked together the time the chair forgot to send out our teaching appointment letters” and also “I remember that great paper they wrote in seminar,” whereas “we went to the same grad program” could mean “they were a few years behind me and we only saw each other at the annual spring picnic.” The level of implied closeness means a lot in academia, where it’s common do behind-the-scenes asking around about potential speakers, job candidates, and the like. (And academics often define some part of our identity by our grad program, so suggesting overlap when there wasn’t any is more likely to be interpreted as claiming a shared experience or expertise.)

            3. Candy*

              Even if they did go to school at the same time, how would that imply that OP can “vouch” for him? I don’t even know most of the people who went to my grad school at the same time as me and it would be a weird stretch to assume that I could vouch for any of them.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                I think specifically pointing out that you went to grad school with someone implies that you know their work (or at least their reputation), and they know yours. If I happened to notice that you and Bob attended Big State School at the same time, I wouldn’t assume you could vouch for him. But if you said “Oh, Bob? Yeah, I went to grad school with him,” I would think it was reasonable to at least ask you about his work.

              2. An Actual Fennec Fox*

                What Rusty said. Sure, I don’t know most of the people I actually went to school during the same time. But there was a core group of people I do know and could speak for. So these people would totally be able to say We went to school together during a networking event. The fact that it’s during networking is also relevant. They’re not just casually mentioning it in passing.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            My husband went to graduate school with people, and my daughter does now. It’s just not a thing that claiming “we went to the same school” somehow means that two people also have a deep intellectual respect for each other and have collaborated on several prestigious research projects.

            I suspect in his mind they did meet in grad school–that’s where he met OP and remembers her from–and he may even think her last year overlapped with his first. Thus the stubborness. But it’s not an effective means of self-promotion to suggest he might be slightly more cued in to OP’s network than is the case. So getting pedantic about the distinction is going to look odd for OP.

          3. Oxford Comma*

            I think this is probably highly dependent on the field. I went to grad school with people too. But in my field and with that university, that’s a lot of people. It’s not like there were a cohort of five of us in a lab with a world-renowned researcher and Bob wasn’t one of those five people.

            If I say “I went to grad school with Jane,” it’s not like I’m claiming prestige from the association. It just means that I had met or knew of Jane back in grad school and in every instance I can recall, when I say that, it is because I had a positive experience with or remember Jane being thought highly of.

          4. Librarian of SHIELD*

            In my profession and geographic region, most people got their master’s degrees from one of two schools. So there are a whole lot of people who were enrolled at the school I attended at the same time that I was, but I didn’t meet them. I wouldn’t introduce them with “we went to school together” because we didn’t know each other while we were in school. If the conversation were to turn to people’s school experience, I might say “Natasha and I were enrolled at Big State School at the same time, but we didn’t meet until we were both hired here. Isn’t that funny?” But otherwise, I don’t even know why you’d bring up what school you went to.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I can’t imagine that anyone would really care whether or not they were there at the same time.

          This. Who the heck makes hiring decisions based on “Well Joe said he went to school with Darla, and she’s respected for her work” and doesn’t bother to glance at Joe’s resume, talk to Joe’s former managers, etc before putting Joe in charge?

          I do think he’s trying to bask in her glory by playing up any connection–it would be high school debate team or local corporate kickball teams if those worked–but not in a way that is going to reflect badly on, or take anything away from, OP.

    9. Mel_05*

      It bothers me too and I definitely think he is trying to put himself on her level in other people’s eyes.

      And some people may react that way. But, I would assume they graduated at the same time and then think she had a better skill set than he does – because she rose higher faster.

      And honestly, that happens all the time for a variety of reasons. My youngest sister and I both work in marketing, but she’s a manager and does more high level work – I’ll probably never be a manager and I’m fine with that.

      Another sister is just starting out in her career, because she switched careers a couple years ago.

      This is a super annoying person, but people will not assume he is as successful as she is just because they thing he graduated with her.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This is a super annoying person.
        This. I get that he is annoying. But descending down to fight him on it is potentially off-putting to the people receiving the correction, who will feel like they have accidentally wandered into a long-standing spat between people with a lot of history. It gives the opposite impression to what OP wants, which is that she barely knows this person.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, that’s where I come down. I get why it bugs the OP and I agree that he’s trying to claim status via proximity, but if the two of them were in front of me at a conference, anything weightier than a breezy not-quite-but-sure approach from the OP is going to make me uncomfortable with her more than him.

    10. Copenhagen*

      This bothers me as well, but for different reasons that a lot of the other commenters point to.

      I’m bothered by the ickiness. He doesn’t seem to really gain anything anything professionally from this (he did complete the same program, just at a different time), even though he might think he will. But he keeps on saying it, even though the letter writer has made it clear that this is a statement she doesn’t agree with. This crosses into weird power play territory for me. I’m not saying he’s doing it en purpose but it’s still a kind of behaviour that can be pretty problematic in many areas of life – both professional and personal.

      1. Marthooh*

        Yeah, it doesn’t sound to me like he’s inflating his success so much as he’s unilaterally declaring that he and OP are allies. Which is pretty sketchy.

    11. Policy Wonk*

      Personally, I’d give a slightly puzzled look, say “um, if you say so” and move on. If the person you are talking to is interested, they’ll ask and you can elaborate. If not, the conversation will move on. You are calling the person out without making a big deal out of it.

      1. yeah idk*

        I’m imaging myself as the third party in this exchange if OP uses any of the mildly snarky, or meant-to-embarrass the guy comments, and I would be so uncomfortable and not interested in speaking with him OR OP further. Even the laugh+”same school different time” kind of gives of a weird undercurrent of tension that would make me start scanning the room for someone else I know to dip out and escape to.

      2. Clisby*

        Why would you call this person out at all? Ignore him. If anyone happens to ask you about knowing him at grad school (highly unlikely, in my opinion, since I’d be surprised if even .00001% of the people you encounter give a flip about any of this), then you could elaborate that you went at different times.

    12. Arctic*

      How is he remotely inflating his success? No one thinks going to school with someone means they have the same achievements.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          I feel the same way, though it’s up to the OP to feel however she does.

          There’s a person who may have overlapped with me in library school one semester or maybe not – she definitely finished earlier and has accomplished more in the field than I have. And we were never in the same class. And she’s said of me “he’s a fellow [school name] alum.” Which I thought was nice.

          I would not respond to the guys’ comments with “if you say so” because it implies he’s straight up lying, as opposed to exaggerating. Unless the point is to make him look bad. Which is fine, if the OP wants to do that. Her call.

          “Different years” would be an appropriate clarification that is less negative and more informative.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Unless the point is to make him look bad.
            And it’s hard to do that without making the OP look invested in making him look bad. Which is usually not going to be the impression OP is going for in this setting.

            I get that it is annoying. But at most, professionally, someone asks OP “Say, you went to school with Fergus, what did you think of him?” and she can shrug in confusion and say “We never overlapped, so I can’t say anything about his skills.” That’s damning for Fergus. But it only works if someone has upped the stakes and followed through on his implied connection–no one is thinking “Fergus says he went to school with Jane, so that means we should promote him to head of department” and just forging on with no other data.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              This. It’s a weird little thing, and if he were trying to make it meaningful, it will only make him look bad. But the OP making a big deal of it makes the OP look bad.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I agree–it’s a weird thing to lie about and I can see why it bothers OP… but I think if I were part of the conversation and heard the guy say they went to school together and then heard OP be like no that’s not true, the denial would stick with me more than the initial claim and I would probably feel like it was odd.

          1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            A cheerful “fellow alum, different times!” would be clarifying and no big deal.

          2. Jennifer*

            He’s not lying. They went to the same school. He’s not saying they bunked together and braided each other’s hair.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              But he didn’t say they went to the same school. He says they were at school *together.* Based on comments here it seems that in some parts of the English-speaking world, that would not imply that they were at school in the same program at the same time. But were I live and work, using that phrase definitely has that meaning. (And depending on the size of the grad program, it could also mean that she was in a position to be familiar with his work.) To me and people in my field in my region, I can’t imagine anyone interpreting that statement any other way than as saying that they were in the program together at the same time.

              1. Jennifer*

                If it would mean something different in your culture, I can respect that. Here in the States, I just don’t see it as a big deal. I completely agree with Alison.

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  I’m in the States, and if someone said “I went to grad school with her,” the only reasonable interpretation is that they were there at the same time. I’m not saying his claim is a big deal, but it’s definitely misleading.

                2. Librarian1*

                  In the States it absolutely implies that they went to school at the same time and actually knew each other.

              2. londonedit*

                To me, ‘we were at school together’ would mean ‘we were at the same school at the same time and interacted/knew each other while we were there’. ‘We went to the same school’ would mean ‘we went to the same school at the same time but didn’t know each other’ or ‘we went to the same school but not at the same time’.

            2. fhqwhgads*

              He is lying, if he’s saying they went at the same time and they did not. It’s not an important lie, but it’s still a lie.
              “We both went to BlahUniversity for grad school.” = true
              “I also went to BlahUniversity for grad school.” = true
              “We went to grad school together” = false, implies if not same years, at least one overlapping year, which is not the case. I agree there’s additional “togetherness” implied by this one too, not bunk beds, but that they had some sort of interaction, a shared class, knew each other at all. And while he did know her while he was in grad school, it’s not because she was also in grad school there at the time. Depending on the point he’s trying to make, these nuances may be completely irrelevant, but he’s still saying things that are not true.

              1. Jennifer*

                So not a big deal. With her, right after her, above her, beside her. Who really cares? I don’t really think it’s a lie. Is he even clear about the fact that they missed each other by a semester. And even if he is – again – who cares?

                1. Elitist Semicolon*

                  Would your response change if the person were saying, “OP and I worked together at Company X” when they hadn’t overlapped and had only met in passing at a function?

                2. Anonapots*

                  @Elitist Semicolon
                  No. If it came up in conversation, I would probably have a hard time remembering if we did overlap, spend a couple of minutes trying to remember, doubt my memory when I remembered we didn’t, and move the fuck along.

                3. anonymouslee*

                  LW said the program is quite small and they all work closely together. He knows he’s misrepresenting things.

                4. fhqwhgads*

                  Whether he lied and whether anyone will care that he lied are two separate things. You seem to be arguing if someone lies but no one minds then it’s not lying?

        3. Roscoe*

          Yes, me too. Hell, my grad school class was a couple hundred. There are people I was and still am friends with, people I was in classes with but never really worked with, and people who I knew in passing. I would say about any of those 3 groups that we went to grad school together. In no way does that mean I’m vouching for them, just kind of a like a matter of fact thing. This whole thing seems so petty. I can’t imagine caring one way or another, especially if its just in passing. And people who put too much emphasis on your grad program are somewhat annoying to me anyway.

          I wonder if there is something more to it. Like, maybe she thinks his work is sub par and doesn’t want to be lumped in with him?

          1. Belle8bete*

            Yep. He was unlucky when he graduated and it seems like the LW holds it against him in a bizarre way. Whatever you both went to the same grad school. Getting hung up on “he’s trying to steal my shine” is petty and silly at best. Get over it.

            Honestly he might be doing it to annoy her at this point, especially if she gave him a talk about it. It’s so strange to get hung up on it! I have met people who graduated years and years before or after me, but we still went to the same school. I don’t know if I would phrase it as “we went together” but whatever!

            1. Belle8bete*

              By the way, there were only 4 people in my grad school class. And I still wouldn’t be upset by what’s happening here UNLESS I was already really annoyed at other aspects of this coworker. In that case, I would need to deal with what my real issue is, not this bit of drama.

              In my personal experience, academica makes people weird. It took me a while to shake off some of the uptight and “watch your back” tendencies that often comes with higher ed.

        4. Traffic_Spiral*

          Huh, personally, the objection seems the opposite of snooty – it seems like a case of lower social class people not understanding upper class norms. Basically, once you start getting into the nicer schools, the alumni network means something. There’s an informal network where the older alums help out new grads with informational interviews, job opportunities, financial contributions to extracurricular clubs etc. Saying “we went to school together” or “we went to the same school” doesn’t imply personal closeness – just that you both went to a school that has a presence in the industry (because at least 2 of you are from there).

          No one freaks out and goes “Why’ya keep saying we’re from the same school – we ain’t kin!” You’re alum, and that’s the sort of thing that gets mentioned.

          1. Belle8bete*

            That’s a interesting point—not understanding how alum connections play out. I agree with that. I just felt the inclusion about how he graduated and couldn’t find a job/success very off putting…especially since my undergrad degree was in 2010–a terrible time to find work!

            I had folks slightly older than me throw shade at my group for not being able to work like them. My group definitely doesn’t look down at the new grads who struggle today…we remember!

      1. un-pleased*

        In academia certain programs are known for certain things/specialties, and certain cohorts within those programs can attain higher prestige levels. If I say I went to school with a cohort that wasn’t my own, that had several members that went on to do exceptional things or have exceptional impacts in the field, I might be trying to gain a halo effect. It may not change anything materially for me, but it still would look badly for me when people realized it wasn’t true later.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I think that’s the thing.
          • He’s going for a halo effect.
          • If pulled off successfully, it won’t benefit him.
          • If revealed as an attempt at the halo effect, he looks pitiable.

          But OP can’t be the one leaping to pound in the message that it’s an attempt at the halo effect. Executive presence is thoroughly undercut if you’re engaged in a battle of wills with someone three levels down.

          1. Clisby*

            +1. This guy does seem to want to benefit in some way by associating himself with OP. However, everything I’ve seen suggested as a way for OP to put him down would make OP seem like a jerk. I don’t see the upside.

    13. Lynca*

      Yeah this is really something you need to address in the moment because he is walking up to people she’s having a conversation with and butting in with this nonsense. It’s not really about the grad school aspect. It’s the lying to inflate his own credentials at the expense of the OP.

      Maybe this is something field dependent but I have seen this A LOT in the STEM fields I deal with for things larger stakes than grad school. It can be very hard to build your own reputation when you are not properly credited for the work you did independently of others or seen as an individual with her own accomplishments/worth.

      OP needs to keep it breezy while correcting and then switch back to whatever she was talking about before. But letting it go really just kind of shields him from any repercussions of his lying.

      1. Paulina*

        That’s a good point — he’s using the implied “we go way back” as part of his butting in, essentially as part of justifying adding himself to the LW’s interactions. Ick.

    14. Lw#4*

      Yep, I am a woman and he is a man…so I think part of my discomfort is that it’s a Male dominated field so i think that adds to my annoyance.

      1. Smithy*

        If you were in a field similar to mine (not academia, a lot of people have grad degrees but not licenses connected to those degrees) and this is largely about annoyance, I would suggest perhaps playing down how long ago/far away grad school was. Something to indicate that your peer group and achievements aren’t primarily based on Alumni Class XYZ but your current professional networks and successes. So instead of “I actually graduated in the year of A, and you started A+1”, it’s a case of “doesn’t that all seem so long ago, I’m just happy I still remember the title of my thesis”.

        If he’s using this to imply closeness, then I think reducing the value you place on classmate bonds achieves that more than insisting you didn’t actually take classes together.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I like this. Play down the relevance and you play down the attempt at closeness.

          (I assume there are some people who overlapped at OP’s school, in her program and others, whose work she knows nothing about or views negatively–winning on “but he met me at an alumni event the year after I graduated!!!!” is not the point-getter here.)

          1. Elaine Benes*

            I also like this. Only other thing I can come up with that won’t add more tension for the third party is a cheerful/conversational, “Oh right- you graduated in ’16, right?” which then makes clear that you didn’t actually know each other/overlap.
            I don’t think I would draw the any conclusions from what he said (except I might think you actually knew each other) so I’m not as put off by it as others, but I do think it’s weird that you’ve asked him to stop and he hasn’t. But if he’s gonna keep doing it, it’s worth having a ready-to-go response that doesn’t bring out tension-y squabbling vibes.

        2. LW#4*

          I like the idea of brushing it off based on how long ago it was. It was more than a decade, so I think part of it feels like “why is he even bringing this up at all?”

          1. Smithy*

            The gracious answer is that he’s poor at networking and missing the cues that this is not great small talk currency.

            The less gracious answer is he views this as an avenue to professionally promote himself. But I would add that he’s still not doing a great job, because having people like you is part of that. This is not to say that he’s not irritating and annoying. And he may also very well be sexist. But I think the best you can to side step all of this is to minimize the connection and move on.

      2. Thankful for AAM*

        LW 4, I get the annoyance and believe you are picking up on . . . something not right even if we have not or have not articulated it well here.

        What about a response like, “oh, did we?”

      3. Triumphant Fox*

        I like the response “Yes, fellow X School alumni” or a longer version of “it’s great to see X alumni at these things.” Which emphasizes that the common status is that you graduated from the same institution.
        If I’m in conversation and Jack mentions he went to school with Jill, I expect Jill to say some version of “so long ago!” Or “good times” or “we survived advanced class together” or more neutral/negative things. If Jill instead says “Jack is an alumnus” it signals that that is really your only connection, without making you look invested or correcting. You’re just taking the next step in conversation.

      4. SD*

        I would also be annoyed as this is an ongoing thing and he hasn’t stopped when asked. It may be petty, but he is claiming a personal association which doesn’t exist. To me it would feel like stepping into my personal space or a minor incident of mansplaining. Maybe the best response here is a non-verbal one:

        Bob: “I went to grad school with her.”
        You: Look at Bob. Furl brow or raise eyebrows slightly. Can you pull off the puzzled one-eyebrow lift? Go for a brief moment of surprise/puzzlement vs drama. Turn back to the person you were talking to and move on as if he’d not said anything at all. Your halo stays your own and Bob looks like an awkward 13 yr old, or maybe a poser.

      5. unlurking*

        He met you in your advisory role but likely thought you were still a student because you are a woman. This happens to my sister, who has a doctorate in a male-dominated field, ALLLLLL the time. People regularly assume she is a student even now, and she is in her 40s.

        I like the ‘following in my footsteps’ idea.

        1. Eukomos*

          There are plenty of grad students in their 40s, and they haven’t done anything wrong by going back to school at their age. I don’t think it’s demeaning to assume someone you meet at a grad school-connected event is also a student, even if they’re older than you.

      6. learnedthehardway*

        I completely get why you’re bothered by this – it’s one thing to say “we went to the same school / graduate program” and quite another to say “I went to graduate school with her”.

        It expressly claims a connection which does not exist. Doesn’t matter whether the reason is that he’s trying to ride on your coattails / claim he was part of the “greatest generation” cohort, trying to suggest you can vouch for his experience, trying to claim he is more senior than he is, or trying to make it sound like you have less experience than you do. The reason is irrelevant. It’s still a lie.

        I’d go with the “same program different years” comment, but I think you’d be just as fine to say, “Oh, I was on the alumni council by then” and leave it at that. Either one is light and corrects the speaker while not making a bigger deal than you need to. It also serves to inform the hearer of the facts. And facts do matter.

        Of course, you could always wait until he has gone, and say, “You know, that fellow is very strange. He definitely wasn’t in my cohort, and he always says he was. Do YOU know him? Because I sure don’t.” That would certainly spike his guns.

    15. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

      I don’t see the big deal- but I think it calls for a jokey sort of, “I’m just a bit older, so we never overlapped, but it’s a great school” and move on, if you care. It reads really odd if you make a big correction of it in front of others, because, why would they really care, either way?

      1. fposte*

        Honestly, even that would seem like a lot to me as a bystander. It seems to think I would really want to know how the grad school timing worked, and I really would not.

    16. Senor Montoya*

      I dunno, without other evidence that he’s always trying to horn in on the OP’s success, it just strikes me as the colleague is trying to make a connection. More like, “You went to Fabulous Grad Program? *I* went to Fabulous Grad Program!” Colleague is wording it poorly. Why go looking for bad intentions?

      Now if the colleague were lying about attending the program that’s different. Or if there’s an obviously large age difference, then that’s kind of weird — if one of my entry level colleagues (all of them are several decades younger than me) said they’d gone to grad school with me when they meant they had a degree from the same program, I *might* laugh and say, “Yeah, but I attended eons ago, when we wrote our dissertations on stone tablets. It’s a great program, though! Did you ever get a chance to take a class with Professor X?” In other words, I’m old and creaky, AND I don’t take myself too seriously and I can engage in friendly conversation.

      Or I might just let it go, because it’s just not that important.

      1. Aquawoman*

        You know, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s minor, she doesn’t. I also don’t know your gender, but men’s and women’s experience can be very different in this regard. Women sometimes don’t have the luxury of not taking ourselves seriously when other people aren’t taking us seriously.

        Also, I think that someone who disregards two requests to stop doing something has lost the benefit of the doubt re his good intentions. Whether or not it is a big deal, if someone is blowing through a boundary she has set, he deserves to have awkwardness returned to sender.

    17. PVR*

      I would guess that it grates on LW4 because it is a minor form of forced teaming—ingratiating himself to be more familiar with LW4 than he really is. If LW4 is a woman, than that really ups the ick factor. He’s breaking the social contract in such a small way that is awkward to refute that it probably feels somewhat calculated and deliberate, and knowingly making you feel uncomfortable by trampling the boundary you attempted to set. How else is this guy’s behavior? I also agree with others that he is somehow trying to ride on the coat tails of your success, but I think there is probably more here that is ticking your red flags and that’s why it’s so irritating.

      1. LW#4*

        I am a woman and he is a man….and it’s a male dominated field so I do feel that plays up a little in why it bothers me so much. It’s always awkward and I don’t mention it in front of whoever we’re talking with, but I think it’s also the fact that I’ve spoken to him about it twice and he still does it that is really getting under my skin now.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          That’s so weird. Does he *believe* you when you tell him you weren’t there at the same time? Or does he think you’ve just forgotten him? (And, um, the year you graduated…)

      2. Slam*

        This is spot on. If it’s so benign, why won’t he stop? It takes on a sinister feel to be so persistent. Your description of forced teaming hits the mark. What he is doing is creepy.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I agree. If she had never said anything to him, I would think it was weird but would let it go. But the fact that he *keeps* doing it after she’s twice pointed out that they were not at school together, it makes it super weird to me and suggests that it’s not just a difference of phrasing, he’s getting something out of this that makes it worth it to him to keep doing it.

      3. Joielle*

        Yeah, I’d bet that this guy is irritating in other ways. There are some people I might say I “went to law school with” when our time didn’t technically overlap, but whether I’d appreciate being referred to that way depends on the person. I’d take it as a compliment if it was someone I know and like, who’s accomplished in their field… but I’d have a real issue if it was a coattails-riding, brown-nosing gunner trying to prop up their own importance by association (can you tell I know people who would do this?).

        I’m not sure what the OP’s field is, but law is heavily reliant on networking, so implying a connection that doesn’t exist is kind of a big deal. BUT, I still don’t think I would say anything in the moment – I don’t see how this negatively affects the OP (aside from serious annoyance). If anything, it’ll reflect poorly on the coworker when someone says “I’m thinking about hiring Fergus, you went to grad school with him, what do you think?” And OP says “He keeps telling people that, but we didn’t go to school together or know each other at all until recently. Honestly, there are XYZ problems with him.”

        BUT ALSO, the fact that OP has brought it up (twice!) and he continues to do it is an even bigger red flag, and I’d focus on that as the real problem. The next time it happens, I might talk to him after the event and say “You mentioned again that we went to grad school together, which we’ve talked about a couple of times now. What’s up with that?” And then, assuming he deflects, “Regardless, you know it bugs me, so please stop.” You may need to awkwardly point it out in front of other people once before it sinks in, but if it’s people you know well and he doesn’t, they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    18. Silly Janet*

      I found this one funny because the exact same thing happened to me at my old job, except she was a supervisor to me. She graduated from the same grad program in our specialized field the semester before me and insists we were there together. I tried gently correcting her a couple times and then let it go. I do think she genuinely believed we were there together, and she even said after she was hired she was so happy that someone she “knew” would be working with her! Oh well.

    19. rigger42*

      I have to agree, from the phrasing that they went ‘together’ I’d infer they were acquainted in school at the very least. It might not aid or harm either reputation, but the fact that he meets someone new and one of the key points he wants them to learn about him is he has some connection to LW4 feels more dishonest than clumsy.

    1. Laurel*

      I was about to say how very tempting it would be to ask what their plans are for making sure you AREN’T the only woman in the office.

      1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        I would be tempted to accept commenting as usual, but then make my speech about tokenism. You know, “all references are purely coincidental…”

    2. Massmatt*

      Came here to say this. A great employer with good hiring policies etc would not have a lone woman in an office of any significant size.

      I would be tempted to look wearily at the manager and ask “when is this company going to hire at least ONE additional woman, so I don’t have to field these same tiresome questions year after year?”

      1. TechWorker*

        It’s plausible though that a) the office is small and b) everyone’s been there a long time. My site is trying fairly hard to employ women but it is a male dominated industry and we still only manage <20% of new hires (and because 20 years ago they didn’t manage even that, there are more men further up). I guess I’m saying you can be as progressive as you like *now* but if most folks have long tenure it matters more what you were like 10-15 years ago. (And I’m not saying it’s okay to have been like that in the past – obviously! Just that if turnover is slow these things take a realllly long time to fix.)

        1. blackcat*

          There’s also a critical mass problem.
          I’m an academic in a male dominated field. Departments of <10% women had to do work to convince me that I'd actually be comfortable there.
          During one interview, I decided that one of the many red flags that meant I wouldn't proceed, was that in a department of 30, only 2 were women and neither of those women were mothers. I had already decided long ago that I'm not going to be that trailblazer. I just don't have it in me, and that's okay.

          I think plenty of women, particularly mothers, make a decision about whether or not they're willing to be the only woman in an office/department/team. And that's totally fine! But it can make it hard for companies that are really doing the right things to overcome a historical problem.

          1. CM*

            Hmm, I question the “really doing the right things to overcome a historical problem.” Having worked in almost exclusively male-dominated environments for many years, I doubt that these organizations have really transformed to be welcoming to women now and it’s just an unfortunate historical coincidence that the women aren’t there. If they are really doing the right things, they will actively reach out to women, institute policies, and change their communication and behavior, so that a woman considering working there doesn’t feel like she needs to be a trailblazer. If it is the new employee’s job to change attitudes and policies, the company is not doing the right things. If they are not actively proving to the new employee that this is already a welcoming environment, the company is not doing enough.

            I really love Alison’s questions and the idea of turning it around and asking others what THEY are doing to support women! I hope OP takes those suggestions.

            1. blackcat*

              I’ve had friends interview at places with new (female) leadership that had done lots of inclusivity work but they would have been the first or second tenure track woman.
              There’s a concern in particular about having a lack of community.
              But I think this might be one of those “academia is a weird beast” problems, given how long people stay in tenure track roles.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        It sounded to me like she is the only woman in her office, but there may be more women in the other locations. My office and our corporate office have a lot of women, but if you’re on a job site in RemotePlace, Canada, probably not. I’ve also just cycled through departments and projects where there weren’t other women, and other times, we might have been 30% women.

        I’ve been in my industry for 20 years, 15 years here, and corporate has really gotten on board supporting women in the last ~5 years. So, I’d say we, too, are a “progressive” company overall (now), but there are obviously a lot of people with old attitudes and locations/types of offices that are not going to have many women.

    3. The Original K.*

      When I read that OP was the only woman I thought “That doesn’t sound very progressive to me.”

    4. Mel_05*

      It sounds like there are many offices and she happens to be the only woman at hers.

      And, I guess I would say also, the number of women doesn’t necessarily make the company progressive.

      I’ve always worked at companies that had many, many more women than men. But I wouldn’t call any of them progressive.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Eh, I think this is kind of like the Bechdel test for movies. Just because an organization has a lot of women doesn’t necessarily make it progressive on gender parity or anything else. But if it *doesn’t* have a lot of women, especially if it’s not an ultra-tiny workplace, that’s going to raise a red flag for me.

    5. Jane Queen B*

      This is Jane. I really appreciate everyone’s comments and love how you call out something for not being what it claims to be but I need to clarify.

      It is progressive; they have women on their board of directors, they sponsor programs for girls getting into STEM. It’s just the location where I work is a small satellite office and the type of work is male dominated. At other locations where they do the same of work there are other women working there. It’s just in my office I happen to be the only woman.

      At the presentation I will decline to speak for all women and will encourage the men in the office to comment instead. Thanks everyone!

      1. Lora*

        High five for my fellow only woman in an office of dudes who are trying really, really hard to be better, as much as they can, though it’s often followed by “I am the father of two girls, so I have to.”

        I gotta say, the nice thing about being menopausal, late-career and grumpy is that when the chirpy HR person asks what everyone in the office is doing for International Women’s Day, you give zero fks about having a snarky reply about blessing all these dudes with your XX presence. “Can we have publication of everyone’s salaries to make sure everyone’s getting paid fairly? No? How about I never have to see my colleagues without their clothes on, ever? No, also not possible? Okay, are we just decorating the cafeteria in pink balloons and giving out cake and ice cream then? No, not even that? Well fk me I guess, huh?”

        1. Massmatt*

          I am picturing this all being said by a woman with a cigarette permanently affixed to her lip.

          And also wondering what is up with the line about not seeing your coworkers without their clothes on?

          1. TechWorker*

            So I don’t see colleagues without clothes on but I see a lot of colleagues in sports gear… I could imagine that in a tiny office of nearly all men there might be people who think it appropriate to get changed in places that are not fully appropriate. C.f. the letter I think on here where a woman wrote in to complain about their female boss changing her shirt mid-conversation and obviously judging it totally fine…

        2. Kat J*

          Oh, I hear this! I’m often the only woman in my workplace (construction). And one of my closest colleagues once unexpectedly changed his pants [trousers] in front of me while we were having a conversation :-/

      2. Morticia*

        I was going to suggest either taking the day off, working from home, or singing a few choruses of Shania Twain’s “I Feel Like a Woman”.

      3. Hillary*

        Another high five! I work for a female CEO, half our C-suite is female, but I’m usually the only woman in the room at meetings. My employer’s recruiting and hiring policies will bring them in the door, I choose to make it my job to help them feel supported. The gender gap in my field is getting better every year and that will continue.

      4. Mike B.*

        I kind of figured from your letter that something like this was going on. Does your office usually share the commitment to the values of your larger organization? Because my own experience leads me to think of Lord of the Flies as a documentary about what happens when males are left to their own devices.

      5. kittymommy*

        Good to know – I was wondering if it was something like this. I think your plan is a good one. Good luck to you!!

      6. Kes*

        Honestly, as a woman in a male dominated field (tech), I appreciate that we have IWD celebrations but also tend to find them somewhat depressing as a reminder of the things that suck about being a woman in tech. And frankly, while I do want to be supportive of initiatives to increase diversity, if I think it will be uncomfortable or depressing, sometimes I just don’t go. Obviously it depends on the setup in your office, but feel free to make yourself unavailable to attend in one way or another. You are not obliged to go and represent women in your office, and really your absence may highlight the current lack of diversity there, even if they’re trying.

    6. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I’m having a problem equating “very progressive” with “only woman in the office”. Unless it’s a super small office that seems….odd.

    7. Senor Montoya*

      OP says she’s the only woman in her office, not the only woman at that employer. Point taken that her office demographics may be hinky, but not that the employer overall is.

    8. A Poster Has No Name*

      Right? I think if I were the OP, when asked to comment, I would say something like “One day I hope to not be the only woman in the room for this presentation.”

    9. Sparrow*

      This was my exact thought, too. They may like to think of themselves as progressive, but how progressive can they really be with a single woman employee…

    1. AcademiaNut*

      Seconding this.

      Aside from the general issue of prioritizing your employer’s well being over your own, I can see several specific ways this could go wrong. Tiny startups with high turnover aren’t the most stable workplaces, so you don’t know if your position will even exist in a year (you’ve trained 9 new employees in a < 15 people company in a year and a half!). Deferring grad school can be problematic – some places won't let you do it at all, and you'd have to re-apply and hope you get in again, but as a less desirable applicant because you've already accepted/withdrawn. And a year from now, there's good odds you'll be in the same situation you are, given the turnover.

      So I would say only do it if you know you wouldn't be upset or bitter if the company folds six months from now leaving you unemployed, or you lose your grad school opportunity. Otherwise keep your documentation up to date and give reasonable notice.

      1. Julia*

        This. It seems like everyone keeps leaving that company (why is that?), so who knows if they’re even still in business next year.
        You don’t have to drown with the ship just because your coworkers have already left the boat.

        1. Student Loans Here I Come*

          Letter writer #3 here- If my former colleagues stated reasons for leaving are taken at face value, all of them were fairly believable and not to do with workplace culture (two had been there several years, one had a chance to work with family, and one moved closer to their S.O.). Also, for context, 4 of the 8 people who left were hourly lab techs, a role where turnover is expected to be high. And some of the 9 I trained are still onboard with us, because a few of those who left the company were hired before or at the same time as I was.

          Separate from all that, I talked to my boss after writing in and let him know I would be taking a pretty significant opportunity cost to change my plans, and in light of that would it make sense for me to think about a salary that would motivate me to stick with the organization for another year? He said yes and a few days later I gave him the number & benefits I would stay for.

          Today he let me know that’s not something the company can do at this time (we didn’t get the grant we applied for, and we will now have new oversight from investors) so it seems like leaving is still the right choice for me. It will hopefully give me some peace of mind that I explored all my options before deciding to go.

          Thanks everyone for the solid advice!

          1. JSPA*

            OP, with you to train them for the next 4 months, the new person should be at least as competent at that point as you were, at your own 6 month mark. If you’ve been in charge of training for a while, you were probably pretty competent and possibly already training others at your own 6 month mark. Plus, if they hire soon, a new person may get a 10 weeks of training with you there, if that sort of continuity is a priority for the company, and they have three funds.

            If it’s frankly not as much of a priority or if they don’t have the funding, then you can rephrase the situation as, “they’re comfortable having me here and they’re comfortable telling me how important I am. But if they don’t have or won’t put their money where their mouth is…then sweet talk is all it is.”

            1. blue wednesday*

              In terms of training… you can’t control if the person leaves. You can’t control if that person bothers to train someone else when they’re leaving. What you CAN do, and what you should do, is have a bunch of training documentation. Document everything, leave with a clear heart, because if they don’t bother to do anything with it, that’s their problem.

          2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Only way I would put off grad school is if I could defer admission for a year and if the company agreed to pay my tuition+bonus big enough for 1 year of living expenses. They are asking a huge favor.

            1. Sparrow*

              Yeah, I would make sure deferment was even an option before offering, but the company would have to give me enough money to make it worthwhile AND I’d have to be convinced that the experiences I’d have in that year would materially benefit me, career-wise. More of the same training I had been doing definitely wouldn’t make it worthwhile.

          3. EPLawyer*

            Which was the other reason not to delay — if your funding is dependent on grants, those things are chancy in general. You don’t get the grant, the company might not even exist in a year. The fact there is more oversight also says the company is in trouble. The investors want to know if their money is going to pay off or if they need to pull out. If they pull out, well, everything goes.

            Your plans are your plans. Your company would fire you in a hot minute if it served their purposes. You owe them no more loyalty than doing good work in exchange for your paycheck.

          4. Jules the 3rd*

            Oh good, glad it’s resolved in the way that makes sense for you.

            You could offer some very limited training / consulting over fall / winter break if they’re really struggling, but keep it to 2 – 4 hrs/ week. Grad school is a busy time.

            1. Spero*

              And, if you do this, charge at a competitive contractor rate! Do NOT offer to train future employees for free.

            2. WellRed*

              I don’t think they should offer to consult at all. People leave jobs. Companies move on.

          5. Sunflower*

            Glad you decided to go to grad school.
            There’s always going to be something that makes employees think it’s better to delay their plans because work “needs” you right now. They don’t. They survived before you and they’ll survive after you.
            Like we always say, what if you won the lottery or got sick or worse? Employers cannot and should not depend on one person. If they do, they’re stupid and will crumble eventually.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Tiny startup with high turnover. Stay only if there’s a big payment up front to keep you. Big enough that if you’re laid off in 8 months you can shrug, apply to schools again, and live off the money while waiting to hear.

        I was going to say something about a clause in the contract that if laid off she would still get any retention payment… but guess what is voided when a company declares bankruptcy?

        1. Student Loans Here I Come*

          Letter Writer #3 again: That’s a big part of what I asked for – Large Salary Bump + a written contract that I would no longer be at-will for the year of employment I was signing on for (something along the lines of there must be due cause for a firing or a resignation within the next year). I’m confident the company would be okay financially for a year but I’m also very comfortable leaving – I’ve been thorough about documentation as I go for the past three years, I think communication on our team is pretty solid so I can transition my work, and my boss takes pains to implement great management practices, i.e. won’t push me out early.
          Hopefully we have someone to replace the most recent departure soon so they have some overlap with me. I believe the company will also be making a full-time salaried offer to one of our hourly lab techs who graduates in June, so minimal training will be needed to get them setup in that new role if they accept. Overall, the company will be fine, and I’m excited for my master’s program :)

    2. Artemesia*

      If it were in their interest to do so, they would fire or lay you off in a heartbeat. Never sacrifice your own interests for the convenience of others in the workplace — jobs don’t love you back.

    3. Beth*

      This! The company will be fine when you leave. (Or if it isn’t, it’s due to bigger problems; a company with its entire stability resting on one non-owner employee is really not on solid ground!) Unless your boss gives you such a compelling counter-offer that it’s unquestionably worth your time to defer grad school for a year, AND your program is okay with you deferring, stick to your original plan and your original timeline. You made these choices for a reason.

    4. Jamey*

      Yes. If you were laid off and you came back and said, “actually some stuff has happened in my life and I’d really like you to not lay me off” you would get laughed at. That’s essentially what your company is doing in reverse.

    5. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I was going to take a semester off from the part-time program I’m in because I was staffed on a busy project..and then my Big Company Big Company’d and we had a reorg and now I’m in a job that is less desirable, but has more manageable hours. I would have been kind of bitter had I switched things up for work. Go do your program without guilt. The company will be fine.

    1. Renata Ricotta*

      Nesting fail – supposed to be in response to being the only woman suggests things ain’t so progressive :)

      1. Mookie*

        Yeah, this is a great example of self-styled progressive outfits susceptible to their own blindspots if they don’t practice hyper vigilance in replicating the same hierarchies they purport to condemn.

        Where it becomes, for the LW’s employer, farcical is that even when they set up a whole event to talk about the socio-economic, political, and professional status of women, it never occurs them, looking out on a room full of colleagues, that something interesting about their own demographics is being highlighted in ultra-neon green. Why even acknowledge the holiday if you apparently believe you aren’t and are never going to actually grapple with the issues at hand. It’s very: I met a woman who wasn’t there […] I wish I wish she’d go away.

        I want a guy to raise his hand during one of these things and ask when are they ever going to get to use these lessons in the real world [of their office]. I have a feeling the PTB would just airily wave a paw at the LW and expect her to be a walking, talking one-woman practicum for all things cooties.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Women have to be in the field to hire them. I was one of 3 women in my graduating class 20 years ago. One woman didn’t pursue a career. An MIT study ~5 years ago showed that over 40% of women who earned engineering degrees either did not go into the field or left the field. I know we don’t know that the OP is in engineering, but there is a historical pipeline and retention problem in engineering. Companies CAN do better, and my own company is making a big push for that. (Despite some a$$es who still comment on efforts to bring female engineering students to our offices with things like, “When do we host an event like this for male students?”) But, it takes a while to reverse trends that are centuries old.

          So, while I agree a company with one woman is not a great example, there are outside forces that create these results.

          1. Entry-level Marcus*

            Exactly. Many progressives don’t take the supply of women into account when judging companies.

            I have a friend who works in electrical engineering. The graduating class at their school for electrical engineers was <10% women. This is fixed where you need a degree to be qualified. In that situation, it’s totally plausible that even a very progressive and non-sexist office in a larger company would have only one woman.

            1. Mookie*

              Progressives aren’t the final word in feminism, and I don’t they uniquely bear the burden of underestimating the population of women in any field, but that’s a standard cop-out, that there Just Aren’t Any Women Here! We don’t know that’s the case in the LW’s field and, were it reflective of the field, that could well point out how systemic this neglect is.

          2. J.B.*

            I can see a difference between firms that encourage women and don’t. Even so, mid-levels thin out, and I have noticed where what I consider one of the better companies still gives more client-facing time to the clean cut young men.

          3. yeah idk*

            There are also specializations withing careers that are female dominated at large that remain male dominated at the specialization level. I’m in one of them! I’d love to have a female colleague-friend doing the work I do, not just in the same organization or field at large. Sigh, maybe in the next decade.

          4. Chinookwind*

            Having just come from a company in a male dominated field that is welcoming to women if they apply, I have to agree that it sometimes is a pipeline issue. The boss ended up hiring 90% of the women who applied (I saw the resumes) and there were times when we had zero women and other times when we were 40% female on the floor. If no women apply, then there are none to hire. And, since they are in higher demand to fill unwritten quotas/optics, they have more choices than the men and it would be wrong for us to pay them more than the men to stay with us.

          5. RecoveringSWO*

            Obviously this isn’t an expense all companies can take on, BUT, there’s an option that can open up the pipeline, boost diversity %s, and tackle the unequal access to higher ed. Companies can higher women (or other unrepresented minorities) for positions that don’t require whatever degree and then pay for the employee to earn the degree while stipulating X years of employment at the company in exchange. If you’ve got the resources, tackle the systemic problem instead of throwing up your hands in defeat!

            (Slight tangent–this is why I hate that so many universities are contracting out their “unskilled” labor positions. The tuition stipend for those jobs allowed workers and/or their children to earn a degree that never would have been attainable otherwise. Life-changing policies being tossed away so universities can pay a cheap contractor…)

            1. AnotherAlison*

              Interesting comment. My company has tuition reimbursement for everyone–around that same $5250 that most large employers offer.

              I’ve never seen anyone (male or female) get their engineering degree. I’ve seen men and women in non-engineering roles use that to get BBAs, MBAs, or other stuff like MIS, but never engineering. People who already engineers use it to get an MS or MBA. I’d say that most of the women in non-technical roles don’t have interest in being an engineer. You lose them out of the pipeline long before they are in their 20s. The ones who *might* would be design/drafting people who are already in non-degreed technical roles, but the ones I talk to either like what they’re doing or want to do something totally different. I had a friend who was in marketing here who is now an internist after getting an MPH and MD.

              Have you ever seen this work in practice?

              1. RecoveringSWO*

                I’m a day late to respond, but yes. You noticed the key issue–the company has to recruit/pay minorities that are interested in earning the specific degree(s) that your profession requires. I’ve seen that work a few ways. BigLaw, particularly before the great recession, would pay for paralegals to get their law degree, but that interest is more straightforward.

                For engineering, B*eing offered paid internships to undergrads that either paid tuition immediately or began paying tuition after sometime interning + loan repayment for certain engineering degrees. One of the keys with this program was that the in-state tuition nearby their plant was still affordable enough to allow many students to cover tuition and living costs with the job. Require fancy private school degrees and you’ll kill the diversity that this program brings in. Make community college students eligible and recruit them specifically and you’ll see those numbers grow.

                In an ideal engineering circumstance, I think the company would either have or create positions that didn’t require an engineering degree but had half or more of their duties related to engineering’s functions such that it attracts degree candidates. You could also retain tuition reimbursement for all employees, but sweeten the pot for engineering degrees–make it an uncapped scholarship instead of reimbursement, don’t require a certain amount of tenure or full-time status for the $, etc.

                Lastly, I think the military can provide lots of case studies for corporate educational funding. There’s obviously areas that do not overlap, but there still are many cases of unrepresented minorities who rise through the ranks while earning degrees that the military funds (along with healthcare+salary during periods of study) that could not afford themselves. Despite flaws in the system, there’s something to be said about the employer saying “we see potential in the employee and then provide them with the specific degree necessary to succeed in the position we need them to fill.” Also, a good number of those enlisted jobs (no degree required) translate to STEM degrees, which sparks interest in 20 year olds who never would have guessed they’d love a STEM subject back in high school. Looping back to private companies that reimburse engineering degrees, there’s plenty of female & minority veterans who would be ideal candidates for these programs.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Ha, I’m glad you clarified because I thought this was about the person considering not leaving their job for grad school and I was like noooo they still shouldn’t change their plans!

  3. NewlymadeHobo*

    I have to say I disagree with Alison on 4. It feels as though the colleague is trying to utilize her credibility by implying they went to school together. As though she could vouch for him. That said, I do like Alison’s follow up response of: same school different year, as it sets a clear distance without embarrassing anyone.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I had this happen once with a guy who just loved to inflate his credibility with everything. I had a few scripts in the flavor of:
      “Oh yeah you went there, what, 20XX? I was a few years ahead of you, I think”
      “Same school, different decade”
      “Yep, except I was SAS 6.X and you were 8.X, right? I envy you!”
      “We did, except I went in the dark ages when [antecdote about the truly scary anatomy lab that was phased out the year after I graduated] was open. You are lucky you missed it!”

      I made sure to always keep my tone light and friendly and he finally stopped doing it when I was around.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yup–light and friendly. This is about not scaring off the people you’re talking to by suggesting that they have stumbled into a long-time battle of wills, far more than it’s about who gets to wear the viking helmet of being right today.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yes it’s annoying but in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? I doubt he’s ruining her reputation by saying they went to school together. In fact if they HAD gone at the same time, it’s entirely possible that she could be a superstar and he could be a screw up, so it just doesn’t matter. It’s not something I would spend time worrying about.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s a big leap–he’s not claiming an honor, just a school attendance. And because it’s minor, there’s potential for it to blow back on the OP if she treats it as a big deal.

          1. LunaLena*

            I realize it’s an extreme comparison, but Stolen Valor doesn’t necessarily mean claiming awards or honors. It can be as simple as claiming military service when one, in fact, doesn’t have any (and believe me, a lot of people do this – go to any chain restaurant that offers free meals on Veterans’ Day to see it in action. My husband is a vet and generally refuses to go out for Veterans’ Day because he doesn’t want to be associated with them).

            I honestly don’t think it’s that different or that it’s a tiny sweep-under-the-rug thing – he’s creating an association that just isn’t there, and it could potentially impact the OP if people assume they’re closer than they really are, that OP may be lying about her graduation year or program, or that she can vouch for him. It’s certainly a minor issue in the sense that it should be easy to correct using Alison’s script, but it’s not something she should just ignore.

            1. fposte*

              I think we just see this one differently. I think it’s absolutely okay to ignore in the situation she describes, and if she chooses not to–which is okay, I understand the reasoning–she needs to be careful to avoid becoming a bigger problem than what she’s addressing.

    3. CM*

      In my field, your level of experience matters a lot. People don’t take you seriously at the beginning of your career. So it would be a big deal to me if somebody who started after I graduated, which meant they had several years less experience, told everyone we “went to school together.” That would imply either that I had less experience, or that he had more, neither of which is a fair implication.

  4. Budgieman*

    #5 I know this isn’t a solution to the problem, but if you only had one applicant, that is probably indicative that there isn’t enough of a sweetener (i.e. pay) to entice people into the job and area. They need to look at how to resolve that, rather than employing the wrong person – and all the issues and cost that (surprise! surprise!) you have subsequently
    ended up with.
    And yeah – I agree that HR is wrong here.

    1. Dusk*

      Agreed that incentive could be an issue – although I know a rural hospital in my country that was so desperate for a particular type of specialist they were willing to buy a house and a car in the employee’s name, in addition to paying for FIFO and a bunch of other perks, but they still couldn’t get applicants…

      HR is definitely wrong though. “We don’t have any reason not to hire her” – I would call a pattern of poor performance a very good reason not to make a hire!

      Sorry you’re dealing with the consequences, OP.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Yeah, the difficulty comes when high pay isn’t enough to convince people to relocate – money isn’t the only consideration involved. In an isolated rural areas there are also issues like job opportunities for a spouse, decent schools for kids, and access to specialized medical treatment. High salaries can only pay for private schools and out of pocket medical expenses if they exist in the first place.

        I suspect the most successful approach would be to treat it like an overseas posting in a difficult environment. Pay a *lot*, provide nice housing and a car, various other perks, and have it be for a fixed term of a couple of years. Then you could attract people just starting out who are willing to spend a couple of years there to pay off their student loans or earn a house payment. Of course, then you’ve got to find money in the budget to do this.

        1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

          I agree. I work in a field with extraordinary student debt that also requires an advanced degree so we can’t just hire Jane off the street and train her to do my job. Many rural businesses in my industry can’t find people because 1) most people don’t want to live in the middle of nowhere with no further opportunities nearby and no place for their spouse (and as one person found, no licensed daycare), 2) pay is poor because the clientele is poorly off and it’s a service that isn’t funded by the government. Low cost of living is irrelevant if you have $250k in loans and they want to pay for $40k to live in Small Town vs $120k to live in Bigger City.
          I almost got trapped at my last job this way. Thankfully that area is extremely rural, but I met someone who lived an hour away in the suburbs and could find alternative and better employment without moving 400 miles and thank heaven I hadn’t bought a house. Rent was still obscene despite the lower cost to buy.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            A lot of people are also put off by the cultural aspects of rural areas, or would even feel unsafe there. Many rural areas are very white and culturally homogeneous, and employees who are people of color or immigrants would be reluctant to move there. Many rural areas are also pretty hostile to LGBTQ+ folks. Religious minorities and non-religious people are also often reluctant to live in “Bible Belt” areas. And some people may not be any of those things, but would rather live in a more diverse place anyway. All of this really cuts down on your possible recruitment pool.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              “Religious minorities and non-religious people are also often reluctant to live in “Bible Belt” areas.”

              I am Lutheran. This doesn’t raise eyebrows anywhere in the US, and in some parts is the majority church. There are different types of Lutherans. Those rural areas that are predominantly Lutheran? I would think long and hard before moving there. Being white and male, I can “pass.” This doesn’t mean I want to.

              1. Daffy Duck*

                When I lived in GA (heavily evangelical and Baptist area) I was asked if Lutheran “was a Christian religion” LOL! There are a lot of things I like about rural areas, but some are much more accepting of outsiders than others. It really helps if you can “pass” as local.

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  I suspect ignorance rather than malice: not a suggestion that Lutherans aren’t really Christians, but that the speaker had never heard of them, his knowledge not extending beyond two miles from his house. Just say something about being the original Protestants and you will win points.

            2. Temp anon*

              Very true. I have an Indian friend that moved to the Midwest, and not even to a small town, it was a state capital, and people definitely treated her as The Other. Many of the people who initially seemed friendly turned out to be angling to get her to convert to their religion, to “save” her, their attitudes turned very cold when rebuffed.

              (note—Sikhs do not take kindly to religious chauvinism).

            3. Lynn*

              And aside from the lack of diversity in many rural areas, there is also the reality that in many small towns you aren’t really considered part of the community until/unless you have been there for decades…and, in some, unless your parents and grandparents were there too.

              It can be extremely difficult for an outsider in some small towns to become a part of the community, even if they aren’t marked as “other” by race/religious differences. Of course, it isn’t true in all of them-but it certainly is in some of them.

              1. Anonymous at a University*

                +1 I taught in an absolutely tiny town in a deeply isolated, deeply rural area of the U.S. that was 99.999999999% white, one denomination of Christian, and straight. Even though I’m white, cis, and (at the time) presented as straight, the fact that I didn’t go to their church alienated people. They were also upset that I didn’t take their advice about “catching a man,” that I had treatment for breast cancer- because I used the word “breast”- that I didn’t always wear skirts and high heels, etc. Other people who conformed much more but weren’t from the immediate area got a similar amount of stink-eye. Many of the faculty hired stayed only a year or two, unless, again, they were from the immediate area. These positions can be really tough to fill.

            4. Blueberry*

              Yes, this. The term “not even for all the gold in Christendom” floated ironically through my head

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          People will move to remote college towns. How to duplicate the college town effect without a college is something that hasn’t been solved, at least here.

          1. moql*

            Except it sort of has? It’s just those colleges are willing/have the ability to sweeten the pot more. Hiring the spouse to solve a double body problem, lots of funding for travel to relevant conferences, pay on scale with that of colleges in big cities, community outreach and support to create good schools, etc. are all things my college offered to lure good candidates.

            1. Clisby*

              I didn’t read Falling Diphthong’s comment to mean the college itself would hire the spouse, necessarily. In my experience, it’s that small college towns – because of the presence of the college – have amenities you might not expect of a town that size. There’s a student body and faculty – so it’s entirely possible there’s a decent bookstore and movie theater, and maybe a couple of dining options you wouldn’t otherwise have expected. It’s a nicer place to live.

              1. Daffy Duck*

                Yes, they tend to have nicer social options. They are also used to seeing a higher mix of outsiders, and many of whom tend to be at least middle class (spend $$ in town). This makes college towns and some highly desirable vacation areas more accepting of outsiders.

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                Yes, I was getting at the bookstore/theater/arts scene, general opportunities for intellectual engagement that appeal to people who were driven to get PhDs.

          2. Formerly Ella Vader*

            People who like the combination of rural/remote living and challenging important research work in their academic specialty field seem to enjoy living in places like Deep River Ontario (population 4100, home to a nuclear-research centre since 1944). And some people live year-round in Antarctica. Other than that … I dunno.

          3. RecoveringSWO*

            You’d need Bezos or a large conglomerate to decide to move enough workplaces to equal roughly the amount of employees a college + its staff would require and diverse enough from the local population to change the culture. The conglomerate would have to include services that non-rural folks desire (quality healthcare, etc) and encapsulate career fields that could capture “trailing spouses.”

            ^Why I’m opposed to NYC/DC bidding for Amazon HQ2 and wish a rust belt/flyover state was picked…

        3. Librarian1*

          Not to mention that if you’re single, you might not want to move to a rural area because the dating pool will be so small. And what single people are there might not be a good fit for you for reasons of politics, personal beliefs, religion, etc.

      2. Tuppence*

        I momentarily read this as “…were willing to buy a house and a cat…” which I kind of love :)

          1. Ann Onny Muss*

            Make it two cats and self-cleaning litterboxes. I’d move to the middle of nowhere for that. ;-)

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Yep. Rural hospitals here are willing to offer pay 50% above the closest urban area, housing, spousal job placement, bonus, and paying off student loans for the time the people are employed and for most clinical positions vacancies are still in the 20-30% range. Rural healthcare recruitment is no joke

    2. Emily K*

      Came here to say the same thing.

      Also, an illustrative example of why you don’t have to hire the sole applicant just because there was no one better: what if you were hiring for a programming job and your only applicant didn’t know the language? job requirements can be job requirements.

      1. blue wednesday*

        The thing about programming jobs and languages is that, considering the number of languages, it’s not actually absurd to say “we desperately need a programmer, you can learn python on the job”. Now if you’re got real legacy systems and you need an expert in a non-trendy language, then, yes, it’s an issue, but in a lot of cases, the person can learn the language.

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, most new programming languages are easy to learn on the job, and it’s reasonable to hire someone who doesn’t know the specific language you use.

          1. Clisby*

            I learned IBM assembly language programming on the job, and it wasn’t particularly hard. Anyone who’s gone through the discipline of a CS degree should be able to learn just about any programming language on the job. Now, if they need a right-now-expert in the language, that’s a different story.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          I am here for all your Apple IIc-based DOS and Logo-related programming needs!

    3. Massmatt*

      HR is full of crap, perhaps they likewise benefitted form a sparse talent pool when they were hired?

      The company is being sent a message that the job is not attractive as advertised. Either the pay etc is too low, and/or they need to expand their search.

      Lots of employers want special skills etc but don’t want to pay for them, or think they will be readily found in their small local community. This is a struggle in many if not most rural areas.

      People who took the initiative to build up those skills expect to be paid for them, and will likely require inducement to relocate to somewhere removed from where the skills were developed in the first place.

      You are undoubtedly better off not hiring than hiring a likely awful employee.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        My mother’s former employer, in a small town, once hired the only applicant for a position. The reason they only had one applicant? They were hiring for a “part-time” job, at part-time salary, but actually expected full-time hours.

        Unsurprisingly, she was Not Good. (And her predecessor had been awful in different ways.)

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Honestly it’s worth checking whether HR posted the job in enough/the right places and whether the posting itself should be revised. (Include more key words that good candidates are searching for? Remove terms they’re weeding out?)
      This can be as simple as doing a search as if you were the job-searching person.

      1. PennyLane*

        This was my thought as well. The OP mentions it was posted for 9 months, but was that only on their company’s website or did they post externally including the offer to pay for relocation and sweeten the deal as another poster mentioned? I’d be advertising this all over the country through various resources and possibly see if there’s a budget for a headhunter if it’s this hard to fill.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Web pages for industry organizations often have career pages or networking sites. OP I’d suggest the next time you send HR a list of industry-specific places to post.
          Because someone hired from a different industry might not know about The Society for Specialty, the National SpecialObjects Association, or the University of SpecialObjects Alumni Network. And someone without formal HR training might not know to look up those places, or how to go about it.
          BTW if the issue is pay as suggested elsewhere, that might be driven home if a this turns up qualified applicants who apply and promptly remove themselves from consideration when they hear the proposed salary.

    5. ..Kat..*

      I wonder if the job really needs an advanced degree. Would they get more applicants if this wasn’t a requirement?

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        If it is healthcare related more than likely. You can’t really fill an RN, NP, PA, MD, PharmD, MSW, phlebotomy, rad tech, etc position without the appropriate credentials. Staff credentialing goes to accreditation.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I initially read HR’s problem as they have to have a licensed phlebotomist etc on staff and would be in legal trouble if they didn’t. Where it might make sense to hire any warm body with that certification. Hiring just to be done with it, though, was a bad idea.

          1. uncivil servant*

            My friend worked in healthcare in a very small town. They’ll never hire a new doctor there, but residents throw all their support behind the existing incompetent doctor, even though they’ll drive two hours to avoid seeing him if possible. (Friend has some stories about him!) A warm body at least allows the hospital to stay open and the nurses to do their jobs, and even incompetent doctor can at least renew prescriptions.

            It’s a sad state. In another town around here, a gyneocologist was accused of harassing patients and people were like “He’s a DOCTOR, who cares if he asks inappropriate questions or follows you to work?”

            1. Stephanie*

              Yeah, friend was working at a small town hospital in West Texas and had some stories about the existing doctor being basically a warm body.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                There was only one doctor in the hospital?! That’s… a really tiny hospital.

      2. Different kind of doctor*

        OP here to clarify. Our clinical field requires state licensure, depending on your age/years of experience your degree may vary. Candidates with over 20 years experience likely have a BS, 15-20 years a MS, but then our field transitioned to doctorate as the entry level degree – meaning that if you are newer to the profession, you can’t even sit for the national licensing exam without a doctorate from an accredited University.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Are you allowed to hire someone just out of one of those degree programs and pay for them to get licensed? If you’re going 9 months with the position unfilled, someone must be doing the mandatory XYZ. Write up the offer as “$Specialty Assistant” — and they have X months to pass the certification exam. During that time, they work directly for the person currently covering the role (you??), and that person would technically be the person to submit the documentation you mention.
          Obviously there’s a legal question there.
          Make that two legal questions — because you’d also probably need a written contract. First, to guarantee to the new hire that they’d be promoted when certified, and second to guarantee to YOU that if new hire leaves voluntarily within a certain time after certification, they pay you back for the exam costs.

        2. Temp anon*

          It sounds as though your field is credentialing its way out of existence, at least in locations such as yours. A doctorate is entry level outside of academia sounds extreme.

          If you can’t be flexible with the requirements you are probably going to have to pay a steep premium, perhaps offering employment to an applicant’s spouse.

    6. Grey Coder*

      This sounds like an HR person under pressure to Get Hiring Done when they don’t have to live with the consequences. I was once pressured by a director to hire a specific contractor who we’d had previous bad experiences with because “he can’t be worse than having no one”. Was fortunately able to line up enough people who’d worked with him the last time to explain that yes, he could be worse than having no one.

      1. Person of Interest*

        I was thinking the pressure from HR to hire *anyone* feels like them being in CYA mode; they aren’t meeting their performance goals if the position is never filled, and they don’t have to deal with managing the employee once hired. So it helps them look good to fill the role, but no real consequences if the person is terrible.

    7. Herding Butterflies*

      I’m coming here to combat the “you aren’t paying enough” comments. I run a small office for a huge multi-office STEM corporation. My location is in a town of 60,000 people in a rural setting. We are several hours from the nearest major cities. Middle of nowhere is a pretty good description.

      I am being paid the same as those in our urban offices. Which is awesome as cost of living here is cheap. I have amazing benefits. It’s a sweet gig.

      However it still is a small town. We have a VERY HARD time recruiting for this location. It comes down to what one poster wrote: you have to want the life style here to live here. While I love it here, others may not. We do not have a lot of cultural activities, shopping, or fine dining. We do have excellent schools and no crime. Rush hour does not exist. We have great fishing, biking and hiking ten minutes away. Still, its a lifestyle choice.

      Plus, and we have heard this over and over again as we recruit: The town is too small and the candidate’s spouse / partner cannot find a job. I even hear this from my coworkers in our other offices that “you have a great set up there, we would love to move there, but my spouse would never be able to find a job.” Or the alternate response is: “We want to be near a city.”

      It is not a money thing. It’s a location thing.

      1. Bernice Clifton*

        Yes, I think this is an important point. You can offer a high salary and perks but you can’t change the realities of living in a rural area if candidates don’t want to deal with them.

      2. Third or Nothing!*

        Lots of outdoorsy stuff? Low crime, no traffic, good schools? Sounds like heaven!

        I grew up in a town of 3,000. 60,000 is city living for me! Too bad my welder husband probably wouldn’t be able to find a gig as sweet as what he has now at BigName Aircraft Company.

      3. epi*

        Yes, all of this. The issues causing shortages within the healthcare systems in rural areas are complex even before you take into account the broader lack of other services and job opportunities that potential applicants may need. Rural public health and healthcare systems are supported and subsidized by multiple federal programs, including programs like the National Health Service Corps that will repay providers’ loans if they practice in underserved areas. Perks offered by employers are not even the only financial incentive to practice in rural areas. Yet the shortage persists and is even worsening in many rural communities. This is absolutely not something that any one hospital can fix by itself by offering more money and perks– in any amount– even if it were sustainable for them to offer. The OP wasn’t even the hiring manager for the position in question, and they certainly do not have the ability to adjust licensing or credentialing requirements in their organization, state, or field. Most of the ‘advice’ in this thread about just paying more and recruiting harder betrays serious ignorance about health care.

        Before going into public health, I worked as a researcher in a well known academic hospital. I worked closely with medical residents and fellows who needed to gain research experience as part of their training, so I was privy to the status of their job searches. At the time, it was a terrible job market for our small subspecialty– so bad, we extended the fellowships of some of our better trainees because otherwise some of these highly trained physicians could have been unemployed and would probably, at a minimum, have had to work outside our subspecialty. Still, only a handful of our graduates ended up in rural practices. They fell into two groups: outdoorsy people who affirmatively wanted to live in the country; and people who couldn’t count on those kinds of favors and had no choice but to get a job that year.

      4. Clisby*

        A town of 60,000? That’s not what I’d call a small town. When someone says “small town”, I’m thinking less than 20,000.

  5. Galahad*

    #5 – I assumed that the legal reason was related to client service times — in healthcare, if your wait times are excessive because you are understaffed and don’t hire an available, qualified person to improve delays, then you may have patients who experience preventable complications = legal problems if considered due to administrative practices.

    The point about paying more is good. Note that sometimes a healthcare operation is part of a master region with standardized (or unionized) pay and hard to change.

    1. Massmatt*

      “Note that sometimes a healthcare operation is part of a master region with standardized (or unionized) pay and hard to change.”

      Then they are failing at serving their clients, and deserve their inevitable collapse.

      1. Grits McGee*

        And leave their under-served communities with even fewer or no healthcare options?

        1. Antilles*

          Yep. In fact, that’s the exact way the situation does play out: When a rural hospital or healthcare operation collapses, it’s rare that a different provider moves in to try to make it work; instead the result is just a gap in coverage.

    2. Traffic_Spiral*

      That’s a good point – there might be a medical-specific reason why they needed to hire.

      1. WellRed*

        Hiring a person in the medical field who sucks at documentation is opening up a whole new can of compliance worms.

  6. Cathie from Canada*

    Regarding #2, I recall a couple of incidents from the university where I worked:
    Once when the engineering school needed to increase its female enrolment, their dean tried to make the few existing female engineering students responsible for doing unpaid recruitment – rather than requiring his engineering faculty to actually do their jobs and take on this task.
    And once I arranged for a male mathematics professor to give a presentation to students and staff about his research into why women had not been seeking academic careers in mathematics, and what mathematicians could do about it. I could not believe the pushback I got from some colleagues that this presentation should have been given by a female mathematics professor — well, duh, maybe because it was his research, not theirs?
    In both these cases, the implicit assumption was that only women in science were responsible for diversity and equality issues — and men in science needn’t bother.
    On a side note, it didn’t surprise me that the mathematics professor eventually became the president of a university.

    1. TechWorker*

      Erm whilst I agree that responsibility *shouldnt* fall on women I also don’t think that would have been the only reason for objections.

      1) recruitment – should be paid time Ofc – but there *is* a benefit to having women at recruitment events, there’s a ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ thing going on and some women (not all!) are just going to be less comfortable approaching a stall that’s entirely men…

      2) there are people – who you may reasonably disagree with – but they exist – who think some research is better done with first hand experience. It’s great this guy had focussed on that topic – and I totally agree it then makes sense for him to present – but c’mon there *will* have been women in the audience thinking ‘huh what do you know about being a woman in mathematics’. That is not the same as ‘I believe all the onus for solving sexism is on women’ – far from it!

      1. Chili*

        1) There definitely is a benefit to having women at recruitment events, but the dean should have made hiring female faculty a priority rather than making female students take on additional labor without compensation. As a woman of color in tech, I want to say that taking on all these uncompensated extras comes at the expense of my own career trajectory. That is time I am not honing my own technical skills or working on my own professional development. I do it because I want to make a better workplace for others (and world), but it’s a lot to take on and probably a contributor to burnout and why women leave tech in droves.

        1. TechWorker*

          Yep I get that. And honestly now I am a bit more senior I have stepped back from doing all the outreach and recruitment events. At my company the more junior women doing this *are* getting paid for it and it’s very much voluntary but you make a good point that it’s mostly not directly related to career progression and it’s something I should keep an eye on!

    2. blackcat*

      “In both these cases, the implicit assumption was that only women in science were responsible for diversity and equality issues — and men in science needn’t bother.”


      I will say that I happily did recruitment for my grad program as a token woman. I was the only woman in my cohort, but I generally found it to be an incredibly supportive environment. My department did things like float university rules and give me paid maternity leave. And it was no big deal I had a baby during my time there. I was happy to do some extra work to recruit women because I was worried the demographics of the department would discourage women from coming. It’s a smaller program for being a STEM one, and so having 20% women looks worse than bigger departments.

      When I interviewed for my current job, I was asked how I might support underrepresented students, including women, in the program. I decided to be bold and say I wouldn’t do anything for women and underrepresented groups that they weren’t already doing. Because putting the solutions on women/POC means that you’re framing *them* as the problem. But they aren’t! The real problems on the smaller scale are that men and white people are often jerks. And so what needs to actually happen is to develop strategies to help the young men and white people. They’re the problem. So the solution rests with them. Then I said it would be on the white male faculty to work with the white male students.

      Their faces when I said that! The “Oh shit.” look. They hired me, so I clearly couldn’t have offended them too much by saying that. I don’t want to be the token woman doing the diversity work, and I wanted to be clear about that up front.

          1. blackcat*

            I mean, I was honest. I’ve spent a lot of time working in programs for first generation college students. I *do* the unpaid work of supporting other women.

            Uniformly, the biggest problem I hear from undergraduate women in my field is that their male peers are jerks. For the POC, it’s microaggressions. Underrepresented groups are left out of study groups. Or sometimes women are invited to “study” by a dude who is looking to get in her pants.

            My own really good experience in graduate school was due to the fact that among both faculty and grad students, the men were really solid guys who treated me with respect. I view being upfront about where the problem really is as helpful for figuring out what type of men are in the room with me. Not a single dude got defensive with me, which made me far more willing to walk into a department that’s right at 10% women.

        1. blackcat*

          There are two white dudes committed to researching interventions they can do with first years! And I DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE UP TO!! It’s glorious.
          I mean, maybe it’s not going anywhere. But it is very much not my problem. Which is the point.

      1. Chili*

        YES! There is so much pressure on women and POC and underrepresented groups to “solve” sexism/racism/etc. at their workplaces when the expectation should actually be on everyone else! It really frustrates me because as a person who falls into those categories… there are recommendations I can make, but really the majority needs to be held more accountable for these issues.

      2. Formerly Ella Vader*

        My first faculty position was in an engineering school where there was a policy that every hiring committee must include a woman. (*) I spent way more time reading CV submissions and going to meetings than the male faculty member hired with me – including for other departments that didn’t have any women faculty. After a while, I decided that a more effective policy than “every hiring committee must include a woman” would be “every hiring committee must not include a single asshole.” Could not figure out how to implement it, though.

        * and in the nursing school, every hiring committee had to include a man.

    3. Stephanie*

      Yeah, sigh. I’m on a committee in my department that oversees recruiting college hires and interns. Committee is mostly managers (I am not)…but we have so few black managers that they asked me to oversee some of the diversity recruiting. The committee lead came up to me and very awkwardly was like “Well, you know, in the recruiting summit, the presenters talked about us sending out people to campus who look like who we want to recruit…” I’m thinking “Got it. You need a black person on the committee.”

  7. FluZombie*

    Re #1: CDC says a Covid-19 outbreak is “imminent” as in just a matter of time before we all have it? I thought it had the potential to infect us all (or most) but with the correct counter measures it wouldn’t just be a matter of time…. Did I miss something??!

    1. HA2*

      At an individual level, it is not inevitable at all – if someone is careful, washes their hands frequently and well, avoids sick people and crowds, it’s quite possible (and likely!) that they won’t get sick.

      At a population level, it is pretty inevitable that there will be an outbreak. There are cases all across the country now, including people who have been out and about and not quarantining themselves, people who don’t know who they caught it from and who else may be exposed. It is, at this point, extremely likely that the number of cases will continue to rise and will rise pretty far up from where they are now.

      Note that even if, say, one half of one percent of Americans get it, that would be over a million cases. So both are true – it’s quite possible for an outbreak to be imminent, and yet for any particular person to probably be safe.

  8. easy apply*

    #4 I came to the conclusion there was no easy way to say ‘as my junior’ which in my country would convey that the person was younger than you in the same school / work / club but also imply on one end that you had taken on something of a mentoring role OR just that you attended the same school at different times- the japanese concepts of senpai and kouhai, but in English.

    Given that, I wonder if a cheerful, ‘yup, following in my footsteps!’ would convey the same mild snub without seeming pedantic or petty to the stranger who has no idea he’s trying to one-up you. The more times he repeats it, the more he’s going to hear it.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      I don’t know. I think people are offering really valid advice, and yet if I was the third party in theses conversations, I can’t help but think that these responses might convey insecurity on the part of OP, or worse, might make her appear a bit condescending?

      Although of course, if someone asks further, it should be easy to clarify the years they attended. But the proactive correction makes it seem as though she thinks his claim says something about her, and it really doesn’t.

      I wonder if he’s annoying in other ways, so this is grating on her? Cause it’s weird but…it’s not make a big-deal-of-it weird.

      1. Marny*

        Agreed. I can’t imagine caring about this clarification if I were the listener and I’d wonder why the LW thought it was important enough to clarify. I think she’s really overestimating how much anyone cares about this information.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          If he just says they went to school together, I would probably never think about that again once the conversation is over. But if OP openly corrects him about it I would probably be curious about that and would think about it more later.

          If OP is really bothered by it then they should try talking to the person again and asking them to stop, but I don’t think this is a situation where in-the-moment corrections are the way to go because they could come off weird to the other people in the conversation.

          1. LW#4*

            I’ve corrected him in private about it twice and said how it makes me feel uncomfortable. So I think the fact that he keeps doing it, even after I’ve spoken to him about it is what really gets under my skin and frustrates me.

      2. Roscoe*

        Yep. As I said in another post, to me, it would say more about her correcting him, than it would about him.

        I have a graduate degree too. There was a guy who is now married to one of my good friends, and he was in the same program as me, but he started after I left. We both say “we went to grad school together”, even though we never overlapped. Its just so not a big deal that its hard to come off as anything but insecure if you make it one

      3. Joielle*

        I think OP will need to correct him publicly once or twice to get the point to really sink in, but only in front of people she knows better than he does. If I was the third party in this situation, and my friend rebuked a colleague in front of me, I would think “that guy must be a piece of work, I have to ask her about that later.” If it’s in front of someone you don’t know that well, then yeah, the awkwardness wouldn’t be worth it.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If sports are a thing at that school (and for you), turn to the younger guy and ask “was Mr. Big still the head coach when you were there?” It’ll at least work once.

      1. Pharmgirl*

        Or a even just a popular professor. I think this might be the only way for the OP to comment without it coming across oddly. I think what the coworker is doing is really weird. I overlapped with a coworker for a few years but didn’t know her – I would never say that we went to school together!

        But as a third party in the conversation, the OP adding “not at the same time” or anything very clearly pointing it out would actually come off weirder to me if I didn’t know the full story. But I like Second Childhood’s suggestions, it seems more casual.

      2. Western Rover*

        This would be a great way to call out the year difference without making it weird, if it weren’t for the fact LW4 remained involved with the school in an advisory capacity after she graduated and could therefore be expected to know whether a well-known professor had left.

    3. Boomerang Girl*

      How about saying something along the lines of “As much as I enjoy X making me sound younger than I am, I actually attended a couple of years before he did”?

      1. fposte*

        That raises the question of why she would think being younger is better than being her age, though. I’d be startled by that.

        1. namerequired*

          “startled”? people make offhand comments like that all the time and as much as I’m for women embracing their age, this isn’t a “startling” comment.

          1. fposte*

            Okay, I’ll go more candidly with “offended.” As a woman likely older than the OP, I’d be offended by the ageism of that response. A person who suggests to me that younger is better is going to make it hard for me to respect them and will make me wonder about their fair treatment of others.

            People make a lot of offhand comments. Some of them are best left unmade. That’s especially true when they’re involving legally protected categories.

              1. fposte*

                They’re both true–I’d be startled that somebody would say something offensive and potentially discriminatory.

                1. namerequired*

                  And I think it’s strange that you’d be “startled” by such a common sentiment.

                2. fposte*

                  I’m not startled that people think youth, or maleness, or whiteness is better. I’m startled when they admit to that in a professional situation.

            1. namerequired*

              Though I do think you’re reading a lot into a societally-ingrained, extremely common, self-deprecating way to brush off an awkward situation. It’s not my favorite way of handling it and not something I’d suggest, but acting like it’s a real comment on how the person views others’ value re: their age (and bringing legal protection into it…) is taking things too far.

              1. fposte*

                I think that it’s really common for people to absent ageism from the things they’re sensitive to, and that this conversation is an example of that. Yes, people have always said this kind of stupid blather. But this is similar to other kinds of stupid blather about the wheelchair-using co-worker being inspiring or how nice to raise the attractiveness quotient in the office by adding a female executive. It’s rooted in pernicious and discriminatory views, and I don’t think it deserves the pass people are arguing for any more than those examples do.

                1. namerequired*

                  You seem to be missing me point. I’m not arguing that it’s not a problem. However, assuming that a woman who is older herself making an offhand comment that’s rooted in lifelong, societally-ingrained pressures to present youthfully does not mean that in a more thoughtful moment she would be discriminatory toward someone else and their age or value someone older less.

    4. Lw#4*

      In my job, I deal with some big time developers and government officials, so I think it’s when he does it around them is when it makes me the most uncomfortable, because he works as a consultant so it feels a little like hes trying to get warm fuzzies from them by indicating we’re somehow closer than we are. And I dont want to come off as condescending or rude so I never have said anything in front of the “VIPs”, but twice afterwards I have talked to him privately about it…but I like the “following in my footsteps” approach

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        Him doing it the first time doesn’t seem bad to me, but it’s up to you how you feel.

        But ignoring your request is really bad regardless.

        1. LW#4*

          Yeah, I know it would be awkward to bring it up in the moment, but I’ve spoken with him privately about it twice. His continuing to do it is what really annoys me.

          1. Marny*

            Perhaps try playing dumb? Next time he says that, you can turn to him and say, “We did? I thought you graduated in 20__. I graduated in 20__.” And let him squirm.

          2. AKchic*

            At this point, he is doing it on purpose. For what reason is anybody’s guess, but I would assume that since he is doing it to other people he is trying to impress (who are impressed by *you*), he is trying to let your shine rub off on him.

            He has truly become the annoying little brother type. The one that can’t let the other sibling have any kind of spotlight or attention without yelling “look at me!” and making a face or shoving food up his nose. It may feel good to treat him as the child he’s being, but it won’t make you any better professionally.
            If possible, stop associating with him at these events. Actively avoid him when possible. Blandly correct him when he buts in with that ill-timed and inappropriate “anecdote”.
            “Oh, Bob, I don’t see what my alumni reviewing credentials have to do with this conversation. It’s not relevant to this. College was a long time ago!”
            “Yes Bob, you’ve told everyone you met me during my time as an alumni reviewing [insert his year] coursework. I was happy to give back to my alma mater. Anyway…” and go back to the conversation at hand.
            It’s a quick correction *and* reminder that he really has told everyone he meets that he knows you from “way back” and just maybe he’s overstating the personal connection just a bit while giving you the conversational control and professionalism to keep cool and move on.

            He might just stop trying to attach himself to you in that way if he realizes you’re going to start shutting him down in front of the very people he’s trying to impress with *your* credentials and accomplishments

      2. namerequired*

        the “following in my footsteps” approach is the most condescending of the suggestions in my opinion so if you’re trying to avoid that I wouldn’t choose that option

    5. anonymouslee*

      “following in my footsteps!” comes across very petty and condescending unless she was actually his advisor and an inspiration in his chosen path.

  9. WS*

    If they want people to stay home, they need to give them sick leave. Otherwise people will make a rational calculation (for themselves personally that they would like to pay for essentials like rent and food), load up on symptom-suppressing medications, and come to work. The rational calculation for businesses is to pay the sick not to come to work.

    1. Pharmgirl*

      Yes – HR sent us an email last week about precautions to avoiding getting sick, and staying home if you were. But we don’t get real sick time – we have one PTO bank and it’s not great.

    2. MatKnifeNinja*

      My friends working both retail/fast food were told if you come in sick, we are sending you home. But we aren’t paying you.

      One got the bonus round, if you need more 1 month off for the Corona Virus, you have the high possibility of letting you go.

      This is how the virus gets spread around. It’s not people with PTO/Work from home, who ignore being sick. It’s the person working two part time jobs cobbling checks together to pay the rent.

      None of the have decent health insurance either.

      1. Seifer*

        The other week with the cruise ship thing, and how the CDC was saying that people should be quarantined for two weeks, and then people left and went back to work anyway? I remember thinking to myself the same thing. Is the CDC going to pay me for those two weeks??

        1. Artemesia*

          Not only are the quarantined people not getting paid but those evacuated from Wuhan and put in quarantine in California are getting billed for their flight, for their care in quarantine, and for rent/board during quarantine, whether they can afford it or not.

          And the government has already announced that if a vaccine is developed that many people may not be able to afford it because profits are more important.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Wow, firing them for that would be despicable. But not surprising.

        Stuff like this is why I laugh scornfully at anyone who says the “free market” works.

    3. Rebecca*

      I now have a laptop (and it was a rush job), coupled with HR’s edict that if we don’t feel well, have a cold, a cough, or a fever, we’re asked to stay home and seek medical care. I’m non-exempt, as are many of my coworkers, and only a few of us have laptops. We work in an office, and it’s really conducive to WFH, but it’s not something the company does much or encourages. I noticed the email did not say anything about being paid for time off over and above our paltry sick time policy (5 days per year). I’m grateful that I’ll be able to work from home if I’m sick or we’re quarantined, but I worry about others – what will they do? How will they pay rent and buy food?

  10. AJ*

    “You keep saying that, but we graduated in different years. Are you trying to make yourself look older or make me look younger?” (said with a big smile)

    Okay… perhaps not.

    1. Koala dreams*

      Tone would be tricky with this one! Maybe practice with a friend outside of work beforehand? :)

  11. Anonymous Goose*

    a cheerful agree + additional info?
    “oh yes, we went to the same school. Too bad our time didn’t overlap, as I graduated before him”
    or a shorter, “oh yes, we went to the same school, but I graduated before he started”

    1. Pharmgirl*

      I find what the coworker is doing really weird, but for some reason I feel like anything the OP says might come across weirder to a third party who doesn’t know the backstory. Any comments the OP makes to clear things up sound pretty clunky in conversation.

      1. Lw#4*

        We’re not actually coworkers, I work for a government nonprofit and he works as a consultant. In my job, I often deal with “important” people and it’s when he does it in front of them, it feels like hes using me to try to gain favor with them…but it’s also awkward bc I dont want to come across as rude by pointing it out so I usually say nothing and have approached him privately twice and both times he acted shocked that we didnt go to school together. Its odd.

        1. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

          Just tack on, “we probably met at an alumni function at some point, it’s a great school,” big smile, move on- that conveys that you didn’t know each other well, which seems to be your objection? That he’s grabbing your implicit endorsement in a way that discomforts you.

        2. CM*

          I would say “About five years apart” (or if less, “A few years apart”) — I think that’s easy to toss in after he says “we went to school together” without seeming weird. Or if you want to be more pointed you could say, “Yes, I met Joe when he was a first-year and I was an alum involved in the school’s professional organization. So I’ve seen his career since the beginning!”

          1. Annony*

            Yeah, I think if you say it in a friendly way with a smile or laugh it could work fine in conversation.

          2. Joielle*

            I think “yeah, a few years apart” is perfect, if said with a smile. It distances her from him just enough, without calling a ton of attention to it.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          hmmmm – I was totally with Alison until this update.

          It sounds like ConsultantMan (CM) is using you to get an ‘in’ with networking these people using forced teaming. If he’s good at what he does and it’s ok for you to be associated with him, that’s mildly annoying but not harmful, and I’d leave it. If he’s not good, or there’s some other reason you need distance (ie, avoiding conflict of interest appearance), then you can respond non-verbally without seeming rude:
          1) Let the conversation falter when he says it – do not respond to him, especially if there’s a pause. Just look at him and smile, like, ‘how nice, but how very irrelevant that is’
          2) Immediately redirect the conversational topic – ‘yes, ABCU was fun, but how about that [last industry conference] / [industry rule change] / [other news].’ Bonus points if it’s to a topic that isn’t CM’s specialty.
          3) Get a little physical distance. Shifting your weight to the leg away from him is so small people won’t notice it consciously, but they will pick up that there’s something. A tiny step away would be noticeable and heading for the border of rude. Turning away from him would be very noticeable, so you have to be cautious.
          Basically, lower the reward he gets for making this comment, by reducing the forced teaming.

        4. Senor Montoya*

          Leave it alone, then. Really, is it affecting your ability to do your job or to deal with the important people? Is it actually helping him in any way? Are the important people going to care that you both have a degree from the same program but that you weren’t there at the same time? If the answer is “probably not” then I just don’t see any way that you can do anything about this without making *you* look bad. I’d let it go with him, too.

        5. Falling Diphthong*

          It might help to think of it less as appearing rude and more as appearing that you and he have a deep and fraught backstory. So any dismissal needs to manage light and breezy.

          I get how annoying it is, and absolutely think he’s trying to halo himself into a better position. But the lighter you can be about shrugging off the intrusion, the more comfortable the important people will be that they haven’t arrived for some weird act 3 of an ongoing saga.

          (Also, he’d use “croquet club” if that was the only thing you had in common. Anything related to professional credentials is better, but he’d be finding something to use as an “in” to the conversation you’re having. Maybe imagine how you’d respond if he said “I’m Fergus Bopple, OP and I went to the Big Convention.” When yes, this may be true, but his phrasing implies you were presenting together when the truth is that you wore similar nametags in a large hall. How can you counter a consultant’s persistent attempts to wiggle into your conversations?)

  12. Cordoba*

    For LW#: I’d absolutely not change your plans in this circumstance, but (presuming your grad school workload allows it) perhaps you could work out a pay-per-hour consulting deal with your current employer.

    Something like” they’re welcome to contact you when they have questions they think you can help with, and you’ll answer to the best of your ability for $x per hour with a 2-hour minimum billed for every question”.

    If it works for everybody this might help them to get by in your absence while providing you with an extra income stream while in school.

    1. Student Loans Here I Come*

      LW #3 here, thank you for the idea! I may float it if they continue to be short staffed after my scheduled end date. I am currently connecting them with my grad program director, because the program does capstone projects (like a thesis but supposed to be “more applied”) where the students work with either an academic or industry sponsor to develop a business plan, conduct market research and analysis, and define the technology’s capabilities and limitations, all of which might be useful to my current company. If that works out, they’d be connected with someone in my program (not me, conflict of interest and I want new experience) to work on this capstone with, and could use the results of that work. If it falls through, I might offer similar type consulting services to them either during my program or afterwards if that’s a need they still have.

  13. Jack be Nimble*

    Reading letter #4, I wasn’t sure what the time gap between LW’s graduation and the colleague’s enrollment. My initial assumption was that the colleague started the program just after the LW finished. Is it possible that they did overlap at all? Maybe he took one evening class while the LW was finishing up their full-time degree, and the colleague is rounding up?

    If there was a gap of a few years or the program is well-known for having a small, well-defined cohort, my response would change.

    Based on my initial read, I think the LW risks coming across as insecure if they make a big point of correcting their colleague when he says they went to school together. If there’s a huge differential in their experience and the quality of their work, that speaks for itself.

    1. Smithy*

      There are also lots of Grad programs where classes might end in May but degrees aren’t officially awarded until the following Fall/Winter. So on paper the LW’s grad date is February 2021 and the coworker started classes in September 2020.

      Five, ten years from now these differences will matter less and less. The coworker is only hurting his relationship with the LW, and it’s just hard to imagine this mattering very much with anyone else.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I was wondering if maybe the coworker is trying to find a simple way to say they attended the same school around the same general time.

    2. Lw#4*

      He finished the semester after I ended. And its been 11 years since I graduated, so I often think that its just so strange bc noone cares about grad school anymore at this point, particularly since I worked in the field prior to grad school, so it’s like “why are you even bringing this up?” Lol

      1. Yorick*

        You’re saying he went to grad school one semester after you, so you were there almost the same times? Then he’s completely right to say you went to grad school together?

          1. Yorick*

            Later LW4 says he started the semester after she graduated, so I guess this comment was just a typo?

      2. CheeryO*

        I’m confused – are you saying that he graduated one semester after you did? If so, I would definitely say that you went to school together, regardless of whether or not you had classes together. Either way, I think it’s strange to push back on this so much. It’s kind of a boring small talk topic, and you’re right that no one really cares, but just let the guy have his tenuous connection.

        1. Artemesia*

          ‘We went to the prom together’ is different from ‘we both went to the Under the Sea prom in 1995’. Everyone assumes ‘we went to grad school together’ implies a personal relationship, shared classes, maybe shared research projects etc i.e. some sort of personal relationship.

          1. fposte*

            The problem is that it’s not different enough to make it a thing in front of a third party. A correction has to be as minor as the import of the confusion or else the correction will be more memorable to people than his implication.

          2. Oxford Comma*

            That has not been my experience. I went to high school, undergrad, and grad school with a lot of people, and have often said the same, but it has never ever implied a shared personal relationship.

            1. Oxford Comma*

              Argh. Hit submit too soon. I meant to say that it does not always imply a shared personal relationship.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        Ah – people bring up the school thing A Lot, forever. It’s a tribe thing. We’re always hunting for connections with people, and especially for anyone sports-minded, colleges have become a serious source of tribal connection. I think in some industries it’s a status thing, too – finance and business seem to care.

        As a consultant, he may also have something of a salesman role, where ‘make a connection’ is the #1 rule, so he’s testing to see if that’s a connection that he can use with this new group.

        1. Jack Be Nimble*

          Seconding the tribalism aspect, here — I went to an enormous state school in the midwest before moving to the east coast. A huge percentage of college graduates in my home state had gone to the same school, so it wasn’t anything to remark on. Small, private schools are the norm in my adopted hometown, and people are weirdly (to me) hung up on colleges they haven’t attended in decades.

          Maybe LW’s colleague is insecure or maybe he’s used to different norms around colleges/universities. At any rate, I think it’s something that gets filed under “a weird thing to do, but not actionable in any meaningful way.”

        2. Roscoe*

          YES! This is so true. Its a tribal thing. She doesn’t like the semantics. But its not that shocking to me. One of my great friends graduated after I did, we met after we were both gone. Yet we say we went to school together. Which I guess is a bit different than OP’s situation, but still it just is a way to show a connection.

          1. LW#4*

            Yep. sorry…the one where I said he finished, I mean that he started a semester after I graduated. No overlap.

      4. Joielle*

        There are a lot of people telling you to ignore it, but even if it’s objectively not that big of a deal, I 100% get how irritating this is and would say something if it was me. I think the next time he does it, you should make a slightly confused face and say “yeah… *around* the same time!… So, Senator, how’s your X project coming along?” As if it was a slightly weird thing for the guy to say and you’re just politely moving the conversation forward. You don’t want to call a ton of attention to it, but a tiny bit of pushback will distance you from him. And I think it’ll make you feel better.

  14. Beth*

    LW1: I know this is going to sound bad to a lot of people, but…your company can’t make you stay home with a cold if they don’t know you have a cold.

    Yes, in a period when there’s a new contagious illness with cold-like symptoms going around, this really isn’t ideal. No, it’s not your personal job to systemically prevent that, not if it means risking income you need to make ends meet. If your employer wants to prevent the spread of illness in their space, it’s their job to make sure *everyone* has the means to stay home when sick–including (especially, even) their most vulnerable employees, their hourly workers and contracted janitors and temps and etc.

    If you think this was a simple oversight and you have a manager that you feel safe talking to, consider asking them about how this policy will impact you before you start showing symptoms. Maybe they’ll be able to arrange something from you (paid leave due to special circumstances with the virus and all, work-from-home, whatever). But if they can’t, or if you don’t have anyone you feel able to ask, then frankly it’s not your fault that your company put you in a crappy position. Both in and outside work, when it comes to contagious diseases, we’re all only as safe as the most vulnerable people around us; when you’re the most vulnerable person, it’s your job to take care of yourself, not to sacrifice yourself for the sake of everyone else.

    1. Beth*

      I realized I didn’t really spell this out; what I’m saying is that if you need to be at work and earning money to keep your head above water, you don’t disclose that you’re sick, you treat symptoms and then conceal what’s left as best you can, and you go to work anyways. You mentally yell at your company for putting you in that position, because it’s really not fair to anyone, but you do what you have to do.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I have a big problem with that. “Most vulnerable” in this case means your coworker who is on immunosuppressants. Your customer who has COPD. And their immediate family member who is undergoing chemotherapy.
      “I’m not really sick and I have to earn a living” is pretty much what Typhoid Mary would have said about herself

      1. Sam I Am*

        Well, Mary Mallon DID have to make a living, I think that’s the crux of the problem. She wasn’t being selfish, she was working to support herself. Should she have given up food and shelter just died because she was poor?

          1. Amy Sly*

            True, but as typhoid has a fecal transmission route, I think it’s fair to blame her for not washing her hands!

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Also, in the interest of being fair to Mary Mallon, she was the first case of a proven non-symptomatic typhoid case. The health departments at that time were also really just getting on top of how the disease was transmitted from person to person.

              She also wasn’t told to never work again after being released, just no more working in kitchens or food service.

              1. fposte*

                Which left her only with options that paid considerably less–that’s why she went back to food service.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Mary Mallon isn’t really a good example, because she killed people purely because she was a cook. If she’d taken on a different job after being informed that she killed people, she wouldn’t have had to give up food and shelter. (Yes, it might have been a lower-paying job. Yes, it would likely have sucked. But she was killing people.) So her 2020 analogy would be someone who is offered the opportunity to WFH, but refuses.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          When she was released from quarantine it was on the condition she no longer cook. She went back to cooking and people died because of that. I guess being permanently returned to quarantine solved the question of who would pay for her food & shelter.
          (Yes I’m a local history geek — but I think my school teachers were too, because we learned about her in social studies.)

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            History geeks unite!

            I’ve always loved what I call hidden history – you know the smaller but still important players that aren’t in the textbooks because the stories are complicated.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I’ll throw another thing out here. We don’t know if it was entirely hand-washing problems that led her to transmit disease or inadequate distance between the home’s well and the home’s cesspool. NYC’s famous water system didn’t immediately eliminate all private wells, and it didn’t supply Oyster Bay at all.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I also remember reading that the health officials at the time didn’t tell her she couldn’t work – just that she was legally required to not work in kitchens or food preparation. That was what got her in the repeated legal trouble (well and changing her name to get around the list naming her as ineligible to work in kitchens). The final time Mary Mallon was discovered in kitchens and spreading typhoid (which she had already been told by health authorities not to do anymore) she was actually arrested for using false identification in addition to working in a field she had been ordered not to work in.

          But yes, it is a textbook case (in some ways) of how being from the wrong group can hurt those in the wrong group.

      2. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

        It’s cold and flu season! The overwhelming majority of illness will not be the coronavirus. I have colds that last for weeks, there’s flu, pneumonia,- this isn’t someone who is refusing to use a few sick days so they can keep their vacation time. No rent = homelessness.

        1. Oxford Comma*

          Flu can kill you. Pneumonia can kill you. What is a minor inconvenience for you, can devastate someone else — people on chemo, people with compromised immune systems in general, people who are pregnant, older people. It’s not just about the one person.

          Businesses put their employees in these impossible positions. They either have no sick time, inadequate sick time, and/or cultures that actively discourage people from taking time off for anything other than immediate surgery.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      And quarantines work beautifully to stop the spread of contagious diseases.

      1. DaisyGrrl*

        I’m going to be a bit pedantic here, but quarantines are ethically fraught for a number of reasons, and only work in certain circumstances. One of the underlying premises of quarantine is that the person should have their needs taken care of for the duration of the quarantine, including food, shelter, and medical care, and they should be compensated for economic losses (wikipedia page on quarantine lists the underlying ethical principles).

        If a society wants people to stay home while sick, then it has an obligation to ensure that people have the support to do so. This can be done through laws mandating paid sick leave or companies implementing equitable sick leave policies. Asking someone to lose pay in order to protect the health of others is rarely going to work because there’s no reciprocity. The sick person is instead incentivised to hide their illness, as suggested above.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yes – the burden of paying for quarantine should be on the people who are most able to pay, not the people who are least able to pay (temps or other folks with no or very little sick leave).

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          Heh – Liz has a plan for that, including “compensated for economic losses”. sigh.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          If it’s a true temp position through an agency, OP can ask the agency for another assignment for the duration of the sore throat.

      2. Arctic*

        If you want a successful quarantine then you have to pay for it.

        “We’ll just have the most vulnerable stay home and starve to death” is not an effective or actionable policy.

      3. JustaTech*

        Quarantines work if and only if it is possible to contain everyone who has the disease. Anything that can be subtle, or asymptomatic, or has a very long incubation time, is very hard to quarantine.

    4. Jennifer*

      I agree. Everyone that coughs doesn’t have the coronavirus. It’s so ridiculous. If they want everyone to stay home, even with a minor cold, they should pay them.

      Take medicine. Wash your hands. You’ll be fine.

  15. Sled dog mana*

    LW#4 People can be so strange about making connections with others. I attended the same small college as a well known professional athlete (at least well known in his sport). I haven’t gotten asked in a few years but when he was very new people assumed that I must know him because we attended the same school. Nope I graduated before he enrolled (for one year). I seriously had to convince people I didn’t know this guy. People are weird about connections.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      I get the same thing with Prince William because he was the year below me. The extent of my dealings with him was walking past him in the street without realising.

    2. VlookupsAreMyLife*

      Sled dog mana, as an avid sports fan, I’d 100% do this!
      P.S. Now I reaaaaaly wanna know which college so I can figure out which athlete.

      1. Sled dog mana*

        Well I’ll go as far as saying it’s a small liberal arts college in the south and I graduated 14 years ago. If you’re a fan of the particular sport you’ll probably get it from that.

    3. Yorick*

      A famous NFL player was my student when I was teaching undergrad classes while in grad school. I don’t watch football so I didn’t know he was in the NFL until his team won the Super Bowl. It was pretty exciting.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      heh – I just pulled out ‘I went to school with Michael Jordan, that basketball player you just saw on TV’ to impress my kid. Of course, so did 50K other people, I never had a class with him, and I think maybe I saw him once across the street, but hey! We R Tribe!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Actually had two classes in high school (driver’s ed and algebra) with a guy who went on to be a placekicker in the NFL. But I’m also positive he’d never recognize me if we passed on a street.

        1. Sled dog mana*

          Yeah I attended high school with two MLB players one I knew my whole life. He might recognize me, but probably not.

        2. Artemesia*

          I went to hs with Barack Obama’s mother; knew her slightly; she was a year ahead of me and we had one class together. And as a teacher had a number of children of well known politicians or other celebrities over the years as well as one NFL quarterback. Small world.

    5. AnotherAlison*

      My sister and I are 9 years apart in school. We went to the same 3-year high school, and Darren Sproles (recently retired NFL player) went there during the gap. Neither of us knew him. My DAD made a comment about us going to school with him recently. Eyeroll.

      That said, my son’s best friend from elementary school is currently ranked #4 in the NFL draft, so he will be able to say he went to school with the second famous NFL player to come from our hometown.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yep. “You’re from that town? Do you know $FamousPerson?” Well, yeah he went to my church, but he wouldn’t know me from the other 26 high school kids in surplices.

    7. AKchic*

      I get this with *any* Alaskan connection.

      I mean, yeah, it’s likely I *do* actually know the person, or know someone who does know them (or in at least one case, am related to in some way); but that’s because Alaska is small.

      But it’s not a guarantee, okay!

  16. leaj*

    LW1, i’m going through that at my offfice too. i work at a central HR office for a liberal arts college and yesterday a faculty member sent an hourly staff person home for coughing. but the staff person is fairly new and just started accruing sick time and was so upset because she doesn’t have the sick time banked to be able to stay home whenever she has a little cough.

    The faculty member, who doesn’t have or deal with paid time off, didn’t understand her concerns. I let her know that in general the decision needed to come from the employee on how sick they were and unless you have real concerns they have the flu, leave people alone.

    I hope your company approaches it similarly, and maybe even hires you into a permanent role with PTO. And while i’m at it, I hope the US works towards a healthy mandatory sick leave policy!

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      If the university couldn’t pay the staff person for sick leave, the professor should have done so out of her own salary, or taken up a collection among other higher-paid people.

  17. Delta Delta*

    #4 – I wonder what’s the overlap in time, if any? I went to Certain Law School and graduated in Year X. I certainly know the people in my own class, but I also knew the people who were in the classes before and after me while I was there. Frequently people will ask if I know this person or that person, and if we were in school together I might say, “oh sure, we were at Certain Law School at the same time.” But that always feels sort of cumbersome. It might be easier to say “we went to Certain Law School together,” which isn’t entirely wrong.

    I think it would be very different if they weren’t there at the same time. I know a woman who graduated about 8 years after my husband did and insists they were classmates. Made for a weird networking situation once. Her: Oh, sure, I know Tau Delta, we were law school classmates. Him: I graduated in 2002, I don’t remember you. What year were you? Her: Well, 2010, but we were classmates. Him: what were you doing in 2002? Her: I was still in high school. Him: I’m pretty sure we weren’t classmates. Her: we were. *cue Twilight Zone theme tune*

    1. Clementine*

      Maybe some people’s definition of “classmates” differs from the obvious (being in the same class at the same time). That’s the only way I can make sense of your case and the LW’s case.

    2. Pharmgirl*

      That’s a good point. I knew people above and below me in school – although personally I know I’d just say that we went to the same school. But if there’s overlap and you knew someone, I don’t think it would be wrong to say you went to school together. But when there’s no overlap…it’s definitely odd. The OP says coworker knew her, so I wonder if maybe there was overlap she’s not aware of?

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Above it says OP was active in alumni events that students could attend to network with those out in the field. Maybe the annoying co-worker is confusing OP for a fellow student from seeing them at so many alumni events?

  18. Retail not Retail*

    Lw1 – drug yourself to the gills and sneeze into your elbow. Blame allergies if you’re in a blooming part of the country.

    I have an outdoor job! Are the harder sneezes the pollen or kicking dust in my face or the stress of bouncing temps? I don’t know! I do know I don’t work in proximity to the public and it hasn’t made it to this region yet officially. I wash my hands – dirt, potential poisons, watch for parasites on your shoes – and keep a wide berth around my elementary assistant mom as she reports on the regular flu ripping through her school.

    You’re a temp which means you’re not in retail or food service so your public exposure is lessened. Drug yourself, blame allergies, and be diligent about cleaning.

    1. Retail not Retail*

      Also dang am i grateful to be out of retail. I called in once to say I lost my voice and at no point did my manager say hmm what if you’re contagious? Instead it was well yes you can’t do the service desk, but can you do a register shift? Like an idiot I said yes. I got incredibly nauseous from people making me talk so I bailed after a few hours.

  19. Jennifer*

    #5 This person has no reason to work on her performance issues since her skills are so in demand in such a rural area. In the future, I wonder if it’s possible to cross train a dependable employee on this job?

    1. Liane*

      As others have said, this is healthcare, where many, many positions strictly require specific degrees and/or certifications. An X-ray tech cannot, for example, do lab tests unless they also have that med lab degree AND have kept their lab certification/s and license active.

  20. JM in England*

    Re #5

    I have had this happen a couple of times during previous job searches. In all cases, after the “We will let you know by X date” time after the interview had passed, I called the employer/recruiter to find out what was going on. The response was that none of the candidate pool met the job requirements and that the hiring process was starting again from scratch.

  21. Works in IT*

    Another thing to remember for OP 1 is, the coronavirus is presenting as a mild cold in 80% of the population, and causing severe respiratory symptoms in the other 20%. OP 1’s just a cold could very well be the coronavirus in this case. In which case, it’s definitely in the company’s best interest for OP 1 to stay home.

    1. CatPerson*

      Actually, this is incorrect. Coronavirus is presenting as a fever and dry cough, very rarely sniffles, and those who have them could also have a cold.

      1. Close Bracket*

        The correct information is that corona viruses as a family are responsible for many cases of the common cold. COVID-19 specifically is much more severe than most colds and presents with a fever and dry cough.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      If I’m hiring someone through a temp agency, it’s the temp agency’s responsibility to provide benefits to the employee because I’m paying more money per hour for that person than I would if they were working for me directly. It’s reasonable to want people to not come to work if they’re sick – it’s not just because of this new virus.

      1. Arctic*

        If you don’t want a virus to spread then pay them to stay home. Or let the virus spread.

        Those are your two options.

          1. Arctic*

            Also, let’s be real. You aren’t actually “paying more” for the temp. You may pay slightly more per hour but significantly less factoring in all benefits.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This and what JMI says below–going with a temp agency because it’s cheaper for you in no way incentivizes the temp to risk hunger and homelessness on your behalf.

        2. steve*

          This seems like some weird logic. Why should I, someone’s part-time employer, be responsible for paying people to stay home and not do work? How many hours do I need to not pay them for? What if there’s less work to do because of how many people are out – do I still need to pay them as though everyone was there?

          If they’re getting paid for not working for me, why shouldn’t some other, richer company pay them to not work for that company? What happens if the employee has two part-time jobs – which one is responsible for paying them to stay home?

          (I mean the real answer is we should have a government that is able to step in and cover this kind of thing, but in that absence it seems weird to say that all responsibility should fall on one part-time employer)

          1. Arctic*

            If someone is scheduled to work for you and you force them to stay home because of sickness then you pay them. End of story. It’s not hard. It’s not weird.
            If you don’t do that then fine. Your entire staff getting coronavirus will be more expensive. So it’s idiotic. But it’s fine. But the employee will come to work as they should.

          2. feminzagul*

            employers/businesses/capitalists want to have the authority to make all the rules but none of the responsibility that comes with that, so guess we’ll just die

          3. Lora*

            Or, companies can buy insurance policies to cover the losses from such events. I’ve worked for plenty of major companies (US companies, too!) who had such a thing as Unlimited Paid Sick Days: after a few weeks of being out, you had to bring some documentation from a physician to convert it to a different short term disability type insurance, but basically the employer paid for an insurance policy to cover the employee salaries and whatever other losses associated with illnesses. They got discounted premiums based on frequency of sick days taken, number of employees signed up for the company Wellness Program or on-site gym, offering healthy foods in the cafeteria sort of thing, but you really could take all the sick days you wanted until the short term disability policy demanded doctor’s notes. For the short term disability the employee usually did pay into that insurance coverage, but it was only about $2/paycheck, so not a huge amount.

            We always had one or two people who tried to exploit it, but they were quickly put on PIPs for not meeting deadlines and goals in a timely fashion and left. I think at a site of 1200+ employees, I saw exactly one person get fired for taking sick days without a doctor note after she should have gone on short term disability.

            You guys, this is a real thing, in the US, which is available to employers. It is not a huge unbearable amount of money either. It is extremely do-able.

            1. Toothless*

              I recently had a short-term disability leave because of a car accident, and this was how my work handled it – I had to file a claim with a separate company that insured my company for the leave.

      2. JustMyImagination*

        There’s still some responsibility as the employer, though, if you want your hourly temps to stay home. You can choose temp agencies that offer time off benefits or stipulate in your contracts that people on contract at your company receive X hours of sick time.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      That’s not how temping works, though. I remember everyone (on staff) being excited about holidays and long weekends, and I was worried about making rent.

      I realize that’s a very different circumstance, but the result is the same: the job doesn’t want you there that day, so you don’t get paid. The end.

      1. Arctic*

        It doesn’t matter if that’s not how temping usually works.
        If an employer wants to prevent an epidemic then they have to be willing to pay. If they aren’t then they are responsible for every single person who gets sick.

        1. Susie Q*

          Stop presenting an idealistic solution in a realistic scenario. Your advice and complaining is a waste of time and effort. It’s not realistic in this scenario or the real world. You’re not helpful, you’re just spouting wishful dreams and providing no help to OP.

          1. Arctic*

            haha. The idea that paying people when you tell them to stay home is idealistic is beyond absurd. Imagine if you were serious?

            1. Yorick*

              Yes, it is idealistic. Clients don’t pay temps for days that they aren’t working. Sometimes, temp agencies provide that sort of PTO, but they often don’t. Sure, it shouldn’t be this way, but it is, and ignoring that is just silly.

              In this case, I’d tell LW to go to work and take precautions so she’s less likely to spread any illness she might have. But if the facts were different, I’d say LW needs to stay home in the interests of public health, even if there’s a financial hit.

              1. Giant Squid*

                ” I’d say LW needs to stay home in the interests of public health, even if there’s a financial hit.”

                Explain to me how that’s less idealistic than expecting the client or agency to implement a policy that’s in their own best interests.

                1. SimplyTheBest*

                  Right? Imagine thinking it’s not idealistic to assume people will willingly lose their jobs, their homes, starve to death, etc in the interest of public health.

                2. Yorick*

                  Which is more idealistic? That a giant greedy corporation will permanently change its policies so their employees can always stay home when they have the sniffles? Or that a person with CoVid-19 who knows the specific coworkers who could die if she goes to work while contagious will take a few unpaid days?

                3. Giant Squid*

                  Not sure why I can’t respond to Yorick directly, so here goes:

                  It looks like we’re moving the goal post. Nobody said anything about a permanent change in policy–provide sick leave during a pandemic. You can go back to being greedy once this thing is under control/better understood. So, a few months of unlimited sick leave–that shouldn’t be a drop in the bucket for a giant corporation, especially since most of the people who use or abuse it are people who can’t WFH (and get paid less).

                  Also, OP thinks they have a cold, and doesn’t mention anyone immunocompromised, certainly not to the point where COVID-19 is certain death, or even likely.

          2. Giant Squid*

            What’s realistic is that LW, and most people in her place will hide their symptoms. It’s wishful thinking to expect people living paycheck to make massive sacrifices for the sake of public health. It’s even more unrealistic to expect that when the client isn’t willing to act in their own self-interest.

            Indeed, the most realistic scenario is that LW doesn’t get PTO, goes to work, and spreads whatever they have. That’s bad for everyone, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to point that out and suggest solutions.

    3. Squalor*

      What’s the distinction here between “we dont want you to come in because the work you do isnt currently worth the cost (of paying you), please stay home” and “we dont want you to come in because the work you do isnt currently worth the cost (of you potentially getting us sick), please stay home”? If the first would be ok, I don’t see why the second one isn’t.

      1. Polly Hedron*

        One distinction is that the second case motivates employees to conceal their illnesses, suppress their symptoms, and infect the rest of the staff.

  22. OrigCassandra*

    OP4, as an educator in a professional program, I have a slightly different take on your situation than many. You’re welcome not to concur with my suggestion here, of course.

    It sounds as though you’re doing better professionally than he is. If that’s the case, and if there is nothing directly objectionable about him as a professional… what harm is there in letting him have that ice-breaker? Just as a small sort of helping hand.

    Maybe someday he’s in a position to return the favor. Maybe someone else pays it forward in your direction. Either way, I can’t see how this small bit of generosity hurts you, and a little generosity is a good thing.

  23. Employment Lawyer*

    1. Can my company make me stay home with a cold?

    2. Tokenized on International Women’s Day
    Figure out what would make everyone maximally uncomfortable and do it, whether it’s a presentation on the details of menstrual flow, on breat feeding, on sexism or harassment, etc. Then do it. They’ll never ask you again.

    (Kidding. AAM’s advice is good here.)

    3. I was planning to leave my job for grad school, but…
    You are not responsible for your company’s health; no employer gets that kind of loyalty in the face of multiple months’ notice.

    You are correct to see an opportunity here, though. You may be able to get more pay, more experience, etc. and it is possible that delaying school by a year will make sense. The real question is whether that year of work is going to be more valuable now, or more valuable post-degree. Probably the latter, I suspect, but dig into it a bit.

    5. Do we have to offer the job to the only applicant?

    1. mourning mammoths*

      I honestly love your solution for #2, especially if these presentations came with PowerPoints.

  24. Madame X*

    I think you are far overestimating how much weight your colleagues are putting into this introduction. No one is going to assume you two have the same professional accomplishments just because you attended the same program. It sounds like he’s just trying to find an icebreaker among professional colleagues.

    If you are ever in the position to introduce yourself and him you can add a little addendum that your time overlapped, since that is actually true. But I would not make it a big deal of this. For example
    I work for a company that has a lot of alumni from my grad school program. I’ve on more than one occasion had a conversation with a coworker (non-alumni) in which i said the variation of “Mary and I went to the same grad school, although we were in different programs” or “Mylene and I went to the same grad school but we graduated at different times” Short and simple,

    1. Madame X*

      OK, so LW4 has clarified that their time did not overlap, but i think the rest of my advice still stands.

  25. Arctic*

    Honestly, if I were in a group where someone was adamantly insisting they didn’t go to school with someone else I’d be super uncomfortable. And walk away thinking they were both very odd.

    I don’t see the advantage in raising this around others.

    1. Goofy*

      Lol IRL at your framing of this:

      “OP and I went to school together!”
      OP: (attempting a casual smirk) WELL, same school but NOT AT THE SAME TIME!!!
      Arctic: (plastered on grin, backs away slowly)

      I mean, really OP. Who cares.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I agree with Arctic that trying to protest it or explain it just makes it weirder for the people you’re talking to.

      OP, perhaps this is one of those things where you assume someone who does one weird thing (claims they went to school with you) does a lot of weird things and karma will eventually catch up to them.

      1. LW#4*

        I haven’t brought it up to him in the moment b/c I agree it’s awkward. It’s the fact that I’ve talked about it with him in private twice and he still continues to do it that really bothers me.

        Agree that he probably does other weird things and just let it be haha.

        1. RecoveringSWO*

          “Agree that he probably does other weird things ”

          Yeah, to me this is just another pushy and annoying sales technique being utilized by a consultant. The alumni factor is giving you something to analyze, but it shouldn’t. Brush him off like any other cold call/pitch…

  26. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #3 – don’t let them guilt you into staying. They knew your plans and it’s not your responsibility to stay and help out because 2 other recently resigned. If it would help their bottom line, they’d lay you off without hesitation.

  27. I'm just here for the cats*

    I was wondering if maybe the coworker is trying to find a simple way to say they attended the same school around the same general time.

  28. I'm just here for the cats*

    I would like to put a PSA out about sending people home. Some people have chronic couphs that does not mean they are sick. People with lung conditions like copd or asthma. I have asthma and when it gets bitter cold i end up couphing and my nose runs when i first get in from outside. Im not contagious i just can’t breath the cold air!

    Also, Some people have allergies even in winter. If you send someone home or freak out just because they have a sore throat or a cough your being a jerk!

  29. Senor Montoya*

    OP #4. There is no way to say “we didn’t go to grad school together” that doesn’t make YOU look petty, touchy, and maybe even pompous.

    Did you both graduate from the same program? Yes? Then leave it alone.

    A better response might be to engage in conversation about it: “It’s a great program, isn’t it? Did you ever take a class from Professor X? She’s such good teacher, I took two of her classes.” Or something like that. That makes you look pleasant and collegial. Whereas even something like “Well, same school, different time” shuts down the conversation and maybe embarrasses your colleague. Trust me, the person who looks bad is not your colleague.

    1. Smithy*

      I have a graduate degree from a University where for most Americans who attend it’s far more common that they did an undergraduate semester/year abroad. Usually the context is something like “oh – did you know Smithy and I both studied at ABC Global University”. Saying anything to the affect of “well I was in the graduate program and you were an undergrad studying abroad” ends up being awkward in conversation because the point is hardly that we’re the same but rather small talk to show we have something in common.

      1. Arctic*

        I see your point on how even that is a conversation stopper. But that is very different.
        I did a year abroad at Oxford. I would never ever try to equate it with a colleague who attended that university. That person is definitely inflating themselves, in your case. And you have every right to distinguish it.
        In this case, the dude went to the same grad program and, as far as we know, graduated. He just started attending the semester after LW left.

        1. Smithy*

          I see your point if it was a group interview, but at a professional networking cocktail party or in the office kitchen – I can not stress how little it achieves.

          First of all, in that case the statement is factually true. We both did study there. So then jumping in to distinguish my graduate degree makes it appear like I’m trying to diminish the other person.

          Additionally, at this point in time – the other person may also have a graduate degree, a PhD, or who knows what. So it opens an awkward competitive line of conversation that not only could make me look less accomplished. In addition to petty.

          As small talk, that line is about how we both have familiarity with Global University and Global City. So it’s just as easy to ask how they liked the city, if they lived off campus, etc. If this were a year or two after graduation, I get the point about inflation and all that. But once it’s over 5 years – it becomes an odd hill to fight over.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      It depends on whether OP4 wants to be force teamed, tho. They’ve said they work for a govt agency, that guy is a consultant, there could be conflict of interest issues at stake.

      And OP4 can signal distance without being explicit and verbal, they just have to decide if the teaming is an actual problem, or just a mild annoyance, which we can not do for them, insufficient context.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I think the first response works only if you’re trying to make general conversation in a group and turning it to memories of our school days would be a good idea–usually only true if the other people also went to that school.

      This sounds more like a consultant trying to network by crashing her conversations, so a way to shut it down and get back to the actual topic is what’s needed. Some sort of distancing line, like “(laughs) long ago and years apart (pivot) about the new handle regulations…” rather than a friendly “Let me introduce you to Fergus, consultant extraordinaire, who is indeed from my graduate school.”

      Forced teaming is a thing precisely because it’s hard for the teamee to push back without making it more awkward. But this is more complex than professional equals all giving each other a hand in networking.

        1. LW#4*

          Yes, it makes it so awkward when he does it….first of all that he’s jumping into the conversations, so I like the idea of just continuing up where we left off and continuing the conversation. I have never brought it up in the moment b/c it would be weird and come across as condescending. It’s the fact that I have spoken privately with him twice and he continues to do it that bothers me.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Think of him as someone who absorbed every lesson from a shady MLM scheme. He will never hear ‘no.’ He is always going to be looking for an excuse to slide into the conversation next to you. Barely registering his presence is what you want to project to others.

    4. Yorick*

      If it happens, you can turn back to the other person and say something to the effect of “Yes, Fergus and I both went to State University, did you/where did you go to school?” and then keep the conversation going.

  30. Reality.Bites*

    In his place, if for some bizarre reason I felt the need to omply a closer connection to OP, I’d say, “OP and I both went to Llama U for our graduate work. Go Teapots!”

    Because at that point OP would look a bit petty to insist on mentioning it wasn’t at the same time, but Fergus would still have obtained whatever value there is in implying you’ve probably seen each other really, really drunk.

    1. Allypopx*

      Teapots would be such a good university mascot. I might actually care about my university sports games if there was a dancing teapot at them.

  31. Jennifer*

    #4 I think this guy is maybe a bit awkward at networking events (I am too!) and looking for a way to open a conversation. There are people who know exactly ONE thing about me and mention every time we run into each other. Yes, it’s mildly annoying but seriously not the end of the world. I think this is all this is. Of course, I didn’t go to grad school….

    He’s saying he went to the same school as you, and he did. Your assessment that he’s trying to inflate his experience by aligning himself with you is a bit unkind.

    Sometimes it’s better to give people the benefit of the doubt instead of immediately jumping to the worst possible conclusion.

  32. Quill*

    Hats off to the fellow contractor: I get to work from home occasionally, and am currently doing so in very much the same situation.

    Of course, I’ve also worked from home before this, so I’m sure that was a huge factor in my boss saying “yes, thank god, stay home!”

  33. Secret Identity*

    Why do so many HR people go off the deep end like that (in reference to #5). They take the law and use it as a shield for all kinds of crazypants ideas. I’ve seen it over and over. My own HR person is like that and I’ve seen others at other places I’ve worked. If the law says we can’t discriminate against someone based on their religion, for example, they take it to an extreme and say we can never fire a person or discipline a person who holds any religious values whatsoever and, in fact, it’s probably best to tiptoe around that person and preemptively give them anything they may ever want or need as an added incentive to NOT SUE THE COMPANY!! And, of course, I’m using a little hyperbole here, but the HR people I’ve dealt with really have been fairly close to that level of extreme-ness. (not a word. I know.)
    We had a person here that legitimately needed firing but our HR wouldn’t allow her supervisor to fire her because she was religious. The firing had NOTHING to do with her religion in any way, but HR felt that the person could claim that’s why we fired her, so she was just moved to another position where she continues to be a problem. I have pointed out to HR that any person could, at any time, claim we’ve treated them in a discriminatory way and sue us regardless of whether that’s true or not – basically, if someone wants to sue, they’re gonna sue and you can’t stop that, but to no avail.

    1. irene adler*

      Yeah, that’d drive me nuts too. Why does common sense have to take a leave when it comes to HR issues?

      Sounds like HR folks need a go-to legal consultant who can explain to them what the actual legal ramifications are (or LACK of legal ramifications) in situations that they are facing.
      Here in San Diego, my very small company is a member of an employer’s association. They provide a certain level of legal expertise in regards to how one properly follows the HR laws. It’s worth the annual membership dues to allay the “OMG we could get SUED!!!!” mindset for every HR situation that comes up.

    2. James*

      It makes a certain amount of sense. The HR person is attempting to protect the company from liability. There are certain areas of the law where the rule is de facto “guilty until proven innocent” (ask any parent who’s had a run-in with CPS), and this is one of them. A risk-averse person would likely rather deal with a bad employee than deal with a lawsuit from a bad employee.

      I’ve seen managers get rid of folks for a variety of reasons, sometimes clearly illegal reasons, and try to use smoke and mirrors to say it wasn’t the case. “Of course I’m not firing Jane because of her medical issues! I’m just not assigning her work that would interfere with it [or any other work that wouldn’t cause problems] and her workload isn’t sufficient to keep her on the staff!” If the HR person has worked with such a manager, they likely will err on the side of caution to counter-act the effects of such behavior.

      I’m not saying your HR person is correct. Their calibration is off. I’m just saying that there is a logical explanation for this miscalibration.

      1. CPS saves lives*

        As someone with a niece in foster care you are deadly wrong about CPS. Its extremely difficult to prove abuse and take children away. The perception that CPS is some big bad wolf recklessly taking kids away from good parents results in children dieing as people hesitate to report suspected abuse.

        I love my brother, but his daughter has been in foster care for 1.5 years. She tells him that she is glad to live with a nice father who doesnt hit her but is sad she doesnt love her more to be nicer so she can live with him again. And yet if you listen to him its all “CPS snatched my kid away with no warning, and she is beyond traumatized begging to live with me. Im a good dad who works hard. The system is rigged against men. Yadda yadda”

        1. James*

          I’ve been threatened with being reported to CPS because my children came to school dirty (there was a mud puddle in front of the school). My sister had CPS called on her because of a political dispute her husband was involved in. Come to that, folks threatened to take us kids away because my mother refused government handouts (we always had food). So it goes both ways. Which makes sense, because this is how dysfunctional organizations operate–they focus on the wrong things, and ignore real problems.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      There’s a lot of inaccurate propaganda out there about how lawsuits are eeeeverywhere and how anybody and everybody is out to sue all businesses for everything and every time they do it juries award them a million zillion dollars. The agenda here, of course, is opposition to any kind of employee protection or anti-discrimination law and ridiculously low caps on damages for anything someone might sue a corporation for. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe this nonsense.

      1. James*

        My wife (a school teacher) is currently involved with a lawsuit against her school, by someone who’s done this to multiple school districts. This is not the first time she’s been involved in such a lawsuit. In contrast, I’ve not heard anyone say that we should remove employee protection or anti-discrimination law. There’s always talk of reform, but it’s rather quickly shut down.

        This isn’t “inaccurate propaganda”, it’s experience. There ARE people who look for excuses to sue institutions. There ARE ambulance-chasing lawyers. Those are real problems that any institution needs to be prepared to address.

        1. Blueberry*

          I have heard “we should remove employee protections and anti-discriminatory law because of the chilling effects these have on business” quite a few times, but, admittedly, mostly from libertarians.

      2. Oh No She Di'int*

        Yeah, perhaps. The problem with this is that you only have to be on the receiving end of this one time for it to be a life-altering, possibly career-ending problem. Lawsuits may not be eeeeeverywhere, but you only need one to ruin your life. So I kind of get the caution.

    4. Nanani*

      And somehow stuff that’s worth suing for – say wage theft, unpaid work via timecard shenanigans, harassment that isn’t that HR person’s personal pet peeve – gets swept under the rug by these types more often than not.

    5. PrgrmMgr*

      Given that this is health care and there are liabilities associated with that, I read the legal risk to possibly be “we’re at increased risk of serious liability issues when the position is vacant” (malpractice, non-compliance, etc).

    6. Pellegrino*

      In-house counsel here that regularly advises on employment law matters, and I have to say I’ve seen this as well. Much of the time I try to explain to my internal clients why we *have* to be more stringent about something to comply with a particular law or best practice, but have come across one of those rare HR folks where I feel like I need to counsel them out of taking “being cautious” to an extreme…an unreasonable extreme that would create a really atypical result. Or misinterpreting employment laws altogether.

      There is always a risk that an employee will file some sort of claim against an employer that the employee needs to spend time and money to respond to and fight, regardless of whether the claim has any merit at all. The key is making a rational decision that takes that risk into account in a balanced way.

  34. not neurotypical*

    #3 Are you quite certain that you could get into the same program next year? If it’s a competitive program, then there were many qualified applicants, one of whom will step into your slot if you decline to come this year. And then… you might have to apply all over again, competing against another set of qualified applicants for a set number of spots. So, unless they have been actively recruiting you so enthusiastically that you are 100% certain they will set aside a spot for you next year, don’t even think about delaying.

  35. Amethystmoon*

    #1 This is why I hated temping. You were extremely lucky to get *any* benefits and generally if you did get any PTO, you had to be at a place for a year and then you only got a week. The US is very stingy compared to other countries.

    Is there any sort of side hustle you can do online while you are temping? Like in the evenings and on weekends? That could help — or perhaps seriously consider looking for a permanent job after the COVID 19 panic diminishes.

    And yeah, I agree with Allison — what is to stop people from taking OTC cold meds and coming in sick, trying to hide it so they don’t have to take unpaid days? What about people with seasonal allergies who do not have colds, but have similar symptoms? As the weather gets warmer, this will also be an issue.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      The US is very stingy compared to other countries.

      In all fairness, we do produce a lot of value for the shareholders. /s

      But, yes, it’s true. We offer temp workers terrible/no benefits and then wonder why we can’t find employees. I wonder how many more epidemics/pandemics we need before TPTB realize that if you want to prevent the spread of disease, you need to make it possible for people to stay home if they or their kids are sick without being penalized so heavily.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – we’ve had a very flukey winter in my area and now flowers are starting to come out – with all the pollen to aggravate my seasonal allergies. Thankfully there isn’t any recognized cases of Covid-19 in my region yet. I’ve also been at my job a year and my leads saw from this time last year that I got allergies.

  36. Jedi Squirrel*

    Regarding #2’s situation:

    There is a certain university of the upper peninsula in Michigan that is well known for turning out engineers. It’s also well-known for having a high proportion of male students.

    They did some research to find out how to attract more female students. They found out that women feel safer when surrounded by rocks. Yes, rocks. So they made a big initiative to put more rocks around campus. This was twenty-some years ago.

    Organizations really need to get better at recruiting a diverse work force or student body. You have my sympathies, OP2.

    1. SweetestCin*

      There are certainly a lot of rocks at that particular location!

      PS: In Heaven, there is no beer!

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Interesting. . .I work with someone who went there and graduated around 2006 (so would have applied post-rock placement). I’ll have to ask her about the rocks.

    3. Nita*

      Rocks? How did that even come up in their research? I have so many questions. Now I’ve got to test that wacky assertion – I’m going to start wondering if I feel safer, every time I see a random rock lol!

    4. James*

      Huh. I suppose that explains the high proportion of female geologists I’ve worked with. I’d say 60% of the geologists I know are women.

      (Tongue VERY much in cheek! And my experience with geology is atypical; it’s still male-dominated.)

  37. Happy Pineapple*

    Letter #1 is a perfect example why all employees need to have access to adequate time off and medical care. Think about all the minimum wage, underpaid, and non-salaried workers who prepare your food, make your coffee, handle your money, etc. who simply cannot afford to stay away from work when they are sick. This is how pandemics start.

    If businesses don’t feel motivated to treat their employees well because it’s the right thing to do, you’d think at least the threat of contagious illness would spur them to action; but apparently not!

  38. Roscoe*

    #4 This really seems like semantics more than an actual problem. I mean, I suppose they could say “we went to the same school” if you want to be technical about it. But I’m really not understanding why this bothers you so much. This isn’t like “stolen valor” where he is claiming to go somewhere he didn’t, or have a degree he doesn’t. He is saying you went to the same school using verbiage you don’t like. I’d say let it go. Making a big deal about it says more about you than him.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      I’m not OP, but I think it would probably bother me in principle a bit. The dude is lying, repeatedly, after having been corrected directly twice. So he’s not just mistaken. He knows it’s not true and keeps repeating it.
      AND YET I also know that there’s no way to call him out in the moment that wouldn’t make OP look worse over it than him because it seems petty. Is it a Big Deal lie? Nope. Would it actually do anyone harm? Nope. But it really pisses me off when people lie – especially when they know they’re lying but due to Awkwardness and Social Niceties it is impractical to call them out, so everyone lets it go. And they keep on lying. It’s like the battle of “it’s not big deal, so it doesn’t matter if I stop” “well if it’s no big deal, then it’s not so hard to stop?” Like what kind of person after being told twice “that’s not true, please stop saying it” keeps on saying it? Even if it’s a miniscule thing, now I’m all sorts of judging him.

  39. Heidi*

    I think staying breezy and not making too much of it is the way to go. I would probably say something like, “Yeah, we actually almost overlapped, didn’t we?” Or something like, “Yes, I think we met during one of the alumni events.” Or if you want a more direct call-out, you could say, “Wait, were we actually there at the same time? I thought I had graduated before you started.” This last one is passive aggressive since you clearly know, but sometimes the situation calls for it. Or ignoring it is still a perfectly reasonable option.

  40. Wednesday*

    In my experience, companies that advertise their diversity via presentations and advertising are anything but.

    My company is a toxic hotbed of misogyny, but they paid for a spread in an industry magazine about OUR WOMEN IN STEM, LOOK AT US! A year later, only one of them is still here. The key is not how many women you hire, but how many women you keep. Frontloading ‘lady resumes’ means nothing if they get sick of your shit and GTFO right away.

    So, LW #2, if called on during this dog and pony show, I would draw attention to their retention efficacy.

  41. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    #1: This is why we need paid leave now! If we had a different administration, perhaps they could create a fund for those who have to stay home and miss pay?

    Or do so on a state or local level, to prevent spread? Such a fund could even pay landlords or utilities directly to avoid misuse.

    I have about a 2-3% chance of dying from this, higher if I can’t get a hospital bed due to shortages (assume 60-70% of people catch it and 5-10% of people with chronic health conditions die from it, per CDC predictions). But even I understand coming to work sick. You can’t ask people to starve or become homeless which is what missing weeks of work does for so many.

    I mean, I don’t have hardly any PTO, so I have worked with horrific colds, asthma flare ups, a sprained wrist that made me almost cry at my desk, immediately after an IUD insertion, and while feeling suicidal.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I am so sorry you have gone through all this. I also am hoping things change for the better for everybody, and not just the 1%.

      Sending Jedi thoughts your way.

    2. Artemesia*

      We can pay billions to farmers who suffered from our misbegotten trade policy but no one has suggested paying sick people without sick leave who might prevent epidemic spread by staying home from work. We are a poor nation; we can’t have nice things.

    3. ...*

      Wow, where did you see they are predicting 60-70% of people will get it!? Less than 1% of the population in the epicenter of the outbreak has contracted it and the numbers are steadily decreasing there already.

  42. ArtK*

    LW#5: If you only got one applicant in 9 months, you need to go back and look carefully at the job description. Either there are some red flags in the posting (“like family”, “work hard, play hard”) or you’re looking for a unicorn. Is it too specific about skills? Are you asking for obsolete skills (“Highly skilled in RPG and COBOL” “Expert in VisiCalc”) or skills that are extremely new with an impossible level of experience (“10 years experience in TwoYearOldTechnology”)? Offering a minimum wage salary but requiring a PhD?

    I also wonder if there really was only one applicant, or if your HR person (who doesn’t sound very good) was pre-filtering and tossing out perfectly viable candidates because they have no clue how to evaluate. Frankly, you need to get rid of that HR person; the idea that you “don’t have a reason NOT to hire” someone with a bad work history is monumentally stupid.

    1. ArtK*

      Apology for reading comprehension failure. I hadn’t picked up that this was rural healthcare which has its own issues. Please ignore the first paragraph. The 2nd one still applies.

      As others have pointed out, hiring a healthcare worker who has been fired for failing to document could be a huge liability. That’s something that needs to be made very, very clear to HR. There’s a reason that regulations require lots of documentation: Bad documentation leads to bad outcomes, including dead patients and lawsuits.

  43. Youngin*

    #1 is so worrying to read. Food service workers are often faced with the same dilemma, go to work sick and pay rent or take the day off while possibly not being able to pay bills. The second coronavirus popped up in my state I stopped eating out because during my time working in restaurants (partially through the swine flu thing) my coworkers would be wiping their runny noses and then handing plates to customers. Its also why some places get norovirus outbreaks. I hope coronavirus forces lawmakers to see the flaws in the system and help out hourly workers, which will ultimately help all of us.

  44. cranky*

    Hey look, if I don’t get paid to stay home then I’m not staying home for what is most likely a minor cold/allergy. You want me to stay home? Then reassure me that repeated coronavirus tests will be completely covered by insurance (yes even a co-pay for repeated office visits). Tell me I can be tested easily and quickly (I’m not spending all day at an ER). Reassure me that I won’t lose my job if I do test positive and have to self-quarantine. Reassure me that my landlord won’t evict me if my rent is late. Reassure me that my interest rate won’t get jacked up if I miss a loan payment.

    If we had even a glimmer of a competent government these issues would be being addressed, but we don’t. So remember: your health and safety depends on the massive amounts of folks barely scraping by. If you consistently vote against paid leave/living wages/other safety net programs then stock up on Lysol and reap what you’ve sown.

  45. Maya Elena*

    International Women’s Day gives me an ick feeling. It started as a communist holiday, and I’m half tempted to print out old Soviet posters of Women I the Barricades Against the Bourgeoisie.

    1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      You do know that the Soviets were largely BETTER than the US at having women in the workforce and in STEM positions? Okay, under communism you need everyone to work regardless of gender, but working and being in specialized fields certainly uplifted those women.

    2. Princesa Zelda*

      Fun facts! The word communism in English dates back to the 1840s or so as a political term, but by the 1880s had fallen out of use as an old-fashioned synonym for socialism. It acquired its current meaning as “the stage of economic-political society where workers seize the means of production” largely in the 1910s/1920s, during and after the Russian Revolution, to distinguish the Russian Communists from the OtherCountries Socialists; it acquired further meaning of “the kind of society where one guy/The Party rules and distributes the economy badly” once that started to actually happen. The organizations that declared the first Women’s Day in 1909 in America and the first International Women’s Day both self-described as socialist — the Socialist Party of America and the Second International (Workingman’s Association) respectively. By modern standards, the SPA was not communist, but democratic socialist; the Second International, on the other hand, included a broad range of labor-oriented ideologies including communist, democratic socialist, and labor groups (but not anarchists or labor unions). It’s a fascinating history and I highly recommend reading accounts of socialists at the time — there was all the interpersonal drama of reality TV and all the high-minded political gamesmanship of an intricate political thriller.

    3. Blueberry*

      I think those posters would be unironically awesome. Please use as much ink and paper as possible whilst printing them.

  46. Lucette Kensack*

    Oh man, I can see myself as the “we went to school together” guy. I’m not sure why, but I tend toward broad, imprecise inclusiveness in my casual language. I describe anyone I have a relationship with that isn’t defined by another word (sister, colleague, etc.) as my friend. I’ll say “we worked together” about a volunteer on a political campaign that I worked for, or describe my house as “just down the street” from the church that’s a mile away.

    1. Hedgehug*

      I had a friend once who, every time she used the expression “just the other day”, she – in reality – always actually meant like, 6 months prior, lol. “well it feels like yesterday” she would laugh.

  47. In favor of self quarantining*

    I’ve read through all the comments on LW#1 and my comment may be unpopular as it is different for most of those I’ve read. I agree that we need better leave policies in the US, but we don’t have them right now when we are having a bad flu season and the potential for a major pandemic. I’m amazed that the majority of AAM comments are falling on the side of telling people it’s okay to come to work sick and contagious to potentially infect others, particularly those with health vulnerabilities, with an illness. This seems so inconsiderate of our fellow human beings. Are we really saying that the ethical and moral choice we should make is to choose financially stability over not spreading an illness that could kill someone? I’m not minimizing the impact of having no income for a period of time, but one can recover from that, even though it can be a hard journey. A person who dies from an serious illness (flu, pneumonia, Covid-19, etc.) doesn’t have an opportunity to recover. I’m certain all of the people with Covid-19 in the Washington State nursing home wish the person who first brought the illness into the nursing home had stayed home. Certainly the family members of the people who died from it in the nursing home feel that way.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think why some of us are advocating go to work is because we unfortunately are in a country (the many of us anyway in the USA) where people are sometimes one missed/short paycheck from becoming homeless. If your option is to go to work with a cold or miss work but then loose your housing….

      It is not a set-up designed for success in the face of massive disease outbreaks and the most vulnerable members of our population are the ones who end up paying the price for those systemic failures. Those of us who are disagreeing are acknowledging that the system we have is far from perfect, and that all of us are just trying to get by the best we can with the system we have.

      1. In favor of self quarantining*

        I completely understand the argument that not going to work can mean harsh financial consequences. Those consequences are far less harsh than the potential consequence of dying which someone whose health makes them vulnerable catching a dangerous illness such as flu could suffer. In the case of spreading illness I think we all have to think of the greater good over our own needs.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          The problem is that the wealthy are not making sacrifices here but are demanding that the poor do. Why don’t THEY think of the greater good?

          1. ...*

            But the solution isn’t for no one to care. There is no perfect answer. I would donate to the LW to help them stay home or anyone and its not like I’m rich.

        2. fposte*

          You’re making it sound as if morality dictates only one clear path of action. That’s just not true. *Your* morality may, but yours isn’t universal.

          You’re also making it sound as if the choice is between for sure giving somebody an illness that devastates or kills them or staying home safely. That’s also not true.

          1. In favor of self quarantining*

            I don’t actually think it is an easy choice. What really struck me as I read the comments, though, was that most commenters were saying people should work because individual financial needs are greater than the needs of others without looking at the other impacts. When a person who is contagious goes to work there is a good chance that the illness they have may be passed to others. That can also have impacts on the health and finances of people infected by their sick coworker. We’ve all experienced this. It’s the way I and all my friends caught the chick pox in high school. One friend caught it and came back to school while still contagious because he didn’t want to miss a field trip. Next thing you know over a dozen of us and our siblings had the chicken pox. My mother had to take time off from work that she could ill afford. Had my classmate stayed home no one else would have been infected or had financial impacts from the illness.

            1. fposte*

              I think you’re on thin ice if financial impact counts for one side and not for the other.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      The problem is that the financial burden falls disproportionately on the people who can least afford it. I really don’t want people coming to work sick either, but saying “hey poor people, get evicted” is a grossly unfair solution.

      If employers won’t pay, and the government won’t pay, it’s up to those of us in better financial positions to pay. For landlords and mortgage lenders to waive rent/payments or accept money late and tell everyone that in light of the situation they are doing so. As for the rest of us… are there any organizations that will pay housing costs for people who need to miss work because of illness or quarantine? I know there are food banks, but housing is by far the bigger expense in my region at least.

      1. In favor of self quarantining*

        I agree it is an unfair solution, but saying, “hey people with health vulnerabilities, you die because I’m choosing to come to work with a contagious illness” seems more unfair to me. As for housing assistance, it does exist. In a long term view, I would like to see the US have better leave policies and better housing options. But right now in March of 2020 we need to address the flu outbreak and the potential for a pandemic with Covid-19 and help protect our fellow human beings.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          Why? Aren’t you saying the same thing? “Hey poor people, you die because my well-being trumps yours?”

          1. In favor of self quarantining*

            It’s not my well being, but the well being of the many people who have chronic health issues that make them more vulnerable to the flu, pneumonia, and Covid-19. You clearly have concern for those who are living paycheck to paycheck. Do you not have concern for those with chronic health issues whose lives could be a risk if they are exposed to a contagious illness?

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              So what practical suggestions do you have for someone who’s going to be evicted if she misses pay because she’s sick, then? How is she supposed to do this?

    3. Laney Boggs*

      “Moral choice we should make is to choose financial stability”

      This is categorically unfair. If you’re living on the wire, one day off, one missed paycheck doesnt affect just financial stability. Most of us have seen the statistic “40% of americans are $400/one paycheck from financial ruin” and the quarantine period is 2 weeks.

      It could make rent late or impossible. My landlord gives me a 5 day grace period, and then it’s like $10 extra per day, and they can start eviction proceedings any time after the 5th. So we’re talking about eviction and homelessness.

      As we head toward warmer months, past due electric bills will start getting shut off again. That’s refrigerators, stoves, and microwaves rendered useless, as well as any food in the fridge/freezer. For me, it’s no hot water. A 50/60° apartment won’t kill me, but I run cold and probably wouldn’t be able to sleep. So I’m hungry, exhausted, and dirty, on top of recovering from illness. How long will my job keep me like that?

      And that’s just bills. It speaks nothing to needing to put gas in the car or buy groceries or medicine – and that’s where the average person will, the average person HAS to, cut first.

      So please be fair. The choice is between spreading illness that can kill, as you say; and homelessness, food insecurity, and other healthcare. It is not an easy choice for a huge swath of americans.

      1. In favor of self quarantining*

        I’m sorry you think it is unfair, but to me it is a moral choice a contagious person is making. What do they think is right for them: to work when contagious and infect others or to not work and therefore not have income? It’s an awful choice to have to make. Either choice can lead to serious consequences. I’m not minimizing the consequences, just saying that in a case where a person could die, that would impact my decision.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I am going to speculate that you have never once in your life been in the position the rest of us are asking you to have even a fraction of empathy for, because you just keep doing the equivalent of plugging your ears and saying just give me what I want, regardless of what it will cost the people who are not in the same fortunate place as those who have insurance, savings accounts, and paid time off.

          1. In favor of self quarantining*

            Let’s judge others on the internet. Thanks for that, Where’s the Orchestra?. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck for many years. I’ve also clawed my way out of crushing debt. I have a lot of empathy for people living paycheck to paycheck. I also have empathy for people whose lives are at risk from catching the flu or Covid-19. I don’t see many comments here where people are acknowledging that there are serious consequences to deciding to come to work with the flu or other illnesses for those we work with who may have compromised health. Could you acknowledge at least that if you go to work sick you could spread illness to other that could have consequences of making them quite ill and even killing them?

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              The problem is that unless we are all willing to live in a completely impenetrable bubble, there is always a risk of catching “something” no matter where you are (work, home, grocery store, public transit, the dr’s Office, etc) and also because the way our capitalism has set up the system far, far too many people are forced to make choices that are judged harshly by people who have safety nets they (the people being judged) don’t have the same access to. The choices just aren’t as cut and dried as black and white, but are more like shades of all the spectrum of grey.

        2. fposte*

          A person could die in every eventuality–it’s just which person, how, and when changes.

      2. Massive Dynamic*

        Yep. Financial stability = LIFE stability. We’re not talking about extra spending money foregone here, we’re talking about someone’s ability to support their family’s basic needs through income earned.

        1. In favor of self quarantining*

          But health stability also equals life stability. A healthy person catches the flu and likely will recover. A person with an existing health issue catches the flu when that healthy person comes to work may not recover or may need much more time to recover. And that would then impact both their financial and health stability.

    4. Giant Squid*

      I think I object to the idea that 100% of this burden should fall on LW1 and people like her, when there are people who are in a better position to actually do something.

      Does your grocery store have good sick leave? I don’t know every store’s policy, but I’m going to be shopping at Costco as much as I can. Start tweeting at the stores and restaurants you frequent, and ask for their sick leave policies.

      Does your company’s custodial staff have adequate sick leave? How about the people who supply the vending machines? Find out. Raise the issue with management.

      Public health is the responsibility of the public.

      1. In favor of self quarantining*

        “Public health is the responsibility of the public.”

        I completely agree with this statement and with your comment that the burden shouldn’t fall solely on those without adequate sick leave or savings. Right now we have a serious flu outbreak and the potential for Covid-19 to become a pandemic. Everyone has a responsibility to take actions now to limit the spread of these diseases (even if these are hard actions to take) as well as advocating for changes in leave and other public welfare policies which are a long term need.

        1. Giant Squid*

          The issue is asking the poorest people to make massive personal sacrifices, while others are insisting that providing sick leave for temps during a pandemic is “idealistic”. You’re putting the pressure on the wrong people.

          1. In favor of self quarantining*

            Companies that don’t offer sick leave are being shortsighted. Companies that offer sick leave can help contain costs for illness to the company and to employees by giving people leave which lets them stay home and not spread an illness to their coworkers. I think pressure should be put on companies and our government to provide sufficient sick leave to all.

    5. Joielle*

      Ok, but you literally are “minimizing the impact of having no income for a period of time.” “It can be a hard journey”? That’s the understatement of the century and I can only assume that you have no idea what it’s like to be one paycheck away from losing your apartment.

      From the sick person’s perspective, the choices are (1) go to work, try to stay away from everyone, wash your hands a lot, hopefully don’t get anyone sick, versus (2) not go to work, miss a paycheck, definitely get evicted. It’s not actually a straightforward moral calculation! As they say (paraphrased), there are no ethical choices under capitalism.

      1. In favor of self quarantining*

        Joielle, I’ve been one paycheck away from losing my apartment and I’ve traveled what I call a hard journey out of crushing debt. Sorry if you don’t like my words, to me that is what it was: a journey that involved hard choices and actions to be debt free. I’m not minimizing living paycheck to paycheck. I’m just asking everyone who is advocating for going to work sick to consider a different side of this and the perspective of those who are more vulnerable to illness.

    6. Koala dreams*

      Self quarantine at home presupposes one has a home. When you can’t pay rent you get evicted, and then you are homeless and can’t self quarantine at home. The Corona virus is scary, and so is the prospect of homelessness and lack of food.

    7. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      And how are you supposed to recover/not die from COVID-19 if you have no income and thus nothing to eat? No food plus being sick can kill even a healthy person

    8. JustaTech*

      Above and beyond what everyone else had said, LW1 does not know that they have COIVD19. In fact, last I checked the CDC website, a sore throat is *not* one of the symptoms of COVID19. A sore throat could be many things, several of which are not contagious, like allergies.

      COVID19, and even the flu, are not as contagious as some folks seem to think. They’re not the measles (can be caught by using the same elevator that a sick person used 2 hours before). Rigorous hand washing, surface cleaning, and not standing close to people will reduce the risk of transmission.

      Really the solution is for LW1’s office to realize that they have made assumptions about PTO and either pay LW1 to stay home sick or let them work from home.

    9. 5 Leaf Clover*

      I agree with you, In favor of self quarantining. Ethics do not change when there is hardship for oneself involved. If we only made ethical decisions when they had no negative impact on our lives, ethics would be meaningless. Like so many here are saying, employers should absolutely be responsible for lessening the hardship even if it means a hit to their bottom line. But the LW is asking about a situation where unfortunately the employer is not doing this.

      Honestly, I do not blame the LW if they go to work sick because the hardship would be too great. I blame the employer and our stupid society that focuses on dollars over wellness. And I can’t swear that I wouldn’t make the same decision in their place. But if we’re talking about what they SHOULD do? They should stay home.

  48. Dee-Nice*

    Just me, but someone repeatedly telling others we went to school together when we didn’t would bother the sh*t out of me, and I’d have no problem chuckling in the moment and saying, “Haha, well, not *together*.” Even if it made me look like kind of a jerk. Because I’d probably only have to do it once or twice for him to stop.

    The coworker knows what he’s doing by trying to tag himself onto the OP, and it’s dishonest and puts her in a weird position where by saying nothing she appears to be corroborating him. (I’m sticking in genders here, please excuse if I’m wrong.) Like… I went to school *at the same time* as Lin-Manuel Miranda, but I don’t try to tell people we went to school together. That implies a lot.

  49. Matilda Jefferies*

    #5, your HR is wrong. First, you DO have a reason not to hire the person – they didn’t interview well, and they didn’t get good references. Isn’t that the point of the interview and the reference checks, to find these things out? Otherwise you’d just be drawing names out of a hat, or automatically selecting the first (or third, or twenty-seventh) person to send in their resume.

    For the potential of legal trouble, I find it’s helpful to ask for more details. Ask them what law requires this, and what are the penalties for not complying. Ask if they have ever been *personally* involved in a situation where there was a lawsuit related to not hiring the only candidate. What was the outcome of this lawsuit? (And no, the cousin of the person who they went to grad school with doesn’t count, nor does that one Reddit thread that one time. When have they actually seen this play out in their own life?) Often people will back down on their “this is what I’ve heard” if you ask them to explain their thinking.

    Also, “open to legal trouble” doesn’t necessarily mean “illegal.” From my understanding, pretty much everything and organization does – or doesn’t do – could potentially lead to a lawsuit down the road. So it would be great if you could ask, is that the primary basis for decision making in this org? What’s the risk of a lawsuit, versus the risk of making a bad hire? Both in terms of probability and impact. I would guess that you would be very likely to make a bad hire in this situation, and not very likely to face a lawsuit. The impact of a lawsuit could be more expensive in terms of actual dollars, but the impact of a bad hire could cost productivity, morale – and dollars, if you have to start your recruitment all over again.

    Basically, if you have the opportunity and the capital, you would want to dig in a bit to where this advice is coming from, and what’s the impact if you’re wrong either way. Don’t just accept it at face value. This is all in the ideal world, of course – I don’t imagine it plays out like this very often in real life!

  50. Nanani*

    #3 NOOOO

    Do not put your career and education plans on hold for one job.
    Other commenters have covered lots of contingencies – job could vanish, you could be fired, etc., – so I’ll just add another NOOOOOOOOO to the chorus.

    You are disposable to the company.
    Maybe the individual humans you work with don’t treat you that way but the company does and always will.

    Never ever ever set your career on fire to keep a faceless org warm.

  51. Laney Boggs*

    I do have PTO, but it’s wrapped together 10 days total for the year. When our CEO sent out a similar warning email I scoffed a bit and wondered if they would start giving paid sick leave.

  52. Forrest Rhodes*

    #4 I’m with LW4—Contractor Guy’s implications would annoy the heck out of me. And from the responses here, it sounds like LW is in a “heads, he wins; tails, I lose” situation: if she corrects CG in the moment, then she’s being pompous and pedantic and picky; and if she simply accepts CG’s exaggerations, then CG gets to enhance his own reputation by creating the impression that he and LW were major pals in grad school.
    Doesn’t really matter if it would or wouldn’t bother anyone else, does it? It bothers her. She’s already asked him (more than once, I think, and politely) to knock it off. He keeps doing it.
    Sincerely asking: Isn’t LW allowed to escalate her correction a bit?

    1. Roscoe*

      Escalate it to who. They don’t really work together. And again if she brought that up to someone else’s boss, it just would seem so trivial I can’t imagine its worth it.

      Everyone has stuff that annoys them, but sometimes you just have to let those things go. Its not hurting anyone, just annoying her.

      1. Forrest Rhodes*

        Sorry—by “escalate” I meant “respond in the moment to CG’s publicly connecting himself with her.” I agree, supervisors and HR and such wouldn’t be necessary or approriate.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          Sure, she’s allowed to. But it’s good for her to know there’s not really a way for her to do that without the other person in the conversation feeling uncomfortable and drawing their own conclusions about the interaction. Personally, I’d escalate once to a degree that I felt would embarrass the dude enough to hopefully stop, but I’d choose the person I did that in front of as wisely as possible to mitigate any negative consequences to me. After that? It’s time to let it go. OP has said grad school was over ten years ago. No one gives a shit you maybe were in the same program a decade ago, and probably won’t even remember as soon as the conversation is over. I get that it’s annoying, but it’s not a big enough deal to dwell over.

  53. Rusty Shackelford*

    Re #4: Did you know I was in London with Winston Churchill? And in Bath with Jane Austen?

  54. learnedthehardway*

    OP#3 – the first thing I would look at is “what do you WANT to do”? You don’t owe it to anyone to stay in the position, and you aren’t obligated to put your education plans on hold simply because your manager wants you to do so or because other people have left. If you really want to start your program in 4 months and you feel it will hold up your academic plans (eg. if you want to do a PhD or move into another functional area), go ahead and leave on schedule. Help your manager out by giving them all the notice you can and helping to train replacement employees, put together a process document about the role, etc. etc. But go to school on schedule.

    On the other hand, this also could be an opportunity for you, if you are less concerned about the timing of your degree. In this case, the first thing I would do is to find out whether you can defer your academic acceptance for a year – it depends on the school / department as to whether they will agree. It’s not uncommon for this request to be made, esp. by students who are getting the finances together to do their advanced degrees. The same applies to any scholarships or funding that you are going to receive – find out if it can be deferred. (I would let the academic institution believe that it’s a funding issue, by the way – they’ll definitely understand that, and you won’t get attitude about prioritizing work over your academic career.)

    If you can’t defer, then you have to make a decision between starting on time or not doing the degree at this institution at all (because they probably won’t accept you twice). If you’re okay with that – ie. there are other schools you’d be just as happy going to, and you feel you can get the references and application packages together again, then you need to look at whether you can get a refund (probably not) and whether your current employer would reimburse you the money you’ve spent in order to keep you on for another year (I wouldn’t stay if they won’t do that). You might be able to work something out with your employer. I wouldn’t bet on it, mind you, but it’s worth exploring. This is also a really good way to position your departure to your manager: if the company won’t reimburse you and you’re going to lose all that down payment, how can you possibly NOT start on time?

    1. Student Loans Here I Come*

      OP3 here! You hit the nail on the head – I am going to apply to PhD programs this fall/winter in a different functional area than what I currently work in. My hope is that with lots of focus and hard work, the graduate GPA I earn from June-application season will balance out my 3.0 from undergrad, and I can grow my academic network while at [Program’s Institution], maybe even snag some academic recommendation letters. If I’m rejected this time around, that means I need to get into an academic lab after I graduate in 2021, get some papers published, and reapply in fall/winter ‘21.

  55. learnedthehardway*

    OP#5 – that’s absolutely NUTS and HR at your company is not doing its job if all they are doing is “posting and praying”. That’s not how to do recruitment if your company has a hard time attracting good candidates, for whatever reason. Also, your company is under NO obligation to hire the only candidate who applied – rather the reverse if their references indicate they were fired for performance issues and you’re in healthcare (that could create real liabilities and risks for your company!)

    Your company needs to get a good recruitment firm to work on your hard to fill, strategic positions. You need a firm that will do a proactive search to find good talent, that will position your company and community as a good place to work and live, and that will hand hold candidate through the process to make sure that you’re able to hire great people who really want to live where you are. That might be either a retainer based firm or a contingency agency, but ask around within the bigger companies in your community to find out who they like working with, do your homework, and be prepared to pay fairly substantial fees. In return, you’ll get candidates and a guarantee of replacement if your hired candidate doesn’t work out.

  56. windsofwinter*

    OP1…be more vigilant about hand washing, avoid touching your face, try to avoid other people as much as you can and….go to work. I am not about to tell anybody they need to risk homelessness because this country sucks when it comes to paid leave.

  57. SpaceySteph*

    OP#2– not exactly the same situation, but when I was in high school we read Night (a holocaust memoir) and as the only Jewish person in the class, I was often called out directly to comment or to help with pronunciation of things and it was awful and embarassing. I was 15 so I of course didn’t say anything, but in retrospect I wish I would have done what Alison is suggesting.

    I’m sure my teacher and your boss mean well– after all, we see plenty of outrage when only men are on a panel to talk about “women in X,” so he probably thinks he’s being inclusive by throwing the floor to you. But being asked to weigh in as a token for the whole, and not on your own terms, is hardly the inclusion we’re looking for, is it?
    I’ve done plenty of my own emotional labor on the Holocaust, as I’m sure you have with being a woman in what appears to be a very male dominated company and/or field. Its not up to us to do that emotional labor for everyone else, time to get other people to do their own work here.

  58. Burned Out Supervisor*

    OP 1: Do you have the ability to purchase Short Term Disability insurance through your agency or on your own? While not a long term solution, it might be worth it as you would get some income coming in.

  59. JelloStapler*

    #1 frustrates me to no end. The CDC wants people to stay home (and I support that) but there is no mandatory paid sick so people are left holding the bag while their workplaces shrug.

  60. Enginear*

    #3 I’m all for higher education but does what you will be paying in tuition and potential salary earnings make cents? Is it a sound financial decision to give up a job? If it does, then go for it. If you’ll be in massive student loan debt and have no job upon graduation, then I’d say pass on grad school.

  61. Raeldrele*

    HIRE MORE WOMEN! And everyone in your office LW2 should read Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Perez

  62. Madeleine Matilda*

    Re: letter 1 – just read that Trader Joe’s is giving paid sick leave to all employees regardless of full or part time status or how long they have worked there to ensure all employees who are sick can stay home without worrying about money.

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